Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wreck of the Annabella at Durban 1856

The Annabella, 200 tons, was a British-built barque wrecked on Annabella Bank - named after the ship - on 21 January 1856 at Durban. No lives were lost. 

Her story emphasises the difficulties encountered by ships entering the harbour and having to wait until conditions of wind and weather, and particularly the depth of water over the Bar, were suitable for a safe landing. 

As Port Captain, William Bell was involved in assisting at many such wrecks and their aftermath, reporting on causes of the incidents and sitting at the inquiries held.

By the late 19th c tugs were used to help vessels in and out of the harbour. Also there were various attempts made by marine engineers to improve access to the Bay by dredging, building piers and other schemes, not all of them successful. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Souvenir Saturday - Port Office and Lighthouse staff 1878: including Gadsden and Bell

Is Your Ancestor listed here in 1878?

The Natal Almanac and Yearly Directory is a mine of information on the Port and Town of Durban in the late 19th c. This entry tell us that T (Thomas) Gadsden was Lighthouse Keeper with a salary of 125 pounds per annum. His brother-in-law Douglas William Bell was Assistant Keeper at 100 pounds. At the time, the Port Captain was Alexander Airth. (Captain William Bell had died in 1869.) Gadsden was married to Captain Bell's daughter Eliza Ann.

Customs and Excise staff are also listed, as well as those in the Engineer's Office. 

Is your ancestor listed?

Durban Point and Bay in the 1870s, with the Berea dimly 
outlined in the distance. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cape Shipping 1829 including Conch under Cobern

The schooner Conch was making regular sailings carrying colonial produce and passengers between Algoa Bay and Table Bay, and other ports, before William Bell took over her command. Here she is under another master, Cobern, variously given as 'J' and 'T' but probably the same person. Extract from SACA 31 Dec 1829.

Ships in Algoa Bay in the 1820s, by Thomas Baines

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Souvenir Saturday: Durban Docks ca 1887

Durban Docks circa 1887. Extremity of Point Wharf showing original Wharf Shed A erected in 1881 (with curved roof) and the Sheers erected at the end of the main wharf, the total length of which, at this period, did not exceed 1500 feet.In the left foreground is a craft known as the "Anchor Boat" used for laying moorings about the Bay.  The funnel of one of the paddle tugs (probably "Forerunner") can be seen in front of the ship in full sail.  To the right of "A" Shed is the Customs House.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Captain William Bell of the Conch: death of his daughter in 1844

From the South African Commercial Advertiser 27 April 1844: the death, on 23 April, of Ellen Selwyn Sophia Still, aged 1 year and 8 months, daughter of Captain William Douglas Bell 'of the schooner Conch'. It must have been a low point for Bell and his family. At this juncture, after his heroic part in the action at Port Natal in 1842, Bell had returned to the relatively quiet life of a coastal mariner, commanding the Conch, and based at Algoa Bay, making regular sailings to and from Table Bay and other ports. 

That people had not forgotten his courageous act in taking British troops into land at Natal under enemy fire had been evidenced by one particular letter which appeared in the local press in November 1843. This and other efforts by the public on Bell's behalf eventually led to an offer by the colonial government of a post as 'Harbour Master' at Natal. But the course would not be plain-sailing. 

This child, born shortly after Bell's return to Algoa Bay in July 1842, had been given the middle name of Selwyn - after Major Selwyn who had played an important part in events at Natal in June of that year. Sadly Ellen was to die very young. A Bell daughter born subsequently in May 1846 would be named Ellen Harriet. By that date the Bells had their eldest daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth Pamela, b 1839, and their first son, Douglas William, b 1841.

St George's Cathedral Cape Town Cape Colony 1800s:
watercolour by Thomas Bowler

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bell of the Conch - a lesser-known photograph ca 1850s, with telescope

This is not the widely-known photograph of Bell taken some years later but it is taken
on the same spot, with the same anchor, and he is wearing the 'uniform' though not with epaulettes on the shoulders as shown in the famous photo. The picture probably dates to the 1850s. He is holding the Dollond brass telescope, still in the possession of one of his descendants. Bell was never in the Royal Navy and the nautical jacket he wears may have been made to his own design. 

The Dollond Telescope belonging to Bell and bearing the maker's name,
and 'London', and 'Day and Night'. This instrument was in Bell's possession throughout his life.
(Photo by Caz Collins, Bell descendant)

John Dollond FRS (10 June 1706 – 30 November 1761) was an English optician, known for his successful optics business and his patenting and commercialization of achromatic doublets (for telescoeps)In 1752 he joined his eldest son, Peter Dollond (1730–1820), who in 1750 had started in business as a maker of optical instruments; this business is now Dollond and Aitchison. His reputation grew rapidly, and in 1761 he was appointed optician to the king.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Cape Shipping 19 November 1828 including Cobern commanding Conch

Conch is noted as then under command of 'J' (should be 'T') Cobern, agent J Smith (later to be William Bell's agent). The schooner had been on a regular run to Mossel Bay and was arriving back in Table Bay on 19 November with a cargo of colonial produce. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Souvenir Saturday: The Great Gale, Algoa Bay 30 August 1888

The Great Gale, Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth 1888: ship founders while people look on.

After the Great Gale - Algoa Bay 30 August 1888

During a south-east gale, nine vessels were wrecked on the North End beach. The ships were: 'Andreas Riis', 'Dorthea' [sic], 'Wolseley', 'Drei Emmas', 'Elizabeth Stevens', 'Jane Harvey', 'Lada', 'Natal', and 'C. Boschetto'. The Rocket Brigade, life-boat and crews of other ships assisted and only one drowning was recorded.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cape Shipping May 1830 Conch under Cobern, Flamingo under Scorey

This report from the South African Commercial Advertiser shows the Conch arriving at Table Bay under command of Cobern - with the Captain's wife on board as passenger, from Algoa Bay on 15 May. The date of departure from Algoa Bay is given as 29 May which must be an error unless the Conch was into time travel.
The Flamingo date of departure is also dubious, unless like Cobern he was travelling backwards. Interestingly the latter vessel is commanded by Scorey (note error - his initial should be J not F) - who would later become a relative, by marriage, of Captain Bell. There was an intriguing group of Cape mariners operating in coastal waters at this period, all linked either by agent or by personal ties and of course acquainted with one another. A small world which Bell would soon join.
                             Table Bay and shipping: Thomas Bowler (South African Sketches)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cape shipping: mention of Conch to Knysna, Drumore steerage passengers etc

Apparently a routine visit of the Conch to the small port of Knysna was deemed worthy of mention in the shipping columns - no captain is given, but it would have been too early for Bell so perhaps Humble or Bosworth was in command. Interesting to note that the ship Drumore, which had departed Falmouth on 4 August, brought 32 men and women and 18 children, none of them named (as was usually the case for steerage) - you can lose a lot of ancestors like that ...  These steerage passengers were likely on their way to New South Wales, not remaining in South Africa. A chance to track their progress via the Cape is lost to descendants because of the lack of identification. 

                                                               Table Bay by Thomas Bowler

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cape shipping: Conch and W Bell Nov 1837

A snippet from the Grahamstown Journal November 1837 shows W Bell in command of the Conch, and sailing between Table Bay and Algoa Bay, carrying passengers as well as cargo. From this year Bell and Conch were firmly riveted together. It would be five years before the big events of 1842 at Port Natal completely changed Bell's life.

                             Circle of Thomas Bowler, Table Bay Shipping 1835-39

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cape Shipping, Conch and death of Captain Masson 1827

South African Commercial Advertiser 10 March 1827 announces the death of Captain Telemachus Musson 'late of the Schooner Conch' aged 37 years. This was ten years prior to the start of regular sailings of the Conch under Captain William Bell. What happened to young Captain Musson we don't know, but the Conch was busily employed in Cape coastal waters under a variety of masters before Bell took command.

                Table Bay with Shipping (school of Bowler)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cape shipping: Conch and Bell 1837

1st mention in South African Commercial Advertiser 1 April 1837 of Bell as captain of Conch. There is an earlier reference in the Cape Government Gazette in January of that year. 

The Schooner Conch 1842 by Thomas Baines. Bell was commanding
the vessel at the time of the insurrection of the Dutch at Port Natal, when the British
garrison was besieged at what is now the Old Fort, Durban. Because the frigate Southampton was of too deep a draught* to enter the channel, the Conch towed boatloads
of troops across the Bar, landing them safely at the Point. The siege was lifted
and the Dutch withdrew on Pietermaritzburg.

The draught of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel), with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draught outline would be obtained. Draught determines the minimum depth of water a ship can safely navigate. The entrance to Port Natal was blocked by a shifting sandbank, the Bar, over which the depth of water changed according to tides etc. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Conch - a fatal accident with a gun, July 1831

A small quite early snippet re the Conch: [CO53/2  TNA Kew ] 

South African Commercial Advertiser 2 July 1831 

ACCIDENT.  Before the Schooner Conch got under weigh on the 20th ult. in Algoa Bay, a brass gun was fired for the purpose of warning the Passengers to embark, when unfortunately the gun burst, and severely wounded the seaman who fired the gun.  He was immediately taken on shore, and it was found necessary to amputate one of his legs, but he expired on the following day. 

Note: Captain Bell was not in command of Conch on that ghastly occasion.  Thorne, on which Bell was reported to be serving as '2nd officer' in 1831, went aground on 18 May of that year.

220px-Presidentgunexplosion.jpg (220×262):

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Arrivals and Departures Table Bay 1835 including Conch; suicide of Mr White.

Conch,  A Humble Master,  Knysna to Table Bay. In the mention of the brig Fortitude's arrival at Port Elizabeth under J C Wilson, note 'in the steerage Mr White and 2 slaves' - the unfortunate Mr White committed suicide during the passage. 
This report appeared in the Cape press in October 1835. Captain Humble shared a ship agent with Bell i.e. J Smith. George Cato was also one of this stable.