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The Valdivia was a steamer of 4,952 tons built in Port Glasgow in 1906. She sank off the Esplanade at East London on 2 October 1908.

She was en route from New York to China with a cargo of some 40,000 tins of paraffin and a crew of 40.

She had struck the rocks off Stalwart Point and was leaking badly. Nevertheless, she anchored in the roadstead and sent a message to the Port Captain: "Permission is urgently requested to enter harbour."

The Port Captain replied: "Tomorrow morming." Although a tug was sent to her aid at dawn, her salvage pump failed to work. The seas were also too rough to allow a cable to be attached.

Upon floundering, hundreds of cases and tins paraffin were washed up on shore to befoul East London's coastline. The sea was described as glistening with silver, so many tins were floating there.

Looters turned up in their hundreds to profit from the catastrophe until, about a day later, force was used to put a stop to it.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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