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|