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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

Maritime employees at Natal 1874: is your ancestor among them?

At this date Thomas Gadsden (my great grandfather) was Lighthouse Keeper at the Bluff Light at 125 pounds per annum. His brother-in-law, Douglas William Bell was Assistant Keeper at 100 pounds. Both men occupied living quarters near the lighthouse. Alexander Airth was then Port Captain. Gadsden and Airth did not always see eye to eye. 

Tidewaiter: He was a customs official who checked goods upon the landing of a vessel, to ensure payment of duties. Depending on the size of the port and the volume of shipping there might be several tidewaiters in attendance.

The position was open to abuse by the tidewaiters themselves, bribery and corruption could occur. Mostly, however, they were honest men earning a not particularly high income, hours were inconvenient and there could be risks involved.

Natal Almanac 1874

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Maritime Natal, its problems and its people

The steam tug Pioneer can be seen to the left of the photo, flag flying astern,ca 1860.
One encouraging event at Port Natal was the arrival of the tug Pioneer in 1859, the first steam tug in Africa. This acquisition, recommended by Milne, was used to tow a 'rake' across the bar at ebb tide. It sounds rather a Heath-Robinson notion but dragging the heavy rake across the  bottom disturbs the sand, the ebb tide carrying it out to sea. The Pioneer was fairly small but when the more powerful tug, Forerunner, was put into service it had a significant effect. It was however not enough to deepen the channel.

There were those in the Colony who were opposed to opening a channel e.g. the owners of the lighters that unloaded the ships in the outer anchorage and charged high fees for doing so. A deeper channel would mean loss of their livelihood.

Between the departure of Milne from the Harbour Works's stage several engineers tried their own ideas, largely unsuccesfully, to solve the entrance channel problem. They included Captain Vetch (the remains of whose pier can still be seen), James Abernethy, Sir John Coode, and C W Methven. The only obvious result was that Natal's treasury became depleted. Apathy set in, despite the increased volume of shipping due to the Zulu War and the First Anglo-Boer War. Edward Innes was appointed Harbour Engineer in 1881 and started to drive piles for the continuation of Milne's North Pier, believing, like Milne, in tidal scour being the answer to the entrance difficulties.

Innes unfortunately died in 1887 at the early age of 34. Was there a curse on the port and all connected with it? Innes's friend and colleague Charles Crofts carried on Innes's work capably but depths of water over the Bar had increased only marginally. Methven was brought in, and dredgers were acquired and put to work. By 1904 the fleet of dredgers at Durban was the largest in the world. There was the Platypus, the Water Rat, the Otter, the Beaver, the Sand Piper and two hoppers, the William Bell and the John Milne (too little too late these memorials to the men concerned).

Acknowledgement: African Keyport, Capt Tony Pearson

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Maritime Natal: John Milne and the Harbour Works

'In 1856 the Harbour Works were progressing under the patient application of John Milne, C. E., who in the existing state of the Colonial Revenue was expected to make bricks without straw', says George Russell in his History of Old Durban.

First Milne had to construct a wooden tram-line round the Bluff to the Cave Rock to obtain the necessary stone and afterwards boat it across for his works. This was done by two contractors, William Campbell and Richard Godden, with African labour and they did it well for their skilled handiwork was later recognisable in the root of the North Pier, every stone hand-dressed and packed. 

Milne was constantly about the Bay with flags, buoys and labour, and gave plenty of exercise to the Port Captain, his boat and crew, in soundings

'The crests of the sea at high tides would break over in streamlets from the Back Beach ... to the Custom House Channel, and it was his aim ... to compel the forces of Nature to the success of his design. His main project was to carry out a North Pier to the Bar with a short South Pier opposite, gradually narrowing the entrance and facilitating scour. He employed the fragments of labour and funds doled out to him in wattling the sandhills from Captain Bell's house to the Point, with a series of rough fences divided into sheepfold-like paddocks, to divert and retain the drifting sands from entering the Bay. These sands were then secured by planting the Hottentot Fig or any green thing that would grow there.' 

Milne's heart was in his work and he was always on duty. He would be seen wearing a long Nankeen coat and broad Manila hat, walking-staff in hand.

The Bluff with the remains of Milne's North Pier in
foreground. There was no lighthouse until 1867.

John Milne was born in 1802 Kincardine, Scotland, a civil engineer who had worked on harbours such as Leith and Inverkeithing in his home country before emigrating to Natal on the Dreadnought in 1849. A widower, he was accompanied by his daughter Jessie. Jessie married a soldier, Captain Robertson, who was later wounded in India in 1857 and died in 1861. Subsequently, Jessie married Captain William Michael Tollner. Her 2nd husband Tollner’s Death Notice gives her maiden name as Robertson, which is misleading and emphasises the necessity for checking sources. 

Milne had his critics (including the influential George Cato) and by 1858 he was no longer harbour engineer at Durban. He died in 1877.

Acknowledgements: George Russell: History of Old Durban;
Delyse Brown, family information.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Maritime Adventures at Natal 5: more shipwrecks in Capt Bell's time

Records show that no less than 66 large ships were lost on Back Beach between December 1845 and December 1885 with the loss of thirty lives. One result of the number of wrecks up to 1863 was public anger over the lack of a lighthouse on the Bluff. This was fuelled by the loss of the Sebastian and the Earl of Hardwicke in a gale on 26 September 1863.
Among other shipwrecks during Bell’s tenure as Port Captain were:
Fusilier – British ship wrecked on the Bluff Rocks at the south entrance to the harbour on 25 May 1865 in a north-east wind while on a voyage from Calcutta to Demerara (British Guiana) with Indian workers. Loss of 20 souls.
Annabella – British barque wrecked on what became known as the Annabella Bank at Durban on 21 January 1856, carrying cargo. There was no loss of life, but a public enquiry was demanded. It was this wreck which, perhaps unfairly, led to the dismissal of harbour engineer John Milne.
Ariosto – American barque wrecked on Back Beach on 31 July 1854 while on a voyage from Sumatra to Boston with a cargo of pepper. No loss of life.
British Tar – only three months after the Minerva disaster another Byrne ship (282 tons)  wrecked on Back Beach on 29 September 1850 during an east-north-east gale with a general cargo. No loss of life but the settlers lost everything, like those on the Minerva.
Pioneer – wrecked on Back Beach near Annabella Bank on 23 Oct 1862 when her cables parted after a voyage from London with a cargo of timber for the harbour works. No loss of life. [Natal Mercury 24, 28 Oct, 1862]
Queen - British brig wrecked near Vetch’s Pier on 16 August 1863 when her cables parted in a north-east wind after voyage from London. No loss of life. She lies close to the Lord Geo Bentinck (wrecked 1861). [Natal Mercury 18 Aug 1863]

Sebastian - British wooden barque of 364 tons wrecked on Back Beach on 26 Sept 1863 during north-east gale after voyage from London with immigrants and general cargo. No lives lost.

When the American barque Ariosto 361 tons was wrecked on the Back Beach, Durban, on 31 July 1854 while on her way to Boston from Sumatra, carrying a cargo of pepper, a local Byrne settler, William Hartley, saw an opportunity. He knew that pepper did not deteriorate when wet and he dried out the peppercorns then sold them at a satisfactory profit.

The Captain (Balch) had mistakenly kept the ship on course believing their position to be some miles from the Bluff. The sound of breakers alerted the deck watch but it was too late. The vessel struck, bumping over the Bar, and ended up on the beach. The crew of 17 landed in their boat. The ship became a total wreck but no lives were lost. Durban's inhabitants rushed to the scene and William Hartley began to have ideas about the cargo.

Ariosto wreck 1854

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Souvenir Saturday: the mail steamers to Natal

Sister to the Armadale Castle, built on the Clyde, the Kenilworth Castle was built in Belfast. That yard had produced the Norman and her successors for the Union Company. In October 1900 the new Cape mail contract had come into force, the first to be performed by the Union Castle Line, It was the start of a great shipping era and thousands of our ancestors sailed to and from the Cape and Natal on these mail steamers. The arrival and departure of the mailship was a matter for public celebration then, with streamers being thrown between ship and dock and a festival air pervading the port.

In those days the mail steamers would leave Southampton on Saturday afternoons at 5 pm reaching Table Bay at dawn on Tuesday. After proceeding up the coast to Durban they were scheduled to leave Cape Town homeward bound on Wednesday afternoon at four o'clock. A new arrangement came into being in September 1913 when steamers would leave Cape Town for England at 1 pm on Saturday afternoons. The outbreak of war in 1914 upset all sailing schedules until the end of 1919 when Friday afternoon departures at both ends became the norm.

The earliest mail steamers hadn't proceeded farther than Cape Town. It was only in 1863 that the Union Line began sending its vessels as far as Algoa Bay. After 1876 East London was the terminal port then at last in August 1887 the ships were sent to Durban. Early in 1888 the Castle mail steamers which had before turned round at East London now made Durban their terminal port.

All was not plain sailing. A coastal journey was a nightmare especially for passengers going to Natal where the dreaded Bar made arrival or departure a matter of uncertainty and adventure.

'The method of crossing the Bar was by means of cargo lighters which were hauled along on runners on a stout hawser securely anchored outside the rollers. Passengers were battened down in the hold and most were seasick, Not the least exciting episode was transferring from steamer to lighter and when the rolling became pronounced it required all the agility of a trained acrobat to get from one to the other.'

The conquest of the Durban Bar is a story in itself. Victory was achieved in 1904 when the RMS Armadale Castle, Captain Robinson in command, despite battling a south-westerly gale, steamed proudly through the harbour entrance and was soon berthed alongside the wharf. From that time the crossing of the Bar held no terrors for passengers landing or embarking at Durban.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Souvenir Saturday: Bill Gadsden in Durban High School Group 1880s

                                     From 'The Durban High School Record 1866-1906'

One evening my uncle arrived at our family home unexpectedly bearing a leather-bound volume entitled The Durban High School Record. The book was in poor condition but all the pages were there. He triumphantly pointed out a group photograph entitled The School in the Eighties and drew our attention to a name in the caption: 'Bill Gadsden'. My father was the only 'Bill Gadsden' I'd ever known or heard of - and he certainly wasn't around in the 1880s, having been born in 1910.

His father was Sydney Bartle Gadsden, born in 1880, and not a contender for the 'Bill' in the photo.

This was the beginning of a search for the unknown Bill Gadsden who had attended the Durban High School during the 1880s. For a start, the caption of the photo was not helpful in identifying which boy was meant to be Bill Gadsden - the rows are made up of inconsistent numbers of boys and masters and there are some missing names. However, it seems likely that Bill Gadsden is 4th from the right in the 3rd row - the 3rd row from the front, that is, ignoring the rows' numbering given in the caption.

This Bill Gadsden, as research was to prove, was my grandfather's brother, William Gadsden of whom my father had no prior knowledge. The brother had never been mentioned in the family and the only two of my grandfather's siblings of whom my father knew were his father's sisters, Faith and Hope.

After the loss of my grandfather's parents he and his sisters were farmed out to various families until the children reached adulthood. It's possible they never saw their brother William who on leaving school was employed as an apprentice on the Natal Harbour Works, later apparently moving to Verulam on the North Coast of Natal where he worked as a carpenter. He married and had one daughter. My father had had no idea this young man existed and was astonished to see the photograph and to hear the results of my research into our mystery family member. To begin with my father was sceptical and found it hard to believe my grandfather wouldn't have spoken of such a close relation. Still, the brothers must have grown apart with the break up of the family and growing up in different foster homes. Whether there were other causes of estrangement remains unknown.

We must also consider that William died in his early twenties - 24 - of enteric fever (a common cause of death in colonial Natal resulting from impure drinking water) on 22.12.1900 at Verulam, Natal. He was probably buried at Verulam cemetery; his grave has so far not been found. His death notice refers to him as Colonial Englishman. My father William Bell Gadsden was born ten years after his uncle's death and remained unaware that there was a widow and a daughter - a first cousin - living not far away from the rest of the Durban Gadsdens.

William attended the Durban Boys' High School from 1888-1892. His address during that time was 'The Point, Durban'. His father was then employed by the Natal Harbour Works.

The Natal Witness carried a brief announcement of William's birth thus:

Gadsden 18-July-1876 (date of event), 28-July-1876 (date of advert) at the Bluff the wife of Mr Thomas Gadsden of a son. 

Thomas Gadsden's wife was Eliza Ann Bell, daughter of Port Captain William Bell. The couple lost a son named Phillip born in 1879; there is a record of Phillip's baptism at St Paul's Church, Durban.