Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ships and Mariners: 19th c Cape and Natal 4 Bell/Rodham/Toby

Comet, a 120 ton coasting brig registered at Port Elizabeth and first mentioned in Cape records in October 1836 had a succession of captains: T Patterson, W T Haddon and J Rodham. Her usual ports of call were Cape Town and Algoa Bay, with lengthier voyages to Batavia and Rio.

Her moment in the spotlight of history came at Port Natal, when, after conflict with hostile Zulus, remaining British residents there took refuge at sea on the Comet (Capt Rodham). These events would lead to the struggle for possession of Port Natal between the trekkers’ Republic of Natalia and the British government in 1842.*

Captain William Bell and his schooner Conch, unknowingly destined to play their part in that struggle, meanwhile continued coastal trading activities between Table Bay and Algoa Bay. These voyages were regularly reported in various publications - Grahamstown Journal, Cape Frontier Times, South African Commercial Advertiser, Government Gazette. 

Other vessels and their masters can be tracked in similar fashion. Too numerous to list all here, some of the latter include: D Cadenhead, J Houghton, J Toby, W G Searles, J Pybus, J McDonald, H McDonald, J Reid. Selecting a random example, Captain Toby’s career can be further fleshed out by archival records held in the Cape; he was master of the schooner Frederick Huth in which his wife sailed with him on at least one occasion from Calcutta to Table Bay. These mariners' wives must have had good sea legs.

* For more on this era in Natal's history see

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