Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

12th May 2019 marked the 170th anniversary of the arrival in Durban of the vessel, Wanderer with the first boat load of Byrne Settlers. In 1849, 15 Byrne Settlers amongst 108 passengers arrived off the Bluff. Entrance to Durban Harbour was very risky because of the sandbar and instead the preferred method of disembarkation was for passengers to transfer to a long boat and then be rowed ashore to the landing point which was the beach roughly where the ferry and pilot boats dock today. Ladies and children were then carried ashore piggy back style by Africans.

The history of the Byrne Emigration Scheme is well documented in history and other books. In all some 20 sailing vessels of varying sizes left England under Joseph Charles Byrne’s Emigration Scheme and a total of 57 vessels brought close to 5000 settlers to Natal. The idea of the scheme was to bring over suitable immigrants who would leave an England troubled by depression, the effect of the Industrial Revolution on cottage industries, the movement of the country population to the larger cities looking for better paid work, crime and lawlessness in the cities, and a country in decline.
The attraction was a distant British Colony with ample fertile land, a good climate, and lots of potential.

In 1843 Natal had been declared a British Colony under the control of the Cape Government. This annexation had led to the second Great Trek, when the boer trekkers who had arrived with the 1835 Great Trek and settling in Natal, found themselves again under British rule and decided to abandon Natal and join up with the trekkers who had settled northward in the Free State and the Transvaal. They abandoned their farms leaving Natal unpopulated. The Scheme was “advertised” in England by means of meetings held in various parts by Byrne’s agents. The response was so good that Byrne took on an out of work surveyor, John Moreland to act as his Natal Agent. He was dispatched to Natal in the second vessel, the Washington. Moreland arrived with his two sons and set up an office in Stanger Street. Moreland’s task was to find suitable Crown Lands that he could purchase on behalf of Byrne as well as be his agent for those arriving in the ships coming out from England.

The terms of the Scheme were such that for a set amount of £10 this provided the emigrant a steerage passage to Natal for him and his family, and on arrival he would be allocated 20 acres of land in an appointed area supplemented with an additional 5 acres for every child. In addition emigrants were allocated a half acre plot in a “Village” with named roads and a village common which was drawn up on paper only. This one assumes was to engender a spirit of community amongst the emigrants.

Moreland had set about touring Natal on horseback looking at abandoned Boer farms and purchasing land. To this end he purchased land in what today are the Richmond/ Byrne area, Verulam, Mount Moreland, New Glasgow, farms around Pietermaritzburg, Thornville, and York. Moreland being a surveyor also had to subdivide the land bought into plots and farms to be allocated to the emigrants on arrival. Possibly the biggest successes were Richmond and Verulam. Richmond at one time was the third largest town in Natal after Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Some were failures such as Byrne which never developed into a Village till 120 years later. It is remarkable that when the Village of Byrne which was developed as a farm, was bought by developers in 1971, the developers used the original 1850 village subdivisions to sell off the plots individually.

Conditions were tough for the emigrants. The land allocated was some distance away from civilization being Durban or Pietermaritzburg and the “Village” idea was what it was, only on paper. The bush and land had to be tamed, the heat of the day coped with, water fetched and carried, wild animals contended with. Life was tough and many allocated land in these outposts abandoned them returning rather to try their luck in Durban or Pietermaritzburg.

The Byrne Scheme only lasted till 1851 but in the short space of 3 years, the emigrants that did come to Natal were by and large the initial impetus that got Durban in particular and Natal in general progressing to the fine city and province they eventually became.


For interest the names of the first 15 Byrne Emigrants who arrived on the Wanderer are:

Mrs Budge, Mr Cessford, William Creswell, Henry and Emma Fisher, Charles and Ann Gardiner, Robert Henderson, Thomas Morehead, E Palmer, William Pink, Mr and Mrs Charles Sinclair and 9 children, William Vine and Mr and Mrs Robert Willy and 5 children.

The wreck of the Minerva on the far side of the Bluff 1850.
The Minerva was the largest vessel chartered by Byrne and carried the most emigrants, 287. The Minerva left London on 26 April and arrived off Durban on 3 July 1850. Also anchored in the road stead was the Conquering Hero that arrived on 28 June 1850 and the next day, the Henrietta arrived on 4th July 1850. On board the Minerva was John Moreland’s wife Ann, his daughter Isabella and son Edward whom he had not seen for over a year. He arranged for them to disembark soon after arrival along with some others they could accommodate on that day. On 4 July 1850 disembarkation carried on but could not be completed. That night at about 11.30 pm a sudden gale blew up and the Minerva lost her anchor. The Minerva drifted towards the Bluff and ran aground on the rocks. In the dead of night a rescue operation was put into place with help from the Henrietta and the Conquering Hero crews. Only one casualty occurred; a crew member of the Conquering Hero drowning. Everyone else was rescued and made the shore soaked but uninjured. All possessions were lost when the Minerva started breaking up.

Below is a picture of the Minerva fast aground on the Bluff. I have heard this is a copy of a photo taken, apparently one of the first photos taken in Durban. A similar painting used to hang in the Old House Museum in St Andrew’s Street.
Click on picture to enlarge.

Commemorating the Centenary of the Arrival of the Natal Settlers.

In 1949, the centenary of the arrival of the Natal Settlers a special stamp was issued by the Post Office. Below is a First day Cover to mark the occasion. The stamp shows the Wanderer entering the Harbour with the Bluff in the background. Possibly a bit of design licence as the sandbar prevented sailing ships from entering the harbour till many years later. Click on picture to enlarge.

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21 Responses

  1. Patrick Hugh McCabe
    | Reply

    Trying to find out on which ship my great, great grandfathers arrived on Hugh McCabe and son James McCabe

    Thanks you

  2. Pete Swanie
    | Reply

    Look for Dr John Clark’s book, Natal Settler Agent, The Career of John Moreland.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Pete
      Thanks I do have that book and can recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Byrne Settlers. Out of print now but selected book sellers may have copies.

  3. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    HI Patrick
    I can find no reference to Hugh McCabe nor James McCabe in the passenger lists of Byrne Settlers. Any idea which year they arrived? There was a bookshop in Durban called Ikes Book Shop but not sure if he is still going. Another is Huddys in the Midlands.

  4. Patrick Hugh McCabe
    | Reply

    Please advise where I can buy a copy of the book.
    Many thanks

  5. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Pete
    Thanks I do have that book and can recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Byrne Settlers. Out of print now but selected book sellers may have copies.

  6. Patrick Hugh McCabe
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald,

    I have only found out recently about my direct relationship with my Great,great, great grandfathers, and therefore trying to put all the facts together.

    So any assistance in this is much appreciated. Thanks for you response as well as to Pete Swanie.

    I am so intrigued by the history of Natal and the migration of these adventurous pioneers.
    Many thanks
    Best regards
    PS there is a John Byrne who married into the McCABE family and this might be a clue??

  7. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Patrick,
    If you are just setting out to trace your family connection to the McCabes, it will be a long and surprising journey. As a start you can make notes of any McCabes you come across whether alive or passed on. One lead some times leads to others. Looking at a few Durban Directories I have, there were not too many McCabes in Durban post 1938. I know of only one and that was Father Henry McCabe who was an ordained Catholic priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) order. He passed away in 1972. The Killie Campbell library in Marriott Road is a good place to start.

  8. Tim Gallwey
    | Reply

    I am a descendant of John Byrne who married Rosina McCabe, through my mother’s mother. My second cousin has put together an account of these Byrnes (no relation to the Byrne Scheme man) and I have made a slightly shrunken copy (e.g. no pictures) in an MS WORD file. She was not able to find out a lot about the McCabe family but it has some useful stuff on them. Is there some way of sending you a copy without putting our email addresses into the public domain?
    Tim Gallwey

  9. […] Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849. […]

  10. Susan Burns
    | Reply

    We are trying to trace the arrival of my husbands great grandfather (Irish) who was supposedly one of the first policeman in Durban. We believe his name was Peter Burns but this may have been Byrne with a spelling change to Burns at a later stage.
    His son Richard Thomas Burns married Martha Mabel Howard (from London). Richard Thomas Burns was born in Durban circa 1882 & he & Mabel had five children (Richard Thomas, Doreen, Winifred, (?) & Aintree Howard Burns (my husbands father – born in 1928).
    Any help would be appreciated.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Susan Burns,
      I have looked up my record of the Byrne Settlers who emigrated but can find no reference to the name Burns. However there are two Byrnes mentioned who both came out in the ship Sovereign. The Sovereign left Plymouth on the 24 November 1849 arriving off the Bluff on 24th March 1850. The Byrnes on the ship were John Byrne with his wife Elizabeth and children John, Robert and Elizabeth. The other was Thomas Byrne. I do not know if they were related. This information comes from Dr John Clark’s book Natal Settler Agent, The Career of John Moreland.

  11. leigh cunningham
    | Reply

    hi, I am looking for information on the Cunningham family who are buried at Byrne Church. My husbands father was John Andrew Cunninham born 7/7/1892 , I would like information on his father and the ship upon which hey arrived n SA. I believe that the 45th Regiment is involved here somewhere.many thanks

    • Peter Cunningham

      Hi Leigh, I am not sure whether you got the information that you wanted, but your husband’s great grandfather was William Cunningham, who was with the 45th Regiment. While he wasn’t a Byrne Settler, he moved to Byrne after he left the army. He was born in Falkirk, Scotland.

  12. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Leigh
    No Cunninghams are listed as Byrne Emigrants per se and I have no information on emigrants who came to Natal on ships other than those organised by the Byrne Emigration Scheme. The Cunninghams are a well known name in the history of the Byrne Valley and as you say are buried in the St Mary Magdalene Graveyard at Byrne. I have photographed all the graves at the Graveyard and you can see them via the website eggSA. Google this and navigate through to the Richmond Rural Cemeteries. A good source of information are Dr Shelagh Spencer’s books on Natal families.

  13. Hilton Hurst
    | Reply

    I’m Not sure if this is still active but I’m trying to find information on either Henry Hurst or John E Hurst who were both Byrne settlers

  14. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Hilton
    In the list of Byrne Settlers that arrived at Port Natal by means of the Byrne Emigration Scheme, only one Hurst ,John E. is indicated . He arrived on the barque Emily which left London / Plymouth on 31/7/1850 arriving 10/10/1850. He was allocated 20 acres of land which was the normal allocation. There is no indication that he was married. Unfortunately the notes do not indicate where the location of his land allocation was. There is no reference to Henry Hurst and remember that the Byrne Scheme was over by 1851. Other ships with immigrants followed but these were not Byrne settlers per se.

  15. Patrick Hugh McCabe
    | Reply

    Thank you for the update

  16. Jenny
    | Reply

    I am trying to find out anything out Cartwright family who settled in Richmond area

  17. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Jenny
    I do not see the name Cartwright amongst the list of Byrne Settlers that arrived in Port Natal between 1849 and 1851. One must bear in mind that many settlers arrived on their own apart from the Byrne Scheme.

  18. Syl
    | Reply List of Byrne Settlers

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