So, we all attended at least a handful of history lessons based on Exploders. The mighty names that led Europe to the world and brought back foreign trade. When this topic comes up it is usually partnered with names like Bartholomeus Diaz or Vasco de Gama. But very few know that there were many names lost at sea before the path to the Indian Spice Trade was set.
Having said that, we also know – as I mentioned in a previous post – that the Portuguese traders and explorers referred to the Namibian coastline as the ‘Gates of Hell’.
No subtlety about their feelings there. Now put two and two together and you know that many of the trade ships found their tragic demise along our stretch of coast.
One of these cases, however, turned out to be far more unique than the others.It has been dubbed the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’ and was found in the Sperrgebiet near the mouth of the Orange River.
In 2008 a company geologist, from the De Beers mining group, came across a strange looking rock.
This turned out to be a copper ingot with the hallmark of Anton Fugger, one of Renaissance Europe’s wealthiest financiers, on it! And when they took a deeper look, archaeologists found about 22 tons of the ingots buried in the desert sand.
But other than copper, they also found weapons, armour, canons and a variety of wealth, including ivory and gold!
More than 2 000 gold coins were recovered and they could be traced back to Spain, Venice, France and a few other European powers. And how was such a large treasure found intact? Simply because the wreckage was located on the property of one of the most heavily guarded diamond mines in the country.
A closer look at the ship wreckage showed that the ship was in fact an East Indiaman from Portugal. And could be dated back to the 1530’s. These ships were often used as trade ships during the Age of Discovery. For the History buffs, the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’ is only the second of the East Indiamans that have been found. So very little is known of these ships.
By piecing together the little information they had access to, archaeologists speculate that this wreckage may have once been the ship named Bom Jesus (Good Jesus).
If their theory is correct, the ship was captained by Dom Francisco de Noronha and housed 300 sailors, soldiers, merchants, priests, nobles and slaves. Looking at the ship, they began to speculate about the fate of the men aboard.
The wreckage only held a few toe bones – remains inside a show that was clamped down by a mass of timber. On top of that there weren’t very many personal belongings found among the wreckage. Because of this, it is thought that most of the ship’s occupants had managed to make it to dry land in one piece.
Still, they were walking straight into the harsh, arid environment of the desert. That alone could kill the entire crew. Looking for a silver lining, maybe they found their way to the Orange River 25 kilometres south…or they made contact with locals and struck a deal.
The point remains, we will never truly know what happened to the crew and occupants of the Bom Jesus. I like to think they joined a local tribe and found happiness in our special Namibia.
If you have any information about the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’ or the Bom Jesus, we invite you to share it with us in the comment section below.
Author – Jescey Visagie is a proud Namibian and is passionate about writing and language. Tag along for the ride as she tries to uncover new insights into Namibia and explores what the country has to offer.