The Barque ‘Verulam’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published
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Press advertisment for the Verulam

The Verulam was a clipper barque built for Bullard King & Co of London for their White Cross Line of Clipper Packets which ran between London and Natal (Durban) in South Africa. Wray had previously built the Silvery Wave in 1863, and a year later in 1866 would build the Burton Stather, for the same fleet which carried both passenger and cargo.

At 147 feet in length and 312 tons she was the largest ship built at the Stather yard so far, second only to the Burton Stather. She was built to a high specification under Lloyds special survey, A1 eleven years, fastened with copper bolts and the hull clad with felt and yellow metal.

The Verulam was launched at Burton Stather on the 30th of March 1865, named by Mrs Ellen Wray, wife of William Wray.

The Bishop of Natal

Dr Colenso by Samuel Sidley
Dr Colenso by Samuel Sidley

In the August of 1865 the Verulam took on board at London one of it's more famous passengers for Natal, Dr John William Colenso, the Bishop of Natal. Though maybe not a household name today, he was certainly making the headlines in the 1860's.

Dr Colenso was a mathematician, theologian, Biblical scholar and social activist, but his ideas provoked much controversy, some being a little ahead of their time for the Victorian establishment. With his understanding of modern sciences that were coming to light in his era, and the questions posed by his native African students while working as a missionary, he began to re-examine the words of the Old Testament and questioned whether they should be interpreted literally or as historically accurate. For example he concluded that modern geology showed evidence that the great flood, as described in the story of Noah could not have happened.

He published his ideas in a book The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined. The book provoked outrage in the Church, though other pioneering minds of the time may have had more understanding of his courage in publishing such controversial views.

A book has appeared here which will, I suppose, make a noise, by Bishop Colenso, who judging from the extracts, smashes most of the Old Testament.

Charles Darwin
Naturalist and Geologist
Dr Colenso by Carlo Pellegrini
Dr Colenso by Carlo Pellegrini
for Vanity Fair

Then the view of the Church of England was that every last syllable of the Bible was the word of God himself and thus infallible. Science which then was new and controversial, was beginning to expose holes in it, but for a Bishop to do so it was unthinkable to many. Attempts were made to have him deposed on charge of heresy, led by Bishop Gray of Cape Town, who had spent ten thousand pounds in legal fees to ensure that the Crown gave him immediate jurisdiction over Colenso.

This was the object of his visit back to England, Colenso went over the head of Bishop Gray, not to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In March 1865 judgement was given by the Judicial Committee for an order prohibiting Gray from interfering with his Episcopal rights.

On the 18th of August Dr Colenso and family set sail for home on the Verulam, commanded by Captain Matthew Nicholas Creak.

Upwards of £3,000 was presented to the Bishop of Natal, previous to that dignitary returning to the duties of his office. This sum was raised by subscription, and was intended to relieve Dr Colenso from the difficulty in which the withholding of the Episcopal income had placed him, and further to testify to the services which, in the opinion of the subscribers, the Bishop had rendered to the cause of freedom of opinion in the Church of England. Bishop Colenso has filed a bill in chancery against the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Mr Gladstone, and other trustees of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund, to compel them to pay him his salary of £662 10s. a year. Dr Colenso has left England in the Verulam, Captain Creak, one of the line of ships owned by Bullard, King, and Co., of London, which sailed from Gravesend on the evening of the 18th inst., bound to Port Natal.

Border Watch
Saturday 21st October 1865

The voyage took some considerable time, the ship being overdue. But eventually arriving safely toward the end of the year, the Bishop was welcomed home, by some at least.

Bishop Colenso had arrived at Natal per the Verulam. There was much excitement in consequence. A large party of churchmen had signed an address Welcoming him back. The bishop made a reply which gave great offence to these holding opposite views. The church wardens and minister of St. Paul's had protested against His ministry in that church, but he preached there notwithstanding, to a crowded congregation. He then proceeded to Maritzburg, from which place 150 gentlemen went out to meet him.

The Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday 16th January 1866

As well as his theological ideas, Colenso was also a controversial figure in South Africa due to his sympathies for the native African Zulus, opposing their unjust treatment by the colonial regime. It is said that this made him more enemies within the colony than those in the clergy. The Zulus however respected him, calling him Sobantu, meaning father of the people. After his death in 1883, his wife and daughters continued his work for the cause of the native Africans in an organisation that is thought to be the early roots of the ANC (African National Congress).

A New Owner

The Verulam continued the London Natal trade, carrying passengers and cargos for Bullard King & Co until 1871. She was then bought by Mr Henry Cock of Beresford Road, Highbury New Park, Middlesex. Still registered at London, Captain Creak stayed with the ship under the new ownership. She now travelled further East to ports in India, Malaysia, China and Japan.

Voyage in The East

On the 15th of May 1872 the Verulam set sail from London on an extra long voyage to the East, first calling on the cape of South Africa, then on to Mauritius and further East. It was reported on the 21st of June 1873 that the Verulam had gone ashore on the South Bank at Shanghai. The ship was however recovered and continued on her voyage of the eastern seas.

In September 1874 the Verulam left Penang, Malaysia, but had to return to the port in a leaky condition. After some repair work, she set sail from Panang for her home port of London on the 3rd of October with a cargo of sugar, coffee, spices, rattans and hides. She had been away from London for almost three years by this time.

The Great Storm of South Africa

By the 7th of December the Verulam had reached East London, on the East Coast of South Africa and could not have been at that place at a worse time. The East of South Africa was hit by severe storms of wind and rain, most unusual for the time of year and in ferocity worse than anything experienced previously in the Colony.

Violent southerly gale for the last thirty-six hours. Continuous heavy rains; frightful sea; Buffalo river flooded beyond all previous experience; river mouth clean swept. Every ship ashore, total wrecks - Coquette, Compage, Western Star, and Floria. Only one man drowned. The former vessels were discharged, the latter partly. No signs of abatement of the weather. Barometer still rising 29.95.

Civil Commissioner of East London
Telegraph to the Colonial Secretary

The vessels mentioned in the telegraph were all British ships at anchor at East London wrecked on the beach. The Verulam washed ashore near the old burial ground where she was completely wrecked. The crew survived but the cargo was lost.

With strong gales and heavy seas battering the coast and torrential rain causing swollen rivers to overflow their banks and flood the land to unprecedented levels, the destruction was widespread, with numerous shipwrecks at ports all along the coast. It was not only the coast that suffered, the damage inland was even worse with several towns flooded.

Great Flood. Village inundated. Six houses in ruins. Great destruction in property. Several families rendered destitute. Public offices and gaol filled with refugees. Post office down; stamps and money saved. Several miraculous escapes.

Civil Commissioner at Alice
Telegraph to the Colonial Secretary

It was reported that the level on Fish River was 45 feet above normal, 20 feet above what had previously been recorded as the highest level. At Sundays River the water was above the telegraph poles. On Buffalo River a number of bridges were swept away by a raging torrent. Although the loss of property was huge, it was miraculous that so few lives were lost in the storm.

Stromy weather at East London
Stromy weather at East London

Vessel Details for Verulam

Official Number:52690
Code Flags:JQSVCode flag - JuliettCode flag - QuebecCode flag - SierraCode flag - Victor
Vessel Name:Verulam
  • Bullard & Co 1865 1871
  • Henry Cock of Middlesex 1871 75
  • Matthew Nicholas Creak
  • London
Notes:In August 1865 carried Dr Colenso, Bishop of Natal, and family home from London. Daniel King had another barque named Verulam, built in 1876 which was wrecked in 1881.
Construction:Clad with felt and Yellow Metal. Fastened with copper bolts. Some repairs 1871.
Trade:London Natal Line for Bullard and King. Later China and Japan.
Incidents:Went ashore on the South Bank at Shanghai 21st June 1873.
Fate:Lost at East london, South Africa in a SW gale, carrying sugar and spice from Penang to London, 7th Dec 1874.

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Creative Commons. Background Photograph by Detroit Publishing Company. Used with modifications under license.