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