Albasini was born 1 May 1813, in Lisbon, Portugal. He came to Lourenço Marques in 1831 and became a slave trader and Elephant hunter. The remains of his trading post can be found at the new Phabeni Gate, 10 km from Hazyview.
Lourenço Marques, now known as Maputo (Mozambique) was the starting point of many of the ancient trading routes that criss-crossed the countryside. When Albasini arrived in Lourenço Marques in the early 1800’s, he set up his trading business, which included a network of trading routes that reached inland as far as the Lowveld and by 1845 he had established a trading post at Magashula’s Kraal (now known as Albasini Ruins). This trading post was positioned along two of these ancient trade routes.
He would transport goods from Lourenço Marques through the tsetse fly area to Magashula’s kraal for the Boers, who would then travel down the escarpment to collect their goods. Albasini also appointed two headmen to run two other posts, one at the foot of Manugukop (just south of Pretoriuskop), which was run by Manugu, after whom the koppie was named. Josekhulu near Ship Mountain (along the Voortrekker Road) ran the other. Albasini only stayed at Magashula’s Kraal for two years, as he was drawn by the growing settlements on the escarpment.
It is popular belief that Albasini’s settlement at Magashula’s Kraal was the first European settlement in the Lowveld. In 1847, he bought a farm outside Ohrigstad and opened a shop there. It is here he married 18-year-old Gertina Maria Petronella Janse van Rensburg.
Shortly thereafter, they moved to the new town at the foot of the Soutpansberg Mountains, Schoemansdal. Here Albasini established himself on the farm “Goedewensch” which proved to be a very prosperous time him and his family. In 1858, he was appointed vice-consul of Portugal in South Africa, as well as a superintendent of the Native tribes in and around the Schoemansdal area.
His election as vice-consul made it necessary for a postal service to run from Goedewensch to Lourenço Marques every month. He remained in service as vice-consul until 1872. Ironically, after a life of relative wealth, Albasini died in poverty in 1888. He is buried on Goedewensch Farm near the Luvuvhu River where the Albasini Dam was named after him.
The increase of traders to this previously uninhabited area led to the discovery of its abundant wildlife. Professional hunters came to hunt for skins, ivory and horns while others hunted for meat and trophies.
A few kilometres from Letaba, on the S95, stands a very old leadwood tree, which has a typical Portuguese Cross carved into it. It is not certain who carved it or what the significance of it was. One possibility is that it was carved by Diocleciano Fernandes das Neves who arrived in Lourenço Marques on October 5 1855 at the age of 25, and returned to Portugal some 13 years later. During those 13 years, he traded in the interior and hunted elephant. His trade route passed through the current Kruger National Park.
It is possible that he carved the cross on his journey in 1860/ 61 en route to the Soutpansberg. Das Neves’ own records gives us a glimpse into such journeys – 150 porters were required for the trade goods, a further 68 for the camping equipment, and the group was “protected” by 17 heavily armed elephant hunters. An alternative explanation is that the cross might have been carved by one of the Portuguese soldiers who carried post for João Albasini between Lourenço Marques and Goedewensch.
However, one of the most popular accounts of the Lowveld, and area now included in the Kruger National Park is “Jock of the Bushveld”, whose author, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick immortalised the area.