Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Letter delivery 1501 ... tell me a story via a Positive Letter

Dear Mr Postman - another letter how wonderful .. my mother so enjoyed Catarina's letter yesterday, with the 'Have some Madeira m'Dear' song by Michael Flanders .. she wanted me to sing it .. sadly that's not one of the characteristics she bequeathed to me! However .. another patient enjoyed my readings and went home with this website and I hope she'll enjoy her family reading the letters to her .. she seemed genuinely interested in the snippets of information. My mother loves the stories .. and as they are for her - that's probably a good thing!! Let's see what today's story letter is all about ..

I was thinking about how letters started and how important they were and still are to humans - once the art of reading and writing started to be available to be learnt, with the introduction of the printing press assembled in Germany by the goldsmith, Johannes Gutenburg, in 1440, it meant that initially scholars' ideas became disseminated through journals, newsletters, books - although they still cost a fortune. The actual process of writing letters to and from individuals as a common function of life was still some centuries away.

The Portuguese had started their era of exploration and by 1488 Bartholomew Dias, attempting to find a sea route to the East, became the first European to sail along the Garden Route of South Africa and land at Mossel Bay on 3rd February (see below the reason for mentioning this date!). For Dias and other early Portuguese navigators, the perennial spring near the shore was an ample source of fresh water - and thus ensured Mossel Bay as a stopping off point. It became renamed Mossel Bay from the fresh supplies of mussels along the shore - by the Dutch explorers who had started to supercede the Portuguese during the late 1500s and 1600s.

When Vasco da Gama visited the bay on his way to India in 1497 he called the bay "Aguada de Sao Bras" (watering place of St Blaize) ... I find this quite interesting as St Blaize is the patron saint of throats .. so a watering place for throats. (Mum and I discussed him earlier in the year .. as his Saint's Day came up on February 3rd .. but we decided to give his historical details a miss - they are really rather gruesome - I know it's history .. but ..... enough is enough!! Surprising though that this was the day Dias 'found' the bay?!). Da Gama was the first European to trade with the Hottentots - by bartering cattle for some of the goods they had on board - so now the seamen had fresh meat too.

After a fierce storm in 1500, Pedro D'Ataide ran his fleet into the shelter of the bay and after writing up an account of the storm and in particular the troubles he'd found in India, near Calcutta, left the 'letter' in an old shoe, which was hung on a milkwood tree .. for the next navigator to find!! Joao da Nova visited Mossel Bay in 1501 and found the report and the warning of troubles ahead in India in the shoe: he was so grateful that he erected a small stone hermitage to be used for religious purposes.

For centuries it served as a clearing house .. letters, in packets, being left for seamen to take on to the appropriate destination, if that's where they were heading. Now-a-days a letter box has been erected in the shape of a seaman's boot, and letters posted there are franked 'Old Post Office Tree'.

The large tree on which it was hung still stands and has been declared a historical monument - the provincial heritage site also encompasses a museum and a wooden cross where it is thought the chapel or hermitage was built.

According to Wikipedia the Guinness Book of World Records Mossel Bay has the second mildest all-year climate in the world. The first is Hawaii. The weather station at Cape St. Blaize holds and records the various climate details.

Thank you Mr Postman .. I don't know how you do it .. so many interesting thoughts to think about - I know my mother will be really interested as we visited Mossel Bay together and we'll laugh together remembering the post office shoe .. also so many new questions arising .. for another day and another letter or two ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters


positively present said...

As always, you've taught me a great deal in a single post. Thank you! I really enjoyed reading it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi PP .. glad it's provided you with light relief ..I quite enjoyed it .. I didn't see Catarina today .. but her grandmother gave me two tea towels from Madeira .. really nice of them .. Great grandmother still there & smiling .. my Ma not too good today ..

All the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Daphne said...


Your posts make me realise that your mother, even in her last days, has a very lucid and sharp mind to be able to understand and appreciate snippets like these. That is truly a blessing. My dad was in a coma for weeks and we did not have the luxury of meaningful conversation towards the end. I learn so much from your posts!

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hilary, Sorry to hear about your mother not doing good today. It can be hard as a caregiver. This was a lovely post. We learned so much today. Thank you for sharing with us as well as with your mother. Give her a big hug from all of her fans out here. Keep smiling and laughing as much as you can. We are pulling for her and for you.Take care.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Daphne .. thanks - yes we are lucky .. she still has an extremely clear and lucid mind and enjoys life still. I feel for others without the joy that I've been able to have .. and so many are so morose - again we're lucky .. my Mum never complains: Amazing.

Thanks for visiting and being with us at this time ...
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna - thank you .. we go up and down .. it's the wonderful times I love.

Thanks for your interest in the post .. and laughing and smiling is so important as you say.

Thank you - all the best Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Peter Baca said...

Hello Hilary,

Your post was quite fascinating today! I found the historical point about the letter left by Pedro D'Ataide to be an interesting historical point!

The subsequent events show that great character is recognized!

Thank you for the interesting historical snippets!

Take Care

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pete .. I know - talk about entrepreneurship even in those days .. just the sheer amount of knowledge that was developed, tried and tested .. just opened so many doors for them. Frankly I can't imagine it ..

As you say thank goodness history records these great events for us.

Just so glad you enjoy the snippets!! -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Jannie Funster said...

I'm hungry! And Mossel Bay reminds me of how dearly I love mussels in saffron sauce, the kind of sauce that good crunchy garlic bread (which is everso soft in the middle,) soaks up to perfection.

With a crisp white wine, yessss!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. me too - when I read this post again .. I love mussels and I'll come over for your saffron sauce and crunchy garlic bread - sounds delicious. Let alone the wine - just not now .. coffee here! thanks for popping over here .. there's a saffron post too ..?! Bye for now .. dreaming of a relaxing wheel. Hilary