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 Wolseley's Attempted Landing at Port Durnford (Part 2)

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Petty Officer Tom


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PostSubject: Wolseley's Attempted Landing at Port Durnford (Part 2)   Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:41 pm

After an unsuccessful attempt to land by a lighter, on the beach at Port Durnford, Sir Garnet Wolseley was brought back aboard HMS Shah.  That evening Wolseley joined Captain Bradshaw, and others, for dinner in the wardroom aboard the “Shah” around 7:30 pm.  Right before dessert the ship rolled heavily from the storm, sending dishes sliding along the table, and forcing the guests to hold on.  Dr. Russell, the correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, was there and wrote the following:

“What is of more consequence is the fact that this roll was but the precursor of a series of ascending performances of that sort, and that the Commander in Chief made up his mind, I think, that the endeavor to reach the army by this short cut at Port Durnford  must be abandoned.  It was almost impossible to prevent oneself flying across the deck.  Chairs were smashed, table fastenings gave way, and the word was given by Captain Bradshaw to close ports on the main deck.  ‘What did she roll that time?’  ‘Twenty-five deg., sir, and a little over.’  The carriages and traversing gear of the 12 ½ ton guns at the bow and stern were examined, and preparations for “making all snug” were ordered, but the sea was just as much on the alert.  The scene at the wardroom table later on was amusing to those who could enter into the spirit of the thing.  ‘That was a good one; I wonder what she did that time?’  Mr. Drummond came in and reported, ‘We have rolled 27 deg. this time.’  On going down to my cabin I found the floor covered with broken articles, the property of the occupant, Lieutenant Henderson, who is away with the Shah’s men on shore, and with everything of my own that could be smashed, all in a jangling debris, which swept to and fro with every lurch of the ship.  On the deck outside the cabins lay a ruin of boxes, portmanteaus, packs, saddler, and bags, heaped together according to their fancy or the whim of the sea.  Major McCalmont’s cabin, opposite to mine was flooded from the port, and the rolling certainly did not diminish – nay went from 27 deg. to 28 deg. and 29 deg.; and at last reached the respectable angle represented by 30 deg. one way and 30 deg. the other.  Well, there was a vessel drawing some 28 ft. moored with 75 fathoms of cable in little more that 6 ½ fathoms or 38 ft. of water, and the anxiety of Captain Bradshaw, though not apparent, could readily be understood, above all, as he was very short-handed.  Before sunset the commodore had signaled for all the ships in the roadstead to get up steam, when the swell, and then the breaking water, spread out from the shore in broader belts till the coast looked in the moonlight as if it were hemmed in by masses of snow wreathes.  There was no great ground for apprehension, but at last the rollers began to show signs of breaking close at hand, and Captain Bradshaw expressed his sense of the risk of remaining at anchor on such a coast.  Under the circumstances Sir Garnet Wolseley could not but feel the seriousness of assuming any control over the discretion of a naval officer, and any landsman could appreciate the results of a cable parting or an anchor dragging.  In anticipation of the failure of a fresh attempt to land, instructions were signaled to Major Denham to have everything in readiness for going overland should there be a necessity for doing so, and the horses under Captain Yeatman Biggs were also to be halted at the Tugela.  So there was no alternative but to let the Shah weigh, and shortly after eleven o’clock at night, before I turned in, the unmistakable sound of getting ready on board ship rose above the hissing rush of waters and the thumping of the waves against our sides.  It was high time.  The rollers were now breaking on board over all, and some of the gear connected with the cable was carried away.  When the first turns of the screw were felt it seemed as if the waves became more violent than ever, as if they were angered at our escape.  One breaker came right over the forecastle, and caught Mr. Crocker, the boatswain, who was superintending the casting of the anchor, swept him clean off, and threw him with violence on board again, through the foremost port of the larboard bow.  Lieutenant Drummond and one of the sailors were carried off the forecastle by the same sea, and hurled along the deck.  The sailor, not seeing the boatswain appear as the water ran off through the scuppers, called out, ‘Where’s Mr. Crocker, sir?’ and Lieutenant Drummond missing him too, sang out, ‘Man overboard.’  The crew of the lifeboat were ready in an instant but fortunately the boatswain was safe and sound on board, as Captain Bradshaw would not have allowed the lifeboat to have been lowered in such a sea.  With his long experience of the life, he said he had never beheld heavier rollers, and Lieutenant Rainer, Staff Commander Jackson and all the officers agreed with him.  The water broke in and outside the bar in twelve fathoms.  Sea after sea came in-board, drenching the main deck, and not improving the baggage.  It was five o’clock in the morning before the crew succeeded, after tremendous exertions – more than five hours – in fishing and catting the anchor, whilst the Shah was slowly urging her course back to Durban.”

(Source: The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, August 13, 1879)

Petty Officer Tom
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PostSubject: Failed landing at Port Durnford   Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:16 pm


Splendid. Thanks for both parts. More please.

Someone had a death wish even thinking of landing on that coast under those torrid conditions.
Anyone attempting to reach the beach there in a surf boat, through 4-6m breakers, even if being warped in, is engaging in a  highly hazardous exercise.  But I suppose all involved were  gung ho and men and equipment had to be delivered for Chelmsford's coastal column, in a hurry,..... and at all costs.

Topical at the moment on this forum is the cyclonic weather in that region. The cyclone season started about 6 weeks ago and will continue for another 6. The Shah , by the description you give was experiencing some of the worst weather because of that.

I read with interest too the involvement of the little steam tug Kodoo/Koedoe/Kudu. This  tug worked Durban harbour for many years and was the one that brought the SS Teuton in to Durban in March 1878 with the new recruits ( including Tpr Lugg)  for the NMP, many of whom were part of the Dartnell Patrol.

Kodoe's sister ship disappeared without trace, and with all hands, during a spring equinox storm off  Cape Vidal in October 1864. Her metal mast was found in the bay there and her rusting hull, found only recently, is lying deep in the sand at 6 fathoms,  in the surf zone, some distance to the north of the bay.


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Petty Officer Tom


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PostSubject: Re: Wolseley's Attempted Landing at Port Durnford (Part 2)   Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:14 pm


Sir Garnet Wolseley was in a hurry to get to Chelmsford before the engagement at Ulundi so that he could take command.  At the end of June he notified Commodore Richards that he intended to travel to Port Durnford by sea.

On 7 July The Senior Officer at Simon’s Bay received a telegram from Commodore Richards at Port Durnford, which read in part: “Acquaint the Admiralty by Tuesday’s mail landing opened at Port Durnford.  Are proceeding satisfactorily.  Communication was interrupted for two days by S. W. wind.  When Sir Garnet Wolseley arrived in “Shah” and had to return to Durban he was informed by telegraph he would run risk of delay from this cause, but chose to come.”

I have a photo of the Tug Koodoo at Algoa Bay.  I just need to find someone to post it for me

Petty Officer Tom
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PostSubject: Re: Wolseley's Attempted Landing at Port Durnford (Part 2)   Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:18 pm

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Tug Koodoo at Algoa

Photo by Petty Officer Tom.
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