"Nossa Senhora dos Milagros 1686"
The Nossa Senhora dos Milagros (Milagros) was a Portuguese vessel of 30 guns and 150 men, commanded by Don Emmanual Da Silva, a close friend of the Portuguese King. The ship was on her way from Goa (India) to Portugal, bearing "Presents for Kings" from the King of Siam.
Reference: Cape Times weekly magazine of January 11th 1969. Story written by Leonard D. Lourens.
Quote: "When on the night of April 16, 1686, the Portuguese ship Nostra Senhora de los Milagros was wrecked at Cape Agulhas, it was not only the end of a gallant ship - it almost ended the successful career of a man who was held in high esteem by Govenor Simon van der Stel. That man was Olaf Bergh, the aristocratic Danish founder of the South African family which still bears his name.
The ship was on her way, bearing gifts from King Phra Narai of Siam to Pedro, King of Portugal, Louis XIV of France and Charles 11 of England. Apart from a large crew, she carried three Jessuit Priests and three
Siamese Ambassadors as passengers.
When the Governor heard of the ambassadors and other possible survivors, he sent a party of seven to search for them. Two of the Siamese were found (the other ambassador having died soon after reaching the shore) as well as some crewmembers. All were brought to Cape Town where they were cared for.
Realizing that there was very little hope of salvaging the wreck the Portuguese officers ceded their rights to the ship to the Company. Simon van der Stel immediately sent a salvage team consisting of Lieutenant Olaf Bergh, the Fiscal Johannes van Keulen, and some men among whom were Arent and Willem Hendricks, to try and retrieve some of the treasure.
Bergh boarded the wreck and was followed by four other members of the party. On board they were surprised to find a young slave named Anthony of Mocambique guarding the possessions of his master, Father Joseph de la Graria. Because of rough seas Olaf Bergh remained on the wreck for twelve days and in the light of later events, what happened during that period can only be guessed at.
When the party returned to the Castle, they handed in several pieces of material most of which were so soiled that they were distributed by the Governor among the members of the Council.
It was not long after the return of the salvage party that ugly rumors started circulating among the inhabitants of Cape Town. To add weight to the rumors, it was discovered that a valuable gold cross with eight diamonds, a silver filigree scent ball and a rosary had been sold to one of the residents by one of the salvagers, Arent Hendricks and in the garden of Olaf Bergh company officials unearthed a cache of ship's loot.
Accusations and rumors were rife and many in high positions at the Cape found themselves under suspicion. On February 23rd, 1687, the respected clergyman, Johannes Overney, found himself in the unenviable position of having to protest his innocence from the pulpit of his church.
Although Bergh later admitted his part in the theft, he very incautiously implicated Van der Stel in the matter by stating that he had verbally reported to the Governor who had advised him to keep quiet about the affair. The culprit was detained on Robben Island for a period of three and a half years after which he was given the option of remaining in the Cape as a free burgher, or retaining his rank in the state of semi-exile in Ceylon. This option was in consideration of the many years of excellent service he had rendered the Company. He chose to go to Ceylon.
In 1695 Bergh returned to the Cape bearing testimonials of his good work in Ceylon. After being appointed Captain of the Garrison he resumed his seat on the Council of Policy. His past indiscretion was not held against him because he was appointed to many important commissions before being retired on half-pay in 1715.
Olaf Bergh was one of the wealthiest men at the Cape during his day and quite a considerable landowner. In 1701 he bought De Kuilen (Kuils River) and the adjacent farm Saxenberg. After retirement from the service of the Company, he bought the historical farm Constantia, from the estate of Simon van der Stel and it was here that he died in his eightieth year in 1724.
Charles Shapiro of Aqua Exploration started his search for the Nossa Senhora dos Milagros (Milagros) during 1981. He built up a comprehensive file of research from various archives and libraries in South Africa and the Netherlands. Over the years many magnetometer surveys were carried out, stretching from Quoin Point to Cape Infanta. Aqua Exploration got a couple of reading in Struisbaai, that were well within the surf zone, buried under sand and too shallow to pursue, with a viable excavation at that point in time. On one occasion during the late 1980's, Charles with his partner Mike Keulemans went out on a survey during a Spring high tide and got a magnetometer reading so shallow that at low tide, the position would lie high and dry. Charles commented to Mike, "Well Mike, if this is the Milagros, then we can safely leave it until one day when we have enough funds to carry out this difficult excavation. It is lying so deep under sand that we also don't have to worry about anyone else working it, seeing that we are the only ones with a working prop-wash!"
Unbeknown to Charles, a couple by the names of Jan and Ingrid van der Merwe had other ideas and a different technique of searching. They were "beachcombers", which is an excellent way of also finding where a wreck had come to grief. Charlie and Mike used to also employ this method amongst rocky beach areas, which formed excellent catchments areas for shards of porcelain, bottles and iron conglomerate.
Jan and Ingrid combed kilometers of the long beach at Struisbaai and had accumulated boxes of shards, copper nails of various sizes and their finest find; small pieces of gold from jewelry.
Jan was an experienced diamond diver, but never had any means of finding the wreck sites out at sea. He bided his time and had heard about Aqua Exploration. The time came when Aqua Exploration went to Struisbaai to positively identify their Brederode wreck-site on a vessel named "Scorpio" and Jan's son was hired as a deckhand. After the survey, Jan's son went to his father and told him that Charles Shapiro of Aqua Exploration was on this survey. On shore Jan went and introduced himself to Charles and disclosed his finds to him. He took one look at the one particular collection of shards, which were found in the same vicinity as the pieces of gold and knew that the possibility of these coming off the Milagros were great! He took the shards to a porcelain expert named Jane Klose, in Cape Town and asked for them to be dated. She came back with her findings that they dated between 1680 to 1690. This coincided perfectly with the sinking of Milagros in 1686!
During 1999, Charles, with the use of his survey vessel; equipped with a magnetometer, located the main site lying in ¼ metre to 2 metres of water (depending on the tides), buried under 3 metres of sand.
Due to other commitments Charle's first opportunity to take his prop-wash vessel named "Blower" to Struisbaai was during 2002, but unfortunately not one single day was suitable for working. The conditions needed to be perfect for the Blower to be stationed over the site. The sea needed to be absolutely calm, with preferably a Spring high tide to fall between 9.30 am. and 3.30 pm., which would allow them a window of approximately 4 to 5 hours on site, due to the changing depth of water.
The site was eventually partially opened during the year of 2003, with the "Blower". Charles together with the help of Jan, Ingrid and Martin Lourens, managed to positively identify the "Milagros" Some unique artefacts made from soapstone, ivory, porcelain and wood, were recovered for this purpose.
They had now discovered a very important historical shipwreck, which concluded the Simon van der Stel and Olaf Bergh era, of their successful salvage expedition to the English East Indiaman "Johanna " during 1682 and which ended somewhat distastefully on the "Milagros " during 1686.
There seems to be much confusion in the research, as to how many people were on board the Milagros. One report states 150 people and another states 500 people. There does not seem to be any accurate reports as to how many people died on their journey overland to the Dutch Colony at Cape Town. However, from the Dutch reports (Leibrandt's Translations), Charles gathered the information that 131 people reached the Castle in Cape Town. A Mozambique slave named Anthony, was found still living on the wreck 3 months after her wrecking, which brings the total recorded survivors amount to 132 persons. One Dutchman drowned during the salvage expedition and the son of the Captain amongst others, also died on the overland journey. Many people are reported to have died from starvation and exhaustion, during their overland journey to the Castle, but as stated previously, no accurate figures were recorded.
The discovery of the "Milagros " has fulfilled Charles's quest of being involved with all three wrecks his original group set out after, namely; the "Johanna 1682 ", the "Brederode 1785 " and now the "Nossa Senhora dos Milagros 1686 ". Charles's determination, perseverance and patience, has given him the privilege of being the only member of that original group to have reached this status.
Back to Shipwrecks and Excavations.
Charles Shapiro cc T/A "Aqua Exploration"
South African Historical Wreck Society
+27 (0) 82 086 5937