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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.
The Norman left Plymouth on April 6th 1861 after embarking mails and passengers, those who had come from Southampton in the ship being allowed a run on shore. The contract time for the voyage out was 42 days and it was understood by the passengers that the company received a bonus of 50 pounds per day for every day less than the 42 days. After a week of fine weather, even through the Bay of Biscay, the Norman was abreast of Madeira on April 13th. The island was some 20 miles to the eastward and presented a grand appearance. The sun shone brightly and as it penetrated the mist and clouds the (illeg) became apparent. The next day we were abreast of Palma (sic), one of the Canary Islands, and being but 15 miles distant we had a splendid view. With a glass one could see houses on the hills and snow on the tops of the mountains. ... We crossed the equator on the evening of April 25th (with the temperature at 122 degrees in the engine room and between 90 and 100 degrees in the cabins). On May 2nd the weather was squally and in the evening the mainsail was split by the wind, for the Norman always carried sail when it was an advantage to do so. The next morning the flying jib was split and there was more sea than we had had all the voyage and ... strong trade winds. On May 3rd we sent a bottle afloat with a piece of paper bearing the following:-
Lat 19 O S
Long 10 8 W
May 3rd 1861
Norman mail packet to the Cape of Good Hope, All well. This document was signed by several, but whether it was ever picked up or washed ashore I know not.
... The last five days at sea were as pleasant as the preceding had been. We had a squall or two but these helped us along considerably. On the evening of May 13th one of the officers told some of the passengers that if they were up at daybreak in the morning they would see Table Mountain and if they did not see it then they would not see it till the middle of the day. A few were up before daybreak and sure enough had a glimpse of the mountain some 60 or 70 miles distant. The night had been calm but ... a favourable breeze sprang up and the little Norman had all the sail crowded on she could carry. How vigorously we all set to work hoisting the sails cheered by the mountain ahead. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of May 14th the Norman anchored in Table Bay after a voyage of 38 days from Plymouth and four days under contract time. When the anchor was let go many on board were almost overcome with feelings of joy and thankfulness at the successful termination of what would now be called a protracted voyage to the Cape.
What was the speed of the little Norman? Well, her highest run in 24 hours was 210 miles and her lowest .. 95 miles. With steam and sail she did the former, and steaming head to wind and sea she made the 95....
Capetown was glad to get another month's news for by the time the passengers were landed the town was placarded by the newspaper gentlemen "Arrival of the English mail - latest news". The latest news was nearly six weeks old and some of it was nearly ten weeks old, but it was "latest" all the same.
It must not be thought that the Norman used steam as an auxiliary to her sails. This was not the case. The screw was spinning round the whole voyage, with the exception of about five hours, when the engines were stopped in mid-ocean for the purpose of packing pistons. The engines went 54 revolutions a minute, so that made nearly three million revolutions between Southampton and Capetown.
In the year 1861 the mails for Natal were brought from England with the mails for the Cape Colony as they have been since. In those days a coasting steamer ran between Capetown and Natal named the Waldensian and she did the work as quickly as time and weather permitted. But in May the weather was rough around the Cape and the Waldensian became overdue at Capetown. It was feared she had broken down, or run out of coal, or been lost, so two or three men-of-war were sent from Simon's Bay to look for her. Meantime the mails for Natal and East London were delayed at Capetown pending arrangements ... for their despatch. There was no telegraph to Natal then so nothing could be known there of the cause of delay. People were patient in those days and when they did not get their letters when they were due, they waited till they did. The Waldensian was fortunately found by one of the men-of-war round the coast, and eventually arrived safely in Capetown.

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.
The next day, June 22nd, was beautifully fine and in the afternoon we arrived at Port Natal. The Government tug Pioneer came out to meet us and told us where to anchor in the roadstead. The mails were put on board the tug and together with some of our officers, conveyed ashore. We lay at anchor until the following afternoon, when those who had been on shore returned, bringing with them a boat to replace the one we had lost, some provisions and several curiosities. At four o'clock in the afternoon of June 23rd we got under way for the East Coast."

Source: "Ships and South Africa" by Marischal Murray (OUP London 1933)

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 (336 tons).
Operations had hardly commenced when the outbreak of the Crimean War 1854 led to the vessels being chartered as transports or supply ships, NORMAN and UNION were taken up by the British authorities, while BRITON and DANE were employed by the French. The SAXON alone remained in the Company's service. When the war was over 1856 and the Union steamers were released from Government service, it was decided not to return them to the coal-carrying trade but to concentrate instead on freight traffic. The Company was reorganized and registered as The Union Steam Ship Company Limited, taking the place of the former Union Steam Collier Company.

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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