Well-known Plett thespian, raconteur and committee member of The Van Plettenberg Historical Society, David Hall-Green, tells us about the ill-fated Portuguese ship, known to us as the “San Gonzales”, which ran into serious trouble in our bay.
1630: Padrão of the São Gonçalo
It seems that a group of about 100 sailors off the Portuguese trading ship, São Gonçalo, were the first Europeans who spent any significant amount of time in the area we now call Plettenberg Bay. They were en route back from India to Portugal in 1630, carrying a cargo of pepper. They had actually stopped in the bay to make some repairs to the ship when a huge storm hit the bay and claimed the ship as well as 150 of their crewmen. The 100 survivors managed to swim ashore and made the Piesang Valley their home for about 8 months, befriending the Khoisan as they did so and building a church. They spent their time here building 2 boats from the remains of the São Gonçalo and the timber supplied by the surrounding forest. Just before they left the Bay, they erected a stone marker (padrão) on the shore. This was the first ‘Plett beacon’. The padrão was re-discovered in 1980. It bore the inscription (in Portuguese) “Here was lost the ship São Gonçalo in the year 1630.” Sadly, the story of the São Gonçalo ended in even further tragedy: although the sailors were eventually picked up by other ships of the Portuguese fleet who brought them back to Portugal, one of those ships sank just as it entered the Lisbon harbour, with the loss of everyone on board – including some of the survivors of the São Gonçalo.