Monday, April 22, 2013

Sugar and Natal: the Pioneers - Mack, Platt, Babbs, King


Mack and his brother James arrived in Natal on the Henrietta in July 1850. Robert bought land on the Isipingo Flat and in 1852 he and two other Isipingo farmers sent a wagon to Compensation to buy plant cane from Edmund Morewood. In 1861, Robinson states that Mack 'started with half-a-crown and a family of sturdy sons'; by 1870 there were 300 acres under cane on the Mack estate. Though Robert Mack was dead by that time, succeeding generations of the Mack family continued as sugar planters in the Isipingo area.


These Yorkshiremen arrived in Natal within a year of each other, possibly attracted by cotton prospects in the Colony. Sidney, however, bought land at Isipingo in 1849 and Lawrence secured 50 acres near his brother's property, naming the farm Prospecton. At first the Platts, like many other early farmers, grew beans as a cash crop, but in 1852 Lawrence joined Mack and Birkett, also of Isipingo, in sending an ox-cart to Morewood at Compensation to buy cane-tops. Lawrence Platt's first mill, like his brother Sidney's, was ox-powered but they each soon acquired a steam mill.

Lawrence Platt died in 1886, and his work was continued by his youngest son Alfred, born in 1853, to whom he had given Prospecton at the end of the Anglo-Zulu War 1879. Alfred Platt died in 1938 - in 1945 the Prospecton Estate was amalgamated with Tongaat Sugar Co Ltd, with Cecil Platt, grandson of Lawrence, as a director. Cecil died in 1950, aged 68.


Babbs and his wife Sarah were passengers on the Globe in 1850. Like Jeffels, he didn't like the allotment provided in the cotton lands near Umhlali and settled at the Isipingo Flat, becoming a sugar planter and manufacturer at his Umlaas Estate. He started with an ox-power mill but by 1856 was sending into Durban sugar made at a new 8-horse power steam mill. John Robinson wrote in 1861 that Babbs's estate was the largest but one in the Colony, with 360 acres of cane.

Between 1862 and 1864 Babbs sold Umlaas Plantation to John Daniel Koch, a merchant. At the same time Koch bought Smart's sugar estate and the combination of these two farms was named Reunion. This concern was built up by Daniel de Pass, who later formed a syndicate of neighbouring planters to make Reunion one of the leading estates in Natal.


The original grant of 6 000 acres made to Dick King included the whole of the Isipingo Flat. Most of his neighbours bought their land from him, and they began planting cane in 1852 though it's uncertain when King himself planted his first cane - possibly about 1854 or earlier.
When the Flat was flooded in 1856, King, by means of a raft, rescued his neighbouring sugar planter, Smart, with his family, from the attic of Smart's house, where they had been forced to stay for two days and three nights due to the rising flood-waters.

He first had an ox-power mill but by the end of 1857 was operating a steam mill. John Robinson noted in 1861 that King had 110 acres under cane.

In 1868 King's estate was sold by auction to WH Acutt for £2 200. Shortly afterwards the Reunion estate, also on the Flat, was reorganized and Robinson wrote that Reunion consisted of three different estates, those owned in 1861 by Babbs, Smart and King. In the 1870s King himself continued to grow cane on the higher ground around his house at Isipingo.

King married Clara Jane Noon, sister of Adolphus Henry and Arthur Noon, who were also sugar planters at Isipingo. See more on Noon at:

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