The Ballot’s Bay “Treasure.”
Article: Hugo Leggatt
If you had been sitting on the Wilderness dunes in late August 1788 (nearly 230 years ago) it is unlikely that you would have seen any other people. Certainly there would have been no houses and no roads, no bridges over the river. There might well have been buffalo and elephants near the river, so you would probably have felt safer on the beach.
If you were there when a strong S-Easter was blowing you might have seen a surprising sight out to sea – a raft drifting across the bay towards the cliffs to the west. If your eyesight was good enough you might have caught sight of a man on the raft, possibly more than one. Eventually you might have seen the raft disappear into the waves below the far cliffs.
What was going on?
At this time in Europe there was a well-known officer in the Prussian (what we would now call the German) army: Field Marshall von Möllendorf, who was the governor of Berlin. He had a son, Joseph, who was an artist and it is thought that the soldier and his artistic son did not get on with each other. In the end the father arranged for his son to take a trip to the East where he would have been able to start a collection of Chinese and Indonesian art. By the end of 1787 Joseph was on his way home with his treasures. In December he sailed on the Dutch ship, the Maria, from Sri Lanka.
For reasons we don’t know, the ship took 8 months to reach Plettenberg Bay by which time the sails were rotting and the crew had scurvy. This is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. It makes one weak, with tender joints and loose teeth and can be fatal. For a sailing ship on the ocean, a seriously weakened crew could be potentially disastrous.
With the strong winds, the ship pulled into Plettenberg Bay to rest and make repairs. At one time Joseph von Mollendorf thought they would be wrecked on Robberg and he persuaded the sailors to make him a raft. He climbed onto this with his boxes of treasure and was launched into the sea.
This was the sight that you would have seen.
What happened next?
When the raft was nearly on the shore at the narrow opening to Ballot’s Bay it was picked up by a large wave and overturned, throwing von Mollendorf and his treasure chests into the sea. The heavy chests sank to the rocky bottom and von Mollendorf broke his arm badly before he got to the shore.
Apparently, the arm was so badly injured that it had to be cut off, but whether that was by a companion on the raft or by a local farmer, we don’t know. The chest(s) could be seen but it was wedged between rocks and could not be got up.
Eventually von Mollendorf moved to the Klein Karoo where he married twice.
Over the years many people have tried to get at the treasure but with no success. One of the most daring attempts took place in 1935 when a Mr. E. Lovemore slung a cable across the bay with a platform attached to it. From this a ladder descended into the water. A weighted belt and a modified army surplus gas mask made up his diving equipment. Two assistants pumped air into the mask. Nothing was found but Lovemore nearly lost his life.
From time to time renewed searches take place but the treasure – if any – remains undisturbed.
Ballots Bay Today
Article & Photos: Johann van Tonder
Just imagine – owning your own part of a private nature reserve with many animals like tortoises, bush buck, grey duiker, karakal (rooi kat), bush pig and 140 bird species (including Knysna Loeries) roaming free. Owning a share of a private beach with breathtaking views of the Indian ocean, a part of a breathtaking pass dropping into revines and crossing two rivers over quaint wooden bridges. This is the paradise that is Ballots Bay, a mere 15 minutes from George.
Previously called Christina Bay it was renamed after Ds J.S.S Ballot, who was the first NG Church minister (1828) of George. It was the same Ds Ballott that built the mountain pass that winds down to the Ballots Bay beach financing it’s construction himself. Ds Ballot had big dreams for the little bay hoping that one day the bay would become a fishing harbour, but for this the bay was not ideal, so the plan was eventually abandoned.
Today Ballots Bay is a registered private nature reserve established around 1993. It consists of 35 freehold plots of approximately 900m2 each, scattered about a 23ha common property belonging solely to the homeowners association. Its hills and deep valleys are densely vegetated with patches of indigenous bush and fynbos. It is the ideal hiding place for someone wanting peace and tranquility.
Since this is private property the little bay is not well known. Entrance through a remote controlled and manned access gate is reserved for property owners and authorised holiday makers, so if you are lucky enough to walk on the stony beach you are likely to be alone. The approach road is a magnificent and dramatic little pass of about 2km crossing the Klip and Muelen rivers. You drive down through indigenous forest, with Yellowoods and Stinkwoods towering as you sometimes drive through “tunnels” of vegetation completely blocking out the sun, is a breathtaking experience in itself. It is the this, the unspoiled nature of Ballots Bay, that is it’s true treasure.