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"The Johanna Wagner 1862"

Reference: Cape Argus, Government Gazette.


The Johanna Wagner   was a Prussian barque of 600 tons, commanded by Captain Kempe. 

She was bound from Batavia to Amsterdam with a cargo of tobacco, sugar, coffee, India rubber, gall-nuts, gum damar and tin. Wrecked at Strandfontein near Muizenberg on the night of the 15th July 1862.


Quote: "The Johanna Wagner   went ashore at Simon's Bay late on the night of the 15th instant, and before morning was a total wreck. Our Simon's Bay correspondent sends us the following account of the disaster': "On Wednesday last a barque stood into the bay, with a leading wind. As she passed Seal Island it became apparent that the captain fell into a very usual error with strangers, and thought that Simon's Bay was round Muizenberg Point, and as there was a haze on the low land he only found his mistake when he saw breakers ahead. The vessel was immediately put about, and stood away towards Hottentots' Holland, when Keane, the pilot got on board. His services were declined, but he remained. The vessel put about on the other tack, but for want of wind, or not having sail enough, she drifted into the ground swell towards the beach. She was again put about, but too late, as she began bumping in the trough of each sea. This was about 7 p.m. The pilot then recommended more sail to be put on her, to try and force her out, and at every rise of the waves she would spring slightly forward and then fall back with another bump. This continued till about three in the morning, when her back broke, and all further attempts to save her were useless. In the morning the pilot boat was found washed up and broke, and the man that was in her quite safe, but very cold. The beach was strewn with wreck, and the surf was breaking over the vessel; the crew were all in the mizzen rigging, waiting for assistance. Mr. Auret brought one of his fishing boats through the surf, for about two miles, to their assistance, and wonderfully he managed to dodge the crested waves as they came raging in; but when he came to the vessel he found that the drawback round the vessel swept him under the bows, so that he could not venture alongside; but a line was passed and a small raft was constructed of two deals and the bottom of a bullock-wagon. This was launched and an old sea dog, called John Allen (to whom great praise is due for his exertions throughout the day, and who, indeed, was the means of saving the shipwrecked crew), volunteered to go off, as he said, to give them pluck on board, and see that too many did not get on to the small raft at once. One man came first, then two, then two again got on, and in hauling through a heavy sea the shore rope broke, and the poor fellows were adrift. With great difficulty they were hauled back to the vessel, half drowned. A cart was then dispatched to Kalk Bay for rope. Another more substantial raft was completed, but the difficulty now was , how to get a line to the vessel again. Auret and Blake tried for a time. The tide was beginning to flow, when the poor fellows would soon have to be left to their fate. It was decided then to offer 10 pounds for men to volunteer to pass the line. Some Manilla fishermen at once came forward, and by getting the end of the line on board, they fairly earned their money, and the honour that such a deed merits. The rest of the crew were all safely landed, but very cold and benumbed. There were plenty of good things for them, and all necessary assistance was speedily and cheerfully rendered.


John Allen, should not be forgotten, as he not only made on the raft, but put himself into a most dangerous position on board by so doing; and while on board he saved the life of the pilot, who jumped overboard, thinking those in the boat could pick him up, but he was at once carried round the stern with the drawback, when Allen jumped after him with a rope, and they were hauled on board.


The vessel is now a perfect wreck, the mainmast gone, and the hull breaking up.


The moral to be deduced from this is, that captains of vessels should have some consideration for pilots, who go off in all weathers, frequently at the risk of their lives. A paltry 6 pounds 6 shillings might have saved this fine vessel, and she might now be at anchor in Simon's Bay, instead of being knocked down for 300 or 400 pounds; while the pilot was all but drowned, and the poor man's boat smashed." Unquote.


During 1983, Aqua Exploration were commissioned to excavate the Johanna Wagner   by Tubby Gericke and Brian Clarke. The wreck lies under sand and the use of their "Blower" was needed to be able to accomplish any work on this difficult site. Extensive sand removal under dangerous surf conditions was done and although much of the various cargo was seen and a reasonable site plan constructed, no sign of the tin was to be found.


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Charles Shapiro cc T/A "Aqua Exploration"


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