Country Life article on the wreck of the Grosvenor by Liz McKenzie



The Story of the Wreck of the Grosvenor

In March 1782, The East Indiaman sailing ship, the Grosvenor, belonging to the British East India Company and captained by John Coxton, sailed from Madras, India, carrying both passengers and valuable cargo, bound for England. 150 men, woman and children were on board.

Words by Liz McKenzie. Images by Kevin Cole

Due to its late departure from India, the Grosvenor sailed alone. The voyage was rough and plagued by storms. Captain Coxton was in command on the night of 3rd August. The chief mate and ship’s navigator, Alexander Logie, was ill and not at his post.  At 1 am on the 4th August the lookout crew called a warning. Breakers could be heard and lights were seen, but the Captain, relying on his charts, believed they were approximately 450 kilometres away from land. However, due to a miscalculation in the charts, the lights seen were grass fires burning on the coastal hills of Pondoland, South Africa.

At 4.30 am the Grosvenor was swept up in a current and smashed against the rocks off Lambasi Bay.  Sailors were offered a reward to take ropes from the sinking ship, swim to shore and tie the ropes onto the shoreline rocks. Two made the attempt but one was drowned in the process. All the others on board were pulled safely to the shore, a dangerous procedure which took all day.  17 passengers and 91 crew members survived this initial ordeal.

The Mpondo people came down to the shore, initially offering no help but taking items from the wrecked ship, ropes, planks, sails and nails.  Captain John Coxton, declared they should “press south” towards the Cape believing that it was 400 km away, another dangerous miscalculation as the distance to the Cape was 600 km away.

The local people were promised gifts should they help the English castaways. They brought fruit, meat and milk but when the gifts were not produced they became angry, stripping the woman of their jewels and the silver buttons from the men’s uniforms, threatening them with spears and knives.



A selection of treasures from the wreck.

A terrifying ordeal followed. The men, woman and six children struggled very slowly through rough difficult country, dense forests and wide rivers. The weak dropped behind. The survivors split up with the stronger men going ahead. Alexander Logie, his pregnant wife Lydia and the other woman and children could go no further. Captain Coxton abandoned these desperate people 2 days away from the Mzimvubu River. Going on alone he was never to be seen again.  It is known that Logie died and the abandoned woman and children were most likely to have been absorbed into the local tribe.

In some cases the survivors were helped by local people, but on other encounters they were attacked and men were killed.  In total 6 men survived that terrible journey, they were found by a farmer near Port Elizabeth 118 days after the ship was wrecked. A rescue team set off to find survivors. Some were found alive and were brought to safety.

For over 200 years fortune hunters have been searching for the fabulous treasures that were reputed to have been on the Grosvenor. In 1880 Sidney Turner, using dynamite, blasted the rocks in the area of the wreck site and retrieved coins and several cannons. News spread and the hunt for treasure lead to several bizarre schemes. A hypnotist was employed to guide treasure hunters to the spot in 1883. A salvage company, the Grosvenor Bullion Syndicate was launched in 1921- thousands of shares were sold in an attempt to recover the treasure. Efforts were made by tunnelling under the sea to reach the wreck. Dredgers, divers, breakwaters, cranes and modern scuba equipment have been used in an attempt to recover the legendary treasures.

In 1999 certain artefacts were brought to the surface which are now in the East London Museum, such as some gold and silver coins and personal effects. What became of the legendary treasure remains just that, a legend.



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Natal black snake records for East London (2017/2018)

On the 23rd January 2017 on a rainy evening (at approximately 20h42) a Natal black snake was noted crossing a grassed area at the home of museum scientist Kevin Cole in Beacon Bay. Sightings of these reptiles is not very often and research is underway to improve distributions records for the species. A previous unverified record of a Natal black snake at the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve has also been noted.

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Natal black snake Macrelaps microlepidotus, Beacon Bay, East London. Photo: Kevin Cole

On the 19th February 2018 the museum received a live specimen which was released after a DNA sample was taken for research purposes.

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These fossorial snakes have a blunt head with grooved rear fangs situated just below the eyes. The species also has smooth and very highly polished scales (as noted in the photos above).  They are shy snakes which are rarely seen with a docile manner (reluctant to bite). The venomous bite, however, can result in the loss of consciousness in humans. Prey species include lizards, small rodents, frogs and other snakes. They are also noted to constrict larger prey if need be. Carrion has also been recorded in its diet.

They lay between 3-10 large eggs with young being between 20-29 cm in length when they hatch. This snake is endemic to South Africa.

Reference: A guide to the reptiles of southern Africa by Graham Alexander and Johan Marais


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Loggerhead turtle stranding at Kayser’s Beach (East London)

Sadly around last year this time Bayworld in Port Elizabeth was trying rehabilitate a sick adult male turtle called Toughey who succumbed to a liver disease.

Yesterday a second  loggerhead turtle in just over a year was collected for research which stranded alive at Kayser’s Beach but didn’t survive.

loggerhead turtle Kaysers Beach

Kaysers Beach 28Feb 2018 001

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Partially fossilised shark tooth find

Mr Roy Clarke of East London kindly presented a shark tooth to the museum for identification. It was found along the Cefane beach (Chintsa Bay) recently.

A close inspection of the specimen revealed that the tooth has started to fossilise (discolouration as one indicator) and was imbedded in some lithified coastal sandstone – not an uncommon geological feature in the area.

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A 22-mm-tall fossilised great white shark tooth found by Roy Clarke. Photo: Kevin Cole

A comparison of the tooth shape and dimension assisted in the identification as that belonging to a Great White shark Carcharodon carcharias. Retired museum colleague Greg Brett was able to demonstrate the difference in the tooth shape of other shark species such as the tiger and raggie to name a few in confirming the identification. Distinctive here is the very equal (triangular) presentation of the 2.2 cm tall tooth.

The earliest known fossils of great white sharks are from the mid-Miocene period 16 million years ago.

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Super blue blood moon tomorrow night

The full moon will be in perigee position (closest pass to the Earth) tomorrow evening (known as a supermoon) and being the second supermoon in a month (also called a blue moon) combined with a celestial lunar eclipse (blood moon) all happening to combine in a special event. The last super blood moon event (no blue moon) in East London occurred under cloudy skies on the 28th September 2015.

In the perigee moon position the moon will be 23 506 km’s closer to the Earth at 358 994 km’s than its average distance of 382 500 km’s. This usually translates on a clear evening to the moon appearing to look 14% larger than normal and 30% brighter.


Full moon rising over Beacon Bay, East London. Photo: Kevin Cole

Unfortunately we will not be able to experience the eclipse in our part of the world. However, the supermoon spectacle should be worth a look up starting at 19h20 tomorrow evening (moonrise).

Although there have been a number of supermoons and lunar eclipses the astronomical trifecta of a blood moon as well is most unusual.

There will be a super blue moon event later in the year on the 31 March 2018 and a total lunar eclipse visible on the 27/28th July 2018. Two super blue moons in a year is also a rare event.

Beach swimmers should be wary of the spring tide at this time and anglers should also take special precautions not to be caught unawares on the rocks. The higher than normal tides will also result in stronger rip currents.

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Furry little Otomys visitor

Untamed indigenous gardens have some special benefits as was revealed at a home in Beacon Bay on the 1st December 2017. An adult vlei rat, Otomys irroratus, followed a clearly marked run from its saucer-shaped nest to an open feeding area of grass. It was shortly followed by a pair of youngsters who cautiously started feeding close by.

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Ten species of the genus Otomys occur in Africa and O. irroratus is illustrated here. Photos: Kevin Cole                      

Vlei rats are wholly herbivorous and their digestive tract shows some advanced specialisation. The feeding trait is illustrated above where the  plant material was bitten off at the stem by the adult and then picked up in the mouth and grasped on either side by the paws and short 20-50 mm pieces cut off and chewed. Also noticeable is that this individual is sitting in a semi-upright position on its haunches while feeding. They are anti-social animals and tend towards isolation in adulthood.

Unlike other rat species only two or three precocial young are born at a time with their incisors slightly erupted (so as not to cause too much discomfort to the female while suckling).

Snakes and owls prey on the species  and in Beacon Bay mongooses and genets (large-spotted)  would also find them a tasty food source.


The rodents of southern Africa by G De Graaff

The mammals of the southern African subregion by JD Skinner and RHN Smithers

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A ‘lynx’ that can cling to a wall …. .

A week ago a strange looking spider was observed maneuvering up a wall at home in Beacon Bay, East London. It was small in size with large spiny bristles on the legs. It responded quite quickly to human movement and moved swiftly up the wall.


A lynx spider of the genus Oxyopes                                                                        Photo: Kevin Cole ELM

Intrigued and unable to identify the spider I contacted Astri Leroy of the Spider Club of South Africa ( She quickly responded with the following reply ‘It’s a male (see the hugely modified ends to his palps, like little boxing gloves)  small lynx spider, of the family Oxyopidae, in the genus Oxyopes.  There are a number of species in this genus that are common, widespread and very difficult to separate into species from photos.  In fact as far as I can recall just under 30 different species in the genus’.

Reading up on these spiders it is further revealed that they do not build a web, are not known to be harmful to humans and are found on flowers, leaves, grasses and occasionally come indoors. The numerous spines stand out at right angles to the legs and some of the species can be very brightly coloured.


Note the spiny bristles on the legs and ‘boxing glove’ like palps on this lynx spider                            Photo: Kevin Cole ELM

A behavioural trait of stalking and jumping at prey like a cat probably gives rise to their common name – the lynx spider. They have been known to jump 2 cm in the air to seize a passing insect in full flight.


Spiders of southern Africa by Astri and John Leroy

Southern African spiders: An identification guide by Martin R. Filmer

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