The lost

of the HMS Sybille

The HMS Sybille was a tin screw second-class cruiser of 3400 tons and built-in 1890, by R. Stephenson of Newcastle-on-Tyne.

With 9496 horsepower triple expansion engines she could produce a top speed of 20 knots.

She arrived in South Africa on Saturday 12 January at Simon's Town where she was coaled immediately and put back to sea, bound for Lamberts Bay, which served as a military base by Britain during the Anglo Boer War. She was left under the command of first Lieutenant Mr. H. H. Holland and navigating Lieutenant Mr. H. Cayley.

At the beginning of the war in 1899, Delagoa was designated as South Africa's income and export port. The port was immediately closed by the British but in their haste, they forgot about the seaway from Cape Town to Port Nolloth along the west coast. This stretch of sea was a weak link, that during the war was put to good use by the Boer commandos.

Germany and France did not support the war and started, on regular intervals, to supply weapons and ammunition to the fighting Boer commandos, as well as to local weapon dealers - also called "weapon houses" (meaning a house where you could get weapons and ammunition)

One of these weapon houses The Green Dam/ Die Groendam house was situated east from the farm Steenbokfontein, (owned by Dirk Burger) towards the little town of Graafwater and was owned by Sybrand Engelbrecht.

In those years, when children reached the age of sixteen they were supposed to use a firearm efficiently and with accuracy.

The British forces, upon arriving, immediately closed down all weapon houses, to assure that no weapons and ammunition could be supplied towards any Boer commandos.

Because France and Germany helped the Boers with weapons and ammunition, Cybrand Engelbrecht kept close contact with them. A system was developed where a designated large vessel would load the weapons and ammunition in Cape Town harbour and then travel towards Port Nolloth.

Upon reaching the shoreline right opposite the farm Steenbokfontein, they would signal inland to Engelbrecht, who would then row towards them in smaller boats, called "Roeibakkies" to unload the cargo. The ammunition and weapons were then carefully buried in the dunes for later use and to dispense towards the commandos.

Unfortunately the British soon learn about the operations when they respond to rumors about a big commando, under the command of Barry Hertzog in the area. Hertzog, at that stage, was operating in the Calvinia district and thus avoid capturing.

Furthermore, the British soldiers who traveled with the Sybille were also in desperate need of horses to pursue the war inland. It led to the decision to visit every smallholding and farm and confiscate all horses, without any compensation to their owners. That in return led to even more animosity and hate towards the British.

Accompanied the Sybille, another vessel also arrived in Lamberts bay, carrying 50 horses. They were called the Landing Party.

On the faithful night of the 15 of January 1901, a dreadful and extreme storm made its landfall in Lamberts Bay. The weather was extremely bad, with an immense north-west wind and in a short time the wind has worked itself up to a gale.

Commander Hugh Williams, upon realizing that the anchorage at Lamberts Bay will give little protection to a vessel the size of the Sybille gave orders to Lieutenant Holland, his second in command, that if the weather deteriorates any further, the anchor must be lifted, the harbour must be exit and the Sybille must be taken to deeper water for safety. He also mentioned that the harbour at Lamberts Bay was way too shallow to safely accommodate a vessel the size of the Sybille.

After the given of command, Williams left with members of the Landing Party to attend their own party celebrations in town.

The weather just continued to take a turn for the worst, and Holland finally lifted anchor and began the exit out of the bay, right into rough seas and immense swells.

Unfortunately, the Sybille, were no match for the gail force north-western wind and she met her final destiny when the wind and swells pushed her onto the rocks, right opposite the shoreline at the farm Steenbokfontein.

The force with which the Sybille hit the rocks were so powerful that the wheels of one of the cannons that were fitted onboard broke loose, sending the cannon running over the deck, and in the process killing one of her crew members, seaman Jones instantly.

The moment the Sybille hit the rocks, eight flares were set off immediately.

The son of the farmer at Steenbokfontein, Izak Burger, age 23 at that stage, had some friends over for a visit and were woken by the sound of the crash. Upon looking out of the window, he saw the light of the flares and with it the mast of a ship.

He instantly knew what had happened and took it upon himself to immediately saddle up his horse Landau and left in the raging storm for Lamberts Bay to get help. Upon his arrival in town, he informed a local, Hennie Stegman, that one of the big ships had run ashore right next to their farm. Stegman informed Izak that Commander Williams held a big party during the night with the crew of the Landing Party and some local women and that he was sound asleep in the attic. They decided to wake him up and told him what happened.

Williams was extremely distracted upon receiving the news and immediately wanted a rescue party to be put together to help the men on board. Quite a few vessels were available for example - The City of Cambridge but none of the captains wanted to attempt a rescue due to the raging storm. Williams even tried to convince them by turning a firearm on them but to no avail. They argued that their vessels were a lot smaller than the Sybille and if they proceed with the rescue, they will follow right into the Sybille footsteps and risk being stranded as well.

The next day 16 January at 10.30 after the storm had subsided a rescue party left the bay and proceeds to the Sybille. The whole crew was rescued and seaman Jones was put to rest in the Dutch Reformed cemetery.

The Sybille carried a rich and precious cargo. When some of the items started to show up on the beach there was a huge influx of locals and even inland folks to salvage what they could. The battering the ship took against the rocks during the storm had begun to tear her apart and huge amounts of wood started to fill the beach area. It was hastily gathered and for example used to build wagons and closets.

The British did not want the cannons to fall in the Boers hands and a decision was made to send two engineers to help with the salvage of the ship.

Upon arrival, they approach Betjie Burger, wife of Dirk Burger at Steenbokfontein. They asked for board and lodging and the fact the Sybille ran ashore right on the farms' doorstep made the farm an excellent choice. They pushed money into her hands and although Bertjie knew that her husband hated all British, even more so, if they set foot on his farm, she held onto the money and the deal was sealed. Dirk Burger was extremely upset when he heard of the deal but he had to acknowledge the fact that they were able to put the money to good use.

While staying on the farm and during the salvage duration of the Sybille, one of the engineers, Harry Blades which originates from Sheffield lost his heart to the Burgers' youngest daughter of 15 years.

Due to the fact that there still was an ongoing war and Dirk Burger truly hated every english man, the couple had to endure many trials and tribulations and had to wait for two things to happen. The war to end, and that happened in 1902, and for her to reach the age of 21 years and therefore did not need the consent of her parents.

Selection of Stories