Table Bay was once known by another name. In May of 1503, António de Saldanha and his squad of three vessels (himself, Rui Lourenço Ravasco and Diogo Fernandes Pereira), were sent to accompany Afonso de Albuquerque’s fleet, who had already gone ahead, in order to reinforce Cochin. Cochin was an important spice trading centre for the Portuguese in India.
On their long, hard and dangerous journey down the west coast of Africa, de Saldanha lost sight of one of the ships captained by Diogo Fernandes. With countless errors and poor pilotage, Saldanha and Lourenço mistakenly sailed into the Gulf of Guinea and somewhere along their continued journey south lost sight of each other as well. Battling winds and currents and miscalculating their Cape crossing led him to anchor on the pages of history in Table Bay. Of course, at that time, the bay had no name so it became known as Aguada de Saldanha (Saldanha’s watering stop). In order to have a better vantage point, Saldanha climbed the flat-topped peak adjacent to the bay. He was the first European recorded to climb Table Mountain.
Table Mountain, the northern end of a sandstone mountain range, has become a beacon of South African history from the Khoikhoi displacing the San about 2000 years ago, to the British building block houses in the late 1700’s; to the release of Madiba from Robbin Island in 1990, which led to freedom for all South Africans .
This famous African mountain has been featured on several stamps, including a 1900 Cape of Good Hope 1d, as seen below.
Aguada de Saldanha became a convenient harbour for those travelling the long journey to the East and became the first unmanned post office. Packets of letters were often left under postal stones inscribed in French, Dutch and Danish for passing ships to pick up and carry to their destination. In 1601 a cartographer renamed the bay “Table Bay”.
Back in May 1503, whilst António de Saldanha was unknowingly making history climbing Table Mountain, Diogo Fernandes was patiently waiting for his fellow voyagers in the mouth of the Red Sea.