The story of the Meermin slave ship has captured the imagination of history enthusiasts for centuries. In 1766, the Meermin was carrying 140 slaves from Madagascar to the Cape Colony when they mutinied and gained control of the ship.
Despite the revolt and a consequent agreement that the slaves be returned as free men to Madagascar, the story does not end there. Dishonouring their agreement, the ship’s crew continued to sail towards the colony, unbeknown to the slaves. Seeing land, the slaves believed it was Madagascar.
Seventy slaves took boats to land, informing the remaining slaves that they would fire three flares to indicate that it was safe to come ashore.
The Dutch on land, however, were waiting to capture the slaves. They had been informed by the captive ship crew who used messages in a bottle to alert their fellows of the mutiny on board.
The Dutch then tricked the remaining slaves into coming ashore by firing the flares. As the boat reached land, it hit a sandbank.
The search for the Meermin, however, continues. It is suspected to have been wrecked at Struisbaai, but has never been found.
But now, after more than eight years in the making, the Iziko Museum will showcase a replica of the ship, thanks to the VOC Foundation, which is aimed at preserving the history of the Dutch East India Company.
The foundation hired model shipmaker Brian Donnelly to construct a model of the Meermin, which will be on exhibition at Iziko from Saturday.
Social History Collections director Lalou Meltzer noted that the event was particularly significant because by the early 1700s the number of slaves in Cape Town was greater than the indigenous and settler population – key to providing insight into South Africa’s heritage.