Showing posts with label Union-Castle Company Immigrant Service. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Union-Castle Company Immigrant Service. Show all posts

Sunday, May 2, 2010

20th century landings at Natal

Sail and steam co-existed at Durban for many years. From the early 1880s progress gradually began to be made in deepening the harbour channel by dredging. This and other schemes for improvement, including the controversial breakwaters designed by several harbour engineers, continued through the following decade, though the bay remained inaccessible to vessels of a deep draft.

By 1904 as a result of continued dredging operations 33 million tons of sand had been shifted.

On 26 June 1904 the Armadale Castle was the first mail ship to cross the Bar and enter the harbour. She was the flagship of the Union Castle Line (Union Line and Castle Line having amalgamated in 1900) weighing in at nearly 13 000 tons and with a draft of 7,6 metres.

This historic crossing marked the end of the basket-landing era. Passengers would be able to disembark by gangplank directly from ship to shore. The arrival and departure of the mailships became glamorous and exciting events drawing crowds of sightseers: bands played, and coloured streamers were thrown by travellers on deck or by their friends who had come to ‘see them off’.

Between 1947 and 1848, in the optimistic years following World War II, the Union-Castle Company Immigrant Service brought 28 000 British immigrants to South Africa.

For family historians, the best way of tracking an ancestor who departed by ship from British ports between 1890 and the 1960s is via the passenger search facility provided by ancestorsonboard, powered by  This information stems from original Board of Trade passenger records; regrettably records prior to 1890 were destroyed.

Direct link to the search form:

The Windsor Castle would be the last mailship to make the regular call at Durban, in July 1977. When she departed, so did much of the romantic aspect of the port.

Note the original lighthouse close to the end of the Bluff: opened with much ceremony on 23 January 1867, its beacon went out for the last time on 15 October 1940 and the structure was demolished by the military in June 1941.

The Point, Durban, from the Bluff during the 1890s: note the mixture of sail and steam.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Railways and Ships

In the late 19th c a network of railways was being developed in South Africa, opening up new areas and improving communications. By 1896, the railway line between Durban and Johannesburg was completed and the following year Cape Town and Bulawayo were linked by rail.

The railways offered employment opportunities and contingents of British railway workers arrived in SA, usually bringing with them wives and families. They travelled at the expense of the Government, on ships of the Union-Castle and other lines.

It isn’t easy to trace these railway workers at their arrival point. Some passenger lists for platelayers engaged by Crown Agents for service in the Natal Government Railways, occur in registers of the European Immigration Department (EI) held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. If the railway ancestor decided to settle, and eventually died in South Africa, there may be a relevant deceased estate file. Search NAAIRS index at

Immigration to South Africa continued in the 20th c after the disruptions caused by the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). My Hamilton grandparents emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland, to South Africa in 1910, the year the Union of South Africa was declared. The Duke of Connaught travelled to SA on the Balmoral Castle to open the new Parliament.

There was a resurgence in immigration during the optimistic years following World War II. The Union Government sponsored a scheme to encourage skilled artisans, engineers and technicians from the United Kingdom to bring their families to South Africa.

As a result of this initiative, the Union-Castle Company Immigrant Service brought 28 000 British newcomers to South Africa between 1947 and 1949.

This Immigrant Service began with the departure of the Carnarvon Castle from Southampton in June 1947. The other two ‘settler ships’ were the Winchester Castle and the Arundel Castle. Accommodation for immigrants on board was austere: there hadn’t been time to reconvert the ships from their previous use as troop transports.