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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Anglo-Boer War photos

For as long as I can remember we have had a couple of photo albums that belonged to my grandfather, Percy Wynn Hayes (1874-1948). As they are now more than 100 years old, the photos are beginning to fade, and the albums’ bindings are beginning to disintegrate.

So the time has come to make digital scans of them, before they fade any more. The problem is that a series of images on a hard disk don’t tell you very much, and so I’ve been putting it off.

But now I have begun using the Evernote notetaking program, and it seems to be the ideal tool for this kind of thing.

I scan the photos in tiff format with the program that came with our printer/scanner, and then edit them with Irfanview to try to compensate for some of the fading. I then make a smaller, compressed jpeg copy (keeping the tiff one for archival purposes).

I press Ctrl-C on the jpeg version in Irfanview, to copy the image, and Ctrl-V in a new note in Evernote, and the picture is there. I give it a title, and some tags so that I can find it again. Then I type underneath the picture anything that my grandfather wrote in the album. He often didn’t.

Here’s one of the pictures:

img506

He didn’t write anything under that picture, so I’ve just given it the title “Five mounted soldiers”. But at least it is preserved, and can’t fade any more. And even the reduced jpeg copies, copied into Evernote, are bigger than the pictures in the original album.

So I’m quite chuffed with Evernote. It can do lots of different things, but one of the things it excels at is compiling a digital photo album.

If you’d like to see how Evernote prints a report (ie an album) of the first few pictures I added, click here to see the Evernote.pdf file it produced. You just select the “notes” you want included, and then print the album, which you can then send to other family members, etc. That way everyone can share grandpa’s photo album.

When I’ve finished scanning them, I might donate the originals to a museum somewhere. My mother sometimes threatened to do that, but I’m glad she didn’t, because back then we didn’t have the technology to make decent copies that we could keep.

Fred & Mary Greene

One of the things that was missing from our family history was a picture of Val’s great grandparents, Fred and Mary Greene. A few weeks ago, however, Jean Mary Gray sent us one. Jean’s grandmother, Connie Semple, was the half-sister of Frederick Vincent Greene.

Frederick Vincent Greene (1868-1949) and his wife Mary Frances  Crighton (1868-1957)

Frederick Vincent Greene (1868-1949) and his wife Mary Frances Crighton (1868-1957)

Frederick Vincent Greene was the son of Frederick Thomas Green, the Canadian elephant hunter, trader and partisan leader in Damaraland in the mid-19th century. He was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, on 21 November 1868. His mother was Catherine Agnes Ann (Kate)  Stewardson, who was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay (now part of Namibia).

After Frederick Thomas Green died in 1876, his widow, Kate Stewardson, married George Robb. With her two husbands she had at least 17 children, of whom only five survived to adulthood. So Fred Greene (Junior) had two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Green (1865-1952) who married Frederick Thomas Abbott, and Alice Isabella Green (1871-1945) who married John Martin Cuthbert O’Grady.

He also had three half-sisters, one from his father’s earlier wife, and two from his mother’s later husband (it gets complicated).

The eldest half-sister was Ada Maria Green (1864-1926), born at Otjimboro, Angola, of Frederick Thomas Green’s second wife, Sara ua Kandendu (his first wife was a Dixon, name unknown). Ada, also known as Ida and Kaera, was the ancestor of Mburumba Kerina, the inventor of the name “Namibia” (“Kerina” was the Herero pronunciation of “Green”).

Frederick Vincent Greene’s other two half sisters were the children of his mother, Kate Stewardson, and her second husband George Robb. They were Agnes Mary Elizabeth Robb (1878-1959) who married Charles Ernest Peers, a Cape Town artist, and Constance Sweetingham (Connie) Robb (1889-1964) who married John Semple, and is the grandmother of Jean Gray who sent us the photo.

Frederick Vincent Greene was 7 years old when his father died, and was brought up by his mother and stepfather, who moved to the Cape Colony about 1881 or 1882, and later moved to Johannesburg. At some point he married Mary Frances Crighton — we don’t know when or where, but their first child, Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Greene, was born in Ladysmith, Natal, in 1890. His father, Fred Vincent, was shown in the Anglican baptism register there was a “mechanical engineer”.

Mary Frances Crighton was the daughter of William John Crighton and Anna Maria MacLeod of Cape Town, where the family were saddlers and leather merchants. On her mother’s side there were also Canadian links, as her grandmother, Mary Kerwick, like Fred Vincent Greene’s father, was born in Quebec. See here for more on the Crighton family.

They had eight children, but they are the generation we know least about.

  • Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Greene (1890-?)
  • Charles Stanhope Greene (1891-?)
  • Arthur Walpole Francis Greene (c1893-c1943)
  • Allan Dudley Greene (c1893-c1942)
  • Edward Lester Greene (1897-c1950)
  • Frank Henry Greene (c1899-?)
  • Royden Braithwaite Greene (1905-1971)
  • Gladys Winifred Greene (1907-1997)

Val’s grandfather was Allan Dudley Greene, but he died before she was born, and when her father was a prisoner-of-war in Italy. He died of TB, but Val’s grandmother Emma le Sueur couldn’t remember when it was. She was good at remembering what pills they took and what diseases they died of, but was rather vague about dates and places. But she thought he had died in the King George V Hospital in Sydenham, Durban. So we went there and asked at the reception if they could find the record of someone who had been a patient 30 years before. They found him in the index, and said that because it was so long ago, his admission card would be in the basement. It took them all of 10 minutes to find it. So we got his date of death. We were delighted, because we had just spent the morning hunting through the records of the Master of the Supreme Court in Pietermaritzburg (for which I had to get special permission from the magistrate, being banned at the time) and had found no death notice or any other estate files for him. And we still don’t know when or where he was born.

The family surname was Green and remained so until the First World War. The eldest son, Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Green, changed his name to Greene when he enlisted in the army, and someone said it was because he had had a fight with his father. But by the end of the war all the sons were using the Greene spelling, and the father was too.

Some members of the family refer to the eldest son as Fred Skelm, because there are all kinds of rumours about him. He was arrested in South West Africa in the 1930s for illegal diamond prospecting in the Kaokoveld, and banged up in Outjo for a while. He claimed that he was heir to the land on which he was prospecting because it had belonged to his grandfather Frederick Thomas Green. His story was perhaps not as far-fetched as it may have seemed to the magistrate at the time, because his aunt Ada (Kaera) had sued the South West Africa Company for a farm that the German colonial government had given to the Company, which she maintained that the Herero chief, Samuel Maharero, had given to her father for her. She won her case too, and the deed, signed by the Herero chiefs’ council, may perhaps be the first written title deed in Namibia.

Fred Skelm seems to have married several times, and may or may not have had children by some of his wives, One story was that he worked on a mine somewhere in America, murdered someone, and escaped on a railway handcranked inspection truck. Another said he was run over by a bus in Clairwood, Durban, and yet another that it was in London.

The second son, Charles Stanhope Green was baptised in Johannesburg in 1892 when he was a year old, but we don’t know where he was born. He disappears after that. Perhaps he died young.

Arthur Walpole Francis Greene, the third (or possibly fourth) son was married in 1915 to Margaret McLaren, who left him 2 days later. He was said to have been drowned when the ship he was travelling on was torpedoed in WWII. Edward Lester Greene had a son Lester Frederick, who went farming in Zimbabwe. Frank Henry Greene went overseas as a soldier in World War I, but while in England was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment for stealing articles from a house. He apparently committed suicide at about the age of 25.

Roydon Brathwaite Green changed all three of his names, becoming Royden Braithwaite Greene. He was born in Johannesburg and lived in Port Elizabeth.

The youngest child of Fred and Mary Green was Gladys Winifred Greene, who married twice. We found that she was living in Ixopo, and Val went to visit we with her father, who was thus meeting his aunt for the first time. She was the one who first told us about the Namibian connection, which enabled us to find Fred Green the elephant hunter in the history books, though several of them erroneously referred to him as Frederick Joseph Green instead of Frederick Thomas Green. Later we met Gladys’s daughter Dion Stewart, who lived in Empangeni when we lived in Melmoth, and she was the first one who told us about the family royal legend, which turned out to be false, but did put us on the track of the real Green family history.

So we were very glad to have the photo, which is the only one we have seen of Fred and Mary Greene.

Adventure in South West Africa 1894-98

Adventure in South West Africa 1894-1898Adventure in South West Africa 1894-1898 by Eberhard Rosenblad

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Memories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een. Captain Een, a Swede, described his life and journeys in central and northern Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s, in partnership with a Swedish trader, Axel Wilhelm Eriksson.

Rosenblad’s book is very similar, but it is set in a period 30 years later. He too was a partner of A.W. Eriksson, and covered much the same ground as Een did.

The main difference is that in Een’s time the country was divided into a number of small states that were sometimes at war with each other. In Rosenblad’s time, it was the German colony of South West Africa. It is interesting, therefore, to read descriptions of the same country by two writers a generation apart.

Quite a lot of the difference in the writing reflects the New Imperialism that swept the world in the 1880s, and led to the Scramble for Africa by the European powers. Germany was a bit late in the Scramble, and got a largely desert country. One of the effects of the New Imperialism was that it gave Europeans in Africa an enormous sense of their own superiority to the native Africans, and of the importance of showing the natives that the white man was the Boss. Even though Sweden was not an imperial power, Rosenblad’s writing reflects this sense of European superiority.

Een was aware of cultural differences, and often compared local cultures unfavourably with his own Swedish culture, but he described them in some detail, and assumed that his readers would be interested in these descriptions. Rosenblad tends to dismiss them as not worth describing, except when he is making a point about the superiority of his own culture. He quite often describes the way of disciplining his own employees, with a sjambok, and giving them a beating. He does not entirely lack compassion, however, and expresses pity for a tribe that resisted German rule and were taken as prisoners of war, but it is pity from a position of superiority, as one might pity an ill-treated animal.

Both Een and Rosenblad admired A.W. Eriksson, and recognised him as a remarkably kind and generous man. But when Een was there, Eriksson was a young man, who had started as an assistant to the Anglo-Swedish trader and explorer C.J. Andersson. Thirty years later he was older and more experienced, and clearly had a good reputation with just about everyone.

Rosenblad’s book is less satisfactory than Een’s in other ways too. Not only does he give less details about the different cultures, but also about the individuals he met. Een gives character sketches of people, and describes something of their lives. Rosenblad often does not even mention their names.

At one point he describes how two German soldiers at Heigamkab discoverered a portmanteau with clothes, books and letters in the Namib desert. The papers revealed that the owner was a Damara (Herero), who had gone to the Cape Colony and studied at a mission institution. He had apparently returned by sea, and decided to walk across the desert rather than waiting for wheeled transport, and then got lost. This supposition was verified when Rosenblad’s party reached the Cape, and he writes,

He had probably lost his way in the darkness and fog. He must have drifted around for some days, suffering all the agonies of hunger and thirst, and then must have lain down to rest expecting the end. So much time had already elapsed when the soldiers found the portmanteau, that it was no use starting a search. Perhaps one day his skeleton will emerge from the treacherous drift-sand and grin at the passerby, but then the memory of this event will already have faded long ago.

But it might not have faded quite so much if Rosenblad (or his editor) had bothered to record his name.

The translators of the book, Jalmar and Ione Rudner, have gone to some trouble to give more information about people who are named in the text, but there is obviously nothing they can do if the names are not mentioned.

One of the reasons we read the book was because of our interest in family history, but apart from A.W. Eriksson himself (a relative by marriage), the lack of names makes the book of little use in that respect. It consists, for the most part, of hunters’ and travellers’ tales, such as are told by hunters around campfires in the evenings. That was their entertainment before satellite TV appeared, but for us the lack of historical detail made them less interesting.

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Tombstone Tuesday: design your own gravestone

If you’re feeling in a macabre mood, you can while away a minute or two by designing your own grave stone with the Custom Tombstone Maker.

Hat-tip to Randy Seaver, who offered this suggestion on his blog.

tombstoneHere’s my initial effort.

It does seem to be a bit like Twitter, though, with a limited number of characters, so perhaps one needs to employ the skills of inveterate tweeters and SMS addicts and use abbrvns.

When writing this my wandering mind began to wonder whether Americans spelt macabre differently, as macaber, perhaps, as happens with sceptre, spectre etc.

It seems they don’t.

Macabre

In works of art, macabre is the quality of having a grim or ghastly atmosphere. Macabre works emphasize the details and symbols of death. Authors such as H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe used macabre atmosphere in their works.

via Custom Tombstone Maker.

Memories of several years in south western Africa

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book that paints a picture of life in what is now Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s. It covers several interests of mine, like family history, because the auther was a friend of my wife Val’s great great grandparents, and missiology, because of his comments on the way missionaries behaved then.

Memories of several years in south-western AfricaMemories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.

Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscript holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.

Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.

Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.

He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people — the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described “wagon trains” going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don’t describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.

Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.

So we have Een’s view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators’ notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can’t have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.

All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of ‘das grosse Vaterland’. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation’s flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans… The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren’s victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion… All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives…

Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,

In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.

It little details like these that make Een’s book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.

It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife’s great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. Fred Green married Kate Stewardson, the daughter of Francis and Frances Stewardson.

The translators, in their notes, persist in repeating the errors of several published sources by referring to Francis Stewardson as “Ian” Stewardson (which is a name that was made up for a historical novel), and giving Fred Green’s middle name as Frederick Joseph Green, when it was actually Frederick Thomas Green. I mention this because of the persistence of these errors, which come from relying on secondary sources. The church records, in Namibia and Canada, show that Fred Green’s middle name was Thomas, and the elder Stewardson’s name was Francis, not Ian. Fred Green’s deceased estate file in the Free State Master’s Office also shows his middle name as Thomas, so he didn’t change his name in middle age as some people do.

Een (2004:74) reveals that Fred and Kate Green had another child that we didn’t know about before:

Last among the hunters to arrive [in Ovamboland in November 1866] was Mr Green with with his wife who had been born in Damaraland of English parents. Both of them were ill. Green already had the first symptoms of the fever [malaria] prevailing in the country, which he had first contracted some years ago and which characteristically recurs every year, and then often enough it reappears some time before the period of its general recurrence. Mrs Green could not, of course, be anything other than exhausted and sick as she had had a son some days previously. The child died soon after their arrival here without having been baptized, and was buried without any ceremony at the foot of a fig tree…

Green was an amiable and pleasant gentleman and known as the most proficient hunter in this part of Africa. He did not consider it worthy of a gentleman to shoot elephants from an ambush at night when they came to the water to quench their thirst.

Een goes on to describe the recent death of another Swede, Johan August Wahlberg, who was killed by an elephant when on a hunting expedition with Fred Green. In Wahlberg’s case, he was ambushed by the elephant.

In a couple of places Een refers to Francis and Frances Stewardson’s daughters as beautiful, and one of the last things he did before he left to return to Sweden was to attend the wedding of one of them, Fanny, to another Swedish trader, Axel Whilhelm Eriksson (Een 2004:187).

Eriksson returned from his expedition to Ovamboland in September [1871]. He wasd engaged to one of the beautiful daughters of Mrs Stewardson, and now the wedding was celebrated with the usual pomp and splendour. He marriage ceremony was performed by Missionary Viehe in the meeting-house or school-house of Omaruru, and was attended by a large crowd of black spectators. The bride, dressed in light-blue silk, was radiantly beautiful. There was a big salute [of guns] and the black spectators were given two fat oxen on which they could feast as they pleased.

Sad to say, the marriage ended in divorce 10 years later. Axel Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson had four children, and one of them was named Axel Francis Zeraua Eriksson, presumably after his father, his maternal grandfather, and Chief Zeraua, who was a close friend of Eriksson.

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Adding Growdon and Sandercock to Find A Grave

I’ve been adding pictures some of our Sandercock and Growdon gravestones to the Find A Grave web site.

You can see them here.

All our branch of the Growdon/Growden family are descended from William Growden and Elizabeth Sandercock, who were married in Cardinaham, Cornwall, in 1792, so most of the Sandercocks buried in the Cardinham churchyard are related to us too. Some Sandercocks also married members of the Riddle family, but the Riddles are not direct ancestors (so there is no chance that we might be descended from Lord Voldemort!)

St Meubred's Church, Cardinham, Cornwall -- ancestral bums sat on these pews

St Meubred’s Church, Cardinham, Cornwall — ancestral bums sat on these pews

We visited Cardinham in 2005, and took several photos of gravestones, and Find A Grave seemed to be a good way of sharing them. If you have any photos of gravestones, you might like to share them on Find A Grave too.

St Meubred's Church, Cardinham, Cornwall

St Meubred’s Church, Cardinham, Cornwall

There are other Sandercock families from other parts of Cornwall, but we have have found no links to them (yet). There are also Growden families from the nearby parishes of Warleggan and St Neot, but we have found no links to them either.

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