The Johanna, or Joanna, was a British East Indiaman vessel sailing from Kent, England, to Surat, India, under the command of Captain Robert Brown. She embarked on her journey on 27 February 1682, carrying a crew of 110, 36 guns, European-made trading goods and 70 chests of silver ‘pieces of eight’.  A ‘piece of eight’ is silver or gold ‘coins’ that were worth eight Spanish ‘Reales’ that could be broken or cut into eight pieces and used to trade for goods and services.

  The Johanna was the first British East Indiaman to shipwreck on the South African coast. On 8 June 1682, she met her fate after eight days of the Cape’s torturous weather prevented Captain Brown and his navigator from getting an accurate idea of their location. They assumed they were in deep water, far south from any land when Captain Brown ordered them to head east. They saw land, but the water was rough with crashing waves and inner reefs. The Johanna was lost at Outside Reef at "Die Dam", east of Quoin Point, (near the Cape east coast) in the early hours of 8 June 1862, and forgotten for 300 years.

Captain Brown and about 104 crew members managed to board two boats and rafts, made from material they had on board. The local people helped guide the survivors to Cape Town Castle. As the first survivors arrived at the Castle, they recounted their stories. Simon van der Stel, the last commander and first Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony, the settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, was quick to send the survivors back by 8 July 1862.

 As they had a large amount of coins on board, the Commander of the Cape of Good Hope at the time, Simon van der Stel, sent a party, under the instruction of Olaf Bergh, a Dutch East India Company  (VOC) employee, to collect what they could once the weather had calmed. The VOC started as a merchant company in the early 17th century; it was later re-established as a chartered company and traded mainly with India.  This in turn gave the company the power to colonise whichever territory it desired and enslaved the indigenous people to meet their political needs. Bergh found the wreckage and retrieved coins to the value of 2 400 sterling pounds, bottles of brandy and kegs of wine and beer. A considerable amount of cargo was washed ashore.

Following this expedition, the Johanna lay undisturbed until 1983, when Gavin Clackworthy led a treasure-hunting expedition and rediscovered her at ‘Die Dam’. Gavin Clackworthy is a treasure hunter; he spent a lot of time on the Cape coast looking for shipwrecks. Many of the artefacts now reside at the Iziko Social History Centre, in Cape Town. The centre houses Social History collections and archives.

The Johanna is the second shipwreck site to fall under the National Monuments Council Act (now the South African Heritage Resources Agency) relating to shipwrecks. This means that the Johanna was declared a National Monument, and is protected by the law from treasure hunters and explorers.

  • Clackworthy, G., 2021. Treasure and Tragedy. South Africa Shipwreck Salvage. Frank Sedwick, LLC. ISBN 978-0-7972-1877-0
  • Turner, M. 1988. Shipwrecks and salvage in South Africa: 1505 to the present. C Struik, Cape Town
  • 2022. Learn all About the British East India Company Shipwreck Joanna 1682 - Cannon Beach Treasure Company. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 February 2022].  

Collections in the Archives