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A Norwegian Colonisation Undertaking


The Debora Expedition sailed from Bergen in 1879 to establish a Norwegian colony on an Indian Ocean atoll called Aldabra. The organisers endeavoured to find practical and Christian people to create a settlement based on the teachings of the Norwegian preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771 -1824). The expedition was aborted in Madagascar - a few of the participants remained in Madagascar and the rest settled in the British colony of Port Natal (Durban). They were the first group of Norwegian emigrants to settle in Port Natal.

The forty-seven persons who took part in the Debora Expedition were:- Captain Tobiassen and wife, mate Berentsen and wife, mate Oftedal, A Olsen and wife, I Iversen and wife, O Heidalsvig and wife (Høidalsvig), J Finsen and wife, K Bang and wife with three children (Amanda, Severin and Knut), F Larsen and wife with six children (Angel, Emil, Sigvart, the three sons of the late Sivert Andersen Hordnes, and Petra, Ludvig and Karl), H Johnsen and wife with three children (Sina, Josefine and Karl), A Andreassen and wife with three children (I don't remember their names), R Andersen, R Rasmussen, K Jensen, Hesselberg, Grang, O Fosdal, E Eriksen, P Bang, E Ellingsen, widow Egelandsdal and Miss Serene Larsen. Two children were born on the voyage: a son to Mr and Mrs F Larsen and a son to Mr and Mrs Andreassen.

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Adapted from the original account: "The Heritage from Mr. W. L. Howes J.P. of his Personal Experiences of Old Natal" by Mrs. I. M. Birkett (nee Howes)

In 1850 the Howes family emigrated from England in the bark "Ina" to settle in Natal under the Byrne Settler Scheme. They were persuaded to do so after reading Mr. Byrne’s own account of conditions in this country. Mr. Byrne said it was a land of natural parks, teeming with game and consequently there was an abundance of meat. Note that during this period England was suffering from economic depression, and that the 1840s were years of starvation.

(as printed in The Natal Witness May, 30, 1914)

The name of the ship was the 'Ina' a Barque of 446 tons. W.L. Dark, Master. Sailed from Glasgow on the 1st December, l849, and arrived at Port Natal on the 8th March, 1850.

The following were among the passengers:

Robert Anderson, Walter Brunton, John and Thomas Duff, John Dunlop, Alex Gordon, William and Simon Graham, John Gray, Thomas Hogarth, William Rorne, William Howes, J. McKechnie, Alex and W.H. McLean, W. McLeod, Archibald K, Alex and William Murray, David and Thomas Robertson, John Sanderson, W. Watson-Webster.

Imagine the crowded little ship where the passengers had to take with them enough provisions to last for the four months of sailing. When eventually the "Ina" arrived at the big lagoon, then known as Port Natal, there was a sandbank, called the "bar" at the entrance and the ship could not enter. The passengers were consequently battened down in the hold of a lighter (a kind of boat) sent to take them ashore at the Point. From there they had to roll up their trousers to wade onto the sandy beach. Most of the women were carried on the backs of sturdy Zulus and were very frightened of the "savages". The little town of Durban was three miles inland in thick bush, where lions and elephants roamed.

Durban’s future fortune as a harbour depended on the problem of the bar. As long as the bar remained the great lagoon was closed to shipping of any size. Over a period of about forty years more than sixty ships were wrecked trying to enter the lagoon. It was not until 1897 that huge dredgers were able to remove the bar and make a magnificent harbour.

The immigrants had to endure many discomforts and hardships and lived in tents or huts until they were given their allotted land. The allottments were often rocky hills, unsuitable for tillage. The immigrants were settled in Richmond, Byrne and Verulam. When gold was found in Australia many families abandoned their poor farms in Natal in 1852 and 1853 to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Local food was obtained from Africans and consisted of beef, venison, pythons, monkeys, cane rats, porcupines, fowls, pumpkins, mealies and beans. Dried fruits, wines, flour and sugar came from the Cape. Pawpaws were introduced by a widow, Mrs. Bowen, from South America. Mr. McKen was responsible for bananas and pineapples, and Mr. Plant brought the first tea plants from Kew Gardens in England. It was found that the coastlands were suitable for growing sugar cane and in 1852 Mr. Morewood planted the first cane at Compensation near Umhlali. The sugar industry increased year by year.

In 1850 Durban had 500 inhabitants but no municipality and no police. Pietermaritzburg had a population of 1,500 exclusive of the garrison. By 1853 municipal corporations were established in both towns and schools and churches were built. Pietermaritzburg was a tranquil, pleasant place in its setting of hills. The market square was the centre for adventures. Every wagon was entitled to outspan there and sell its cargo of produce or hunting trophies. On the market square, each day started with the shrill crowing of hundreds of roosters for every wagon carried a hen coop, slung behind the wheels. All day the auctioneers were busy selling livestock and produce. In the evening the market square was fascinating with its many camp fires where stories were told by the travellers (it took four days to travel from Ixopo to Pietermaritzburg). Dancing to the tunes of a concertina was a regular feature in the hall adjoining the square. The people of Pietermaritzburg built attractive homes with thatched roofs. Water furroughs lined the streets. It was garrisoned by the 45th Regiment stationed at Fort Napier, built in 1843. It had a church, called St. George’s. Here you would see a strange sight of a white goat, the mascot of the regiment leading the soldiers to service and waiting to lead them back to camp.

A tunnel was built from Fort Napier to Government House to convey the Governor to safety if the need arose. It was never used for this purpose.

In 1846 the newspaper "The Natal Witness" was published by David Buchanan each week, and he sent copies by Zulu runners to Durban. Buchanan once was arrested and imprisoned for publishing a perjury case, so he continued editing the paper in jail.

Such were the conditions in Natal when the sailing ship "Ina" arrived.

William and Hannah took up a farm near the Seven Mile bush at Boston. It was uphill work trying to make a living there. In the first place there were no available native servants beyond the Umkomaas as far as the Drakensberg. The Bushmen were such trouble, stealing the cattle in organised raids. Leopards took the calves, and tiger cats the fowls. The timber on the farm was the chief source of revenue. On one occasion the timber was loaded on the wagon and given to a neighbour to sell in Pietermaritzburg. This man not only sold the timber but the wagon too and brought back a light spring cart, one which was of very little use on the farm.

One evening just at dusk the only available servant came and said that the cattle had gone. Three men and their Zulu boy tracked the cattle to a deep valley. They recognised the cattle by one white ox. The Zulu shouted and pretended there were many Zulu followers. The bushmen rustlers fled leaving the cattle to be driven home.

The family struggled along with their farming, sometimes growing good crops, but once all they had to eat were green peas and nothing else. Eventually they moved to a farm on the Umzimkulu River bank. There was no bridge in those days and people and vehicles were crossed on the punt. It was a Government punt and was put up to tender each year. For a while the family assumed responsibility for operating the punt. The drifts on the Cape side of the river were all cut by white men. Each man who worked through to the finish was given a farm by the Cape Government.

In those early days a regiment of soldiers was brought on foot from the Cape. The river was low so they were taken through the drift on foot. The wives and families of the soldiers travelled in the wagons. When a wagon stuck in the mud a long rope was attached and the many red-coated men had to pull it free.

Large flocks of sheep were sent frequently from East Griqualand to Durban and had to cross this river and be dipped.

The first train in Natal was built in 1860 and ran from the Point to Durban, a distance of three miles. Because there was no turntable the return journey was accomplished backwards. The engine often stuck fast and had to be pulled by oxen. Later when the railway was built to Pietermaritzburg in l880, there were no platforms at the stations so passengers arranged for soap boxes to be brought for them as steps to help climb out of the coaches.

Natal has progressed very far from the time of the landing of the 1850 settlers, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to their courage and fortitude. They have given us a wonderful heritage and we honour them for it.

HowesBark.gif (2518 bytes)A bark is a three-masted vessel with the foremast and mainmast square rigged and the mizzenmast fore-and-aft rigged. The mizzenmast carries no yards: there is a hoist-and-lower fore-and-aft sail and a gaff topsail.


By T.B. FROST, September 1983

There must be few people living in Natal today who are able to claim the distinction of having a parent who was a Byrne settler. Mrs Irene Birkett (nee Howes), one of the oldest Cathedral parishioners, is one of these. Her father, William Lewis Howes arrived in Natal in 1850 as a boy of five with his parents aboard the "Ina". He married twice and she was the youngest daughter of the second marriage - which at least helps to explain how the lives of father and daughter can span 133 years of Natal history.

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