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Shipwrecks of Buffalo City: The Quanza

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

East London's very first suction dredger, The Lucy, which arrived in the city in 1886. Picture: East London Museum

The Quanza was a four-masted steamship of 942 tons which went ashore at East London on Sunday, 26 May 1872 at 05h00. She struck the rocks just east of the Orient Beach -- close to today's Wimpy on the Esplanade. No lives were lost.

The Quanza was at anchor in the roadstead, loading a cargo of about 3,000 bales of wool destined for London. She was almost ready to sail when she was struck by a heavy south-east gale. Her anchors dragged -- and soon she was on the rocks.

The ship had been built in 1865 and had originally been named Yorkshire. In 1868, when she was transferred to a Portuguese flag, she was renamed Quanza. In 1871 she was returned to the British flag.

She was one of seven ships to founder that morning. The others were sailing vessels. An Eastern Cape newspaper reported that a "clean sweep" had been made of the roadstead, with all ships at anchor having been driven ashore.

The other vessels were as follows:

  • Queen of May: 314 tons, smashed on the rocks to become a total wreck;

  • Refuge: washed onto the sand with a full load of cargo, all damaged;

  • Martha: 191 tons, washed onto the sand with a full load of cargo, all damaged;

  • Elaine: smashed on the breakwater, bottom up, with a full load of cargo;

  • Sharp: 204 tons, driven onto the rocks but the best part of her cargo would be saved;

  • Emma: washed onto the sand, but had already discharged most of her cargo.

The problem was that East London still had no proper harbour. Indeed, a sandbar across the mouth of the Buffalo River meant that only small vessels of less than 80 tons could enter. The rest had to anchor in the roadstead where lighters would meet them to load or off-load cargo.

When a new suburb was created in 1883 -- situated overlooking where the Quanza had been wrecked -- it would become known as the Quanza Estate. The street running directly up from the shore through the middle of Quanza Estate would be named Quanza Street.

In 1904 the municipality constructed a pair of bathing pools on the rocks at the spot where the Quanza had founded. The pools would be known as the Quanza Pools.

They were constructed as a result of an initial accident. The Town Engineer was experimenting with explosives and had blasted a great hole in the rocks at that point.

Water immediately rushed in and the resulting pool became a popular place for women and children. As a consequence, the Town Council decided to build a proper pool there.

In fact, two pools were built: one for men, the other for women and children. The protests that ensued, however, saw the Council change its mind: sexually mixed bathing was allowed for the first time in the larger pool while the smaller one remained the domain of the women and children.

Author: Dr Keith Tankard

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