Saturday, February 13, 2010

Railways and Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No comments: