Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dutch immigrants to Natal 1858-1860

By 1860 approximately ninety Dutch emigrants had settled in Natal at New Gelderland between the Nonoti and Sinkwazi Rivers.  TC Colenbrander had already put a large area of land under sugar, and a 20 horse-power steam mill was in operation, manufacturing sugar for export. George Stewart, a Scottish engineer, was employed at the mill from 1862.

In the same year, William Karel Ente, who arrived in Natal on the Prins Frederick der Nederlanden in 18577, published a 40-page booklet (written in Dutch) describing New Gelderland in glowing terms. He mentions its crystal clear rivers, rich soil and its suitability for the cultivation of sugar cane.

This immigration scheme was largely the brain-child of Theodorus Christiaan Colenbrander, who had been resident in Natal since 1854. In November 1858 the Nederlandsche Landbouw-emigratie Maatschappij (Netherlands Agricultural and Immigration Company) was founded with the aim of sending settlers from the Netherlands to Natal. 

T C Colenbrander

Colenbrander was born at Doesburg in the Netherlands, on 18 September 1811, the 6th son and 7th child of Adrianus and Tonia (née Heydeman). He later settled near Djakarta, Java in the Dutch East Indies where he married Geraldina Nicolina van Groll. In Java, Colenbrander became interested in the production and manufacture of jute and indigo. It may be that he decided to emigrate to Natal having heard that indigo grew wild in the Colony, though the plant had not been cultivated commercially. Colenbrander set sail for Natal (possibly on the Kaap-de-Goede-Hoop), accompanied by his wife and their first five children, another Dutch planter Wilhelm van Prehn, and a group of Javanese plantation labourers. They landed at Natal in September 1854 and Colenbrander settled on land near Pinetown, cultivating indigo with van Prehn and Archibald Keir Murray. A steam mill was built to process the indigo, and storage vats were also constructed.

The venture was beset by various difficulties: a legal wrangle between van Prehn and Murray, as well as labour problems which threatened to close down the indigo operation. Colenbrander approached the Natal Government on the matter of bringing out settlers from the Netherlands, and it was agreed that land would be granted between the Nonoti and Sinkwazi Rivers on the North Coast, to be farmed by 20 Dutch families if these emigrants could arrive in Natal prior to 26 July 1857. Meanwhile, Colenbrander's brother, Rev Herman Colenbrander, and two of Theodorus Christiaan's nephews, Johannes Arnoldus and Adriaan Benjamin Colenbrander, began to take an active role in finding suitable emigrants in Holland.

To obtain first-hand knowledge of conditions in the Colony, the two nephews sailed for Natal in August 1856 on the Zaltbommel. Johannes Colenbrander returned to Holland where in March 1858 he published a brochure publicising the scheme. The founding of the Nederlandsche Landbouw-emigratie Maatschappij in Doesburg followed in November 1858. Johannes continued to recruit settlers and organize matters in Holland, his uncle Theodorus Christiaan took charge of the Natal end of the scheme, and MC Lapidoth, a shipowner of Amsterdam, would look after the emigrants while on board ship.

More on the arrival at Natal of these Dutch settler ships in another post.

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