Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Assisted immigration at the Cape

In the 1830s and 1840s economic recession at the Cape limited government-aided immigration. Individual passengers continued to sail to the Cape, paying their own passages, and private agents in England such as J S Christopher brought out some settler parties though not in great numbers.

There was a shortage of labour in the Cape Colony and a possible solution lay in government-sponsored immigration; this was discussed in 1844. Some child immigrants and female groups arrived, including single Irish women. Thus in 1849 the Emigration Philanthropic Society of England sent out 20 women from workhouses and through the Association of Female Emigration a group of 46 Irish women emigrated to the Cape in 1851. In November 1857 the ship Lady Kennaway landed 157 Irish women at East London; also on board were a number of artisans and their families.

The labour problem continued and eventually led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1857, to set aside funds for recruiting immigrants, with an agent in Britain to coordinate arrangements. Immigration Boards were established in the Cape and colonists were encouraged to make application to bring family members to join them in South Africa.

As a result, over 12 000 settlers arrived in the largest government-aided immigration scheme instituted at the Cape.

For immigrant ancestors who came to the Cape during this era, the best published source is Esme Bull’s Aided Immigration from Britain to South Africa 1857-1867. Conditions on board settler ships, provisioning, as well as health hazards encountered, make illuminating reading. Primary sources used include the Archives of the Immigration Board, Cape Town (IBC) and Archives of the Secretary, Immigration Board, Port Elizabeth (PIB), both held at Cape Town Archives Repository. Some passenger lists appeared in the Cape Government Gazette and newspapers.

Of 32 ships chartered between 1857 and 1862 the smallest was Aurifera and The Illustrated London News carried a report on her:

‘… the emigrants for Table Bay were embarked at Southampton on board the ship Aurifera, 235 tons, comprising 161 British and Irish emigrants, agricultural labourers, domestic servants and various trades; also 74 Germans – the latter chiefly vine-dressers and wine-makers, selected by Mr. Field, the Cape Emigration Commissioner.’

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