Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ships and Mariners: 19th c Cape and Natal 14 Harrington

Emanuel Harrington was master of the 405 ton paddle steamer, Phoenix, operating between the Cape and Algoa Bay from the end of 1842. 

No stranger to this stretch of coast – previously he had been in command of a schooner, the Briton – Harrington spent a decade with the Phoenix, giving her the best years of his life. 

She wasn’t the first steamer in the Cape coastal service: that honour belonged to the Hope which arrived in December 1838 under Captain Cox (Baddeley succeeded him in 1839) but was wrecked in March 1840 in fog off Cape St Francis.

The Phoenix was intended as a replacement for the Hope but struggled against fierce competition from the local schooners. Cape records track the history of her decline, the sale of the steamer by auction in 1845 and, true to her name, her subsequent rebirth under new ownership. Harrington retained command.

Perhaps he would have done well to recall that Phoenix had been an unlucky ship from the time she left the builders’ yard in May 1842 for her maiden voyage to the Cape. A contemporary account gives a clear picture of what could happen to a steamship: 
Emanuel Harrington, master, bound from Greenock to the Cape of Good Hope, put into Porto Praia, St. Jago, in great distress, having touched upon a shoal at the N. E. point of the island, on the 24th ultimo [June], at half-past ten at night. Supposed distance from land 22 or 23 miles, and lat.16° 19' north, and long. 22° 26' west. It is also supposed to be the Sunbeam Shoal, upon which the Charlotte was lost in April last year. The Phoenix, at the time of the accident, was under sail without steam, and drew eleven feet forward and twelve and a-half feet aft, and the place injured is at the after part of the keel; and there being little or no swell of the sea, these facts demonstrate that the shoal in question has more than eleven feet of water over it. The Phoenix came here from St. Jago for further repairs and a supply of coals … and now proceeds to England to make good the damage she has sustained. Had the Phoenix not been a steamer she must inevitably have been lost, as the water, before the steam was got up, nearly reached the furnaces. Some fuel, however, being thrown into the fires, quickened the action of the steam, and the pumps soon kept the vessel free.

Repairs were made and Phoenix set off again for Table Bay, arriving safely in December 1842.

However, mariners and their ships were subject to external forces other than wind and weather and shoals. Despite several years of regular coasting at the Cape and giving a boost to smaller ports such as Plettenberg Bay and Mossel Bay, progress sounded the knell of doom for the Phoenix. In 1852 a contract for carrying the mails between the Cape and Natal was given to the General Screw Steamship Company which had already captured the mail run from England to South Africa, and the Phoenix was jettisoned. So, too, was Harrington.

Memorials and other archived documents present a litany of his attempts to obtain other employment. In 1854 the people of Port Elizabeth requested that Harrington be given the position of Port Captain there; he applied for the post in 1855. Nothing was forthcoming from the Colonial Office and shortly afterwards Harrington, apparently unsuccessfully, made application for a post as Wharfmaster at Algoa Bay, then for one as Port Captain at Port Nolloth, a tiny seaport on the north-western coast of Namaqualand, Northern Cape. He was, as they say, on the beach.

The Phoenix left the Cape bound for Australia, taking with her some optimistic South Africans responding to news of the gold rush Down Under. She was wrecked in 1855 in the Torres Strait.

An Early Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Paddle Steamer, 1840s
(possibly Tweed; artist unknown; Southampton City Museums)

No comments: