One of the minor mysteries of Natal history in the 1850s has been the identity of a mysterious Alfred Francis Dawson, who is described in Shelagh O’Byrne Spencer’s British Settlers In Natal:
Wine merchant. Dawson and his wife Octavia (?c. 1832-24 May 1852, Durban) emigrated to Natal on the Dreadnought. There are many unanswered questions about this family. To begin with, it is uncertain as to what their surname was — Dawson or Francis. In the burial register of St Paul’s there is an entry for their son Frederick, dated Mar 1850. The child was buried under the name Dawson, but an asterisk has been put next to the surname and the annotation ‘Francis not Dawson’ has been added, and signed by Revd W.H.C. Lloyd. The other entries in the St Paul’s registers (Apr 1851, Jan 1852 and May 1852) all give the surname Francis. Despite this, Dawson went by the name Dawson in Durban society. The only inkling of anything different comes in a letter from Thomas Roberts, J.C. Byrne’s confidential clerk, to the Government in Nov 1850, in which he refers to ‘Mr Dawson alias Francis’ (Spencer 1989:93 ff).
When I read this a few years ago, I wondered if it was the same person who had married Agnes Green in Australia. It now seems probable that it is, and we can construct an outline of the life of Alfred John Francis, alias Alfred Dawson Francis, alias Alfred Francis Dawson.
Alfred John Francis was born in or near Liverpool, Lancashire, England, about 1820, and his father was John Francis. In 1842 he married Christiana Fox Dean, and their first son, Dean Francis, was born in 1843. Another son, whos name may have been Alfred, was born about 1844, but this is uncertain. A third son, Frederick Thomas Francis, was born in 1846, again, in or near Liverpool. Then in 1847 Christiana Fox Francis died.
Two years later, in about July 1849, Alfred John Francis remarried, to Octavia Cecilia Waring, also in Liverpool, and the following month they seem to have boarded the Dreadnought, sailing from London for Durban. The Dreadnought was an emigrant ship, carrying Byrne settlers to Natal, but Alfred and Octavia Francis travelled cabin class, which means that they must have paid for their passage, and not been part of the Byrne settlers party. They also travelled under the name of Mr & Mrs Dawson, and on arrival in Natal were known by the name Dawson, though, as Shelagh Spencer notes, some knew their real name.
The children do not appear to have travelled with them, and Shelagh Spencer notes that two Masters Francis arrived on the Hannah from Cape Town in February 1850. These could have been Dean Francis, then aged 7, and Frederick Thomas, then aged about 4. The third child may have been the mysterious Alfred, who would then have been aged about 6. The question arises, then, why these children did not travel with their father and stepmother, and where they stayed in the mean time. Who looked after three children under 10 on the voyage? Did they stay in Liverpool and leave later? Did they travel to Cape Town and stay there for a while? If so, with whom? Were Alfred and his new young bride wanting to enjoy a honeymoon voyage without the kids? The youngest child, Frederick Thomas, died in May 1850. Octavia then gave birth to Fairfax George Francis in December 1850, but he died just over a year later.
Dawson/Francis was cited in a divorce case by John Ross Melcolm Watson, who said his wife had committed adultery with Alfred Dawson of Pinetown. The Watsons had arrived in Durban on the Hannah, the ship that has brought the Francis children. According to Shelagh Spencer, Alfred Dawson/Francis had several other extramarital affairs, and may have left some illegitimate children when he left Natal. Mrs Watson, however, was more than a match for him. After Alfred Dawson/Francis had left Natal J.R.M. Watson went into business with my great great grandfather Richard Vause at Tugela Drift, which they named Colenso after the Bishop of Natal. The Watsons later moved to Ladysmith, and Mrs Watson also had an affair with Isaiah Solomon before eloping with Herbert Stanbridge from Ladysmith in April 1860, accompanied by her daughter Theresa who eloped with Frederick William Beningfield.
Octavia Francis was very ill in April 1852, and had no sooner recovered than she was drowned in a boating accident in Durban Bay on 24 May 1852. Spencer notes
Dawson was still in Natal early in July 1852. There is no sign of his departure from the Colony unless he was the Mrs Francis who with two children left in Aug 1852. They sailed for Algoa Bay in the steamer Sir Robert Peel.
Alfred John Francis then went to Australia, and on 9 January 1858 he was married to Margaret Agnes Anne Wilson, a widow, according to the rites of the Episcopalian Church, at Gundary in the district of Broulee, New South Wales. He is described as a farmer, and one of the witnesses to the marriage was his eldest son from his first marriage, Dean Francis, who would then have been about 14. Alfred is recorded in the marriage register as Alfred John Dawson Francis.
He was later a miner and storekeeper, and went insolvent in 1860. Four children were born to the marriage, though there is some doubt about the last, Louisa Francis, as she was born after her father’s death, and possibly conceived in his absence.
Alfred John Dawson Francis left his wife in the Bodalla district (on the south coast of New South Wales) and went to Sydney where he lived for four months before committing suicide by taking cyanide on 8 March 1864. He is buried in the Camperdown Cemetery, New South Wales.
One of their sons, Arthur Walpole Francis, went to Johannesburg, and after the First World War farmed at Mariental in what is now Namibia. Their descendants went to East Africa, Germany, South Africa and Canada, and possibly several other parts of the world as well.
Their daughter Edith married William Throsby Bridges, a soldier, who founded the Duntroon Military College near Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (and where his mother-in-law had been a teacher many years before). Their descendants live in Australia, South Africa and the UK.
Louisa, the youngest, whose parentage is in some doubt, has descendants in Australia, among them Bob Cowley, who has done much research on the Australian side of the family history, and to whom I am indebted for much of the information in this and other posts on this family.
Here is a summary of the information we have on the family:
Family Group Report For: Alfred John Dawson Francis (ID= 945) Date Prepared: 11 Nov 2011 NAME: FRANCIS, Alfred John Dawson, Born ??? 1820? in Liverpool, England, Died 5 Mar 1864 in Sydney, NSW at age 44; FATHER: FRANCIS, John; He married Christiana Dean and had three children in Liverpool. She died and then he married Octavia Waring, and almost immediately sailed for Durban on the Dreadnought, with the children following later in the Hannah. In 1852 he went to New South Wales, where he married Agnes Wilson (born Green). MARRIED 9 Jan 1858 in Gundary, NSW, to GREEN, Margaret Agnes Ann, Born 8 Dec 1835 in Nova Scotia, Died 26 Dec 1902 in Marrickville, NSW, AUS at age 67; FATHER: GREEN, William John (Goodall), Born 28 Aug 1790, Died 9 Apr 1866 at age 75; MOTHER: GRAY, Margaret, Born 18 May 1795, Died 11 May 1844? at age 48; Witness: Dean Francis. He was a widower, she a widow, both of Bodalla.; Came to Cape Colony at age of 11 with father and brothers. Married William Wilson while still young and emigrated to Australia. MARRIED 31 Jul 1849 in Liverpool, LAN, ENG, to WARING, Octavia Cecilia, Born ??? 1832, Died 24 May 1852 in Durban, Natal at age 20 MARRIED 14 Jul 1842 in W. Derby, LAN, ENG, to DEAN, Christiana Fox, Died Nov 1847 in W. Derby, LAN, ENG CHILDREN: 1. M FRANCIS, Dean, born ??? 1843, died ???; Married 24 Jan 1865 to BOOT, Eliza Angelina Hopkinson 2. M FRANCIS, Alfred, born ??? 1844, died ??? 3. M FRANCIS, Frederick Thomas, born May 1846 in W. Derby, LAN, ENG, died Mar 1850 in Durban, Natal 4. M FRANCIS, Fairfax George, born Dec 1850 in Durban, Natal, died Jan 1852 in Durban, Natal 5. F FRANCIS, Ada Anne Angeline Fairfax, born 10 Mar 1859 in Bodalla, NSW, AUS, died 9 Nov 1938 in Ashfield, NSW, AUS; Married 1 Aug 1894 to WHITE, William 6. M FRANCIS, Arthur Walpole, born 7 Jan 1861 in Moruya, NSW, died 8 May 1921 in Mariental Dist. SWA; Married 2 Nov 1887 to DONOVAN, Ida Miranda Willoughby; 3 children 7. F FRANCIS, Edith Lilian, born 20 Aug 1862 in Yarragee, NSW, died 13 Oct 1926 in Melbourne, Vic. Aust.; Married 10 Oct 1885 to BRIDGES, William Throsby; 7 children 8. F FRANCIS, Louisa, born 3 Nov 1864 in Queanbeyan, NSW, died 18 Mar 1943 in Tenterfield, NSW; Married 24 Dec 1883 to COWLEY, Percy; 10 children
Some mysteries still remain:
1. Why they travelled to Durban under the name Dawson.
2. Why the children travelled separately
3. Who looked after the children (all under 10) on the voyage to Durban.
So research continues…
Spencer, Shelagh O’Byrne. 1989. British settlers in Natal, 1824-1857: a biographical register. Vol 5. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.
Filed under: Australia, family history, Green family | Tagged: Cowley family, Dawson family, family history, Francis family, genealogy, Green family, Natal families, New South Wales families | 1 Comment »
Here are the top families that people were interested in on our family wiki at http://hayesgreene.wikispaces.com
But, as usual, no one contributed any information about these families, or even left a message to say what it was they were looking for. And, also as usual, the thing that most people most wanted to do was discuss Alfred William Green, 154 of them, to be exact — but not one of them wrote a word.
Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that the wiki conscept hasn’t caught on, and that the wiki page isn’t working, and take it down.
mail still seems to be working). We’ve made contact with some other researchers who have provided quite a lot of useful help on the PARK family. My ggg grandfather William PARK (c1780-
1844) of Bath, Belfast and Quebec seems to have had a number of children, and thanks to Shaun Jones on the Rootschat site, we’ve managed to find quite a few possible links. We’ve also made contact with a James PARK in Luxembourg, who has suggested a possible link between William PARK and a PARK family of Ballynure, Antrim, Ireland. We’re still looking for confirmation of most of this. William Park married Mary Martin, daughter of John Martin, a merchant of Belfast, and we are still looking for more information on the Martin side of the family as well. Their daughter Matilda PARK married Richard VAUSE, and came to Natal in 1852, immediately after their marriage. Richard Vause was part owner of the Natal Mercury (with John Robinson) and was five times mayor of Durban.
Over the last year we seem to have been jumping wildly from one branch of the family tree to another. Usually a breakthrough in one branch keeps us working almost exclusively on that for a month or two, and then a breakthrough in another branch gets us busy on that. For the last couple of months it has been the Ellwood family of Cumbria.
We had the family in Whitehaven, Cumberland, and have been chugging along finding a cousin here and a cousin there, going through microfilms of parish registers collecting all the people with names we were interested in, trying to reconstruct families and see what fitted. Then we discovered that the Ellwoods originally came from Westmorland, and that opened up a lot that we are still trying to catch up with.
Before that, in April and May, it was the Hannans. That was mostly because we went on holiday to the Western Cape, visiting relatives, and most of the relatives we saw were on the Hannan side of the family. And also managed to find a few of the Scottish relatives on Facebook, though we haven’t followed that up much yet.
At the beginning of the year it was the Mortons of Colchester in Essex. Val’s great great grandmother came from there and we knew her father’s name from her marriage certificate, and that was about all. Then we found her brothers and sisters, including two sisters who married on the same day as her and came to the Cape Colony, and an uncle Henry Morton who was transported to Australia.
And this time last year it was the Bagot and Cottam families of Lancashire,. where we found a whole bunch of ancestors and descendants we hadn’t known about before, including some who were interested in the family history, and with whom, we were able to share information.
For the moment we are still being kept busy with the Ellwoods, but I’m wondering what next.
This is the one that is closest to us, since Margaret Ellwood was the sister of Val’s great grandfather Thomas Ellwood. They were children of John Ellwood and Bridget Anderson of Whitehaven, Cumberland. Thomas Litster had been married before, and had two children of his first marriage. Two children of the second marriage were born in Cumberland, and the remainder in Australia, where they emigrated in 1886.
Children of John Ellwood and Ann Bellas
These are much less closely related to us, since the connection to a common ancestor lies several generations further back. Some of the children, and some of their children and some of their grandchildren emigrated. As with the Litster family, they seem to have initially gone to Victoria, and we wonder if they were in contact with each other there, and if they knew that they were related. We are in touch with some descendants of both families, and hope to learn more about the other descendants. See more details in the linked file. If you are related to any of these families, please get in touch with us. We would like to learn more about them.
Do you keep your primary genealogy data in an online family tree?
My advice is: Don’t.
If you use an online family tree, you should use it only as a back-up for you main data, or as a way of contacting other researchers. It is best to keep your data in a reliable genealogy program, on your own computer (with back-ups, of course).
We’ve been looking at a lot of online family trees lately, especially in connection with the Ellwood family, where the discovery of a link to several generations has opened up a lot of possibilities for more research, and shown a lot of people interested in various branches of the same family.
But we have also discovered that a lot of the online trees are full of errors, and the people who run the sites make it easy to propagate the errors by encouraging you to copy faulty research to your own tree. It also seems that in the some cases online software actually creates and introduces errors that weren’t there in the first place. We’ve sent people GEDCOM files and when they’ve uploaded them to Ancestry.com, Geni.com, MyHeritage.com and other sites, they are full of errors that weren’t in the GEDCOM files we sent.
Here is an example where about 80% of the trees on Mundia/Ancestry were simply wrong.
There was a Jane Ellwood born about 1834/35 in Dufton, Westmorland, England.
She was the daughter of John Ellwood and Nancy Bell.
The majority of online family trees show her as married to Anthony Brunskill.
A much smaller number show her as married to John Ellison.
Since polygamy was illegal in England in that period, it is unlikely that she was married to both of them. So which is right?
You could take a majority vote, and say that since the majority of trees show she was married to Anthony Brunskill, that would be the correct conclusion, and the others must be wrong.
But that would be wrong.
A look at FreeBMD shows that Jane Ellwood married John Ellison in 1857.
And Jane Elwood married Anthony Brunskill in 1863.
So, logically, one should look at the 1861 census, when one Jane would be
married and the other wouldn’t.
But unfortunately in 1861 the unmarried Jane was not staying at home with her parents, but was staying with Robert Bellas Brunskill, and she is described as his sister-in-law, before she married his brother Anthony, who was also staying in the house.
That means that Robert Bellas Brunskill’s wife Bridget could be Jane’s sister, if we’re lucky.
Or, more remotely, that Robert had another sibling who married one of Jane’s other siblings.
It turns out that Bridget Brunskill’s maiden name was Ellwood, and she was
Their parents were John Ellwood and Ann Bellas.
Note that a marriage certificate would not have solved this problem, because the father of both Janes was John.
So two Brunskill brothers married two Ellwood sisters, and what is more they were first cousins on the Bellas side. That doesn’t affect the identification much, though it does help to confirm it.
What is more, in 1861 Jane was staying with Bridget, in 1871 Bridget was staying with Jane.
So the Jane Ellwood who married Anthony Brunskill was the daughter of John Ellwood and Ann Bellas, and NOT the daughter of John Ellwood and Nancy Bell. The daughter of John and Nancy married John Ellison, but only a minority of
online family trees showed that.
Do you have these Janes in your family tree?
Make sure you have them attached to the right parents and the right husbands!
And be very careful with what you copy from online family trees. Ask the person who posted the tree where they got the information, and that they didn’t just incritically copy it from somewhere else. Unfortunately one of the other problems with family tree host sites is that they make it difficult for you to contact other researchers. They encourage you to use their own internal messaging system rather than regular e-mail, and sometimes to contact other researchers you have to pay to join that site. That is why they recommend it, of course. They want to get you to pay. But if one researcher you want to contact uses one site, and another uses another site, and yet another uses a third site, it can become quite exorbitantly expensive and time wasting.
Filed under: family history, genealogical research, genealogy, online family trees | Tagged: Ancestry.com, Anthony Brunskill, Brunskill, Ellison, Ellwood, Ellwood family, Elwood, genealogy, Jane Ellwood, John Ellison, Mundia, online family trees, Westmorland | 1 Comment »
Cumberland. Her great great grandparents were Thomas Ellwood and Hannah Lowery (family group report below). They appear to have had 13 children, of whom 12 seem to have disappeared
without a trace. Perhaps they all died young — there were two sets of twins,
and the first pair were baptised on the day they were born, which might
indicate that they were sickly and not expected to live. The LDS has some microfilms of Bishops Transcripts, which I’ll be ordering,
but they seem to be indexed on FamilySearch, and though I found birth/baptism
records for most of the children, there doesn’t seem to be any record of any
of them having died young. Does anyone have any idea of what happened to them? *ends
The following section of this message contains a file attachment
prepared for transmission using the Internet MIME message format.
If you are using Pegasus Mail, or any other MIME-compliant system,
you should be able to save it or view it from within your mailer.
If you cannot, please ask your system administrator for assistance.
Date: 29 Jul 2011, 11:20
Size: 19758 bytes.