South African Passenger Lists Online

One of the most common questions I get is from people looking for passenger lists to South Africa. Unfortunately, there is not one big database we can search for that information. Passengers lists for those going to South Africa do exist but they are not complete, most are not indexed, and are scattered across various repositories, with some found only in the archives, not online.

I have been lucky enough to find some of my family in passenger lists going back and forth between England and South Africa. In 1893, John Bellas made his first trip to South Africa from County Durham, England. He was a miner and worked for De Beers Mining Company in Kimberley. Between 1893 and 1912, he frequently traveled back and forth between the two countries, at one stage, taking his family with him.

1911 Passenger list for the Durham Castle, Cape Town to London. John Bellas and family.

Locating Passenger Lists


  • Immigrant records, 1845-1911 (Natal)
    Assisted emigrants to Natal 1883-1888, 1892-1902, Index to applications 1904-1905, Assisted emigrants to Natal 1904-1905, Index to applications 1905-1910. Assisted emigrants to Natal 1905-1911, Shipping books 1845-1876.

Example of a Register of Immigrants (Assisted) for S.S. Arundel Castle, arriving January 1903, Natal

  • Passenger lists 1845-1852, List of early colonists 1845, Establishment register 1874-1882. (Kit Bird Collection, Natal Archives)
    An interesting collection titled, “Register of Boys and Girls Sent to SA from UK” begins at image 293 of 1649. These boys and girls were admitted to the The Royal Philanthropic School at Redhill, Surrey, England. The institution was intended for the sons and daughters of convicts, and boys and girls who had themselves been convicted of a crime. The aim was to reform these young criminals by removing them from the surroundings that were contributing to their life of crime. Up until the 1930s, some were sent to Australia, but the passage to South Africa and Canada was cheaper so many of the boys and girls were sent there. It is possible to trace the boys and girls using the Royal Philanthropic Society School Admission Register Indexes which are online (transcriptions) here. The index will give you an age or date of birth. Then you can check the collection on FamilySearch for more information on that boy or girl. An example of what can be found is below:

FamilySearch collection: Register of Boys, unnominated, from Red Hill and other Industrial Schools, entry for 20 May 1884, G.H. Shorter, from Red Hill. His employer in South Africa was Mr. Richmond, of Allandale, PMBurg (Pietermaritzburg). The boy was to be employed for 3 years and the amount of his wages given. In the Remarks column: ‘Has been 3.5 years at Red Hill. Master does not give him a good character. Very passionate – Left.”

By using the Admissions index found at Royal Philanthropic Society School (scroll to the bottom of the page for the link to the index) we can search for and locate G.H. Shorter.

We gain a little more information on the boy. His full name was George Henry Shorter. He was born on 17 September 1865 and was admitted to Red Hill on 28 July 1880 when he was 15 years old. The notes tell us he emigrated to South Africa. From the FamilySearch collection we know his date of arrival in South Africa as 20 May 1884, so he would have been about 19 years old. The Document Reference and Page/Folio No. can be utilized to locate the original documents at the Surrey History Centre Archives.



  • Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960
    Original images of passenger lists for people leaving from UK and Irish ports for destinations outside of Europe, including South Africa. None survive before 1890.

Other websites with passenger list collections:

Country Specific Passenger Lists

Passports and Permits to Remain

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good start in your efforts to locate your immigrant ancestor. I’d love to hear of any other websites and/or repositories that you’ve found with South African passenger lists.

5 thoughts on “South African Passenger Lists Online

  1. Apologies! I should have said that the John Clark reference is a book. AA Balkema: Cape Town, 1972. ISBN 0 86961 019 8. The full title is: Natal Settler-Agent: the career of John Moreland, agent for the Byrne emigration-scheme of 1849-51. As I find settlers coming in in ‘unlisted’ sources, I make a yellow sticky note and “stick” them in. I am still in search of a yet unnamed passenger list on which my own 2xgreat-grandfather, John Clark (no relation to the above mentioned author) undertook a visit from Durban to Britain to visit his aged mother in the 1870’s. There are no official passenger lists I understand, but somewhere there may be an obscure newspaper report (I live in hope!)

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