(All pictures are from the Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement which I obtained when I arrived in Port Elizabeth in 1970 – so fitting Marianne’s descendent arriving in the same place 150 years later!)
On the deck of the Amphetrite, Marianne struggled against the icy blast of wind as she wrapped her shawl closer around herself and baby Mary Anne, she had only given birth a week ago, she was trying to feed the child while she sniffed and sneezed as well. Most of Wilkinson’s Party were sick with colds and some were suffering from frostbite as well. Life on board a small sailing ship was a harsh reality, the Captain had assigned duties and each person had to pull their weight. Marianne called to eight year old Sarah,
“Sarah, please can you come and help out here with cooking the beef and biscuit, and line up for our hot water to make the tea.” Sarah had to grow up quickly assuming some of her mother’s tasks; it was a tough call minding little James and Sophie well. Sarah brought her mother the hot water to make tea, Marianne looked at the raw chapped little hands. The poor child had also had to help out with washing the single men’s clothes not having the strength to squeeze the water out, the clothes were permanently damp with no sunshine to dry them. The ship’s food was rationed, beef and biscuit twice a week and tea, sugar, cocoa, salt, rum and port on other days. James helped when he wasn’t doing duties assigned to the men.
By the middle of January 1820 the whole fleet of ships bound for the Cape Colony was on the high seas. They were now past the extreme weather of the Bay of Biscay. Once they entered the tropics sometimes the ships were becalmed. People became fractious in the overcrowded boats and it was not always easy to keep the peace between the different parties and the social classes of the passengers. In some ships there was lack of leadership of the heads of parties. There were of course a
number of births and deaths and breakouts of disease during the course of the four months voyage, including the death of John Jenkins from Wilkinson’s party.
One morning, after this long, arduous voyage, the outline of Table Mountain loomed out of the mist, with its table cloth of cloud dropping over the side. The ships began to arrive in Table Bay and drop anchor. James called his family.
“Look! There is our future, we have almost reached our destination,” said James as he put his arm around Marianne, Sarah, little James and Sophia. The family stood there staring for a long while at the mountains and the shore line. Marianne was excited, yet apprehensive; this adventure they had planned was she up to it?
“Oh James,” she said in awe as a shiver ran down her spine “Do you think we are going to be happy here? It is all so different,” James drew her nearer, “We have to have faith that it will, we are both young and hardworking, we will be fine”, he said to soothe her fears. The journey had exacted a lot from Marianne, what was Albany going to be like? The ships spent several days re-provisioning in Cape Town for the final leg of the journey to Algoa Bay. Only Wilkinson and Morton from their party were allowed ashore to make the final arrangements for the settlers with the Acting governor, Sir Rufane Donkin, which was a disappointment.
Rumours started to get back to the ships about the poor conditions in the Zuurveld where their land was allocated; some settlers were regretting their decision to emigrate and blamed their leaders that they had been deceived. The ships set off again to round the Cape of Storms travelling 500 miles up the coast to Algoa Bay. As the Amphetrite hugged the coast, James and Marianne looked at the majestic mountains, untamed nature and forests reaching down to the bare rocky stretches of coastline. They also sailed past great bays and lagoons near Knysna, James saw how uncivilised it was with a savage loneliness born of lack of inhabitants.
It was the first week of March 1820, when the fleet of ships dropped anchor in Algoa Bay. This was an emotional moment for James and Marianne – they were to disembark. They looked at the shore line with its first sign of habitation, the fortified barracks and few thatched cottages of Fort Frederick, with tents and marquees spread along the shoreline. They saw the hive of activity as the 72rd Regiment prepared to receive the settlers. There were wagons drawn up ready to transport them to the interior. James turned to Marianne and said,
“Whatever the future holds we are on our own now, there is no turning back, but I trust that we have made the right decision for the family and I know that as far as I am able with the help of God, I will take care of our family and protect us.”
Marianne replied “You are a good man James, and we have General’s Scherer’s compass to give us direction and with his indomitable spirit to give us courage we will make Albany our home.” James held her tight, his eyes teared up as he kissed her, she was his everything, this strong courageous young woman, his child bride.
In the morning the sailors started to transport the settlers in flat bottomed boats from the ships through the roaring surf as it pounded on the beach. The men and boys waded ashore, the women and children being carried by the soldiers of the 72nd Regiment.
Marianne found herself hoisted up and carried by a burly soldier through the surf. James had gone with the children and they were waiting for her on the beach. The Smith family was shown to a tent, where they had to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Once all the settlers were ashore, the provisions, rations, seeds and agricultural implements were sold from Government supplies and delivered to each Party and family.
Wilkinson, Morton and the rest of their party were housed in tents near to the Smiths and Marianne and Sarah continued to help them with preparing meals. The menfolk sorted out their requirements, equipment and food and the arrangements for the wagons to transport them to their allotment which had previously been surveyed and demarcated.
It was a whole month before Wilkinson’s party was ready to move into the interior and it was with apprehension they set off as stories of the Zuurveld started to filter back to them.
They travelled with other groups of settlers in the wagons requisitioned from farmers in the district. They crossed the Quagga flats and saw how barren the Zuurveld looked; they forded the Bushman’s River at Rautenbach Drift and then congregated at Assegai Bush before the settlers finally dispersed to their allocated destinations. Wilkinson’s party was headed to the north-east, to a location consisting of 2342 acres on the Blaaukrantz River, a tributary of the Kowie River.
Marianne felt the journey would never end, cooking and washing for the menfolk and looking after a small baby and the other children as well. She struggled the sixteen days the ox wagon took to walk the 130 miles to the settlement, which was one of the furthest from Algoa Bay.
“James”, she said wearily one evening, “will we ever get there? The children are cranky and it is so hard to keep everyone happy on the move, how I long for my own home again.”
”It won’t be long now, Wilkinson is calling our allotment New Essex, that will certainly feel like home, and we have the privilege of being on a river. Already I am thinking it would be so much easier to transport things by boat up the river,” James reassured her, hiding the uneasiness in his own breast at the distance from civilisation, and he certainly did not want to scare her with the stories he had heard of the native tribes across the Fish River.
Eventually the lead wagon came to a standstill, and the surveyor who had ridden with them to show them the boundaries of the Allotment called out.
“Here you are, this is New Essex!” James and Marianne looked around them; there was just barren soil with a few bushes and trees that lined the edge of a steep ravine. James rushed down to look at the river. He froze in his step – that was no river that was a seasonal stream, with a very rocky bed, not a navigable river. His dream of being a shipbuilder and his own business died in that moment.
He slowly turned around and went back to the family. Marianne said, “But where are the villages and fields?” The realisation that they were to be dumped in the middle of the veld to make a living for themselves with very little to no support slowly dawned on the group.
Wearily they unloaded the wagons and put up temporary shelters with tents and some of the men got to chopping down trees to make rudimentary structures to live in. There were squabbles as people from other groups came to chop down trees from their allotment as they had no trees on theirs.
Wilkinson, Morton and James all worked hard together with the help of the other men and boys to provide shelters for each family or group. Someone cut a pathway down the ravine to the river so Marianne and the children could go and draw water.
Her back hurt, she was exhausted with the hard work. James hands were blistered and he had cuts and bruises sustained with cutting wood. The children too had cuts and bruises and were tired out each day as they helped fetch and carry and hold to help with the building of their home.
At the end of that month just before the harsh winter rain and cold hit the Zuurveld, James carried Marianne over the threshold of their humble home. She laid her weary head upon his breast and sighed.
“Thank you James, you are so strong, making our home with your own hands, I am sure together we will be able to make a new life here”. James kissed her, weary in body and soul.