Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ships and Mariners: 19th Cape and Natal 7 Bell Caithness

SACA 1 Oct 1842
Returning to the Conch’s regular sailing schedule after the excitement at Port Natal must have been an anti-climax for William Bell but he had responsibilities, including a new daughter, Ellen Selwyn Sophia Still, born shortly after his return to Algoa Bay in July 1842. Bell had not forgotten Major Selwyn who had played an important role in the events of June.

That the child was baptized by Rev Dr Okes is a reminder of the connection with H G Caithness, who had married Pamela Okes in June 1839. Not long after his own child, Eliza Ann Margaret, was born in September 1840 Caithness disappeared leaving Pamela to fend for herself. 

Simonstown: early view

In February 1844 Rev Okes made application to the Colonial Office on behalf of Mrs H G Caithness for a position as postmistress at Simon’s Town, where she had been running a day school. Whether Caithness died or sailed away remains uncertain. He made his final voyage between Table Bay and Algoa Bay as Captain of the Fame in November 1840; command of this schooner passes to J Hulme in March 1841 and subsequently to other masters. 

For Bell, life continued on an even keel, but there were shoals ahead. On 4 May 1844 the schooner Mary (Captain James Caithness, Bell’s brother-in-law), was wrecked in Algoa Bay, further evidence that no matter how experienced the mariner, coastal waters were treacherous. About a month later, little Ellen Selwyn Sophia died aged 1 year 98 months and a day. Misfortunes generally arriving in threes, the Bells were probably wondering what else Fate had in store when their luck changed suddenly and unexpectedly.

Tom Sheldon

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