Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa

Bookshelf: Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa

Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa – Malcolm Turner

Thousands of ships have wrecked along the South African coastline by now – when this book was published in 1988 the tally as recorded in this book (which is not exhaustive) stood at just under 1,000 – and we are blessed with wild, wild seas that render up a wreck for us every year or two. Something about shipwrecks fascinates many people – myself included. There’s always the possibility of treasure, speaking to the pirate in all of us. The destruction of a massive sea-going vessel by the forces of nature, and the bravery often exhibited by the crew and passengers (captain of the Oceanos excepted) makes for a great story. And we love stories.

The main portion of this book is concerned with navigation, shipbuilding techniques and cargoes, the causes of shipwrecks, and tales of treasure and salvage attempts. Turner deals with the history of salvage techniques, and outlines what has to be done on the site of a shipwreck. He describes how the wreck’s location determines its condition – whether it’s on a reef or sandbank, and how exposed it is to the force of the ocean have a significant impact.

Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa
Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa

Turner’s book also mentions many specific ships wrecked off the South African coastline between 1505 and 1986, many of them in sidebars to the main text. It’s a detailed volume, complete with co-ordinates for wrecks of known location. Turner includes photographs of the vessels as they were before hitting the seabed, as well as stories of the sinkings and (in some cases) rescues. Details of any salvage operations performed on the wreck are also included.

It’s a fabulous reference – I love seeing the ships as they were before sinking, and dreaming about visiting the remoter ones – but I have often lamented that it’s so out of date, and the fact that it doesn’t include deliberate scuttlings like the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks and the SAS Pietermaritzburg. (The latter point is understandable – technically those ships were not “wrecked”!)

I was thus delighted to get a comment on my Goodreads review of the book from Malcolm Turner’s son, Richard, in mid-June. He says that they have just managed to get a reversal of rights agreement from the original publisher, and that they are looking to re-issue the book in the UK with updates (Seli 1 and Oceanos, I’m looking at you!) and a new design. If you want to get in touch with Richard, and be informed of updates, email him.

The book is currently out of print, but I got my copy from Amazon and if you can’t wait for the updated edition you can try Abe Books too – some of their used book sellers stock it.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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