50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 97

The Legend of the Peacock Throne In 1782 the Grosvenor, a homeward bound East Indiaman, stranded on the Pondoland coast. She came there by gross negligence; The captain thought he was three hundred miles from land and acted accordingly; When a seaman reported land at 3:30am the captain retorted “Tis but a reflection of the sky”. Within a few minutes the ship was ashore. About twenty men were drowned and cargo and livestock were strewn upon the rocky shore. The cook’s mate, being drunk, could not be persuaded to leave the ship and ‘surrendered his soul accordingly’. Th e survivors set off southwards, the captain estimating it would take them sixteen days to reach Cape Town. It took them sixteen weeks just to reach a frontier farm. Part of the treasure on board the Grosvenor at the time was “The Peacock Throne” destined for the Tzar of Russia. The backrest of the elaborate golden throne was in the image of a peacock’s tailfan decorated with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other precious gemstones. Pondo tribesmen found the shipwrecked “Peacock Throne” and transported it to the local chief’s residence where it was used by him and his descendants. Around 1828 Zulu impis raided and found the Peacock Throne. They imagined that Shaka would bestow honours and gifts if they delivered it to their King. When the return party reached the vicinity of Hella Hella they left the heavy throne hidden in a cave. All but one of that party were subsequently killed. Only one Dlamini made it home to Zululand only to find that his King Shaka had been assassinated and Dingaan had taken over as King of the Zulu Nation. Dlamini decided to keep the throne a secret. Many years later he led his son on an expedition back to Hella Hella to find the treasure. And find it they did! Stowed away in a large hut, secured to the roof beams. But tragically, in attempting to take it down the weakened ropes gave way, allowing the heavy throne to fall and crush Dlamini to death. The Moral of the Story, of course - according to Barry Porter anyway - is: “People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones”. Rory Lynsky wrote in 1981: “Siltation and pollution by agriculture and industry has left the Umkomaas estuary in outwardly a severely degraded state. In 1920 the estuary was reported to average 6m in depth. A launch could operate taking people to a hotel upriver and coasters could enter the mouth. Today (1980) the estuary is on average only 1.5m deep.” Not only was the Umkomaas River estuary deeper before, it was once a port! Port Scott, a jetty made of big square rocks and mango poles on the south bank1. In 1861 Captain Marshall surveyed the estuary and reported the river to be navigable for 15 miles upriver ‘for vessels of up to 60 tons’. The local farmers immediately established The Alexandra Shipping Co. and on the 25 March 1861 the screw steamer Natalie ‘with a heave and a couple of rolls, crossed the bar’ and tied up at the jetty. On the 28 March she set sail back to Durban ‘to the astonishment of a croc watching from a sandbank’. For a while the Natalie, then the Anthony Musgrave, then the Somtseu visited Port Scott and ‘Port Robinson’ upriver (not 15 miles, but somewhere beyond the bend on which the Sappi Saiccor mill now stands). But in 1882 disaster struck: The Somtseu was stranded in the mouth for five months, eventually being refloated by ‘twenty spans of oxen - surely one of few ships ever to depend on that form of motive power’. Thus ended the Umkomaas’ days as a ‘navigable river’. UNTIL - some 70 97 years later - a few adventurous souls starting paddling their craft downstream in search of adventure. Later much smaller craft started running aground on the sandbanks way before the mouth (especially Accords carrying two hefty paddlers who fill the cockpits so they hardly need a splashy). One famous early European settler Around St Elmo’s in 1870 a seventeen year old Englishman joined his brother trying to grow cotton where the Ncibi Valley (Valley of the Spearthrust) joins the main Umkomaas valley. The venture was doomed to failure - heat, pests and fluctuating cotton prices militating against the crop. The young man left the valley and made his way to Kimberley where tales of diamonds were luring fortune-seekers from around the world. His decision was to change history, as his name was Cecil John Rhodes. The drift below their farm crossed to Conyngham’s farm. He acted as ferryman and so the drift was naturally named after him - though misspelled as Cunningham’s Drift. It is still visible today as an old wagon road snaking up to the northern escarpment. - Info from John Conyngham, great-grandson of the ferryman Big Drops - by Charles Mason There are four major obstacles to paddling down the Umkomaas River on its journey from its source in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg to the sea at Umkomaas village on the KZN South Coast. They are Bald Ibis Falls and Long Drop Rapid between Deepdale and Hella Hella, No.5&6 Rapid between Hella Hella and Josephine’s Bridge, and Kingfisher Falls, the last big drop, 30km inland from the Indian Ocean. The first two are on a stretch of river not used for any competition, but enjoyed and treasured by recreational paddlers when the water is low and clear for the joy of paddling through a beautiful, virtually uninhabited section of the river valley on an exciting pool-and-drop technical stretch; And - when the water level is up and frothy white (or especially frothy brown) - by adrenalin junkies for the challenge of riding the waves, drops and tight turns as the river roars through narrow channels between huge boulders. Some of these adventurous paddlers in their small, tough plastic kayaks not all of them - shoot Bald Ibis Falls after careful reconnaissance to ascertain the safety of the pool below. Bald Ibis Falls near Deepdale UMKO 50 Years