Monday, February 8, 2010

Did your ancestor emigrate to Natal?

In Natal, organized immigration from overseas began at the end of the 1840s. While the 1820 Settlers were coping with the change in their circumstances on the Cape frontier, Natal, on the south-eastern coast of South Africa, was in its infancy as a settler destination. A small settlement of hunters and traders had been founded there in 1824, mainly to establish trade with the Zulu.

It wasn’t until 1828 that an overland route was opened up to Natal,and another twenty years would pass before Natal acquired colonial status. Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with the Cape’s British government – especially regarding the abolition of slavery – led to an exodus of the Dutch community from that Colony: we know it now as the Great Trek of the mid-1830s. Some trekkers crossed the Drakensberg and established themselves in Natal, declaring their own Republic of Natalia in 1838. Conflict with the British at Port Natal followed in 1842, the Dutch moved on and Natal was annexed by Britain.

The white population of Natal had diminished after the trekkers’ departure, and immigration was the obvious solution. This coincided with a dramatic economic downturn in Britain – the ‘hungry forties’. Going to a new colony offered at least the hope of survival and perhaps even an opportunity to prosper.

As a result of the marketing efforts of Irish entrepreneur, Joseph Byrne, approximately 2200 British settlers headed for Natal between 1849 and 1851. Though Byrne’s Natal Emigration and Colonization Company ended in his own financial ruin, the concept provided an impetus for further private schemes to bring settlers to Natal.

Fortunately for family historians with Natal settler ancestry, this era is well-documented: more about sources in future posts.

See: Emigration from Britain to Natal updated at

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