Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sugar and Natal: the Pioneers - A Sinclair Smith


The story goes that that Marshall Campbell handed 'Garibaldi' Smith (of Smith & Batten) half-a-crown, thus closing the deal which made over the Blackburn Central Sugar Mill (founded 1874) to Natal Estates Ltd for 20 000 pounds.

Five years before that, Smith had missed a chance of selling the property for 70 000 pounds. Smith & Batten had been offered, in the early 1890s, this large sum for the Blackburn Estate, but nothing came of the offer. In 1895 Garibaldi Smith became convinced that the district's sugar prospects had been ruined by drought and locusts, and offered the estate to Marshall Campbell for 20 000 pounds.

As was the practice in those times, Campbell handed Smith a half crown to clinch the deal and then proposed that Natal Estates buy the property. But the London Board turned down the idea. Nevertheless Campbell was able to make local arrangements suitable to all parties and Blackburn became part of Natal Estates ca 1898. Some of the mill machinery and buildings were moved to Mt. Edgecombe.

Smith & Batten had acquired the Blackburn Estate in 1880 (from the Glasgow and Natal Sugar Co. Ltd. which went into liquidation in October of that year), paying 12 000 pounds for it - so made a considerable profit selling at 20 000.

Why was A. Sinclair Smith called 'Garibaldi'? Apparently he 'boasted service as an officer in the red-shirted legions of the Risorgimento' (the political and social movement for the unification of Italy in the 19th century) and because of this intriguing history Smith was nicknamed after the Italian rebel leader Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian rebel leader, in 1861

Our local Garibaldi, i.e. A Sinclair Smith, also played a role in local Natal politics: after the General Election of September 1892 when Marshall Campbell had forfeited a seat in the Victoria County constituency, Campbell was the following year appointed to fill one of the vacant coastal seats vacated by Smith.

There was another link between Smith and Marshall Campbell: Campbell had bought two cane farms, Hill Head and Meadowbank, both situated on the Great Umhlanga. Meadowbank extended to the mouth of the river. Originally owned by Charles Povall (one of the Wesleyan settlers who arrived in Durban in March 1850) the property was purchased from Povall in 1874 by Garibaldi Smith for Ł6 000. Later, Smith sold it to Campbell and the latter subsequently excised 17 acres on the eastern boundary of this land where he built a holiday bungalow named Peace Cottage near the Umhlanga Lagoon.

For more on the Campbell family, including the Blameys, see

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