Sunday, April 29, 2012

Missing Zulu War records

In WO 97 at TNA Kew you won't find records for a man discharged without a pension prior to 1883; these were lost through fire. Neither will you find documents for a man who died in service (whether killed in action or died of disease) rather than being discharged to pension when his time expired: there was no point in keeping records when there was no pension to pay. Regiments often took their paperwork into the field - not an ideal situation in a battle such as Isandhlwana. These are some of the hindrances to the preservation of service records.

There is no magic formula or index covering all participants in the campaign. Zulu War researchers who have spent years collecting data from extensive sources may publish their findings, but in the interim it is unreasonable to expect them to hand out their hard-won information on a plate. If you hire a professional to research a specific individual on your behalf e.g. at TNA, that is a different matter.

Where service records haven't survived, the outline of a regular soldier's career can be traced via avenues such as Pay Lists and Muster Rolls. The British Treasury of the 19th century operated on the assumption that everyone was trying to cheat the government: this meant that documentation relating to payment of government monies was carefully kept. British regiments at home and abroad had to send copies of their Pay Lists and Muster Rolls to the Commander-in-Chief for audit purposes. Check TNA's catalogue, also for relevant Description Books in which regiments recorded details of all men serving in the regiment - physical description, age, birthplace, trade, any former service.

Service Pension Books are under WO 117: from 1857 the entries are arranged by the registered Chelsea Pension Number correlating to that used in WO 97 when soldiers were discharged to pension.


Isandhlwana today



Saturday, April 28, 2012

Zulu War ancestors: service records


Most family historians with military ancestry are aware that the Soldiers Service documents are classified under WO 97 at The National Archives, Kew. In this series are attestation (formal confirmation of a recruit’s enlistment) and discharge papers. These offer the most detailed record of a soldier’s service.

If your ancestor was in the regular British Army and was discharged to pension, the relevant record should be in the Soldiers Discharge Papers, which are grouped according to date of discharge. From 1883-1913 you can search the Discharge Papers alphabetically by name for the entire army. Before that (1873-1882) you need to know which arm of the service your soldier was in – Cavalry, Infantry, Artillery, Engineers – all of which were represented in the field during the Zulu War. And, in the case of the Cavalry and Infantry, knowing the name of his regiment would save time.

If your ancestor’s service papers have survived, they’ll provide a detailed chronology: his age, where he was born, when and where he served and in which battalion of his regiment, whether he was entitled to any campaign medal, his promotions and demotions, his physical description including any ‘distinguishing marks’ (scars etc) medical details, civilian occupation before enlistment, the reason for his discharge to pension and his intended place of residence after discharge from the army. After 1883 documents may offer additional information such as marriage, next-of-kin and children. So – a treasure chest of information which would be a welcome find for any descendant.

But, as always, research could turn up less attractive aspects of an ancestor.

A soldier on my own family tree was among British army regulars – those who had taken the Queen’s shilling – serving in the infantry during the Zulu War. He spent most of his life in the army, enlisting when he was hardly more than a boy, at 16. For numerous young men of the Victorian era joining the army was not so much a career choice as an escape from unemployment and poverty. It may have been jumping from the frying pan into the fire: army discipline was rigid and conditions harsh. This particular recruit did not adapt well: frequently AWOL and often ‘imprisoned’, he was entered in the regimental Defaulters Book 35 times and was court-martialled on 4 separate occasions. He served 8½ years of his 20 years’ service ‘overseas’, including his stint in the Zulu campaign, during which he was ranked Sergeant. This may have been the most settled phase of his existence. When he returned to England after the campaign he veered off the straight and narrow, was demoted and left the army as a private. Not everyone was a hero.

The heroes are well-documented, as they should be, but the ordinary soldier has his story, too. Usually he has to wait for it to be told by a dedicated descendant. 



Friday, April 27, 2012

Finding a Zulu War ancestor


In my experience, the average family historian seeking an ancestor said to have served with British forces in the Anglo-Zulu War 1879 begins with minimal information. There are a fortunate few who find original letters, diaries and personal accounts of the ancestor’s career among family memorabilia or miraculously preserved in museum collections. If a medal awarded to your soldier has survived and is accessible to you, engraved on the rim will be his name, rank and regiment: an enviable starting point for discovering further details.

A fundamental nugget of information is the unit with which the man served. In the context of the Zulu War there are plenty of regiments to choose from. Your ancestor may have been a regular in the British Army. He may have been in the ‘irregulars’ – Imperial mounted units raised in South Africa. Or he could have been in one of several Colonial volunteer units. If he fails to turn up in among the military, there’s a chance he was a sailor or marine in the Naval Brigade.

Considering the extent of the British forces in the field, finding an individual forebear among them is a daunting task. Although you believe your soldier was in a certain regiment known to have taken part in the Zulu War, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he personally served in the campaign, or even set foot in South Africa. Not every company of each battalion of all regiments which served in the war was present in Zululand. Some units arrived sporadically, coming up to Natal via the Cape where they had previously been involved in campaigns on the Eastern Frontier. Some troops were among reinforcements who arrived by sea before the first or second invasion. In Zululand, detachments of men would be sent to forts way out in the veld to build walls while their company could be in the thick of action elsewhere. Men died or due to injuries or disease were invalided home and their places taken by new recruits. The situation was fluid.

It’s only by accessing the ancestor’s service documents that his military activities will come into sharper focus – that is, if his service documents have survived. There's no guarantee on that score.


3rd Buffs guarding Zulu prisoners 1879

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Zulu War ancestors?

Over 130 years after the event, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 continues to exert an extraordinary fascination for people worldwide, and particularly for family historians. For anyone tracing an ancestor believed to have served in this conflict, there's no shortage of contextual material. Contemporary accounts such as The Story of the Zulu Campaign by Ashe and Wyatt-Edgell, published in 1880, bring us the immediacy of events described by eye-witnesses in letters and diaries. New books by today's eminent authors appear at regular intervals, offering the results of more recent research, while Donald Morris's immensely readable narrative, The Washing of the Spears, first published in 1966, is still popular.

There have been two big-screen portrayals of key events during the Zulu War: Zulu, released in 1964, brought to a mass audience the defence of Rorke's Drift, in glorious technicolour. Despite some flaws, the film remains an enduring classsic. In 1979 the battle of Isandhlwana was the focus of a film entitled Zulu Dawn. Whatever our opinion of the historical accuracy of these productions, they undoubtedly encouraged interest in the topic. TV programmes have also made their contribution and internet enables us to access material on diverse aspects of the campaign.


Scene from the film 'Zulu'.


From the family historian's viewpoint, unless an ancestor achieved an unusual degree of fame, e.g. by being awarded the Victoria Cross, you're unlikely to find his biographical details conveniently mentioned in published sources. Be prepared for some genealogical foot-slogging - particularly if all you have to start with is a family story of dubious provenance.

We've all had the experience of inherited family information passed down through generations, often embellished and gradually accepted as fact. 'My ancestor fought at Rorke's Drift' is akin to that other well-known claim, 'My ancestor was on the Victory at Trafalgar'. It has been suggested that if all the people said to have been serving on Nelson's flagship during that historic battle really had been on board the vessel would have gone down due to sheer weight of numbers. Similarly, if every ancestor believed by his descendants to have been at Rorke's Drift was truly one of the small group of about 150 men who defended that outpost on 22/23 January 1879 - the British would have outnumbered the Zulus and history would read quite differently.

Your fighting forebear may or may not have been at Rorke's Drift. The fact is that the defence of Rorke's Drift captured public imagination to such an extent that for many it has become virtually synonymous with the Zulu War - there were, of course, other battles. The first step for the family historian is to verify that the ancestor did actually serve in the campaign. This isn't as easy as it sounds: there are several sources including:


1. Lieutenant Chard's list (at the Museum of the Royal Regiment of Wales, Brecon).
2. Colour Sergeant Bourne's list (also at the Museum of the Royal Regiment of Wales, Brecon).
3. Bourne's amended list.
4. Major Dunbar's list of January 1880.

From these, various more recent compilations have been produced.




Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Diary of a Settler in South Africa

April   2nd-5th: - Sow wheat.
April 6th-10th: - Sow oats.
April 30th:         - Locusts eat wheat and oats.

May   1st: - Nice rain; think wheat and oats will shoot up again.
May 15th: - Crops growing nicely.
May 16th: - Locusts eat off crops.
May 17th: - Raining.
May 18th: - Sowing wheat and oats. Lambing begins. Total lambs: 1.
May 26th: - Engage boy to look after lambs.
May 29th: - Make small kraal for lambing sheep, though they don't seem to make much progress. Total lambs so far, 1.
May 31st: - Lamb dies. Disengage boy.

June    1st: - Recollect no rams were put to ewes in January-cannot account for lambs.
June   2nd: - Let cattle feed in mealie stalks.
June   3rd: - One cow dead; choked with mealie cob.
June   4th: - Find ox with mealie cob stuck in its throat; have to put my arm in its mouth to pull cob out.
June   5th: - Send boy for ointment and bandages for arm.
June   9th: - Let Hendriks ride young colt.
June   9th: - Hendriks still unconscious. Colt returns without saddle and bridle.
June 10th: - Sell colt.

July    1st: - Letter requesting rent; balance at bank 9s. 8d.
July   6th: - Sale in town; sell 50 sheep, cow and calf, 1 plough, and 8 bags of mealies.
July   7th: - Pay rent. Bank balance, 9s. 8d.
July   8th: - Go for a day's shooting; shoot a partridge.
July 11th: - Hand-dress sheep with "Bunkum's Arsenical Dip." Towzer, the dog, very sick at night.
July 12th: - Towzer dead; cannot account for it at all: must have been bitten by a snake, though see no swelling except stomach.
July 15th: - Van Krugermann sends me some venison.
July 16th: - Van Krugermann wants to borrow a little fat, two paint brushes, and wagon.
July 29th: - Remember partridge shot on the 8th; throw it away.

August 7th: - Sheep bad with scab.

September   1st: - Two cows die of lung sickness. Crops sown in May dead with drought.
September   5th: - Slight rain. Sow a few mealies.
September 10th: - Bank requires 4d. to make up 10s. for ledger fees.
September 11th: - Send bank four stamps.

October   3rd: - Fountain dries up; no water.
October 15th: - The few mealies sown looking well, notwithstanding the drought.

November 1st: - Terrific thunderstorm with hail, washes dam away, and cuts mealies to the ground. Letter reminding me of half-year's rent falling due.

December 2nd: - Sale in town; sell 1 horse, 1 cart, 15 sheep, 1 shot gun, 32 cartridges, 2 ploughs, 4 oxen, 1 mackintosh, and a fishing rod.
December 3rd: - Pay rent.
December 4th: - Farming be d-d. Borrow £30.
December 5th: - Start for home.

From: A Settler's Scribblings in South Africa.,
Leonard Flemming., 5th ed.,
P. Davis & Sons., Pietermaritzburg., 1919., p. 90-93 





Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic records online

10 April 1912
RMS Titanic the White Star Liner with Captain Edward J. Smith in command, steams into the English Channel on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, bound for New York City.

12 April 1912
Titanic steams westward on a calm and sunny sea but around sunset a wireless message comes through from the French Liner, La Touraine, with warnings of ice ahead.

13 April 1912
Late into the night of the 13th April Titanic and the Rappahannock pass each other within signalling distance, the Titanic is warned of the ice danger ahead.

14 April 1912
The wireless crackles with fresh warnings reporting bergs, growlers and field ice in 42 degrees N from 49 degrees to 51 degrees W, throughout the day further warnings continue to be received and at 1.42 p.m. the White Start Liner Baltic reports icebergs and large quantity of field ice in 41 degrees 51'N, 49 degrees 9'W about 250 miles ahead.

Further messages come through and finally at 9.40 p.m. the Atlantic Transport Liner Mesaba reports at Latitude 42 degrees N to 41 degrees 25'N, Longitude 40 degrees to 50 degrees 30'W heavy pack ice, large icebergs and field ice.

Titanic is already within the rectangle marked out by this warning. All six messages put together indicate an enormous belt of ice stretching 78 miles across Titanic's path, but the six messages are not consolidated due to a lack of communication, and to complacency.

And on a starlight but moonless night in calm weather and calm waters, just before midnight Titanic collides with a 15,000 year old iceberg, ninety percent of which is below the water level, with no wave action around the base offering a possible early warning.

15 April 1912
Titanic carrying 20 lifeboats - only enough for about half the passengers and crew - sinks at 2.20am.





NEWS FOR FAMILY HISTORIANS

Ancestry have recently added The Titanic Collection consisting of:

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, RMS Titanic Fatality Reports, 1912
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, RMS Titanic Graves, 1912
Titanic Survivors, Carpathia Passenger List, 1912
UK, RMS Titanic, Crew Records, 1912
UK, RMS Titanic, Deaths at Sea, 1912
UK, RMS Titanic, Outward Passenger List, 1912

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wreck of the St. Lawrence, Great Paternosters Reef, 1876

On 14 November 1876 the front page of the Cape Times carried Messrs Jones and Co's advertisement for the public auction that day of "the wrecked steamer St Lawrence ... the vessel will be sold as she lies on the Great Paternosters, with all her Masts, Sails, Ropes, Spars, Anchors, Chains, Engines and Boilers etc ... also stores belonging to the vessel ..."

The St Lawrence, an iron steamer of 2 220 tons, had been under charter to the British Government as a troopship, leaving England for Cape Town some five weeks before the disaster occurred, and passing Madeira on 14 September. She then steamed south until 7 November against strong headwinds. On board were the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Buffs (3rd Regiment of Foot), and though statistics vary in contemporary reports, passengers numbered over 400 men, women and children, many of the officers being accompanied by their wives and families. There was also a crew of 67 souls. In her hold were a thousand pounds worth of Government stores, including 9 mountain guns and fifty pounds of gunpowder.

Her captain, HYDE, was not well and lying fully-clothed on his bed when at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 8 November his chief officer, SHELTON, reported to him that the morning was fine and that land was in sight afar off. A few minutes later the officer returned to say that the land was not as distant as he had initially believed and that he had seen a light on shore (this later proved to have been a star). The captain immediately went on deck, and, the look-out reporting something ahead, Hyde ordered the instant stopping and reversing of engines. It was too late: the ship struck the reef and her bow firmly settled down, water rapidly filling her compartments.

Hyde reported to the colonel in command of the troops that the ship was ashore and that the men should go to quarters while the crew cleared away the boats. All was done speedily and calmly, with no panic or confusion; the women and children went into the boats first, followed by the men. The passengers were gradually landed safely, and the boats returned to the ship to take off provisions - beef, bread and water. A Captain WYLDE was commissioned to ride for Cape Town with news of the wreck; his journey was accomplished in eighteen and a half hours. Meanwhile, courageous attempts were made by captain and crew, who remained on board, to re-float the ship by setting her sails and reversing engines at top speed, but it was clear that she could not be saved and would eventually become a total wreck. 100 tons of coal had been thrown overboard in an effort to lighten the ship. Sails were sent for use as tents on the barren shore, arms, ammunition and baggage were taken off, and the crew, with provisions and blankets, were at last ordered to the boats which were made fast to the stern of the vessel.

When Wylde's report was received at the Castle, the news was telegraphed to the Naval Authorities at Simon's Bay, and the Spitfire and Spartan dispatched to convey the shipwrecked soldiers and others to Cape Town. Other vessels involved in the rescue were the Donald Currie steamer Koodoo, the steamer Gnu and HMS Active.


REPORTS OF THE WRECK

The Times, London, carried a report of the wreck of the St Lawrence on 6 December 1876. On 13 December, the same paper mentions that the ship had "some five hundred soldiers on board, chiefly from the 2nd Regiment of the 3rd Buffs" - which lends support to the possible presence of members of other units.

An inquiry into the wreck was held, and The Times of 18 January 1877 stated that "the loss of the ship was attributable to a strong north-easterly current. The master is held to be in default for not coming on deck immediately land was sighted ... The fact that land was sighted so much sooner than expected should have made him aware that the ship was much nearer the land than the reckoning placed her. A cast of the lead would have shown him he was on the bank of soundings and the ship would doubtless have been saved. After the wreck he showed great presence of mind and made admirable arrangements for landing the troops and stores. He did not desert her until all hopes of saving her were gone. His certificate therefore was only suspended for six months. The certificate of Mr Shelton, the chief officer who was in charge, was suspended for twelve months."

Of the 50 tons of gunpowder on board, only 10 tons were recovered. The 9 mountain guns and most of the Government stores were lost.

LIST OF OFFICERS OF THE 3RD BUFFS ON THE ST LAWRENCE
Col C PEARSON
Maj H PARNELL
Capt C J HAMILTON
Capt A W GILSTON
Capt R A HICKSON
Capt A H WYLDE
Lieut R S MOODY
Sub-Lieut C H GORDON
Sub-Lieut D F LEWIS
Sub-Lieut H R KNIGHT
Sub-Lieut D GREEN
Lieut and Adjutant A C JACKSON
Quartermaster W G MORGAN
Attached Surgeon-Major H WALKER
Sergt-Maj P MURPHY
Bandmaster R SWEENEY
Schoolmaster J ECCLES
Quartermaster-Sergt J GROVES
Sergt-Instructor of Musketry T WORBOYS
Paymaster Sergt J FAIRLEY
C R CLERK
J CREELAND
Drum-Maj J GLEESON
Attached Arm-Sergt W WERNHAM
(The above list is taken from the Cape Times, 14 November 1876.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fatal Accident at the Bluff Lighthouse 1898


On 10 April 1898 Head Lighthousekeeper at the Bluff, Frederick STEPHENSON, wrote to Charles CROFTS, Engineer in Charge of the Natal Harbour Works, to report "a serious accident which happened about 4 p.m. yesterday whereby a man named WILLS ... fell from the top of the Lighthouse to the enclosure below. He was immediately attended to by the Dr. of the Naval Corps and removed to the hospital."
The 2nd Lighthousekeeper, who was on duty at the time, had been asked by four Naval Volunteers to conduct them on a tour of the lighthouse and when entering the gate two civilians also came running up and asked if they might be included. When in the lightroom the civilians and some of the Natal Naval Volunteers went outside on to the balcony, while the keeper was explaining the workings of the light to one of the other men. There was a sudden shout that a man had fallen over.
WILLS had ascended the ladder leading to a small footway round the lantern, used by the keepers when cleaning the glass of the lantern, and fell from this to the ground, a distance of over 70 feet. He died in hospital at 9.30 the following evening. Charles Crofts reported to the Minister of Land and Works that WILLS had been employed in one of the shops owned by Randles Bros & Hudson in Durban.
From the official Instructions to Lighthousekeepers, it would seem that the keeper on duty had allowed six visitors to enter the lighthouse at the same time, when three was the maximum number laid down in the regulations - which were many and detailed:
"The lightkeepers are expected to conduct themselves with civility to strangers by shewing the premises at such hours as are convenient, and do not interfere with the proper duties of their office, it being expressly understood that strangers will not be admitted into the lighthouse after sunset and before 10 a.m. No children under ten years of age to be admitted into the lightroom at any time. No money or other gratuities shall be taken from visitors on any pretence whatever. No more than three visitors shall have access to the lightroom at one and the same time. The lightkeeper must not on any pretence whatever admit persons in a state of intoxication. No visitors entering the lightroom shall be permitted to handle any part of the Apparatus or make drawings thereof or to take any dimensions unless he produce a written authority for so doing from the Colonial Chief Engineer and on no account is any visitor to be allowed to enter the lightroom or to remain in it without one of the lightkeepers being present. No smoking to be allowed by visitors within the lightroom, nor are they to be permitted to bring food or liquor into the lighthouse under any pretence. No dogs are to be allowed to enter the lighthouse."
Whether the unfortunate WILLS was "in a state of intoxication" or merely succumbed to an attack of vertigo, history doesn't relate.
The lightkeepers' rules also mention that "a book shall be kept at the lighthouse in which all visitors are to enter their names. This book is to be under the charge of the Head Lightkeeper."
If that visitors' book were to have survived, what a wealth of names from Durban and elsewhere it would offer. Apart from this volume, the Head Lightkeeper kept a daily journal, of which a copy was sent to the Colonial Engineer every month, as well as a report book in which remarks as to incidents which might occur during the watch were noted as well as the times at which the keepers came on and off duty. Sadly, none of these records are still in existence.


Bluff Lighthouse & Signal Station, 1890s




Saturday, April 7, 2012

Voyage to Natal, South Africa, 1850

WILLIAM LISTER'S VOYAGE IN 1850 : Taken from his 'Recollections of a Natal Colonist', written ca 1905
William Lister was born on 1 March 1828, in Pentrich, Derbyshire, England, where his father and grandfather were tenant farmers of the Duke of Devonshire. He explains in his own words what moved him to go out to South Africa: 'The motive which induced me, at the age of 22, to emigrate to the colony then known as Natal ........ was the glamour which all new countries seem to call over the enterprising youth of the British Isles, prompting them to seek their fortune in the colonies of England.'

On the 10th of October 1850, I sailed from Liverpool in the brig Wilhelmina, Jasper Robbins, master, for Port Natal, in South Africa. It was known then as Port Naytal [sic]. The registered tonnage of our little ship was 168, her burden or carrying power about 200 tons. We managed, by hauling sometimes close to the wind to clear the Irish Channel, the Bay of Buscay [sic] was negotiated, with the North East Trade wind we sailed merrily on till caught in the doldrums near the equator. Our passengers numbered about ten, five or six young men, and Commander Maxwell, Mrs Maxwell, three boys and one little girl, besides two or three servants. We could scarcely have wished for a pleasanter captain than Robbins, and he was only some seven or eight years senior to the young fellows in the cabin. Of course we were provided with guns and rifles and other murderous weapons useful or otherwise, as well as saddlery and the usual impediments emigrants supplied themselves with in those days. In fine weather we often amused ourselves with shooting with a pea rifle at a bottle towed astern of the brig. Owing to the bobbing about of the bottle on the waves it was a very difficult mark to hit. Little Tom Maxwell broke the bottle at his first shot, whereupon Captain Robbins declared he must shoot no more, for he said he would spoil that shot.

The Wilhelmina was a good sea boat, but by no means a good sailer and unless the wind was free, she made a god deal of leeway. However she quite outsailed a little Dutch brig we fell in with somewhere about the Line. The Dutchman chalked up his longitude on a board. This longitude was evidently computed by 'dead reckoning' and very Dutch at that, for it required considerable correcting. However we parted the best of friends after the usual enquiries and sea going courtesies. The brig seemed lightly laden but I think the old skipper made us understand he was 52 days out from Amsterdam bound for Callao, and I presume turned in for a big smoke and possibly a drain of schnapps.

Near the latitude of the Cape we had for two or three days a north west gale of wind. Robbins decided to scud before it under close topsails and jib. The little brig rode well over the mountainous waves and she was carefully steered, for had a wave come over the poop it would have swept the decks clean.

But the finest specimen of the captain's seamanship was off the South African coast. A white squall from a cloudless sky, providentially off the land, came suddenly down upon us with studding sails set. Of course all hands were on deck immediately. Robbins himself took the wheel, and gave his orders sharp and clear, had studding sails and booms hauled on board and in due rotation royal top gallant topsail, foresail, ditto on the main mast spanker, jib and flying jib were all stored and handled without the loss of a spar or a bit of canvas.
We made a fairly good run from Liverpool and saw no land until I think between Mossel Bay and Algoa Bay. Then that awful current which flows down the coast from the Mozambique channel caught us, and without a good westerly wind, progress was out of the question. New Year's day dawned upon us, 1851. It was Captain Robbin's 80th birthday and was duly celebrated.

January 7th the Bluff was sighted. The pilot came over the Bar in a whale boat, the anchor was dropped, the sails were furled, and the good ship Wilhelmina, after waiting a tide or two crossed the Bar under full sail, drawing about 12 feet of water. We soon bade adieu to the little brig, her gallant captain, her mate and second mate, cook, steward, and the crew of six sailors before the mast, thankful that our voyage of 88 days had been so much more pleasant and prosperous than the voyages of many immigrant ships which had been landing passengers in Port Natal, during the previous 12 to 18 months. Contrast this with the magnificent Union Castle steamers which now cross the Bar with 27 feet of water under their keels; so much for breakwaters and persistent dredging.

Extract from William Lister's memoirs provided by Jennifer Southorn.


Emigrants on board during a storm.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Under sail to Natal

Sailing directions written circa 1838 for wary mariners visiting Natal included the following:

"...with a NE wind you will soon run down to it (the Bay of Natal). It is easily known from the northward and you can see the entrance better than from the southward. Should the wind be from the southwest you should only run to 30° Lat. if the breeze is very strong ...but do not keep too close on shore, as the wind dies away suddenly and the strong current which inclines towards the shore may endanger the ship and lives. If intending to enter the harbour, go in with your boat first and sound for the deepest water on the bar... The course once in mid-channel is SSW and you will see a huge remarkable tree upon a hill ahead (the Bluff) going in, and keep this well on the starboard side ... A ship will not take any hurt ... for it is as smooth as London docks (but a vessel) ought to be coppered as the water fouls the wood very soon with barnacles and the worms are very bad also."

Some eight years after these warnings were issued, the brig Sarah Bell sailed into the record books by carrying the first direct mail from England to Natal, departing on 9 November 1845 and arriving off Port Natal on 18 February 1846, not putting in at the Cape to replenish her water supply.
The American missionary Josiah TYLER writing in 1849, describes the journey from the Cape to Natal in the schooner Gem:
"A more untidy and uncomfortable craft I never saw. The voyage up the coast was long and stormy, the captain a drunkard and incapable half of the time ... The Gem thumped several times on the bar, and was for a short time in danger of stranding, but no harm befell us, and in an hour we cast anchor in the most beautifully sheltered, landlocked harbour on the south-eastern coast of Africa."

The 1840s saw a wave of emigration from Europe to other parts of the world, and Natal offered a hopeful prospect. Inspired by publications advertising this "salubrious and fertile" colony, settlers flocked join the emigration schemes of Joseph Byrne and others, and soon the ships carrying them were arriving at the port. Byrne's scheme was outlined in promising terms in his pamphlet:
"Each adult will be provided with an intermediate passage, including provisions on a liberal dietary scale, for the sum of £19, or a steerage passage for £10; and on arrival in Natal have secured to him twenty acres of freehold land." Passage monies had to be paid in advance, and a passenger had to take with him knife, fork, table-spoon, teaspoon, metal plate, a hook-pot, a mug and bedding. The scale of provisions for each class of passenger was stated.
Byrne sent out 20 ships, 15 sailing from London, three from Liverpool and two from Glasgow. All were sailing ships, mostly small barques or brigs and of small tonnage. The smallest were the Wanderer (the first to arrive at Natal, on 12 May 1849) and the Sandwich (carrying only 12 passengers and arriving 27 July 1850); these vessels were 173 and 180 tons respectively. The largest were the former East Indiaman, the Minerva, 987 tons, and the Unicorn, 946 tons. They carried on average about 150 settlers with their baggage and agricultural implements. Some of the ships had schoolmasters and clergymen on board and under the Passenger Acts of 1849 each ship was obliged to carry a doctor. A number of children, elderly people and the sickly died on the long voyages of three or four months, but most passengers arrived in good health and spirits. Despite Atlantic gales and baffling winds all the ships save two arrived safely at Port Natal, anchored in the roadstead and disembarked their passengers in small boats which had to cross the dangerous sandbar at the entrance. The two exceptions were the Minerva and the British Tar, both hit by sudden storms and wrecked.

Sir John Robinson, who arrived as a settler in 1850, wrote:
"So in dozens, in scores and in hundreds, they took their passages and packed up their traps, and set sail in one or the other of Byrne's ships, to begin from the moment of their setting foot on board a piteous and inexorable process of disenchantment."
These voyages were far from luxury cruises. The ships were undermanned, passengers swept the decks and worked the pumps (and cooked their own meals in the galley). When the Henry Tanner, a leaky barque of 388 tons which had originally been a whaler, left Gravesend for Natal on 24 June 1849, the crew numbered only 11 men - there were about 160 passengers. She reached Natal on 10 October. Not all the vessels took as long. The voyage of the Lady Bruce (538 tons) in 1850 took 70 days, that of the Conquering Hero in the same year about 90 days, and the Minerva only 67 days. The fate of the Minerva is well-known: wrecked at the foot of the Bluff, her cargo and the passengers' belongings were lost. Among the survivors were George Russell (author of "History of Old Durban") and his family: young George, perhaps enthralled by the idea of travelling on a frigate with gun ports and quarter galleries, had persuaded his parents to postpone their earlier sailing on another vessel. Wreckage from the Minerva was still strewn on the beach when the Unicorn (946 tons) anchored at Natal on 19 September 1850 after a comparatively pleasant voyage, successfully landing 257 passengers by surf-boats. The Sarah Bell, mentioned above, brought off the Unicorn's cargo. In the following year, Unicorn herself was lost while carrying Irish settlers to Canada.

The captain of a settler ship was responsible for delivering his passengers safe and sound, and some immigrant parties thought captains unworthy of the post, lacking ability to command and of dubious moral character. Others thought their captains admirable. Captain ROBBINS of the Wilhelmina, not one of Byrne's ships, was greatly respected, especially by the young men on board. William LISTER, writing of this voyage, said: "He was only some seven or eight years senior to the fellows in the cabin... Near the latitude of the Cape we had for two or three days a north-west gale ... Robbins decided to scud before it under close topsails and jib. The little brig rode well over the mountainous waves and she was very carefully steered for had a wave come over the poop it would have swept the decks clean. But the finest specimen of our captain's seamanship was off the South African coast. A white squall from a cloudless sky, providentially off the land, came suddenly down upon us with studding sails set. Of course, all hands were on deck immediately. Robbins himself took the wheel and gave his orders sharp and clear, had studding sails and booms hauled on board and in due rotation royal top gallant, topsail, foresail, ditto on the mainmast spanker, jib, and flying jib were all stored and handled without the loss of a spar or a bit of canvas." The Wilhelmina crossed the bar at Port Natal under full sail on 7 January 1851.

Crossing the Line was celebrated on every voyage in the Atlantic, and Thomas MACKILLICAN, travelling to Port Natal on the Cataraqui in 1861, wrote:
"We had a very good jollification last night on the occasion. There were two of the sailors never crossed the Line before and also four to five apprentices... The excitement among passengers and crew (was) considerable... About six o'clock they turned out and got King Neptune aboard ... He was joined by so many constables, and the barber with his shearing box - they then paraded the decks. The police got hold of the two sailors that were to be shaved ... seated the first of them on a stool and I am bound to say I shouldn't like to get the shave he got ... then threw two or three buckets of water over him ... Some of them went to excess with the water by throwing buckets of it among the passengers as well as the sailors ... We had then a fine lot of comic songs given in full character by passengers and crew."

William WATSON's version of a similar event in the 1850s, interspersed by less gleeful accounts of his seasickness, reads:
"...we had such a spree all the sailors that had not crossed the line was shaved with cold tar and grease for the lather and for razor three pieces of iron hoop about a foot long with teeth like a saw and then after shaving a great sheet of water on deck and over head they go and gives them a good ducking and then after that they have plenty of drink and singing and dancing and playing every night..." Perhaps it was as well that William couldn't foresee the future: he was on the Minerva.

Leaving England was the start of the great adventure, but there were inherent irritations, as Thomas Mackillican records: "We were at the ship at 7 a.m. but she did not leave her berth in the dock yet, and judging from the way she is jammed up by other ships, it will take three or four hours to get her out... Passengers still coming on board ... We have carpenters, smiths, painters, etc. working hard to get quit of them and get to sea. Everything is in great confusion."
The Cataraqui, 522 tons, was not a Byrne vessel, but carried a group of farm-labourers and skilled artisans, as a result of an arrangement through Byrne's agent, Moreland.

By the time the Cataraqui reached Natal in November 1861 the numbers of settlers arriving each year had dwindled considerably. Joseph Byrne's scheme had ended in financial ruin. Though other companies were formed, none compared with Byrne's in the size of the immigrant groups which came out on his ships.

The arrival in August 1852 of the Sir Robert Peel, a steamship of about 250 tons (bringing with her reports of the discovery of gold in Australia), had heralded a new era but paintings and later photographs show that sail and steam co-existed for many years at the Bay of Natal.


Wreck of the Minerva at Port Natal 1850 by J F Ingram