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