The beautiful tree-lined Phantom Pass runs uphill from the Knysna Lagoon and over towards Rheenendal. Closer to Rheenendal you will find the Millwood Goldfields as well as Jubilee Creek between the Knysna Forests.
In these forests you will find many tragedies due to mankind’s awful ways. As you most probably know, men have been trying to rule in these forests for hundreds of years.
The name of the pass comes from a moth (Leto venus), named the phantom moth. But little do we know that the phantom moth has a very sad story to tell.
It all started when the French explorer and naturalist, Francois le Vaillant, spent six months in the Knysna district in 1782, recording all the most important natural phenomena that he could found here.
But if the phantom moth is widely spoken about, why did he never describe it? And why doesn’t it appear in any other texts from the early nineteenth century?
Did the phantom moth exist before 1881?
Apparently the Victoria Esposito was the most beautiful of the silk spinners of Gouna. And the silk spinners of Gouna were a group of about forty families who were brought to Knysna from Italy in 1881: the British Government had supported the dreams of a wealthy farmer in the district – the Honourable Henry Frederick Francis Adair Barrington – who hoped to create a silk industry here. The worms, he thought would thrive on the wild mulberries which grow abundantly in the Knysna Forests. But South Africa’s wild mulberry – Trimeria grandiflora – bears no resemblance at all to the real mulberry – Morus alba – upon which the silkworm only feeds.
Because of this finicky worm, these beautiful moths found themselves left to die in a clearing in the Knysna forest.
Proud and beautiful Victoria decided to take one of Barrington’s horses, and ride to Knysna to find a ship to take her and her family back home.
Victoria rode out on a stormy night in September. The path she travelled was lit by flashes of light that tore at the sky.
Both horse and rider were terrified, and the animal bolted. Victoria could only cling to its neck and hope.
Lightning struck just as the pair appeared at the edge of the forest at the very top of the Pass. It was a direct hit and girl and horse were killed instantly – but the power of the girl’s beauty was so great that, instead of transforming to ash, their bodies changed into moths.
Delicate brown and grey moths which appear again and again each year in spring – each one of them with Victoria’s beautiful, baleful eyes etched forever on its wings.
Fiction story written by Martin Hatchuel
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Close to Knysna is the beautiful, small coastal town – Breton-on-Sea – with its exotic ocean views. Sophie Joubert has been an estate agent in Brenton for more than 10 years and knows the area very well. To buy a piece of land or a house, contact her on 082 572 2729.