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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29 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

    • Yim Gallwey

      The McCabe I am descended from was a member of the British Army, originally based in Kingswilliamstown. Hence he had nothing to do with the Byrne scheme. This is an extract from Jenny Duckworth’s record of the Byrnes of Natal:

      Hugh & Sarah McCabe

      These were the parents-in-law of John Byrne Junior. Hugh was born in Derryvullan parish, Co Fermanagh in about 1807, bordering Lough Erne and near to Enniskillen. His parents were Terence and Sarah McCabe. It was a poor area especially for Catholics. The first Catholic school was established in 1832 and Hugh appears to have remained illiterate. No records of his marriage to Sarah have been found, nor her maiden name, but it must have been near to 1827 which is about when Rosina was born. Both were 20 at that time. Next was James born in about 1829, in Co Fermanagh, and then Anne born in 1830 on Boa Island, a large island in Lower Lough Erne.

      Hugh enlisted in the 27th Regiment (Iniskillings), based in Enniskillen, on 8 February 1831 with height recorded as 5 foot 7.5 inches (1715 mm say). In May 1835 six service companies of Iniskillings embarked at Cork for Cape Town and arrived on 18 August 1835 from where they were immediately moved to Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth). His family came with him and they were based in Grahamstown for the next six years performing frontier duties. The Regiment also helped to build St Patrick’s, Grahamstown’s first Catholic Church.

      In 1837 a party of Boer Voortrekkers left the Cape and a subgroup arrived in Natal under Gert Maritz and Piet Retief and founded Pietermaritzburg. In November Retief and some 67 men were murdered by Dingane, and then Zulu impis attacked the settlement at Durban. Retaliatory raids followed back and forth. In 1840 the Boers established their Republic of Natalia and proposed to settle a large proportion of the Black population in the land between the Umtamvuna and Umzimvubu Rivers. This alarmed the Pondo Chief Faku who appealed to the British who responded by sending an expeditionary force overland to Natal.

      In January 1842 a detachment of the 27th Regiment was stationed in readiness on the banks of the Umgazi River in what is today the Transkei. It included Hugh McCabe and was under the command of Thomas Charlton Smith who had served at Waterloo. Also there were not only the women and children of the married troops but also those of the bullock drivers of the 54 wagons each drawn by 12 oxen. Eventually on 1 April 1842 Smith was ordered to Natal to drive away the Boers and proclaim British rule.

      There were 263 men, a howitzer, and two light field guns. In 33 days they covered 260 miles through lands infested with wild animals and crossed many rivers often in pouring rain. Two babies were born soon after the start and one man was nearly killed by a gun carriage. They reached the coast on the morning of 9 April where they ate oysters and shellfish and had a swim. From there they marched along the coast but suffered from the sand and saw many wild animals (hippos, elephant, lions, and buck). The bugler claimed that they had crossed 122 rivers, most of which they swam across. On reaching the Umkomaas River they stopped for three days to prepare and then arrived at Port Natal on the evening of 4 May 1842. The size of their force greatly dismayed the English as the Boers were heavily armed and entrenched.

      At midnight on 23 May Smith set out with 100 men to surprise the Boers in their camp at Congella with the light guns drawn by oxen. The Boers spotted what was happening and decimated their attackers. The oxen were terrified and upset the guns which were then lost in the Bay while Smith and his remaining troops headed back to their camp which they fortified heavily. From 31 May the Boers besieged the English camp and daily poured musket fire into it. Under a flag of truce, the Boers offered safe passage the next day for women and children to go aboard the schooner Mazeppa in the harbour and that amounted to 28 people.

      Joseph Cato also went on board and they slipped anchor to make their way to Delagoa Bay (now Maputo). However they failed to make contact with any British warship and had to return to Port Natal after a very uncomfortable trip. In the interim Dick King rode to Grahamstown in nine days to seek reinforcements which arrived by the Southampton. The Boers were overcome and reluctantly accepted peace. In 1843 Natal was formally annexed to Britain and the Boers left.

      In December 1845 Hugh wrote to the Colonial Secretary to ask for a grant of land claiming that he had been badly wounded in the battle of Congella. He said that Sarah had been “much injured [and so was unable to render] any assistance to herself or children”. As she seemed OK subsequently this would seem to be an exaggeration. The soldiers were kept busy for three years building roads and bridges in and around Durban. In 1845 the detachment of the 27th Regiment returned to Grahamstown but several soldiers opted to take their discharge and remain in Natal, one being Hugh McCabe.

      By now Hugh had possession of Erf 9 Block G in what is now the centre of Durban. He applied by letter of 29 June 1848 to have it granted to him in recognition of his army service and said he had occupied it partly in 1845. This was approved by the Surveyor-General in July 1848 and granted to Hugh on 30 October 1848, described as Lot 20 Block E. However he sold it on 24 January 1850 for £60 to Mr Beningfield and moved to PMB where he bought Sub B of Lot 56 Burger Street on 12 April 1850. He lived there for the rest of his life and died intestate 5 June 1858. He and his son James were both foundation members of the Natal Carbineers.

      On 24 March 1862 his daughters Rosina and Annie signed a deed of renunciation in favour of their mother regarding the house and property. It was now described as Sub ijkl of Lot 56 Burger Street and it overlooked Camps Drift. Sarah remained there until her death on 19 August 1872 from bronchitis aged 65, National Archives of South Africa (NARS), Pretoria; FHL microfilm 2,099,056.

      Children of Hugh & Sarah McCabe


      She was born about 1827 in Enniskillen and married John Byrne Junior on 27 March 1854 aged 26. She was also called Rose and Rosanna. She arrived in Natal on the Jane Morrice from Liverpool on 5 May 1853. Her signature was always an X so she appears not to have been schooled in Ireland but all her siblings were literate. See earlier for more info. She died 16 March 1910.


      Born about 1829, when he arrived at Port Natal from Algoa Bay he was listed as tailor so he must have been apprenticed in the Eastern Cape. He married Mary Anne Coyle, aged 18, in May 1852 at St Peter’s Cathedral in PMB. Her father was John Coyle who had served in the 45th Regiment until he took his discharge in Natal in August 1850. James died 4 Sep 1861 at Uys Doorns, Natal having had these children:

      1. Sarah Ann McCabe, b. 24 March 1853 – see note below
      2. Joseph McCabe, b. 12 May 1854
      3. Charlotte McCabe, b. 16 November 1855
      4. Hugh James McCabe, b. 5 August 1857
      5. John McCabe, b. 27 June 1859
      6. Lillial McCabe, b. 2 March 1861

      James died by falling from his wagon after which the wheel passed over his head. He was described as a farmer at what is now Ashburton where he owned a house, a Crimean wagon, 9 oxen and 4 cows. He also owned part of Erf 56 Burger Street (sub cdef) close to his father’s on Prince Alfred Street. By September 1864 his widow was living at Keiskamma Drift near King Williamstown when she applied to the Master of the Supreme Court in PMB for permission to sell the house and property in her husband’s estate – it was transferred to James Dean in 1873. In October 1872 she re-married in PMB to widower James Low(e), a Scot described as a farmer of Upper Umkomaas. In June 1876 Mary Anne from Boston, Natal again wrote to the Master about the property in James McCabe’s estate and it seems that in the next few years the Low(e)s moved to the Goldfields.
      Sarah Ann McCabe, a great-granddaughter, is the only progeny traced from there; she married Barend Daniel Marais and lived in the Eastern Cape.

      Anne (Annie)

      Thought to be born about 1830 on Boa Island in Lower Lake Erne, her early years are unknown but she appears to have grown up in Grahamstown and joined her parents in Natal in 1845. In June 1849, aged 18, she married Joseph Wiggett in St Peter’s in PMB.

      Wiggett was 28 and had been a corporal in the 45th Regiment in which he had enlisted in London in September 1838. He took his discharge in Natal in June 1848 and worked as a bricklayer. In about July 1848 he was granted half of Erf 32 Burger Street where he built a house fronting onto Loop Street (St Anne’s Hospital now stands there, 2001). By 1855 Wiggett also owned land at the upper end of Loop Street, plus the other half of Erf 32 Burger Street, and cottages on Erf 28 Burger Street which housed the first patients of Grey’s Hospital while it was being built.

      Their only child was born on 25 August 1856 named Joseph Hugh Wiggett but his father died on 9 January 1859 after a short illness, aged 38. By then the other half of Erf 32 Burger Street was occupied by John Maxwell whose father was a retired naval commander (Francis Severn Maxwell) who owned and lived on Erf 33 next door. Subsequent developments are unclear.

      Anne remained in the house on half of Erf 32 Burger Street and in February 1861 she gave birth to William Wiggett (so called) on 5 March 1861. On 29 July 1863 she had another boy named John Wiggett. The father’s name is likely to have been John Maxwell as they married on 2 November 1864 and after this William and John bore the surname Maxwell. Finally they had a daughter Ann Wiggett Maxwell born on 19 June 1866. Jenny Duckworth assumes that Maxwell Senior did not approve of the match; he died in April 1863, aged 74.

      John Maxwell joined the Natal Bank as a clerk in 1858; daughter Annie died from convulsions on 2 February 1870. Mother Anne died on 14 March 1871 as the result of “excess in drinking ardent spirits”. After this John joined his brother Thomas in Kimberley and in 1873 became manager of the Klipdrift branch of the Standard Bank having previously been its accountant.

      John Junior died on 14 July 1878 in Kimberley.

      The only Wiggett child, Joseph Hugh Wiggett, described his stepfather as “harsh and cruel” and spent his boyhood with his grandmother Sarah McCabe. He trained as a farmer in the Greytown area, then did transport riding, and finally settled in the “Nieuw Republiek” of Vryheid where he was granted the farm “Bloemhof”. He became a personal friend of Louis Botha and Lukas Meyer and fought with the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War. He married first Judith Odendaal and then Hubrech Adendorff (nee Grabe) and died on the farm on 15 May 1949.

      John Maxwell Senior joined Brabant’s Corps in September 1878, then the Natal Native Contingent in Kingswilliamstown under Lonsdale, and returned to Natal as a Lieutenant. He took part in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 in which he accompanied Chelmsford on a false trail from Isandhlwana and so missed the slaughter of British troops. His “Reminiscences of the Zulu War” was published in 1979 by Cape Town University Libraries. Up to about 1900 he lived with his brother Thomas who was a magistrate at Umfolozi and then was a tutor at Mr Frank Green of Ngoye. He died in the Queen Victoria Hospital in Eshowe on 26 December 1905.

      William Maxwell was the only surviving child, who at this time was living at Fools Rush near Kimberley.

      Good luck

  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

  19. Richard
    | Reply

    Is there any information on exactly where Henry Shuttleworth and family were settled? I understand they stayed until 1854 before moving to Kingwilliamstown.

  20. Tracey
    | Reply

    Hi I’m trying to find more information on my great grandfather Samuel Goldstone.

  21. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Tracey
    I do not see the name Goldstone amongst the Byrne Settlers that arrived at Port Natal between 1849 and 1851.

    • Leanda

      Hi Gerald. Not sure if you can assist. I am looking for information on Henry James Moyles, not sure if he was an actual Byrnes settler but if you can find him that would be wonderful!

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Leanda
      Henry James Moyles does not appear in the listing of Byrne Settlers.

    • Leanda Allan

      Thank you Gerald. That narrows the search

  22. Sandy Downey (Terreblanche)
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald, I have been reading this thread with interest. My great grandfather and family arrived on the John Laing. Alexander’s daughter, Agnes married Capt William Michael Tollner whose son William Michael (jnr) was the father of Wilfred Manisty Tollner who farmed in the district. The photo of his grave stone was contributed by you, so thank you. Sandy Akld NZ

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