I thought I would tell you something about the Byrne scheme and its settlers, and then concentrate on those Byrne emigrants who, by 1878 were settled in the Boston – Howick – Karkloof – Lion’s River – Dargle – Caversham – Nottingham Road – Mooi River and Estcourt areas. Why 1878? Because 1878 was the first year in which Davis’s Natal Almanac provided a postal directory for the whole colony.

To begin with, I should like to define the term ‘Byrne Settler’. It means any emigrant brought to Natal by the company, J. C. Byrne & Co. These people landed in Natal on 20 ships during the years 1849 to 1851. Among these were two ship-loads (those ex Minerva and Henrietta) whose allotments were laid out in the Byrne valley, near Richmond. Confusion arises here – sometimes it is incorrectly thought that only those whose land was at Byrne were Byrne settlers – or that all the Byrne settlers were located in the Byrne valley.

Joseph Charles Byrne was born in Dublin in about 1800, the son of a small-time cattle-dealer, Joseph Byrne of Mount Argus House in that city. Nothing is known of his early years, but from about 1835 to 1847, apparently, he travelled extensively through North America and various British colonies.

Byrne always had ‘his eye on the main chance’. When stocks and shares were high he was much involved in the market. When they plunged, and their fall became one of the contributing factors to mass emigration, Byrne jumped on a new band-wagon – just that – emigration Natal was the colony Byrne chose to push. Early in Jan. 1849 his first advertisements for Natal emigration appeared in British newspapers, and he opened his Natal Emigration and Colonization Office in London, at 12 Pall Mall East.

J.C. Byrne & Co. offered prospective emigrants a passage to Natal and 20 acres of land at the following rates: L10 for a steerage passage (L15 was the usual fare), and L19 for an intermediate berth. Children under 14 were charged L5 and were entitled to five acres. Cabin passengers could travel for L35, but were not entitled to land (on the ships’ lists they appeared as ‘passengers’, while the others were labelled ‘emigrants’). To take advantage of the land allotment an emigrant had to be approved by Her Majesty’s Land and Emigration Commissioners – his/her age had to be 45 maximum unless accompanied by adult offspring, and the only acceptable occupations were the practical ones of farmer, blacksmith, wheelwright, wagon-maker, dairymaid, agricultural labourer, etc.

Byrne was fortunate to obtain the surveyor and civil engineer John Swales Moreland as his agent in Natal. Moreland was committed to his task, energetic and loyal, despite the various trials he was called on to bear.

The first vessel, the Wanderer, sailed on 24 Jan. 1849 with 15 emigrants. She arrived on 16 May, and was followed in July by the Washington, on which John Moreland was a passenger.

Byrne miscalculations eventually scuttled his scheme. He would have been saved these had he actually visited the Colony. First, he thought there were vast open spaces just waiting to be settled, as a result of the Boers’ withdrawal from Natal once British rule had been established. However, he was out of date. In 1848 Sir Harry Smith, the Cape Governor (Natal was then a district of the Cape), made an attempt to halt the exodus of Boers by relaxing the regulations under which lands were granted. This did not have the desired effect. Instead of returning and occupying the land they were thus able to claim, the Boers more often than not sold it to speculators, sometimes at prices as low as 1d or2d an acre, and withdrew permanently beyond the Drakensberg. Thus the Government had very little left in the way of Crown lands in sufficiently large blocks to allow the settlement of large numbers of emigrants. Then his 20-acre lot plan was quite unrealistic, taking into account the Natal countryside – there was no way an immigrant could make a living here on 20 acres.

Thus Moreland found it extremely difficult to obtain suitable land, i.e. well-watered, with good soil, access to timber for firewood and building purposes, and within easy distance of either Pietermaritzburg or Durban. Many emigrants rejected their allotments as not worth the payment of survey fees, and either found jobs in the towns, or purchased or leased land at very little cost elsewhere. They were certainly not going to buy Byrne’s land at 5/- an acre.

Things went from bad to worse, and eventually in Sep. 1850 Byrne surrendered his estate.
Settler profiles

I have made a rough analysis made of the 439 Byrne settlers whose biographies I have completed thus far (almost 52% of the total). My definition of ‘settlers’ here is, heads of families (male or female), and single men or women emigrating without parents. This analysis reveals that 58% were from England and 34% from Scotland. There was also a solitary Welshman, and 13 emigrants from Ireland. Birthplaces of only about 42% are known. In a number of cases, not only is the birthplace lacking, there is not even a clue as to in which part of the United Kingdom the settler had previously resided. Of the English, the largest percentage were born in Yorkshire (11.7%), followed by Lancashire and Essex (9.7%each), then London and Hampshire (each 7.8%).

As events unfolded, by 1857, there were 239 settlers who had not claimed their allotments. The area where the least land was taken up was at Vaalkop and Dadelfontein near Ashburton – because of poor rainfall, and the Byrne valley – where the topography was unsuitable for cultivation, and because of its remoteness.

It seems that about 41% of the settlers in my sample had either left the Colony, or had died before the end of 1860, while almost 14% had ‘disappeared’ i.e. one has no idea as to what happened to them after they landed. Part of the explanation could be that the Port Captain’s shipping lists are not complete. For example, in many cases, steerage passengers were not listed, so departures cannot be monitored.
Settler groups

Among the Byrne settlers were two distinct parties, one sent out by the Duke of Buccleuch, and another which emigrated under the auspices of W. J. Irons.

Hampshire settlers – the Duke of Buccleuch’s party

Walter Francis Scott, the 5th Duke, had supported the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. To alleviate the consequent distress among the rural population, he arranged for parties to emigrate to the colonies. Most went to Australlia and New Zealand, but a small group of his Hampshire tenants came to Natal. They were from the New Forest/Beaulieu area.

Passages were obtained on J.C. Byrne and Co.’s Lady Bruce, and ‘the Duke’s people’, as they came to be known, were located on the Illovo river, not far from the Wesleyans’ Indaleni Mission Station.

The expenses for wagon-hire to their allotments and survey fees were charges to the Duke’s account by Moreland, and the Duke also met the costs of flour, tents, and seed. He even donated L100 to Pietermaritzburg’s Anglican minister, the Revd James Green, to be used towards the construction of a church in their new settlement. Their rural allotments were on land which was given the name Beaulieu Estate, and Beaulieu was the name given to the village.

Because of the similarity of the names of the two entities, confusion arose with land titles, and before 1850 was out, the nearby village had been renamed Richmond, after the Duke’s seat in Richmond, Surrey.

Wesleyan settlers – the Natal Christian Emigration and Colonization Society

William Josiah Irons, a businessman and farmer in Hertfordshire, and a native of St Albans, conceived a co-operative scheme of emigration in an attempt to improve the lot of his fellows – to enable people to achieve a better life overseas – something that, without assistance, would have been beyond them.

This was not a business venture. This Christian Emigration and Colonization Society was aimed mainly at Irons’s co-religionists, Wesleyans. He approached the 2nd Earl of Verulam to become patron of the scheme and to promote and present it to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Grey. (Verulam’s father, the 1st Earl, had been MP for St Albans prior to his elevation to the peerage.)

Initially Lord Verulam agreed, but withdrew his support in Sep. 1849, soon after the prospectus had been published, and shortly before the first of the vessels to carry society members to Natal, the King William, was due to sail.

Irons’s scheme was at an advanced state before Byrne had even received approval from the British Government for his venture. Events decreed, however, that Irons had to seek Byrne’s assistance in transporting his people as he had encountered difficulties in chartering vessels. It was agreed that Byrne would locate them and meet their landing fees and wagon-hire from Durban to their new home.

Irons insisted that his settlers be located in one block and Moreland had problems in arranging this, but eventually the Natal Government allowed him to take over 22 750 acres on the Umhloti river, which had previously been granted to the Cape Town-based Nattal Cotton Co. which had been unable to fulfil the conditions of its grant.

Irons’s home town St Albans was built on the site of the Roman city Verulamium, and he was determined that the capital of the new settlement be named Verulam. The society’s local committee, which had been chosen from men aboard the King William, visited the Umhloti early in Mar. 1850 to choose a suitable site for Verulam – on the south bank of the Umhloti, and near the road to the Zulu country.

Six months later Moreland was able to report to Byrne that ‘Verulam begins to look much llike a town; the streets begin to be defined by buildings which spring up in every direction… the crops on the Acre Village Allotments are highly satisfactory… One thing I can say of them that I am sorry cannot be said with justice of the same number of Emigrants in any other settlement in this Colony – they are more united and more firm in in purpose in carrying out their plans, and I sincerely wish them every success’.

Eventually, by Feb. 1851, a total of 324 souls had reached Natal under this scheme.
Byrne settlers in the Midlands

The Byrne emigrants who moved into this region had all abandoned their allotments. The only two families who actually tried to make a go of their land were the Byrne valley settlers, the Ralfes (until 1853) and the Moors (until 1855). Together they purchased the farm Brakfontein (6 011acres) near present Frere.

Most of the people in this survey had been allotted land in the Richmond area, the exceptions being John Day (Verulam district), John King and the Ellis siblings (Slang Spruit near Pietermaritzburg), and David Gray (Vaalkop and Dadelfontein.)

In this survey I am including people who were not strictly settlers, but came on Byrne & Co.’s ships, i.e. the cabin passengers, William Mackenzie ex Edward, Edwin and Mary Parkinson ex Emily, Richard Lawton on the Globe, Alexander McArthur on the Conquering Hero, and possibly the Morton brothers on the Lady Bruce.

The most prominent, however, was James Erasmus Methley, who had first come to Natal in 1848 to visit his school pals, sons of Revd James Archbell (they had all been at Woodhouse Grove, a school for sons of Wesleyan ministers). He was much taken by the country and determined to return, and to advertise Natal.

To his end he published in 1849 The new colony of Port Natal. This book influenced a number of people to choose Natal as their new home. He arrived back in Mar. 1850 on the Sovereign. From J. C. Byrne’s correspondence one knows he was given a free cabin passage because he had been useful ‘in giving information on Natal to people in the vicinity of Leeds’.

In the Howick/Karkloof district in 1878 were William Strapp, ex Conquering Hero, farming at St John’s, and Richard Lawton at Knollebank, the family of William Frederic Morton at Fountaindale and The Start, Emily passengers Revd John Methley at Singleton and Edwin Parkinson at Shafton Grange; and Unicorn emigrants George Trotter at Yarrow, two of the four sons of Mrs Ann Shaw, viz. Walter Thomas at Clarendon (later Shawswood), and William Robinson at Talavera.

Not far away, on the Umgeni, was William McKenzie, resident at Cramond.

The Karkloof has an interesting aspect to its history. By the mid-1850s nearly 59 000 acres there belonged to Wesleyan ministers! It was Revd James Archbell, who had been permanently in Natal since 1842, who started it all. By 1854 he owned Stocklands, Oatlands and Woodlands, while in 1847 he had purchased the farms Halliwell and Clarendon on behalf of Revd William Jefferd Davis.

Other ministers who owned land there were Revd Joseph Jackson of De Magtenburg, while two missionaries in the Eastern Cape, Revd William Hind Garner and the Clarkebury missionary, Revd James Stewart Thomas, also had land there.

Then there was Revd J. P. Haswell of Leeds in Yorkshire. Revd James Methley, father of James Erasmus Methley also owned a farm there in 1850, through Archbell’s agency, but it seems that by 1854 it had been taken over by his son.

This land-owning phenomenon was even commented upon in Hewson’s An introduction to South African Methodism, published in 1850. He begins his chapter on Natal with the words, ‘We made an inauspicious start in Natal. Our first two representatives [i.e. Archbell and Davis] gave far too literal an interpretation to the text ‘There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed’ (Joshua 13:1).
Boston – Dargle – Lion’s River – Caversham

In the Boston area one finds Benjamin Harrington ex Minerva at Deepdale, and Rowland Graham ex Unicorn at Greenwood Park, a section of the farm Van Vuurens Post.

There were three Conquering Hero emigrants at the Dargle, viz. Robert Speirs at Brooklands, Glanville Hugh Pierce at Middlebrook, and Alexander McArthur at The Chestnuts. John Day, a Minerva passenger was farming on St Ive’s at present Lion’s River, while James Erasmus Methley was at Newstead, Curry’s Post (or Hout Bosch Rand as it was then designated).


At Nottingham (to give it its contemporary description) were the Aliwal passenger James Ellis, a builder, renting at Fordoun, while his brother-in-law John King was farming at Lynedoch and Gowrie. The family of W. F. Morton also owned Sherwood near present Mount West. At Fort Nottingham itself (the ‘fort’ had given its name to the whole district) were Unicorn settlers Duncan McKenzie of Leeuw Bosch and one of the Shaw brothers, Frederick Edgar, at Umgeni Poort.

Mooi River

Today’s Mooi River had two Byrne settler families in 1878, viz. those of James Lindsay ex Conquering Hero who was at Rose Bank, and George W. Gibson ex Unicorn at Craig Neven.


Further afield, in Weenen County, were the two Minerva families, those of Robert Ralfe and Frederick William Moor at Knowle and Brakfontein. David Gray ex Aliwal was at Cathkin, and William Leslie ex Conquering Hero was at Tempe which he had renamed Campsie Glen.

Financial considerations dictated the areas in which the settlers obtained farms, either by purchase or by grant. Those with limited capital had to take farms in what were then considered isolated areas, viz. Boston, Nottingham, Mooi river and Estcourt.

David Gray while at Weston, wrote to the Government in 1857 applying for land near the Mooi on which to grow forage and vegetables for his accommodation house. He maintained that he was obliged to buy these items from his nearest neighbours who were between 13 and 20 miles away.

The Kings and the Ralfes were even more isolated. The eldest King child averred that when they arrived at Wilde Als Spruit in 1850, there was not a single human being between themselves and the Drakensberg, and only in the 1860s did Africans start to settle along the Mooi river.

According to a Ralfe descendant, the family found on arrival that the only African in the vicinity was an elderly deserter from one of Shaka’s impis. To obtain labour the Ralfes had to recruit it in the Zulu country.

This isolation made the farmers easy targets for Bushman cattle rustlers. Raids in the 1840s in the Elandskop area led to the establishment of Van Vuurens Post , a ‘fort’ manned by Cape Mounted Riflemen, and of Fort Nottingham in 1856. Despite this, the McKenzies at Leeuw Bosch were later raided, and in 1862 75 head of cattle and 15 horses were taken from the Speirs farm in the Dargle.

Eleven of the settlers I deal with here purchased their own farms before land grants were offered. Of these five had previously been renting agricultural land, while the rest were working to build up capital.

James Ellis, who with his sisters in Natal and Scotland purchased Wilde Als Spruit (which was divided and renamed Lynedoch and Balgowan), worked as a carpenter and builder in Pietermaritzburg, David Gray as a ferryman on the Mooi river until the end of 1858, Benjamin Harrington as a blacksmith, also until 1858, Richard Lawton as a merchant and trader of Pietermaritzburg until about 1856. (He and Harrington had the advantage of marrying the daughters of landowners, viz. Revd Archbell and William Harper, so one would presume their farms came at discount rates).

Duncan McKenzie worked as a superintendent of road-making on the Durban/Pietermaritzburg ‘track’ (‘road’ would be too grand a title for it in those early days). Edwin Parkinson, an apothecary, worked in Durban until about May 1852, when he moved on to his farm Shafton Grange (202 acres of his cousin-in-law James Methley’s Shafton). Here again one hopes the price was reasonable.

In 1857 land grants were offered on the quitrent system. Of the settlers in this survey who took advantage of these grants, all except one had previously been farming on rented land. The exception was William Leslie, who had been employed as a baker in Maritzburg and a builder in Weenen.

One of the reasons why the granting of land did not last long was because a number of the grantees quickly sold their new farms. The only one to do so in this survey was John Day, who had been farming in the present Cato Ridge district on Uitkomst and Doornrug. He was granted the adjoining Everts Hill, but sold it within two months.

Besides the usual stock-farming and forage cultivation, a few of the settlers in the survey bred horses, viz. George Gibson, who exported them to India in the 1860s, Robert Speirs, Edwin Parkinson and Duncan McKenzie.

In about 1855 lung-sickness hit Natal and Zululand, and after suffering heavy losses, some farmers turned to sheep. In 1856 Edwin Parkinson went to Ladysmith on behalf of a syndicate of his neighbours, to purchase sheep from Dutch farmers wintering their herds in Natal. The Moors and the Ralfes in the Estcourt district also went in for sheep, as did Thomas Morton, brother of W. F. Morton, on the farm Sherwood near today’s Mount West.

Dairy products were the exception rather than the rule in the early 1850s, because of the distance from markets. However, the Kings at Lynedoch were that exception. Professor Hattersley in his British settlement of Natal maintains that John King was perhaps the first man in the whole emigration to get an English-style dairy farm into production for the Pietermaritzburg market.

In Jan. 1852 King received a prize at a show in Pietermaritzburg for his cheese, while in May of the same year he was awarded prizes at the Pietermaritzburg Agricultural Society’s Show for his cheese, butter, hams, jam, jelly and vinegar. (In the male chauvinist society then existing he got all the credit, when I’m pretty sure his wife and his two sisters-in-law, the Misses Ellis, probably did the major share of the work.

Wood-cutting was engaged upon by those whose farms had stretches of natural bush, eg. in the Karkloof – George Trotter, and the Shaws (the latter at Clarendon and Albion, and later at The Dargle and at Umgeni Poort ).

Shaw Bros also had an outlet in Maritzburg. Robert Speirs, also in the Dargle area, brought a sawmill with him to Natal, and in Aug. 1850, a month after arriving, had fellow-passenger Willliam Strapp assisting him with it.

James Ellis exploited the timber on his Balgowan, while Duncan McKenzie traded his planks in the Orange Free State for cattle and horses.

After 1858 Benjamin Harrington was sawing on Deepdale – in the extensive bush on the south-facing hills above the Umkomaas valley which, by the 1870s, was known as ‘Seven-mile Bush’.
Additional sources of income

Among these was transport-riding, accommodation-house keeping (e.g. John Day at St Ive’s who had a temperance hotel in the 1860s and 1870s, and William Strapp at Caversham), storekeeping (e.g. Duncan McKenzie), road-making (again Duncan McKenzie), and also Robert Speirs (who had a contract in 1857 to keep the road between Maritzburg and the Mooi river drift in repair).

Government employment also brought in some cash – five of the Postmasters’ positions went to these settlers (including one lady, Mrs Jane McArthur of The Chestnuts, who became Dargle’s Postmistress in 1877).

Another ferrykeeper, besides David Gray, was the widowed Mrs Morton on the Umgeni on the farm Shooter’s Hill near Otto’s Bluff – hence Morton’s Drift.

As for Poundmasters – John Day had the job for Lion’s River, 1866 to 1881, and David Gray for Little Tugela (later redesignated Cathkin), 1859 to 1870. Richard Lawton was Field Cornet for the Howick area from 1860 to 1881.

JPs included David Gray, F. W. Moor and George Trotter.

Only one of the settlers in the survey made it to the Legislative Council, viz. Frederick William Moor who, sat for Weenen County from 1880 to about 1883.

This was an important commodity in the early days when African labour was not always available.

Those settlers whose sons, on emigrating, were nearing, or in their ‘teens, scored. George Gibson had four whose ages ranged from 20 to 11 when they landed, and he was able to achieve much on the land he rented.

When grants were offered, three of his sons were of an age to apply, and were duly granted Glen Lynden, Sutherland’s Vale and Linton.

The Ralfes’ four sons ranged from 16 to 9 in 1850, and likewise by 1857 three were eligible for grants, and were given Knowle, Ennersdale and Eden (now Heavitree).

One must not forget the woman-power of the wives and daughters (remembering the Ellis sisters!)

To round off, I should like to mention that three of the settlers studied donated land for religious purposes.

James Erasmus Methley gave a piece of Shafton, about a quarter of a mile from his homestead, for a Wesleyan chapel. He had intended to build this as early as 1854, but only in 1860 was it completed.

By early 1865 the Wesleyans were experiencing difficulty in getting ministers for their services (despite the earlier history of the area!), so the Church of England people arranged to rent it for three years.

Eventually they purchased it, and it became St Mark’s. It still stands, its original shale walls now hidden under plaster.

At Nottingham Road John King gave portion of his farm Gowrie near the present village for a Presbyterian church. This corrugated-iron structure, still extant, became known as St John’s Gowrie.

Also, James Lindsay donated four acres for a Wesleyan chapel on his farm Rose Bank.