Sunday, August 28, 2016

Keepsakes from Mariner Ancestors: Scrimshaw Art

Scrimshaw is art engraved on ivory or bone and dates back to the 18th century. Whalers and other seamen had the means - plentiful whale teeth, walrus tusks and other bone - to make wonderful designs on this medium, often making their own engraving tools as well. Sometimes tints were added for a more colourful effect.
Mariners also needed a hobby to while away periods of inactivity - if they were becalmed, for example - and also to fashion gifts to take back home to wives and sweethearts. The subjects showed their routine at sea - ships, lighthouses, whales - as well as famous and fascinating people, e.g. Horatio Nelson or imaginative mermaids, or a pretty girl left behind ashore.  A favourite item was a decorated bone corset busk, something the girl could carry near her heart.

Pocket knife with marlin spike (modern)
Unfortunately, these pieces, often intricate in design, remained anonymous and were not signed. They are nevertheless a commemoration of the men who made them and the hard life the mariners led.  Nowadays there are many copies of antique scrimshaw work, usually not on ivory which is a restricted material. 

Antique scrimshaw pieces

Two examples of scrimshaw showing the Eddystone Lighthouse,
one in a calm sea the other with stormy waves.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Bell of the Conch at the Cape 1837

A number of references to Captain William Bell and his schooner Conch occur in the 1830s Cape newspapers, helping to add valuable information to his chronology and to give a picture of his coastal sailing routine. 

 South African Commercial Advertiser 1837

to veteran researcher Sue McKay for all her photography and transcription work, of
which I was one grateful recipient.

Captain William Bell, Port Captain of Durban

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Newspapers for vital snippets of information 1870s

A passing reference to Captain and Mrs Caithness adds interest to the timeline for this ancestor. It tells us the Caithness couple had travelled as passengers on the Northam (Norham Castle? possible misspelling) from the Cape of Good Hope to Southampton. Reported in the Hants Advertiser Sat 21 Sept 1872. This ship was carrying a valuable cargo - over 2 000 pounds in specie (money in coin, not notes), gold from the Marabastadt fields, ostrich feathers, ivory - and nine packages of diamonds. The bales of wool would have been valuable too. The departure dates from each stop en route and the weather experienced are a helpful record of what it was like for any passenger to travel by ship from the Cape to Southampton in the 1870s.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ship arrivals and departures Port Natal 1865-1866

This partial list is taken from the Natal Almanac and gives an idea of the traffic experienced at the port of Durban for the year ending 1866. It also shows the wide variety of tonnage of the vessels and the duration of their voyages, also their ports of departure and destination.

We can see that the ship Adelaide from Madras, undoubtedly carrying Indian migrant workers (over 300 of them) was wrecked on the Bar at Natal.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Siege and Relief of Ladysmith Commemorative group

29 February - 4 March 1950
List of some of the veterans attending the celebrations, with place of residence and regiment where given - many of these people are undoubtedly included in the group photograph taken on this occasion. Is your ancestor among them?
Click on the pic to zoom.

NC Natal Carbineers (or RNC Royal Natal Carbineers)
SALH South African Light Horse
RE Royal Engineers
VCR Volunteer Composite Regt
ILH Imperial Light Horse
NNV Natal Naval Volunteers
BMR Border Mounted Rifles
NMR Natal Mounted Rifles
DLI Durban Light Infantry
KRRC King's Royal Rifle Corps
R I L Royal Irish Lancers

SA Druitt Milton Hankey Cape Province RE
Alex Lyle Capt NC 432 Bulwer St PMBurg
WA Poulton (?) Maritzburg 5 R I Lancers
James E Greig Ladysmith NC
C Page Wood Umkomaas SALH
ER Baldock Bulawayo
R Tomlinson Pietermaritzburg NC
WH Smith Ladysmith Town Guard
AT Rowsell Ladysmith attached to RE Corps
KM Champion Sister Durban*
M Rowland Sister Durban*
K Boyd Nurse Cape Province*
Thos Hackland Richmond NC and VCR
GR Reynolds Port Nolloth Namaqualand
TA Lewis Richmond NC and VCR
WT Hamp Durban
ES MacGillivray Pretoria
WJ Crouch NC Colenso
Dan Yeadon Kings Own (R L) Regt Durban
FS Hornby Donnybrook NC
CR Carter Parkhurst JHBurg NC
EE Houshold 49 Loop St PMB NC
B Buntting Babanango Natal NC
M Taylor Sunrise PO Highbury NC
WE Antel NC
CW Lewis 48A Vause Rd Durban NP
AL Cooper Salisbury S Rhodesia ILH
CR Turner Durban NNV
Geo Craw McArthur Dannhauser BMR and VCR
Thos Gee Camperdown VCR
HG Finch NMR
FM Sivil Scottburgh NNV (with HMS Powerful)
A Joyner Matatiele East Griqualand NC
CF Thomson BMR PMB
C Francis PMB NC
JH Harwin Johannesburg
AA Mason Capt RIL
HE Smith NMR
CE Freeman BMR
JA Greer BMR
AW Starr NMR
J Foster BMR
AB Jones NMR
C Gottschalk BMR
HD Archibald BMR
AH Shuttleworth BMR
BW Martin BMR and NC
JD Watson BMR
WH London BMR Umkomaas
AP Jefferson Currie Rd Durban
JG Shaw Howick NC
AS Clouston St Winifreds South Coast NC
TE Stubbings Royal Scots Fusiliers Ladysmith
GW Stevens Brakpan 2nd Dorset Regt
F(?) Brooks Voortrekker Rd 3rd Batt Rifle Brigade
R Rogers NMR
EC Chittenden PMBurg BMR
CL Tomlinson Bellair DLI
Lucky Lockwood Capt Felixton RFA
JW Tunmer Nicolson Rd Durban NMR
H Evelyn Haddon Kenilworth CP RNC
GD Kettle Durban RDLS
W Haworth Zululand NRR
Hbt T Mitchell Dundee NC
CG Kemp Tpr NC Dundee
O Hesom Trpr NC Dundee
? McMaster Ladysmith SAAF and RLI
R Grant PMB
F (?) A Gifford Ladysmith NC
JB Nicholson Underberg NC and VCR
HN Shaw Ladysmith NC
AB Alexander Durban NMR
C (?) Dunning Rondebosch Cape NNV
FE Follwell St Winifreds S Coast NC
F Yeadon Durban 45A Aliwal St
H Scott Richmond Natal
Mrs K Boyd Onrust Rivier
Mrs CF Cook Durban
? Hawkslee Chelsea Pensioner Royal Hospital Chelsea 1st KRRC Bugles
John Murray Durban NC Med Staff
AA Mason RNC
W Wright NC PMB

(Source: Ladysmith Siege Museum Collection)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 7


Steve Watt: ‘In Memoriam’ (University of Natal Press Pietermaritzburg 2000 ISBN: 9-780869-809686) provides a Roll of Honour of Imperial Forces in the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, 25 000 soldiers, women and civilians in military employ all of whom laid down their lives for the British cause, whether they were from Britain itself, South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand. Lists alphabetically the individual's name, regimental number, regiment, type of casualty, place, date of death, where buried, and whether the name is listed on a monument or in a graveyard, with location. Where available, particulars of age and religion of the deceased are given.

Darrell Hall: ‘The Hall Handbook of the Anglo-Boer War’(University of Natal Press 1999 ISBN 0-86980-949-0) gives a useful list of British Regiments and the dates of their period of service in South Africa, with the battles or operations at which they were present. This helps to sketch an outline of the ancestor's activities and time spent in this country. Hall also gives a list of the Colonial Forces with SA arrival and departure dates, and a list of SA units with details such as when and where these were raised and disbanded. Men who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the Anglo-Boer War are listed alphabetically, as are names of graveyards where Imperial Soldiers were buried. There are brief biographies of some of the major personalities associated with the war.

John Stirling: ‘The Colonials in South Africa 1899-1902’ (Blackwood, Edinburgh 1907) A mine of information; some individual names, such as those mentioned in dispatches, are included as well as details of each unit’s operations during the war.

 ‘Diary of the Siege of Ladysmith’ (Ladysmith Historical Society, several volumes) gives first-hand accounts by such people as Major G F Tatham of the Natal Carbineers, Bella Craw, niece of Major Tatham and resident in Ladysmith during the Siege, letters of Lt Col C W Park of the Devonshires, notes on the campaign written by A J Crosby of the Natal Carbineers and the experiences of a Siege Nurse, Kate Driver.

Johan Wasserman & Brian Kearney (ed.): ‘A Warrior's Gateway: Durban and the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902’ (Protea Book House, Pretoria 2002). Excellent photographs.

Basil Williams: ‘Record of the Cape Mounted Riflemen’ (Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, London 1909).

G T Hurst: ‘Volunteer Regiments of Natal and East Griqualand’ (Knox, Durban 1945)

G F Gibson: ‘The Story of the Imperial Light Horse in the South African War 1899-1902’ (G.D. & Co. 1937)

G Tylden: ‘The Armed Forces of South Africa’ (Africana Museum, Johannesburg 1954)

H.P. Holt: ‘The Mounted Police of Natal’ (Murray, London 1913)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 6


In 1900, the South African Constabulary was established somewhat optimistically to keep peace in the melting-pot which was then the Transvaal, Orange River Colony (Orange Free State) and Swaziland. Master-minded, under orders from Roberts, by Baden-Powell, fresh from his successful leadership of the garrison during the Siege of Mafeking, this was a military body disguised as a police force. It was recruited from British men in the Cape and Natal, as well as from further afield – Britain itself, Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon. In addition, over 1 200 Canadians were dispatched to swell the ranks of the SAC, and because these men were not recruited or paid by the Canadian government, their records are held mainly in South Africa rather than in their home country.

Baden-Powell, true to form, came up with a comfortable khaki uniform topped by a broad-brimmed American hat known as the ‘Boss of the Plains’ pattern. Since the term was usually shortened to ‘B.P.’, Baden-Powell remarked that this ‘brought about the mistaken notion that they had something to do with me.’ Later, when he established the scouting movement, the uniform echoed that of the SAC, including the now-famous hat.

Many members of the Constabulary, particularly Britons, made South Africa their permanent home. Records of Conduct and Service of the SAC held in the National Archives of South Africa provide remarkably comprehensive information. A typical record sheet offers a detailed physical description of the man, his date and place of birth, marital status, calling (occupation), religion, and name and address of his next-of kin, as well as a list of promotions or transfers. His Defaulter’s Sheet may reveal the odd blot on his career. Should an ancestor’s SAC file reference emerge on the NAAIRS index, the contents would take any family historian’s knowledge several leaps forward.  

The combined use of British and South African archival records, published sources, as well as information available online, can help in the search for a gentleman in khaki who was, in Kipling’s words, ‘out on active service, wiping something off a slate’.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 5


In the second half of the 19th century there were a number of semi-military police forces in South Africa. These arose out of the need to maintain law and order over large areas and difficult terrain in the many districts of which the country was comprised.

One of these units was the Natal Mounted Police, which was first raised after the Langalibalele Rebellion in 1874 and saw action in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. This corps continued to serve through the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (at the Siege of Ladysmith) and the Bambata Rebellion of 1906, until finally being incorporated into the South African Mounted Riflemen in 1913. The force numbered just over 300 at the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War. Many of its members were recruited in England in the early years of the corps and it’s interesting that some of these men are individually-named on passenger lists, coming out on such ships as the Kinfauns Castle and Roslin Castle in the 1880s. 

Natal Police Trooper Maynard died at Ladysmith
These lists occur in the European Immigration Department registers (source code EI) held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. If an ancestor was in the NMP, the chances of finding out more about him are good. The history of the corps is told in Holt’s ‘The Mounted Police of Natal’. 

16 volumes of original NMP records are preserved at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. 

This treasure trove includes nominal rolls, enlistment registers from 1874-1913, records of service covering that period, and a roll of individuals granted Long Service and Good Conduct Medals 1882-1907. That’s not all: a search of the NAAIRS index on the words ‘Natal Mounted Police’ brings up over 500 files of various types – Colonial Secretary’s Office correspondence, Magisterial archives etc – each containing useful material.

Similarly well-documented, the Cape Mounted Police came into existence in 1882.  Enrolment records are held in the Cape Town Archives Repository, and searches on the NAAIRS index would be beneficial for anyone in pursuit of a CMP ancestor.

The Cape Mounted Riflemen, a totally separate semi-military entity from the above, started off as the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police (FAMP) circa 1855, with the change in title dating from 1878. Their history is recounted by Basil Williams in his ‘Record of the Cape Mounted Riflemen’ and again NAAIRS offers a large number of references to files concerning the CMR, held in the Cape Archives Repository. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 4

Kitchener's Fighting Scouts
Some forces came into being further on in the war, among them Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts, raised in December 1900, Ashburner’s Light Horse, the Bushveld Carbineers, Dennison’s Scouts, Driscoll’s Scouts and the Cape Colony Cycle Corps.

To research local armed forces serving in South Africa from 1899-1902 The National Archives, Kew, holds original nominal rolls (soldiers’ names) and enrolment forms (completed by each man) in WO 127 and WO 126. 


The South African National Archives online index (NAAIRS) available at can help when tracing Anglo-Boer War ancestors. 

A search of NAAIRS index may reveal an ancestor’s deceased estate file, usually with a Death Notice included, and these latter documents are extremely informative. Sometimes there are two Death Notices found in estate files of the Anglo-Boer War period: one filled in briefly at the place of death, by the Adjutant perhaps, and another notice completed more fully later.

To illustrate this application of the online index, an example from my own research:  

William Dixon Smith, of Northumberland origins, emigrated to Natal in 1880, settling in Alexandra County where he established himself as a carriage-builder and blacksmith. He joined the local permanent volunteer force and at the time of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, having been resident in Natal for twenty years, was Lieutenant Quartermaster of the Border Mounted Rifles. All volunteer units responded promptly to the call for mobilization and William, along with the rest of his contingent, entrained for Ladysmith on 28 September 1899. By January 1900 he was dead, one of many who died of a variety of diseases during the Siege of Ladysmith. The Death Notice provided his age at death, his occupation, his birthplace and parents’ names, his marital status, the name of his spouse and place of marriage, and the names and ages of his children. Other documents in the deceased estate file included a detailed inventory of his possessions, including the forge and anvil and other tools of his trade as well as household items, giving a picture of his lifestyle in the colony. Muster rolls preserved in Natal Defence Force records made it possible to track William’s career in the volunteers from the time of his enrolment.

BMR Trooper's mother receives
 'War Gratuity' of five pounds after
her son's death at Ladysmith - note that it
took two years for her to get it.

Correspondence in archival files could give further information about the next-of-kin: widows or mothers claiming the deceased’s pay or the five pound ‘war gratuity’, a seemingly scant return for the son's supreme sacrifice. A poignant memo mentions a youthful soldier’s only piece of movable property – his horse, ‘killed for food during the Ladysmith siege’.  Other documents in the case of this trooper showed that he had several younger siblings dependant on him. Such details take us beyond mere statistics and bring the human story to light.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 3

The soldier's accoutrements can provide clues as to date, regiment and rank. For example, in the Border Mounted Rifles, a Natal permanent volunteer corps, up to 1896 ammunition was carried in a pouch with a brown leather crossbelt. Later, what was derogatively known as the ‘Royston Entanglement’ was adopted - a combined rifle sling and bandolier used by NCO's and troopers. Officers and Warrant Officers of the unit wore the Sam-Browne sword belt. Incidentally, the Alexandra Mounted Rifles, which evolved to become the Border Mounted Rifles in 1894, adopted the use of khaki for its field service uniform in 1874.  This is the earliest recorded military use of khaki in South Africa, a possible exception being the 2nd Highland Light Infantry (74th Highlanders) who, in the 8th Frontier War 1850-1852, fought in doublets of that colour.

As family historians know to their cost, names, dates and places are notoriously absent from the back of photographs. In Anglo-Boer War groups badges and insignia may not be visible or easily identifiable; it could be worth asking for specialist advice. If you’re fortunate enough to own a medal awarded to the ancestor, engraved on the rim will be his name, rank and unit, which is an excellent start. 

Most men serving in the Anglo-Boer War were eligible for one or both of the two campaign medals – the Queen’s South Africa and the King’s South Africa. This topic, including the use of the medal rolls for tracing Anglo-Boer War ancestry, was covered in detail in David Barnes’s article “The British Army in the Anglo-Boer War”, in the 6th edition of The Family and Local History Handbook. Several published medal rolls are available: D R Forsyth's ‘Defenders of Kimberley Medal Roll’, and S M Kaplan's ‘Medal Roll of the Queen's South Africa Medal with Wepener Bar’, and ‘Medal Roll of the Queen's South Africa Medal with Bar Relief of Mafeking’.


Some of the most interesting departures from standard uniform were seen among the colonial volunteer regiments. It was not unknown for certain of these to take to the field in their shirtsleeves, which deplorable habit occasioned much comment from more conventional echelons. However, the colonials were valuable and courageous troops, well-suited by experience to the conditions which they faced in South Africa. This is particularly true of the colonial mounted regiments – they formed two-fifths of the entire mounted force participating in the war.

Should an ancestor have been among the colonials, there are numerous possibilities as to the regiment in which he may have served.  On the outbreak of the war, thousands of troops from the overseas colonies were sent to South Africa from Canada, India, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. In South Africa itself, there were permanent regular forces including the Natal Police, Cape Mounted Police and Cape Mounted Rifles. These should not be confused with the permanent volunteer units which had been in place for some years, such as the Natal Carbineers, Durban Light Infantry, Diamond Fields Artillery and Diamond Fields Horse, Border Mounted Rifles, Kaffrarian Rifles, Cape Town Highlanders, the Kimberley Regiment and others.

Also, certain corps were raised at the beginning of the war and specifically for service in that conflict. These ‘irregulars’ carried an aura of glamour and nonconformity: Brabant’s Horse, Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, Roberts’s Horse, the Imperial Light Horse, the Imperial Light Infantry, Steinaecker’s Horse are all names to conjure with.  

They were the stuff of legend and a typical tale is that of Major C B Childe who led 300 South African Light Horse (like the ILH largely composed of Uitlanders) at the taking of Bastion Hill from the Boers in January 1900. Major Childe is said to have had a premonition on the day before the battle that he would be killed, and asked fellow officers to ensure that a biblical quotation would be engraved on his tombstone. Taken from the second book of Kings 4.26, it read: ‘Is it well with the child? and she answered, it is well’. As he’d foreseen, Childe fell at Bastion Hill and his request was duly honoured.