Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Iconic South African Trees - The Mossel Bay Post Office Tree

As Sideroxylon inerme or the White milkwood as it is more commonly known, is featured in this month’s tree review, we thought it would be interesting to find out more about the most famous of them all, the ‘post office tree’ in Mossel Bay.

In their quest to find a sea route to India, Aquada de Sao Bras (now Mossel Bay) was one of the oldest ports of call along the Southern African coast for European explorers.

In 1488, after a gale force wind had blown his ships around the southern tip of Africa, Bartholomew Diaz entered the bay on a quest to replenish his ships with water and other supplies. Unfortunately he had to abandon the search for a sea route to India and return to Portugal.

In 1497, Vasco da Gama called at the bay on his voyage to continue the search for a sea route to India.

Other fleets called at the bay to take on fresh water and in 1500, Pedro d’Ataide, a captain in Pedro Alvares Cabral’s fleet, left an account of their voyage and the death of Bartholomew Diaz who had accompanied Cabral’s fleet.

He left the letter in a boot which he hung in a milkwood tree, where Joao da Nova found it in 1501.

Subsequent mariners left messages at this tree and the tree is now known as the first and oldest Post Office in South Africa.

This famous milkwood is estimated to be over 500 years old and was declared a national monument in 1938.

In 1963, the South African postal services provided a date stamp and a first day cover commemorating the first letter to be ‘posted’ in South Africa.

At the opening ceremony a stone post box, shaped like a boot was provided. Subsequently, all letters posted in the boot are postmarked with the publicity date stamp of Mossel Bay.

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