Recent resurfacing of wreck brings into light Cape Town’s maritime heritage


Recently, the wreck of the Antipolis resurfaced at the 12 Apostles after spending 44years on the ocean floor. Over many centuries, numerous vessels have run aground along the shore of the Cape of Storms. Shipwrecks provide us with glimpses into the past, telling the stories of a different time in history. The Cape of Good Hope holds many such stories, one of which is that of the São José Paquete d’Africa.

This Portuguese slave ship set sail from Mozambique with a cargo of more than 400 enslaved persons destined for Brazil. The São José encountered rough seas near Clifton and tragically wrecked on 27 December 1794. More than 200 of the enslaved perished in the violent waves, and the surviving 300 were sold into slavery in Cape Town. The São José represents the first known shipwreck with enslaved Africans on board to be identified, studied and excavated.

Maritime wreck

Once forgotten as a footnote in history for almost two centuries, the stories of those enslaved on board are today represented by the collaborative work of researchers and scholars from Mozambique, South Africa, Brazil, Europe and the United States and forms part of the Slave Wrecks Project –  a global collaborative archaeological and research partnership between Iziko Museums of South Africa, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the South African Heritage Resource Agency, the African Centre for Heritage Activities, the US National Parks Service and Dive With a Purpose. 

Artefacts recovered from the wreck site form part of the exhibition Unshackled History: The Wreck of the Slave Ship, São José, 1794. The exhibition at the Iziko Slave Lodge tells the story of the São José’s identification, the innumerable processes it took to retrieve her belongings from the ocean floor, and, most importantly, of her “human cargo” – the people who were violently uprooted from their homes in Mozambique.

Maritime wreck


Learn more about Slavery at the Cape HERE


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