Visiting cousins and old haunts

This morning I left home before 5:00 am to go to Johannesburg for the Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Transfiguration, It starts at 6:00 to give people enough time to get to work afterwards. And, as I sometimes do on such occasions, I had breakfast at the Wimpy in Killarney Mall (they do hake with chips and salad). And then I planned to go and do some family history research in the Mormon family history centre in Parktown, but when I got there it was closed.

I didn’t feel like facing the freeway at the tail-end of the rush hour, so I took a leisurely drive through some of the haunts of my youth — a block of flats we had lived at in Sandringham, and St Nicholas Anglican Church down the road, where on Thursday mornings (rather like today) I used to go to be an altar server with old Canon Sharman and millions of angels. Canon Sharman seemed very old then, though he was probably no older than I am now. But he is long gone, The church was still there, though, but it has been converted into a private residence.

St Nicholas Anglican Church, Sandringham, Johannesburg -- now converted into a private house

St Nicholas Anglican Church, Sandringham, Johannesburg — now converted into a private house

Then I thought, having been deprived of the opportunity of looking at the names of long-dead relatives in microfilm readers, why not go and see a living one. So I went to see my cousin Peter Maxwell, whom I hadn’t seen for over 50 years, and met his wife Mellony for the first time. The last time I met him, I recalled, we had spent most of the time talking about cars, and he said he is still a car nut, and in the past drove in races and rallies. Nowadays it has become specialised and professionalised, and only the very rich could do it, but back then, he said, if you went to Castol and showed them your rally registration, they would sponsor you by providing a few litres of oil.

Steve Hayes & Peter Maxwell, 6 August 2013

Steve Hayes & Peter Maxwell, 6 August 2013

It’s more fun to meet one living relative than to pore over microfilm records to find a few facts about a dozen dead ones.

Peter Maxwell is the son of my father’s sister, Doreen Wynn Maxwell, born Hayes.

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland by Ione Rudner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this “life and letters” book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.

All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.

It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.

Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson’s arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.

Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.

My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.

The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as “ten years of hell”. After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson.

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