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English home language

Grade 5

That sinking feeling

Module 22


De Jonge Thomas

June 1, 1773 – Table Bay, Cape Town

The story of the wreck of De Jonge Thomas is one of the most remarkable in the history of Table Bay. It was to this ship that the legendary Wolraad Woltemade rode his horse into the raging sea to save lives.

De Jonge Thomas was lying anchored in Table Bay, along with 3 other ships belonging to the DEIC. These vessels should never have been there as it was the Company’s ruling that no ships should be anchored in the bay after May 15; due to the Cape’s unpredictable winter weather.

A gale had been blowing hard and prevented the ships from sailing. The Captain of De Jonge Thomas decided to attempt to beach the ship in a favourable spot, rather than have it driven ashore at the mercy of the storm. However, on impact the ship swung broadside (sideways) to the beach, mountainous waves broke over her and within minutes of beaching, she broke her back.

Soldiers were sent down to the beach to assist in the salvaging of the cargo and to offer help to the sailors aboard the wreck. As always, their first task was to erect a gibbit on the beach to hang any looters .

Wolraad Woltemade rode down to the beach to bring his son, a soldier, some food. He rode his horse, an excellent swimmer, into the raging surf and managed to rescue two sailors. He repeated this 6 times before collapsing with exhaustion. Hearing the despairing cries from the wreck, he rode out into the sea again – but this time too many sailors grabbed onto his horse and both he and the horse, and the sailors, drowned in the waves.

(Taken/adapted from Shipwrecks of the Western Cape , by Brain Wexham)


In your groups discuss the following and answer the following questions about the extract you have read:

  • Find a word in the passage which:
    • means ‘to rescue’
    • is the opposite of ‘to demolish/break down’
    • means ‘a strong wind or storm’
    • means ‘extreme tiredness’
  • Explain in your own words why the DEIC did not want ships to anchor in the bay during the winter season. Give 2 reasons.
  • Why did the Captain decide to move his ship to a more favourable spot?
  • What happened to the ship when “she broke her back” ?
  • What . . .
    • is a gibbit used for?
    • would you be doing if you were looting ?
    • would you be doing if you were assisting someone?
  • How many sailors did Wolraad Woltemade save?

[LO 3.1.1]


  1. The soldiers were responsible for the death of Woltemade.
  2. The sailors he was trying to help, were responsible for Woltemade’s death.

[LO 1.6]


Did we listen to each other?
Did everyone have a chance to speak?
Did we use our time well?
Did we respect someone else’s point of view?
Did we listen quietly before responding?

REMINDER!Group work can only be successful, if you
  • take turns!
  • stick to the topic
  • ask relevant questions
  • respect others’ opinions
  • listen
  • give constructive feedback

[LO 2.2.2; 3.6]


The ‘unsinkable’ ship that vanished without a trace

At 6pm on the evening of Monday, 26 July 1909, the steamship, Waratah , pride of Lund’s Blue Anchor Line, left Durban harbour and sailed in a south-westerly direction for Cape Town, where she was scheduled to arrive on the morning of Thursday, 29 July – before continuing the voyage to London.

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Source:  OpenStax, English home language grade 5. OpenStax CNX. Sep 22, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10991/1.2
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