The Eighth Voice in the Simon’s Town Heritage: The Saints

The Saints
by Melanie Steyn

I’m one of the saints, my name John Cotton,
From Tristan da Cunha we came to fish.
We came in our numbers to flee collapse:
The economy they said was bust.

We came with our knowledge, our trek-fishing skills,
We worked till we dropped, then worked some more.
And land skippers help us to this day
Locating the shoals we trawl with nets.

The waiting and hope, the pain and sweat,
And oh the sweet joy when we beach the cod end
The silver katonkel and yellowtail
That give us our supper, our cash, our life.

We sell our whole catch to human sharks
And these days the plastic harvest is good
But bring down our boats, let’s try our luck,
This fishing is in our blood and hearts.

St Helena island and its two dependencies Ascension and Tristan da Cunha islands feature in the history of the Western Cape. St Helena island was unpopulated when the Portuguese landed there 1502. From 1588 the British began to use St Helena as a port of call for all of their vessels travelling to the East. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth at the time, granted the British East India Company a charter to govern St Helena as though it were part of England.

In 1795 as a result of the conflict in Europe involving England, France and Holland, Governor Brookes and his Council of War in St Helena, assembled a St Helena Force of 600 settlers and slaves to attack the Cape using ships of United East India Company, as it was now called. The British Crown had also assembled an invasion fleet and the St Helena Corps joined the force and took part in the Battle of Muizenberg in August 1796. The first ‘Saints’ to stay on in the Cape probably go back to the time of this invasion.

The largest group of ‘Saints’ to arrive in the Cape were those that became unemployed as a result of the economic pressures caused by the changeover from UEIC rule to direct Crown rule in 1836.




Camissa People: Cape Slavery and Indigene Heritage. PT Mellet.