Alexander McCorkindale

Alexander McCorkindale (1816 - 1872)

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Alexander McCorkindale
Born in Scotland, United Kingdommap
Son of [father unknown] and [mother unknown]
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married [date unknown] [location unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Maputo, Mozambiquemap
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Profile last modified | Created 29 Aug 2015
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On 1 May 1872, while on a trade inspection tour of Delagoa Bay and the Pongola River on foot, he contracted Malaria, and died on Inhaka Island, Mozambique.

The New Scotland Venture

Below is an extract from the book "The Scots in South Africa"

--"New Scotland By the 1850s, when the geopolitical pattern of South Africa had been largely established, with two colonies and two republics, many white immigrants used the Cape and Natal as staging posts before heading into the interior. These settlers exhibited little desire to cling to the imperial nurse and were happy to head for the Boer republics if opportunities for land or, more likely, commercial and career advancement could be found there. As we shall see, many Scots turned up in the Transvaal and, to a lesser extent, the Orange Free State, well before they were sucked in by the mineral revolution and the great gold boom.

But as well as hard-headed, go-getting individuals there were also some wildly unscrupulous people and madly ambitious schemes about. The sense of limitless opportunity for whites in southern Africa in the period seemed to stimulate these hopelessly illusory plans. Such a one was the grandly named New Scotland. This project turned out to be as fiercely unpractical as it was ludicrously speculative. It was hatched by Alexander McCorkindale, who was born in Glasgow in 1816. He was probably a commercial traveller for Glasgow and Paisley firms making machinery for cotton mills, and this gave him a clear idea about downturns in the cotton industry.

Early in 1856 McCorkindale set out for Natal with his English wife and a party of relatives and twenty-two boys from a reformatory who were apprenticed to him.77 He used his capital to settle at a place on the Senquasi or Sinkwazi River, close to Zululand, with the intention of growing cotton. But he was soon restless. He dreamt of establishing a new settlement and approached, in turn, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal to secure blocks of farms upon which he could settle fellow Scots. As we have seen, he was related by marriage to another Scot, David Forbes, a hunter and trader in Natal since 1850. He claimed that the area to the west of the Swazi border (the boundary of Swaziland had only recently been 'established' through a land grab, dressed up as a concession from a Swazi chief) had affinities with Scotland, and in 1864 he proposed to McCorkindale that it might be an ideal place to settle Scots.

McCorkindale was soon fired by the idea and formed a company, the London & South African Commercial Agricultural & Mining Company, which later became the Glasgow & South African Company. Although they never progressed beyond a merely shadowy existence, he applied to the Transvaal government for 200 farms at £40 each (at this stage to be located throughout the Transvaal) on which to settle immigrants. McCorkindale suggested that he would bring in farmers, mechanics, traders and miners. To convince the republic's authorities of his commitment, he became a Transvaal burgher the same year. By then he was concentrating on the New Scotland territory.

Fortunately for McCorkindale, he had already become known to President Pretorius, who supported the scheme. From the point of view of the Transvaal this was a proposed settlement which had some parallels with that of 1820 at the Cape. The Swazi border was disputed and turbulent. By settling it with farmers capable of bearing arms the republic would consolidate its hold on the region and have a readymade commando available to repulse Swazi inroads. But McCorkindale went further. He proposed that he could make the River Usutu navigable and would be able to provide an outlet for the Transvaal through Delagoa Bay. This was a dearly cherished ambition of the landlocked republic, at a time when Portugal's claim to that area of southern Mozambique had not been fully confirmed. Pretorius himself paid a visit to Pietermaritzburg in 1866 to facilitate the settlement and to induce the colony to relax duties on goods associated with the scheme. The administration refused and Pretorius was even more convinced that his republic required an independent outlet to the sea.

As well as producing an ambitious harbour scheme, McCorkindale claimed that he was founding a commercial bank able to lend the Transvaal as much as £250,000. This was too good to be true for the struggling republic. McCorkindale returned to Britain in 1865 to set about raising capital and recruiting migrants, taking with him Pretorius's daughter, Christina, who wished to see Europe.

McCorkindale was barely successful in raising money or men, though he did bring out some of his own relatives and persuaded some Scots in Natal to move to New Scotland. In September 1866 the Times of Natal reported that fifty families associated with McCorkindale were about to leave the Noodsberg area of the colony for their new homes in the Transvaal. Not the least of the shady aspects of the scheme was McCorkindale's claim that he had secured extra land from the Swazi. This was fictional.

It is not surprising that Africans on the putative border described McCorkindale as 'Gwenya', the Crocodile, a perfect image of a predator swimming in shallow waters. Nevertheless, the company acquired forty farms at £40 each and some fifty people settled near a lake which was called Chrissie to flatter Pretorius's daughter. The three districts of New Scotland were named Industria, Roburnia and Londina South.

McCorkindale set up his headquarters at a place he caUed Loch Banagher, but he became a victim of his own ambition in 1871 when he died of malaria at Delagoa Bay while conducting a survey for his harbour. His will was as unpractical as his schemes had been and he left behind financial complications that occupied his widow for the rest of her life. The Transvaal soon repudiated his schemes, and some of the Boers who participated in the notorious filibustering commando into Zululand in 1884 claimed that their farms had been expropriated by the Transvaal government and the estate of McCorkindale. This commando, which sought to put Dinizulu on the Zulu throne, defeat a rival faction and acquire major land for itself, seems to have been made up of a mixture of these disaffected Transvaal farmers, richer elements seeking to extend their land holdings, some Germans, and settlers from Natal, a few of whom may have had Scottish connections. They established the 'New Republic', based on Vryheid, incorporated into the Transvaal in 1888 and handed over to Natal after the Anglo-Boer War.

One of the earliest maps of the Transvaal, produced by Friedrich Jeppe and A. Merensky, clearly demarcates New Scotland, with the township or farm of Hamilton prominently shown.82 The names of Scots continue to flit in and out of the history of the region for some time. Jeppe published a very useful almanac in 1877, in which some of the New Scotland officials are listed. McCorkindale himself had been appointed veldcornet of New Scotland. Later there was a magistrate and native commissioner called Robert Bell, who commanded the Border Corps (its secretary was R. Stewart) and was involved in a commando against the Swazi in 1876. Bell was later murdered. A settler called E. J. Buchanan applied to take over his role. A schools commission was established for the area, initially under the chairmanship of Bell, and later of S. T. Erskine, the government land surveyor. After McCorkindale's death J. S. Aitken came out from Glasgow to administer New Scotland on behalf of the company. A New Scotland Farmers' Association was formed which set up an agricultural co-operative society. But the turbulence of the area was well illustrated when disputes over cattle ownership broke out. Moreover, it was alleged that Boers were crossing the Swazi border in order to cut timber, for this was a well wooded region and sawmills had been established. (Mrs McCorkindale attempted to capitalise on this.) But many of the Scots left. A few Scottish names survive to this day, but it is significant that Roburnia was renamed Amsterdam and Hamilton seems to have disappeared from the map. New Scotland, some of it positioned in what should have been Old Swaziland, became a new slice of Afrikanerdom, just as the Baviaans River settlement of 1820 was also largely taken over by Boers. Today what was New Scotland has been subsumed into the Ermelo District ofMpumalanga province.

If the land which Scots supposedly settled was invariably taken over by Afrikaans people, many of the Scots (as in the early 1820s) headed for town, where they were soon performing significant roles in commercial and official life. The Jeppe almanac reveals the extent of Scots penetration of the Transvaal even in the period ahead of the mineral revolution and the gold boom. In the 1870s Pretoria had hotels with the names Edinburgh and Waverley, Lydenberg had a Caledonia Hotel and Rustenburg had Brown's Temperance Hotel. All these appear to have been run by Scots. Government land surveyors in Pretoria included Peter MacDonald (who listed himself as a chartered engineer), A. H. Walker, W. A. B. Anderson, G. P. Moodie (one of the by now extended Moodie clan), F. McDonald and H. M. Anderson. Leading contractors of the time included Traill (who was an Orcadian) and George MacKenzie (who described himself as stonemason and builder), while merchants, importers, agents and auctioneers have Scottish or Irish names like McLaren, Reid, McCormack, Cruickshank and Macaulay. Although it is dangerous arguing only from name evidence, it is apparent that Afrikaners played a comparatively small role in the non-agricultural sectors of the economy and in government service, where most of the names are those ofEnglish-speakers, many of whom may well have been Scots. One of the early prospecting sites of the Transvaal was known as the New Caledonia goldfield. Thus, although specific Scots settlements like that of New Scotland invariably have a whiflf of failure about them, there can be little doubt that Scots were highly influential in key areas of the booming Transvaal economy in the later nineteenth century. Scots were also active in the Orange Free State. One migrant from Aberdeenshire, William McKechnie, son of a minister, died in Bloemfontein in 1877 at the age of thirty-eight. Surprisingly, he was already a member of the Volksraad. --


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Alexander McCorkindale
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