Posts Tagged With: museum

Brave rescue in the old harbour – 1932


One of the bravest rescues in Hermanus took place in 1932 near the old harbour in shark-infested waters. A fourteen year old boy, named Roos was washed off the rocks on the outer side of the protecting wall. A rough see was running. The strong current immediately took him out to sea.

On the cliff top above the harbour, the two friends and long-time boxing rivals, Douglas McFarlane (19) and Kaiser de Kock were watching the fishermen battling to negotiate the entrance to the harbour under extremely hazardous conditions. They also noticed two great white sharks cruising towards the entrance to the harbour, no doubt after blood from the fish-cleaning tables running into the sea at the breakwater.

Walking down the steep path of the harbour, a frantic policeman came running towards them explaining about the boy in the sea, and begged Douglas, known as a strong swimmer, to help. The policeman himself could not swim. Douglas ran to the breakwater, kicked off his sneakers and judging the swell, dived into the sea. As he launched himself, he heard Kaiser’s voice:  “Oppas vir die haaie, (mind the sharks) Doug”!

Crowds gathered as Douglas reached the boy out at sea, with powerful strokes.  On reaching him Douglas told Roos to relax as he would hold him up. Fortunately the boy kept his cool and Douglas was able to keep them both afloat. Owing to the heavy swells, it was impossible to swim back. A boat put out and saved them both in the nick of time. Both were fatigued having received severe buffeting from the waves.

The presence of sharks kept niggling Douglas and as his hands closed on the gunnel of the rescue boat, with one last supreme effort he heaved himself into the boat and safety. Those on the cliff top, watching the rescue drama held their breath anxiously as the two boys were brought to safety. Everyone agreed it was the bravest deed they ever witnessed. Douglas had only recently left school. He was awarded the Royal Humane Society bronze medal for having saved a life from drowning.

At 91 Douglas McFarlane currently lives in Fynbos Park Retirement Village with his wife Lettie. They’ve been married 68 years and have three children. Douglas is the only surviving child of Wattie and Aletta McFarlane’s ten children.

Information: S.J. du Toit,  Jeanette du Toit, Cape Odessey     Photo: Old Harbour Museum

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Who built and repaired boats in those early years?

Hermanus Fishing boatsWho built and repaired boats in those early years in Hermanus?  You may also ask this question.  John Louis built the harbour house (today the Burgundy Restaurant) and set up boat-building business in the latter part of 1870’s.  John came from Sweden and jumped ship, from a  “Windjammer” where he was employed as shipswright.  He soon became part of the small fishing community and met up with young widow Martha Wessels.  Unfortunately they could not marry as her husband who deserted her years before could not be confirmed dead.

John became known as Sweed Wessels.  He built a second house where Martha and her three daughters lived.  They were happy and her children accepted him as father and the grandchildren called him Oupa.  Coena Haman of Cafe Royal was one of Louis’s grandchildren.

In 1902 a friend, Mr Overbeek presented Sweed with a small cypress tree and the six year old Coenie helped to plant the tree.  It was the same cypress tree that gave the name to the Cypress Tree Tea Garden and when Ethel Rubery bought the cottage in 1928 and turned it into a restaurant.

John was also a keen fishermen and owned two boats – Morning Star and Mabel.  He served in the town council but died at an early age of fifty three.  According to Coena Haman, his son Hennie Wessels carried on building and  mending boats at harbour house but later moved to Westdene.  Martha  moved in with her daughter, married to Lewies Poppies Swart, in the house where the library stands.

The monument left by Sweed Wessels is now the Burgundy, formerly known as The Cypress Tree Tea Garden, and is also a National Monument.

Story and information:  S.J. du Toit                   Photos:  Jeanette du Toit and the Old Harbour Museum

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Hermanus Old Harbour Open Air Museum

old fishing boats

Hermanus Old Harbour Museum

The Old Harbour Open-Air Museum is a provincial heritage site. It is unique in that apparently it is one of only two fishing harbours in the world that has been conserved in tact. Remnants of the vibrant fishing industry are seen everywhere. It is the axis around which the fishing village of Hermanus developed.

The stone and concrete harbour consist of a sea wall, a breakwater, a few historic fishing boats along concrete slopes, the turn stone, gutting tables, brine tanks, “bokkom” stands and reconstructed fishing shacks.

Information and photo:  Old Harbour Museum

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