Sunday, June 10, 2012

Passengers and immigration: Natal 1860s

An extract from the 'Shipping Intelligence' column, Natal Mercury of 9 June, 1863, emphasises the variety of vessels calling at Durban in the early years of that decade: from the single-masted but grandiosely-named cutter of only 43 tons - the Albert Edward, Prince of Wales - to the Hamburg barque Cuba, 400 tons. Some regular visitors in port include the barque Durban, the Natal Star (later wrecked) and the Lady of the Lake.

The arrival of the barque Symmetry from Glasgow is a reminder that ships carrying a general cargo frequently carried a few passengers - in this case, two, who are named.

The Evangeline had sailed for London, carrying among other passengers the Rev W H C Lloyd (the Colonial Chaplain) and his wife and a Captain Lamb of the Royal Navy. Were the Gowenlock brothers (travelling steerage) leaving the Colony for Home after a disappointing attempt at settling? The 1860s was not a boom period for South Africa and numbers of would-be colonists left, returning to their place of origin or looking for greener pastures elsewhere. In 1866 a Natal pioneer wrote to his family in England:
Every ship that is leaving is full of people going Home again, and it seems that everyone that can just get money enough to get Home is clearing out as fast as they can. I am sorry to see it, as it will put the Colony back years.
A family historian tends to consider that once the ancestors made the huge decision to emigrate, they duly did so, and stayed in the new country of choice. Many of them did, of course, but despite the dangers and discomforts of long sea voyages settlers frequently explored opportunities in other colonies. In the early 1850s, for example, the Australian goldfields proved a lure for South African settlers. Conversely, disenchanted Australian colonists later responded to the call of the South African diamond fields.

After the excitement of the Byrne and other organised private schemes had died down, Natal sank into a state approaching apathy as far as immigration was concerned. The years between 1857 and 1862 produced less than 1 500 new settler arrivals.

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