The shipwreck display at the Irma Booysen Nature Reserve entrance in Cape St Francis features a cannon from the 1800s. Bobby Cheetam, long-time motoring editor of the Herald from Port Elizabeth, donated the cannon. His family was originally from Cannonville, a small village on the banks of the Sunday River.

“Admittedly, the cannon does not come from an actual shipwreck but is of significant historical value, from the Eastern Cape and is what people expect to see at a shipwreck display”, said Matt Gennrich, local CSF resident and Chairman of FOSTER, a local NPO looking after the 4 nature reserves surrounding Cape St Francis. “Since opening the display with sponsorship and support from the Civics, Rotary and Lighthouse Construction, we started looking around for a cannon to enhance the display. These are difficult to find, and people who own them tend to keep them. One day, I  remembered that Bobby Cheetam had shown me his cannon some years ago whilst he lived in Summerstrand, and I took a chance and phoned him to ask if he still had it.

Bobby, now retired in George, said that he had sent it to his son Clive in Johannesburg without knowing what to do with his cannon. If Clive agreed, Bobby would be happy to donate it to the shipwreck display in Cape St Francis if it added value and gave pleasure to more people.

I then called Clive, who readily agreed with his father and confirmed that we could have it as long as we could get it back to the Eastern Cape, where it belonged. It was large and weighed an estimated 3-4 tons.

I mentioned our dilemma to Miles Japhet of St Francis Bay, one of FOSTERS’ generous donors, and he said he might be able to help. On Monday, Ryan from Milltrans called to ask where he could collect the cannon and said it would be delivered on Thursday. Dave Bowmer, our reserve manager and custodian of the display, sprang into action and prepared the display site in time for the delivery.” Said Matt.
There are a number of amateur shipwreck fundis in our area, but we also have one of South Africa’s foremost authorities on shipwrecks living in St Francis Bay: Malcolm Turner, a professional diver turned historian and author of the book Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa, published in 1988.

When asked, Malcolm gave his advice freely. He sent me an article from the Herald of the 11th of December 1968, which tells the history of two cannons from Cannonville, which Malcolm positively identified as one of them. The exact history is unclear, but as these are not military canons, it is likely that they were used to initially protect private property. According to the Herald article, though, the 18-pounder guns were used to salute dignitaries, such as when the Prince of Wales visited in August 1860 and Lord Charles Somerset when they crossed the Sunday’s River on the Pont in use then. Both the article and Malcolm stress that these are assumptions and remain so until proven otherwise.

Whatever the real story is, a huge thank you to the Cheetam family for this generous donation to our town, then Miles and Milltrans for helping to get the canon relocated to Cape St Francis.

Before long with the support of the Civics and Rotary the shipwreck display will hopefully be further enhanced with artifacts from our latest shipwreck the Elke M, including its anchor and sections of the rear mast and its nameplate. FOSTER, whilst happy to host the display at the entrance of the Irma Booysen Reserve will not use funds raised for conservation to contribute financially to the display.

Please stop and visit the display when next in Cape St Francis. Then why not take a walk while there in one of our reserves, kept pristine by the team with funding from memberships and generous donors? If you are not already a paid-up member, please consider becoming one at foster.org.za to help preserve the incredible biodiversity around us.