Saturday, July 21, 2012

Steerage Passengers to Natal: the Dudbrook 1862

There’s nothing particularly unusual about the barque Dudbrook which sailed to Natal in mid-1862. However, she holds a special place in my affection because two of my ancestors were on that voyage from England as assisted emigrants travelling steerage or, as it later became known, third-class. This was generally the case with people coming out to Natal – and elsewhere in South Africa – under the auspices of a Government scheme.

The Kings were representative of the type of emigrants leaving Britain for a new start in the Colony. Mary Ann King, my great great grandmother, was born in 1834 in Maidenhead, Kent. She married George King, born around the same year. They were not related to each other, despite sharing the same surname. In the 19thc there were hundreds of Kings in Kent and environs. Mary Ann King’s family can be traced back to the mid-18thc within a comparatively small area of one county. Her father William King was an agricultural labourer born at Marden, Kent, in 1805 and her mother Ann nee Homesby, born in Capel, 1802. By 1851 the family were living at Lone Barn, Nettlestead, Kent. Mary Ann’s brothers were both labourers. In that era, there was little chance of a man breaking the chain that bound him, and generations before him, to the soil and toil. The colonies offered a more hopeful prospect.

When George and Mary Ann King took ship on the Dudbrook George was 25 and his wife 26. Their infant daughter Lucretia born in 1861 was with them and they were accompanied by a William King, aged 47. Next to the King family’s entry in the original register, under the column headed ‘Sureties’, is ‘R King, laborer [sic] PMBurg’ indicating that this person had nominated the Kings to come to Natal on assisted passage and that he guaranteed repayment of the passage monies within twelve months of their arrival.

Mary Ann had an elder brother and a younger brother named respectively William and Richard. We don’t know how old the R. King was who stood surety to the new arrivals. William’s age would have been about 31 – not 47 as stated in the register. However, inaccuracies abound in passenger lists and his given age may simply be an error - unless he lied about it. As no other clue to the identity of these two men presents itself, it seems likely that they were Mary Ann’s brothers. Richard had evidently emigrated first and then sent for his brother, sister and brother-in-law to join him – a typical pattern in colonial Natal.

Steerage was the area on a ship allocated to the passengers paying the cheapest fare. It was also referred to as between-decks (or ’tween-decks) i.e. the deck below the main deck of a sailing ship. There wasn’t a great deal of head room. Eating and sleeping usually took place in the same area. Sanitary and washing arrangements were primitive and privacy minimal. 

A meal in steerage: note bunks at sides.

Female emigrants between decks

Although the above illustrations are earlier in date conditions hadn't changed much by the 1860s.

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