Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bell, Capt William Douglas, Port Captain of Natal

Captain William Bell with his telescope.
Note the absence of epaulettes on his coat in this photo.
Probably taken ca 1860.

Bell's Dollond telescope showing maker's mark and 'Day or Night' engraved on the side.
(photograph by Caz Collins, a Bell descendant)


For a time in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the word 'Dollond' was almost a generic term for telescope rather like 'Hoover; is to vacuum cleaner. Genuine Dollond telescopes were considered to be amongst the best although there were several other London makers of the highest quality.
In 1764 Leopold Mozart (father of Wolfgang) bought a Dollond 3-foot achromatic telescope with a double objective lens. Then, in 1766, Frederick the Great instructed his London ambassador to buy two telescopes from Dollond's 'because they magnify extraordinarily the object'. A Dollond telescope sailed with Captain Cook in 1769 on his voyage to observe the Transit of Venus.
In 1780 Dollond introduced the Army Telescope (or 'Improved achromatic telescope'). This is the standard type so often found by modern collectors with a mahogany body and brass draw-tubes. They were between 14 and 52 inches long with a lens aperture of between 1 and 2.75 inches. They cost from 2.5 to 12 guineas.

Thomas Jefferson visited P+J Dollond in 1786 and bought a telescope for 10 guineas. Admiral Lord Nelson would also make a special visit to purchase a Dollond. Because Dollond & Co's records were destroyed by fire in the 1920s it is not usually possible to trace the lineage of individual telescopes, even when the serial number is present.  

Dollond brass and leather telescope
A Typical 19th c Dollond of brass with leather-covered barrel

'Dollond' is actually spelt with an 'o' as the fifth letter. Many people get this wrong. If a telescope is marked 'Dolland' (with an ‘a’) then it is quite likely a counterfeit product.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bluff Lighthouse, Durban, Bell group and keepers' cottage

Bluff Lighthouse, Durban.

Bell Group outside lighthousekeepers' cottage, Bluff.
More about this early photograph, the people in it and the date
coming soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Port Office, the Point, Durban

Port Office, the Point Beach, Durban ca 1870

It doesn't look a hive of activity but the Port Office was central to all Harbour activities, reports being kept of all vessels entering or departing, or using the slipway; masters of ships came to see the Port Captain here, etc. (Captain William Bell died in 1869.)

Natal Almanac 1897


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Umhlanga Lighthouse 18 June 2016

Photo by Euan Dixon-Smith

Umhlanga (Place of Reeds) boasts a beautiful stretch of beach,
 luxury hotels and a lighthouse painted in red and white is its main landmark.
Fully automated now, this concrete tower has a light range of 24 sea miles.

It has never had a lightkeeper residing within the tower or in keeper's quarters;
a warden lives nearby at the Oyster Box Hotel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Waratah Revisited: why did lighthouse keepers at Cape Hermes not see the Waratah?


The latest in Andrew Van Rensburg's brilliant series of posts on the convoluted mystery of SS Waratah's disappearance in July 1909.

Cape Hermes Lighthouse

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Military pasengers to South Africa

A frequent query I receive concerns the arrival of military ancestors in South Africa. Unfortunately, passenger lists are not usually a helpful source in this instance.

Military men who might be aboard a ship going to join their regiment were seldom named; if they were, they were usually officers.  The rank and file were mentioned as a group, but are nameless. You could lose a lot of ancestors that way ...

The newspaper passenger list of July 1863 (for a coastal voyage) on this page shows that, in third class, there were 2 non-commissioned officers and six soldiers – no names, no regiment. No pack drill, as they say.

During times of war, when large numbers of troops were being carried across the ocean, there was undoubtedly no time to note down individual names in a regiment on board ship, and newspaper shipping columns didn't have the space to list them all anyway.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Natal Border Mounted Rifles: officers who served in siege of Ladysmith

Border Mounted Rifles: officers who served in the Siege of Ladysmith, Anglo-Boer War:
Lieut James Gold, Lieut Trennor, Lieut Quarter Master W Dixon Smith, Lieut H B Andreasen, Lieut R G Archibald, Lieut W M Power (Veterinary officer), Lieut Thring, Capt Richard Vause, Maj Rethman (OC), Adj Maj Sangmeister, Capt W Arnott, Lieut Jack Royston, Capt Platt (medical officer)

      William Dixon Smith (1857-1900)
       Lieut Quarter Master BMR

For more on the origins of William Dixon Smith and his family


William Dixon Smith died
 at Intombispruit Hospital Camp Ladysmith.

Border Mounted Rifles: Rough But Ready
The famous Boot and Spur insignia.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: West Street Durban at the turn of the century

Central West St, Durban, ca 1893 -1902;
double-decker horse-drawn trams (note the tracks) and rickshas - no motorised vehicles. 
Rickshas came into use in Durban in 1893, electric trams in 1902. On the left the clock tower of the Town Hall built in 1885, now the Post Office, can be seen. The new City Hall was built in 1910.