Under the command of Captain Gerrit Muller, a two-masted
coaster, the Meerimin, was dispatched from the Cape in 1765 to purchase
slaves in Madagascar. There the merchant Johan Crause bought 140 slaves,
while members of the crew traded for spears and other African weapons.
of following the usual practice of keeping them in chains, Cap≠tain
Muller decided to put the male slaves to work on board his ship. All
went well until the Meermin was just a day or two off Table Bay, when
the merchant Crause decided to use some of the slaves to clean his stock
of fire≠arms and. spears. Seizing this opportunity for freedom, the
slaves turned on the deck crew, killing some of them and driving the
rest up the rigging, while about 30 sailors barricaded themselves below
deck. The men in the rigging were coaxed down but once on deck were
Meermin drifted for two days, the slaves was unable to navigate and the
sailors refused to come up. Later, negotiations were started through a
female slave after the sailors threatened to destroy the ship with
gunpowder. It was agreed that sailors would not be harmed, provided they
agreed to return the slaves to Madagascar.
sailors realizing they would probably be killed on arrival in
Madagascar, duly sailed east und reduced sail during the day. By night
they crowded on more sail an headed west, somehow maintained this
deception for several days until they came in sight of Cape
Agulhas: where they anchored seven kilometers from the shore, telling
the slaves that this was Madagascar About 60 slaves, in two boats, set
out to investigate, having agreed to light three fires as a signal that
this was in deed their home.
by the presence of the ship, a number of farmers gathered ashore and
when they saw, through a tele≠scope, that the approaching boats were
crowded with well-armed blacks, they set off to collect reinforcements.
Once ashore, the slaves moved inland but were caught in an ambush and
surrendered after a number of them were killed.
80 or so slaves still aboard the Meermin waited impatiently for the
three signal fires, while the crew nervously wondered what to do next.
One of them wrote two messages, asking that three fires be lit, sealed
them in bottles, and dropped them overboard. By a stroke of good fortune
both messages (one of which is preserved in the Cape Archives) were
found and the fires were lit.
The slaves on the
Meermin, believing they had indeed returned home, cut the anchor ropes,
and the ship began to drift toward the shore. The pace was too slow for
some, who launched the last small boat and rowed for the beach, where
the farmers promptly surrounded them and one of them was shot. Those
aboard the Meermin saw this and the slaves, realizing they had
been tricked, turned on the crew.
battle raged on board for three hours. With both sides exhausted, the
shipís mate, Olof Leij, persuaded the slaves that, if they consented
to be re-chained, they would not be punished. By the time this was
completed, there was no hope of saving the ship, which ran ashore. But
all aboard were saved.
the original cargo of 140 slaves, 112 reached Cape Town. It is not known
whether or not they were punished, but Captain Muller was deprived of
his rank and salary and dismissed from the service of the Company.
Crause, who had carried Mullerís casual attitude to ridiculous
lengths, had been killed in the initial attack. This logbook of the Meermin is kept in the South African Library in