The mystery of the Mortons

We’re taking another look at the mystery of the Morton family of Colchester in Essex, and their South African connections.

Over the last week or so, as you can see from the previous posts, we’ve been looking at the family of Val’s paternal grandmother, Emma le Sueur, formerly Green, formerly Chelin, born Decker. When we started looking into the family history, soon after we were married in 1974, she was our only survivang grandparent, and so we started with that side of the family, and within a couple of years had got down most of the (then) current generation in Southern Africa. A few years later a German genealogist helped us to trace one branch of them back to the Brandenberg Huguenots. But one branch we were stuck on was the Mortons.

Val’s gran and her surviving brother Cecil Decker, and her sisters, told varying stories. She told us her father was Edward Decker. Turned out he was actually Edwin Robert Morton Decker, and we found his baptism in King William’s Town. Grandmother and great aunts told us that Edwin’s father was De Nevard Decker, a Swedish nobleman, or a French nobleman, and that his wife Mary Morton came from Colchester in Essex and had an aunt or a sister who was Lady Mount, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.

St Botolph's Church, Colchester

We found August Decker’s death notice in the Cape Archives. Not a Swedish nobleman, but a German waiter, died at Mr S. Grussendorf’s house, no property, buried by public subscription. The real disappointment was the family connections — parents unknown, spouse unknown, one son, name unknown. Well, we found the link to the son in the King William’s Town Anglican baptism register, but also in the KWT museum we asked if they had anything not on display, and they had a card index of the German military settlers of 1857, and August Decker was there, and it said he came from Auerstedt in Prussia. We knew that a lot of the German military settlers of the British German Legion had come from Colchester Camp, where they had trained to fight in the Crimean War, and that gave us a date – 1856. So we wrote off to the General Register Office in England for the marriage certificate, and got it. August Decker and Mary Nevard Morton were married at St Botolph’s Church in Colchester on 31 Oct 1856. His father was Carl Decker, farmer. Her father was George Morton, gardener. That helped with the Decker family, but what about the Mortons?

Some time soon after that we trawled through microfilms of the 1851 census of Colchester at the LDS Family History Centre, but found nothing. Perhaps we missed it, perhaps we were looking in the wrong place. At that point we more or less gave up 0n the Mortons.

We visited Colchester when we went on holiday to the UK in 2005, and even looked in at St Botolph’s Church, where they were preparing for a play or a concert of something. We had heard many things about Essex girls, and wondered if their reputation had been the same in 1856, when Val’s great great grandmother got married. A sign in a shop window in Colchester seemed to confirm what we had been told about Essex girls.

After the death of her first husband, Mary Nevard Morton married another German military settler, Ernst Bergesheim or Burgersheim, from Stralsund in Prussia. At one point they ran the Butterworth Hotel in the Transkei, and she also ran the Waverley Hotel, between Tarkastad and Queenstown, and Val’s gran was brought up there after her father died when she was 8. Mary Burgersheim died in Durban during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Now, looking at that side of the family again, we did manage to get hold of the 1851 census which shows Mary Morton, aged 8, with her parents, George and Elizabeth Morton, both aged 45, and therefore born about 1806. Elizabeth came from Boxted, up near the Suffolk border (perhaps nearly not an Essex girl!). Mary had an older brother G. Fred, and an older sister Emma, aged 10. Her younger siblings were Thomas (3) and Catherine (1). And here’s where the mystery deepens.

If she was 8 in 1851, she was surely too young to get married in 1856, when she would have been only 13, even as a minor with her father’s permission. It must be the right family, unless there was another George Morton in Colchester who was a gardener and had a daughter Mary. And the FreeBMD site shows Mary Nevard Morton being born in 1843.

FreeBMD also shows an Emma Morton being born in 1838 (when we would have expected Mary to be born) and dying in 1839. Then there is Mary Nevard Morton in the June Quarter of 1843. Emma is dead, long live Emma. She shows up alive and well and aged 10 in the 1851 census.

And get this: on the same index page as Mary Nevard Morton’s marriage to August Decker, TWO Emmas married a George David Julius Casdorff — Emma Morton and Emma Rodwell. As if that were not enough, on the previous page of the FreeBMD index, an Elizabeth Mount Decker married another German. Perhaps she was the “Lady Mount”!

It looks as though we will need to order the other two marriage certificates, as well as Mary Nevard Morton’s birth certificate to see what happened.

One of the interesting stories about the German military settlers is that some of them were married on board ship (presumably to Essex girls) just before the ship sailed. At the end of the ceremony one of the ship’s officers remarked to the chaplain who married them that he thought some of them were holding the wrong hands. “Don’t worry,” said the chaplain, they can sort themselves out when they get outside.” The result was that a special Act had to be passed by the Cape Pasrliament, to remove doubts concerning the marriages of certain German settlers. Now I’m wondering if there wasn’t a similar chaotic scene in St Bololph’s Church, with hundreds of German soldiers marrying Essex girls, and perhaps two Emmas marrying poor old George Casdorff. And somewhere, in the back of my mind, is a memory of one of the documents in the family history being signed by a George Castorff, as a witness or something.

And one last thought. Val’s middle name was Muriel, and it was said that she was given it after her paternal grandmother, Emma Muriel Decker. And perhaps the Emma came from her aunt. But there are more mysteries. When she signed for her share of the Koch inheritance (see earlier post), a fifth of a sixth of a third, she signed Emma Isabel. So we thought we would order her birth certificate to see what names she was registered with. The certificate came back with a rubber stamp in the space for the first names: Not Stated. Attempts to see if she was in the baptism register for Butterworth in 1900 were not successful. Perhaps we should try again. But at any rate we now have a lot of things to try for on that side of the family.

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4 Responses

  1. Another piece fits into the puzzle – checked on our transcription of the baptism record of Edwin Robert Morton Decker in Holy Trinity, King William’s Town in 1861. And the sponsors were Robert Gross and George and Emma Castorff — so it seems that Emma Castorff (or Casdorff) was indeed Mary Nevard Morton’s sister. We’ve ordered the marriage certificate, which should confirm it.

  2. I have some Butterworth baptism records. If you’ll tell me the name to look for, I’d be glad to assist.

  3. Hi Steve
    The National Archives site lists a divorce file dated 1921 between Theodore Christopher Joseph CHELIN and Emma Muriel DECKER. Were there any children from this marriage? I am trying to build a tree for the Chelin family in Natal in South Africa, hence my interest.
    Regards
    Robin

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