Published : Apr 12, 2023

South Africa’s First Post Office

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Did you know that South Africa’s first post office was right here in Mossel Bay? Over 500 years ago, a Portuguese explorer’s catastrophic expedition resulted in the first letter left for and found by its intended recipient.

The year is 1500. Pêro de Ataíde, a sea captain that was part of Pedro Alvares Cabral’s fleet, disembarked in Mossel Bay after a particularly bad storm hit the fleet and destroyed some of the vessels. Near the spring where sailors, including Bartolomeu Dias, stopped to draw water, Pêro found a milkwood tree, indigenous to South Africa. Here, he stowed a letter in an old sailor’s boot suspended from the milkwood tree. It was addressed to João da Nova and told of the fleet’s misfortune and bad journey.

Photo credit : @heymrgil

Miraculously, a year later on 7 July 1501, the letter was found by João, its intended recipient! For decades after, this spot functioned as a makeshift post office. Sailors left letters in shoes or iron pots or beneath rocks. Sometimes the intended recipients picked up the letters; other times, fellow seamen would transport letters intended for people scattered all over the world. It is also believed that João erected a small shrine near the tree, which is considered the first place of Christian worship in South Africa. No traces of this shrine remain, however.

Today, you can visit the Post Office Tree, which has been declared a National Monument. The age of the tree is uncertain, but it’s believed to be at least 600 years old. You can find it inside the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex, located near Mossel Bay’s town centre. Underneath the tree, you will find a boot-shaped post box, where you can partake in the 500-year-old tradition of sending letters from this de facto post office. The letters are marked with a commemorative stamp and you can purchase a postcard inside the museum complex if you don’t have any letters to send.

Photo credit : @heymrgil

Next time you are in Mossel Bay, be sure to head to the oldest post office in South Africa. If you need any directions or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to ask our friendly team at reception. They will be more than happy to help. And don’t forget to tag us in whatever adventures you have while staying with us!

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