Thursday, February 11, 2010

More on Natal Immigration

1879 was the year of the Anglo-Zulu War, and the Natal Land and Immigration Board reported a downturn in the number of incoming immigrants 'owing to the disturbed state ' of the Colony. Later in the year arrivals increased to a monthly average of 31 souls, the total for the year being 287. Additionally, applications had been received for 340 more persons, of whom 72 had arrived up to mid-February 1880.

J E Methley was sent to England to select about 40 families for agricultural settlement in 1880; this group became known as the Willowfountain (or Wilgefontein) settlers. Further information is held in the European Immigration Department records at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

Walter Peace took over as Natal immigration agent based in London and during 1880, according to the Natal Mercury, brought out 200 immigrants. The newspaper commented that in May 1880 the URMS African had arrived at Port Natal (Durban) from England carrying 60 immigrants - 20 men, 10 women and some children. 'The men are carpenters, blacksmiths, farm labourers, engineers, gardeners and joiners, and the women housekeepers and domestic servants. We have to thank Mr Walter Peace ... for such a large and respectable class of immigrants as landed at the Point yesterday. Mr Reid of the Immigration Depot ... boarded the African for the purpose of looking after those who were arriving here under the Immigration Act' and the immigrants were safely landed at the wharf.

'Some friends of the immigrants were present, but there were some who found themselves on a foreign land without those who required their services being there to receive them.' (The immigrants had already been engaged by prospective employers in Natal.) Accommodation in tents was available for the reception of such settlers, but 'in no instance was a poor stranger allowed to enter the tents; those who had found friends kindly looked after their less fortunate fellow passengers, and in a short time they were all distributed throughout the town in boarding-houses.'

By 1887 more than half the white population of Natal, then totalling about 36 000 and predominantly English-speaking, were living in the two largest towns, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

For passenger arrivals at Natal between 1845 to about 1910, original registers are held in the Archives of the European Immigration Department (EI) at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

There is a surname index to the registers (not online): a local Natal researcher could check this index, going to the original volumes if an entry is found and providing digital copies or a transcript. Alternatively, access the LDS Family Search site at and, under the Family History Library Catalogue section, see the list of available films on Natal immigration; films can be ordered at a Family History Centre near you.

UPDATE:  Access to learn more about the eGGSA Passenger List Project now. (2012)

The original Natal passenger registers are a valuable source, but the lists are not all-inclusive at any period. Generally, with the approach of the 20th c factors such as increased volume of shipping, inconsistent record-keeping or lack of preservation of records, may militate against finding certain arrivals.

Passenger lists - even in the original registers - often contain inaccuracies; spellings of surnames vary, handwriting may be difficult to read etc. Newspaper shipping columns may offer passenger lists which do not tally with the Port Captain's lists.

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