Friday, July 27, 2012

Anniversary of death of James Barry - or of Margaret Ann Bulkley?

Dr James Barry with dog, Psyche,
and manservant John.
Dr James Barry died on 26 July 1865. Some sources give the date of death as 25 July, adding yet another small mystery to this eminently mysterious individual. Barry lived as a man - a military surgeon serving in India and South Africa - but is believed to have been a woman, possibly named Margaret Ann Bulkley. 

It was in all likelihood because of the social restraints of the time that James Barry chose to appear to the world as male: a woman would not have been able to attend university nor to become a surgeon.

Barry is credited with having performed the first caesarian section by a British doctor in Africa (at the Cape); both mother and child survived. The baby boy was christened James Barry Munnik.

A diligent and forward-thinking doctor, he fought for better conditions and more effective medical care for British troops. He was instrumental in improving the water supply during his time in Cape Town. Later postings included Mauritius, Trinidad, Tobago and St Helena, and he also served in Malta, Corfu, the Crimea, Jamaica and Canada. He rose to Inspector General of Army Hospitals but was frequently in opposition to the authorities and consequently his career suffered ups and downs. 

After his death it was established that he was female, though many claimed to have suspected this during his lifetime. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery under the name James Barry.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Was your ancestor on the Waratah's final voyage?

Waratah Passengers from Durban to Cape Town and London:

Col P J Browne 49  Adelaide Cape Town
Miss K Lees 23  " "
Miss L Cooke      maid " "
Mrs Harvey 38  Sydney "
Master Harvey 13  " "
Miss Miller 22  " "
Mr Charles Taylor 34     miner " "
Mrs Taylor 30  " "
Miss May Taylor 8  " "
Master C Taylor 5  " "
Mr J T Blackburn 29     dairyman
Mrs J Y Wilson 58  Melbourne London
Mrs Wilson 40  " "
Miss L Wilson 32  " "
Miss Wilson 8  " "
Mr N W Black  41  " "
Miss M Campbell 25  " "
Mrs Govette 45  Sydney "
Miss Lascelles 30  " "
Mrs A G H Starke 60  Melbourne "
Miss Starke 30  " "
Mr John Ebsworth 45  " "
Miss M Hesketh Jones 25  Adelaide "
Mrs A Hay 45  " "
Miss H G Hay 23  " "
Mr William Cumming 32  Sydney "
Mrs Bowden 55  " "
Miss G Bowden 25  " "
Miss L Schaumann 11  " "
Miss D Schaumann 10  " "
Mrs J Harwood 68  " "
Mr Wright 40   master mariner " "
Mrs Wright 30  " "
Miss Henderson 25  " "
Mrs Allan/Allen & inft 40  " "
Miss Rose Allan/Allen 6  " "
Mr J McS Hunter  " "
Mr Bowden 40     miner " "
Mrs Bowden 34  " "
Miss Kathleen Bowden 6  " "
Master Harry Bowden 11  " "
Mr E B Page 34     showman Melbourne "
Mrs Page 26  " "
Mr P J Calder 29     fireman " "
Mr A Clarke 28     bricklayer " "
Mr J G Stokoe 39     engineer " "
Mrs A Ibbett 49  " "
Miss B Murphy 25  " "
Mr G H Tickell 31     miner " "
Mr Lowenthal 47     painter " "
Mrs Adamson  Durban London
Mrs Ashe  " "
Mrs E A Bradley  " "
Dr J T Carrick  " "
Mrs P O'Connolly  " "
Miss Connolly  " "
Mr Wiliam Coote  " "
Mrs Dawes & child  " "
Mr Donaldson  " "
Mrs Dunn  " "
Miss D Dunn 7  " "
Miss B Dunn 2  " "
Rev Father Fadle  " "
Mr M J Govendo  " "
Mr R E Hugo  " Cape Town
Mrs A Lyon & child (1 yr)  " London
Mr J McCausland  " Cape Town
Mr C B Nicholson  " London
Mr P O'Connor  " Cape Town
Mrs Petrie  " London
Master Petrie  " "
Mrs A E Press  " "
Mrs Sillery  " "
Mr W Stocken  " "
Mrs Stocken  " "
Stocken child 5  " "
Stocken child 2  " "
Miss Tayler (not Taylor)  " London
Mr J F J Taylor  " Cape Town
Miss Taylor  " "
Mr David Turner  " London
Mrs Turner  " "
Turner child 14  " "
Turner child 12  " "
Turner child 7  " "
Turner child 6  " "
Turner child 3  " "
Miss Young  " "

Model of the Waratah in boardroom of Turner's Shipping, Durban.
The photo behind is of David Turner, lost at sea with his wife and 5 children.

The Woodchoppers and the Solicitor: Lost at Sea 3

The day before the Waratah left Durban, Jack Calder wrote a poem which he sent to The Clipper, a Hobart Newspaper and he also wrote and posted a letter to a friend in Tasmania
You will be surprised to hear from me being this far away from Tasmania and still going to pull up, I hope, in the greatest city in the world, London. I have with me for a mate, Champion axeman Alf Clarke. We are under an engagement to give exhibitions of chopping. We are taking Australian logs with us. We sailed by the SS Waratah, Lund’s Blue Anchor Line. She is 10,000 tons. We left Melbourne on 1st July, had a few days in Adelaide and set out for Africa on the 7th. We had only really one rough day - that was coming through the Great Australian Bight and around Cape Leeuwin. But the Waratah being such a grand sea boat, we did not feel it much. I was never a bit seasick and feel better than I ever did in my life.
We have good concerts on board and good talents both instrumental and vocal.  Both Alf and I keep up our training such as it is, but the greatest time will be when we are showing in London and let Londoners see what Tasmanians are capable of with the axe. Our intention is to get among the Canadian axemen and see what they are like. With kind regards to self and all Tasmanian friends. Yours as B 4, Jack Calder. 
Another poignant letter written by a crew member on 26 July, from the SS Waratah in Durban, was received by his sister in London.  
Just a line to let you know we arrived here safely after a pretty rough voyage from Adelaide. For 13 days after leaving that place we had heavy seas and weather and a lot of the deck fittings were broken and carried away by heavy seas that swept over the vessel. The last five days however have been fine and we got here yesterday midday (Sunday) and we leave the Cape Saturday next, on 31st  July for London, where we will arrive on August 21st although we are not due until the 23rd. 
Those words still hang in the air more than a century later.

Where was the Waratah?
The Waratah was expected off Cape Town on the morning of Thursday, 29 July 1909, and when she didn’t arrive it was at first presumed that she had met with heavy weather. The Waratah had no radio communications so the Port Authorities sent the tug T. E. Fuller to try and locate the ship in case she was suffering from engine trouble.  It wasn’t until Monday, 2 August 1909, that the press carried reports that the Waratah was overdue. That was the beginning of an anxious time for relatives and friends.

World attention was now focused on the Waratah and H.M.S. Hermes joined other warships in their search. Another month had passed without sign of the Waratah.  Further desperate searches were made and on 19 October 1909, The Daily Commercial News and Shipping List placed the following insert, ‘Waratah, 9339, Ilbery, Sydney June 26 to South Africa and London via ports Melbourne July 1, Adelaide 7, Durban 26, missing.

The Lutine Bell being rung at Lloyd's of London
On 15 December 1909, the Waratah was officially posted as missing. Lloyd’s of London’s most famous symbol, the Lutine Bell, was rung heralding the announcement of the loss of the SS Waratah to underwriters and brokers. This action from Lloyd’s was profoundly final. 

With no witness surviving the disappearance of the Waratah, we can only contemplate the combined effects of stability, design, high promenade deck, cargo loading, hold security and righting moments of the ship all being complicit with the enormous seas along this notorious and treacherous stretch of South African coastline. Did fate concoct this unique and fatal formula that would commit the Waratah to a premature ocean grave? We are left to draw our own conclusions as to what happened to the SS Waratah, Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery, passengers and crew and where she rests today. Their story lies beneath the waves and the ocean guards her secrets well.  

Capt Josiah Edward Ilbery
Crew of the Waratah

A series of guest blogposts by SJL Patterson to commemorate the loss of SS Waratah, July 1909.

Photograph of John Ebsworth provided courtesy of Ebsworth family
Photograph of Mrs and Miss Hay provided courtesy of Hay and Tolcher family 
Photograph of Captain J E Ilbery provided courtesy of Dr Peter Ilbery and family
Photograph of Crew of Waratah provided courtesy of Marilyn Greaves and family

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Woodchoppers and the Solicitor: Lost at Sea 2

SS Waratah at Adelaide, July 1909

Winter had come to the Southern Hemisphere and when the Waratah put to sea on 7 July from Ocean Steamers Wharf for the Indian Ocean crossing to Durban, storms at sea were now commonplace for shipping in these lower latitudes and much heavy weather was expected. It had already been noted by some passengers that soon after leaving Adelaide the weather had become rough, as forecast, and it seemed that the Waratah rolled in a very disagreeable way, remaining for a long time on her side before recovering. While she was recovering and the deck became horizontal, she often gave a decided jerk. 

Claude Sawyer
Good time was made and the Waratah reached Durban nineteen days later on Sunday, 25 July 1909, disembarking approximately 29 passengers, one of which was Mr Claude Sawyer, an engineer and experienced sea traveller who had embarked in Sydney. Sawyer felt unease about the ship and convinced that she was top heavy and would not reach her London destination. During the Indian Ocean passage, he had been plagued by disturbing dreams and foreboding premonition and so strongly did he feel about these omens that he decided he would forfeit his onward passage money to London and wait for a berth on another vessel. 

During the voyage from Adelaide, Sawyer had tried to convince John Ebsworth, Agnes Gosse Hay, Miss Lascelles and several other passengers, to leave the ship with him. Mrs. Hay haughtily disregarded Sawyer’s concerns and despite the fact that she was travelling with all her jewels, retorted that no ship would dare sink with her on board. Mrs. Hay was no stranger to the Waratah, having sailed with Captain Ilbery previously and had made several return voyages to England with him when he commanded the Geelong, sister ship to Waratah. Mrs. Hay was unconvinced and was determined to continue her journey.  

Edward Harewood Lascelles, father of Miss Laura Lascelles, the widely-known and highly-respected business partner of the largest wool and produce business in the Western District of Victoria, would have wished desperately that his daughter had taken Claude Sawyer’s advice and disembarked in Durban.

Waratah offloaded some of her Australian cargo, replenished her coal bunkers, took on additional cargo and embarked her new passengers ready to depart for Cape Town and then onwards to London. Amongst her 40 passengers embarked from Durban was David Turner travelling with his wife and five children aged between 3 and 14 years old. Turner was the founder of the well-known and still-thriving South African business, Turner’s Shipping. The loss of this entire family underlines the heartbreak visited upon so many people after the loss of the Waratah.

On Monday, 26 July 1909, at 8pm from ‘C’ Shed, SS Waratah put to sea for the last time. As the ship turned south past Durban Bluff heading for Cape Town none on board would have believed that they would be sailing to their deaths.

Early the next morning whilst off the Transkei Coast at Cape Hermes at about 6.30am on 27 July, Waratah overtook a cargo ship and her last communication by signal lamp was with the Master of the Clan Macintyre at Latitude 31.36 degrees South, Longitude 29.58 degrees East. With a very heavy storm blowing up from the south, the crew of the Clan MacIntyre could see the Waratah making her way ahead, until she was opposite the estuary of the Bashee River. The weather had been deteriorating quickly and the south westerly gale was now gusting to 50 knots.  

The platform was set for one of the greatest sea mysteries of all time …the passenger and crew lists give us a glimpse of a heart-wrenching human story. An account of regular people proceeding with their everyday lives with plans of business, sport, courtship and private arrangements that would never eventuate. 

John Ebsworth was primarily on business connected with his law office in London and also planned to visit his ageing mother, ironically, for the last time, as he had decided that he would not return to England henceforth. John would become a figure of fascination to his descendants – a man who had spent many years at sea and a successful solicitor in Maritime Law. As a specialist in these matters, he had written and published a handbook titled, ‘Law Relating to Master and Seaman and Claims for Salvage’, and now, years later, he was to be lost at sea as a passenger.

A month after the ship’s disappearance, his wife Sarah Jane received a letter from her husband, which he had written en route from Adelaide and entrusted in Durban to the Master of a Collier, the Bannockburn, bound for New South Wales, Australia, for delivery to his wife.  In his letter he had stated that, ‘The Waratah was a fine sea boat and as comfortable as one could wish for, while the cabins are splendid ... the passengers are well now, having recovered from their sea sickness and apart from a very rough night at sea experienced on 12 July, the Waratah had behaved admirably.’  The letter stated that on the day before the Waratah’s arrival in Durban, the vessel had logged 333 miles, a record for the passage.

Not wishing to worry his wife, John had neglected to mention however, that not all passengers shared his good opinion of the ship and that Claude Sawyer had sought her husband’s advice being concerned that his bathwater remained at an extreme angle for too long when the ship was on a roll. Sawyer also said the ship was top-heavy and unstable. Together they had gone to look at the way the vessel was pitching from the forward end of the promenade deck. As big rollers came towards the ship, the Waratah took the first one and when she went down into the trough of the next wave, she remained there and seemed to keep her nose into the wave and simply plough through it. John Ebsworth could not have been concerned, or surely he too would have disembarked at Durban. 

Ebsworth M.I. at Bridgnorth, Shropshire: 'Also of John, eldest Son of the above, who was lost
on the Waratah July 1909 Aged 52 Years.
Until the Day Break and The Shadows Flee Away'
[Photo courtesy of Denise Roberts.]

A series of guest blogposts by S J L Patterson in commemoration of the SS Waratah July 1909.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Woodchoppers and the Solicitor: Lost at Sea 1

A series of guest blogposts by S J L Patterson in commemoration of the SS Waratah July 1909.

Jack Calder
In Tasmania, a light drizzle had been falling as the two men prepared their equipment to spend another day in the ancient and magnificent forests of Tasmania.  As strong, young men, several years of wielding the axe had honed their craft and strengthened their bodies to become champion woodchoppers in Australia. Shortly, they would be sailing to London and their ship, the SS Waratah, was already in Australian waters and working her way around the coast.

Alf Clarke
Early Australia was a land of hardship and manual labour, with any gains being hard-won from relentless hours of physical effort - building a homestead, erecting fencing, raising cattle or clearing the densely-forested land to plant crops. This daily physical effort raised strong men and competitions were to centre on their skills such as horsemanship and woodchopping. The latter had fast become an entertaining sport and after the first championships had taken place at Latrobe in north-west Tasmania, in November 1891,Tasmania had led with world champion axemen. Top placing in the Australian Championships were critical to Alf Clarke and Jack Calder and, both men being highly skilled, they had been successful with Alf Clarke acquiring the 1905 Australian Championship title, whilst Jack Calder was the Tasmanian State Champion. This success had led to both men being invited under Royal engagement to an exhibition for British Royalty in London, to compete against Canadian woodchoppers. Their preparations were being made to take Australian logs with them for embarkation in Melbourne and Alf Clarke, a big man, had ordered a new pair of size 14 boots especially for the occasion.

Meanwhile, the Waratah slipped away from Sydney’s Central Wharf at Millers Point, at noon on Saturday 26 June 1909, after loading her cargo and embarking 38 passengers. Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery would have felt a twinge of sadness on that cloudy day with showers as he had his last view of the Macquarie and Hornsby Lighthouses, constructed from local sandstone, hewn from the area today known as ‘The Rocks’ on Sydney Harbour. This was his final command as Commodore of the Blue Anchor Line and he was due to retire when this voyage ended in London. The ship would soon pass through The Heads and into the open ocean, visiting Melbourne and Adelaide, followed by her Indian Ocean crossing to Durban, South Africa

SS Waratah
The Waratah was an imposing vessel and her extra promenade deck gave her a somewhat top-heavy appearance, which distinguished her from the rest of the ships of the Blue Anchor Line. On a number of occasions, because she was so high, there had been berthing problems due to the area exposed to strong winds, which had caused her hawsers holding her to the wharf to snap like cotton strands.

One year before, on 5 November 1908, she had set off on her maiden voyage from London, England, to Australia, boasting 100 first class cabins, 8 staterooms, a luxurious 'music lounge' complete with a minstrel's gallery and a saloon with panels depicting her namesake flower. As well as these luxurious quarters, the Waratah had room for 300 Third Class passengers to serve the strong emigrant trade from Europe to Australia.

Having completed her maiden voyage without mishap, her return to England did raise some discussions between the owners and the builders about her stowage and the possibility of it being responsible for some instability on that voyage. Little did they know that these discussions would hold important ramifications in the future, when the inquiry into her loss would again raise the issue of stowage and reports of her instability. The disappearance of the SS Waratah remains as inexplicable and mysterious today, as it did 103 years ago. People all over the world have deliberated and written about this ship. How was it possible for a modern liner of her time, travelling close to shore on a well-used coast, to disappear without trace? Yet she did just that, posing an intriguing mystery, as well as the tragedy of a ship vanishing with all hands. 

Port Melbourne Railway Pier was off in the distance at 4.00pm on Thursday 1 July as the Waratah crossed Port Philip Bay bound for Adelaide. Passengers Alf Clarke and Jack Calder were settled into their Third Class berths and mixed feelings had confronted them as Alf had said goodbye to his wife Eva and four year old daughter Rosina and Jack Calder bid farewell to his family. Yet, for these two young men, this was their first adventure outside Australia. The thrill of the unknown and the new world they were about to explore, was exhilarating. Alf and Jack keep their fitness by training daily on the deck, boxing and skipping and keeping passengers well entertained.

As the Waratah steamed on her uneventful passage to Port Adelaide, Mr. John Ebsworth, a Melbourne Solicitor, Freemason and father of six, had bade farewell to his wife, Sarah Jane on 6th July 1909 and taken the Adelaide Railway Express to Port Adelaide to board the Waratah that was anchored at Ocean Steamers Wharf. He had been delayed by legal matters when the Waratah took on her passengers in Melbourne but he was now on his way to London via South Africa.  
Agnes Grant Gosse Hay
At the same time Agnes Grant Gosse Hay, widow of the highly respected businessman and Member of Parliament, Alexander Hay, originally from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, would be boarding the Waratah after having travelled up to Adelaide from Victor Harbour. Accompanying Agnes was her daughter Helen (Dolly) Gosse and companion Miss M Hesketh-Jones

'Dolly' Gosse

The weather report issued for South Australia at 9pm on 6 July 1909 was, ‘Cloudy, generally with rain and squally winds between NW and SW, strong on the coast and rough sea.’ Captain Ilbery had taken on 6 new crew members in Adelaide and as the 14 new passengers embarked, including John Ebsworth and Agnes Gosse Hay’s party, destiny was closing in on them.  

SS Waratah 1909

To be continued ...

Monday, July 23, 2012

How I came to Natal in 1861

My First Voyage by J.A.B.

My first voyage at sea was as a passenger in the S.S. Norman, owned by the Union Steamship Company, which had the contract for carrying her Majesty's mails from Plymouth to Capetown direct, and vice versa. The Norman was not a large vessel, but I forget her tonnage. (Footnote 1) Compared with her namesake of the present day, it will be well to call her 'the little Norman.' She was commanded by Captain Boxer, whose wife accompanied him on the voyage. (Footnote 2)

The Norman left Plymouth on April 6th 1861, after embarking mails and passengers, those who had come from Southampton in the ship being allowed a run on shore. The contract time for the voyage out was 42 days, and it was understood by the passengers that the company received a bonus of 50 pounds per day for every day less than the 42 days. After a week of fine weather, even through the Bay of Biscay, the Norman was abreast of Madeira on April 13th. The island was some 20 miles to the eastward and presented a grand appearance. The sun shone brightly, and as it penetrated the mist and clouds the ..... became apparent. The next day we were abreast of Palma, one of the Canary Isalands, and being but 15 miles distant we had a splendid view. With a glass one could see houses on the hills and snow on the tops of the mountains. We caught a glimpse of .... Towards the evening of April 14th. We crossed the equator on the evening of April 25th (with the temperature at 122 degrees in the .... Room and between 90 and 100 degrees in the cabins). On May 2nd the weather was squally, and in the evening the mainsail was split by the wind for the Norman always carried sail when it was an advantage to do so. The next morning the flying jib was split, and there was more sea than we had had all the voyage, and ... strong trade winds. On May 3rd we sent a bottle afloat with a piece of paper in it bearing the following:
Lat. 19 O S
Long 10 S W   Not very legible may be incorrect. 
May 3rd 1861
Norman, mail packet to the Cape of Good Hope. All Well.

This document was signed by several, but whether it was ever picked up or washed ashore I know not.

We did not sight any land after .... The last five days at sea were as pleasant as the preceding ones had been. We had a squall or two, but these helped us along considerably. On the evening of May 13th one of the officers told some of the passengers that if they were up at daybreak in the morning they would see Table Mountain and if they did not see it then they would not see it till the middle of the day. A few were up before day break and sure enough had a glimpse of the mountain ... 60 or 70 miles distant. The night had been calm but .... A favourable breeze sprung up and the little Norman had all the sail crowded on she could carry. How vigorously we all set to work hoisting the sails cheered by the mountain ahead. At 3 o'clock on the afternoon of May 14th the Norman anchored in Table Bay after a voyage of 38 days from Plymouth and four days under contract time. When the anchor was let go many on board were almost overcome with feelings of joy and thankfulness at the successful termination of what would now be called a protracted voyage to the Cape.

What was the speed of the little Norman? Well, her highest run in 24 hours was 210 miles, and her lowest run in 24 hours was 95 miles. With steam and sail she did the former, and steaming head to the wind and sea she made the 95. She could come down to four knots an hour, or she might come up to eight or nine. Her usual daily runs were 149, 140, 152, 184, 180, 174, 177, 157, 160, 157, and at noon on May 13th she had 164 miles to go to Capetown. And she did it. Capetown was glad to get another month's news, for by the time the passengers were landed the town was placarded by the newspaper gentlemen 'Arrival of the English mail Latest news'. The latest news was nearly six weeks old, and some of it was nearly ten weeks old, but it was 'latest' all the same.

It must not be thought that the Norman used steam as an auxiliary to her sails. This was not the case. The screw was spinning round the whole voyage, with the exception of about five hours when the engines were stopped in mid-ocean for the purpose of packing pistons. The engines went 54 revolutions a minute, so that they made nearly three million revolutions between Northampton and Capetown.

In the year 1861 the mails for Natal were brought from England with the mails for the Cape Colony, as they have been since. In those days a coasting steamer ran between Capetown and Natal named the Waldensian and she did the work as quickly as time and weather permitted. But in May the weather was rough around the Cape, and the Waldensian became overdue at Capetown. It was feared she had broken down, or run out of coal, or been lost, so two or three men-of-war were sent from Simon's Bay to look for her. Meantime the mails for Natal and East London were delayed, at Capetown pending arrangements to be made for their despatch. There was no telegraph to Natal then so nothing could be known there of the cause of delay. People were patient in those days and if they did not get their letters when they were due, they waited till they did. How the Natal colonists got their mails brought out by the Norman will be seen by the following. The Waldensian was fortunately found by one of the men of war round the coast and eventually arrived safely at Capetown. (Footnote 3)

My second voyage at sea was as a passenger in HMS Gorgon in which I sailed from Simon's Bay on June 14th 1861, bound for the East Coast of Africa. The Gorgon was a paddle wheel steamer with a tonnage of something more than 1,000 tons and engines of 320 horse power. She was brig-rigged, and carried 6 large guns, besides 2 guns for boats. The crew numbered about 170, including 20 marines. She also carried eight boats, two of which were called 'paddlers' as when at sea these two boats formed the top of the paddle boxes by being turned keels upward. The Gorgon was in charge of Commander J C Wilson, a fine specimen of the English sailor.

In those days communication with ports to the eastward was limited, so the mails for East London, Natal etc were placed on board the Gorgon,as were also stores for other men-of-war on the station. The weather was rough for the first days, and on June 17th we lost a cutter, which was stove in by the violence of the sea. At 4 o'clock on the morning of June 18th we were off East London, but in consequence of the boisterous weather had to be stand out to sea, thus overcarrying the mails for East London to Natal, to be sent back again, somehow or other. On the evening of June 21st it was a dead calm till 10 o'clock, when one of those severe gales peculiar to the coast commenced to blow. For hours previously the lightning had attracted the attention of all on board, it being grand beyond description; but as there was little wind no fears were entertained, and a good deal of canvas was kept on the ship. However, at 10 o'clock, and quite suddenly, it commenced to blow fearfully, and rain in torrents. The succeeding moments can hardly be described. 'Hands! shorten sail!' was shouted fore and aft the ship; nearly all the sails were in ribbands (sic) and those which were not were soon taken off, the captain and officers were on deck giving orders, making themselves heard as best they could; the clouds were, one would think, concentrating their contents on the Gorgon, drenching every man on deck; and the lightning illumined with the brightness of day the weird spectacle. A remarkable fact was that the sea, which had been calm, continued so, the combined force of the wind and rain forbidding the waves to rise. Fortunately the ship rode out the gale, which was from the westward, scudding before it under bare poles at about 10 knots an hour. After the storm, which lasted about an hour, the captain complimented the crew on the admirable manner in which they had done their work, and ordered cocoa to be made for all hands.

It should be remembered that although the Gorgon was a steamer, steam was only used as an auxiliary, and that on the voyage round the Cape she was not under steam, but had her paddle wheels disconnected from the engines.

The next day, June 22nd, was beautifully fine, and in the afternoon we arrived at Port Natal. The Government tug Pioneer came out to meet us and told us where to anchor in the roadstead. (Footnote 4) The mails were put on board the tug, and together with some of our officers, conveyed ashore. We lay at anchor until the following afternoon, when those who had been on shore returned, bringing with them a boat to replace the one we had lost, some provisions, and several curiosities. At four o'clock in the afternoon of June 23rd we got under way for the East Coast.

Maritzburg July 1900 J.A.B.

From The Natal Witness Monday 20 August 1900
The identity of J.A.B. remains undiscovered.


(1) 530 tons. The Norman was built in 1853; she was the 3rd Union liner to come to the Cape, in 1857.
(2) Capt. Boxer had been in command of the coaster Sir Robert Peel and was well-known between Table Bay and Durban. 
(3) The Waldensian was wrecked in October 1862.
(4) The Pioneer made her journey in 1859 to Natal from England under sail, with her paddles stowed below. She arrived at Durban after a voyage of 111 days, the first steam tug in South Africa. 

A steamer under sail and steam.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Steerage Passengers to Natal, Dudbrook 1862 continued

By 1862 the Dudbrook was not a new ship: she had been built in Dundee, Scotland, in 1848. Barque-rigged (i.e. she was three-masted, with foremast and mainmast square-rigged and mizzenmast fore-and-aft rigged), she was137.1 ft long, 25.7 ft beam and her holds were 20.1 ft deep. In November 1852 she carried 228 male convicts from Plymouth bound for the Swan River Colony, Western Australia. That voyage took 77 days. A decade later the wooden vessel was sheathed in felt and yellow metal and considered sound enough to sail for Natal. W Deacon was Master and Owner.

A typical barque

At 572 tons the Dudbrook was larger than most of the Byrne settler ships of the 1850s. Nevertheless, the cramped conditions in steerage must have been a severe trial for the families on board. There were numerous children, many very young, e.g. the Russell family travelling with nine, the Frosts with six and the Hulmes with five. By comparison, the Kings were a small family unit of three adults and a baby. During the voyage there were two births and one death of an infant.

Arrival of Dudbrook reported in
 the Natal Witness 27 June 1862

Local newspapers tended to omit steerage passengers’ names, though the list of cabin or private passengers would appear in the shipping columns. The Natal Witness of 27 June 1862 announces the arrival of the barque Dudbrook and gives the private passengers’ names, remarking that there were also 146 Government immigrants in the steerage.

Steerage passengers are usually those whom family historians find deeply interesting. In Natal it may be possible to find the list of Government immigrants recorded in the original immigration register and this is the case with the Dudbrook arrival in June 1862. Conversely, there are occasions when the original register bypasses the cabin passengers in favour of the assisted immigrants – which may mean an ancestor well-heeled enough to pay for his passage out remaining invisible.

Below is a transcript of the Dudbrook’s steerage passenger list (not alphabetical); the figure after the name is the age of the immigrant. Bear in mind that transcripts may contain errors, often due to illegible handwriting of names in the original. The sureties (colonists already resident in Natal) are of as much interest as the immigrants, showing how informative passenger lists can be as a source:

John Gavin, shown as ‘engineer, Durban’ stood surety to David Crabb, a shoemaker, and possibly also to Benjamin Lawrence, blacksmith, and Robert Smith. (Gavin sponsored a number of immigrants to Natal, not all related to him.) Alexander Bookless, a plumber, was a relative of his surety, Robert Bookless (or Booklass), ‘smith at Durban’, who had arrived on the Ina. Thomas Amos's surety was John Byers Amos, watchmaker of Pietermaritzburg. William Pinkerton Knox, ‘carpenter at Durban’, stood surety to John Mitchell. A note in the register re Henry Phelps tells us he was a farmer at Mooi River, and across this is scrawled ‘dead’. The Swan family's surety was David Webster, sugar planter at Hill Head estate, who died in an accident at the Verulam mill shortly before the arrival of the Dudbrook, and that of the Rapsons, Josiah Rapson, ‘builder, Durban’. Samuel Marriott, bricklayer of Claremont, is listed as surety to the Westons. 

Steerage Passengers on Dudbrook:

AMOS, Thomas 21
BOOKLESS, Alexander 23
BURN, Daniel 34
Mary A 34
Daniel 2
William inft
CRABB, David 24
LAWRENCE, Benjamin 21
SMITH, Robert 22
DAVIDSON, William 19
WILL, Alexander 22
KING, George 25
Mary 26
Lucretia inft
William 47
LOUNSLEY, Thomas 24
Christina 36
Elizabeth 10
Henry 8
MASON, Joseph 24
PORTER, Hugh 22
REID, Betty 21
PORRITT, Isabella 22
RAPSON, Joseph 29
Mary 27
Joseph 7
Thomas 3
SWAN, James 35
Robina 31
Helen 12 
Jessie C 10
James 8
Catharine 6
Mary 4
Robert 1
WESTON, Henry 45
Mrs 33
William 9
Sarah 8
WHATMORN, William 64  (elsewhere transcribed as WHATMOM)
Mary 45
Mary A 
Emma 19
Elizabeth 4
WILSON, John 21
GUEST, Henry 24                   (elsewhere transcribed as GUEET)
CONNELL, James 24
COOPER, Thomas 25
DAVOREN, Peter 26                  
DUGGAN, Charles 30
EARL, John C 21
CURTIN, Michael 22
FROST, William 43
Elizabeth 38
Martha 18
Emily 14
Mary L 12
Elizabeth A 8
Agnes 6
William 1
GUMBY, Edward 29
Isabel 31
Emily A 8
Annie L 2
HIPSLEY, George 22
HULME, William 38
Mary A 35
Charles 14
Sarah A 12
Andrew 8
William 6
Samuel 4
JONES, William 22
Rose 26
KENNARD, Vincent 21
Mary 23
Ann 49
Samuel 15
Josh T 13
Emma 12
LINNANE, John 24     
LUCAS, Richard K 27
Maria 28
Lucy 2
Caroline 1
MAKER or MAHER, John 36  
Hannah 30
Bridget 10
John 4
James inft
MCKEORON, Isaac 27
Isabella 21
Edward inft
MCCABE, Josh 24
MORECOMBE, Richard 31
Annie 25
MORGAN, Charles 31
Mary J 29
Charles 3
Robert H inft
PHELPS, Jane 21
PREIST, Edward 26   
RIPLEY, James 20
George 23
RITCHIE, David 21
RITSON, Thomas 25
Margaret 27
Jane 4
John H 3
Thomas 1
ROBINSON, George 24
RUSSELL, Benjamin 23
Mary A 21
Benjamin 45
Sarah 44
Thomas 19
James 17
Elizabeth 14
Sarah 12
Simeon 9
Margaret 7
Emmeline 4
RYAN, Thomas 25
John 18
Elizabeth 42
SIMPSON, John 27
Jane 28
William 4
Jane 2
TAYLOR, John 19
TODD, William 22
TURRELL, Alfred 20
WICKES, Joseph 42
AVERY, Joseph J 21
PHELPS, Henry 40
Ann 48
Fanny 15
Catharine 12
SMITH, William 21
PHIPPS, John 21
BRADSHAW, Richard 28
Rachel 23 

Epilogue: My great great grandparents George and Mary Ann King settled in Pietermaritzburg. They had eight children:  Lucretia born 14 July 1861 (before they left England); Frederick William b 5 May 1864, Alice Mary King (my great grandmother, who married James Dudley Swires) b 16 June 1866; Edwin George King, b 3 March 1869; Hubert Richard King b 29 October 1871 (who may have died young as another Hubert made his appearance a few years later); Elizabeth Charlotte King (who married Ernest A Rhodes) b 21 April 1873; Hubert William King b 6 August, 1875; and Albert Richard King b 4 April, 1880 (who married Elizabeth Rose Leeding and died in 1944) .Mary Ann was 46 when she had her last baby – she had been bearing children for nineteen years. 

George King died on 5 May 1899 and Mary Ann in 1911; both lie buried in the Commercial Road Cemetery, Pietermaritzburg.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Steerage Passengers to Natal: the Dudbrook 1862

There’s nothing particularly unusual about the barque Dudbrook which sailed to Natal in mid-1862. However, she holds a special place in my affection because two of my ancestors were on that voyage from England as assisted emigrants travelling steerage or, as it later became known, third-class. This was generally the case with people coming out to Natal – and elsewhere in South Africa – under the auspices of a Government scheme.

The Kings were representative of the type of emigrants leaving Britain for a new start in the Colony. Mary Ann King, my great great grandmother, was born in 1834 in Maidenhead, Kent. She married George King, born around the same year. They were not related to each other, despite sharing the same surname. In the 19thc there were hundreds of Kings in Kent and environs. Mary Ann King’s family can be traced back to the mid-18thc within a comparatively small area of one county. Her father William King was an agricultural labourer born at Marden, Kent, in 1805 and her mother Ann nee Homesby, born in Capel, 1802. By 1851 the family were living at Lone Barn, Nettlestead, Kent. Mary Ann’s brothers were both labourers. In that era, there was little chance of a man breaking the chain that bound him, and generations before him, to the soil and toil. The colonies offered a more hopeful prospect.

When George and Mary Ann King took ship on the Dudbrook George was 25 and his wife 26. Their infant daughter Lucretia born in 1861 was with them and they were accompanied by a William King, aged 47. Next to the King family’s entry in the original register, under the column headed ‘Sureties’, is ‘R King, laborer [sic] PMBurg’ indicating that this person had nominated the Kings to come to Natal on assisted passage and that he guaranteed repayment of the passage monies within twelve months of their arrival.

Mary Ann had an elder brother and a younger brother named respectively William and Richard. We don’t know how old the R. King was who stood surety to the new arrivals. William’s age would have been about 31 – not 47 as stated in the register. However, inaccuracies abound in passenger lists and his given age may simply be an error - unless he lied about it. As no other clue to the identity of these two men presents itself, it seems likely that they were Mary Ann’s brothers. Richard had evidently emigrated first and then sent for his brother, sister and brother-in-law to join him – a typical pattern in colonial Natal.

Steerage was the area on a ship allocated to the passengers paying the cheapest fare. It was also referred to as between-decks (or ’tween-decks) i.e. the deck below the main deck of a sailing ship. There wasn’t a great deal of head room. Eating and sleeping usually took place in the same area. Sanitary and washing arrangements were primitive and privacy minimal. 

A meal in steerage: note bunks at sides.

Female emigrants between decks

Although the above illustrations are earlier in date conditions hadn't changed much by the 1860s.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Migrants, Passengers and Others

As mentioned at the start of this series of posts on indentured Indian migrants in Natal, for a family historian to make progress towards a clearer picture of the ancestors’ lives is not a simple matter.

However, a good rule in any ancestry research is to think laterally, especially if you have limited basic information. Instead of attempting to pinpoint your migrant directly by unsuccessfully combing the Migrants Index, try beginning with the current generation, yourself and other living relatives, then the previous generation and gradually working back. It’s surprising how many clues such as an Indentured Number or a marriage record can be collected along the way which could lead to a correct identification of the migrant. Deceased estate files of any of the migrant’s direct descendants can provide useful detail; search for these on NAAIRS. You may have to be imaginative in your search terms if there is more than one possible name for the family members (a family name, a ‘house’ name, a nickname, even an alias).

Grey Street taken from Queen St towards the Bay ca 1900; Grey St
mosque at right.
At present, for descendants researching so-called Passenger Indians, there is no database comparable to the Migrants Index. This is understandable. In any immigrant situation where people are entering a country of their own free will having paid for their own passage rather than being part of an organized immigration scheme it is more difficult to trace their movements. Passenger Indians could travel easily to Natal from British India; they began to do so in the mid-1870s, increasingly from the 80’s. For this category of immigrant, family records and memorabilia play a key role. A useful source is the South African Indian Who’s Who. See

Masulah boat 
Certain Indian immigrants, e.g. haphazard arrivals from Mauritius, naturally do not appear on the Migrants Index. Other groups are more obscure. In 1861, Port Captain Bell, having visited India in his ocean-sailing days, brought experienced oarsmen from Madras to man Masulah surfboats at Natal. Their task: to ferry cargo and passengers from ships anchored in the roadstead. The Natal Almanac & Yearly Directory continues to record through the 1870s the presence of these Masulah* boatmen at Durban, some of whom later settled in Natal as fishermen.

*Madras had a harbour problem similar to Durban's:
'...vessels of heavy burthen are obliged to moor in the roads - about two miles from the fort. A strong current runs along the coast, and a tremendous surf breaks on the shore, rendering it difficult to land even in the calmest weather. In crossing this surf the natives use boats of a peculiar construction, built of very thin planks laced together, and made as pliable as possible. The boats from the vessels often row to the outside of the surf, and wait for the masulah boats to take the passengers on shore.'

Other useful links:

An Outline of Indian South African History 1860-1960

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Searching for migrant ancestors

If while searching the Migrants Index you find a likely contender for your ancestor (from name, date of arrival, estimated age at the time of arrival, father’s name etc) it’s worth looking at the registration numbers immediately adjacent to the number you have located. These could indicate a family unit – parents and children travelling together. For example, in the case of a girl named Rajamma, thought by descendants to be aged under ten at the time of her journey to Natal, an entry on the Index for a girl of eight years old seemed a very possible match. Above her name are those of an adult couple, in all likelihood her parents. Below her name are two young boys, almost certainly her siblings. (Whole families were indentured, not only the male head of the family.)

The final column on the Index tells us that the parents later returned to India, as did the male siblings. There’s no such return recorded for Rajamma who presumably married and remained in Natal. If she is the correct Rajamma - and the chances are good - her descendants have suddenly acquired several previously unknown migrant relatives as well as, no doubt, living relatives in India.

I mentioned caste in an earlier post. This is a vast topic and I will leave it to the specialists such as Prof. Surendra Bhana. For a useful list of castes, with their relevant meanings and professions see
Names of castes – like the geographical areas of India – have undergone changes since the 1860s.

On board ship ‘there was little official space for caste or custom. A Pariah’s reply to a Brahmin upset at being bumped into, I have taken off my caste and left it with the Port Officer. I won’t put it on again till I come back, poignantly sums up the situation. … Yet it would be wrong to speak of a complete breakdown of the caste system during the voyage. Consciousness of caste and other boundaries would persist long after the voyage and indenture ended.’

[From Chapter 2, Inside Indenture: Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tracing your migrant ancestor in Natal

The Migrants Index presents a picture of a fleeting moment. One of the dedicated volunteers involved in the compilation of the Index remarked that ‘we only get one chance with the migrants, that is, on arrival’. After they were dispersed to their various employers it becomes more difficult to follow their trail. The employer to whom a migrant was initially indentured might well not be the employer for the entire period of his indenture. Migrants could be transferred to another sugar estate, for example, even unofficially swapped between employers. Reasons for such arbitrary behaviour varied.

The migrant may remain invisible for much of his sojourn in Natal unless a particular event concerning him generated a public record at the time – that is, a document or file preserved as archival material. These could range from a claim of ill-treatment of a migrant by his employer to an application by a ‘free’ Indian (one who had completed his term of indenture) for a firearm licence. The latter subject provides a fruitful source for discussion about Vijay Maharaj’s ancestors in his book Injustice published in 2007. (ISBN: 1-4196-7877-9 ISBN-13: 9781419678776

Search NAAIRS at for such references. Again, the difficulty is identifying the migrant by name. If an Indentured or Registration Number is known that can be helpful. A so-called Colonial Number was issued to colonial-born individuals and should not be confused with the Registration or Indentured Number allocated to migrants on arriving in Natal.

Archives of the Indian Immigration Department (1858 - 1924) offer rich pickings for descendants of migrants and other researchers: these files are held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository and are referenced on NAAIRS.

An example of what can be achieved by using these sources is seen in the book by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, first published by Madiba Press in 2007 as Inside Indenture: a South African story, 1860-1914, and published in 2010 by HSRC Press as Inside Indian Indenture: a South African story, 1860-1914.
(ISBN 0796922446, 9780796922441)

The volume is required reading for anyone with an interest in this topic. It takes us beyond statistics to the human story of indenture.

Indian festival at Umgeni

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Researching Indian Migrant Ancestors in Natal

If you’re a family historian seeking migrant ancestors who came to Natal from India, it’s wise to do some preparation before starting a search of the Migrants Index. In keeping with all genealogy research, adhere to the maxim of proceeding from the Known to the Unknown.

Migrants at Umzinto, Natal.
Are you certain that your ancestor/s arrived as migrants under the system of indenture, and not as one of the so-called Passenger Indians, mostly merchants and traders who came to Natal under their own steam, as it were, paying for their own passage out? 

If your ancestor was one of the latter immigrants he naturally won’t be found on the Migrants Index. (Bear in mind, though, that there are no hard and fast rules in researching migrants: it isn’t always simple to categorise them. Many migrants who went back to India after serving their indenture contract, for a variety of reasons returned to Natal – some re-indentured for another five years, others came out again as ‘free’ Indians and thus were ‘passengers’ at that stage.)

Start by doing some homework, collecting as much information as possible from sources within the family about the migrant ancestor/s you are looking for; family memories, legends, stories, anecdotes. The main goal is to establish particular details about a migrant which could help identify him on the index.

(Note: where I refer to a migrant ancestor as ‘he’ this implies ‘he’ or ‘she’. Migrants were men, women and children.)

Details for identification purposes include:
The migrant’s name. This may sound obvious but can be a huge stumbling block. See note below*
A spouse’s name.
Registration or Indentured Number.
An approximate year or period of possible arrival; at least try to pin it down to a decade by working out ages of succeeding generations.
Any clues as to the migrant’s employer, in which industry, or the area where the migrant worked e.g. North Coast, South Coast or more specific places.
Family memory might point to a possible place of origin in India, even if only 'North' or 'South'.
Any clues as to caste/ religion/language of the migrant ancestor.
Knowledge of a special occupation the migrant may have had: e.g. coachman.
Any official documents preserved by family members.

* Names are the single most difficult aspect when it comes to using the Migrants Index.
There could be a large number of confusing variant spellings of a particular name.  Names may have been recorded incorrectly by those compiling the original lists. Migrants sometimes changed their names during their time in Natal. The name by which descendants know them might not be the one that appears in the lists. These and other factors militate against finding the ‘right’ ancestor. It’s therefore helpful to home in on a specific detail as an aid in identification of the individual.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Indian Immigration Registers/Ships Lists Natal

The Indian Immigration Registers, or as they are popularly known, the Ships Lists, are a unique record of the coming to Natal from India of over 150 000 migrants between the years 1860 and 1911. During that period there were gaps of several years when migration, for various reasons, was interrupted.

Detail from page of Indian Immigration Register
The original registers, handwritten and difficult to read, as well as in fragile condition (particularly the early lists), are held at the Durban Archives Repository*.

Information given includes Registration (or Indenture) Number, Name, Father's name, Caste, Age, Height, Zillah (Province of origin in India), Thanna (nearest big town), Village and name of Employer to whom the migrant was to be indentured. Ship arrival date is given and also included are descriptions of physical marks - scars, tattoos etc. There may be additional subsequent events in the career of a particular migrant, such as death or his/her return to India.

A mammoth voluntary project to index these registers has resulted in the publication of a database searchable by name of migrant, as well as by Registration Number, displayed in columns corresponding with those found in the original lists (except for the column pertaining to physical marks which has been omitted). This database or index not only avoids excessive use of the original material, which is a plus in terms of preservation, but provides an accessible facility for research purposes – especially in the case of descendants wishing to trace migrant ancestors.

However, it should be emphasised that while the Migrants Index is a wonderful resource, it is not a magic wand. The information it offers requires interpretation; it demands some knowledge and effort on the part of the descendant/researcher, as well as the use of archival and other records in conjunction with the Index. Further discussion on this aspect in future posts.

To order a copy of the CD Indian Migrants to Natal: Ships Lists (1860-1911)  GSSA CD011  ISBN 978-0-9869742-2-9 (Copyright J.B.Brain) contact the Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA): 

The Ships Lists are also available online at
In this version the lists are searchable by Registration Number.

*Durban Archives Repository
Nashua House
14 De Mazenod Lane
Tel: (031) 309 5682    
Hours: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. weekdays.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Indenture in Natal

What does the term ‘indenture’ mean? Originally it was a deed executed between two or more people and written so that each person concerned would have a copy. The deed occupied one sheet of paper. A wavy or ‘indented’ line was drawn between the copies and the sheet cut into parts along this line. Copies of the handwritten text could later be tallied with other copies by bringing together the indented line – which would fit precisely, thus providing proof of the original agreement.

Family historians who have researched UK ancestors will be familiar with at least one form of indenture: the contract of apprenticeship whereby an individual would be ‘indentured’ to a trade such as blacksmithing or carpentry for a period of years before acquiring ‘journeyman’ status. Gradually the term indenture came to be used for any kind of sealed agreement or contract.

In the case of the indentured Indian migrants in Natal, their term of contract was five years. The Colonial Government initially held out for a three year contract, but employers wanted at least five years. By 1862 agreement had been reached for a five year period and the option of a second phase of indenture. The question remained: would the indentured migrant be free to return to India after 5 years or 10?

Finally, it was decided that the migrant would be entitled to a return passage after he had completed the optional second five years. In Natal, return passages could be commuted in exchange for crown land: after a narrow window of opportunity for migrants to take advantage of this, the offer was withdrawn in 1874.

Whether the migrants came to Natal willingly, and the system of recruitment used, are among topics explored by S Bhana in his Indentured Indians in Natal,1860-1902: a Study based on the Ships Lists.

Page from the Truro passenger list 1860.