What is today South Africa evolved from settlements established by the Dutch and English. The Dutch arrived in 1652 under the Dutch East India Company. In 1795, the British took over the Cape. This would later become the provinces of Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal.
With the establishment of the British, the Irish would arrive in great numbers as merchants, mariners, soldiers, miners and settlers. The first distinct Irish group migration was in 1818 with a small party of Irish artisans. The famous 1820 group of settlers were transported to the Cape by the British Government and included five groups from counties Cork and Wicklow. Another County Cork group came in 1823. After these organized groups, most migration was of individual colonists.
One Irish immigration scheme was the planned transportation of women. Being so far from Europe, there was an abundance of men and few women. Beginning in 1849 the
Emigration Philanthropic Society of England began assisting poor Irish girls to leave the Irish workhouses. The resulting drama is the stuff of legends. In an 1851 scandal broke
aboard the immigration ship Gentoo which had become a floating brothel! The resulting embarrassment would enact policies where the Irish girls would be chaperoned on board by responsible English families. Then once in South Africa, small groups of girls were under the protection of married women, who guided them away from hasty marriages and unacceptable employment.
The Irish in South Africa played an important part of the European history and development of the country. Regardless of where your family immigrated; if you had a branch in South Africa, it’s history and records are worth exploring.
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