The recent discovery of the remains of the Portuguese slave ship São José off Cape Town has brought East Africa’s role in the transatlantic slave trade to public attention. But the São José was merely one of a large number of slave vessels that either rounded the Cape or put into Table Bay for refreshment.
The sinking of the São José two days after Christmas in 1794 marked the end of a bad year for the slave trade at the Cape of Good Hope. In April that year, a second vessel, the French ship Jardinière, had gone down off Cape Agulhas. Around 185 slaves had reached shore but many had then escaped or had died of their exertions. Only 125 were finally auctioned at Stellenbosch.