Wednesday, July 5, 2017

SS Waratah – Wednesday 7th July 1909 ...108 years ago


From Ocean Steamers Wharf for the Indian Ocean crossing to Durban, South Africa.

The weather report issued for South Australia at 9 pm on 6 July 1909 was, ‘Cloudy, generally with rain and squally winds between NW and SW, strong on the coast and rough sea.’  Captain Ilbery had taken on 6 new crew members in Adelaide and as the 14 new passengers embarked their fate was sealed and destiny was closing in on them.

That Wednesday, in a ghostly drizzle as the tug guided the SS Waratah from the wharf, no-one on board would have had the slightest notion of the impending doom that awaited them much further into their voyage.

Winter had come to the Southern Hemisphere, storms at sea were now commonplace for shipping in these lower latitudes and much heavy weather was expected.  It had already been noted by some passengers that soon after leaving Adelaide the weather had become rough, as forecast, and it seemed that the Waratah rolled in a very disagreeable way, remaining for a long time on her side before recovering. While she was recovering and the deck became horizontal, she often gave a decided jerk.

As the voyage continued, an underlying unease grew amongst some passengers regarding the Waratah’s design, with her high promenade deck, instability due to the design and slow righting movements of the ship.


However, none of the passengers would ever have imagined that this ship would vanish so completely without trace on that fateful night of 27 July 1909………





Acknowledgement to Susanne-Jo Leff Patterson

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Waratah begins her fateful voyage 108 years ago


108 years ago yesterday, 1 July at 4 pm Australian time, cargo loaded and passengers from Melbourne embarked, SS Waratah crosses Port Philip Bay, bound for Adelaide. 







Saturday, July 1, 2017

Souvenir Saturday: Finley Gibson 1841 - 1924







Finley (or Finlay) Gibson, 1841 - 1924, was entitled to the Afghan Campaign Medal, seen above,  as he served in that conflict. My great grandfather, he was in the 15th Hussars from attestation at the age of 18 years in 1859 to his discharge at the age of nearly 40 in 1880. His papers indicate that he intended residing at Stevenston in Ayrshire, though he was a Londoner by birth (birthplace St George's,  Borough, East London, England)
The reason would become clear. I discovered that living in that Scottish village was his  widowed sister, Margaret McIntyre, with her children. Finley and his brother, William, also a soldier, both made their home with Margaret for a while. Finley married Annie Bell in Stevenston in May 1881 and started his own family. By 1911 he was Foreman of the Dynamite Factory at Ardeer, known locally as the 'dinnamit'. Several of his children worked in the factory - a dangerous environment as explosions could, and did, occur. 




Annie Bell married Finley Gibson in 1881

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wreck of the Annabella at Durban 1856




The Annabella, 200 tons, was a British-built barque wrecked on Annabella Bank - named after the ship - on 21 January 1856 at Durban. No lives were lost. 

Her story emphasises the difficulties encountered by ships entering the harbour and having to wait until conditions of wind and weather, and particularly the depth of water over the Bar, were suitable for a safe landing. 

As Port Captain, William Bell was involved in assisting at many such wrecks and their aftermath, reporting on causes of the incidents and sitting at the inquiries held.


By the late 19th c tugs were used to help vessels in and out of the harbour. Also there were various attempts made by marine engineers to improve access to the Bay by dredging, building piers and other schemes, not all of them successful. 




Saturday, June 24, 2017

Souvenir Saturday - Port Office and Lighthouse staff 1878: including Gadsden and Bell


Is Your Ancestor listed here in 1878?


The Natal Almanac and Yearly Directory is a mine of information on the Port and Town of Durban in the late 19th c. This entry tell us that T (Thomas) Gadsden was Lighthouse Keeper with a salary of 125 pounds per annum. His brother-in-law Douglas William Bell was Assistant Keeper at 100 pounds. At the time, the Port Captain was Alexander Airth. (Captain William Bell had died in 1869.) Gadsden was married to Captain Bell's daughter Eliza Ann.

Customs and Excise staff are also listed, as well as those in the Engineer's Office. 

Is your ancestor listed?





Durban Point and Bay in the 1870s, with the Berea dimly 
outlined in the distance. 




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cape Shipping 1829 including Conch under Cobern




The schooner Conch was making regular sailings carrying colonial produce and passengers between Algoa Bay and Table Bay, and other ports, before William Bell took over her command. Here she is under another master, Cobern, variously given as 'J' and 'T' but probably the same person. Extract from SACA 31 Dec 1829.



Ships in Algoa Bay in the 1820s, by Thomas Baines


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Souvenir Saturday: Durban Docks ca 1887



Durban Docks circa 1887. Extremity of Point Wharf showing original Wharf Shed A erected in 1881 (with curved roof) and the Sheers erected at the end of the main wharf, the total length of which, at this period, did not exceed 1500 feet.In the left foreground is a craft known as the "Anchor Boat" used for laying moorings about the Bay.  The funnel of one of the paddle tugs (probably "Forerunner") can be seen in front of the ship in full sail.  To the right of "A" Shed is the Customs House.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Captain William Bell of the Conch: death of his daughter in 1844




From the South African Commercial Advertiser 27 April 1844: the death, on 23 April, of Ellen Selwyn Sophia Still, aged 1 year and 8 months, daughter of Captain William Douglas Bell 'of the schooner Conch'. It must have been a low point for Bell and his family. At this juncture, after his heroic part in the action at Port Natal in 1842, Bell had returned to the relatively quiet life of a coastal mariner, commanding the Conch, and based at Algoa Bay, making regular sailings to and from Table Bay and other ports. 

That people had not forgotten his courageous act in taking British troops into land at Natal under enemy fire had been evidenced by one particular letter which appeared in the local press in November 1843. This and other efforts by the public on Bell's behalf eventually led to an offer by the colonial government of a post as 'Harbour Master' at Natal. But the course would not be plain-sailing. 

This child, born shortly after Bell's return to Algoa Bay in July 1842, had been given the middle name of Selwyn - after Major Selwyn who had played an important part in events at Natal in June of that year. Sadly Ellen was to die very young. A Bell daughter born subsequently in May 1846 would be named Ellen Harriet. By that date the Bells had their eldest daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth Pamela, b 1839, and their first son, Douglas William, b 1841.



St George's Cathedral Cape Town Cape Colony 1800s:
watercolour by Thomas Bowler






Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bell of the Conch - a lesser-known photograph ca 1850s, with telescope






This is not the widely-known photograph of Bell taken some years later but it is taken
on the same spot, with the same anchor, and he is wearing the 'uniform' though not with epaulettes on the shoulders as shown in the famous photo. The picture probably dates to the 1850s. He is holding the Dollond brass telescope, still in the possession of one of his descendants. Bell was never in the Royal Navy and the nautical jacket he wears may have been made to his own design. 





The Dollond Telescope belonging to Bell and bearing the maker's name,
and 'London', and 'Day and Night'. This instrument was in Bell's possession throughout his life.
(Photo by Caz Collins, Bell descendant)

John Dollond FRS (10 June 1706 – 30 November 1761) was an English optician, known for his successful optics business and his patenting and commercialization of achromatic doublets (for telescoeps)In 1752 he joined his eldest son, Peter Dollond (1730–1820), who in 1750 had started in business as a maker of optical instruments; this business is now Dollond and Aitchison. His reputation grew rapidly, and in 1761 he was appointed optician to the king.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Cape Shipping 19 November 1828 including Cobern commanding Conch





Conch is noted as then under command of 'J' (should be 'T') Cobern, agent J Smith (later to be William Bell's agent). The schooner had been on a regular run to Mossel Bay and was arriving back in Table Bay on 19 November with a cargo of colonial produce.