Tracing the departure of passengers from England can be found in various repositories such as Ancestry24 Passenger Lists, the Cape Government Gazette papers (1805 to 1900) in the Cape Town and Natal Archives. Government Gazette papers are also held at the National Library in Cape Town.
There is and was no official index or Government record for passengers travelling by sea or by air; nor was there any passport control in South Africa until the 1900′s.
Generally only first and second-class passengers were recorded. Only initials and surnames were used most of the time. The rest of the passengers were not listed. Only the number of passengers would then be given. Passenger lists were published in both daily local newspapers in the town in which the people either arrived or departed, or in the local Government Gazette.
Cape Town has generally been considered as the initial major port of entry for South Africa. Years later Durban, Port Nolloth, Port Elizabeth and East London became more popular.
The National Library in Cape Town also holds passenger lists which were printed in daily newspapers under the shipping intelligence section.
Newspaper shipping columns are by far the most accessible but it is a long and tedious task. If you are not sure what ship someone arrived on during a particular then more than up to 52 newspapers of the Cape Times will need to be searched.
Most of the original shipping registers are non existent thus the newspaper records are inaccurate and incomplete.
Passengers in steerage or “economy class” are not listed and those that are no initials are given to classify any person.
However these passenger lists are guidelines and cannot be assumed as 100% correct. On many instances only initials and surnames are given, sometimes only surnames are given and titles and children were sometimes listed as “and 2 children” or “governess and baby boy” or simply 200 passengers and no names at all are mentioned. Many times surnames and names are miss spelt, passengers also sometimes never embarked or their ticket was used by someone else and the names were not changed or they used a pseudonym name to escape some form of family or criminal predicament. On occasions where Saloon passengers where listed the rest of passengers would be a simple number.
Generally first and sometimes second class passengers are mentioned, but steerage passengers and the so called “economy calls” which were the majority on board – were seldom listed. Military regiments travelling by sea were usually listed as the regiments with its principal commanding officer only being named.
When unassisted or private individuals are listed generally only surnames appear unless they had a title such as doctor, Sir, Lady etc. Single women or unaccompanied people were listed either as Miss, Mrs. or Messrs. This does complicate researching when looking for the run of the mill surnames. Children too were treated as subordinates and where not mentioned and just listed as “and 4 children” or “master Wood”.
Records to be searched at the Cape Archives are the Registers of Arrivals and Departures of Ships, Algoa Bay 1846-1901 which are held under Reference CC which means the Archives of the Secretary, Cape Town Chamber of Commerce. These registers however give the captain’s name and sometimes the first class passengers only. Another good source is the Public Works Department PWD Volume 2/401 which holds passenger lists for 1872-1884.
There are also Registers of Applications for Aided Immigration 1882-1902 under the Public Words Department PWD Volumes 2/408 to 2/410 and Application Forms Received for Aided Immigration for the years 1875-1889 are in PWD Volumes 2/402-2/404.
In London at the Public Records Office in Kew, the reference BT 27 is the one to search for outbound passengers of 1890 to 1960. This documentation supplies the names of persons sailing from English harbours with the final destination being outside of Europe and the Mediterranean . To use these records the researcher must have some knowledge or approximate date of departure and the port to have any reasonable hope of finding a passenger’s name. The BT 32 Registers of Passenger Lists date from 1906 onwards.
Whilst prearranged immigrant schemes such as the 1820 Settlers and others are well-known these passenger lists are inconsistent and full of errors.
Around the time of the 1881 census was the tail end of the 2nd Industrial Revolution these were some of the aspects which changed peoples lives and made them immigrate.
1. the growth of cities and other population shifts
2. working conditions for men, women or children
3. changing role of women
4. impact of inventions on life
5. living conditions in the cities and in the countryside
6. health and sanitation
9. income and wealth accumulation
10. role of labour unions
11. changes in family life
Bearing in mind the largest number of people immigrated to South Africa ever at one time was between 1856 and 1873 when tens of thousands of immigrants came from England. Most of them came to work on the expanding harbours and extensive railways systems.
From 1870 onwards emigration to the colony peaked following the discovery of gold and diamonds.
By 1870 virtually all emigrants went by steamship. Competition between the steamship companies helped, to some extent, to improve conditions for the emigrants. From about 1900 third class cabins began to replace the steerage accommodation. Accommodation was still basic, but it was a considerable improvement.
Between 1830 and 1930 over nine million emigrants sailed from Liverpool bound for a new life in the New World of the United States, Canada and Australia and South Africa. For much of this period Liverpool was by far the most important port of departure for emigrants from Europe largely because by 1830, she already had well established trans-Atlantic links essentially in the import of cotton and timber. Liverpool was also well placed to receive the many emigrants from the countries of North Western Europe. Irish emigrants first crossed to Liverpool by steamship, while Scandinavians and Russians/Poles crossed the North Sea to Hull and travelled to Liverpool by train. Liverpool’s share of the emigrant trade began to decline from the late nineteenth century as emigrants increasingly came from the countries of southern and eastern Europe. Some passed through Liverpool, but more sailed from the nearer German and Italian ports.
There were three main motives for emigration. Some of the emigrants were fleeing from the hardships of poverty and unemployment; this was particularly applicable to the 1,250,000 Irish who emigrated between 1845 and 1851 as a result of the potato famine. For Russian and Polish Jews, emigration was a way of escaping from political and religious persecution. Other emigrants were not suffering the hardships of poverty or the terror of persecution, but were attracted by the possibility of a higher standard of living.
Most emigrants usually spent between one and ten days waiting for their ship in a Liverpool lodging house. In the mid-nineteenth century emigrants passing through Liverpool were liable to harassment and fraud by local confidence tricksters, who became known as ‘runners’. Runners frequently snatched the emigrants’ luggage and would only return it if the emigrant paid a large fee. In the late 1840′s and 1850′s, lodging houses were often inhospitable, dirty and overcrowded.
Until the early 1860′s most emigrants left Liverpool on a sailing ship, and the voyage to Australia would take about 3- 4 months. Most emigrants travelled in the cheapest class of accommodation, known as the steerage. This was similar to a dormitory with bunks down the sides and tables in the centre. It was frequently overcrowded with poor ventilation. Emigrating in a sailing ship could be unpleasant, particularly during a storm; it was only better in degree in the early days of steamships! Diseases such as cholera and typhus frequently reached epidemic proportion as infection spread through the confined decks. Scores of emigrants died on this account.
The 1855 Passenger Act helped to improve conditions, laying down minimum standards for rations, space and sanitation. From the 1860′s the situation began to improve as steam started to replace sail, and the steamship companies started to look after emigrants during their stay in Liverpool, with their representatives meeting the emigrants on arrival in Liverpool.
The emigrants were taken to lodging houses which were frequently owned by the steamship companies, but delays still occurred and there continued to be complaints about treatment in Liverpool even in the early 20th century.
No permission, passport or application form was necessary in order to emigrate from Great Britain or Ireland in the 19th century. Only when financial assistance, from or via the government, was required, did forms of application have to be completed.
The Jewish links to South Africa are said to have originated with the Portuguese voyages of exploration around the Cape in 1452. Jews were involved in these early voyages as mapmakers, navigators and sailors.
In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck led the first permanent settlement of Dutch colonists under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company. With his group were Samuel Jacobson and David Hijlbron, the earliest recorded Jews.
The Dutch East India Company controlled the Cape from 1652 – 1795 and only permitted Protestant Christians to reside at the Cape despite the significant number of Jewish shareholders in the company. Due to this, Jacobson and Hijlbron were baptized Christians on December 25, 1669, with records of these baptisms found in the registers of the Dutch Reformed Church. This was in contrast to the Dutch West India Company, which sent two hundred Jews to colonize Brazil in 1642.
Colorful characters such as the soldier Isaac Moses, known as “old Moses the Moneychanger” and Joseph Suasso de Lima of Amsterdam, who started the first Dutch newspaper in SA, arrived. Nathaniel Isaacs, an early explorer of Natal who befriended the famous Zulu chief, Chaka, was a Jew. Early British families include De Pass, who played a major part in the establishment of the shipping, sugar and fishing industries. Saul Solomon founded the English press in Cape Town.
Increased religious freedom, permitted under the short lived Batavian Republic in 1803, continued after the British took control in 1806. In 1820, the British government gave assisted passage and land grants to people willing to settle in the wilds of the Cape Colony. The first group of settlers was known as the 1820 settlers. Early British Jewish immigration occurred with about sixteen Jews arriving amongst the 1820 Settlers. This included the Norden and Norton families who played a significant role in the early development of the Cape Colony. In the 1860′s, other European Jews started to arrive from Germany and Holland.
By 1880, there were about 4,000 Jews in South Africa. It is estimated that more than half of these were brought out from Hesse-Cassel, Germany, by the Mosenthal family, who developed extensive trading operations in the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State and Natal.
From 1880, Jewish immigration increased rapidly. The pogroms (1881-1884) and other catastrophes – droughts, floods, deportation and fires, particularly in Kovno Gubernia, the Russian province with Kovno ( Kaunas now) were major factors in the emigration. The choice of South Africa was determined by special circumstances and not, on the whole by the attractions it offered to the general run of settlers who were not refugees. There was strong potential for success – in particular with the discovery of the diamond fields in Kimberley in 1869 and the goldfields in the Transvaal in 1886.
Sammy Marks, from Neustadt, Suwalki Gubernia (province), is regarded as the pioneer of Lithuanian emigration – he became a friend of President Paul Kruger and was highly successful as an industrialist. Barney Barnato, London born, was a partner of Cecil John Rhodes in the formation of the De Beers Diamond Company (later control passing to the German Jewish family of Ernest Oppenheimer with the assistance of the Rothschilds).
Over 47,000 Jews were enumerated in the first nationwide census of 1911. Most of these were Lithuanian (Litvaks) from the then provinces of Kovno, Vilna (Lithuania), Courland (Latvia), Northern Suwalki (East Prussia and later Poland) and Minsk, Grodno, Vitebsk, Mogilev (Belarus).
As an undeveloped country, South Africa offered opportunities to early immigrants that were far better than anything they could have had in Eastern Europe. The travelling hawker or “smous” became an institution in the remote rural areas. Many settled in small towns as shopkeepers and tradesmen. A number of very efficient entrepreneurial farmers were founders of the wool industry, ostrich feather industry and the citrus industry.
The distinctive characteristics of this community as compared to other new world communities are:
The predominance of Litvaks (Jews from Lithuania, Latvia and portions of Belarus), hence the unusually homogenous composition of the community.
The very strong influence of Zionism in the South African community.
The amalgam of Anglo-Jewish form and Lithuanian spirit which characterizes the institutions, both lay and religious of the community. The Jewish day school movement is a powerful educational presence and its pupils consistently get excellent scholastic results.
The distinctive situation where Jews had formed part of a privileged minority dominating a multiracial society. This has also led to Jews becoming prominent in the anti-apartheid and liberation movements.
In the past 30 years, there has been a large emigration of Jews to the USA, Canada, Australia, Britain and Israel. Political and economic change has led to an influx of Zimbaweans, Israelis and Russian Jews.
At various times attempts were made to limit the influx of Jews, e.g., in 1903, by excludion on the grounds that Yiddish was not a European language. This was successfully countered in the Cape Legislative Assembly.
Jewish immigrants came by ship with the major port of entry being at Cape Town (a small number entered at Port Elizabeth and Durban). The major waves of migration occurred from 1895 onwards. Shipping agents, Knie and Co. and Spiro and Co., had subagents in shtetls (small towns) who accepted bookings for passage to South Africa.
Embarking initially at the port of Libau (Latvia), a good proportion of the Jews were transported on small cargo boats under rudimentary conditions to England. A much smaller number passed through Hamburg or Bremen.
Upon arriving in England, many came first to Grimsby or London and were taken to the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter (PJTS) in Leman Street in the East End of London.
The Shelter inmates received assistance in the form of board, lodging, medical treatment and travel advice was given by the Shelter. In one year alone, from November, 1902, 3,600 out of 4,500 Shelter inmates went on the Union Castle Line to the Cape. In 1902, the fare was £10.10.0 (ten guineas) – more than the fare to America (For a more detailed discussion of these and shipping records see the article by Prof A Newman SHEMOT Vol. 1:3 1993).
Ships’ Passenger Lists at the Public Records Office, Kew, London, are stored under reference BT 26 Passenger Lists, Inwards, 1878-1888 and 1890-1960, these lists give the names of all passengers arriving in the United Kingdom where the ship’s voyage began at a port outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.
Names of passengers who boarded these ships at European ports and disembarked in the UK are included in the lists. Passenger lists for ships whose voyages both began and ended within Europe (including the UK and the Mediterranean Sea ) are not included.
BT 27 Passenger Lists, Outwards, 1890-1960, give the names of all passengers leaving the UK where the ship’s eventual destination was a port outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Passenger lists for ships whose voyages both began and ended within Europe (including the UK and the Mediterranean Sea ) are not included.
The Cape Town Archives also houses immigration records of Jewish people which are held in the CCP collections.
The Johannesburg Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha). The majority of Jews have been buried in large cities. Johannesburg probably accounts for over 75% of all burials. The earliest record is that of Albert Rosetenstein in May 1887. Burials commenced in 1887 for Braamfontein cemetery, Brixton in 1914 and West Park in 1942).
Specific information about individuals or communities may often be obtained from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
Synagogues and communal records include:
Marriages: Marriage authorization certificates and copy Ketubot marriage certificates) and ‘Gets’ (religious divorce)
Orthodox : The Office of the Chief Rabbi can give copies of marriage and divorce certificates. (United Hebrew Congregation). The vast majority of Jews in South Africa are Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazim. These are Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities of the Rhineland. Many later migrated, largely eastward, forming communities in Germany, Poland, Austria, Eastern Europe and elsewhere between the 10th and 19th centuries. There is also a strong Lubavich (Chabad branch of Hasidic Judaism founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi ) movement and smaller Sephardi (Sephardim are those Jews associated with the Iberian peninsula and whose traditional language is Ladino.The name comes from Sepharad, a Biblical location that may have been Sardes, but identified by later Jews as the Iberian Peninsula (and southern France). In the vernacular of modern-day Israel , Sephardi has also come to be used as an umbrella term for any Jewish person who is not Ashkenaz) and Masorti congregations. There are 48 Orthodox Religious groups listed in Johannesburg.
Reform communities keep separate records (United Progressive Jewish Congregation of Johannesburg). Many Jews remain with a strong identity but outside the religious net. Intermarriage is very common, but emigration is the main limiting factor to population growth. (Reform Judaism affirms the central tenets of Judaism – God, Torah and Israel – even as it acknowledges the diversity of Reform Jewish beliefs and practices. All human beings are created in the image of God, and that we are God’s partners in improving the world. Tikkun olam – repairing the world – is a hallmark of Reform Judaism as we strive to bring peace, freedom, and justice to all people).
The Southern Africa SIG (special interest group) was founded in 1998.The SIG publishes a quarterly newsletter. General information about the SA Community and genealogical research is on
The SA-SIG has an electronic discussion group with a free subscription on JewishGen WebForm Centre for Jewish Migration & Genealogy Studies
Our intention is to create a comprehensive database of records and information relating to Jewish immigration to South Africa.
The thinking behind the inception of the Jewish Migration and Genealogy Project is twofold:
to map the entire history of Jewish migration to South Africa with the aim of providing authoritative and definitive data for the Discovery Centre at the South African Jewish Museum (SAJM).
To integrate the genealogical data in multi-disciplinary research initiatives under the auspices of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre at the University of Cape Town.
The primary aim of the project is to research the estimated 15,000 core families who migrated to Southern Africa between 1850-1950 from England, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus.
In broad terms, the research will focus on the locations where the families originated, patterns of migration to South Africa, where families first settled, communities they established, growth of families, and subsequent movements and emigration. As such, aspects such as passenger arrival lists, naturalization lists, community records, records of marriages, births and deaths, family trees, etc., will be looked at.
The centre is under the umbrella of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and will also have a public access section located at the South African Jewish Museum.
South African Jewish Rootsweb
South African Jewish Museum South Africa Jewish History Virtual Tour
S. A. Special Interest Group for Jewish Genealogy
Jewishgen – Jewish genealogy main site
Witbank Jewish Genealogy site
Jewish South Africa – the South African Jewish community on the Web. Beyachad South Africa Board of Deputies
African Jewish Congress
Telfed – the website for the Southern African Jewish Community in Israel
Notable Personalities, Civic affairs, charities:
Dr Henry Gluckman
Sir Raymond Hoffenberg Philip V. Tobias
Sir Anthony Sher
Commerce and Industry
Esreal Lazarus – potato king
Motion Pictures- Schlezinger
Sir Mark Wienberg
Acknowledgements and Source: Saul Isroff
Search our online database of Indian immigrants to South Africa. The Indian Shipping Lists, complete in 91 volumes, provide extensive data relating to Indian indentured immigrants to South Africa.
* Colonial Number
* Places of origin, namely Zillah, Thanna (or Taluk), and Village
* Arrival Date
* Name of Ship
* Return to India List
A final column in the registers provides identifying information on caste marks, scars, moles and warts. This has not been included. Instead Remarks columns have been added providing information obtained from the Report of the Protector of Indians on unnatural deaths, suicides and accidents, and from the Estates Registers, the names of employers and transfers from one estate to another.
Eligibility Criteria: A foreign national, who was eligible to become a citizen of India on 26.1.1950 or was a citizen of India on or at anytime after 26.1.1950 or belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15.8.1947 and his/her children and grand children, provided his/her country of citizenship allows dual citizenship in some form or other under the local laws, is eligible for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India(OCI). Minor children of such persons are also eligible for OCI. PIO card holders and those eligible to become PIO may also apply for OCI. Persons wanting to apply for Indian Citizenship can apply via the High Commission of India to South Africa.
The amount of information and the large number of entries makes the Shipping Registers, with their complementary Estates Registers, an important tool for researchers. Economic historians, sociologists or anthropologists interested in caste and occupation would find plenty to work on. A considerable number of different caste names have been used in the Ships' Lists, many of which do not appear in the modern caste lists. The spelling has been compared with the caste names in the Census of British India for 1883 and corrected where necessary but there is a great deal of work to be done by an expert in classifying and correlating them with modern lists.
The valuable part played by Indian workers in the economy can be assessed and analysed while a list of employers of indentured labour reveals just how many white and Indian companies and domestic households relied on Indian labour; this extensive list of employers and their agents is in the process of compilation as at July 2003. The physical height of each Indian immigrant, originally provided in feet and inches, has already been used in a study of height in relation to nutrition and caste. `Push and pull' factors in the decision of individuals and groups to emigrate from India, the significance of famine and hardship, and the apparently unreasonable demands of the Zamindars are all aspects of emigration waiting to be examined.
At one time it was only academics that showed any interest in the Shipping lists and related documents. That has changed in the last few years and now there is a steady stream of interested people asking to see these documents. One reason for this new interest is the opportunity for people of Indian descent to visit India and trace the village that their forefathers came from.
There is now a flourishing trade between South Africa and India and many more people have reason to travel to South Asia. Another reason is that once having traced in the Ships' Lists the grandparents or parents who came to Natal, individuals can obtain a written statement from the Archivist, giving full details of the person, the ship and the date of arrival. With this the representative of the Indian Government in South Africa will provide a certificate for Persons of Indian Origin which has advantages for those visiting India regularly.
Others, with no intention of visiting India, are now interested in their ancestors, where they came from and the details that all genealogists like to know.
Looking for more information on the arrival of Indian Passenger? Read this article
The British population of Natal during 1820-1857 was largely made up of the Immigrants from the Cape (including 1820 Settlers and their descendants). From 1824 Cape colonists had filtered into Natal for purposes of trade and/or settlement. A significant boost to their numbers occurred after Natal had been annexed to the Cape in 1845 and a civil service of almost entirely Cape men was structured for the new District.
Also in the mid-forties a small number of Cape colonists trekked to Natal from Buntingville in Pondoland. These, former residents of Butterworth, had abandoned their homes as a result of disturbances during the Seventh Frontier War. They came in two parties, in 1846 and 1847, the latter group being led by James Calverley.
Soldiers discharged from British regiments serving in South Africa The greatest number of these had served in the 45th Regiment, which was stationed in Natal from 1843 to 1859. Among other regiments whose members settled in Natal were the 27th (it was two companies of the 27th that marched to Natal with Capt. T.C. Smith in 1842), the 72nd, the 75th, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. A sprinkling of Royal Naval men also came to the Immigrants from Britain and Ireland.
Most of these settlers arrived between 1849 and 1851. Some emigrated independently, but many came under the aegis of one or other emigration scheme. Before detailing the various groups it is necessary to sound a note of caution with regard to the occupations of the emigrants as they appear on the passenger lists. For an emigration promoter to receive a drawback on his deposits with Her Majesty’s Land and Emigration Commissioners, each emigrant despatched had to be approved by the Commissioners, and then a certificate issued by the Natal Government attesting to the emigrant’s good treatment on the voyage and his location on his allotment had to be obtained. The Emigration Commissioners stipulated for Natal that the approved occupations were those of labourer, mechanic, tradesman, farmer, or persons of small capital. To meet these requirements many an emigrant’s calling was falsified on his emigration certificate. The emigrants ex Haidee were an exception. By and large they were what their emigration certificates stated – tradesmen, small farmers or firm labourers.
Natal Cotton Company
Among the earliest group of British immigrants to Natal were the 26 settlers imported by this Cape Town based company which had been allotted 22 750 acres on the Umhloti river. In lieu of part of the purchase price the company had undertaken to introduce immigrants to grow cotton, construct roads and buildings and generally develop their land. In 1848 the company arranged with the Cape immigration authorities to take over certain government immigrants to the Cape ex Duke of Roxburgh, and divert them to Natal. The Company was unable to carry out its undertakings and the land reverted to the Crown.
J.C. Byrne Co’s Natal Emigration and Colinization Company
This company handled the greatest number of immigrants. John Swales Moreland was the agent in the Colony. Areas where the settlers were located included Plessis Laager, Little Bushman’s River, New England and the farms Slang Spruit and Vaalkop and Dadelfontein, all in the vicinity of Pietermaritzburg, land on the Umhloti (viz. the land previously allotted to the now defunct Natal Cotton Co. and commonly known as the Cotton Lands), land on the Tongaat and Umhlanga rivers, and land on the river Illovo (including the estates Dunbar, Beaulieu, Harmony and Little Harmony). Villages laid out on these locations included Thornville to serve the Vaalkop and Dadelfontein settlers, Verulam, Mount Moreland and New Glasgow on the Cotton Lands, Byrne for the allotments near the sources of the Illovo including Dunbar, and Richmond as a centre for Beaulieu, Harmony and Little Harmony. Two of Byrne’s ships, the Ina and the Conquering Hero sailed from Glasgow and Scotsmen were in the majority amongst the passengers. The Unicorn ex Liverpool also carried a number of Scottish people.
The Christian Emigration and Colonization Society
This was a co-operative scheme initiated by William Josiah Irons, and was at first under the patronage of the Earl of Verulam. About 400 settlers came to the Colony under this Wesleyan-orientated society. The bulk of these were shipped and provided with land under arrangement with Byrne & Co. They were located as a group on the Cotton Lands. ‘Verulam’ had been chosen by Irons as the name for the centre of population for his settlers, and the site for Verulam was chosen by a committee of these settlers in March 1850.
Another group to come out under arrangement with Byrne & Co. was some of the tenantry of the Duke of Buccleuch’s Hampshire estate, Beaulieu. They joined the Lady Bruce at Portsmouth and were settled near Richmond on the Beaulieu estate.
Richard Merchant Hackett
Hackett, a London Ship owner, advertised a scheme offering better terms than Byrne & Co., viz 30 acres for a £10 deposit, instead of Byrne’s 20 acres. This scheme also aimed at attracting Wesleyans. These settlers came out on the Hebrides and were located on lots near the Karkloof river, viz. 67, 68, 69 and 75. Hackett’s agent in England was Thomas Bond who himself took passage on the Hebrides, while Henry Milner was his Natal agent. (Edwin Griffiths later acted with power of substitution granted by Milner.) Hackett afterwards joined with John Lidgett in despatching emigrants on the Nile, Choice and John Bright.
Another London shipowner and a prominent Wesleyan, Lidgett offered terms similar to those of Byrne & Co. Here again Wesleyans were to the fore. The first ship despatched was the Herald. Thereafter he co-operated with Hackett, sending further shiploads on the Nile, Choice and John Bright The Natal agents were at various times, J.E. Methley, Robert Anderson, then James Archbell and Richard Lawton. By Oct. 1853 Edwin Parkinson had the agency. These settlers were located on the farm Riet Vallei, the name given their village being Lidgettown (now Lidgetton). The nearby lots 70, 71 and 72 (3 281 acres) were also purchased by Lidgett.
The Haidee Settlers
Many Yorkshire-men came to Natal in these years. One scheme that catered for them exclusively was the Wesleyan-orientated co-operative scheme conceived by Henry Boast. The committee assisting him consisted of Samuel Cordukes, Robert Smith (c. 1804-1881), Richard Brough, Joseph Smith, William Lund and James Tutin. The latter two preceded the main party on the Herald in order to find suitable land.
Benjamin Lofthouse was also involved, he travelled around Yorkshire interviewing would-be settlers. The ship chartered, the Pallas, was declared un-seaworthy by the Emigration Commissioners on the eve of sailing with the result that the emigrants were detained at Hull pending the fitting out of another vessel, the Haidee. On some of the emigrants applying to the courts for redress it was found that Boast and not the shipowner, Joseph Rylands, was technically liable for paying them subsistence money. The strain of these difficulties resulted in Henry Boast succumbing to ‘brain fever’ before the Haidee sailed. His widow Mary kept the party together and they finally sailed in July 1850. Lund purchased the farm Mielie Hoogte about 20 miles from Pietermaritzburg for the immigrants. York was the name given to the village laid out for them.
The Murdoch / Morewood Settlers
George Pavitt Murdoch, a clerk in the employ of Byrne & Co.’s solicitors, and Capt. Richard Wilson Pelly, R.N., modelled their Natal Company’s scheme on that of Byrne, but offered 10 acres per child instead of five. The first batch of 95 immigrants arrived on the Ballengeich, and more followed on the Justina. E. Morewood was the agent in Natal and also apparently supplied some capital. These settlers were located on Lots 69 to 71 on the coast between the Tongaat and Umhlali rivers.
The Garrod / Johnston Settlers
Dr Charles Johnston and William Garrod gathered a small party which came out on the John Gibson. Garrod acquired land on the Tongaat river, viz. Lot 86 (508 acres).
Young Zulus in dancing costume by G.F. Angas “The Kaffirs Illustrated – 1849″
The McCorkindale Settlers
In April 1856 another sizable party arrived on the Portia. This group, nearly 80 strong, was collected by Alexander McCorkindale who in the sixties was to form a company to introduce immigrants into the Eastern Transvaal (New Scotland on the border of the Swazi country). Included in this party were members of both his and his wife’s families, and 22 young boys from reformatories who has been apprenticed to him. These settlers were located on the Sinkwazi river near the Zululand border. The intention was for them to grow cotton.
Colenso’s Mission Party
Another cohesive group were the passengers of the Jane Morice, which arrived in May 1855. Bishop Colenso had chartered this vessel to bring his missionary party to Natal, so few of those on board were immigrants as such, although a number were to end their days in the Colony. Besides the mission party there were also some of Colenso’s friends, and a few ex-parishioners on board.
Immigrants from Mauritius.
During the period under study there was a limited immigration from this island. A. Drummond, George Williamson (1800-1881) and famiIy, the Rathbones and the Shires were among those of British stock to reach Natal in this way. J. R. Saunders had also lived in Mauritius.
The Mauritius element, both French and English, with its experience in sugar cultivation and manufacture, gave an important fillip to this Natal industry, then in its infancy.
Natal suffered a set-back starting in 1852 when the newly-discovered Australian goldfields drew off a number of her colonists. Four ships sailed direct for Melbourne, viz. the Hannah and the Sarah Bell in 1852, the Wee Tottie in 1853 and the Golden Age in 1854. In addition many others sailed for Australia via Mauritius or the Cape. Some had no intention of returning, but others had, leaving their families in Natal. Throughout the rest of the 1850s there was a trickle returning from the Antipodes. This was not confined to those whose families had remained in the Colony.
For more information about these settlers check http://www.shelaghspencer.org
Article by: Shelagh O’Byrne Spencer
Excerpted from the book, The Story of the Settlement: Grahamstown As It Was, Grahamstown As It Is, by T. Sheffield, Published by T. and G. Sheffield, Printers and Publishers, High Street, 1884.
Chapter IX – Arrival and Landing of the British Settlers
FRUITFUL of events as were the first fifteen years of the present century here in South Africa, in Europe they were much more so. Bonaparte and his French armies had given battle to every nation in Europe, and had succeeded in overpowering each in succession. By the might of his great genius, and by the bravery of his devoted soldiers, he had brought every European country, with one or two exceptions, into subjection to himself. But, not content with having Europe as his battle-field, he had invaded our own continent, and marched his armies, though defeated at the Pyramids by Abercrombie, into lands famous in Holy writ. Practically alone and unaided, it remained for England to break the spell of his brilliant career. In Egypt, in Palestine, in the heart of Europe, in Spain, and lastly on the field of Waterloo his armed hosts were met and defeated; in every sea his fleets were sunk or captured; and, finally, the great and brilliant man himself had to submit a prisoner of war to England.
Peace at last prevailed. But the reaction from the exciting times of war to the quiet of industrial life, and the cessation of that lavish expenditure of money which the prosecution of such a war involved, led to dire distress. Many thousands of men were thrown out of employment, and the distress among the lower and middle classes of the United Kingdom was most intense. Outlets for the superabundant population had to be sought for, and attention being called to the Cape of Good Hope as a suitable field for emigrants, the House of Commons, on 12th July, 1819, on the motion of Mr. Vansittart, then Chancellor of the Exchequer (afterwards Lord Bexley), it was decided to expend £50,000 in sending out to the Eastern Districts of the Colony some 4,000 souls. The scheme was heartily taken up, and, on applications being invited, no less than 90,000 were sent in! Out of this great number about 4,000 were selected, and in due time embarked from England in twenty-six emigrant ships. The following list of vessels, the names of their commanders, and the dates of their arrival in Table Bay or Simon’s Bay will perhaps be of interest:
|Ships Name||Commander||Place of Arrival||Date of Arrival|
|Nautilus||Walton||Table Bay||17th March, 1820|
|Chapman||Millbank||Table Bay||17th March, 1820|
|Garland||Brown||Table Bay||22nd March, 1820|
|Northampton||Charlton||Table Bay||26th March, 1820|
|Hennersley Castle||Pinckney||Table Bay||29th March, 1820|
|Ocean||Davis||Table Bay||29th March, 1820|
|Amphitrite||Martin||Table Bay||29th March, 1820|
|John||Pearson||Table Bay||19th April, 1820|
|Stentor||Harris||Table Bay||19th April, 1820|
|Weymouth||Turner||Table Bay||26th April, 1820|
|Canada||Annan||Table Bay||26th April, 1820|
|Brilliant||Bothwell||Simon’s Bay||30th April, 1820|
|Zoroaster||Thompson||Simon’s Bay||30th April, 1820|
|East Indian||Hogg||Simon’s Bay||30th April, 1820|
|Fanny||Sadler||Simon’s Bay||1st May, 1820|
|Albury||Cunningham||Simon’s Bay||1st June, 1820|
|Aurora||Pearson||Simon’s Bay||1st June, 1820|
|La Belle Alliance||Rolfe||Table Bay||2nd June, 1820|
|Medusa||Hutchinson||Simon’s Bay||17th June, 1820|
|Duke of Marlboro||Jeffrey||Table Bay||18th June, 1820|
|Sir Geo. Osborne||Taplin||Simon’s Bay||18th June, 1820|
|Cumbrian||Brownrigg||Table Bay||10th Aug., 1820|
|Skelton||Dixon||Table Bay||20th Sept., 1820|
|Dowson||Jameson||Table Bay||15th Oct., 1820|
|Westmoreland||Polton||Table Bay||7th March, 1821|
|Waterloo||Lyon||Table Bay||24th May, 1821|
Although the number of the British Settlers who came out by these vessels is roundly stated as 4,000, there were not quite so many in reality. There were 1,020 men, 607 women, and 2,032 children, the total being thus 3,659 souls.
It is not our purpose to follow the course of each of the above twenty-six vessels on their voyage out, or to attempt to recount the varied board-ship experiences on the wide Atlantic of the motley throng who had left home and fatherland for good and for aye, “for better or for worse,” to make a new home for themselves, and perhaps to found a nation of sturdy Anglo-Saxons in this Southern land. The voyage was a far different one to that of emigrants by steam ships in these times. The salt “junk” was tougher and the sea-biscuits much harder fare than is provided now-a-days for Government emigrants. But the Settlers were coming out to rough it, and doubtless they had made up their minds to do so from the very first. Many pleasant reminiscences of that voyage out could be told by some of the voyageurs; but they are not here to tell them. Few remain among us, and those who live are too feeble to trouble much about past reminiscences, – they await the end of their pilgrimage in calm hope for the future. Only one of these twenty-six vessels met with any kind of casualty worthy of record as one. That vessel was the Ocean, on board of which was the Howard party. She called at Porto Praya, one of the Cape de Verd Islands, and while lying at her anchorage there, in the dead of the night, her passengers were rudely awakened from their repose by the loud booming of a cannon, and by the tearing through the rigging of a cannon ball from one of the batteries.
The excitement consequent upon this act of hostility towards the ship, lying as she was in a friendly port, was, as may be imagined, very considerable; but while the affrighted emigrants were conjecturing as to the cause of it, a second discharge followed, the ball this time striking the ship with such force that it was feared the masts would go by the board. The excitement and consternation were intense. But yet another ball was sent hissing towards the apparently doomed vessel, this time falling short, and diving into the sea with a noise resembling the plunge of a red-hot shot. The shot which had struck the vessel was a nine-pounder, and entered the storeroom only three feet below the floor of Mr. Howard’s cabin. A hostile schooner, it was afterwards explained, had visited and fired upon the port a few weeks previously. A schooner similarly rigged had entered the harbour with the Ocean, and sentinels at the batteries were ordered to keep close watch on her. A boat, it was thought from this schooner, was seen approaching the shore, and fearing hostile intentions, the shots which had so nearly wrecked the Ocean had been fired at it, with the result stated.
All the vessels arrived at their destination in due time, the Chapman and the Nautilus reaching Table Bay simultaneously, and subsequently in Algoa Bay on the same day, viz., on the 9th April, 1820. The landing took place on the 10th April, the first of the British Settlers to set foot upon the land of their adoption being Mr. W. T. Collen, who leaped ashore from the first boatload of Settlers to have the honour of being first to land. He lived until the 21st September, 1883, when he died in Grahamstown at the ripe old age of 82 years.
As a memento of the Settlers’ Jubilee held in Grahamstown in 1870, Mr. A. Wilmot published a poem, in commemoration of the landing of the Settlers in 1820, which we have been permitted to make use of. It will be found in an Appendix. It is a worthy tribute to the brave men and women the “story” of whose career in South Africa we are about to enter upon. It tells us in elegant rhyme of their departure from home and from fatherland; of their eventful voyagings hither; of gallant struggles of no ordinary kind; of battles fought and of battles bravely won; of ravaged farms and desolated homesteads; of horrid massacres and gallant deeds in defence of all that to man is most dear; of victories over barbarous enemies and of triumphs over cruel fate; of energy and perseverance without parallel, perhaps; and of the eventual establishment of a prosperous Settlement. It is a record of the doings of brave men and noble women which deserves a place in a more worthy “Story of the Settlement” than this can pretend to be, and we therefore feel honoured in being permitted to re-publish it.
In the early nineteenth century nursing all over the world was considered no better work than that of a servant. The nurses scrubbed floors, washed walls and cleaned toilets, assuming the hospital was modem enough to have toilets. Nurses were not trained. They were usually from the bottom rung of society, poor uneducated women, no better than their sisters who walked the streets. In 1859 the matron of the famous Guy's Hospital in London recorded that in one ward she dismissed three out of four nurses and in another ward one was so drunk she was unable to perform her duties.' Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) changed all this during the Crimean War, when she organised the nursing of the soldiers with such care, love and devotion to duty that they called her "THE LADY WITH THE LAMP". She would, for the rest of her life, throw light on the subject of how to nurse; of how to relieve the sufferings of the sick. No longer were nurses recruited from the ranks of the lowly, but from the middle class of society. Nursing became fashionable and many women gave up the idea of marriage to offer their services to such a worthy cause. More and more trained nurses reached the shores of the Cape Colony and helped with the training of the local women. One such group was the Anglican Sisterhood which arrived in South Africa in 1891."]
Today South Africa can be proud of a nursing profession of the highest order, which could not have been attained were it not for first-class training and responsible young women.
Miss Robinson, a Robben Island matron in charge of lunatics, was so well thought of that the authorities in Bloemfontein, with permission from the Cape Government, asked her, instead of a doctor, to re-organise the lunatic asylum there. It is fitting to reproduce the letter she received when the job was done:
Bloemfontein, 26th May, 1894.
During the early part of this century the nurses on Robben Island trained on duty, either under the direct supervision of the Medical Superintendent or a skilled matron. A leper colony and lunatic asylum held very little attraction for a young blossoming girl. A very special breed of young woman was required; one who had pluck, determination and was not a mere creature of routine practice. She had to play many roles including those of mother, daughter, diplomat and above all an ever smiling young nurse. These combinations were rare, but Lily Ellen Webber was such a girl.
Lily was 17 years old when she left her parents' home in the Channel Islands and boarded the S.S. Gorka bound for Cape Town. She was suffering from a chest ailment and the family doctor suggested to her parents that she be sent to a warmer climate. South Africa was the ideal place. Lily's mother's sister was married to a Government employee on Robben Island and she would not be alone in a strange country.
During the last night of their 25th day at sea a fellow passenger pointed out to Lily Table Mountain which loomed on the horizon. The sight of the Mountain captured the imagination of all the passengers, as it always does, for it meant that they would soon reach "the fairest Cape in all the world". Lily and the other passengers returned to their cabins after the sun had set to complete their packing for in the morning they would anchor in Table Bay. Lily was too excited for sound sleep that night and rose with the dawn when the ship had stopped. Like an eager child reaching for a gift, she jumped to the port-hole to greet the day but when she looked out, all that greeted her was a grey mist, with rain and more rain and it flashed through her mind that with no mountain and no sunshine at journey's end, was this the sunny South Africa she had heard and read so much about? When she finally reached the deck the rain had not abated and the other passengers had already begun to disembark. She patiently waited her turn to enter the basket which would lower her to the waiting tug which would take them to the shore. On the mainland Lily met her uncle and aunt who had come especially from Robben Island in a hired launch to welcome her. Temporarily the rain and mud were forgotten, but soon they made their uncomfortable presence more apparent. Lily's trunk hoisted ashore from the tug, came down with such a thump that the pressure of the luggage on top of it forced the trunk to burst open, scattering all her worldly possessions in the mud and slush. Frantically the customs officers helped to collect all her goods. They replaced them in the damaged trunk and passed her on without further examination. Lily bit her lip. It was too early for her to cry, she had just arrived. What would her aunt and uncle think of her? "I will never forget that day in September 1902", said Lily. "I wanted to cry, but everybody was so kind."
The rain continued for more than a week and they took boarding in Long Street to await better weather. The steamer in the service to Robben Island was too small a craft to brave rough weather. However, it was decided to show Lily the sights of Cape Town, rain or no rain. When finally the rain did stop they received a message from the commander of the S.S. Magnet, Captain Olsen, that he would attempt the journey across to the island, seeing that the weather had much improved. They boarded the vessel at the wooden jetty near the clock tower in Victoria Basin. Both sexes had to jump from the jetty onto the ship, which was especially difficult for the women with their long dresses.
Lily took a particular interest in the passengers to the island as they would be her future colleagues. There was Dr. Jane Waterston and Dr. Murray, medical inspectors of Robben Island, who would return that same day to the mainland. Jack Keet was returning from the Boer War in which he had served with the Robben Island Medical Regiment. He was a very active member of the Robben Island community, who was known for his pleasant personality. He was later nicknamed "Skipper" Jack Keet. The Island Commissioner, George Piers, grandson of Captain Richard Wolfe, former Superintendent of Robben Island 1833-1845, was on board having been absent from the island for a number of months, sitting in judgement of Boer rebels.
The draft of the S.S. Magnet was too deep for her to tie up at the Robben Island jetty. So on arrival she would anchor out to sea. The custom was that the officials were first taken from the steamer to the jetty by rowing boat. The other passengers and cargo were then taken to the jetty by a longboat manned by convicts. A tow-line was brought to the S.S. Magnet from the jetty and, hand-over-hand, the convicts would pull the boat with passengers and cargo towards the jetty. This was a tedious and haphazard procedure and in rough seas many near fatal accidents occurred. Passengers would slip while boarding from the S.S. Magnet to fall into the sea between the longboat and the steamer. Were it not for the swift action of the convicts whose strong arms pulled them out, they would be crushed to death. Once a man fell into the sea and was so quickly pulled to safety by a convict that he still had his pipe in his mouth and his hat on. A woman present fainted.
Lily's first room in the nurses' quarters was small indeed. It contained an iron bedstead, one wooden chair, a chest of drawers and the floors were bare and unstained. After her first working day she decided to resign. This was not for her. To return after a hard day's work to a lonely, bare, cold room and then have to cook her own rations' was too much. Soon after her arrival she received her next big shock with the news of the death of both her family's parents. Her aunt and uncle on the island would return to England. She remembers, "I felt so rejected and alone that, if it were not for the encouragement of Dr. Benjamin and the others, I would not have remained a leper nurse".
Nurses were paid in those days between £4 and £5 a month with a small food allowance. Their duties were multiple and varied between bandaging the wounds of the lepers for hours on end, to cleaning the wards and hourly recording the condition of patients. One day a nurse in the leper asylum entered a cell of a patient alone, which was against the rules. There always had to be at least two when entering a lunatic's cell. This particular patient had cause to dislike nurse intensely and the moment she was within her reach she grabbed her and about to stab her when Lily came round the corner. She grabbed the nurse's lo hair and, just in time pulled her out of the patient's reach. Then Lily removed the heavy bunch of keys from around her slim waist and threatened the patient with them. She gave up her knife. The nurse was most fortunate that she was not wearing a wig!
Many islanders will remember the local midwife Mrs. Chase
Lily, with encouragement, and by her own pluck and determination was to render a loving service to the sick and deformed – the outcasts on the island. In 1908 she, too, was to find happiness. She married the engineer on the island, Charles Ernest Witt, who came from Germany. They raised two daughters and lived a happy contented life on Robben Island until the infirmary was closed in 1931.
During the year 1899 lectures were given to the staff by Dr. Black and Nurse Soutar. That same year the Head Attendant, Mr. Nutt, fractured his thigh, in a struggle with a European patient. The Nutt family on the island and mainland could be considered pioneers in the nursing profession in South Africa. Dr. Black records, "Mr. Nutt, the head attendant, had, I am glad to say, almost entirely recovered from the severe injury he sustained when attacked by a patient. He had performed his duties in a most praiseworthy and conscientious manner, and so has the matron, Mrs. Reid."
There were too many nurses on the island to name each and every one, but they all did their duty in a most praiseworthy manner. In 1900 when small-pox made its appearance on the island they performed extra duties into the late hours of the night, having worked a full day shift. They did this without a murmur.
Simon A. De Villiers – Author if Robben Island, Out of Reach, Out of Mind – A History of Robben Island.
1. Longmate, Norman. Alive and Well, p. 54.
2. Searle, Charlotte. The History of the Development of Nursing in South Africa 1652-1960, p. 75. C. Struik, Cape Town, 1965.
3. The Cape of Good Hope, Report on the General Infirmary, Robben Island, for the year 1894, p. 128.
4. Private letters of Lily Ellen Webber, married Witt, in the possession of her daughter, Miss Elsa Witt.
5. The Cape of Good Hope, Report on the General Infirmary, Robben Island, for the year 1899, p. 91.
6. Ibid., 1900, p. 113.
What is Leprosy?
An infectious disease, known since Biblical times, which is characterized by disfiguring skin lesions, peripheral nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. Alternative names :Hansen's disease.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Leprosy is caused by the organism Mycobacterium leprae. It is a difficult disease to transmit and has a long incubation period, which makes it difficult to determine where or when the disease was contracted. Children are more susceptible than adults to contracting the disease.
Leprosy has two common forms, tuberculoid and lepromatous, and these have been further subdivided. Both forms produce lesions on the skin, but the lepromatous form is most severe, producing large disfiguring nodules. All forms of the disease eventually cause peripheral neurological damage (nerve damage in the extremities) manifested by sensory loss in the skin and weakness of the muscles. People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury which results from absent sensation.
Leprosy is common in many countries in the world, and in temperate, tropical, and subtropical climates. Effective medications exist, and isolation of victims in "leper colonies" is unnecessary.
The emergence of drug-resistant Mycobacterium leprae, as well as increased numbers of cases worldwide, have led to global concern about this disease.
Prevention consists of avoiding close physical contact with untreated people. People on long-term medication become noninfectious (they do not transmit the organism that causes the disease).
exposure or family members with leprosy, living or visiting areas of the world where leprosy is endemic (cases are known to occur in that area)
One or more hypopigmented skin lesions that have decreased sensation to touch, heat, or pain. Skin lesions that do not heal after several weeks to months. Numbness or absent sensation in the hands and arms, or feet and legs. Muscle weakness resulting in signs such as foot drop (the toe drags when the foot is lifted to take a step)
Signs and tests
Lepromin skin test can be used to distinguish lepromatous from tuberculoid leprosy, but is not used for diagnosis. Skin scraping examination for acid fast bacteria (typical appearance of Mycobacterium leprae).
The Union Castle liners plough the sea between Cape and Southampton week after week, year after year, with never a thought of danger other than from storm or fog. On almost every tide the ships of Great Britain may float in security, and it is many a long year since passengers had cause to fear the cruelty or the rapacity of pirates. Yet there are still those living at the Cape today – though they are getting on in years and have passed Psalmist’s allotted span – who can remember the terrible story of the “Morning Star” and her awful fate. The tale is one of the few of many pirate stories, in which the Cape of Good Hope was interested, and we make no apology, therefore – at a season when stories of terror are supposed to have special vogue – for reproducing the authentic account of the pirate De Soto and the fate of a ship homeward bound from the Cape. It is told in the pages of the “Cape Monthly Magazine” for 1870, from which we have taken the liberty of reprinting it verbatim.
On the morning of February 21, 1828, the English bark “Morning Star”, on her voyage from Ceylon to England, crossed the bloody track of the pirate ship “Defensor de Pedro” near Ascension. Only a few days previously, after plundering many vessels, Benito de Soto, her Commander, and his fiendish crew had boarded an American brig. Having taken out of the brig all the valuables they could find, they hatched down all hands in the hold, except a black man, who was allowed to remain on deck, to afford, in his torture, an amusing exhibition to the pirates.
They set fire to the brig, then “lay to” to observe the progress of the flames; and as the miserable African bounded from rope to rope, now climbing to the mast-head, now clinging to the shrouds, now leaping to one part of the vessel and now to another, Their enjoyment seemed to rise to the highest pitch.
At length the hatches opened to the devouring element, the tortured victim of their fiendish cruelty fell exhausted into the flames, and the horrid and revolting scene closed amidst the shouts of the miscreants who had caused it. It was with the cry of the murdered Americans still ringing in his ears that Soto caught sight of the English ship pursuing unconscious of danger, her homeward voyage.
The “Morning Star” besides a valuable cargo, had on board several passengers, consisting of a major and his wife, an assistant surgeon, two civilians, about five-and-twenty invalid soldiers and three or four of their wives. The record is now before me, and I shall quote from it as far as may be necessary to complete the narrative of this piracy – the particulars of which were taken from the lips of one who, sailing unwillingly under the pirate’s flag, witnessed against Benito de Soto when the hour of retribution came.
At first the “Morning Star” was supposed to be a French vessel; but Barbazan who was himself a Frenchman and the mate of the “Defensor de Pedro,” assured his captain that she was British. “So much the better,” he replied; “we shall find the more booty.” He then gave chase of his plunder, from which he was about two leagues distant. The “Morning Star” had hoisted a press of canvas as soon as the chase began, but when the pirate had sheeted home her studding-sails she very quickly brought the bark within the range of her long pivot gun. Soto who had sullenly watched the chase thus far now ordered a blank gun to be fired and the English colours to be hoisted; but finding this had not the effect of bring to the “Morning Star” he cried out, “Shot the long gun and give it to her point blank.” The shot however, fell short.
The gun was then loaded with grape, and the pirate captain took the match into his own hand. Waiting till he was abreast of his victim, and then directing the aim himself, and ordering a man to stand by the flag to haul it down, he fired with an air that showed he was sure of his mark. The Columbian colours were then hoisted, and the “Morning Star” was hailed to lower her boat, and for the captain to come on board with his papers. The grape shot had left its mark on the unfortunate vessel, and one of her seamen lay wounded on her deck. The two vessels were now within fifty yards of each other, but English captain had lost some of his courage, and he determined not to strike his colours nor heave his ship to. Resistance however was felt to be useless, even if any could be made.
The “Morning Star” had not a single gun on board, and no small arms that could render resistance availing. The tears of the women and the prudent advice of the passengers overcoming the captain’s resolution, he permitted himself to be guided by the general opinion. One of the passengers volunteered to go aboard the pirate, and a boat was lowered for the purpose, while the hope was cherished by those on board the bark that by his exertions he might at least avert the worst of the dreaded calamity. No sooner, however, had the passenger reached the deck of the “Defensor de Pedro,” and it was learned that he was not the captain, then he and the boat’s crew were brutally beaten, and sent back to the bark with a message that if the captain did not come on board at once his vessel would be blown out of the water.
This report at once decided the captain how to act. Without hesitation he stepped into the boat, taking with him his second mate, three soldiers and a sailor boy, and proceeded to the pirate. On going on board that vessel , along with the mate, Soto, who stood near the mainmast with his drawn cutlass in his hand, desired him to approach, while the mate was ordered by Barbazan to go to the forecastle. Both obeyed and were instantly cut down. Six picked men were now ordered to descend into the boat, amongst whom was Barbazan. To him the leader addressed his orders, the last of which was to take care to put to death all in the prize and then to sink her. The six pirates who proceeded to carry out this savage command were all armed alike – each carried a brace of pistols, a cutlass, and a long sharp knife. Their dress was composed of a sort of coarse cotton checkered jackets and trousers, shirts that were open at the collar, red woollen caps and broad canvas belts, in which were stuck the pistols and the knives.
To no better hands could the sanguinary errand have been entrusted than to these six men; and as the boat in which they were neared the “Morning Star” the terror of the women on board was excessive. They clung to their husbands in despair, and vainly sought from them that protection which they could not afford. All however, hoped that the pirates’ object might be to plunder only; but they were soon undeceived. The pirates rapidly mounted the side, and as they jumped on deck commenced to cut right and left at all within their reach, uttering at the same time the most dreadful oaths. The females, screaming, hurried below, to hide themselves as well as they were able, and the men fell or fled before the pirates, leaving them entire maters of the decks.
The chronicler to whom I am indebted for the particulars of this piracy remarks: “Unless the circumstances be closely examined, it may be wondered how six men could have so easily overcome a crew of English seamen, supported by about twenty soldiers with a major at their head; but it will not appear surprising when it is considered that the sailors were altogether unharmed, the soldiers worn-out invalids, and more particularly that the pirate carried a heavy long gun, ready to sink her victim at a shot. Major Logie fully impressed with the folly of opposing so powerful and desperate an enemy, therefore advised submission as the only course for the safety of those under his charge; presuming no doubt that something like humanity might be found even in the hearts of the worst of men. But alas! He was woefully deceived in his estimate of the villain’s nature, and felt, when too late, even death would have been preferable to the barbarous treatment he was forced to endure.” But I have digressed.
The pirate having now complete possession of the vessel, the work of plunder began. Every drawer and locker was ransacked, and every portable article of value heaped up for the plunder. Money, plate, nautical instruments, clothing, and seven packages of valuable jewels which formed part of the cargo were carried on deck by a few of the crew, who had for this work been pressed into the service of the spoilers. For two hours was this cruel work carried on, under the directions of Soto, who from the deck of his vessel gave the order. The clothes of the passengers were stripped from their backs, and the male passengers driven forward. As Major Logie ascended the companion ladder, he entreated in vain to be allowed to remain with his wife.
He was hurried away with the rest and battened down in the hold, racked with feelings that I cannot describe. The females were locked up in the round-house on deck. Satiated with plunder, the pirates sat down to regale themselves with eating and drinking, served by the steward of the “Morning Star” who, at the risk of his life was forced to this duty. More than once had he a pistol placed at his head, and a more terrible group of demi-devils, the steward afterwards declared, could not be imagined than commanded his attentions at the cabin table. It was with feelings of satisfaction that he heard his dismissal, and found himself bolted below with his fellow sufferers.
With passions excited by drink, the ruffians ordered down the females, and the screams of these helpless ones were heard in the hold by those who, under other circumstances, would have died to save them, but who now were powerless to help them. Their lives were spared – and these outraged women were yet to be the saviours of the ship and of the survivors of the crew. So much time had been taken up by the pirates in their hellish orgies that Soto had become impatient for their return, and his voice was heard recalling them. Hastening to obey the call of their chief, the pirates stayed not to carry out his instructions to put to death all on board the English bark, but contented themselves with fastening the women in the cabin, and heaping heavy lumber on the hatches of the hold, and boring holes in the planks of the vessel below her water-line, so that by thus destroying the whole at one swoop, they might make up for lost time. They then left the “Morning Star” fast settling down to her fate.
After long and strenuous efforts, the females contrived to open the cabin door, and when they came on deck it was almost dark, but they could see the pirate ship far in the distance with all sail set. The liberation of their husbands and crew were their next concern; and, creeping towards the hatch, they called upon those below to unite their efforts in forcing it up, while they removed the lumber that was above it. They succeeded and their joy was great, only, however, to be dashed again from them, when they discovered that the ship had six feet of water in the hold! By dint of labour the vessel was kept afloat; but she could not be managed, as the pirates had disabled her by cutting the rigging and sawing through the masts. The next day, however, the hopeless passengers and crew were taken off the “Morning Star” by a ship that had fallen in with her, and were brought safely to England.
But to return to the pirate ship. The sun had long set on that day of dark deeds when Benito de Soto heard that, contrary to his orders, the passengers’ and crew’s lives had been spared by his minions who had boarded the prize. On learning this, his frenzy was at its height. He immediately turned his hands up, and the course of the “Defensor de Pedro” was once more laid on the track of the “Morning Star.” But it was too late, not a trace of her could be seen. The search was abandoned, Soto consoling himself with the belief that the “Morning Star” was many fathoms deep down in the Atlantic, away from the cognizance of all Admiralty Courts.
I must now briefly advert to the end of the monster’s career. Satisfied with his success after the plunder of the “Morning Star” Soto steered his course for Europe. On his voyage he fell in with a small brig, and plundered her. Acting upon the principle that “dead men tell no tales,” he sank the vessel with her crew, with the exception of one man, whom he took along with him on account of his knowledge of Corunna, whither he intended to proceed. On approaching that port, faithful to his principals of self-protection, he addressed that unfortunate man as he was standing at the helm with “My friend is that the harbour of Corunna!” “Yes” was the reply “Then,” rejoined Soto, “you have done your duty well, and I am obliged to you for your services.” He then shot the man, and flung his body over board, took the helm himself, and steered his vessel into his native harbour as if he had returned from an honest voyage.
Here he disposed of a part of his ill-gotten booty, and, having provided fresh papers, got under way for Cadiz.
He had a fair wind until he came in sight of the coast, near the city. It was coming on dark, and he lay-to, expecting to make the anchorage in the morning, but the wind shifted to the westward, and suddenly arose to a heavy gale – it was dead on the land. He luffed his ship as close to the wind as possible to clear a reef of rocks, and beat out to windward, but his leeway carried him toward the land. The gale increasing, and the night becoming pitchy dark, the vessel struck on the breakers, and quickly went to pieces. Loud were the cries for mercy now shrieked out by these villains, who had steeled their hearts and deafened their ears to that cry so often in vain addressed to them.
They were spared, only, however, to meet death in a more dreaded form but shortly afterwards. They took to the boats, and landing at Cadiz, gave themselves out to be castaway seamen of an honest trading vessel. But suspicions as to their true character soon were roused, and some six were thrown into prison; some fled to Caraccas; but Soto and one other made their way to Gibraltar. For a time Soto managed to frequent the slums of Gibraltar, but was at last thrown into prison also, and eventually was hanged. All his comrades in crime, with the exception of one, whose fate was never heard of, perished on the gibbet.
Cape Times 1903 (Christmas)
Steamships from abroad
The first steamship to reach the Cape, in 1825, was the Enterprise, of 464 tons. She called when on passage to India. Thereafter steamers called at very long intervals for the next 20 years, chiefly warships or ships en route to India; there was as yet no regular steam communication between the Cape and Europe. Sear our thousands of passenger and shipping lists.One of these `birds of passage' made the first `record' voyage to the Cape. In 1851 the new P. and O. paddle-steamer Singapore was just leaving Southampton to take up her station in India, naturally via the Cape, when news reached Britain of the outbreak of the 8th Frontier War. Her owners immediately offered to take troops to the Cape, and so the first reinforcements were put aboard and rushed out in 37 days 8 hours.
Cape coasting steamers
In 1831 the little ship Sophia Jane arrived at the Cape. Her captain was prepared to sell her to anyone at the Cape who wanted to use her in the coasting trade. As the price he wanted was not forthcoming the Sophia Jane went on to Australia, the first steamer to reach that continent, and traded successfully along the Australian coast for many years.
Five years later, however, a company was formed in Cape Town: The Cape of Good Hope Steam Navigation Company. A steamer, the Hope, was built on the Clyde for this new company. A ship of 194 tons and 100 horse-power, she was able to carry 115 tons of cargo and 38 passengers. She was South Africa's first coasting steamer. She plied regularly between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth for some years. After she had been wrecked on Cape St. Francis in 1840, her owners ordered that the Phoenix, of 405 tons, should replace her. For ten years between 1842 and 1852 she ran between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, with calls at Mossel Bay and sometimes Plettenberg Bay. But in 1852, when larger and faster coasters were put into service, the Phoenix was sold to an Australian firm.
Mail service to Britain
For many years after 1825 the people of the Cape had agitated for a steam mail service between the colony and Britain. In the early eighteen-forties Britain was connected by steam with North America (the Cunard Line, South America and the West Indies (the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company), and with Egypt, India and the East (the Peninsular and Oriental Line). Australia and New Zealand were served by regular services of sailing ships such as those of the famous White Star and Black Ball lines. But the Cape was dependent on `passers-by'; no regular shipping services were in operation. True, there had been an attempt in 1818 to run a regular `packet-ship service' from Britain to the Cape, but that had lasted only a year.
In 1847 the merchants of Cape Town petitioned the government to make arrangements for a regular steam mail service to England. They were supported by the Press but at first nothing happened. Two years later, however, the Anti-Convict Agitation interested people in Britain in affairs at the Cape. In 1850 glad news arrived in Cape Town: the British government had made an agreement with the General Screw Steamship Company for a monthly mail service between Plymouth and Cape Town. For £30 750 p.a. the company agreed to send a steamer to the Cape every month, the passage not to exceed 35 days. After a week's stay at Cape Town the return trip was to be made, again in not more than 35 days. This service began with three ships, Bosphorus, Propontis and Hellespont, each 53 metres long and 7,6 metres broad, with a tonnage of about 800 and engines of 80 horsepower.
The Bosphorus inaugurated the Cape mail, leaving Plymouth on 18 December 1850 with 16 passengers, some light cargo, and the precious mails. She arrived in Table Bay on 27 January 1851. The well-known South African artist, Thomas Bowler, painted a water-colour of her arrival in Table Bay, but the event was not celebrated as it should have been because of the 8th Frontier War, which was then raging on the eastern frontier. The Bosphorus had actually taken five days more than the contract time of 35 days, but nobody cared about that, as the normal passage by sailing ship until then had been 60 days or more.
In 1852 the company's mail contract was extended, when it agreed to take mails to India via the Cape. The original contract was swallowed up in the extended one. For the new and much longer route much bigger ships were required, and a series of 1750-ton ships was built, steamers, but with a full three-masted rig. The first of these was the Queen of the South, which could carry 130 passengers. In 1853 she came out in 31 ½ days, beating the previous record by nearly four days. The new ships proved very popular in India as at the Cape, as they maintained a regular and for that time a comfortable service. One of them, Lady Jocelyn, is to be remembered since in 1853 she brought out to the Cape the final draft of the constitution which gave self-government to the colony.
Meanwhile the discovery of gold in Australia (1851) meant a great increase in passenger traffic to that continent. Many ships appeared in Table Bay and included the Great Britain, then the largest and fastest ship in the world. She had been the first iron screw-steamer to cross the Atlantic. The General Screw Steamship Company therefore decided to expand its services to include a round-the-world service to Australia via the Cape, with a group of five specially built ships of 2500 tons each. The first of these was the Argo in 1853, closely followed by the Golden Fleece. They followed the sailing-ship route: from Britain round the Cape without calling at Table Bay, going far south into the Roaring Forties to reach Australia; on leaving Australia, south again into the Roaring Forties, then east round Cape Horn, passing northward up the Atlantic to the east of the Falkland Islands, and so to Britain. The Argo did this voyage in 1853 in 121 days and was the first steamer to circumnavigate the globe. Later she and her sister ships used to put into Table Bay on their way to Australia.
In 1852, also, the General Screw Steamship Company started a coasting service between the Cape and Natal with its smallest ship, Sir Robert Peel (233 tons). She was the first steamship to cross the bar and anchor in Port Natal (12 August 1852). In 1854 two specially designed steamers, Natal and Cape of Good Hope (500 tons each) were placed on this service.
Unfortunately all this building of new ships overstrained the financial resources of the company, and in June 1854 it was suddenly announced that the mail services of the General Screw Steamship Co. were to be wound up. The coastal services were maintained until the end of that year, when the two ships returned to England. It is interesting to note that the Cape of Good Hope became the pioneer ship of a new company subsequently renamed the British India Steam Navigation Company, whose ships are today well-known in Durban and other South and East African ports. Most of the mail-ships of the General Screw Steamship Co. subsequently returned to Cape waters, but as units of the fleets of other companies. Many of them became transports for the British government during the Crimean War (1854-56) and the Indian Mutiny (1857-58). Because of the cessation of the mail service and the Crimean War hardly any steamers called at the Cape in 1855.
In 1856 W. S. Lindsay, M.P., made a contract with the British postal authorities to run a mail service to the Cape, sending a ship from Dartmouth every month to reach the Cape within 38 days, for a subvention of £28 000 a year. His ships were also to go to Mauritius and India. They were not fully powered steamers but sailing ships with auxiliary steam-engines. The first of them, the England, took 54 days to reach the Cape, having been without coal for the engine for the last fortnight. Her sister, Scotland, came out in 39 days, but no subsequent Lindsay sailing took less than 50 days. The `auxiliaries' were not a success and the service finally collapsed in 1857. Fortunately for Lindsay, however, almost all his ships were at once chartered by the British government as transports during the Indian Mutiny.
On 18 November 1857 Table Bay was crowded with ships, no less than 54 lying at anchor. One of them was the Dane, pioneer of the new mail-ship company, the Union Steam Ship Company.
The Union Line, formed in 1853, in 1857 contracted with the British government to convey mails monthly between England and the Cape. This service has been running ever since without a break, except for the interruptions caused by the two World Wars.
Diamonds and Suez
In 1867 the discovery of diamonds near the Orange River completely changed the course of the history of South Africa. It stimulated both trade and immigration, which had been in the doldrums during the sixties because of prolonged drought and trade depression. In the early seventies several new companies started services between Britain and the Cape, but the only one to survive was Donald Curries Colonial Line, later the Castle Mail Packets Company, and still later one of the constituents of the Union-Castle Line.
Meanwhile some famous ships visited Table Bay, e.g. the confederate cruiser Alabama (1863), and in 1869 the famous Great Eastern, that wonderful conception of the great engineer Brunel, which between 1858 and 1901 remained `the largest ship ever built'. In and after 1866 came the ships of the Ocean Steam Navigation Company (better known today as the Blue Funnel Line), and from 1878 the ships of the Orient Line. Moreover, many famous Atlantic liners called at the Cape in the late seventies and early eighties as troopships, bringing redcoats from Britain to take part in the various wars of the period: the 9th Frontier War (1877-78), the Zulu War (1879), and the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-81). All this shipping activity served to disguise to some extent the fact that after 1869, when the Suez Canal was opened, the Cape was no longer on the direct route to India, the East and Australia. Moreover, the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand (1886) occurred not long after the last of these wars, and again provided a great stimulus to South African trade.
Union and Castle
From 1872 Curries Castle liners competed successfully against the Union liners, so that, when the mail contract had to be renewed in 1876, it was divided between the two companies. By this time the mail service was a weekly one, the companies taking alternate weeks, while the length of passage had been reduced to 26 days. This arrangement lasted until the two companies amalgamated in 1900, but the length of passage was reduced with each renewal of the mail contract.
In the early eighties three other lines started regular steamship services to South Africa: Bullard, King's Natal Line, (today incorporated in the South African Marine Corporation), Rennie's Aberdeen Line (not to be confused with George Thompson's Aberdeen Line to Australia); and the famous Clan Line, which is today the controlling interest in the British and Commonwealth Shipping Company, the group which also includes the Union Castle Line. The coming of these three new concerns led to the first South African shipping conference (September 1883). The objects of the conferences were to regulate competition between the company concerned so as to maintain regular rates of freight, and to enable the conference lines to work together to keep `outside' lines from coming in to take the cream of the traffic when trade was brisk, and then withdrawing when trade was bad. The years 1883-1888 marked a depression in South African trade, which did not lift until the Rand gold-mines were in full production, and it was fortunate that the conference was held when it was.
Meanwhile several new services between Europe and Australia were introduced. The ships came via the Cape because of the high rates of passage then charged by the Suez Canal Company. In 1881 Sloman's ships from Hamburg to Australia started calling at the Cape and were followed in 1882 by the ships of George Thomson's Aberdeen Line. By 1884 ships of the Shaw, Savill and Albion Line and of the New Zealand Shipping Company were regular visitors on their way to New Zealand.
It should be remembered that throughout these years the main interest of South Africa's maritime trade was the rivalry between the ships of the two mail companies until their amalgamation in March 1900. This is dealt with more fully in the article on Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co. Ltd.
Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902
This war stimulated South Africa's sea-borne trade exceedingly and many famous transatlantic liners arrived in South African waters as troop transports, while fleets of cargo liners and tramps brought supplies to the armies from all over the world. There was great congestion in all South African seaports, with ships anchoring outside waiting often for weeks for empty berths in port. This again led to a great increase in the number of ships wrecked during the winter gales.
Up to this time practically all the lines regularly visiting South Africa were British, but the Jameson Raid and the war, as well as gold, aroused Europe's interest in South Africa, and foreign lines started to send ships to Cape Town and Durban. A French line started a service to Madagascar via the Cape; the Austrian Lloyd started one to Durban via Suez. Neither of these lasted long, but in 1903 Portuguese mail steamers provided services to Angola and Mozambique via the Cape, services still maintained by the well-known Portuguese lines, Companhia Colonial de Navegaçao and Companhia National de Navegaçao. The German companies, Woermann Linie and Deutsch-Ost-Afrika Linie, had started their services to the then German colonies in West and East Africa respectively before the discovery of gold on the Rand, but in the 1890's they extended their services to South African ports. In 1904 these services were combined with the African service of the Hamburg Amerika Linie and the first `Round Africa' service started. At first the ships ran a joint service each in the livery of its own company, but in the reorganisation after the First World War it was decided (1924) that all the ships should carry the colours of the Deutsch-Ost-Afrika Linie.
Meanwhile there had been a great increase in the number of coasting vessels and companies operating from South African ports. In 1855 Rennie who owned the Aberdeen Line) placed the Madagascar and the Waldensian in service between Durban and Cape Town. These 300-ton ships were licensed by the Natal government to carry mails between the two colonies, but both were wrecked, the former in 1858 and the latter in 1862, when the service was abandoned.
The well-known firm of Barry and Nephews, of Swellendam, opened up the harbour of Port Beaufort at the mouth of the Breede River and the up-river port of Malgas, 48 km from the mouth. To these ports they sent coasting schooners, carrying goods for distribution throughout the south-western districts from their headquarters in Swellendam. In 1859 they had the steamer Kadie built especially for this trade. She ran regularly between Cape Town and Malgas, carrying about £1000 000 worth of goods annually, but, when wrecked in 1865, she was not replaced.
The Union Line and the Castle also had coasters plying between Cape Town and Durban and even other ports, e.g. the Union Line's Namaqua went to Port Nolloth. In 1869 a German ship, the Bismarck, appeared on the Cape Coast, and in 1872 she distinguished herself by being the first steamer to cross the bar at the mouth of the Buffalo River and enter Buffalo Harbour, East London. She was wrecked soon afterwards.
In 1869 Thesen's also began their long association with South Africa. A. L. Thesen, a Norwegian ship-owner, was emigrating to New Zealand with his whole family in his schooner Albatros off Cape Agulhas his ship suffered storm damage and had to return to Cape Town. While there he was offered a lucrative charter to Knysna and took his ship there several times. As this seemed to him a profitable trade he bought land at Knysna and settled there. The little Albatros plied between Cape Town and Knysna for some years until she was wrecked. She was then replaced by the brig Ambulant. In 1895 Thesen's brought out their first steamer, Agnar, and four years later the Ingerid joined her. For many years these two ships enjoyed almost a monopoly of the trade between Knysna and Cape Town. Later, more ships were acquired and Thesen liners began trading to all South African ports. In 1921 the Houston Line, of Liverpool, bought out the Thesen Line and today Thesen's forms part of Coast Lines, of London.
The rise of the sugar industry in Natal and, later, of the motor industry in Port Elizabeth caused new coasting companies and services to be formed, e.g. G. C. Smith and Company, and African Coasters, both of Durban. Originally these, like most of the other coaster fleets, consisted of second-hand craft of various types, e.g. the ex-gunboats Homeford and Mead of Smith's Coasters, and the Kate, an exdredger. But, by the middle of the 20th century, all the coasting companies were adding to their fleets specially built motorships such as the Voortrekker (African Coasters) and the Zulu Coast (Thesen Line).
First World War, 1914-18
At first the war did not affect South Africa much. Some of the mail steamers were taken over for naval service, but their places were taken by the old mailships laid up in reserve (e.g. Norman, Carisbrook Castle) or by the big `East African' ships such as the Llanstephan Castle. But, as the Mediterranean was soon drawn into the war zone, most Allied or neutral liners normally using the Mediterranean sent their ships via the Cape instead. Thus various unfamiliar ships belonging to British, French, Dutch and Japanese lines became regular callers at the Cape for the duration of the war.
In 1917, when the Germans began their unrestricted submarine campaign, the British government was forced to requisition all British liners. The regular weekly Cape mail service thus came to an end and the mails were sent out in whatever ship was available whenever opportunity offered. Several Union-Castle ships were sunk, as were some belonging to Rennie's Aberdeen, the Natal, Clan, and Ellerman and Bucknal Lines, all well-known in Cape waters. The war came close to South Africa when German raiders (disguised as neutral ships) laid mines off Dassen Island and Cape Agulhas, sinking several ships.
After the war it took several years for shipping services to return to normal as older ships had to be refitted after war service and new ones had to be built to replace losses. The Union government had been impressed during the war by the need for cargo-ships and after the war the government bought three ex-German ships of about 5000 tons each, Huntress, Apolda, and Seattle. They were placed under the management of the South African Railways and Harbours and thus became the originals of what are today called Sarships. They were the first sea-going ships on the South African register. Ships belonging to the two premier Japanese shipping lines, Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Osaka Shoshen Kaisha, which during the war had been diverted to the Cape route, continued to sail via South Africa after the war, mainly carrying Japanese emigrants to South America.
After the war the Dutch liners which had been diverted to the Cape on their way to Netherlands-India reverted to the Mediterranean route. But a new company was formed to provide direct communication between the Netherlands and South Africa, the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrika Stoomvaart Maatschappij. Starting operations in 1919 with three secondhand cargo-ships of about 5000 tons each, in 1921-1922 it placed into service the two specially built 6000-ton passenger-cargo ships Springfontein and Klipfontein. From 1924 it worked in conjunction with the Holland-Oost Afrika Lijn and in 1932 the two lines were amalgamated as the Holland-Afrika Lijn.
In 1921 T. B. F. Davis, of Durban, bought from the Royal Navy the old cruiser Thames and presented her to the South African nation as a training-ship. Renamed the General Botha and anchored in Simon's Bay, she was used from 1922 onwards for the training of young men as deck officers in the Merchant Service. The South African Naval Service, forerunner of the South African Navy, was also formed in 1921.
Four years later Italian ships came to South African ports when the Navigazione Libera Triestino began a regular service round Africa via the East Coast. A few years later a service in the reverse direction was also started. In 1933, through the Italian shipping contract, these services were augmented and an express passenger service added in return for a very liberal subsidy from the Union government. Under Mussolini's reorganisation of Italian merchant shipping these services were later run by Lloyd Triestino.
1925 was the year of the great seamen's strike in British ships throughout the world. Almost every British merchant ship manned by a White crew was strike-bound in harbour between 27 August and 10 October. Only those with Lascar, Arab or Negro crews were able to move. Many well-known liners lay in enforced idleness in the various South African ports during that period. The mail service was kept running with difficulty, some of the mail-ships sailing with volunteer crews of university students, etc., while some sailings were taken over by ships of the Natal Line (by this time a subsidiary of the Union Castle Company), which were manned by Lascar crews.
The following year was marked by two important innovations. In February there arrived in Cape Town the Orca, first of the `luxury-cruise' liners to call at South African ports; while in August the Carnarvon Castle, first Union-Castle motorship and the first mailship to exceed 20 000 tons, made her debut in Cape Town. She was not the first motorship to come to the Cape; in 1915 the Kangaroo, a cargo motorship of 4500 tons, was the first, calling at Cape Town on her way to her station in West Australia; the Norwegian cargo motor ship Afrika, 8000 tons, then the largest motorship in the world, called in 1920; and in January 1926 came the Japanese Santos Maru, the first passenger motor ship to arrive at a South African port. Since 1926 a steady stream of cruise liners has arrived in South Africa, interrupted only by the great depression of 1929-34 and by the Second World War. The Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Britain, 43 500 tons, reached Cape Town in 1936 and was for many years the largest ship to have docked there. This increased activity and the increase in the size of the mail-ships led to the enlarging of docks and improvements in seaport facilities.
After the Carnarvon Castle, a steady stream of new motor ships joined the Union-Castle fleet, culminating in 1938-39 in the Capetown Castle of 27 000 tons for the mail service and the two intermediates, Durban Castle and Pretoria Castle, of 17 300 tons each.
Unfortunately the depression of 1929-34 led to the disappearance of several long-established services such as the White Star Line's Australian service, the `Branch Service' of the P. and O. Line, and George Thompson's Aberdeen Line to Australia, which had celebrated its centenary in 1925. After 1935 there was a steady increase in world trade and every company whose ships called at South African ports put new ships into service. In 1936 the accelerated mail service started, reducing the passage of the mail-ships between Southampton and the Cape from 16 days 15 hours to under 14 days.
In addition to the fine series of new Union-Castle liners already mentioned, the Holland-Afrika Lijn brought out in 1934-35 its famous trio of `express ships', Bloemfontein and Jagersfontein (10 000 tons) and Boschfontein (7100 tons); the Italian `express liners' Duilio and Giulio Cesare, of 22 000 tons, appeared; in 1935-38 the Natal Line brought out its biggest ships, Umtata, Umtali and Umgeni (8400 tons); the Deutsch-Ost-Afrika Linie achieved new standards with the Pretoria and the Windhuk, of nearly 17 000 tons each, in 1936; while in 1939 the quadruple-screw motor ship Dominion Monarch, of the Shaw, Savill and Albion Line, with her tonnage of 27 155 took away from the Capetown Castle the distinction of being the largest ship in service to South Africa.
Second World War
Unfortunately all this shipping activity was completely disrupted with the outbreak of the Second World War in Sept. 1939. The German ships disappeared straight away, the Italian and Dutch ships soon afterwards. All British merchant ships fell under Admiralty control immediately; many of the Union-Castle ships were taken over by the Royal Navy for use as armed merchant cruisers or troopships. Ships well known in the South African trade found themselves in convoys to Malta or North Russia, in service to Singapore or Australia, or bringing American troops and supplies across the Atlantic to Britain. Many Union-Castle ships were lost, as were ships belonging to the Clan, Blue Funnel, Ellerman and Bucknall, Natal, and other well known lines. Several enemy ships were captured in South African waters and most of them were recommissioned with South African crews and managed by the Railways and Harbours. One of the most interesting of these was the Finnish four-masted barque Lawhill, which made several unescorted trips between Cape Town and the Argentine, outward with maize and homeward with wheat.
Post-war, from 1946
Normal sailings could not be resumed immediately peace had been signed. Ships were still subject to government control and were used to repatriate soldiers, prisoners of war and refugees and to bring back stores. When released from government service, they had to be refitted for their peace-time trade. New ships had to be built to replace those lost in the war. So it was not until 1947 or later that shipping returned to normality.
The immediate post-war period as far as South Africa was concerned was characterised by reconstruction and new ships; immigration; a new mail contract; and the establishment of new lines and services. The first three are dealt with in the article on Union Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.
In 1946 several new South African shipping companies were formed but most of them proved to be ephemeral. The South African Marine Corporation (Safmarine), however, has gone from strength to strength. Starting in 1947 with three ex-United States `Victory' ships of 7500 tons each, it had in 1966 two big passenger mail-ships (S.A. Vaal and S.A. Oranje), two big bulk-carriers for pig-iron, another for sugar, ten ordinary cargo ships and four fast refrigerated ships for fruit-carrying. With another five cargo ships and a refrigerated ship that were scheduled for completion in 1966-67, it has a total of as ships with a tonnage of over 276 000 and a carrying capacity of 330 000 tons dead-weight. In 1961 Safmarine (the name by which the corporation is generally known) took over the fleet and assets of the Springbok Line, a South African subsidiary of the Clan Line which had been formed in 1959 and which had itself absorbed the long-established Natal Line. The two mail-ships mentioned above were taken over by Safmarine in January 1966. This company thus became the first South African line to own deep-sea passenger vessels and to share in the mail contract between South Africa and Britain. Safmarine is therefore easily the biggest South African shipping concern and has now joined the major shipping lines of the world. Most of its deck officers are ex-cadets of the General Botha, while its crews are Cape Coloured men, who make excellent seamen.
In 1951 the Merchant Shipping Act (No. 57 of 1951) was passed and the regulations promulgated under it were published as Government Notice No. 1630 of 16 October 1959. These measures gave South Africa shipping legislation as up-to-date and complete as that anywhere in the world.
Many new Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese and French ships were put into service to South Africa in this post-war period, while British lines also increased their tonnage. The almost outstanding of these lines was the Ellerman and Bucknall Line, which placed into service between 1952 and 1954 the four fine passenger ships City of Port Elizabeth, City of Exeter, City of York and City of Durban, each of 13 400 tons, with comfortable accommodation for 100 passengers, and capable of doing the trip between Cape Town and London in 16 days.
Meanwhile the South African coasting fleet has also expanded, with new ships replacing old. Various new firms started operations in and after 1946 but most of them have either disappeared or been absorbed by the older companies. In 1963 the three chief coaster companies were: the Thesen Steamship Company, of Cape Town; Smith's Coasters and African Coasters, both of Durban. Each of these has six or more ships, mostly motor ships, and between them they provide services between all the seaports of Southern Africa. Plying between Durban and Mozambique ports are also two Portuguese coastal fleets. Up to 1960 there were also services to the Congo and West African ports but, owing to the new African governments in these regions, trade with South Africa has sharply diminished.
In 1825 the first steamship to the Cape, the Enterprise, took 58 days 4 hours on the trip from Falmouth to Cape Town. The first mail steamer to the Cape, the Bosphorus, took 40 days 7 hours in 1851. The record for the General Screw Steamship Company was that of the Queen of the South, which in 1853 did the trip in 31 days 12 hours. The first Union liner to beat this was the Saxon, which ten years later came out in 31 days. In 1872 the Penguin, chartered by Donald Currie, was the first record breaker for his line when she came out in 24 days 18 ¼ hours. Thereafter the record oscillated between Union and Castle liners until the amalgamation of the two lines, except that, in 1880, the new liner Orient, of the Orient Line, did the run in 17 days 21 hours while on her way to Australia. The last Castle Line record-holder was the Dunottar Castle, which in 1890 took 17 days 19 ¾ hours and in July 1891 reduced this time to 16 days 22 ½ hours. But her record did not last for long, as in the next month the Scot beat her by a day and a half, taking 15 days 10 hours. In 1893 the Scot established her great record, which stood for nearly half a century, when in March she arrived in Cape Town after a trip from Southampton of 14 days 18 hours 57 minutes. Her best homeward run was even speedier, 14 days 6 hours 11 minutes.
These records stood until 1936, when the new motor mail-ship Stirling Castle broke them. She left Southampton on 21 August, arriving in Cape Town on 4 September after a passage of 13 days 9 hours. This was the last deliberate attempt to break the record, but it has been broken twice since then.
In 1938 the re-engined Carnarvon Castle was held up by a mechanical fault when leaving Southampton. The ship's engineers, aided by others flown from Harland and Wolff's shipyard, worked night and day to repair the damage. This accomplished, the liner left Southampton after a delay of more than a day and a half. But, by pushing her to full speed all the way, she arrived in Cape Town on time, after a passage of 12 days 14 hours. In January 1954 the Edinburgh Castle was delayed by a boiler breakdown when off Plymouth on passage to Cape Town. This could not be rectified as quickly as the breakdown in the Carnarvon Castle, as it took more than a day for the boiler to cool down sufficiently for work to be done on it. After a delay of nearly four days the ship resumed her voyage at her full speed of nearly 23 knots, to reach Cape Town in 11 days 23 hours, the record until 1965. In that year the duration of the mail-ship's trips between Southampton and Cape Town was reduced 11 ½ days, this new normal passage time being less than that of the previous record passage. The first ship to come out at this accelerated speed was the Windsor Castle, which in July 1965 came out in 11 days 10 hours.
South African steamships
The ending of the Dutch East India Company's rule of the Cape (1795) cancelled its prohibition of the building of seagoing ships in the Colony. Not much use was made of this new privilege until after the coming of the 1820 Settlers to the Cape. With the consequent opening up of new harbours such as Port Elizabeth, Port Frances (i.e. Port Alfred) and later Buffalo Harbour and Port Natal and the absence of adequate transport facilities overland, the need for coastal and short-sea services grew rapidly. So in the last three-quarters of the 19th century large numbers of small sailing vessels were put into the trade, many locally-built. The ships belonging to Barry and Nephew of Swellendam (trading through Port Beaufort at the mouth of the Berdee River), to Hendrik Stephan of Cape Town, and later to Thesens of Knysna and Samuel Crowder of Durban, were well known round the Southern African coast, and these and other ships continued to trade until about the turn of the century.
It was not, however, until 1836 that a steam-driven coasting-vessel appeared on the Cape coast. She was the Hope, a paddle-steamer of 194 tons owned by the Cape of Good Hope Steam Navigation Company, a Cape Town firm, and used successfully on the Cape Town-Port Elizabeth run until she was wrecked in 1840. This was before the dangerous stretch of coast between Cape Town and Durban was fitted with lighthouses. In 1842 her owners put the bigger Phoenix (405 tons) on the run, but when in 1850 the owners of the first mail-ship company to the Cape put the Sir Robert Peel on the route, followed by the screw-propelled Natal and Cape of Good Hope, each of 500 tons, the Phoenix ceased to be profitable. Her owners therefore in 1852 sold her and liquidated their company. The three new ships also did not last long, their service ceasing in December 1854.
Meanwhile in 1842 William Cock, the 1820 Settler who spent most of his life trying to develop the harbour of Port Frances at the mouth of the Kowie River, had built the small paddler Sir John St. Aubyn as a tug and coaster, but she was wrecked in 1843.
The Aberdeen firm of John T. Rennie and Son, which since 1849 had been sending sailing ships to India or Australia via the Cape, in 1855 had built two 300-ton barque-rigged steamers, Madagascar and Waldensian, for a service via the Cape to Madagascar. The ships were, however, immediately requisitioned for service in the Crimean War, so that it was not until 1857 that they sailed for the Cape. There they were placed in service between Cape Town and Durban, calling at intermediate ports, and carrying mails between the two places, as at that time Table Bay was the terminus of the mail-ships from England. They proved very popular in this `inter-colonial mail service' but when both were wrecked within five years Rennies abandoned the service.
In 1863 an opposition line to the Union Line, which then held the mail contract, was formed with the support of Port Elizabeth merchants to sail from Falmouth direct to Port Elizabeth. Known as the Diamond Line, it started operations in May 1864. Seeing the danger the Union Line in February stole a march on its rivals by sending its mail-ships to Port Elizabeth, thus starting that coastwise service of the mail-ships which is still in operation. Although the Diamond Line soon disappeared, the Union Line continued to send its mail-ships along the coast, finally extending the service as far as Durban.
Between 1859 and 1873 a number of steamers were put into coastal services, usually local (i.e. not along the full seaboard of Southern Africa), but none of them lasted long. Many were wrecked, while others found that their services were not profitable. Until about 1890 the coastal services were left to the sailing vessels and those coasters operated by the mail-companies, the Union Line and, after 1872, its new and formidable rival, Donald Curries Castle Line.
By 1890, however, when steam-engines had become more economical and supplies of coal more cheaply available, steam coasters again started appearing. First of these was the 360-ton Nautilus, for west coast services; then Hendrick Stephan brought out two smaller ships, Aurora and Luna. In 1896 Thesens of Knysna had their first steamer, the Agnar (427 tons), followed by the 690-ton Ingerid four years later. The Thesen fleet, which later included the Nautilus, soon became the best-known on the coast. Other small steamers started operating from Durban and Port St. Johns.
The year 1909 saw the first foreign-going steamer added to South Africa's shipping register. This was the South Africa, a 1981-ton single-screw ship built to fetch nitrates from Chile for her owners, the Cape Explosives Works (De Beers) of Somerset West, for use in the manufacture of dynamite. Some years after the First World War, however, the De Beers' scientists discovered a method of extracting nitrogen from the air, so the smart South Africa became redundant and was sold. Meanwhile Thesens had been adding to its fleet, usually with second-hand tonnage, but in 1915 with the first ship specially built to its order, the Outeniqua, a fine ship of 1019 tons.
After the Peace of Versailles (1919) General Botha, the Union's Prime Minister, determined that South Africa should have her own ships; so three ex-German cargo-vessels – Apolda, Huntress and Seattle – were acquired and managed by the Marine Division of the S.A.R. & H. These 5000-tonners were used in a triangular service from Durban with maize or coal to India, thence to Western Australia with `gunnies' (jute bags), and home with jarrah and karri hardwoods for use as railway sleepers.
At about the same time the well-known London firm of Mitchell Cotts, managers of the Sun Line of cargo ships and leading coal-bunkering merchants, started, through its Cape Town subsidiary, the British Africa Shipping Company, using three ships, one a war-built `Standard' type cargo ship, the others ex-German ships. Only one of these was registered in South Africa, the Africshore (built 1888; 2612 tons). The service proved unprofitable and the ships were withdrawn after a few years.
In June 1921 the Thesen Line was bought by the Houston Line of Liverpool, one of the Clan Line group of companies today known as the British and Commonwealth group. No change was made in the names or the colouring of the ships, but they were thereafter registered in Cape Town. The Houston sent one of its smaller ships, the Hellopes (1890; 1703 tons) to join the Thesen fleet, of which she became the largest and fastest unit. She was, however, found not very suitable for Thesen's services and, after trying vainly to open new trade contacts with Madagascar and East Africa, was sent back to Britain in 1926. Also in 1921 Thesens bought from a Portuguese firm the 1200-ton Zambezia, which ran successfully for them until 1930, when she was bought back by her original owners. Four ships were added in 1922 but none lasted very long with the company except the oldest, the Pondo, which was sold in 1936.
Meanwhile the Durban sugar firm of G. C. Smith & Co. in 1920 bought two small ships, the Karin (1918; 648 tons) and the ex-dredger Kate (1894; 1154 tons), later adding to them the ex-anti-submarine gunboats Homeford and Mead (built in 1918 and 1919; just over 600 tons). These ships were used to carry sugar from Durban along the coast, usually as far as Port Elizabeth, returning with whatever cargo was available. In 1927 their owners set up a subsidiary, Smith's Coasters (Pty.) Ltd., to handle the shipping side of the business. Their original pair of ships had gone by 1930, but the latter two had long and interesting histories.
The three cargo ships owned by the S.A.R. & H. having proved profitable, but being all old, they were replaced in 1925 by the Aloe and the Erica, specially designed 5100-ton freighters, and in 1931 their improved sister Dahlia of 5200 tons. This service was usually called `Sarships'.
The great trade depression between 1930 and 1935 led to the bankruptcy of many shipping companies and the scrapping of many ships, not necessarily old, which could not be run profitably. In 1936 the Houston Line, which had lost money during the depression, sold the Thesen Line to Mitchell Cotts (South Africa of Cape Town). Again there was no change in the appearance or names of the ships. An interesting feature of the new organisation was the appointment of O. Thesen as managing director of the Thesen Line. Just before this the Thesen Line had bought a Dutch ship and renamed her Griqua (1917; 1352 tons) and she proved a very suitable ship. In 1937, however, the Outeniqua was wrecked.
There were at this time a few small coasters working out of Cape Town, three of which were subsequently bought by Thesens. Two of these were specially built motor-coasters, Dalness and Durness (1937-38; 246 tons), renamed Namaqua and Basuto by Thesens, and the Lars Riisdahl, a three-masted topsail schooner of 149 tons, the last unit of Stephan's fleet, bought by Thesens of Knysna.
In 1933 a company called African Coasters, which later became the leading coaster company in the Union, was established in Durban. It started in a small way with the small steamers Frontier (1921; 163 tons) and Border (1917; 184 tons) and the motor ship Cecile Mapleson (1924; 349 tons). The Frontier was wrecked in 1938 and replaced in the same year by a 274-ton vessel of the same name built in Holland. Smith's Coasters replaced their first pair of ships with two notable ships built in 1936-37 in Scotland, the Nahoon and the Gamtoos, each of 790 tons.
Second World War
The outbreak of war in September 1939 caused great changes in South African shipping. Several enemy ships in South African waters were immediately seized. First of them was the German Hagen (1921; 5988 tons), taken over by Sarships a few days after war was declared. An Italian ship, Erminia Mazzelia (1917; 5782 tons) was seized when Italy entered the war, renamed Agulhas and added to Sarships. The great Finnish four-masted barque Lawhill (1892; 2816 tons) was added a year later when she put into East London for stores, unaware that Finland had become one of the Union's enemies! When Denmark was overrun by the Germans three big Danish ships were re-registered in South Africa and put under the management of Sarships for the duration of the war.
During and after the war a number of new shipping enterprises were started in South Africa, but few of them survived more than five years. In 1945 E. A. Eugenides, a Greek ship-owner then resident in the Union, started South African Lines, with one ex Swedish motor ship and two old British steamers. Renamed Kaapland, Namaqualand and Damaraland, the three ships were used on various services without much profit, until in 1950 with the aid of the Union government the company was allowed to join the Shipping Conference which regulated the trade of the established lines running between Britain and the Continent and South Africa. Soon afterwards the Namaqualand and the Damaraland were sold. New motor ships, Mossel Bay, Walvis Bay and Table Bay, were added to the fleet which, after the death of Eugenides in 1954, had become German-controlled. All these ships have since been sold and the company obtained control of the Tugelaland, Kaapland (second of the name), Krugerland, Oranjeland and Komatiland, all modern ships of six to ten thousand tons each.
Meanwhile there had again been a change in the ownership of the Thesen fleet which in 1949 was bought by the well-known Liverpool firm, Coast Lines Ltd. Thesens became a subsidiary under the style Thesen's Steamship Company (Coast Lines, Africa) Limited. No change was made in the appearance of the ships but the word Coast was added after each ship's name, e.g., Namaqua became Namaqua Coast.
The other post-war company which made good is the South African Marine Corporation Ltd., usually called `Safmarine'. Started with American help in June 1946 chiefly through the vision and the efforts of Dr. H. J. van der Bijl, head of the Industrial Development Corporation, it acquired three ex-American `Victory' ships of 7610 tons each, had them refitted to South African standards, renamed them Constantia, Morgenster and Vergelegen (after the famous Cape Dutch homesteads of those names in the Western Province) and put them into service between South African harbours and New York and other American Atlantic seaports. The crews of these (and subsequent) Safmarine ships were Cape Coloured men, the officers being Whites, an ever-increasing number ex-cadets of the General Botha. This service prospering, it was extended to include Canadian Atlantic ports. When in 1950 Safmarine was allowed to join the Shipping Conference new services to and from Britain and the Continent were started. More ships being needed, a number were obtained on long term charter while plans were made for new building.
The first of the new programme came from Scotland in 1955, the South African Merchant (9900 tons), while shortly afterwards three very similar ships on time charter were bought and renamed South African Trader, South African Transporter and South African Pioneer (9700 tons each). At the same time the three `Victory' ships were renamed South African Vanguard, South African Venture and South African Victory. This change in nomenclature was decided on as it was found that the names of the three original ships were difficult for people overseas to pronounce.
Merchant Shipping Act
In 1951 the Merchant Shipp Act (No. 57 of 1951) was passed by the Union Parliament, and the regulations promulgated under it were published as Government Notice No. 1630 of 16 October 1959. These measures gave South Africa the most up-to-date and complete shipping legislation in the world.
In 1959 a new South African line was started by the British and Commonwealth group which owns the Clan and the Union-Castle Lines. This was the Springbok Shipping Company, formed by taking over the fleet of the old-established Natal Line (Bullard King and Company), a British concern which had been owned by Union-Castle since 1919, and adding several Clan liners. All the six ships of the new fleet were called after South African antelopes with names ending in `-bok', e.g. Klipbok (ex Umtata) and Bosbok (ex Clan Sinclair). This arrangement did not last long as in 1961 British and Commonwealth acquired certain previously American-held shares in Safmarine, and arranged to incorporate the Springbok ships in the Safmarine fleet. Once again the ships were renamed, being given names beginning with `South African'. The Klipbok was sold for scrap, the others becoming the South African Farmer, S.A. Shipper, S.A. Statesman, S.A. Seafarer and S.A. Financier. Two more Clan Liners were added to Safmarine as the South African Scientist and the South African Sculptor, but after a year were transferred to the Union-Castle's cargo-fleet as the Kinnaird Castle and the Kinpurnie Castle.
Meanwhile Safmarine had started on an imposing shipbuilding programme of its own, first with a fleet of six refrigerated cargo ships of 10 200 tons deadweight and 17 knots speed, built between 1963 and 1968, mostly in Scotland and Holland, the Langkloof and her sisters, all called after well-known fruit-growing areas in South Africa; and between 1966 and 1969 a series of eight dry-cargo-ships fitted for lifting heavy weights, each of over is 12 500 tons deadweight and of 20 knots speed, the S.A. Alphen and her sisters. (In 1966 it had been decided that the `South African' prefix should be shortened to 'S.A.' on all ships so called, while those such as the Langkloof and her sisters which had no prefix should add the 'S.A.' to their names).
The year 1966 was a most important one for Safmarine. In January it was announced that Safmarine would in future share the mail contract to Britain with Union-Castle. The mail-ships Transvaal Castle (1961; 30 000 tons) and Pretoria Castle (1949; 27 500 tons) were accordingly taken over by Safmarine at Cape Town and renamed S.A. Vaal and S.A. Oranje respectively in January and February 1966. Three years later they were transformed from British to South Africa registry. The 1966 statement also announced that when the mail-ship Edinburgh Castle had to be withdrawn she would be replaced by a newly-built Safmarine mail-ship.
In 1966 also a move of great importance was made when Safmarine took over the Thesen Line from Coast Lines. At the same time African Coasters and Smith's Coasters amalgamated to form Unicorn Lines. Then Safmarine traded shares with Unicorn Lines, whereby the latter added the Thesen Line to its fleet while Safmarine acquired nearly one-third of the shares of Unicorn Lines. Thus most of South Africa's coasters became part of one large and expanding corporation, while Safmarine became a large shareholder in the new concern. The combined fleet numbered 24 units of approximately 67 000 tons deadweight. Within a few years certain of the older and smaller ships were sold, but new units were bought or built for the fleet, including the 4500-ton Tugela, Pongola and Sezela, and the 7000-ton Ridge and Verge, all built in Durban in 1967 and after. In 1973 Unicorn's fleet numbered 26 ships of about 85 000 deadweight tons. Its services now extend far beyond the coasts of South Africa.
Toward the end of the 1960's an interesting `revival' took place when the Durban-based firm of Rennies once again started coastal shipping services between Durban and Cape ports, which they had given up a century before. Today there are eight modern coasters belonging to Rennies or their subsidiary, the Green `R' Line. Their services extend beyond the Cape as far as Port Nolloth, Luderitz and Walvis Bay.
Safmarine had meanwhile been co-operating with other concerns to run various specialised services. In 1964 it and the international firm A. P. Moller jointly formed `Safbulk', to run four bulk-carriers taking iron ore from Port Elizabeth to Japan. The two manned by Safmarine were the Safdan Helene and the Safdan Yvonne. After four years, however, these two, proving more expensive to run than anticipated, were sold. In 1965 a special ship for carrying sugar in bulk from Durban to Japan was built for S.A. Sugar Carriers, in which Safmarine have an interest. The ship, S.A. Sugela, of 24 000 tons deadweight, is manned and managed by Safmarine. A second ship was to be added for this trade.
During the next year the Industrial Development Corporation, which has a big financial interest in Safmarine, arranged for the purchase of a number of tankers of between 26 000 and 60 000 tons deadweight, to be manned and managed by Safmarine These ships, however, were registered abroad, as the oil is fetched from Arab countries which refuse to trade with South Africa.
Experience with these ships caused Safmarine in 1970 to order three giant tankers from Japanese shipyards. These appeared in 1972-73 as the Kulu and the Gondwana, of 215 000 tons deadweight each, and the 270 000-ton Sinde. One of the earlier tankers, the Thorland, was sold after a disastrous explosion, and all the others disposed of except the Burland, Kuland, Marland and Lankus, still trading for Safmarine at the beginning of 1973. In 1970, too, Safmarine announced that it was intending to procure four 30 000 ton container-ships each to carry about 2000 containers at a speed of 23 knots. In the next year Safmarine ordered from a Japanese shipyard a bulk-carrier of 15 4 000 tons deadweight, later named S.A. Vanguard, capable of carrying ore or oil. She was expected to join the fleet early in 1974.
Meanwhile a ship of a completely different sort came under the wing of Safmarine. This was the cable-ship Cable Restorer, bought by the South African government in 1969 to look after the first 1600 km of the undersea telephone cable between the Cape and Lisbon. She was brought on to the South African register in 1972, and is manned and managed by Safmarine. Also in 1969 Safmarine made an agreement with the Dutch Royal Interocean Line to take a half-share of its service to Australia and the Pacific. For this to be done a new concern, Capricorn Lines, was established, each partner holding 50 % of the shares. Two of the four ships in this service were reregistered in South Africa and all were renamed: the Straat Adelaide, Straat Amsterdam and Straat Auckland simply had the prefix `Straat' replaced by `Safocean', but the Straat Accra became the Safocean Albany. In these ships the officers are Dutch or South African, the crews Zulus. The last two ships named wear the South African ensign.
As by this time Safmarine had become an internationally known and respected shipping company it was no surprise when it was announced in January 1970 that Captain Norman M. Lloyd, R.D., R.N. R-master of the S.A. Vaal and an ex-cadet of the training-ship General Botha, had been appointed Commodore of the Safmarine fleet, the first such appointment to be made by the Corporation. Ill-health forced Commodore Lloyd to retire in October 1970 and he was succeeded as Commodore by Captain D. W. Sowden.
Present Safmarine fleet
At the time of writing (March 1973) Safmarine's fleet of mail-ships, refrigerated and dry-cargo ships and tankers totals approximately 677 000 tons gross, capable of carrying about 1 million tons deadweight of cargo, stores and fuel. Ships building or on order add to this another 230 000 tons gross or 350 000 tons deadweight, while to these must be added Safmarine's holdings in Capricorn Lines, Unicorn Lines and South African Sugar Carriers. Alone or in conjunction with associated companies Safmarine maintains services to practically every part of the world outside the Communist countries.
Merchant fleet today
The biggest of Safmarine's ships, the oil-tankers (305 000 gross tons), are not registered in South Africa and so do not wear the South African ensign. Thus the shipping statistics issued by Lloyd's Register of Shipping do not reveal the true size of the South African-owned merchant fleet. Figures available in July 1972 placed South Africa 42nd nation in the world order of tonnage, having 249 ships of 100 tons gross and upwards with a total of 511 190 gross tons. Compare these figures with those of some of the earlier returns: 1945 35 485 gross tons (end of the Second World War); 1950 139 739 gross tons (post-war boom at its height); 1953 77 789 gross tons (back to `normal').
Source: Standard Encylopeadia of South Africa
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In 1853, the Union Steamship Company was founded as the Union Steam Collier to carry coal from South Wales to meet the growing demand in Southampton. It was originally named the Southampton Steam Shipping Company, but later renamed Union Steam Collier Company. The first steamship, the Union, loaded coal in Cardiff in June 1854 but the outbreak of the Crimean War slowed things down. After the war the company was reconstituted as the Union Steamship Company and began chartering its ships.
In 1857 the company was re-registered as Union Line, with Southampton as head office. That same year, the British Admiralty invited tenders for the mail contract to the Cape and Natal. Union Line was awarded the contract with monthly sailings in each direction of not more than 42 days, sailing from Plymouth to Cape Town or Simon’s Town. The five year contract was signed on the 12th September under the name Union-Steam Ship Company Ltd. The first sailing was from Southampton on the 15th September by the Dane.
Union Line built its first ship for the South African run and in October 1860 the Cambrian left Southampton on its maiden voyage. She could carry 60 first class and 40 second class passengers. In September 1871, bound for the cape, she ran out of coal but, under sail, completed the voyage from Southampton in less than 42 days.
By 1863 Donald Currie had built up a fleet of four sailing ships which passed the Cape on the Liverpool-Calcutta run. This company was the Castle Packet Company and was successful until the Suez Canal opened in 1869. By this time, Donald had acquired shares in the Leith, Hull and Hamburg Packet Company where his brother James was manager. The LH & H Packet Co. chartered two ships, Iceland and Gothland, to the Cape & Natal Steam Navigation Co. but this company failed. Donald then used three new Castle steamships intended for the Calcutta run on the Cape run. The ships sailed twice monthly from London with a call at Dartmouth for the mail.
In 1872 the Castle Packet Company took on the Cape run after the collapse of the Cape & Natal Line which had Currie ships on charter. Sailing from London, the ships called at Dartmouth. The service was sold under the banner “The Regular London Line”, later becoming “The Colonial Mail Line” and then “The Castle Mail Packet Company Limited”.
In 1873 Union Line signed a new mail contract including a four weekly service up the east coast of Africa from Cape Town to Zanzibar.
In 1876 the Castle Mail Packet Company Ltd was formed. Later that year, the Colonial Government awarded a joint mail contract. The service to the Cape became weekly by alternating steamers.
In 1882 the Union-Line Athenian became the first ship to use the new Sir Hercules Robinson graving dock at Cape Town. This was constructed of Paarl granite and was named after the Governor of South Africa.
In 1883 the South African Shipping Conference was formed to control the Europe -South / East Africa freight rates. The Conference was dominated by the Union Line and the Castle Mail Packet Company. Fierce rivalry between the two mail companies dominated the route until the merger in 1900. A seven year joint mail contract was signed with the clause that the companies not amalgamate.
In May 1887 the Dunbar Castle sailed from London with the first consignment of railway equipment to link the Eastern Transvaal with Delagoa Bay. The railway line was opened in 1894.
In 1890 Castle Packet’s new Dunottar Castle sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage. It reduced the voyage to 18 days, and embarkation was switched from Dartmouth to Southampton. She had accommodation for 100 first class, 90 second class, 100 third class and 150 steerage passengers.
In 1890 Union Line’s Norseman and Tyrian, together with Courland and Venice from the Castle Packet Company began shipping supplies for transporting up river to Matebeleland. These materials were used to open up the new country of Rhodesia.
In 1891 Union Line’s Scott left Southampton on her maiden voyage reaching Cape Town in 15½ days with a stop in Madeira. In March 1893 the same ship set a new Cape run record of 14 days, 18 hours – a record which stood for 43 years. It was also in 1891 that the Castle Line replaced its Dartmouth call with one at Southampton. The Union Line now operated 10 steamships and the Castle Mail Packets Co. (renamed in 1881) operated 11 on the mail run. Both companies operated connecting coastal services to Lourenco Marques, Beira and Mauritius.
In 1893, both Union and Castle Lines began a joint cargo service from South Africa to New York. The mail contract was renewed, again with the non-amalgamation clause.
In October 1899 the Anglo-Boer War broke out. Both Union Line and Castle Packet ships ferried troops and supplies to South Africa. In late 1899, a new mail contract was offered but only one company could win the award. This led to the merger proposed by Donald. It was announced in December 1899 and Castle Line took over the fleet. The Union Line livery was black with a white riband around the hull but in 1892 this was changed to a white hull with blue riband and cream-coloured funnels. The Castle ships had a lavender-grey hull with black-topped red funnels, and this was adopted as the livery for the Union-Castle Line.
On the 13th February 1900, shareholders approved the merger. On the 8th March the merged company name was registered – Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.
At the time of the merger, the Union Steamship fleet included the:
Celt (on order)
The Castle Line Mail Packet Company ships included the:
On the 10th March 1900, Union Line’s Moor left Southampton for the last time in Union colours. On the 17th March Donald Currie hosted a reception aboard the Dunottar Castle to celebrate the hoisting of the Union-Castle flag for the first time. The Anglo-Boer War resulted in heavy military traffic for Union-Castle Line. Lord ROBERTS and his Chief of Staff, General KITCHENER, travelled to the Cape by Union-Castle.
In 1901 the Tantallon Castle was lost off Robben Island. In 1902, after the war had ended, 15 ships were laid up at Netley in Southampton Water. Nine ships undertook the weekly mail service – Saxon, Briton, Norman, Walmer Castle, Carisbrooke Castle, Dunvegan Castle, Kildonan Castle and Kinfauns Castle.
In 1910, Lord GLADSTONE, the first Governor-General of South Africa, sailed to the Cape aboard the Walmer Castle. The 1900 mail contract was extended until 1912, as the colonies united and the South African Parliament was formed under the Union of South Africa. The Prince of Wales was to sail to Cape Town, to open the new Parliament, aboard the Balmoral Castle – taken over by the Admiralty for the purpose as H.M.S. Balmoral Castle. Shortly before the ship sailed King Edward VII died and the Prince of Wales ascended the throne as H.M. King George V. He was not able to go to Cape Town and his brother, the Duke of Connaught, was sent instead.
In 1911 the Royal Mail Line bought the Union-Castle Company, taking control in April 1912. A new ten year mail contract was signed. The first new ships now bore Welsh names – the Llandovery Castle and the Llanstephan Castle.
In 1914, the Carisbrooke Castle, Norman and Dunvegan Castle were commissioned by the Admiralty – the first as a hospital ship, the latter two as troopships. By the 4th September, 19 of Union-Castle’s 41 ships were on war duty.
By 1915, Union-Castle had 13 ships in service as hospital ships. Some of the ships were lost during WWI:
28 October 1916 – Galeka was hit by a mine.
19 March 1917 – Alnwick Castle was torpedoed and sunk.
26 May 1917 – Dover Castle was sunk by a U-boat.
21 November 1917 – Aros Castle was torpedoed and sunk.
14 February 1918 – Carlisle Castle was torpedoed and sunk
26 February 1918 – Galacian was sunk by a U-boat, whilst renamed the Glenart Castle
12 September 1918 – Galway Castle was sunk by a U-boat, whilst renamed the Rhodesia
27 June 1918 – Llandovery Castle was sunk by a U-boat whilst serving as a hospital ship. 234 lives were lost, making it the fleet’s worst disaster. The Union-Castle War Memorial to those lost is at Cayzer House, Thomas More Street, London.
By October 1919, the Africa service had restarted, and Natal Direct Line had been bought. The weekly mail service resumed after WWI. The intermediate service restarted with the Gloucester Castle, Guildford Castle, Llanstephen Castle and the Norman.
In 1921 the Arundel Castle entered service. It was Union-Castle’s first four funnelled ship and the fleet’s largest ship to date. The Windsor Castle followed in 1922 and the “Round Africa” service was inaugurated.
In 1925 the Norman was withdrawn from service and the Llandovery Castle brought into service, followed by the Llandaff Castle and the Carnarvon Castle in 1926.
In 1927 the Royal Mail Line added the White Star Line. The British Treasury became involved to try and separate Union-Castle Line’s parent company from Royal Mail. By 1932 the Royal Mail group of companies (which included Union-Castle) had run into financial difficulties. Union-Castle came out of this as an independent company. In 1934 Royal Mail was put in liquidation. With heavy government involvement, Union-Castle started rebuilding.
In 1936 the Athlone Castle and the Stirling Castle entered the service. The Stirling Castle beat the record to the Cape set in 1893 by the Scot. A new ten year 14-day mail contract was signed. At this stage only the Stirling Castle and the Athlone Castle could maintain the timetable. The Arundel Castle and Windsor Castle were rebuilt, and the Carnarvon Castle, Winchester Castle and Warwick Castle were re-engined. On the 29th April 1938 the Cape Town Castle entered service. By 1939, the rebuilding programme was complete, but WWII was looming. The Edinburgh Castle became a troopship and the Dunottar Castle served as an armed merchant cruiser. After war was declared, the Carnavon Castle, Dunvegan Castle and Pretoria Castle became armed merchant cruisers.
The following Union-Castle ships were lost during WWII:
4th January 1940 – Rothesay Castle
9th January 1940 – Dunbar Castle hit by a mine and sunk.
28th August 1940 – Dunvegan Castle was sunk by a U-boat.
21st September 1941 – Walmer Castle was bombed and sunk.
12th December 1941 – Dromore Castle was hit by a mined and sunk.
14th February 1942 – Rowallan Castle was bombed by enemy aircraft.
16th July 1942 – Gloucester Castle was sunk by the German cruiser Michel.
4th August 1942 – Richmond Castle was sunk by a U-boat.
14th November 1942 – Warwick Castle was sunk by a U-boat.
30th November 1942 – Llandaff Castle was sunk by a U-boat.
22nd February 1943 – Roxburgh Castle was sunk by a U-boat.
23rd March 1943 – Windsor Castle was sunk by enemy aircraft.
2nd April 1943 – Dundrum Castle exploded and sank in the Red Sea.
During the war Union-Castle ships carried 1.3 million troops, 306 Union-Castle employees were killed, wounded or listed as missing, 62 became prisoners-of-war. The Master of the Rochester Castle, Captain Richard WREN, received the DSO. The Winchester Castle, along with the battleship H.M.S. Ramillies, lead Operation Ironclad at Diego Suarez, and was awarded Battle Honours and her Master, Captain NEWDIGATE the DSC.
By the end of WWII, the Union-Castle passenger fleet consisted of the Cape Town Castle, Athlone Castle, Stirling Castle, Winchester Castle, Carnarvon Castle and the Arundel Castle.
In 1946, South Africa sponsored a scheme for engineers and their families to emigrate from Britain to fill positions in South Africa. These passengers travelled on the Carnarvon Castle, Winchester Castle and the Arundel Castle. The Durban Castle joined the “Round Africa” route.
On the 9th January 1947, the Cape Town Castle departed from Southampton – the first passenger ship carrying post-war mail. Along with the Stirling Castle, the mail service was restored. In May the Llandovery Castle restarted the “Round Africa” passenger service.
In 1948 the Pretoria Castle (later renamed the S.A. Oranje) and the Edinburgh Castle, departed from Southampton on the 22nd July and the 9th December respectively on their maiden voyages in the mail service.
In February 1949 the Dunottar Castle returned to the “Round Africa” service. A rebuilding programme started and 13 new ships were brought in – the Pretoria Castle and the Edinburgh Castle (mail service); the Kenya Castle, Braemar Castle and the Rhodesia Castle (intermediate liners); the Bloemfontein Castle (Round Africa service); the Riebeeck Castle and Rustenburg Castle (refrigerated cargo); Tantallon Castle, Tintagel Castle, Drakensberg Castle, Good Hope Castle and the Kenilworth Castle (general cargo). The Good Hope Castle and the Drakensberg Castle were registered in South Africa
In 1950 the Bloemfontein Castle departed from London on her maiden voyage anti-clockwise “Round Africa”. In 1953 the Pretoria Castle was chosen to be the Union-Castle ship present at the Coronation Review of the Fleet by Queen Elizabeth II at Spithead on the 15th June 1953.
On the 31st December 1955, the Clan Line and Union-Castle Line merged to form British & Commonwealth. The Clan Line contributed 60% of the assets (57 ships) and Union-Castle 40% (42 ships), giving the CAYZER family control of Union-Castle. The routes and livery of each company remained unchanged.
On New Year’s Day 1959 the Pendennis Castle (replacing the Arundel Castle) departed from Southampton on her maiden voyage in the mail service. The Arundel Castle completed her 211th and last voyage from the Cape, sailing for breakers in the Far East. On the 18th August 1960 the Windsor Castle departed from Southampton on her maiden voyage in the mail service, becoming the largest liner to visit Cape Town. The Winchester Castle was withdrawn from service. Also in 1960, an explosion aboard the Cape Town Castle killed the Chief Engineer and seven officers and ratings.
In 1961, the Transvaal Castle (later renamed S.A. Vaal) was launched by Lady CAYZER. In 1962 the “Round Africa” service was closed. The Transvaal Castle departed from Southampton on her maiden voyage on the 18th January 1962. The Carnarvon Castle and Warwick Castle were withdrawn from service, departing Durban for the last time together. The Durban Castle was also withdrawn.
The Southampton Castle was launched on the 20th October 1964 by Princess Alexandra.
The Windsor Castle sailed on the 16th July 1965, accelerating the mail service to provide a Southampton – Cape Town passage in 11 days. The old 4 p.m. Thursday departure was replaced by the 1 p.m. Friday departure, which remained in place for 12 years. The Athlone Castle and the Stirling Castle were withdrawn from service.
The final cycle of weekly sailings saw the mail ships departing from Southampton in the following order: Windsor Castle, Southampton Castle, Edinburgh Castle, S.A.Vaal, Pendennis Castle, Good Hope Castle, S.A. Oranje.
In 1965 Union-Castle took over the charter of the cruise liner Reina del Mar, using her out of Southampton in the summer months mainly to the Mediterranean. In the winter she cruised from South African ports – often to Rio de Janeiro and other South American ports. The Good Hope Castle sailed on her maiden voyage in the mail service on the 14th January 1966.
The UK seamen’s strike in 1966, lasting 46 days, saw 13 British & Commonwealth Group ships laid up in Southampton Docks at the same time. The mail service became a joint operation with the South African Marine Corporation – Safmarine. The Pretoria Castle and the Transvaal Castle were transferred to Safmarine and the South African flag, becoming the S.A. Oranje and the S.A. Vaal, painted in Safmarine colours.
As the De Havilland Comet jet took to the air, mail was changed from sea mail to air mail. The Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet enabled the mass transportation of people by air. In October 1973 British & Commonwealth Shipping Company and Safmarine combined their operations under the name International Liner Services Ltd. On the 29th June 1973 a fire broke out aboard the Good Hope Castle whilst en route from Ascension Island to St. Helena. Passengers were rescued by a passing tanker. The ship was abandoned but did not sink. She re-entered the mail service from Southampton on the 31st May 1974. A world-wide oil crisis resulted in a 10% surcharge on mail ship fares. The Southampton – Cape Town mail service was temporarily slowed from 11 days to 12 days, to conserve bunker oil.
The S.A. Oranje departed from Southampton on the 19th September 1975 for the breakers. It was the start of the phasing out of weekly mail service.
The Edinburgh Castle’s last departure from Southampton (without passengers) was on the 23rd April 1976 for Durban, after which she went to the breakers. The Pendennis Castle was withdrawn after arriving at Southampton on the 14th June.
In 1977 a decision was made to containerise Europe – South Africa services. The company’s flagship, Windsor Castle, left Southampton on her last voyage on the 12th August, arriving back on the 19th September. She was sold for use as a floating hotel in the Middle East. The S.A. Vaal made her final arrival at Southampton on the 10th October. She was rebuilt as the Festivale with Carnival Cruise Lines on the 29th October and eventually scrapped in 2003 in Alang, India. The Good Hope Castle made her last arrival in the mail service at Southampton on the 26th September. On the 30th September, mainly in order to keep the islands of Ascension and St. Helena supplied, she made an additional voyage to the Cape via Zeebrugge, outside the mail service. She was finally withdrawn on return to Southampton on the 8th December. She was sold to Italy ‘s Costa Line as Paola C but was soon broken up. On the 24th October 1977, the Southampton Castle arrived at Southampton on her last mail service. She was sold to Costa Line but soon afterwards went to the breakers.
To keep the Union-Castle name alive, several Clan Line refrigerated ships were given Castle names and were repainted in Union-Castle colours. The last ship to fly the mail pennant for the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company was the Kinpurnie Castle (former Clan Ross). She carried the mail on a voyage from Southampton to Durban calling at the Ascension Islands, St Helena, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London. By 1981 the last of the Clan Line ships were sold. In 1982, International Liner Services Ltd withdrew from shipping after failing to compete against air travel. By 1986 British & Commonwealth had disposed of their last ship.
In 1999, the Union-Castle Line name was revived for a special “Round Africa” sailing on the old route. P & O Line’s Victoria sailed on the 11th December 1999 from Southampton on a millennium cruise with her funnel painted in Union-Castle colours. New Year’s celebrations were held in Cape Town. The Victoria returned to Southampton in February 2000.
In June 2001 the Amerikanis (former Kenya Castle) was scrapped in India, In July 2003 the Big Boat (former Transvaal Castle) was scrapped in India. In August 2004 the Victoria (former Dunottar Castle), was also scrapped in India. The Margarita L. (former Windsor Castle) was then owned by the Greek LATSIS family but in December 2004 this last ship was sold for scrap to Indian scrap merchants, ending the era of the Union-Castle Line.
Ports of Call
Royal Mail Service: from Southampton to Durban, via Madeira, Cape Town, Algoa Bay and East London. Northbound voyages called at Mossel Bay.
Around Africa service (West Coast): from London to London, via Canary Islands, Cape Town, Durban, Delagoa Bay and Suez Canal. Other ports of call were given as East African, Egyptian and Mediterranean ports. They may have included Madeira, Ascension, St. Helena, Lobito Bay, Walvis Bay, Lüderitz Bay, Mossel Bay, Algoa Bay, East London, Beira, Dar-es-Salaam, Zanzibar, Tanga, Mombasa, Aden, Port Sudan, Naples, Genoa and Marseilles.
Around Africa service (East Coast): from London to London, via Suez Canal, Delagoa Bay, Durban, Cape Town, Lobito Bay, St. Helena, Ascension, Canary Islands and Madeira. Other ports of call may have been the same as the West Coast route.
Intermediate service: from London to Beira or Mombasa, via Canary Islands and Cape Town. Occasionally called at St. Helena and Ascension on northbound voyages. Other ports of call may have included Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth), East London, and Atlantic ports as per the “Around Africa” West Coast service.
“Round Africa” route, from the 1954 Union-Castle brochure
The Union Castle Line Poster
A Trip to South Africa, by James Salter-Whiter, 1892
Ships and South Africa: a maritime chronicle of the Cape, with particular reference to mail and passenger liners, from the early days of steam down to the present ; by Marischal Murray, Oxford University Press 1933
Union-Castle Chronicle: 1853 – 1953, by Marischal Murray; Longmans, Green and Company 1953
Mail ships of the Union Castle Line, by C.J. Harris and Brian D. Ingpen, Fernwood Press, 1994
Union-Castle Line – A Fleet History, by Peter Newall, Carmania Press 1999
Golden Run – A Nostalgic Memoir of the Halcyon Days of the Great Liners to South and East Africa, by Henry Damant, 2006
Merchant Fleet Series. Vol. 18 Union-Castle, by Duncan Haws
Union-Castle Line Staff Register: http://www.unioncastlestaffregister.co.uk
Article researched and written by Anne Lehmkuhl, June 2007
When sugar was first produced from cane in Natal in 1851, the colony seemed set for a major economic boom. But there was just one snag: the plantation owners lacked a source of cheap labour. At first they hoped that the indigenous people would be able to supply their needs.
But once it became obvious that toiling in the fields for the white capitalist held no attraction for most Zulu`s, planters began to turn their attentions elsewhere.
And they looked – as planters throughout the empire had looked – to India.
Davarum was 30 years old when he put his thumb-print to a document he could not even read: ‘We the adult male emigrants,’ it said, ‘do hereby agree to serve the employer to whom we may respectively be allotted by the Natal Government under the Natal Act No. 14 of 1859 and we all understand the terms under which we are engaged …’
Davarum – or Coolie No.1, as the recruiting officer named him, had no idea where Natal was, let alone the implications of Act No. 14 – but for 10 shillings a month he, and hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, were pre-pared to travel anywhere to escape the poverty and starvation of India.
On 12 October 1860, he and his wife (Coolie No. 2), and their two children (Coolies 3 and 4), joined 338 others aboard the Truro at Madras harbour. A few hours later, the dangerously overloaded vessel began its long journey to south-east Africa.
The fight for “coolie” labour
The go-ahead for Natal to recruit ‘coolies’ in Madras (and Calcutta ) followed protracted and often bitter negotiation between the governments of the colony, Britain and a far from-keen India. As far back as 1851, plantation owners had been demanding the importation of workers from India.
In 1855, Cape Governor Sir George Grey, acting on behalf of a group of Natal farmers, tried to ‘requisition’ 300 ‘coolies’ from Calcutta. Although the Indian Government turned down this request, it promised to reconsider once the colony had stipulated the terms of indenture.
In 1856 the Natal legislature passed an ordinance em-powering the Lieutenant-Governor ‘to make rules and regulations for Coolies introduced into this District from the East Indies’. But in the next year, much of India erupted in rebellion against the rule of the English East India Company that, for decades, had systematically plundered, taxed and exploited the country and its people. By the time the last mutineer had been blown from the muzzle of a cannon, rule in India had passed to the British Crown and, as memory of the horrors of war faded, Indians were given a greater say in the new system of government which developed. Mindful of the racist attitudes of white colonists in southern Africa, and therefore unconvinced that workers would be properly treated, the new Indian administration again turned down a Natal request for ‘coolie’ labour.
By 1859 the labour shortage in Natal had reached crisis proportions – and the ‘Natal Mercury’ proclaimed that ‘the fate of the Colony hangs on a thread, and that thread is labour’. Legislation was rushed through to enable colonists to bring in labour from India at their own expense, and also to allow the colonial government to introduce Indian labourers ‘at the public expense’. Although the government bore the major share of the expenses, planters to whom the labourers were assigned had to pay three-fifths of their passage money of some £8 per head, as well as certain other costs.
The contract, or indenture, provided that a labourer would be assigned to a particular planter for a period of three years (later amended to five years) and then be re-indentured, perhaps to the same planter, for another two years. After a residence in Natal of a further five years as a ‘free’ worker, the labourer had the choice of accepting a free return passage to India or of remaining in Natal on a small grant of Crown land. While they were indentured, their welfare was the responsibility of a ‘Coolie Immigration Agent’, who also assigned them to plantations.
Once on the plantation, treatment of the indentured labourer was not subject to the ordinary master and servant ordinance. Special regulations demanded that the employer provide food and lodging, clothing and any necessary medical attention. He was also obliged to pay wages of 10 shillings a month for the first year, followed by an annual increase of a shilling a month thereafter in each successive year. His workers’ welfare would be guarded by the Coolie Immigration Agent, who would visit each plantation at least twice a year. On the other hand, if a labourer missed work for what his employer regarded as an inadequate reason, a portion of his already meagre wages could be deducted as a fine. If he left his employer’s plantation without a signed Pass, he was liable to imprisonment. Once his five years of indentured service were over, the immigrant Indian was subject to the ordinary law of the colony. It was scarcely an attractive package, but ever-increasing pressure on the land in India led to growing impoverishment of a rural class that owned no land and was scarcely able to survive. Emigration, whether to Natal or any other part of the empire, was an act of desperation in an attempt to secure survival.
On 16 November 1860 the Truro dropped anchor in Natal Bay under the curious gaze of a crowd of white spectators who had come to see the arrival of the Indians. The Coolie Immigration Agent was not at the dockside because, to save money, the Natal Government had not yet formalised his appointment (they did not do so until two days later). Once ashore, the immigrants were herded by armed police into an uncompleted barracks with no toilet, washing or cooking facilities, set amid pools of stagnant water. Here they remained under guard for eight days (during which time four of them died), waiting for their new masters to collect them. The planters wanted only strong, healthy young men – and as rumours began circulating that families would be split up, some of the workers tried to abscond in a bid for freedom. The reaction of the authorities was to build high walls around the barracks.
Although the terms of the agreement between the governments of India and Natal stipulated that families were not to be separated, this did, in fact, occur: a 34-year old woman, Choureamah Arokuim (Coolie No. 99), arrived with her daughters, eight-year-old Megaleamah (Coolie No. 100) and three-year-old Susanah (Coolie No. 101). Although the family was originally assigned to Grey’s Hospital, just over six months later Magaleamah was apprenticed to A Brewer, and Susanah – perhaps aged four by this time – to Isabella O’Hara. Once assigned, the immigrants walked to their plantations, clutching a few pathetic possessions and their rations for the road.
At first, the plantation workers erected their own shacks and were able to cultivate small patches of the surrounding ground for their own account – if they were not exhausted by the day’s work. Later, however, planters were obliged to provide accommodation, building barracks, known as ‘coolie lines’, of corrugated iron, mud, or stone, in which the workers led a cramped and uncomfortable existence devoid of any privacy. A lean-to shed, generally without a chimney, was used for cooking the rations of rice, mealie-meal and ghee, a clarified form of butter.
About 250 grams of dried fish each week was their only luxury. Few barracks were provided with toilets, and analysis of samples of water used for drinking revealed them to be ‘quite unsafe for use’.
Before dawn every day, the sirdar (foreman) rang a bell or, more commonly, struck a bar of iron suspended from a tree, to wake the workers who, after an unappetising breakfast of cold ‘porridge’, marched to the fields so as to begin work as the sun rose. And they worked, planting, digging, breaking new soil, cutting, harvesting, carrying, building, until the sun set. There was a brief break for lunch, which was a repeat of breakfast. It was dark by the time they reached their homes, where they managed another brief meal before falling into exhausted sleep. Sundays were supposed to be free, but few planters observed this.
Also unobserved was the condition that employers of more than 20 Indians should provide elementary hospitals. The ‘hospital’ at the receiving depot lumped all patients` together – men, women and children – regardless of whether or not any were suffering from infectious diseases. Latrines were four holes in the ground, and there were neither water basins nor baths. Corpses were laid out in the open. By 1885 only three plantations had set up sick rooms, and these were worse than that at the depot.
Despite the appalling conditions, few complaints reached the courts. Principally, this was because the worker could not leave the estate without his employer’s per-mission, and because the over-worked Coolie Immigration Agent was unable to visit the estates as he was supposed to. When he did, he was rarely able to speak to the workers in private and, in the presence of employers and sirdars, the workers were afraid to complain, knowing that they could expect even worse treatment if they were found out.
If some part of the worker found peace in death, it was not his body. Cremation, customary in India, was not permitted. In Durban, some ground near a butchery was allocated as an Indian and African cemetery. Workers, anxious to return to work to forestall pay stoppages, sometimes did not bury the corpses deep enough, and they were rooted out and eaten by pigs that had acquired a taste for flesh from offal thrown out by the butchery. Not even in death was there dignity.
Tales of horror
The fact that ‘coolies’ were regarded as units of labour rather than people left them open to widespread abuse. In an editorial which aptly summed up the attitude of white colonists, the ‘Natal Witness’ commented: ‘The ordinary Coolie … and his family cannot be admitted into close fellowship and union with us and our families. He is introduced for the same reason as mules might be introduced from Montevideo, oxen from Madagascar or sugar machinery from Glasgow. The object for which he is brought is to supply labour and that alone. He is not one of us, he is in every respect an alien; he only comes to perform a certain amount of work, and return to India …’
Many did, in fact, return to India, carrying with them horrific tales of life on the sugar plantations of Natal.
Illegal punishments meted out by employers included flogging. A 10-year-old Indian shepherd, afraid to return to his employer because a sheep had strayed from the flock, was suspended from a rafter for two hours and thrashed with a hunting crop. When released, he ran away and was not seen again. His parents, who worked for the same planter, were beaten on suspicion of taking food to the boy at night. This was an extreme case, but the prevailing callousness is summed up in the case of a man called Narayanan, who returned to his hut one evening to find that his ill wife and child had gone. He walked the plantations for months, vainly searching for his family – until he eventually discovered that the authorities had decided, because of his wife’s illness, to return her and the child to India.
In 1871, confronted by reports and filed statements of abuses, India halted emigration to southern Africa – and the Governor-General of India explained: ‘We cannot permit emigration (to Natal) to be resumed until we are satisfied that the colonial authorities are aware of their duties towards Indian emigrants and that effectual measures have been taken to ensure that class of Her Majesty’s subjects full protection in Natal.’ A commission hastily set up in Natal recommended that flogging be abolished, medical services be improved, and that the Coolie Immigration Agent be given wider powers and the new title of Protector of Indian Immigrants. Once these recommendations had passed into Natal law, together with another that safeguarded the immigrants’ wages, the Indian Government allowed recruiting to resume, and the next group arrived in 1874.
Improvements, however, turned out to be mainly cosmetic and, although the Protector claimed that their fair treatment of immigrants ‘was a credit to the Natal Planters’, the Indian Government raised further objections, claiming that wages were far too low, and that unfairly large deductions were made when a labourer was unable to work because of illness. Living conditions were unsatisfactory, and many labourers were obliged to use water supplies that were dangerously contaminated.
By that time bigotry and discrimination were being increasingly written into the law. In Pietermaritzburg and Durban local legislation provided for the arrest of ‘all per-sons of Colour, if found in the streets after 9 o’clock (at night) without a Pass’. A law of the Natal Parliament restricted Indian rights by classifying them as ‘an uncivilised race’. Natal then unsuccessfully approached the Indian Government with its proposal that labourers should be indentured for the full 10-year period, which provoked indignant reaction. A Bengali newspaper declared: ‘The only difference between Negro slavery and coolie emigration is that the former was open slavery and the latter is slavery in disguise.’ Natal’s reaction was to cease issuing grants of land in lieu of passage money to Indians who had been resident for 10 years and who wished to remain.
Despite their many hardships, Indians, after serving their period of indenture, filled many positions in the colony, some of them to the great indignation and resentment of whites. They were active in agriculture, and by 1885 were virtually the sole producers of fruit and vegetables for Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Others established a fishing and fish-curing industry based on Salisbury Island, while yet others were occupied in coal mining and on the Natal Government Railways. Some went into domestic service or practised a variety of trades. In reply to demands that time-expired workers be repatriated, the Protector was able to say that ‘with but very few exceptions every industry in existence at the present time (1894) would collapse … if the Indian population should be withdrawn’. Their numbers were considerable, sometimes exceeding the total white population, and between 1860 and 1911, when the practice of indentured immigration ceased, some 152 000 Indians had entered Natal.
Known as Arabs or ‘Passengers’, and most of them Muslims from the state of Gujarat, they began to arrive in the 1870s and constituted the upper stratum of Indians in southern Africa. They associated with the indentured or ex-indentured Indians only so far as trade and labour required it. Yet, racial discrimination did not distinguish one from the other.
The ‘Passenger’ merchants arrived in Natal with considerable capital, and soon set themselves up as storekeepers selling not only to Africans and Indians but, increasingly, to whites. With their shops staffed by members of their families, ‘Passenger’ merchants were able to keep prices below the level the white trader regarded as the minimum on which he could make a profit.
When the first ‘Passenger’ merchants arrived, there were already 10 stores owned by ex-indentured labourers, whose customers were their still-indentured compatriots. By 1880, ex-labourers held 30 of the 37 retail trading licences issued to Indians in Durban – but, from then on, the assertion of the ‘Passengers’ was rapid: within five years, they owned 60 of the 66 Indian stores in Natal.
Wealthier, more confident and ambitious, they formed an elite group, members of which submitted the first petition of grievances to the Colonial Secretary in London. They complained, among other things, of the 9 o’clock curfew, of the lack of interpreters in many courts, of the absence of Indians from juries, and of police brutality and harassment. They also requested permission to open their shops on Sundays, the only time when indentured Indians could do their shopping.
Faced by white hostility and rejection, groups of ‘Passengers’ who in India would never have associated with one another, were drawn together in the fight for political and civil rights. Their situation grew more serious from 1893 when Natal was granted responsible government. It meant that appeals to England or to India were much less likely to succeed.
But in the same year of 1893 a young, London-trained lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi left India to act in a matter concerning two Indian merchants in southern Africa. In Durban, he bought a first-class railway ticket and took his seat in a coach where, during the journey, a white traveller objected to sharing with an Indian. Ejected after refusing to move to a third-class compartment, Gandhi spent a thoughtful night on Pietermaritzburg station, pondering over what he was to call the ‘most important factor’ in directing his future political life.
Article Source: Illustrated History of South Africa
Images: Acknowledgment – Natal Archives
Image Captions (From top to bottom):
Natal Immigrants – Port Natal
p Registers: Elliott Collection