Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Bluff Lighthouse Family

Captain Bell had literally been out of the picture since his death in 1869, of an abscess on the lung. The family had struggled on with some help from George Cato and were living at Conch Villa on the Bluff. Regrettably no photograph of this oft-mentioned residence has been found. Thomas Alfred Gadsden married Eliza Ann Bell at Conch Villa in August 1873. Ellen Harriet Bell married Edward Baxter in 1870 at the 'Port Captain's Residence, Addington, Durban, Natal'. It was as though Mary Ann Bell was anxious to get as many of her daughters off her hands as possible. Jessie McGregor Bell, at the age of 17, married James Pascoe Martin in April 1874.  Martin was Engineer of the steamer Basuto at the time of their marriage. Speedily following her sister down the aisle, Sarah Scott Bell married Charles George Pay at Conch Villa in May 1874. 

But sadder times were just around the corner. Douglas Bell died in 1898 so his income was no longer a help to his mother. Eliza Ann Gadsden, nee Bell, died in June 1900 (Her husband Thomas Gadsden had died in 1893.) Eliza and Thomas's son William Gadsden died of typhoid in 1900 at Verulam leaving a widow and daughter.

James Colquhoun Bell, always elusive, emerged briefly in Durban as reported in the Natal Mercury 12 Dec 1872:

The Ferdinande – 'James Colquhoun, son of Mrs Bell, widow of the late Port Captain Bell arrived in the Ferdinande. He is, we believe, anxious to get employment here, so that he may be with his family.'

But not long afterwards James Colquhoun fetches up in England marrying Sarah Clark at St Mary Stratford, Bow in September 1874. By 1891 James and his large family were living in South Shields where he worked as a Marine Enameller. He did not return to Natal. 

Mary Ann Bell died in October 1899. She had been a widow for thirty years. On her Death Notice, her son Sturges Bourne Bell is listed as 'missing'. He had been involved in and survived a shipwreck in November 1873 but there is further research needed on Sturges's career after that incident. Missing does not necessarily mean 'dead'.

Her other remaining children were George John Head Bell who married Mary Catherine Tonkin; he died in 1904, and Alice Millican Bell who married Alfred Mathias Tilley and died in 1926. 

A son named Alfred Thomas Payne Bell, about whom little is known, died 19 March, 1884 in Whitechapel, London.

Ella Horne's house remained as a Bell family reminder for many years at the corner of Essenwood Road Durban until sadly it burnt down. Ella, recently deceased, was a descendant of Captain Bell's through his daughter Alice Millican Bell who married Alfred Mathias Tilley.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Buff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 6

If, as seems likely, Douglas Bell is one of the group depicted in this photograph, he may be the figure on the extreme left, apparently holding a telescope. I like to think it would have been his father's Dollond instrument, seen held by Captain Bell in other pictures.

When this photo was taken, Douglas was one of two keepers at the Bluff light. 

The other man could be either Stephenson or Shortt who kept the light circa 1898.

Exterior photographs were not usual, even by the 1890s, but it makes sense that W E James found it preferable to take the group outside rather than in the small, probably somewhat dark, interior of the keeper's cottage. 

The structure behind, which doesn't have visible windows, may have been for storage of items necessary for lighthousekeeping.

Why Aunt Ellen should be accompanying her nieces Violet and Natalia on a visit to Douglas is not clear, but it seems a friendly gesture especially considering the isolation of the keepers in their Bluff eyrie. 

Ellen's husband, with the grandiose name of Edward Abbott Forbes Baxter, was a clerk in the magisterial service from 1867-1874, second extra clerk in the G.P.O., 1875, and second clerk assistant in the Legislative Council, 1876. Whether he went on to higher rungs of the colonial ladder is not known, but he survived his wife, who died in Pietermaritzburg in 1906.
They had an only son, Alexander Baxter, who became manager of a bank and at one time coincidentally owned the house at Durban North where I grew up from the age of three: 19 Kelvin Place.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 5

The photographer W E James first emerged in Durban in 1874 operating a studio at Central West Street. By the time he took the photo of the Bell family group currently under discussion he had a studio at the Point, Natal. This is evidenced by his tradeplate on the back of the photograph. [See previous post for the group photo.]

If, as seems indicated by the handwritten note on the back of the photo, the members of the group include 'Uncle Dog' - undoubtedly an error for Uncle Douglas i.e. Douglas Bell - the picture was certainly taken before July 1899, when Douglas Bell died. So that gives a starting point from which to work back to a possible date for the photograph.

Thomas Alfred Gadsden had been Head Lighthousekeeper at the Bluff until 1880, with Douglas Bell serving as Assistant Lighthousekeeper during the 1870s. In about 1880 Thomas Alfred Gadsden was appointed Timekeeper for the Natal Harbour Board, working at the Timeball, Point. He is, however still listed in the Natal Almanac of 1880 as Head Lighthousekeeper - probably due to the time lapse in publishing the Almanac, often about a year behind. In the 1881 edition, the Keeper is listed as D Moffat, with Douglas Bell as Assistant. At that date Captain Airth is shown as Port Captain: it was due to a clash between Thomas and Captain Airth that Thomas ceased working as Head Lighthousekeeper. He continued as Timekeeper for some years, dying in October 1893. So, by the time this picture was taken, Douglas Bell was either Head Lighthousekeeper or Assistant to the new man.

The other Bell family members mentioned on the back of the photograph are 'Aunt Ellen' and 'Cousin Violet Bell'. Aunt Ellen would have been Ellen Harriet Bell, daughter of the Captain. Born in 1846, she married Edward Baxter in 1870 (her previous husband was Frederick Wise) and died in 1906. 

'Cousin Violet' was Violet Amy, daughter of Sarah Scott Bell (the latter was the third daughter of Capt and Mrs Bell and married Charles Pay in 1874). Violet was born in 1882 and married David O'Donovan in 1907. She looks to be in her teens in the photograph, so it could have been taken towards the end of the 1890s, perhaps 1897 when Violet was fifteen and before Douglas Bell died (1899). The younger girl, ignored in the handwritten note, is likely to have been Natalia Beatrice, Violet's sister, born in 1887. She could have been aged about nine or ten, to fit in with our approximate date of 1897 for the picture.

Remember that we are relying on the information provided by the handwritten note being true but there are some small inaccuracies to give us pause e.g. the misspelling of Doug, and Cousin Violet Bell's name would have been Pay not Bell.

The photograph is a cabinet print - these came into use in the 1860s and gradually supplanted the smaller cartes de visite, becoming more popular by the 1890s.

The costume worn by the ladies is not particularly typical of the late 1890s but the Bells probably did not dress in the height of fashion. Violet's hair is piled fashionably on top of her head but Ellen clings to an outmoded cap. The men appear to be wearing Tam O'Shanter hats (traditional working men's headgear and not only in Scotland).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 4

Just for fun - a colour version of the restored Bell group photograph, artwork by Hartmut Jager.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 3

Before restoration - the Bell group:featured in yesterday's post:

The original photographic print had damage to the left-hand area, making it impossible to see clearly the figure hidden there. It is a man wearing a hat and perhaps holding a telescope. The handwritten inscription on the back of the photo reads 'Uncle Dog (sic), Aunt Ellen, Cousin Violet Bell'. The tradeplate is of W E James, Photographer, The Point, Natal.

If 'Uncle Dog' is a misspelling of 'Uncle Doug' (quite likely), this group could include Douglas Bell, son of Captain William Bell. He may be the indistinct figure at far left. At that time Douglas would have been lighthousekeeper at the Bluff. The other man could have been his assistant.

'Aunt Ellen' was Ellen Harriet Bell (who married Edward Baxter, deceased by the time this photo was taken). Ellen was Captain Bell's daughter. 'Cousin Violet Bell' was the daughter of Sarah Scott Bell, Captain Bell's daughter who married Charles Pay.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 2

For a start, the structure to the right of the lighthouse (see previous post) had been there right from the day the lighthouse was opened i.e. 23 January 1867 - and it may well have been in existence prior to that. After all the lighthousekeeper (my great grandfather), once appointed, would have needed quarters before the lighthouse was officially opened. The lighthouse had been in the process of being built since the foundation stone was laid in November 1864, with the tower finally completed by October 1866. It is reasonable to suppose that the keeper's quarters would have been built by or during 1866 at least.

Looking carefully at the photograph below taken on the day of the opening, 23 January 1867, the building to the right of the lighthouse is immediately identifiable: the shape of the roof, with the chimney at the back, and the flagstaff at the front. 

A pencil drawing made much later shows the same structure to the right of the lighthouse. The other residence is that of the signalman.

This photo, after restoration,, shows what appears to be the identical structure. The picture was taken according to his tradeplate on the back by 'W E James, Photographer, the Point, Natal'. A handwritten note adds 'Uncle Dog [sic], Aunt Ellen, Cousin Violet Bell'.

More on this intriguing survival as well as the group of people in a future post. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 1

The small building to the right of the lighthouse appears to be the same structure shown in various other photos - it could be the lightkeeper's quarters. Note style of windows and the latticed fence to help in identification. More photographs to follow in future posts.

Photo by Euan Dixon-Smith

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Death of the Diamond King 14 June 1897

Barney Barnato, born Barnet Isaacs, was a British Randlord, one of the entrepreneurs who gained control of diamond mining, and later gold mining, in South Africa from the 1870s. He is perhaps best remembered as being a rival of Cecil Rhodes.
Died14 June 1897, Atlantic Ocean

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Souvenir Saturday: Florida Road 1911

Florida Road, Durban, 1911
with double-decker trams

Friday, August 3, 2018

Find your relationship to others using this chart.

On the top row, find the relationship of one person to the common ancestor and follow the column straight down. Find the other persons relationship to the common ancestor on the left hand column and follow that row straight across. The relationship is where the projected row & column meet.
Common Ancestor
Great Grandchild
Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandchild
Niece or Nephew
Grand Niece or Nephew
Great Grand Niece or Nephew
Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
Great Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
Great Great Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
Great Great Great Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
Niece or Nephew
First Cousin
First Cousin Once Removed
First Cousin Twice Removed
First Cousin Three Times Removed
First Cousin Four Times Removed
First Cousin Five Times Removed
First Cousin Six Times Removed
Great Grandchild
Grand Niece or Nephew
First Cousin Once Removed
Second Cousin
Second Cousin Once Removed
Second Cousin Twice Removed
Second Cousin Three Times Removed
Second Cousin Four Times Removed
Second Cousin Five Times Removed
Great Great Grandchild
Great Grand Niece or Nephew
First Cousin Twice Removed
Second Cousin Once Removed
Third Cousin
Third Cousin Once Removed
Third Cousin Twice Removed
Third Cousin Three Times Removed
Third Cousin FourTimes Removed
Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
First Cousin Three Times Removed
Second Cousin Twice Removed
Third Cousin Once Removed
Fourth Cousin
Fourth Cousin Once Removed
Fourth Cousin Twice Removed
Fourth Cousin Three Times Removed
Great Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
First Cousin Four Times Removed
Second Cousin Three Times Removed
Third Cousin Twice Removed
Fourth Cousin Once Removed
Fifth Cousin
Fifth Cousin Once Removed
Fifth Cousin Twice removed
Great Great Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
First Cousin Five Times Removed
Second Cousin Four Times Removed
Third Cousin Three Times Removed
Fourth Cousin Twice Removed
Fifth Cousin Once Removed
Sixth Cousin
Sixth Cousin Once Removed
Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandchild
Great Great Great Great Great Grand Niece or Nephew
First Cousin Six Times Removed
Second Cousin Five Times Rremoved
Third Cousin FourTimes Removed
Fourth Cousin Three Times Removed
Fifth Cousin Twice Removed
Sixth Cousin Once Removed
Seventh Cousin

Hamilton Family Collage

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Shipwrecks at Natal 1850-1897

08 Feb 1866 - Adelaide 

30 Aug 1868 - Ambleside

21 Jan 1856 - Annabella

31 July 1854 - Ariosto

31 July 1872 - Breidablik

28 June 1882 - Bridgetown

29 Sept 1850 - British Tar

26 Aug 1884 - Charles Jackson

21 July 1883 - City of Lima

16 Oct 1872 - Congune

06 Oct 1871 - Defiance

01 Nov 1880 - Draga

26 Sept 1863 - Earl of Hardwicke

25 Aug 1880 - Eastern Star

14 Sept 1876 - Enfants Nantais

07 Sept 1852 - Fairfield

07 Feb 1895 - Fascadale

18 Jul 1889 - Fidia D

02 Aug 1883 - Fratelli Arecco

25 May 1865 - Fusilier

13 Mar 1879 - Gazelle

30 July 1872 - Grace Peile

24 Oct 1880 - Graf Wedell

02 Aug 1878 - H. D. Storer

19 Aug 1889 - Hawthorn

27 July 1852 - Hector

13 Dec 1867 - Hydra

27 Mar 1878 - Ivy

27 Jan 1882 - James Gaddarn

30 Mar 1879 - Lola

03 Jan 1861 - Lord George Bentinck

02 Sept 1880 - Luna

26 Oct 1877 - Mabel

29 Aug 1889 - Mary Emily

04 July 1850 - Minerva

03 Feb 1891 - Onaway

19 Oct 1879 - Peusamento

23 Oct 1862 - Pioneer

03 Mar 1878 - Ponda Chief

31 July 1872 - Princess Alice

16 Aug 1863 - Queen

03 Mar 1882 - Queen of Ceylon

20 Oct 1871 - Saint Clare

26 Sept 1863 - Sebastian

12 Dec 1885 - Seenymphe

23 Aug 1878 - Southport

17 Oct 1897 - SS Clan Gordon

20 May 1884 - SS Nebo

07 Dec 1874 - Star of Wales

25 Aug 1880 - Surprise

02 May 1879 - Tancred

09 Apr 1878 - Theresina

16 May 1875 - Tonga

08 Dec 1874 - Transvaal

31 July 1872 - Trinculo

10 June 1897 - Trygve

03 Feb 1868 - Tugela

09 June 1884 - Vigor

09 Dec 1873 - William Shaw

10 Dec 1882 - Zambesi

21 July 1880 - Zennia

13 Mar 1879 - Ziba

Not at Natal, but a similar scene was played out many times at the port with bystanders watching the wreck of a ship near shore.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Kirkham Family: Natal and Australia

Strong links existed between South Africa and Australia in the 19th century, and there was considerable movement between the colonies: in the early 1850s a number of Natal colonists were lured away to the goldfields of Australia. 

William Cable Kirkham, his wife Sarah Anne (nee FAIRHEAD) and family were passengers on the Unicorn, which left Liverpool 14 July 1850, arriving at Port Natal 19 September 1850. The Unicorn, at 946 tons one of the largest of the Byrne ships, carried 257 passengers. The Kirkhams had an allotment of 100 acres of land.

According to the passenger list, the children travelling with the Kirkham parents were John, William, Sarah, James and 'Tiney' (possibly Emma b 1845).
Descendant Pamela Kirkham had found the Unicorn passenger list and wrote to ask for further information on the Byrne scheme. She also particularly requested more on a ship called 'Surry' thought to have called at Cape Town or Durban in 1852 en route to Australia. It was believed that it was on this ship that the John Kirkham who was listed on the Unicorn in 1850, had travelled to Melbourne in 1852.

This was an intriguing suggestion. Firstly, a ship named Surry didn't ring any bells. Secondly, if John Kirkham was one of the children arriving with his parents at Natal in 1850 on the Unicorn, it was somewhat unexpected that he might have left shortly afterwards for Australia in 1852.
I heard from Pamela again almost immediately: she had found on our maritime pages the passenger list for the Sarah Bell which left for Australia in December 1852 - among those on board was J Kirkham. So, 'Sarah Bell' had undergone a transformation somewhere along the line, and become 'Surry'. There was no doubt in Pamela's mind that she had found the missing jigsaw piece for which she'd been searching for some time. Shipping records in Victoria show no other John Kirkham arriving in 1852. Regrettably the passenger list at the Australian end of the voyage of the Sarah Bell has not survived.

John Kirkham was the eldest of the Kirkham children, born in Braintree Essex circa 1824 and would have been about 26 when the family arrived on the Unicorn in 1850; the next brother William John was 22. As John was an adult he was well able to leave his family behind in Natal and seek his fortune in Australia in 1852.
In August 1851, Edwin James Challinor leased some property in West St. Durban to John Kirkham, son of William Cable Kirkham - further evidence of John's adulthood at that date.
Pamela reported that she had found John Kirkham's marriage in Melbourne in December 1853. There had always been a question as to how he had arrived in Australia, since it was known that he had been with his family when they had emigrated from England to Natal.

The next avenue of research will be the UK baptisms of the Kirkham children - those who travelled on the Unicorn. There was another daughter, Susanna Simpson,, presumably born in Natal, and mentioned in South African Genealogies (SAG) Vol K p283.
Pamela currently bases the age of John Kirkham on his reputedly having been 3 weeks short of his 100th birthday when he died in Port Augusta, South Australia, 24 April 1924.
At the time of the second son William John Kirkham's baptism in the parish church of Great Coggeshall, 25 May 1828, William Cable Kirkham was a saddler and the family lived in Braintree. In 1848 William Cable Kirkham was an auctioneer in Braintree (White's Trade Directory) and by 1850 he had emigrated with his family to Natal.

In December 1852 John Kirkham left Natal for Australia, where he at first lived in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. In 1853 he met Maria PRONGER and they married on 26 December 1853 at St James Church, Melbourne. Their first child, William Cable KIRKHAM (II) was born on 29 November 1854. This was at the time of the gold rushes in Northern Victoria and John and Maria moved to Bendigo (formerly Sandhurst) before the birth of their next child. It was there that the rest of John and Maria's children were born:

Sarah Anne 1857
John Edward 1858
Ellen Maria 1859
Susannah 1861
Fanny 1862
Emily 1864
Thomas 1866
Albert Ernest 1869
James Richard 1873

John became a slaughterman (butcher) and lived in Barrell Street, Eaglehawk, Victoria. After the death of his wife 24 July 1904 he moved to Waverley, near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, with his sons John, Albert, James and Thomas, and daughters Susannah, with her husband John MESSER, and Emily, with her husband Charles WRIGHT. While the sons prospected and ran a hotel, John continued as a butcher from 1906-1911. About 1917, John and sons Albert and James and his family went to Port Augusta, moving along the Transcontinental Railway line, assisting with it as it was built, linking Adelaide to Kalgoorlie and Perth. John remained in Port Augusta for the rest of his life, living with son James, and died on 24 April 1924. He is buried in the Port Augusta General Cemetery. William Cable Kirkham II, eldest son of John Kirkham, died at the age of 35 by falling off a train in Sydney in 1889, 11 April.

This Kirkham story is a reminder that if an ancestor disappears unaccountably from SA records, the researcher should try another colony. The Sarah Bell wasn't the only ship to take settlers to Australia - the Hannah, the Golden Age and the Wee Tottie were others. Also, though this wasn't the case with John Kirkham, many migrants returned disenchanted from Australia to reappear in South Africa at a later date. All of which goes to show that family historians need to think 'outside the box'.

With kind permission of Pamela Kirkham.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Souvenir Saturday: Waratah 1909 passengers - PAGE the hypnotist

Waratah Passengers from Durban to Cape Town and London included 'Mr E B Page 34     showman Melbourne " and 'Mrs Page 26'. Also known as Professor Bonner, Mr Ernest Page was a hypnotist - ‘Master of Mesmer’s Mysterious Art’.

The happy couple are seen here on their wedding day. Sadly they were lost on the Waratah in July 1909.

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.” 

Image result for E Page hypnotist on board waratah

Friday, July 27, 2018

Waratah 27 July 1909: In Remembrance

Waratah’s ghost has been quietly waiting at C Shed, Durban to pass once more along her misty sea-way. Perhaps Peter Ilbery has been watching over her ...

On the 27th July 1909, at 7.30 pm, the SS Harlow was steaming north-east for Durban under the command of Captain John Bruce, when he saw a large steamer coming up astern of his ship at about 10 miles away when off Cape Hermes. At that time, flashes of light were seen astern and suddenly the steamer’s lights were no longer visible.  Might this have been the Waratah on her way back to Durban, having come about due to the bad weather? Had she broached in the large swells and the flashes caused by the ship rolling and the boiler fires exploding out of the funnel? However, if this was not the case, the Waratah might still have been heading for Cape Town.
The Waratah was lost at sea with all hands!
All over the world, debate and argument, theories and a search for proof has persisted for the past 109 years to understand and locate the SS Waratah, but no substantiation of what really happened that fateful night has emerged.
On her final port departure from Durban Harbour on Monday 26th July at 8.00 pm, she turned south past the Durban Bluff, headed for Cape TownCaptain Ilbery and his crew knew a heavy southerly storm was blowing up from the Cape and they would soon be confronted by enormous seas. This stretch of the South African coastline was notorious and treacherous, because it took ships close to the Continental Shelf, which generated gigantic swells, especially with strong winds opposing the south-running coastal current.
The Waratah had not been well-received by many passengers on the earlier Adelaide to Durban run, when moderate seas manifested her top-heavy promenade deck design being the cause of her insecure righting motion and large cracks opening up between the structural joints on the superstructure. Would Captain Ilbery and his more senior officers have felt apprehensive in anticipation of this wild storm ahead of them?
As they progressively headed into stronger winds, at around 6.30am on 27th July the following morning, Waratah‘s last communication from Latitude 31.36 degrees South and Longitude 29.58 degrees East, positioned her due East of Cape Hermes near Port St. Johns, where abnormal waves are at their worst. Had she later tried to come about and broached, or had she continued a further 100 kilometers down the coast to a position due east of the Mbhashe (Bashee) River mouth?

The Waratah Storm by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson]

Lost on the Waratah:


Passengers Ada (nee Dawes) and Ernest Page: The young Ada (Dawes) Page, whose parents were caretakers of the Treasury Buildings in Spring Street, Melbourne, was travelling with her husband Ernest Page, ‘Master of Mesmer’s Mysterious Art’ (hypnotist). 

Acknowledgement: photos of the Page couple - Bev Morling

Thursday, July 26, 2018

James Colquhoun Bell arrives at Natal on the Ferdinande

The Natal Mercury 12 December 1872 brings a snippet about James Colquhoun Bell, apparently arrived at Natal on the Ferdinande and 'anxious to get employment here, so that he may be with his family'. 

Captain Bell had died in 1869 so it took a while for James Colquhoun to travel to Durban, but his mother would have been pleased to see him. She needed all the help she could get as the family had been left in very poor circumstances after Bell's death. 

James may not have been successful in getting employment in Natal. Whatever the case, he fetches up in England a couple of years later, marrying Sarah Clark at St Mary Stratford, Bow in September 1874. Sarah had been born in Blackfriars London ca 1851. By 1891 James and his large family were living in South Shields where he worked as a Marine Enameller (painting done on ships)..

St Mary's, Stratford, Bow, where James Colquhoun Bell married Sarah Clark in 1874.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Drowned in Durban Bay 1880

A brief inscription on a family memorial stone in the remote parish of Gamrie, Banffshire, Scotland, provided the only initial clue in a search for James Donaldson born 6 September 1856, ‘drowned at Natal on 4th September 1880’. His great grandniece, hoping to discover more about his untimely fate, had checked Marine Records in Edinburgh without success. What James could have been doing in Natal was a mystery..

His date of death fell neatly between the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the First Anglo-Boer 
War which began in December 1880. There were certainly plenty of likely scenarios for a 
drowning in Natal: such accidents often occurred during military conflict, with troops 
transporting supplies by wagon across rivers like the Tugela. Natal has a lengthy coastline, 
and James Donaldson could equally well have drowned in the sea, not necessarily as a 
shipboard passenger or mariner, but simply fishing from a boat.

The chances of finding out more about James were good, since he died in Natal, and the first 
step was to look for a deceased estate file. One James Donaldson MSCE (Master of Supreme Court Estate) reference emerged on NAAIRS, a file held in Pietermaritzburg Archives. There 
was nothing on the index to reveal whether this was the correct individual, but since it was the only reference and the date was right, it was well worth accessing the original file.

There weren't many documents contained therein; however, what they lacked in quantity they 
more than made up for in quality. The Death Notice - on pale blue paper and in the horizontal 
format customary for these documents at that date - gave his age as 24, which fitted perfectly 
with the birth year of 1856 provided by the descendant. 

No place of birth was given, but his father's name, George, appeared, as did the information 
that James was a bachelor, had no children, and had left no will ‘as far as is known’. This
latter was hardly surprising: at that age one imagines one is immortal. Death evidently
overtook young James unexpectedly. There was a short list of the deceased's possessions, provided by the informant, John Crawford. The most significant piece of information on
the Death Notice was under the ‘Where Died’ column: ‘In the Durban Bay’. At this point, there
was little doubt that we were on the track of the correct James Donaldson.

Durban Bay 1880s

A Minute Paper contained a note from the Resident Magistrate with reference to the effects of
the late James Donaldson, ‘supposed to have been drowned.’ There was a further mention of 
John Crawford, who was to be ‘summarily appointed as Executor Dative’ in the estate. The Magistrate delivered himself of the opinion that ‘the value of the effects of the deceased 
would not fetch £40 at auction’ - this sum having been suggested by the informant, Crawford, 
when completing the Death Notice form.

So, what were these effects? All was to be revealed in the two-page handwritten deposition 
of Crawford himself:

Before me, Arthur Mesham, Resident Magistrate, Durban, appeared John Crawford, who, being duly sworn, states: 'I live on the Point Road. I am a ship's carpenter. I am acquainted with James Donaldson now dead, having been drowned on the 4th September 1880, presumably by tumbling overboard the Lotus - I knew him in England - I know his father and mother - they are alive and living at a place called Macduff in Scotland - I came from the same place - I wish to become possessed of his property consisting of 1 chest of tools 1 chest of clothes two watches, and whatever money there may be due to him as wages from Captain Armstrong. I make application in order that I may hand them over to his family. I paid his funeral expenses £10. I am willing to act as executor dative of deceased's estate. Sgd. John Crawford.'

The official inventory of Donaldson's effects noted that £8 10s ‘in the hands of Robert 
Armstrong of the Bluff’ was the amount due in wages to the deceased, and that the watches 
of silver. Estimated value of James's property was finally set at no more than £28 11s 2d.

Again, ‘presumably by tumbling overboard’ seemed significant: how had the accident 
happened and why had there been no witnesses? Where was Crawford when his friend 
drowned? More information was needed on the Lotus - was she a harbour vessel, such as a dredger or a tug, or just temporarily at anchor in the Bay? It appeared that James was working aboard her in some artisan capacity, probably, like Crawford, as a carpenter, considering the
‘chest of tools’ in the inventory. Robert Armstrong ‘of the Bluff’ was evidently Captain of the 
Lotus and held wages owing to Donaldson. This did not point towards a ship simply passing
through the port.

Time to go back to NAAIRS and search on the Lotus. Several references came to light which
not only showed the vessel to have been a brig but also the reason why she required repairs.
On 10 August 1880, four ships, including the Lotus, had been moored at the Screw Moorings
in the Bay ‘when the wind veered to SW and the moorings drew out of the bottom. The 
Northern Belle and Rosebud consequently ‘drove athwart hawse of the Umzinto and the 
Lotus’ at the adjacent set of moorings, all four vessels colliding and being driven on to the 
Bank with resultant damage. The Umzinto's figurehead was smashed and split, the Rosebud 
had several iron stanchions on her port as well as on her starboard side broken and bent, and 90 feet of iron railing buckled. The Northern Belle got off more lightly, while the Lotus had the iron work of the martingale* broken, the cutwater** split and the bowsprit shroud*** plus some railings 
on the starboard side carried away. Alexander Airth, Port Captain, reported all the above after personal inspection and by 13 August the vessels had been taken off the Bank. Presumably 
they were moved to other moorings, where James Donaldson apparently assisted with the 
repairs to the Lotus.

It still didn't answer the question of why he should have drowned - and why no-one seemed 
sure at first that this was the case. However, from the estate papers we know that there was a funeral, so a body must have been recovered. There was a strong possibility that a newspaper report of the incident could have appeared, or even mention of an enquiry into the death. 
Since an exact date was known, a newspaper search was feasible. It wasn't until 13 
September 1880 that three brief lines, all but hidden in the general news column of the Natal Mercury, provided James's only ‘obituary’:

‘James Donaldson, of Banff, a carpenter, working for some time on board the Lotus, was 
found drowned in the harbour on Wednesday.’

At least James's trade was firmly established. There was no mention of cause of death, 
whether accidental, suicide or foul play, neither was there any sign of a subsequent inquiry. 
James could have slipped, perhaps hit his head,and fallen overboard, though strange that 
no-one noticed and that it took some time to ascertain. Suicide might not be ruled out - a 
young man far from home and family, trying to eke out a living on a minimal wage, could 
have been depressed or even desperate. Robert Armstrong, his employer, was known to be 
very hard on his labour, as archival references show.

The fact remains that James Donaldson had, ironically enough, journeyed all the way from the
edge of the wild North Sea to drown off a ship at anchor in the waters of the Bay of Natal. The 
story emphasises that even in the 1880s people leaving for the colonies might be saying 
goodbye to their place of origin and to their nearest and dearest forever.

Donaldson family ca 1875:
James, 19, at the back
John Crawford was incorrect in his statement that James's 
parents were ‘still alive’. George Donaldson, James's father,
farm servant and carter, had died in 1877 at the age of 47 in
fall from his cart one February night. James's mother had been
left with six children, the youngest only nine, to rear alone - she had lost 7-month-old twins through whooping cough in 1868. They were an unlucky family. 

It is evident that neither John Crawford nor Donaldson himself 
had visited Scotland in the recent past or were aware of 
George Donaldson's death three years prior to James's
drowning. It is also clear that Crawford's intentions of returning his friend's belongings to the Donaldson family may have been sincere, but are unlikely to have been carried out given that 
the cost of a passage would have been beyond Crawford's means. Yet the news of James's passing must have filtered through to Banff by mail to be commemorated accurately on the family memorial stone. Perhaps John Crawford can't be blamed for appropriating James's few assets and cash - £10 for the funeral would have been an enormous expense for a ship's carpenter.

The sequence of events doesn't end there. On 2 December 1880, a memo to the Natal 
Harbour Board requests permission for the use of ‘Dynamite in breaking up ... the remains of 
the ship Lotus now lying on the Island beach’ and mentions that ‘an experienced hand ... one 
of Nobel & Co.'s men’ was to undertake the work. Why, if the ship was in such a bad
state that it was eventually broken up, had anyone first bothered to try and repair her? The statement of Port Captain Airth in August, after the collision of the four vessels at the moorings, didn't seem to indicate major damage to the Lotus.

For good measure, a red herring arose during the newspaper search, in the shape of another
vessel named Lotus This caused some confusion, but the fact that this ship, from Adelaide, 
was commanded by a Captain Little and left Natal bound for London in November 1880 
whereas Armstrong's Lotus was due for the dynamite treatment in December of that year, 
proves that these were two entirely different vessels, coincidentally at Natal at the same
time, the Australian Lotus merely passing through.

If your ancestor was presumed, or certainly, drowned but no trace of him appears in UK 
maritime records, he may have met a fate similar to James Donaldson's, in one of the 
colonies. James's descendant was amazed at the wealth of detail which emerged from South African archival and other sources, enabling her at last to answer the question prompted by
that memorial inscription thousands of miles away in Scotland.

*     Rope for tying down the jib boom
**    Forward edge of prow
***   Bowsprit, the spar running out from the ship's stem, to which forestays are fastened; 
shroud, a set of ropes forming part of standing rigging, and supporting mast.

Elizabeth Gabriel