Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Passenger lists as a primary source in SA family history research

The above photo is of a passenger list taken from a handwritten register of arrivals at Port Natal in 1849 i.e. a record made at the time of the event and therefore considered to be primary evidence.
Even at normal size - zoom in for a closer look - the text is by no means easy to read.

Family historians in search of an ancestor's arrival in South Africa clamour for passenger lists. To find an original list mentioning an immigrant ancestor written in a register at the port of arrival is a rare and precious thing. There has been no concerted national effort to index the registers which have survived. In Natal it's fortunate that the European Immigration Registers have been preserved, though they are not all-inclusive. There is also an index (not online) to these arrivals covering from about the mid 1840s to the turn of the century. 

If you're lucky enough to discover in the original register an entry which seems likely to refer to your ancestor, and if you are able to read the handwriting, you should acquire some interesting facts.

From left to right (as seen in the typical example above) the columns of the register show: month, day, name of ship, type of ship, name of master, tonnage of vessel, port of departure, date of departure (that is from the port of embarkation, London in this instance). The passengers' names are written across the width of all these columns (no nice tidy alphabetical lists, if that's what you expected) and continued over the central binding, which has separated slightly (be aware of that when matching up lines of text). Generally, though, the condition of the register is good for its age - over 150 years. Careful handling of these volumes is important.

The arrival date of the barque Washington is given here as 18 July: in fact the vessel reached Natal on 17 July so why does the register offer the following day? The answer is that like many other ships of that era, the Washington had had to wait in the 'roads' (roadstead or outer anchorage) before suitable conditions of wind and tide made it possible to cross the Bar (the sandbank at the entrance to the harbour) and enter the Bay. When compiling our family narrative, which day should feature in an account of the ancestor's arrival at the port? The detail concerning tonnage of the ship often varies from source to source - if you care about getting it right.

In these early volumes (and the 1840s are early for Natal) no personal information such as occupation or age is given for the passengers. This would be one good reason to check newspaper reports at that time for any published versions of a passenger list and to do a comparative exercise.

There could be several versions of a passenger list particularly if the ship was carrying a large group of immigrants as part of a private or government scheme. Mistakes could arise prior to embarkation: passengers might get cold feet at the last minute and decide not to emigrate after all, family members might fall ill, perhaps die. Such names might not be removed from the passenger list - i.e. the list carried on board - before the ship sailed. When the vessel arrived at its destination, the Port Captain would draw up a list of the passengers who landed. The immigration agent would have his own list. By the time the reported list appeared in the press there were likely to be several discrepancies - incorrect initials, misspelled surnames, omissions.

A local newspaper published the passenger list of the Washington twice, because of errors in names shown in the first printing. Yet the first list offered occupations of the immigrants, a useful detail omitted in the second printing and not appearing in the handwritten register's version. Probably the occupations were included in the immigration agent's list made available to the press.

The Washington, because it was one of the Byrne settler ships, is well-documented in other published sources. John Clark's book, Natal Settler Agent, gives detailed lists of all the Byrne passengers and the ships which brought them to Natal. His sources included private correspondence and other documents of Moreland, Byrne's agent. So, if your ancestor travelled on the Washington it's probably not essential to access the original handwritten passenger register: but it is rewarding on some deeper level to see the ancestor's name as recorded at the point of arrival in the country of destination.

For further information on tracing ancestors through passenger lists, use the search facility on this blog or browse the archived posts using the menu at right.

The Natal Witness 18 July 1849: 2nd version of
Washington passenger list.

Update 2012: the eGGSA Passenger List Project is a work in progress and can be accessed at 


Unknown said...

I was wondering if you are able to help in tracing a passenger who travelled between Natal (South Africa) and Italy via England. The passenger name & surname is:
Antonio Chialina

Mole said...

Unfortunately there is not enough information provided for me to be able to make suggestions. You need more than just the name of the passenger. A year or a decade at least would be good. Also it is not clear whether the passenger was travelling to Natal from England/Italy or vice versa, and whether this was a regular trip made. You could try the (surname) search facility on the eggsa site but no guarantee of finding your passenger:

Zelda said...


I wonder if you can help, I am looking for reletives that came to South Africa
in 1856. The came on the Mersey, but apperently were married on the Briatanna,
on the 16 Mar 1856. There names are Carl Walterhoefer/ Carl Walter Hefer and Emma Bacon.Would you be able to help me.


Mole said...

Hi Zelda, regret that nothing emerges on either ships' names or passengers' names as given in your comment. Not all ships' passengers were recorded, either in original registers or in newspaper shipping columns. I have searched for you on the eGGSA passenger list project without any luck either under ship or passenger names. You should search the SA National Archives Index NAAIRS for a deceased estate for either of the couple you seek - they may have remained in South Africa but if no estate file/s found they may not have remained in SA. Best Wishes Mole

Unknown said...


I was wandering if you could please help me with a passenger ship list from the 1822-1824 for the surname "Husselmann"


Mole said...

May I ask if you're certain of the year you have given? That is very early in SA terms. Particularly if you think the arrival took place at Port Natal, which you don't mention. Could it perhaps pertain to the Cape? 1824 was really the beginning of the hunter/trader group who came to Port Natal and passenger lists not applicable.

Unknown said...

I'm certain about the dates. But I'm looking for a passenger ship list from Germany to SA in that year's

Mole said...

It makes a big difference if the ship departed from Germany. Have a look at

But it is still a very early date - the ships indexed above are for later 19th c onwards.

If you do a search on NAAIRS our SA national archive index you'll see that the Husselmann surname only appears in deceased estates etc from about the 1870s - that is over all SA.

Unknown said...

Where the ship Aravind I don't know. Only that the "Husselmann was 2 years old" and when we couldn't get anything on how he in in too SA with from Germany

Unknown said...

Thank you

Mole said...

Have a look at ...
Names of German Immigrants 1652-1806

The main page is
Mostly Germans who worked for the Dutch East India Co. This may be too early for your ancestor.

Interesting that Husselmann was also given as Hoepelman - something to bear in mind when searching the surname.

Unknown said...

Good day I'm trying to see if my grandfather came to South Africa prior to 1935. He came to SA from Southampton as a merchant seaman on the Arundel Castle in 1935. His name was Ernest Samuel Green DOB 1910. I need to know if he had traveled to Durban previously. Thank you

Mole said...

If he was a crew member he would not appear on a passenger list. If you think he settled in SA at some point there may be a deceased estate for him. Search his name on NAAIRS our archive index. An estate file, if one exists, should contain the Death Notice which is an informative document. See my Beginners' Guide - title above the blog page. Best Wishes, Mole

Renier said...

I am looking for information regarding my grandfather's arrival in South West Afica/Namibia.

Information that I have from home affairs is that he arrived in Namibia between Feb-June 1952 . To my understanding he came from Germany, as he is from Hameln, I suppose he must have boarded in Hamburg. I did have a look at your German passenger lists but could not find any passenger lists from that year. His details are as follow:

Names: Friedrich-August Adolf Dietrich
Surname: Wilhelm
DOB: 09-03-1931

Any information would be much appreciated.

Mole said...

Try this link

Best Wishes, Mole

Town Crier said...

Hi -I am trying to trace the outward journey of my Great Grandfather Robert William Hinde who travelled to South Africa with his wife Annie Hinde and their young son Frederick who would have been about 5 years old,circa 1900.
They travelled from the Cape overland to PieterMaritsburg where they are recorded living in the 1901 Trade Directory as a bricklayer in Boom Street PieterMaritsburg.I would like to know which ship and what the date was of their arrival in South Africa.
They returned back to Southampton from the Cape in September 1901 on the SS Gascon The ROYAL MAIL STEAMERS of The UNION-CASTLE MAIL STEAMSHIP CO., Ltd., Sail from Southampton every Saturday Passengers and Cargo, for Cape Colony and Natal. Please e-mail me on

Unknown said...

Good Day
I am looking for information with regards to my great grandfather and his family. He was Isaac (Izak) Johannes Murphy, born 1869-03-04 He also had a younger brother, Andries Kenny Murphy. Apparently their father is Daniel Kenneth Murphy. It is said that they are Irish and that my great grandfather came to South Africa at the age of 10.

Mole said...

Passengers travelling as private individuals rather than as part of a settler group are more difficult to trace from the point of view of an arrival. It is often more sensible to approach the search from other references e.g. using NAAIRS our online SA Archives Index. Google NAAIRS and choose a database - if you aren't sure which part of the country they went to search the RSA database, this covers all South Africa. I did a quick search on Isaac Johannes Murphy and the following reference came up:

This is a claim for compensation after the Boer War and if this is your Isaac he was a burgher (citizen) living in Heilbron. You should get the original file seen (it's in Transvaal Archives) and see what info is contained therein. You will need a private researcher to take digital photos of the file contents. If you want to discuss may I suggest we do so by email. My address is I do not personally do archival work as retired but can help with contacts. Best Wishes Mole

Mole said...

Several Murphys listed here
Have a look.

Nelson Nair said...

I woukd like to know more about a passenger
, Iyappen Nair, indenture no: 101342, fathers name: Krishnan Nair, age: 29 yrs, caste: Nair, zillah: Cochin State, thanna: Trichur, village: Kunnamkolam, Ship name: Pongola XLVI, year of arrival: 1903, worked for HP Harrison, Risehill Estate, Avoca Durban Sugar

Unknown said...

Good day

My great grandfather came from Ireland to South Frica. In 1904my grandfather was born nemely Arthur Norman Kearns. My great grandfather travelled with his sister who's name I cannot remember. He wS born in Galloway is memory seems correct. I have not been able to determine other than him leaving a wife and 7to11 kids and wife behind. He was Catholic. Could you please assist?

Unknown said...

He was a blacksmith and cobbler in Brandfort 1904, lost everything in the flood of 1918 in Bloemfontein and moved to Brandfort where he passed away 1936/37

Mole said...

To all blog readers looking for ancestors who came to SA by ship: Unfortunately I am not able to respond to enquiries regarding passenger arrivals. They are too numerous. You could try eGGSA though these are not comprehensive.
For Indian migrants coming in to Natal, we get only once chance at recording these people i.e. in the so-called Ships' Lists. After that they were sent to various plantations and may not have remained at the original plantation so we lose track of them. It may be better to try and go back from more recent family members via their deceased estates, using NAAIRS index. Death Notices which form part of the estate file are usually informative.
Tracing passenger arrivals is not the best approach for finding ancestors who came to SA. Try deceased estate files and work back from death notice in each case. Best Wishes Mole

Annamarie Viljoen said...

Looking for John Somers arriving from London to Algoa Bay departure 13 Sept 1881 RMS Warwick Castle ship

Unknown said...

Please could you help? I'm trying to establish when and on what ship, the following family left Dodbrooke, Devon, England for Algoa Bay, South Africa.
WILLIAM and HARRIET HOSKING, with their first child RICHARD born 1857 in Plymouth. Their second child EMMA, born 1861,Cape Colony, South Africa. So take it was between 1857 - 1861.
Many thanks in advance.

Mole said...

To all blog readers (including 2 comments above) looking for ancestors who came to SA by ship: Unfortunately I am not able to respond to enquiries regarding passenger arrivals. They are too numerous. You could try eGGSA though these are not comprehensive.

Tracing passenger arrivals is not the best approach for finding ancestors who came to SA. Try deceased estate files and work back from death notice in each case. Best Wishes Mole

Unknown said...

Hi there. I am hoping I can reach out to you for some pointers.

My 2 x Great-Grandfather left Port Adelaide in South Australia c.1850-1861, possibly bound for Plymouth. When the ship docked in Durban, he disembarked. Once there, he decided to put down roots in Natal. I know that he met and married my 2 x Great-Grandmother, Frances Fayers, in Durban in 1861.

I'm hoping you can help me trace the date of his arrival in Durban (and departure date from Port Adelaide), and the name of the ship he arrived on. I can't find any outgoing passenger lists from South Australia for this period.

His name was: James Lawson OR James Easton Lawson. Born in Devon 1832. Arrived in Port Adelaide with his parents in 1839.

Many thanks - Heather.

Unknown said...

Hi again. I'm so sorry, I only found your message after I'd posted!

Could I ask another question of you instead?

How can I access passenger lists bound from Mauritius to Durban c.late 1800s?

Thanks once again - Heather :)

Erin said...

My ancestor was born in Germany in 1809, but died in South Africa in 1849. Any chance I could find him on passenger lists? His name was
Joachim Hartwig Theodor Klingbiel.

Thank you!

Mole said...

Erin, Try passengers from Hamburg at

Mole said...

Heather, passengers from Mauritius to Durban are a knotty problem as passenger lists are not consistent or regular. There are some passenger lists in the EI (European Immigration) original volumes held at Pietermaritzburg Archives, mentioning voyages from Mauritius. But many of the ships were small cargo vessels and no passengers listed. There was no 'planned' exercise in bringing passengers from Mauritius to Duran. The occasional traveller who had interests in Natal's early sugar industry might appear but it would be a long search and probably for no reward. Sorry.

Mole said...

Heather, regret there are no cohesive passenger lists from Australia to SA for the years you want - indeed for any years. Sorry I can't help you.

Ash said...

Hi looking for passenger.lists for indians who came frm india to south africa around 1869

Mole said...

I regret I can no longer undertake searches of this type as it is very time-consuming. May I suggest that you search this blog under terms such as 'Indians', 'Passenger lists', 'Indentured Indians' etc. The search facility is at the left hand top of the main page.

Theresa said...

Hi there, I was wondering if you can help me some much needed advice. I am trying to find any information about the birth of my Grandfather out at sea. He was born in 1906 on a ship from the UK. His Mother and Father were immigrating to South Africa. I don't have their names apart from Cresswell. My Grandfather was William James Cresswell.. that's a family name so I expect his father most like was a William too. I have searched and searched but have no luck. I am completely stuck in my genealogical research because of this. Can you point me in the right direction? I've done searches all over the place but am still very new to this process. I'm afraid I'm doing something wrong. any bit of advice would be so greatly appreciated. Regards Theresa Coss

Unknown said...

Hi Theresa. Do you know when and where he died? I'd start my search from these records. Usually far more reliable than the birth ones.

Zelda said...


If you send me an email on I have picked up a DN which could be his father,which states he was born on the 18/8/1906, he also has 3 sisters. Father's name William Walter, mother's Maria Catharine Cresswell born Bothma. The link is on family search.

hoping this can help you.

Theresa said...

' Hi @ Unknown'

He was born on the 8 August 1906 and died 20 July 1994. I cant find any records. I cant understand why I have hit such a brick wall??

Many thanks for your advice.

Ash said...

Hi how can I get information about a persons death online. The person died around 1960. Unfortunately we have no records.

Mole said...

Usually I'd advise you to search NAAIRS (our SA National Archives Index) for any reference to a deceased estate. However not all estates are covered beyond 1960. If you don't know location/province of death or the year search anyway on database RSA for all South Africa. Enter forename and surname and sometimes spouse's surname can be useful.

Ash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eli said...


I am trying to trace back my great great grand parents, the only document i have is my great great grand mothers I.d card that starts with an "800" number and only has her name on it as well as gender.

Is there any way i can use this to trace back info on her and possibly her husband?


Mole said...

Unfortunately the ID on its own will not be a good starting point. You may be better off searching for a deceased estate file (which usually contains Death Notice but your date could be too early) for either of your 2xg grandparents on NAAIRS. Google this index and search by name and forename.

Unknown said...

Hi I am looking to trace my great grand father Cecil La Vita. He would have come from Italy in the late 1800s. Would you have any records of this?

Mole said...

Regret there are no indexes or cohesive data on people who came from Italy to South Africa. We have some British and Dutch passengers/emigrants but even these are not completely covered.

Camsnan said...

I am, like everyone else, looking for information on my family. My maternal grandmother and grandfather specifically. Someone posted on a previous query of mine, a couple of typewritten lines from a passenger manifest showing my grandmother and a companion entering South Africa from Australia. This was approximately 1915-1919, for some reason 1917 strikes a bell. I cannot find the post anymore and did not dowload/copy or save it. I would like to see it again and this time I will make sure to save it. Her name was Nita C. Bance and she was accompanied, according to the next sub-line beneath her, by Miss (and there was an initial here that I do not remember). It would be fabulous if someone could find it again for me. Thank you.

Camsnan said...

My mother, brothers and I came from England to South Africa in about 1957-1959. We came on a Union Castle ship and I think our final port was Durban. My dad came over a couple of years after us. My mom was Pamela Cardin Watson, and probably had a South African passport. The children were Jennifer Anne Watson (South African pp), Peter John Watson (British pp) and Timothy Richard Watson (British pp). My Dad was Anothony Freer Watson, (British passport). If anyone can track down our names on any passenger list, I would greatly appreciate it.

Mole said...

Regrettably there are no passenger lists for the years you require.

Ash said...

Hi is there any way I can obtain photographs of the indentured labourers that came to south africa. I am only coming across a select few .thanks

Mole said...

'A select few' is correct! There are a couple of groups, on landing, but no individual identified. Some intensive searching at the Local history Museum (old Aliwal St Court House) might reveal photos in their large collection. I'm sure there are photos at Killie Campbell Africana Library in Gladys Mazibuko Road - but at present the Covid Restrictions are limiting visitors. You can search the Killie Campbell Library photo catalogue (not all of it) online.
Best Wishes, Mole

Athol & Shirley said...

My ancestors William Frost and his wife Maria Bullers died in late 1848 on board the Robert Henderson (or William Henderson) bound for Alcoa Bay. They were survived by their son who later became Sir John Frost. I am trying to find out what happened to his younger siblings on board that ship. Do you know of any ships manifest for that voyage?

Mole said...

Practically all the passenger lists I've collected were for destination Port Natal so I don't know of a manifest of any ship bound for Algoa Bay at any date. I note that a Sir John Frost, parents William and Maria which sounds promising, is mentioned among the 1820 Settlers to Algoa Bay. Have a look at

There were several ships of the 19th c with Henderson as part of their name - one named Robert Henderson associated with Otago not SA.

Sorry I can't help further with your enquiry but it is outside my field which is mainly Natal arrivals. Do go carefully through the 1820 Settler site mentioned above and click on the various links offered.

Best Wishes, Mole

Unknown said...

Looking for passengers Brooke r William and Eliza arrived in Port Elizabeth in 1887

Mole said...

Regret I can't help with your query. My focus is passenger arrivals at Natal and I have no information for Port Elizabeth. In any case, by the late 1880s newspapers had stopped printing names of passengers, partly because of numbers arriving. So that source dries up. Original passenger records may exist for PE but you would need a specific date, at least within a week, for any researcher to take on the task of searching these and no guarantee of finding.
Regards, Mole

Mole said...

The enquirer searching for arrivals in PE 1887 try the passenger lists at

Unknown said...

Somewhere I found a list of ship arrivals 1849 to 1851 with the Byrne and other scheme settlers. I thought it was on your blog/site, but can't find it again. I know my ancestor John Samuel Root was a Byrne settler, but I cannot find which ship he travelled on.

Satta King | Sattaking said...

This is what i was looking for thak you for sharing this amazing post. keep on posting these kind of nice post. satta king has turned into a real brand to win more cash in only a brief span. Subsequently, individuals are so inquisitive to think about the procedure of the game. Here we have brought a few procedures that will help you in understanding the best approach to gain cash by the sattaking. Also find the fastest satta king result & chart online at Online Sattaking

Sattaking Records said...

I just found this topic and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, it’s hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. Thank You.

Satta King
Satta King
Satta King

Guru Satta King said...

It's great to be here with everyone, I have a lot of knowledge from what you share, to say thanks, the information and knowledge here helps me a lot.

Read More:-

Satta king



Satta King -Satta-King said...

Thanks For sharing Useful Information But i have few suggestion How to good play satta-king game
We Are the Best Fast Satta KingResult All India Best Satta King online satta king , satta king 786,sattaking Live Result Gaziyabad Faridabad Gali Desawar Satta king Live Results 2021 check today's super fast Satta King online results in Official website. Satta King, SattaKing.

Mark Karam said...

Hi I’m looking for Lebanese ancestors coming into South around 1890-1901. Surnames I’m looking for are Karam, Kairouz, Kairuz, Yazbek
Unfortunately I don’t know the departure or arrival ports. Might be listed as Syrians or Turks or Assyrians and not Lebanese. Not much else I have to go on Thank you

Unknown said...


Unknown said...


I am wondering if you can help? I am looking for two relatives that came to South Africa and settled in Graaff-Reinet in the mid 1800s im guessing.

Pieter Kroon 11 March 1839 Rotterdam - 22 December 1915 (Butcher)

Maria Masina Johanna de la Mar / Messina de la Mar / Messina de la mar
22 December 1838 in Holland - 21 August 1908
traveled with her sister Theresis de la Mar (married to become a van den burgh)

I believe they married in South Africa

Thank you!

Zelda said...

If you search family search, there is a death notice, for him and his wife, and sons (William) & (Joseph)

Richard said...

Thank you for sharing such significant data and information. It is exceptionally valuable and enlightening. It would be extraordinary to see additional updates from you soon.
Astrologer in Toronto
astrologer in Mississauga
astrologer in Brampton
Indian astrologer in Scarborough
Indian astrologer in New Jersey
Astrologer in Texas
Astrologer in Brooklyn
Astrologer in Manhattan
Astrologer in New York
Astrologer in California

Jacques Jansen van Vuuren said...

Good Evening.
Maybe you can help me, maybe you can guide me. I have a marriage certificate for Gilbert Owen. Born in +-1850. On the certificate it states that his parents are in England. I have checked every passenger list that I can get my grubby little paws on, but nothing.
He pops up in the Free State and is on the 1907 Voter's roll in Ficksburg.
Do you know where I can start searching for him?
My father in law, born in 1938 knew him as a little boy. He apparently died in his late 90's.
I have very little other information on Gilbert, other than his first wife Louisa died within 10 years of their marriage, leaving him with 6 children.

Unknown said...

I am looking for assistance.
I am the direct descendent of James ROSS given in SAG as arrival circa 1808 from Scotland. He married Isabella LAMONT from Glasgow on 12-05-1811 in Cape Town.
I can find no reference to their arrivals, ships etc.
Any help?
Wendel Hough

Lillian said...

Please I'm soo desperate for this Info, I would greatly appreciate it if you could advise me where to look. My Grandfather came to South Africa from Reggio Calabria Italy (maybe via Ellis Island from Naples)1900-1906, he's name was Antonio Ripepi. I desperately need to find d the Passage list and Ship details and exact date...u don't have a clue where more to look.Thsnks soo

Unknown said...

I am looking for a record of arrival for a FRIEDRICH LUDWIG EMIL KUMST born 1859 in Prussia. Lived in East London, South Africa, married Emilie Fiebiger.

I have some info on

I have searched the safrika site and no record of that surname.

Any info on the arrival of a KUMST in South Africa will be appreciated.