The South Africa Act 1909

On 20th September 1909 the British Parliament passed an act for the union of Britain’s four territories in South Africa – the Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. On 25th September 1909, Louis Botha, the Boer leader and PM of the Transvaal, boarded the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co’s Kenilworth Castle at Southampton to head back to the Cape. The Rt Hon Gen Louis Botha is shown on the British 1st class section of the ship’s passenger list: the column headed British Colonial is ticked against him and his wife “Mrs Botha”, which fact, had he known it, may or may not have pleased him. There is little other detail about Botha recorded on the list. There is no obligation to give one’s age and, as a courtesy to first class passengers, the pre-printed passenger list’s column headed Profession, Occupation or Calling of Passengers explicitly states that “In the case of first class passengers this column need not be filled up”.

The South Africa Act took effect the following year and in May 1910 Louis Botha became the first Prime Minister of the new dominion, the Union of South Africa.

World events. But did a relative of yours travel on that voyage of the Kenilworth Castle? Was he or she among the British billposters, blacksmiths, carpenters, clerks, domestic servants, engineers, farmers, fitters, maids, mechanics, miners, platelayers and stone cutters who travelled upon the same ship? Caught up in quite possibly the most momentous event of their own lives, such emigrants to South Africa may well have been unaware that King Edward VII had just given his royal assent to the South Africa Act and very probably were oblivious to the presence in first class of Botha and his fellow travellers who did not have to declare their profession, occupation or calling.

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