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stepping stones of maritime history


The ship Jonge Thomas was on her fourth journey to the East when she left Texel on 20 October 1772 under the command of master Barend de la Main. She sailed as a merchant vessel for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) between Patria and the Indies. The Jonge Thomas, however, would never come past her half point stop at Table Bay in South Africa. During a heavy storm the ship began to drag her anchor and ran aground on a sandbank. Tragically, 168 of the crew perished in this event, with only 39 being saved, with 14 of these survivors owing their rescue to Wolraad Woltemade.

Painting of Aernout Smit of Dutch Ship anchoring at Table Bay.

The hero Wolraad Woltemade

The local governor sent soldiers to the beach where the ship wrecked, not to save lives, but to make sure that the washed-up cargo would not be stolen. One of these soldiers was Christiaan Woltemade. His father Wolraad Woltemade was a farmer aged 60+ and visited his son to bring him some lunch. When he saw that none of the soldiers tried to save any of the crewmembers on board the ship he decided to help them himself.

On his horse ‘Vonk’ (Spark) he went to the ship seven times saving 14 sailors from certain death. Being tired after this he considered whether or not to make the eighth attempt. The screams from the ship made him try one last time. An attempt he would sadly not survive himself. During this attempt, he would tragically drown himself after so many desperate sailors tried to grab onto the horse.

Drawing of Woltemade in action from 1775 (source: Atlas of Mutual Heritage).

Jonge Thomas

South African stamps from 1973 depicting the hero Woltemade.

Jonge Thomas

South African Medals of Bravery depicting Woltemade.

Jonge Thomas

18th-century depiction of the heroic act by Woltemade.

Jonge Thomas

Art in a South African office building by I. Mitford-Barbeton depicting Woltemade.


The Jonge Thomas was a merchant vessel built in Amsterdam and owned by the DEIC Chamber Amsterdam.

Painting of an East Indiaman in Table Bay.

MasterBarend de la Main
People on board300
Tonnage1150 ton (575 last)


Little is known archaeologically about this wreck site. A certain John Steyn claims that a diving bell bearing the name of the Jonge Thomas was found in 1885 and that the wreck may have been uncovered during the construction of the harbour in the region.

Supposedly the wreck has been salvaged by the African Salvage Corporation Ltd. However, information regarding this salvage is hard to come by since it has not been published.

Whatever remains of the Jonge Thomas will today be under reclaimed land in the Paarden Island region of Cape Town.

The wreck site is protected in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act, No. 25 of 1999. This act regards historic shipwrecks as well. The site may not be disturbed without the permission of the South African Resources Agency (SAHRA) and artifacts removed from the wreck may not be traded without SAHRA's permission.

Example of East Indiaman finds.


  • DAS 4152.4.
  • Nationaal archief.
    VOC: Opvarenden Jonge Thomas.
  • SAHRA Database.
  • Lesa la Grange, Martijn Manders, Briege Williams, John Gribble and Leon Derksen (2024).
    Dutch Shipwrecks in South African Waters: A Brief History of Sites, Stores and Archives [Unpublished].
  • Idema, M. (2019).
    Wolraad’s Story, The Jonge Thomas 1765-present. [Unpublished Paper].
    Leiden University.
  • Nicolaas van Frankendaal.
    Heldendood van Woltemade bij Kaap de Goede Hoop.

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