Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Trams in Durban 1900s: did your ancestor ride on one of them?

Electric trams in front of the old Town Hall at right (now the Main Post Office). Behind is the Railway Station.

Opened in 25 March 1880, the Durban tramway network was operated initially by horsedrawn power. From 1 May 1902, the network was converted to electrical power. Beginning on 24 February 1935, this was gradually replaced by the Durban trolleybus system, which was opened on that day.

Note the straw hats worn by men and the long light-coloured dresses and large hats of the ladies. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Souvenir Saturday: West Street, Durban 1897

The bunting, flags etc may indicate that Durban was busy celebrating 
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 22 June 1897. Her accession to the throne was
commemorated throughout the Empire.

Ten years earlier the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated on 20 June 1887, the fiftieth anniversary of Victoria's accession on 20 June 1837. A banquet was held to which 50 European kings and princes were invited.

 Queen Victoria died 22 January 1901, at Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. Her reign lasted 63 years and 216 days. She was the longest-reigning British monarch until this record was superseded by the current Queen, Elizabeth II, whose reign now stretches over 67 years and about 99 days.

Queen Victoria in 1897

Queen Eizabeth II has reigned since 6 February 1952.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Smiths of Northumberland 19th c

John and Margaret Smith with son William Dixon Smith
 and daughter Jane (later Surtees)

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Cape Columbine Lighthouse, Paternoster, Cape, South Africa

Cape Columbine is well known for its lighthouse, the last manned lighthouse built on the South African coast. The Cape Columbine Lighthouse was commissioned on October 1, 1936. Both the headland and lighthouse derive their name from the Columbine, a barque wrecked 1.5 km North of the lighthouse on March 31, 1829. 

Cape Columbine Lighthouse is situated on a prominent headland ±5 km from the picturesque fishing village of Paternoster (meaning Our Father) deriving its name from the heartfelt prayers of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. The lighthouse, built on rising ground at Castle Rock, and usually the first lighthouse sighted by shipping coming from South America and Europe, is about 30 km from Vredenburg on the West Coast.

  • First South African Lighthouse to receive three navigational aids: light, a fog signal and a radio beacon.
  • First lens system designed for use with a 4 kW incandescent electric lamp.

Several ships were wrecked in the area, which is known for its multitude of submerged rocks and reefs.

  • Columbine 1829
  • Ismore 1899
  • SS Saint Lawrence 1876
  • SS Lisboa 1910
  • SS Haddon Hall 1913
  • SS Malmesbury 1930
  • Haleric 1932
  • Da Gama 1979
  • SS Columbine 1944 (Torpedoed)

The Columbine Nature Reserve surrounds Cape Columbine Lighthouse. On the southern side of the lighthouse is Tieties Bay. 5 km away is the fishing village of Paternoster. The coastline is well known for its sea life, especially for crayfish and abalone. Langebaan Lagoon, the West Coast National Park and a Fossil Park.

As the sun sets on the days of manned Lighthouses, Japie Greeff, as Senior Lighthouse Keeper at the Cape Columbine Light, will be one of the last men to follow the rigid routines demanded of them every day, to ensure that the Light is turned on at twilight.

Japie Greef at Cape Columbine Lighthouse

Acknowledgement: Suzanne Jo-Leff Patterson

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Bauman's Bakery Durban

Baumann's Bakery, West St., early Durban, before addition of 2nd storey

Baumann's Bakery 1895 after addition of 2nd storey and lantern ceiling.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Happy Easter!

Easter cards emerged in the 1870's and were popular from the beginning of the 1880's forward. Perhaps they caught on slower as it was a religious holiday and it might have taken time for the public to regard sending cards as socially appropriate. 

The first Easter cards emerged in striking colours and sometimes with silk fringe. Beautiful chromolithographed images required separate pressings by inked stones, one press for every color in the design.

Easter cards of the 1880's illustrated well-known holiday and secular themes featuring children mixed with traditional symbols of new life and spring implying Easter's religious significance of rebirth and resurrection. A child might hold an egg, watch an egg open, gather eggs or emerge from a cracked egg as if he or she was a young chick being born. Some children watched eggs that would crack and reveal flowers, a chick or a rabbit. Sentimental cards featured children in bird's nests as if the child was a little bird nesting against a spring scene. These children were sleeping, waiting to wake to the spring and rebirth of the Easter season. Some 1880's cards were comical. Artists used eggs as a large feature to the design including parts of a bicycle or a hot air balloon.

Familiar spring features such as birds, butterflies and early flowers like crocus or apple blossoms were popular through the 1880's. In addition to the secular images, an Easter cross or lamb with religious verse also appeared on some cards. Rabbits appeared in two forms on 1880's cards. Some cards featured rabbits in a spring setting symbolizing the fertility of spring. German cards also featured an Easter Bunny, delivering an Easter card and coloured Easter eggs to children.

Victorian greeting card designs reflected changes in 19th-century taste. The Aesthetic movement (1868 - 1901) brought Asian-inspired designs and natural design elements. By the middle of the 1880's, Easter and other greeting cards adopted naturalistic designs and a subdued, earth toned color palette. Easter cards had greater religious themes, which included cherubic choir-singing children. Popular chicks and flowers continued to appear. By the very late 1890's, crosses were appearing with greater popularity. Easter greetings in the Art Nouveau and Edwardian periods are some of the most aesthetically beautiful of all greeting cards.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Souvenir Saturday : the Titanic on her way 1912

RMS Titanic departed Southampton on 10 April 1912, colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage to New York City.  As one lady reportedly remarked from one of the lifeboats, Now there's a sight you don't see every day.

At least 13 couples chose to celebrate their honeymoon on the Titanic.

Read more revelations about the Titanic at

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Durban Bay and Point 1870s

Durban Bay and Point 1870s, Berea hills in the distance,

Acknowledgement: Cory Library 754-1217

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Shipwrecks and the Rocket Apparatus at Natal

 Natal 1870s and 80s

At the port of Durban numerous lives were saved by means of the rocket apparatus, fired from the 'rocket house' on shore to vessels in distress. A case in point was that of the Luna, a British brig commanded by Captain Grube which was wrecked on the Back Beach on 2 September 1880. She had sailed from London. Her cables parted during a south east gale - the story of many a ship at this port.

The entire crew survived the wreck, being brought ashore after use of the rocket apparatus.

Another ship whose crew were rescued in this way was the Theresina, a British brigantine wrecked on the Back Beach on 9 April 1878 after a voyage from London. A similar incident occurred on 2 August 1878 when the American barque H.D. Storer parted her cables and ended up on the beach after a voyage from New York.

These unfortunate events were the direct result of ships lying in the roadstead as they were not able to enter the port because conditions over the bar were adverse at the time. Various harbour engineers attempted to solve the problem of the bar.

British harbour experts had to rewrite the text book on tidal scour. Massive breakwaters, exposed to the furies of the sea, had to be constructed. Tidal power is an untiring force of nature. But when there is a never-ending stream of sand passing a harbour entrance, tidal action becomes an engineering nightmare. There was only one solution: persistent dredging.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Lark about a Goose ca 1866

My informant Denise Neufeld reports:
I was reading a newspaper account of a relative, Jonas Puddy House, who had his goose stolen.  It was  surprising to see the thief labelled as a "gentleman."  
What happened was the thief and his friend had been drinking.  Jonas had his geese penned near the stone wall of his property and the thieves could hear them.  They had a pony and trap and one man stepped from the trap onto the wall and then got onto Jonas' property.  One witness saw him step onto the wall and then I think he said a bit later he saw one holding a goose but he didn't actually see it taken from Jonas' property.  Another witness saw one man on the road holding a goose.  The accused said he'd been drinking and ran over a donkey and a goose.  Neither witness saw the mythical donkey.  
When Jonas was being cross-examined the defense lawyer asked Jonas if he would take compensation for the goose in return for dropping the charges.  A police officer there protested and said he'd never heard such a proposition made in the middle of testimony.  The lawyer said that the men had inadvertently run over the goose and put it in the trap (eating it the next day) but it was just a lark.  There was no felonious intent.  Despite the protest of the police the magistrate (who probably knew the accused) agreed there was no felonious intent and released the prisoner as long as he paid Jonas House for the goose.  He advised the prisoner in the future to dine wisely and not too well.  The newspaper writer said "Not guilty, but don't do it again."  
The newspaper wasn't impressed and asked if it had been a labourer would he have been allowed the same deal?  Didn't think so and gave a recent example of two labouring men who stole because they were hungry and who'd been given 3 weeks with hard labour. 

It's nice that Jonas got recompensed for the goose but was it right to let the man off simply because he was a "gentleman."  But that's the way of the world.

 Acknowledgement to Canadian researcher Denise Neufeld for sharing this story about her ancestor Jonas Puddy House, born 1830 and died 1905.  The goose incident probably occurred after 1866.  In 1861 he was living in East Brent but an 1866 directory has him in Lympsham* where the theft occurred. The case was heard in the Weston Police Court. 

*a village and civil parish six miles west of Axbridge and six miles south-east of Weston-super-Mare, close to the River Axe in Somerset, England. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Tree of Life

One of the oldest living things on Planet Earth, 
the 3,000 year old Tree of Life located in South Africa.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Clipper Barque Ocean Queen

clipper was a very fast sailing ship of the early to mid-1800s. According to a comprehensive book published in 1911, The Clipper Ship Era by Arthur H. Clark, the term clipper was originally derived from slang in the early 19th century. To "clip it" or to go "at a fast clip" meant to travel fast.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Monday, February 25, 2019


Roger Bell Gadsden died 25 February 2012, Durban, Natal. 

Son of Cathrine Gibson Gadsden nee Hamilton and William Bell Gadsden.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Gibson Hamilton

Cathrine Gibson Hamilton born 23 February 1914.
Photographed on Durban Beach.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Souvenir Saturday: wreck of the Fascadale

The Fascadale was wrecked at Southbroom in the early hours of 7th February 1895. It was carrying 3,000 tons of sugar from Mauritius to Lisbon.
A Cheltenham paper published an account of the disaster by the late C.H. Mitchell (Terry Mitchell’s grandfather) who came from that part of England:

“On Thursday February 7th a four mast iron barque with a crew of 28 came ashore here; Mr. Barton (afterwards Dr Barton of Murchison Plains) was the first to hear of it and sent for me. I took some ropes and hastened down to the shore (time about 8am). The vessel was on the rocks about 100 yards from the shore - her back broken - the two centre masts gone. The sea was making a clean sweep over her amidships and every high wave covered her. At the stern were about 18 men which the RMS Norham Castle had sent boats to take off. On shore were Mr. Barton, some natives and a seaman named Bloom who had managed to swim ashore during the night. The bodies of two men which had been found, were also there. We were soon joined by two mounted police who had lately been stationed near here (present day San Lameer), and another man who happened to be passing the night with them. Two of them rode off to Umzimkulu (Port Shepstone) to give notice and the other, named Ottley, remained with Barton and myself on the beach.

After the last man had been taken off the stern, the boatmen tried to get the men off the bowsprit but were unable to. They shouted out to the men on the wreck that they could not help them. The five men then prepared to swim ashore, but their chance looked bad as the sea was fearfully rough and the coastline was one mass of rocks. As soon as they began to get ready to start we got ready to receive them. I had a long thin hide line with me and as soon as the first got into the water, Ottley, who was the best swimmer, flung off his things, grasped the line and went out amongst the breakers to meet him. He seized him and we hauled them in very well; but the next one nearly drowned him; and while getting out of my clothes to go in for them, two of the kaffirs (one a witch doctor and one a Christian) managed to reach them with the line which Ottley had let go and we landed them safely, both half dead. The other three quickly followed and we managed to save them all. As soon as they were all safe we started for my place, sending on word to my wife to be ready for us. They slept at our place two nights and started the next day in an ox cart to Umzimkulu. They then went on by boat to Durban”

That the Hibiscus Coast was indeed a wild and sparsely inhabited place in those days is evident from the words of Seaman Bloom. After describing how he clung to a piece of wreckage and found himself on the shore he said:

”It’s true, mister, that I was landed alive, but, I wasn’t very sound. I felt bruised all over and pretty well scratched to bits. Run? No, if you‘d given me a sack of golden guineas I couldn’t have run twenty yards for I felt as if I had got my number on my back and was booked for Davy’s locker. So, I just crawled up the sand out of reach of the water. Then I sat down. There wasn’t a sign of a living thing. There was the sand and the cliffs at the edge of ‘em. It’s true I was mostly dead and I began to get colder and colder, when I says to meself, Bloom, you’re on shore somewhere - you don’t know where, it’s true, but look about ye’.
I just was shivering, like a half-drowned rat, for I had only the smallest quantity of clothes of me. At last I pulled myself together a bit and when I had walked a little way I spied a sail that had been washed ashore. Fortunately I had my knife in my trousers pocket - they warn’t much of trousers but the pocket portion had held good. So all of a shiver, I outs with my knife and rips off a bit of the sail which I puts over my head. The other bit I wraps around me. After that I walks about. I hadn’t gone many yards afore I came across the dead body of my mate, the sailmaker. It made me almost go yaller. Further down the shore I see’d something else. I made by way to it. What do you think it was mister? Why, it was the dead body of t’other chap. I can tell you I warn’t happy. There were the two dead ‘uns and meself - that was all. I sat down and was miserable. Then, presently, the morning came, and I saw a black man creeping down the cliff - then another - then another. There was about half a dozen of ‘em and I could see as they had their spears - assegais, I think you call ‘em, in their hands, I says to meself, “it’s all up with you, Bloom, make ready for the New Jerusalem. You is among black savages”. They came peering right close up to me. Then they jabbered and jabbered in their own lingo and I can tell you I shivered like a cat. Then they began to pat the ground and to pat me, but I couldn’t tumble as to what they meant. One lay down on the ground and motioned me to do the same. But, I wouldn’t. It was quite light now and looking along the shore where the cliffs was lower I saw some cows . I didn’t quite know what to do”.

The Fascadale broke in half and was lodged between the two rocks - the waves were dashing in with tremendous force causing the men to be thrown about against the rocks. The aft half of the ship broke outwards and fortunately the following morning (8th February) a passing ship on her way up to Durban stopped and set a boat to take these people on board. The gap in-between the two halves of the ship could not be crossed so those still on board eventually had to swim ashore.

The wrecked vessel was the Fascadale, Captain Gillespie, from Java to Lisbon, with sugar. Mr Whitehead was presented with an address by the passengers of the Norham Castle, and also with an illuminated address by the inhabitants of Durban in recognition of his heroism.

Frank Whitehead, chief officer of the Norham Castle (later Captain Whitehead), and the Fascadale's apprentice, Robert P G Ferries, were subsequently awarded the Board of Trade medal for bravery at sea. Sergeant C R Ottley of the Natal Police also received a bronze medal for his contribution in saving the lives of crew members of the Fascadale.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Souvenir Saturday: Welch's (later Prince Alfred's) Omnibus: Durban to Pietermaritzburg

Prince Alfred

Welch's Omnibus

'The Prince Alfred Omnibus Will, till further notice, leave Mr Welch's Premises, opposite the Wesleyan Chapel, West Street Durban, for Pietermaritzburg, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at 6 o'clock a.m., and return from the Crown Hotel, Pietermaritzburg, the alternate days. Fares 30s. Seats and parcels must be booked and prepaid. Passengers and parcels will be booked on the premises.'

Natal Mercury 20 March 1863

Note: Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's son, had paid a Royal Visit to the Colony
 in September 1860, and his name was remembered in a variety of ways including silk pictures and engravings.

Prince Alfred was born on 6 August 1844 at Windsor Castle to the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria, and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the second son of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was second in the line of succession behind his elder brother, the Prince of Wales. Died: 30 July 1900 (aged 55).

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Rickshaw with onlookers: March 1945, Durban

Rickshaw puller with soldier and sailor in Durban: from Parade publication
                                                                March 3 1945 (WWII)

Note the puller's large wooden earrings and his 'socks' 
painted on to his feet and lower legs.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Souvenir Saturday: Natal gets steamed up in the 1860s

There had been a new development at the end of 1859: Natal’s port had acquired its first steam tug (perhaps the first steam tug in Africa), the Pioneer. This purchase had been recommended by engineer Milne as early as 1852 but colonial wheels turned slowly. It was planned that the tug would tow helpless sailing ships over the Bar and, fitted with a special iron rake, would also assist in scouring the channel since the ebb tide didn’t seem to do this efficiently. (The suction dredger was then unknown.) It took Pioneer just over 100 days to sail from England to Natal; her paddles were fitted when she reached her destination.

In 1860, keeping up with changing times, Durban’s (and South Africa’s) first steam railway was built between the town centre and the Point. Principally it would carry cargo from the ships visiting the port, which had previously been accomplished by ox wagon. The town end of the 2 mile line was on the site of what would later, in the era of the Natal Government Railways, be Durban’s main railway station, next to Market Square (where Farewell Square and the City Hall now stand).

Local artist Robert Bristow Tatham* (d 1881) left us a snapshot in time – a watercolour sketch showing the opening ceremony of the Natal Railway Company’s Durban to Point Line, 26 June 1860. There is a wealth of detail in the painting. Was your ancestor present on this occasion?

Behind the platform is St Paul’s Church. Bishop Colenso, His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, Major Williamson, and members of the Natal Legislative Council were among the notables at the event. Women dressed in their best, wearing bonnets and shawls and carrying tiny parasols, are gathered in the foreground along with their menfolk and children enjoying the spectacle. African bystanders include a wagon driver with his whip, another carrying a rifle on his shoulder, and ladies carrying firewood on their heads. The Anglican Bishop blessed the new railway and the dignitaries boarded the 1st class carriage – the remainder made do with the goods truck – for a ride to the Point and back. There had been a trial run a few days earlier, to make sure there were no mishaps when the Governor was a passenger.

The star of the show – the small 12 ton locomotive, named 'Natal', was painted bright green, and had a very large funnel.

*Robert Bristow Tatham emigrated to South Africa in 1850; after a spell serving with the Cape Mounted Rifles he was appointed manager of the Natal Railway Company in 1860.

The original  painting is held at the Local History Museum, Old Court House, Durban.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Whaling in Natal: 1900 to 1975

SS Abraham Larsen Factory Ship with two tugs

In 1907, two Norwegians (Jacob Egeland and Johan Bryde) started whaling off the coast of Natal, with a factory sited below the Bluff in Durban. It was to become the largest land-based whaling operation in the world. Two steam whale catchers were brought out from Sandjefjord in Norway and whaling began on 3 July 1908 when the first whale, a 40 foot Humpback, was brought in to the port. The company was named the South African Whaling Company.

Objections were soon raised about the site of the whaling station, which was then moved to the sea side of the Bluff near Cave Rock, but the penetrating smell of the operations at the factory remained a problem for residents on the Bluff. The station was moved again, towards the South West, where the winds carried the smell in a different direction. 

Egeland and Bryde's partnership came to an end in 1909. With a cousin, Abraham Larsen, Egeland then formed the Union Whaling and Fishing Company in 1910. By 1912 thirteen whaling companies were registered in Durban. 

Union Whaling Company came into being in July 1920, formed by Larsen and Egeland who had started the Union Whaling and Fishing Company, and was to last to the end of the whaling era, merging with the Premier Whaling Company in 1954 and operating the largest shore whaling station in the world. By 1960 850 people were employed in the Company. Coastal whaling ended in 1975.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Bluff Lightkeepers 1875: Gadsden and Bell

According to the listing of the Port Office in the Natal Almanac, when my lightkeeper great grandfather, Thomas Gadsden, was Head Keeper of the Bluff Light, Durban, he was paid a hundred pounds a year, 'with quarters'. This wasn't an enormous salary but he was doing better than the 'Native Assistant' at twelve pounds. And in comparison with the Port Captain, then Alexander Airth, who received 350 pounds, perhaps Gadsden's salary was fair.

At this date, the Assistant Light-keeper was D W Bell, Gadsden's brother-in-law, the son of the late Captain William Bell who had died in 1869. Gadsden had married Bell's daughter, Eliza Ann, in 1873.

So the lighthouse was very much a family affair. Douglas Bell took over as Head keeper in about 1880. 

This unique photograph, restored from its original damaged condition, shows various members of the Bell family including possibly the only surviving picture of Douglas Bell, left. He could be holding the Dollond telescope which previously belonged to his father, Capt Bell. Unfortunately, it was this portion of the original photo which was water-damaged and the figure may not be an accurate likeness of Douglas Bell - though the telescope was definitely visible in the original.
Capt Bell and his Dollond telescope

The ladies are 'Aunt Ellen' (Ellen Harriet Bell, daughter of Captain Bell, who later married Edward Baxter) and her niece 'Cousin Violet Bell' (Violet Amy, daughter of Sarah Scott Bell and Charles George Pay).  The other little girl may be Natalia Beatrice Pay, sister of Violet. The identity of the bearded man, perhaps Assistant Lightkeeper at the time, is not known.

The photograph was taken by W E James who at that date, ca 1880, had a studio at the Point, Durban.

Most interesting of all is the structure in front of which the group is foregathered. This is likely to be the current keeper's quarters near the Bluff Lighthouse. It has a corrugated iron roof over timber walls which are raised above the ground (against white ants). The windows with their top 'awning' detail are typical of the period. Note the plaited fence.

For more about the Gadsden/Bell connection with the Bluff Light see:


Photograph restoration: Hartmut Jager
Photograph from Gordon Brown.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Gadsden family in Natal

William Bell Gadsden with his children, Rosemary and Roger, and his
mother Maud nee Swires ca 1958 - going on holiday to the Oaks at Byrne

Friday, February 1, 2019

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Be My Valentine! A Sailor's Valentine

A sailor's valentine made of shells with scrimshaw sailing ship in the centre.