Friday, October 30, 2015

Masulah Boatmen introduced by Bell 1861

The Natal Almanac includes among its port entries a group of 'Masulah boatmen'. One might be forgiven for believing 'Masulah' to be, in a Natal context, a contemporary error for 'Zulu', but not so. The terminology is correct.

These boatmen were engaged, from 1861, by the always innovative Captain William Bell, who persuaded the authorities to import special surf boats from Madras. This city had a sandbar problem not unlike Natal's, with all ships being forced to land offshore due to the silting up of the entry channel. The lightweight Masulah boats would transfer the cargo - and passengers - through the surf back to port.

Masulah boatmen bringing boats in to shore at Madras.

It is quite possible that Bell (who is recorded as sailing from Calcutta on at least one voyage) had seen the fearless Madrassi oarsmen in operation in India. The concept proved equally successful in Natal and shown in the annual list of Port Office employees from 1861 in the Almanac are eleven Madulah Boatmen 'at 18 pounds each' (per annum).

When their contracts expired, many of these Indian sailors remained in Natal, bought or built their own boats and went into business as fishermen.

Masulah boat and crew



Fascinating, and stunning images. Thank you.

Mole said...

Thanks Andrew - I wanted to clarify about the word masulah as I have seen more than one author refer to it as a mis-spelling of Zulu. Hate that sort of inaccuracy.