Sunday, April 24, 2016

Water for Lightkeepers, Bluff 1878

My great grandfather Thomas Alfred Gadsden, Lightkeeper, writes to the Port Captain:

Bluff Lighthouse, 14th August 1878

To Port Captain Airth

Sir, I most respectfully beg to inform you that the Lightkeepers are running short of water in fact have only a week's supply. Mr Wellington of the Signal Station told me this morning that he is the same predicament. 

Therefore Sir it will be absolutely [necessary] to supply us with water from the other side, and that as soon as possible.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your Obedient Servant,
Thos. Gadsden, Lightkeeper

This photograph indicates the isolation of the Bluff lighthouse and its keepers.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bluff Lighthouse Unusual View

Another in my collection of old Bluff Lighthouse postcards,
taken from an unusual angle and showing the Signal Station, left, and keepers' cottages.
This is pre-1935, probably circa 1920s.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Titanic Anniversary

The sinking of the RMS Titanic occurred on the night of 14 April through to the morning of 15 April 1912 in the north Atlantic Ocean, four days into the ship's maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City.

Ancestry: The Titanic Collection for Family Historians

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, RMS Titanic Fatality Reports, 1912
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, RMS Titanic Graves, 1912
Titanic Survivors, Carpathia Passenger List, 1912
UK, RMS Titanic, Crew Records, 1912
UK, RMS Titanic, Deaths at Sea, 1912
UK, RMS Titanic, Outward Passenger List, 1912

Monday, April 18, 2016

Was your Ancestor a Tidewaiter?

After a recent mention of this unusual occupation several blog readers have asked what a tidewaiter did.

He was a customs official who checked goods upon the landing of a vessel, to ensure payment of duties. Depending on the size of the port and the volume of shipping there might be several tidewaiters in attendance.

The position was open to abuse by the tidewaiters themselves, bribery and corruption could occur. Mostly, however, they were honest men earning a not particularly high income, hours were inconvenient and there could be risks involved.

'Four Extra Tidewaiters' are listed in the Natal Almanac Port Office section for 1878.

Tidewaiter Tait: note his peaked cap at left. And a parrot ...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Bluff Lighthouse Postcard

Union Castle liner approaching the entrance channel, Durban, tug in attendance. The old Lighthouse and Signal Station can be seen on the Bluff at right.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lighthouse Keeper at the Bluff Light Natal 1878: T Gadsden and D W Bell

Bluff Lighthouse and Signal Station circa 1870s

Extract from the Natal Almanac 1878 giving names of employees in the Engineer's Office Port Office, Customs Excise and Lighthouse. My great grandfather Thomas Gadsden was earning 125 pounds per annum. His brother in law Douglas Bell as Assistant Keeper was earning 100 pounds.

A tidewaiter, incidentally, was a customs officer who checked goods when a vessel landed, to make sure duties were paid.

You may find an ancestor's name among those listed.

This edition of the Almanac appeared the year before the
Anglo-Zulu War took place, and the year before Thomas Gadsden's son Phillip
 was born on 14 May 1879, only to die in infancy.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Last of the South African Lighthousekeepers: Spookdraai

Spookdraai’ (Ghost’s Corner)
Cape Agulhas (L’Agulhas)

Latitude 34° 49' 42’’ S.
                                                              Longitude 20° 00' 33’’ E.

P-J Hannabus - Retired Lighthouse Keeper

A series by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse
Photo by Alan Patterson

The stately and celebrated red and white Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, built in 1848, is fixed to a rocky headland at the southern-most point of Africa. Here, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, often with wild fury, launching themselves at one another in stormy conditions. When the cold Benguela current and the Roaring Forties winds come together with the rising, warm Agulhas current, this collision can become extremely treacherous to seafarers.

Notorious for winter storms and enormous rogue waves reaching remarkable heights, this area became well-known to the Portuguese navigators in the 15th century and drove fear into the heart of every mariner.

Since the days of those early Portuguese sailors, these coastal rocks and reefs where high waves continually batter this windswept, dramatic coastline, have sealed the fates of more than one hundred and fifty ships and many thousands of lives.  It is hardly surprising that numerous wrecks litter this stretch of coast which has earned the nickname The Ships’ Graveyard.

Towards the end of the 15th century Portuguese explorers named this tip of Africa, 'Cabo das Agulhas' which means 'Cape of Needles,’ not as a result of the treacherous rocks and reefs, but, as their wooden sailing ships rounded the Cape, sailors discovered their compass needles would swing about and they were unable to determine true north from magnetic north.

Just to the north-east of the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, stand the little towns of L’Agulhas and Struisbaai. In addition to the strong magnetic and intertidal forces caused by the meeting of the two oceans, other influences exist in this area. At the town entrance to L’Agulhas, along the curve of the road, lies a sheltered bay named Spookdraai (Ghosts Corner!)

It is said that the ghosts of drowned sailors or unfortunate castaways have been seen regularly wandering the coastline. Legend has it that on windswept nights the singing calls of sirens can be heard luring sailors and their ships towards the jagged rocks and foaming seas.

P-J Hannabus tells us an intriguing story of when his father, Lighthouse Keeper, Babsie Hannabus, stationed at Cape Agulhas Lighthouse in 1954, had his own personal experience at Spookdraai.

It was a well known local story that in bygone times a ship had foundered in the bay and only one person, a young woman with beautiful slender hands and the voice of an angel, washed up alive at the bay of Spookdraai. She managed to find her way to a cave in the mountains, but most unfortunately, having survived drowning, later died there.

'My parents, Babsie and Eunice Hannabus, one night in May just before I was born in June, were driving home to the lighthouse from Struisbaai. There is a three metre drop to the beach as one takes that last left hand curve before entering Agulhas, when Dad suddenly swerved and their Ford ended up on the beach and fortunately on its wheels. My sister Nerene said our parents would never entertain any discussion about this incident. Perhaps Dad swerved to avoid the ghost with the beautiful hands and the fact that our parents remained silent, did make us ponder!'

Legend has it that this friendly lady ghost will step out and greet people on Spookdraai when she feels lonely.  It is understood that she sometimes seeks the company of friendly folk overnighting in guesthouses too!

P-J reminds us too of the story of De Hoop Manor House, north east of L'Agulhas, which is one of the historic homesteads dating from 1872. Above the gabled front door, is the shell of an oyster, which relates to the following tragic events.

Misfortune struck a newly-wed couple who had bought the beautiful Manor.  One morning, Mr Cloete brought home from the sea, a large oyster to present to his bride for a special breakfast. Unfortunately, Mrs Cloete choked on the oyster and could not be revived. Mr Cloete absolutely heartbroken and distraught took his own life. Word continues to circulate that Mrs Cloete’s ghost is said to wander around at night, always at low tide, looking for and gathering oysters…….

And of course there is also the story of the headless man who wanders around the Spookdraai area!

P-J Hannabus ends off by saying; 'I'll take my chances with the lady, for sure, but go to bed and lock your doors after sunset in L'Agulhas, especially at full moon!'

Note : Tourists can take a short self-guided Spookdraai Hiking Trail, a   
            circular route, which includes that sharp curve in the road! 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bluff Lighthouse after 1935

Bluff Lighthouse, Durban, after 1935: it had been encased in concrete,
supposedly as the structure was 'unsafe'.
So, from unsafe to unsightly. The next step would be total
demolition. What a tragedy!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Lady cyclists 1886

A cycling tour in Ireland circa 1886.  Photograph submitted by Mrs M. Melville for a Country Life competition searching for the best Victorian photographs.

Taking it very seriously, aren't they?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Green Point Lighthouse, Natal

The main purpose of the construction of the Green Point Lighthouse was to indicate to mariners the extremities of the dangerous submerged mass of rock known as the Aliwal Shoal. The latter is about 4 kilometres long and one kilometre wide and has caused the death of many a fine ship.

Brought into operation in 1905, the lighthouse was fitted with a 700 mm focal distance, group flashing optic exhibiting 2 white flashes every fifteen seconds. The lighthouse has an extra feature - a subsidiary sector light showing a fixed red light over an arc covering the extremities of the Aliwal Shoal.

It was the first lighthouse in Natal to be fully automated in November 1961.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Recent queries on this blog

A blog visitor is enquiring about a ship called Sir Cumbria - I have no record of such a ship, unfortunately, and no passenger list. If it is a ship which departed UK post 1890 your best bet is to search the shipping facility on findmypast. But it may not have had SA as a destination - perhaps it was Australia-bound. Do you think you have the ship name correctly? It seems unusual.

Methodists in Verulam - these were Byrne settlers and you can read more in John Clark's book Natal Settler Agent. Also see this blog at

All is not gold that glitters ...

Simmer Deep Mine, Germiston

Robinson Deep Mine

About to go down the shaft
 at Ferreira's Mine, Transvaal.

'Gold, gold, gold, gold,
Bright and yellow,
Hard and cold ....'

At the rock face.
2015 saw “the lowest ever fatalities recorded in the mining sector since the start of mining in South Africa.. (Zwane said) This is encouraging and an indication that our combined efforts as stakeholders are bearing fruits. A total of 77 fatalities were reported in 2015 compared to 84 reported for 2014 (and) this translates to an improvement of 8% year on year...
Zwane said 1 331 injuries were recorded in 2015 versus 96 in the previous year.
This was an indication that “we are going in the right direction” towards achieving zero harm in mining.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: mining

Barberton Stock Exchange 1880
Barberton, a town in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, originated in the 1880s gold rush to the De Kaap Valley.

In 1881 gold in the Barberton area was discovered by Tom McLachlan who found alluvial gold at Jamestown. However, due to the location (the hot lowveld region was rife with malaria) no-one wanted to go there until Auguste Roberts ("French Bob") discovered gold in Concession Creek on 20 June 1883. This discovery resulted in a gold rush to the area.
On 21 June 1884, Graham Barber wrote a letter to the State Secretary to inform him that he and his two cousins Fred and Harry discovered payable gold on state land where the Umvoti Creek entered the De Kaap valley. The State Secretary then asked the Magistrate in Lydenburg to investigate the matter and for David Wilson, the Gold Commissioner, to submit a report. Wilson investigated on 24 July 1884 and declared the township of Barberton.
The town was named after Graham Hoare Barber (1835-1888) who discovered a rich gold-bearing reef there in 1884. Barberton became a municipality in 1904.
At first it was just a simple mining camp but grew when Edwin Bray, a prospector discovered gold in the hills above Barberton in 1885 and with 14 partners started the Sheba Reef Gold Mining Company.
Large amounts of money flowed into Barberton and the first Stock Exchange to operate in the then Transvaal opened its doors. More buildings were erected, billiard saloons and music halls established. The Criterion and Royal Standard hotels were opened.
Barberton flourished for only a brief period and soon the inhabitants began to move away to the newly discovered gold fields on the Reef.