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"Le Centaur 1750"

Reference: Swept by Wind and Wave by Speight

The Le Centaur   was a French ship carrying 300 crew, 100 passengers and a cargo which consisted solely of "peppercorns". She was commanded by Captain Monsieur de la Butte and bound from Mauritius to France, when on the 19th January 1750, she ran aground a little west of Cape Agulhas in fine weather.

Quote: "All would have been well had the Captain kept his head, but a few hasty decisions led to faulty manoeuvres. Before he quite realized the risks he was incurring, his ship was caught in an inshore current and carried ashore, grounding gently on a sandy bottom, the succeeding waves pushing her in further, until she was so tightly held that the men laboring in the boats could not haul her off again. The order to abandon ship brought the 400 people, including several woman and children, crowding to the side. In an orderly fashion they jumped down, or were lifted down, to the beach in safety. They were several days trek from the Castle, but to attempt that heart-breaking journey was preferable to camping on the beach in the remote hope of eventual deliverance from the sea.


Lines of seamen passed the bags and barrels in which provisions and water were taken from the ship to dump on the beach. As the last man leaped from the canting deck, the captain gathered the people and spoke of the ordeal before them and of the need for faith and courage so that at last they might arrive safely. He portioned out the supplies, each according to what he could carry.


Thus burdened, the trekkers started hopefully, along a coast of precipitous cliffs, resounding river mouths and wide loose beaches, a distance of a few hundred miles that in the absence of even elementary footpaths became a torture of the damned even for tough seamen, let alone for the pitifully faltering women and children. So passed the days of agony, of bleeding feet, blistered heels and torn, weary limbs, days of depleted rations and little water, of hot sun and stinging wind, until finally there was nothing to eat and drink and the Cape still far away. The weak dropped out to die their lonely, neglected deaths on the bitter trail. But when at last news of the wreck reached the Castle, relief wagons were hurried out to pick up the survivors." Unquote.


Aqua Exploration discovered the "Le Centaur   " wreck-site in 1984 while searching for another treasure ship named the "Nossa Senhora dos Milagros   ". Until positive identification could be established, they drew up a site plan and started with the excavation using their Blower for the sand removal. Their main artefacts for identification came in the form of a huge bell and a small corroded coin. After a couple of weeks a coin expert identified the coin to be a French "Double Sol" which dated the wreck between 1738 and 1770. The bell belonged to a Jesuit Priest. As the Blower removed the overburden sand, so peppercorns were seen everywhere. Charles looked up in his records and came across the French ship named Le Centaur 1750   and on doing further research, found out that her cargo consisted solely of "peppercorns!" Other artefacts found were complete wine "onion" bottles, a gold earring, parts of a pig's skeleton which had parts of a wooden cage around it and shards of thick porcelain.


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Charles Shapiro cc T/A "Aqua Exploration"


South African Historical Wreck Society
www.sahws.org.za

+27 (0) 82 086 5937

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