It was found in Madagascar that rocks contain long messages, possibly the story of a ship that never landed.
Nosy Mangabe is a small tropical island located in Antongil Bay about 2 km from the coast of Madagascar. It is found here that rocks contain many messages from hundreds of years ago.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was a frequent stopover for Dutch ships on their way to the Far East around the Cape of Hope. Sailors often receive clean water, repair damaged parts or recover health after long trips.
During their stay, they often wandered around the coast and carved their names on the rocks. Some wrote the name of the ship, the name of the captain, or the arrival and departure date. Over time, an ingenious communication system began to be discovered and put into use.
Dutch sailors began to leave messages on the stone; or at one point they wrapped tar-covered canvas letters against the water and buried at the foot of the cliffs. The purpose of this is to allow Dutch ships to stop on the island to collect information and leave it to those who come later.
In the early 20s of the 20th century, a French amateur explorer discovered dozens of these stone slabs and called them “messenger stones”. By 2012, a research team led by oceanographer Wendy van Duivenvoorde from Flinders University in Australia discovered many more stones.
The message engraved on the large stones has so far been called “Plage des Hollandais”, meaning “Dutch Coast”.
There are many fascinating stories recorded on the stones. One of them talked about a ship called Middleburg that landed on the island, after being struck by a devastating storm to the point of losing the mast in 1625. The ship had to stay there for seven months while sailors repair and build new masts. “It is impossible to understand how they can dock without a mast,” Duivenvoorde said.
When the Middleburg crews built a new mast, the ship resumed its journey back to the Netherlands. But unfortunately, it never completed that journey. When approaching the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, the ship was attacked by the Portuguese and submerged, carrying all crew. However, Middleburg is never forgotten. The letters, still in the archives of the Dutch East India company in The Hague, are the last remnant of the members of the ill-fated ship.
At the end of the 16th century, the Netherlands ordered a ban on correspondence on rocks because they found messages that often came to the wrong address. Crew members of rival companies began to steal letters from the cliffs and used them to track enemy activities. Since then, the Dutch ship began hiring local people to keep the letters.
Postman stones are an important part of South Africa’s correspondence history. Today you can admire these stones in several Cape Town museums, but Nosy Mangabe is the only place where the letter slabs are kept in the status quo.