Arniston is a small seaside settlement on the coast of the Overberg region of South Africa, close to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. Prior to the wreck of Arniston, it is also known as Waenhuiskrans, an Afrikaans name meaning literally “Wagon house cliff”, after a local sea cave large enough to accommodate a wagon and a span of oxen.
Wreck of Arniston
In May 1815, a British East Indiaman, Arniston, was rounding the Cape in convoy on a journey to repatriate wounded English soldiers from Ceylon. The ship lacked a chronometer – an expensive instrument at the time – and consequently had to rely on other ships in the fleet to calculate the longitude of the group. After being separated from the convoy in heavy seas, the captain of Arniston was obliged to rely solely on dead reckoning to navigate. Thinking incorrectly that he was 100 miles (160 km) west of the Cape of Good Hope, the master steered north for St Helena and ran the ship onto the rocks at Waenhuiskrans. Only six of the 378 people on board survived the wrecking.[
The survivors spent several days on the beach before being discovered by a farmer’s son. A memorial, a replica of which can be seen today, was erected on the beach by the wife of Colonel Giels, whose four unaccompanied children were lost in the tragedy. The memorial bears the following inscription:
Over the years, the name of the wreck has become synonymous with the name of the location and today the labels ‘Arniston’ and ‘Waenhuiskrans’ are used interchangeably.
At first only a fishing community, Arniston has become a holiday destination and its hinterland a region for viticulture. The fishing village, characterized by its lime-washed and thatched houses, remains unspoiled and has been declared a national monument in its entirety. Fishermen still go to sea in boats of the style that would have been familiar to locals in the early nineteenth century, although now under contract to larger commercial enterprises. Whale watching is a popular tourist activity. The closest major town is Bredasdorp, 24 kilometres (15 mi) to the north.