The relatively humble Port Nolloth Museum in the tiny seaside town of Port Nolloth in the Northern Cape, contains collectibles that go back hundreds of years.
Inside the museum are porcelain shards from shipwrecks; slave bracelets washed up from a doomed vessel called the Black Joke in 1600; old medicine bottles that still reek of citronella oil and liquorice powder; pieces of china dolls; a Nama bible; ostrich-shell fragments used by the Khoi and San for water containers; and Khoi clay pot pieces.
You will see snoek teeth, whale barnacles, ancient matchboxes from the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg, and millstones from a nearby farm where flour for Port Nolloth’s bread was ground. You will also discover that a crayfish can bend a R2 coin with its claws.
But once you’ve delved a little into the fascinating history of this little mist-shrouded hamlet, where the boats still bob out at sea on their moorings, each seemingly disparate piece in the Port Nolloth Museum falls into place.
Port Nolloth was founded in 1854 to serve the copper mines of the interior. The copper was dragged 150km across Namaqualand from mines in the Springbok area by mules pulling a narrow-gauge railway trolley.
Once the copper was depleted, Port Nolloth went to sleep. But not for long, because diamonds were discovered offshore in the 1920s, and it has been the main income for the town ever since.
Because of the rough seas of the icy Benguela current, there are only about four good diamond-diving days to every month. And that’s when the little boats and their hardy crew chug out through the channel past the constantly clanging bell buoy into the open seas.
Many fortunes have been made and lost in Port Nolloth, and it still remains one of South Africa’s most intriguing frontier villages.
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