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from The Natal Witness Monday August 20 1900: contributed by Rosemary Dixon-Smith, Natal Ancestry Research.
" How I came to Natal in 1861 by J.A.B., Maritzburg, July 1900.
My first voyage at sea was as a passenger in the S.S. Norman,
owned by the Union Steamship Company, which had the contract for
carrying her Majesty's mails from Plymouth to Capetown direct,
and vice versa. The Norman was not a large vessel ... compared
with her namesake of the present day it will be well to call her
'the little Norman'. She was commanded by Captain BOXER, whose
wife accompanied him on the voyage.
My second voyage at sea was as a passenger in H.M.S. Gorgon, in which I sailed from Simon's Bay on June 14th 1861 bound for the East Coast of Africa. The Gorgon was a paddle wheel steamer with a tonnage of something more than 1000 tons and engines of 320 horse power. She was brig-rigged and carried 6 large guns, besides 2 guns for boats. The crew numbered about 170 including 20 mariners. She also carried eight boats, two of which were called 'paddlers' as when at sea these two boats fromed the top of the paddle boxes by being turned keels upward. The Gorgon was in charge of Commander J C WILSON, a fine specimen of the English sailor.
In those days communication with ports to the eastward was limited,
so the mails for East London, Natal etc. were placed on board the Gorgon as were also stores for other men-of-war on the station. The weather
was rough for the first four days and on June 17th we lost a cutter,
which was stove in by the violence of the sea. At 4 o'clock on the morning
of June 18th we were off East London, but in consequence of the boisterous
weather had to stand out to sea, thus overcarrying the mails for East
London to Natal, to be sent back again, somehow or other, later on. On
the evening of June 21st it was a dead calm till 10 o'clock when one
of those severe gales peculiar to the coast commenced to blow. For hours
previously the lightning had attracted the attention of all on board,
it being grand beyond description; but as there was little wind no fears
were entertained and a good deal of canvas was kept on the ship. However
at 10 o'clock and quite suddently, it commenced to blow fearfully, and
rain in torrents. The
succeeding moments can hardly be described. "Hands! shorten
sail!" was shouted fore and aft the ship; nearly all the sails were in ribbands,
and those which were not were soon taken off; the captain and officers were on
deck giving orders, making themselves heard as best they could; the clouds were,
one would think, concentrating their contents on the Gorgon, drenching every
man on deck; and the lightning illumined with the brightness of day, the weird
spectacle. A remarkable fact was that the sea, which had been calm, continued
so, the combined force of the wind and rain forbidding the waves to rise. Fortunately
the ship rode out the gale, which was from the westward, scudding before it under
bare poles at about 10 knots an hour. After the storm, which lasted about an
hour, the captain complimented the men on the admirable manner in which they
had done their work, and ordered cocoa to be made for all hands. It should be
mentioned that although the Gorgon was a steamer, steam was only used as an auxiliary,
and that on the voyage round the Cape she was not under steam but had her paddle
wheels disconnected from the engines.
NORMAN (1) London. 530 tons. Built 1853. Maiden voyage to South Africa
1857 (arrived at Cape Town Dec 24th). One of the original vessels of
the Union Steam Collier Company. This Company was formed in 1853 with
a capital of 60,000 pounds; a few small steamers were built or purchased
and the nucleus of a collier fleet was established. Within a short time
the Union Company's flag was flying on five vessels: the BRITON (491
tons), DANE (526 tons), NORMAN (530 tons) SAXON (440 tons), and UNION
The NORMAN inaugurated the unsuccessful Union service to Brazil (September 1856). She was the third Union liner to reach the Cape, and came out in 1857 with Captain Boxer in charge. (Captain Boxer had originally commanded the G.S.S. Company's coaster SIR ROBERT PEEL, and was well known between Table Bay and Durban.) After the Rennie steamer WALDENSIAN was wrecked in October 1862 the Union Line decided to enter the coasting trade, and the NORMAN inaugurated the new service from Capetown early in 1863. She remained on the coast for nearly two years, returning to England finally in November 1864. She was then sold and became the property of Bremer, Bennett and Bremer, of London, who had also acquired the first SAXON. (Both the former Union names were retained by the new owners.) The NORMAN was eventually wrecked off Seaham in July 1881.
Table Bay was the only South African harbour where the mail steamers of the Union Line were to be seen (until 1862) for the vessels did not proceed up the coast but, after about four weeks' stay at Capetown, returned to England. A regular coasting service was maintained by the steamships MADAGASCAR and WALDENSIAN, owned by John T Rennie, carrying the mails between Cape and Natal via coast ports under contract with the Colonial Governments and connected at Capetown with the overseas mail steamers of the Union Line. Transhipment at Capetown meant delays - goods and passengers took 10 days to reach Port Elizabeth after the date of the arrival of the English mail steamer in Table Bay. The shipping agents at Capetown were accused of making exorbitant charges for transhipment from mail steamer to coaster, and coastal merchants, especially at Algoa Bay, were loud in their denunciation of the Agreement according to which Capetown was made the terminus of the ocean mail service. After the loss of the coasters MADAGASCAR (1858) and WALDENSIAN (1862) Rennie's abandoned their coastal service and the Union Company stepped into the breach, commencing local sailings between the Cape and Natal. The first vessel to be employed on this branch line was the NORMAN, which left Capetown for Durban on February 18th 1863.
A half-model of the NORMAN can be seen on board the training-ship WORCESTER which is moored in the Thames, off Greenhithe (at date of publication of Murray's book i.e. 1933) [Probably not still applicable??]
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