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., or, to give it its official title, the Natal Emigration and Colonization 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 the Byrne Settlers, or that all the Byrne settlers were located in the Byrne valley.


Here is a word-picture of Byrne as he appeared at the height of his fame in the years 1849 to 1852. He was then about 50, ‘a tall, sturdily built man with a fresh complexion and an impressive manner’, ‘well-dressed and exuding prosperity’. His usual attire was a black cut-away coat, tights and Hessian boots. When he visited Natal from July 1851 to Apr. 1852, dark glasses and a whip completed the picture. In Natal too, he rode a good horse and was always followed by a white personal attendant, also mounted.

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. This one gathers through his book Twelve years’ wanderings in the British colonies’…, in which he provides information about emigration and life in the United States and Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.

In some cases he cleverly refrains from stating he was personally in a particular place, and reading between the lines, it seems unlikely he ever visited New Zealand, Western Australia or Tasmania. It is not 100% certain that he was in America either, but if he was , it must have been between 1835 and 1838, because in 1839 he travelled overland from New South Wales to South Australia with two friends, driving about 1 000 sheep along the Murrumbidgie and Murray rivers to Adelaide, where after a five-month journey, they safely delivered most of the animals to market. From Adelaide he went to Melbourne, and apparently this is where he married in 1841. His wife was Agnes O’Farrell, the daughter of William O’Farrell of Port Philip, Melbourne. During 1841-1842 he was a reporter on the Melbourne Argus, but lost his job after a dispute in the police court was dismissed.

In about 1847 he was in the Cape Colony on his way back to England with his wife and child. By then he was living on his wits, with no obvious means of support. To complete his journey he was obliged to borrow L40 from an Irish friend, and draw a bill on his father (which was dishonoured, but subsequently paid).

He is next heard of as a share-broker in Liverpool. Here his ‘address, manners, style and daring carried him into a circle where he made money like a successful gambler’. The stock-market fell, Byrne disappeared for a time, and then turned up in London.

Byrne always had his ‘eye on the main chance’, as the saying goes. 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. Between 1846 and 1851 over one million three hundred and twenty thousand people left the United Kingdom for the colonies or America.

To make these figures more meaningful – for one year, 1851, the report of Her Majesty’s Land and Emigration Commissioners showed that 32 961 nationals had left Britain for British North America, 223 078 for the USA and 16 037 for Australia and New Zealand. In comparison with South Africa – 1 864 went to the Cape Colony and 2 710 to Natal.

In 1848 Byrne published his Twelve years’ wanderings in the British colonies from 1835 to 1847, a solid mass of statistical information about the colonies he had visited, or claimed to have visited, lightened in parts with accounts of his own experiences. This was followed in quick succession by other books on emigration. Using his knowledge of Australia and the information gained while at the Cape, he produced an Emigrant’s guide to the Cape of Good Hope, an Emigrant’s guide to Port Natal, and a similar handbook for Australia. These were sold at 1/- each, and by Mar. 1850 the Natal one was in its sixth edition, the Cape in its third, while the Australian had run into 12 editions.

His Emigrant’s guide to Port Natal was, he claimed, the result of personal knowledge gained when he visited Natal in 1843-1844, backed by condensed official data. Byrne maintained he had visited the Colony when on a hunting trip from Colesberg. However, nothing is known of his being in Natal, and with his flamboyant personality it is unlikely that his presence here would have gone unrecorded.

As David Dale Buchanan, the editor of the Natal Witness once wrote, it was ‘not possible for him to have been anywhere without leaving footprints’. Also, had he seen the nature of Natal’s topography, it seems inconceivable that he would have embarked on an emigration scheme along the lines of the one he eventually formulated. Another reason for doubting his word is the fact that in his Twelve years’ wanderings… he mentions being in Sydney, Melbourne and other parts of the Colony of Victoria in 1843, and Sydney again in 1844, the years when he allegedly was in Natal.

In his own words, Byrne ‘took a prominent part in leading the emigration movement’ in the United Kingdom. He was an inspiring orator, and travelled in various parts of England and Scotland advocating ‘National Emigration’. He gave free lectures and convened public meetings at which he spoke on the British colonies, and later particularly on the virtues of Natal. Between July and Dec. 1848 he gave 50 such lectures.

Natal was the colony Byrne chose to push. He claimed to be the originator of emigration to Natal, but this is disputed. A Natal resident, Dr Benjamin Blaine, gave a lecture to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce early in 1848, and Dr Charles Johnston followed it up, by formulating his own emigration scheme.

At this time Byrne was lecturing on the prospects for emigrants in Australia, and his posters advertised Australia only. When this interest in Natal was manifested Byrne included the colony, but in a subordinate position – the early posters advertised both destinations but gave prominence to Australia. Byrne admitted later that it was with difficulty that he had diverted the attention of emigrants to Natal, ‘as the name of Africa to most is synonymous of barren soils and burning sands’.

The scheme

Early in January 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. This was a lavishly furnished establishment (the fittings and furniture had been paid for by an ex-stationer, Thomas Roberts, who became Byrne’s confidential clerk). A friend of Roberts provided the L50 with which the business was launched, on the understanding that he would be employed at L150 per annum when the scheme ‘had been worked into order’). Byrne himself was at this time insolvent to the tune of L2 000, a fact which only emerged later.

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 they were not entitled to land (on the ships’ list 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.

How did Byrne obtain the land to offer the emigrants, and where was he to get his profits? He had to deposit sums of not less that L1 000 at a time with the Bank of England to the credit of Her Majesty’s Land and Emigration Commissioners. (These sums Byrne obtained from ship-owners, anxious for business.) L1 000 would enable him to obtain 5 000 acres in Natal at the upset price (fixed Government price) of 4/- per acre. For each sum of L1 000 deposited he was entitled to send out 100 approved emigrants.

He would eventually receive a drawback of L10 per emigrant under special conditions, that is, that the emigrant was well-treated aboard ship, and had been settled on his/her allotment. A certificate to this effect was to be issued by the Natal Government, and on production of same in London, Byrne would receive his L10. In theory, therefore, if all his emigrants settled on their land, he would receive back all the deposits. The 100 emigrants for each L1 000 deposited, would be given, at 20 acres apiece, i.e. 2 000 acres of land, and Byrne would retain the other 3 000.

Some emigrants would add to their allotments before sailing by buying extra acreages from Byrne & Co. (at 5/- an acre instead of the upset price of 4/-), while it was envisaged that others would eventually wish to purchase extra land after they had settled, and had improved their circumstances.

Byrne’s 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 the agent, John Moreland was a passenger.

Byrne made three grave miscalculations which eventually scuttled his scheme. He would have been saved these had he actually visited the Colony. First he thought there were vast open spaces in Natal, 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 or 2d an acre, and withdrew 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 Byrne allowed himself to be misled by the Government upset price of 4/- an acre, and took this as the real value of land in the Colony, when in fact it was nearer 1/- per acre. Finally 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.

Moreland, for the reasons already given, found it extremely difficult to obtain suitable land, that is, 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.

A meeting of emigrants was held on 21 Jan. 1850, eight months after the first settlers had arrived, and after only five of Byrne’s 20 vessels had docked in Durban. This was attended, among others by Judge Henry Cloete and the Secretary to Government, Donald Moodie. A committee was formed, and through this Moreland ‘hoped to clear up many matters which are charged against me’.

Though he had been calumniated on all sides, as he reported to his principal, a unanimous vote was passed, thanking him for his ‘exertions’ in doing the best he could for the emigrants. No censure was passed on Byrne, but, Moreland wrote, ‘all believed his scheme was worthless’.

One thing went wrong after another. In addition to the difficulties in obtaining land, Moreland could not get the completed certificates of good treatment and settlement from the Natal Government. Byrne repeatedly asked him for them as he desperately needed the money tied up in these deposits.

It was only in Sep. 1850 that Moreland reported to him that he expected to receive them shortly – and the first settlers had arrived sixteen months earlier. Then Moreland was chronically short of money to pay the surveyors and clerks he had employed, to meet the landing fees of the settlers, duty and the duty and landing fees on the goods Byrne sent him to sell. The only cash Byrne ever sent him was L60.

The reason for this was Byrne’s mistaken idea that Moreland would be well in funds from land sales and from the proceeds of merchandise he consigned to him. Periodically he despatched goods for Moreland to sell, e.g. deal planks, slates, barrels of flour, barrels of nails, three cwt of Spanish green snuff, a large forge, a flour mill, etc. – and even a case of 24 dozen hats. The total value of all this was over

L4 500. However, many settlers came out provided for their needs, while some brought out goods to sell themselves, so these items largely proved a drug on the market – and Moreland was faced with bills for storage, and the sight of flour going sour! The final straw was the number of emigrants presenting him with drafts, having given Byrne their cash on the understanding that Moreland would pay them out. In many cases he was unable to do so.

Things were not going well for Byrne & Co. in England either, and in Sep. 1850 Byrne surrendered his estate. Initially his liabilities were reported to be L34 000, but they were finally estimated at

L2 090.10s. Byrne sailed through the bankruptcy court and emerged with a first-class certificate. Furthermore he was appointed as one of the agents of the assignees of his own insolvent estate. As such he was to go to Natal where he was to act with the other assignee, Edward Parke Lamport. Dr John Clark, in his book on Moreland, suggests that Byrne’s creditors, having come to realise the flaws in his character, appointed Lamport in order to keep him straight. He was not successful.

Byrne in Natal

Byrne arrived in the Colony in July 1851. From the first he adopted an extremely aggressive attitude to Moreland. He and Lamport later sued Moreland for the documents and property of the estate, which Moreland was retaining as security for what he was owed (Moreland calculated that Byrne & Co.’s debt to him was L8 152 for survey fees, office expenses, transport costs, etc.).

At this trial Byrne produced a copy of the 1849 Bankrupt Law Consolidation Act, which had not been promulgated in Natal, but which he claimed was valid. There were only three copies in the Colony, all belonging to him, and he refused to let them out of his hands, except, he said, for the sum of L100! (Whether he really meant this or not is unclear.) Under this Act he averred that his first-class certificate relieved him of all debts, claims and demands, not only in England, but in the colonies and in foreign countries. Judge Henry Cloete ruled that this Bankruptcy Law was valid in Natal, and assigned the costs of the case to Moreland.

This was a disaster for Moreland, his claims against Byrne & Co. thus falling away. The only solution would have been to have the insolvent estate reopened in London, a course he could not contemplate because of the prohibitive expense. Early in 1852 Byrne and Lamport took Moreland to court – this time to obtain title to various erfs in his name in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. They were successful in all instances except one, and again Moreland had to pay the costs. The consequence was Moreland’s own insolvency.

It appears that in some strange way Byrne had the ability to charm the authorities. He had received very favourable treatment in the Bankruptcy Court, and now here he was charming Natal’s Recorder (or Chief Justice), Henry Cloete, in such a way as to lead him to what certainly look like biased judgments. According to Dr Clark, it seems Byrne’s ‘effrontery and style temporarily hypnotized’ Natal officialdom, even the Lt.-Governor, Benjamin Pine. This ability to charm swayed public opinion in his favour throughout his Natal visit, except for a setback here and there.

Byrne was much in the public eye – making speeches, attending dinners, balls, picnics, giving parties – and being involved in a few brawls. Then he caused a sensation by turning up at the Natal Independent office with his horse-whip to threaten the editor, the Revd James Archbell, for what he termed the ‘tissue of lies’ appearing in his newspaper. Finally Byrne landed up being horse-whipped himself by Capt. John Chadwick (not himself a Byrne & Co. emigrant).

The highlight of his publicity was a dinner in his honour just before his departure for the Cape. It was even graced by the presence of Lt.-Governor Pine. Held in Durban, at McDonald’s Commercial Hotel (today’s Royal Hotel), tickets were selling at a guinea and 15/- each. However, a strong opposition movement came to the fore, and as the time for the event drew near, the committee organizing it was peddling tickets for as little as 2/6d – some people even refused free tickets. The opposition organized a public meeting to coincide with the dinner. The Natal Witness estimated that 65 attended the dinner, while 200 to 300 went to the meeting.

Byrne’s later life

Four days later Byrne left Natal for ever. With him went a considerable number of drawbacks or land certificates, which he had in some way managed to get from the Government without the knowledge of his fellow assignee, Edward Lamport. At the Cape he used them to raise L1 000 in cash from merchants, ostensibly to import Indian labour to Natal. From there he went to Mauritius, where apparently he lost a considerable part of this L1 000 in gambling.

His wife and family joined him on the island. From there they sailed to Australia, but not before Byrne had engineered yet another swindle. He obtained a draft of L10 from the Assistant Auditor-General, cashed it, and disappeared without delivering the lion skin for which he had received the money.

By early 1853 he was at the gold-diggings in the Colony of Victoria, while later in the year he was at Geelong. In July 1854 he was making a fortune as a storekeeper, carrier, land merchant and gold-buyer. However, bankruptcy was again his lot in 1855, this time in Melbourne. In true Byrne style he remained cool and self-possessed throughout the proceedings, but was committed to gaol after his examination, as his evasive answers had irritated the commissioner to such a degree. When he was re-examined later the prevarications continued, and he was incarcerated for a further 14 days. His ability to charm failed in this instance.

In 1856 Agnes Byrne left her husband owing to his violence towards her, and took refuge in the home of a barrister, Mr Le Poer Trench. Byrne tried to gain access to her, but she refused to see him. Trench requested him to leave and a scuffle ensued. Trench fell and was beaten in the face. A L10 fine for assault ensued.

The Natal Mercury reported in Jan. 1859 that Byrne was in Paris, ‘living in princely state’. He had been given a concession by Louis Napoleon on certain South Sea Islands, and was shortly to leave for his ‘principality’ in connection with a new scheme of colonization. This must be a reference to the plan he submitted to the Emperor for the colonization by European settlers of New Caledonia. However, nothing came of this.

Byrne’s next and last attempt at relocating large numbers of people was in connection with Peru and the South Sea Islands – with disastrous results for the inhabitants of the latter. In the early 1860s he gained from the Peruvian Government the sole right to bring Pacific Islanders as apprentices to Peru. The conditions under which their labour was to be exacted were fair and humane – adequate wages, determined hours of labour, etc. While sailing back to Callao in 1863 with his first group of islanders (about 183 in number), Byrne died.

With his death the sole right to engage in this traffic lapsed. As a result, several ‘unprincipled men’ immediately fitted out seven or eight ships and proceeded to any islands in the Pacific, where, ‘by fair means or foul’, they obtained cargoes of ‘apprentices’ – in other words, slaves.

As an aside – for some years I have been corresponding with a gentleman in Queensland about the Byrne settler James Colley, originally from East Cowick, Yorkshire, who finally settled in the Colony of Victoria. I sent him some background information about the Byrne scheme, and he was intrigued by the man and decided to investigate further. In 1993 he had occasion to visit Melbourne and made enquiries at the Victoria State Library. After a long wait he was presented with a file marked J.C. Byrne – but it was empty. The explanation given was that the contents had been stolen many years previously!

Despite all his failings, Byrne was not completely rotten. He really intended his Natal emigration scheme to work. He showed a consideration for the comfort of his emigrants which was quite unusual for the standards of the day, e.g. their rations were superior to the usual emigrant fare, and he provided books for shipboard reading (it was intended that these would afterwards become the nuclei of libraries in the areas of settlement). His instructions to Moreland bear out his concern for their welfare.

More than once he told Moreland that it was the spirit of his instructions which should be observed rather than the letter, in order to achieve the satisfactory settlement of the emigrants. It was only the pressures on him increasing through lack of cash and credit that his serious dishonesties began, such as selling land to prospective emigrants at 5/- an acre after he had been informed by Moreland that it was far too high a price, or continuing to take sums of money from the emigrants, giving drafts on Moreland even though he knew Moreland did not have the funds to meet them.

Then his behaviour in Natal lost him what credulity he might have had left, for example, the way he twisted the facts to his advantage in his legal dealings with Moreland certainly puts one out of sympathy with him, while the manner in which he defrauded his estate of the drawbacks and then cashed in on them, bears the marks of a first class swindler.

At his famous dinner Byrne declared, ‘My ambition is to hand down my name to posterity – associated with Natal’. This he certainly did, but not in the manner he intended. He did, however, give the Colony much publicity in England and was responsible for despatching over 2 600 settlers thither from the Uni-ted Kingdom, and thus laid the foundations of the British character of Natal, which endures to this day.


Settler profiles

Here is a depiction of the average emigrant , through Moreland’s eyes – he remarks that it was commonly said that ‘Emigrants never arrived and were satisfied at the first. Unaccustomed as they have previously been to be pent up within a certain limited space for such a length of time as during a voyage from England to Natal, the many bitter trials of temper they have had to endure, all have a tendency to sour the best of dispositions, and take into consideration that they are landed on a foreign shore, partly inhabited, none of the beautiful green fields and comfortably-built houses that you meet with in every part of England, but a place like Durban half up to the knees in sand, the best houses till lately being composed of ‘Wattle-and-Dab’; the … huts in which white men live scattered about in every direction, having sprung up so rapidly, entirely with a view of affording shelter to the strangers who are coming in such numbers amongst us – these things certinly have not the charm about them that imagination might depict at home.

There is something about this cold reality that requires a little philosophy to surmount. Interested parties meet them on landing, tell them things to dishearten them, from sheer wantonness; others having lands of their own obtaining their object by traducing the land I have to allot them, and so the matter goes on till the people are in a complete maze. Time flies on. Some begin to open their eyes to the true position of affairs and are in the end astonished at their own folly… ‘ Then again, ‘An industrious man will never have occasion to speak ill of the country but men without skill, enterprize, or capital are unfitted in every possible way for the performance of those duties which ensure success’.

From Moreland’s assessment of the individual emigrant, we pass to a rough analysis I have made of the 439 Byrne settlers whose biographies I have completed thus far. This is almost 52% of the total. Here I must explain my definition of ‘settlers’, i.e. heads of families (be they male of female), and single men or women emigrating without parents. The analysis reveals that 58% of them were from England and 34% from Scotland. There was also a solitary Welshman, and 13 emigrants came from Ireland.

Birthplaces of only about 42% are known. In a number of cases, not only is the birthplace lacking, but there is not even a clue as to 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), and then London and Hampshire (each 7.8%).

In Oct. 1850, by which time 18 of Byrne & Co.’s 20 vessels had landed their settlers, the Natal Immigration Agent, George Macleroy (himself a Byrne settler) gave a detailed report on the emigrants, stating the number on each vessel, place of settlement, etc. The total number of souls was 2 469, but of these only 271½ statute adults had been settled on their land. (Statute adult is defined as an adult over the age of 14 years, while two children under 14 equal one statute adult.) Macleroy reported that the emigrants from the first five vessels, viz. Wanderer, Washington, Henry Tanner, Dreadnought and Aliwal, who were allotted land at New England, Slang Spruit, and Vaalkop and Dadelfontein (to-day’s Ashburton area), had refused their land as inferior, and not one of them had been located.

Macleroy’s own opinion was that not one tenth of the land was fit for ‘profitable cultivation’, and had even that proportion of emigrants been settled on it, they could not have obtained more than a bare subsistence. Moreland also considered Vaalkop and Dadelfontein unsuitable, but Byrne had purchased it unseen from the Cape speculator Francis Collison. Macleroy was of the opinion that the land at the Illovo river (i.e. Richmond and Byrne), and at the Umhloti river was of much better quality, but even so was convinced that not more than one-third of the land offered in these places was likely to ‘afford them a means of subsistence’.

As events unfolded, by 1857, there were 239 settlers who had not claimed their allotments. The areas where the least land was taken up was Vaalkop and Dadelfontein – because of its poor rainfall, and the Byrne valley – where the topography was unsuitable for cultivation, and because of its isolation. In 1872 a law was passed stipulating that Byrne allotments not claimed within a year would become liable to forfeiture to the Government. Despite this, only 9% of the 239 (or their descendants), took action before the deadline, 11 Sep. 1873.

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 for this 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.

Scottish and Irish settlers

The Ina and the Conquering Hero left from the Clyde – both these bore a majority of Scottish settlers. The Unicorn which sailed from Liverpool also carried a number of Scots. Settlers from Ireland were few, most of them travelling on the Unicorn. A small number did sail from the Clyde, however.

With the proximity of Ulster and Scotland, and the links between them, it is not surprising to find free movement between the two countries. Revd William Campbell, born in Caithness, and Natal’s first Presbyterian clergyman, had ministered in Whiteabbey, north of Belfast from 1832 to 1844; Robert Speirs, who was born in Greenock, was a merchant in Belfast from 1830 until he emigrated, while the Jardines (John and his sister Margaret, ex Henrietta) came from a County Down family in which some of the siblings were born in Scotland and some in Ireland. William John Campbell, the founder of the Campbell sugar enterprise, was born in Carndonagh, County Donegal, his family having moved from Argyllshire in the 1660s as a result of religious persecution. His parents and their sons moved to Scotland in 1835, and in 1841 had William married a Glaswegian, Agnes Anderson.

Settler groups

Among the Byrne settlers were two particular parties, one sent out by the Duke of Buccleuch, and the other who 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 of them went to Australia and New Zealand, but a small group of his Hampshire tenants came to Natal. They were from the New Forest//Beaulieu region. Passages were obtained on J. C. Byrne & Co.’s ship, the 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 charged to the Duke’s account by John 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 in the names of the two entities confusion arose with land titles, and before the year was out the nearby village had been renamed Richmond after the Duke’s seat in Richmond, Surrey.

According to the records in the Duke’s papers, these emigrants were 44 in number, but the Lady Bruce passenger lists reflect only 37 souls, five family groups and nine single young men. Of the latter only two appear to have remained in the Colony, viz. James Alexander Westbrook and his brother Henry Fletcher Westbrook. Early on these two were working in the Karkloof forests as sawyers, but they finally settled in the New Hanover district. The five families were those of Ambrose Foss, John Crouch, William Crouch, and the brothers Isaac and John Godden.

The Goddens farmed on their Beaullieu allotments until the late 1850s/early 1860s, then moved to the Maritzburg area, where they farmed and later worked as labourers. By 1874 John Crouch was also in the capital, farming and working as a labourer. William Crouch died in 1859, presumably at Richmond, and in 1861 his widow married John Godden jun., who in the late 1850s was the ferryman at the Umkomaas river (and, according to the Richmond magistrate’s correspondence, a suspected gun-runner). Further marriages followed among the Crouch and Godden children, viz. a Crouch-Crouch marriage and two Crouch-Godden unions.

Then a grand-daughter of both John Crouch and Isaac Godden married one of William Crouch’s sons. The other family, the Fosses, remained on their Richmond land until the mid-1850s when their stock-numbers dictated a larger acreage, and a move to a farm near Edendale was made. From there they went to New England, outside Maritzburg. It seems that Foss prospered, and in about 1886, by then twice-widowed, he returned permanently to England. He remarried there and died in 1895 at Stanford le Hope, Essex.

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, or Protestant Co-operative Emigration Society, was aimed mainly at Irons’s co-religionists, Wesleyans. He approached the 2nd Earl of Verulam to become patron of the scheme and promote and present it to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Grey. Verulam’s father, the first Earl, had been MP for St Albans prior to his elevation to the peerage. Initially Lord Verulam agreed, but withdrew his support in Sep. 1850, soon after the prospectus had been published, and shortly before the first of the vessels to carry members of the society to Natal, the King William, was due to sail.

Irons’s scheme was at an advanced stage before Joseph 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 arranged 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 Natal Cotton Co. which had been unable to fulfil the conditions of its grant.

Irons’s home town St Alban’s was built on the site of the Roman city Verulamium, and he was determined that the capital of the new settlement should 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 and chose a suitable site for the village of 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 like a town; the streets begin to be defined by buildings which spring up in every direction…the crops on their 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 purpose in carrying out their plans, and I sincerely wish them every success’. Eventually, by Feb. 1851a total of 324 souls had reached Natal under this scheme.

Of those who remained on their land, John Trevenen Polkinghorne became a Member of the Legislative Council in 1869 and later was appointed the Colony’s Treasurer. Under responsible Government be was elected the president of the upper house of Parliament. Thomas William Garland, and Thomas Groom, Verulam merchants, succeeded one another as members for Victoria County in the Legislative Council, and both served terms in the upper house in the 1890s.

One who moved off his allotment very early on was Polkinghorne’s brother-in-law, John William Akerman, who eventually became a chemist in Maritzburg, and was an MLC for many years from 1862 onwards, and became the Council’s third Speaker. He was the founder of the dynasty of Maritzburg doctors – his great-grandson, Hugh Akerman, now represents the family in the field. Another family member is the playwright Anthony Akerman.


In the time available I shall touch only on politics and agriculture.


While on the subject of parliamentarians, three Byrne settlers were among the eight elected members of the first Legislative Council in 1857, And this was only about seven years after re-establishing themselves in a new country. They were Walter Macfarlane, elected for Weenen County, and James Arbuthnot and John Moreland for Pietermaritzburg County. Only one, Macfarlane, remained in the House for any length of time, becoming Speaker in 1859 and remaining as such until 1880.

Moreland lasted only two years, and Arbuthnot died prematurely in 1861. Others to follow were John Sanderson, Durban newspaper proprietor and editior, Charles Barter, Karkloof farmer and horse-breeder, Joseph Fleetwood Churchill, Durban merchant, John Hunt, Durban timber-merchant out of whose enterprise the firm Hunt, Leuchars & Hepburn developed, George King, a Newcastle farmer, James William Winter, Maritzburg merchant, William Hartley, Durban merchant and banker, John Duggleby Nicholson, Richmond farmer, and John Smith, farmer of Fox Hill, and the ancestor of Pietermaritzburg’s legal family – the Austin Smiths and the Leslie Smiths.

The first of what one could dub a ‘junior’ Byrne emigrant (i.e. arrived in childhood), to enter the House was 24-year old John Robinson, in 1863. Then a part-owner of the Natal Mercury (established by his father George Eyre Robinson and fellow King William passenger, Jeremiah Cullingworth), he eventually was knighted, and was Natal’s first Prime Minister under responsible government.

Other ‘juniors’ to follow suit were John Clarke Walton, auctioneer and law agent of Ladysmith, Joseph Baynes, Natal’s most successful farmer of his day – on the Umlaas river, at what came to be known as Baynesfield, James King, farmer of Nottingham Road, George Frederick Tatham, surveyor and land agent of Ladysmith, William Palmer, an accountant of Durban, Friend Addison, sugar planter in the Stanger area, and Kenneth Howard Hathorn, solicitor, who established the present local legal firm, Hathorn, Cameron & Co.

Natal-born sons of Byrne settlers who eventually reached ministerial status were Frederick Robert Moor of Estcourt, one-time Secretary for Native Affairs, and later Natal’s penultimate Prime Minister, William Arbuckle jun., four-time Mayor of Durban, who became Treasurer from 1897 to 1901and Thomas Keir Murray, farmer of Cleland near Pietermaritzburg, and the Colony’s Minister of Land and Works, 1894-95. Natal-born sons who followed in their fathers’ footsteps into the House were Frank Oliver Fleetwood Churchill and J. A. Polkinghorne.


Natal gained the reputation of being ‘a colony of samples’ – anything from arrrowroot to silkworms, indigo, tobacco, peppers and pineapples – was experimented with. Using my 439 settlers as a sample, one finds that about 38% tried farming here at one time or another. A.K. Murray sen. (cousin to A.K. Murray jun., who settled in Pinetown), and a well-educated, articulate person, who had intended farming when emigrating, was of the opinion that agriculture was not viable in the coastal areas, and, in any event, capital was essential.

His assessment of Natal’s prospects as written home in mid-1851, was gloomy – with the exception of Indian corn, beef, pumpkins and a few potatoes, all supplies were received from the Cape, and as the Colony had next to no exports, the returns had to be made in money -‘this of course must keep the Colony poor’. In 1850, he related, imports had been more than L50 000 and exports about L10 000.

Sugar, it was, that came to the rescue, redeeming Murray’s assessment of the coastlands, and boosting the export picture. A number of Byrne settlers ventured into this sphere. With their proximity to the coast, Irons’ settlers were ideally situated for the cultivation of sugar. Matthew Barr, J. C. Blamey, F.B. Fynney, Thomas Groom, Samuel Hill,. J. T. Polkinghorne, and Charles Povall come to mind in this regard. William John Campbell whose abandoned allotments were in the Richmond area, eventually settled near Verulam. Of the Byrne settler families, the Polkinghornes are still cultivating sugar, while the Campbells remained in the industry well into the twentieth century.

On the South Coast (i.e. south of Durban) William Arbuckle, Robert Babbs, William Joyner,, R.G. Mack, William and George Quested and Benjamin Smart were among the early sugar planters.

For a short time in 1857-58 the Government offered grants of quitrent farms, and some Midlands people availed themselves of the opportunity of acquiring coastal land. Among their number were some Richmond and Byrne residents – James Arbuckle, James Ely, John Baseley, Joseph Landers, H.W. Cooke and Charles Dacomb who all settled as planters in the Umzinto/Ifafa region (so strong was their element, that in the 1860s there was an Umzinto contingent of the Richmond Mounted Rifles).

It seems that it became fashionable for successful Durban businessmen to think they could make money from sugar and coffee cultivation – William Hayes Acutt, Alexander McArthur, William Hartley, and Edward Parke Lamport and John Gavin are among them. Some soon gave it up when they saw their hard-earned shekels evaporating, and pulled out early, while some of the others had their fingers burned.

To comment further on financial woes – in my sample, approximately 9% of the settlers had their estates either assigned or declared bankrupt. This does not seem high, but when one considers that it was during the slump in the mid-1860s that most insolvencies occurred, by which time about 55% of the 439 were out of the picture, the percentage rises to almost 20%.

Settler activity beyond Natal

Byrne settler influence permeated ‘Overberg’, as the phrase went. Durban’s mercantile firm Evans & Churchill (A.W Evans and J.F. Churchill) was trading in both the Transvaal and the Free State by 1854. Also in 1854 the Devereux brothers, together with a Transvaal official, laid out Pretoria’s Church Square, and designed and constructed the first Dutch Reformed Church built thereon. Natalians were prominent in gold-prospecting – Forbes Reef and Pigg’s Peak in Swaziland take their names from the family of David Forbes, and William, the son of Anthony Pigg of Richmond.

A prospector in the eastern Transvaal was the Richmond farmer (and gun-runner) Thomas McLachlan. William Ling, another Richmond farmer (and gun-runner), and the ‘father of Natal cricket’, moved to Kimberley, where he also gave the authorities headaches as one of the leaders of the discontented diggers. To redeem this, he’s also known as the ‘father of Kimberley cricket’! G.B.S. Darter and family moved to Cape Town where he founded G.B. Silver Darter, a well-known music store. A number of Natalians established themselves as shopkeepers in Free State towns. Harrismith, with its proximity to the Natal border, was ‘colonized’ by Natalians at an early date. Byrne families making their homes there include the McKechnies, the Oateses, the Odells, the Pettys, the Putterills, the Sinks and the Spilsburys.


The weaknesses and final collapse of Byrne’s scheme led to many hardships among his settlers, but many persevered through the difficult years, and together with their descendants, have made a significant contribution to Natal and to other parts of South Africa.