Thursday, June 27, 2013

Coastal Ships, Mariners and Visitors: Cape Colony 19th c 2


Port Elizabeth Algoa Bay by Thomas Baines
Arriving eventually at Algoa Bay after an uncomfortable voyage up the coast from Table Bay, Cornwallis Harris was not favourably impressed with what he found:
‘Algoa Bay is exceedingly open and exposed and the anchorage very insecure. During high winds ships not unfrequently go on shore, a tremendous surf often rendering it dangerous, and at times even impossible, for boats to land. We were fortunate in being able to prevail on the Port Captain to take us ashore in his barge … The town of Port Elizabeth, though rapidly increasing, does not consist of above one hundred and fifty houses.  It is built along the sea-shore on the least eligible site that could have been selected.’ 
In this unpromising spot Cornwallis Harris and party attempted to buy horses to continue their journey inland.
 ‘We understood (these could) be obtained in the adjoining districts in considerable numbers, and of an excellent quality.  It was with inconceivable difficulty, however, that we at length succeeded in procuring two miserable quadrupeds, that appeared to have scarcely sufficient stamina to carry us to Graham’s Town. The recent (Frontier) war having trebled the price of every thing, and of live stock in particular, the demands upon us were exorbitant.’


Of greater interest than Cornwallis Harris’s opinion of Port Elizabeth and its available horseflesh is his casual remark, ‘We tarried a week at Mrs. Scorey’s fashionable hotel.’

This hostelry, previously the home of Captain Moresby and said to be the first private house built in Port Elizabeth, was called Markham House. It had changed hands and as a hotel had been run successfully by a lady named Anne Robinson. She had married in 1829 at Port Elizabeth one James Scorey, master of the schooner Flamingo. (Scorey is noted for having put up a flagstaff for the use of the port in 1829.) At the time of Cornwallis Harris’s visit in 1836 Anne was Mrs. Scorey and her inn with its elevated position and riverside garden continued to be popular. The open space in front of the hotel was known to local residents as Scorey’s Place. The hotel was doing well enough for James Scorey to retire from the sea in 1834.

James Scorey was the uncle of Mary Ann Caithness (b 1820). Mary Ann’s mother (confusingly another Ann Scorey, b 1796) had married James Caithness snr (Master Mariner) at Eling, Hampshire in 1814. James Ramsey Caithness jnr. (b 1815) following in his father's footsteps and perhaps encouraged by reports sent ‘home’ by James Scorey, took up residence at the Cape and plied the coastal trade. He became captain of the brig Lady Leith (which met with disaster in 1848). Henry George Caithness commanded at various dates the vessels Louisa and Fame.**

Scorey's Hotel is the large building at left, with
 the gardens in the foreground leading down to the river.


Part of this close-knit colonial maritime circle was Cumbrian-born William Bell, master of the schooner Conch, who would marry Mary Anne Caithness at Port Elizabeth in June 1838. It is possible that William and Mary Anne, the latter out on a visit from England, met at Scorey’s Hotel and that romance blossomed as the two walked together in the pleasant gardens reaching down to the Baakens River. The name Ann Scorey (i.e. wife of James Scorey) is given as one of the witnesses at the Bell/Caithness wedding. The groom was 31, the bride 18 and they were married by special licence granted by Major General Napier.*


William Bell and James Ramsey Caithness had the same ship’s agent, John Owen Smith. And here emerges another familiar name, George Cato, who from 1834 worked as manager for J O Smith. Descended from a Huguenot family who fled to England to escape religious persecution in France in the 17th c, Cato’s father and family had arrived at the Cape in 1826. The sudden death of Cato snr in 1831 (he is said to have been killed by an elephant) meant that George had to become a breadwinner. No doubt this enforced early maturity helped Cato to develop his entrepreneurial skills and other natural abilities which he put to good effect from that time onwards.

Cato became Bell’s lifelong friend, later rising to prominence in Natal as Mayor of Durban in 1850s. During the 1830s Cato was operating for Smith in the salt beef trade and in 1838 sailed the vessel Trek Boer up the east coast carrying goods for trade with the trekkers – Dutch frontier farmers who had left the Cape Colony and established themselves at Port Natal. Although neither Bell nor Cato could foresee future events, they were both to become embroiled in the conflict which would arise at Natal between the trekkers and the British in 1842.


Marriage announcement: H G Caithness to Pamela Holt Okes
South African Commercial Advertiser June 15 1839
Local newspaper announcements emphasise the network of family connections so much a feature of colonial life. On 29 July 1839 Mary Ann and William Bell’s first child, a daughter, was christened Mary Ann Elizabeth Pamela Bell at Wynberg, Cape. The officiating minister was the Rev. Holt Okes, whose daughter Pamela had married Henry George Caithness a few weeks earlier.

This useful nugget answers the question of why the middle name Pamela was chosen for the Bell baby. Her other middle name, Elizabeth, was in honour of William Bell’s mother, Elizabeth Millican.

William and Mary Ann would produce a dozen children between 1839 and 1862, the last, Alice Millican Bell, born in Durban when Mary Ann was aged 42. Despite child-bearing and rearing taking up much of her time, Mary Ann is believed to have accompanied her husband on at least one voyage to Rio de Janeiro in the 100 ton schooner Conch.

*George Thomas Napier (1784-1855) Major General in 1837, later knighted, was Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the army in the Cape Colony from 1839-1843. The two major events during his period as Governor were the abolition of slavery and the removal of the trekkers from Natal following the conflict of 1842.

** Current research into the Caithness mariners and their precise relationship to each other continues. James Ramsey Caithness had a brother, George, also a mariner, but he couldn't have been sailing in Cape waters until after 1850. Henry George Caithness, however, disappears from Cape records a decade earlier.

Thanks to Anita Caithness for her input on Markham House/Scorey's Hotel. Also to Margaret Harradine for her article 'Port Elizabeth's First Hotel'.

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