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OUT AND ABOUT 08/23- Earliest Postal Service

It seems that the earliest postal service in the country was provided by the Portuguese, and while it is no longer in service, it is still there! I refer. of course, to that most famous of things, the ancient milkwood tree that stands to this day in Mossel Bay. In 1500 a Portuguese sea captain named Pero de Ataide lost most of the fleet that he was travelling with in a huge storm that came up off the coast of the Southern Cape.
Before continuing on, on his trip to India, he wrote a letter reporting the damage and warning of the storms that seemed to be prevalent in the area. He put the letter into an old boot and tied it in the Milkwood tree by a spring that was used by sailors that passed this way. By happy chance the letter was not only found, but it was found by the very person it was intended to reach, Joao de Nova, merely a year later.
This started a trend whereby the tree became the post box of choice, and sailors would place their letters in old boots, pots or even just beneath the rocks there, hoping and believing that the letters would be picked up by their countrymen and taken back to their intended recipients. These days, while the tree itself is no longer functional as a post box, there is a post box that is placed there, in the shape of a boot, under the branches of the 600 year old tree, and you can post a letter there and it will receive a special stamp and even be delivered.
That is, after all, one of the coolest things that we have of Portuguese origin in this country!

Philip Allebone

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