Saturday, March 29, 2014

Emigration from Britain to Natal

Emigrants on the Lady Bruce 1850 (Illustrated London News)

The pamphlet describing Byrne's Natal emigration scheme outlined details for would-be settlers:

'Each adult will be provided with an intermediate passage, including provisions on a liberal dietary scale, for the sum of 19 pounds, or a steerage passage for 10 pounds, and on arrival in Natal have secured to him twenty acres of freehold land.' 

Passage monies had to be paid in advance and a passenger should take with him knife, fork, tablespoon, teaspoon, metal plate, a hook-pot, a mug and bedding. The scale of provisions for each class of passenger was stated.

Among Byrne's 20 ships, 15 sailed from London, three from Liverpool and two from Glasgow. All were sailing vessels, mostly barques or brigs of low tonnage. The smallest were the Wanderer (the first to arrive at Natal, on 12 May 1849) and the Sandwich (carrying only 12 passengers and arriving 27 July 1850; these vessels were 173 and 180 tons respectively. The largest were the Minerva, a former East Indiaman, at 987 tons, and the Unicorn, 946 tons.

They carried on average 150 settlers with their baggage, agricultural implements and other possessions. Some of the ships had schoolmasters and clergymen on board and under the Passenger Acts of 1849 each ship was obliged to carry a doctor. A number of children, elderly people and the sickly died on the long voyages of three or four months' duration, but most passengers arrived in good health and spirits. Despite Atlantic gales and baffling winds all the ships save two arrived safely at Port Natal, anchored outside the harvour in the roadstead, and disembarked their passengers in boats. The two exceptions were the Minerva and the British Tar, both hit by sudden storms and wrecked shortly after arrival - the immigrants survived.

This was the beginning rather than the end of the settlers' vicissitudes. Their story is eloquently told in A F Hattlersley's numerous works on the topic, and passenger lists as well as details of each voyage can be found in J Clark's volume Natal Settler Agent: The Career of John Moreland, Agent for the Byrne emigration scheme of 1849-51.

The mammoth project undertaken by Dr. Shelagh Spencer, British Settlers in Natal: a Biographical Register 1824-1857, needs no introduction. Seven volumes arranged alphabetically by surname have been published, with more in the pipeline. 

W J Irons's Christian Emigration and Colonization Scheme piggy-backed on the Byrne scheme, about 400 Wesleyan Methodists being shipped on some of Byrne's vessels and settling at Verulam on the Natal North Coast. Similarly, Byrne's ship the Lady Bruce carried a group of settlers from the Duke of Buccleuch's estate in Hampshire. 

Original passenger lists for Byrne arrivals are held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

Other private schemes were a spin-off from Byrne's enterprise: among them were those of John Lidgett and Richard Hackett, bringing Wesleyans in the ships Hebrides, Herald, John Bright, Choice and Nile. The Haidee also brought Wesleyans, from Yorkshire, through the efforts of Henry Boast. Other immigrants arrived on the Ballangeich and Justina, arranged by George Murdoch and Richard Pelly. In 1856 Alexander McCorkindale's group of approximately 80 immigrants came out on the Portia.

These settler parties were all of much smaller size than Byrne's, but together helped to build up Natal's colonial population.

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