Mossel Bay - History
Although people have been living in Mossel Bay for more than 162,000 years, the recorded history of the area goes back only abut half a millennium – to the 3rd of February, 1488, to be precise: the day that saw the arrival of Bartolomeu Dias, the first Portuguese explorer who landed on South African soil.
Dias had been appointed by Portugal’s King João II to lead an expedition to find both a maritime route to India, and the land of the Christian leader, Prester John.
Although he failed in his tasks (he never did get to India, and it turned out that Prester John was simply a legend), his trip did open the way for Vasco da Gama’s 1497 Indian voyage - during which Da Gama came ashore at Mossel Bay to became the first European to barter with the people he met here.
Pedro Álvares Cabral also then sailed for India in 1500, where he traded with the ruler at Calicut, (now Kozhikode) – but things heated up quite quickly there, and he and his men fled. On the return journey, Pêro de Ataide’s ship was separated from the fleet, and he made for Mossel Bay, where he hoped to reunite with the others. They weren’t here, though, so de Ataide wrote a letter to João da Nova (whom he knew would lead the next expedition to India) explaining the situation in Calicut.
He left the letter an old boot (or possibly in an iron pot) in a milkwood tree - the Post Office Tree – by a spring, and sailed on.
Incredibly, Da Nova found the letter - and used the information when he fought Portugal’s first significant naval battle in the Indian Ocean: the defeat of the Calicut fleet off Cannanore on December 31, 1501.
Visit a full-sized replica of Dias’ ship - and post a card from the Post Office Tree – at the Dias Museum Complex in Mossel Bay: www.bit.ly/DiasMus