Saturday, July 9, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Lighthouse keeper's view, Bluff, Durban ca 1860



The Bay of Natal from the Bluff  ca 1860:
  watercolour by unknown artist, from an Album amicorum.
 (author's collection)


This is the view my lighthouse keeper great grandfather Thomas Gadsden would have looked out upon from the Bluff lighthouse during his tenure there (1867 - 1880s). 

It is taken from the seaward end of the Bluff looking across the Point and Bay towards the heavily wooded Berea, with the buildings of D'Urban clustered onshore, right. A sailing ship negotiates the entrance channel in the foreground, dhows and other small craft are seen in the Bay, and the tug Pioneer, her single stack smoking, is in the centre of the picture, near the Point. At left is the signal station and signalman's house on the Bluff. It is possible that the tall building on the extreme right represents St. Paul's Church.

The painting can be dated to post December 1859 because the steam vessel shown is undoubtedly the Pioneer, Natal's first steam tug. She was 124 tons and was despatched (fitted with masts and sails) from the Thames at the end of July 1859, arriving in Durban 111 days later, having made the journey under sail only, her paddles being fitted in the Bay after her arrival here. On Boxing Day 1859 she was shown, flag-bedecked, to the assembled populace, and crossed the Bar with various dignitaries on board, sailing out into a choppy sea beyond the Bluff - to the discomfort of some of her passengers.

A rare find, this little watercolour in ornate embossed surround, was one of several original drawings in a mid-nineteenth century 'Album amicorum' (what we used to call an autograph album), bound in gilt maroon calf. The artist has signed himself (more probably herself) 'L.C.' and entitled the picture 'Bay of Natal  and; Town of D'Urban'.

A peaceful and attractive colonial scene, though with hidden dangers lurking - many vessels came to grief on the beach or the Bluff rocks.

The notorious Bar, a sandbank across the entrance to the Bay, was the greatest hazard to shipping at Port Natal, and 'should on no account be attempted by a stranger, as the channel frequently shifts in direction and depth'. It was this problem, the changing depth of water over the Bar, which frequently necessitated vessels anchoring in the roadstead outside, and, if a gale sprang up, there was a chance of them being driven on-shore or wrecked on the rocks below the Bluff. A case in point was the Byrne settler ship Minerva, 987 tons, which was wrecked on the night of 4 July 1850 when she parted her main anchor in a sudden north-easterly while waiting in the 'roads'. Though the 2nd mate drowned, all the passengers were saved, but the ship became a total wreck and the immigrants' personal belongings went to the bottom. 

Only three months after Thomas Gadsden's arrival, the Sebastian and the Earl of Hardwicke were beached in a similar gale on 26 September 1863.

2 comments:

andrew van rensburg said...

Superbly informative. This is a quality Blog!

Mole said...

Thanks so much for the positive feedback, Andrew.