For travellers of the 21st c accustomed to plane flights bringing every corner of the globe within reach, it’s not easy to understand how people of the 18th and 19th c accepted long weeks or even months under trying conditions on shipboard.
Our ancestors were prepared not only to undertake an initial voyage to a foreign country but to make other trips - returning to their place of origin either temporarily, to visit family, or permanently, as well as moving between one colony and another in search of better prospects. The fact that an ancestor emigrated was no guarantee that he would remain in the destination country.
For example, in the 1860s, a number of settlers who had emigrated to South Africa, disappointed in the depressed state of the economy, left to try their luck elsewhere. A Natal pioneer wrote to his family in England in 1866:
Every ship that is leaving is full of people going Home again, and it seems that everyone that can just get money enough to get Home is clearing out as fast as they can. I am sorry to see it, as it will put the Colony back years.
It was the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa in the 1870s and further goldfields opening up in the 1880s that heralded the start of a new and prosperous age.
Links with Australia
There were strong ties between South Africa and Australia. In the early 1850s the Australian goldfields tempted South African settlers to explore this option, taking ship on the Hannah, the Golden Age and other vessels.
If an ancestor disappears from South African records, try another colony. Check for his possible reappearance in South Africa when disenchantment set in.
Australians were equally keen to investigate what South Africa had to offer. In 1872 the St. Kilda (a three-masted schooner of only 180 tons) brought from Melbourne to Natal 70 passengers whose ultimate destination was the Kimberley diamond fields. The Natal Mercury published a list of their names, and the directors of the Immigration Aid office welcomed them:
We heartily trust that our new friends will succeed in reaching the Fields quickly and cheaply; and that when there, success will crown their efforts.
If this hope proved to be too optimistic, the ‘diggers’ would be likely to return to Australia.