‘Daar kom die Alabama’ – Con­fed­er­ate raider steams into Cape Town in 1863

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CAPE Town was agog – “the heights over­look­ing Ta­ble Bay crowded with peo­ple; the road to Green Point lined with cabs; the win­dows of the vil­las at the bot­tom of the hill all thrown up, the ladies wav­ing their hand­ker­chiefs, and one and all joined in the gen­eral en­thu­si­asm”.

So it was, on Au­gust 5, 1863, that the sto­ried Con­fed­er­ate raider, Alabama – pro­gen­i­tor of the well-known song, Daar kom die Alabama – was greeted when it steamed into town.

The cruiser had been roam­ing the At­lantic, cap­tur­ing more than 65 mer­chant ships sup­ply­ing the Union forces in the Civil War then rag­ing be­tween the states of the North and South of an as yet un-united Amer­ica.

And the great ex­cite­ment of this Au­gust day in 1863, was that, in full view of Cape Town’s res­i­dents, the Alabama made short work of cap­tur­ing a Fed­eral bar­que, the Sea Bride, just off the Camps Bay beach­front.

A lit­tle less than a year later, in June, 1864, the Alabama was sunk off Cher­bourg in France in an en­gage­ment with the USS Kearsarge, an en­counter memo­ri­alised in a paint­ing by Manet.

Ten months ear­lier, though, the raider basked in the at­ten­tion of a thrilled Cape Town.

The first re­port of Au­gust 6 –“The Con­fed­er­ate steamer Alabama in Ta­ble Bay – cap­ture of a Fed­eral ship within sight of Cape Town” – told of how the Ar­gus cor­re­spon­dent, first on horse­back, then on foot, dashed up Kloofnek Road and past the Round House to get a view of the ac­tion.

He de­scribes the awe­some ves­sel, “her enor­mous guns, pierc­ing her sides, (keep­ing) a sharp look-out over the town, the break­wa­ter works… and Lion’s Hill”.

On Au­gust 11, read­ers learned: “Hav­ing com­pleted on Satur­day the re­pairs… at an early hour on Sun­day mor- ning Cap­tain Semmes weighed an­chor, and at six o’clock the Alabama took her de­par­ture from Ta­ble Bay, ac­com­pa­nied by the good wishes of the great ma­jor­ity of the in­hab­i­tants .”

Cap­tain Raphael Semmes, Alabama’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, be­side the ves­sel’s smooth bore gun dur­ing her visit to Cape Town. His ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, First Lieu­tenant John M Kell, is in the back­ground.

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