Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sugar in Natal: the Pioneers - Edmund Morewood cont

Early in 1851 Morewood purchased a large acreage of land, including a farm at Umhlali which he sold off in 20 acre lots. This provided funding for his sugar enterprise at Compensation, then still at the experimental stage. In January 1852, The Natal Times reported that 'E Morewood Esqre has succeeded in perfecting the production of sugar on his estate at Compensation' and that the sample shown 'is of a quality to prove incontestably the adaption of the coast lands of the colony for the successful production of this valuable article'. The news caused a sensation. However, Morewood was to undergo many trials and tribulations: equipment was primitive, the production process was slow, and transport was an additional problem. Morewood lacked the necessary capital to acquire better machinery and his fellow colonists were cautious regarding investment. He had his detractors, too.

In 1853 Morewood went to England in the hope of acquiring improved machinery and raising further funds, but due to 'a series of unfortunate circumstances' his efforts ended in failure and he lost his property in Natal.

Nevertheless, Morewood had started the ball rolling for sugar as a commercial undertaking, and other Natal settlers were cultivating sugar. By 1854 cane was being grown at Umhlali, Tongaat, Umgeni, Umbilo, Isipingo and Umkomaas, and there were 6 sugar mills at work. In 1855 the first public auction of Natal-made sugar took place in Durban's Market Square.

Apart from the brother J J Morewood of London, mentioned above, little is known of Edmund Morewood's family. The 1881 Census for Llangennech, Carmarthen, Wales reveals an Edmund Morewood aged 60 and unmarried, born at Stoke Newington, London, whose occupation was steel, iron and tin plate manufacturer. He is believed to have been the inventor of the tin plate machine, and had several workshops in Wales - 13 at Llangelly and 7 at Swansea. In 1892, E Morewood and Co. established tin plate and steel making works and a foundry plant at Gas City, Indiana. The 1900 Census for Gas City shows hundreds of families who came from Wales to work for E Morewood and Co as puddlers etc. Further research may discover whether Edmund Morewood the tin plate manufacturer was related to Morewood the sugar planter: apart from identical names, they seem to have shared an inventive streak, and both men were bachelors.

JJ Morewood, Edmund's brother, was living in London in the 1850s, so a search of the 1851 Census could reveal more about him*. Morewood himself left Natal early in 1853 and never returned. He spent a year in Hamburg, Germany, and then went to Brazil where he kept a school, but this failed due, Morewood stated, to religious prejudices. Another venture, a cotton spinning and weaving factory at Faubati in Brazil, for which Morewood attempted to borrow money from old Natal friends such as Beningfield and Kahts, also seems to have come to naught. There is no doubt, though, that Natal is indebted to Edmund Morewood.

Sugar mill, Natal
* There is a John J Morewood, born 1807, occupation merchant, living at 1 Barford Terrace, Islington, London, with wife, Sarah, and 8 children.

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