Chasing Namibian families

Next week we hope to travel to Namibia to see friends and family, and do some historical research — family, church and general history. We’ll try to update our blogs with our progress if we have internet access: this one for family news and family history; Notes from underground for general observations, photos and chit-chat; and Khanya for general history, church history and more serious observations. It used to be possible to keep in touch with all of them by following Tumblr, but Tumblr doesn’t seem to work as a blog aggregator any more.

It’s more than 20 years since we last visited Namibia, and more than 40 years since I lived there, so we expect to see many changes. We plan to go first to Windhoek, where we hope to stay with Val’s cousins Enid and Justin Ellis. Enid is a cousin on the Pearson/Ellwood side of the family.

We also hope to see Mburumba Kerina, a more distant cousin on the Green side of the family. “Kerina” is the Herero form of  “Green” and Mburumba Kerina is descended from Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green through his second wife, Sarah Kaipukire (Val is descended from his third wife, Kate Stewardson). We also hope to find out something about Fred Green’s first wife, who was a Dixon, and died about 1860. We don’t even know her name. There’s more on this in the earlier article Gunning for the Dixons. On the Stewardson side of the family, there are several descendants in Namibia, mainly of the Lindholm, Dennewill and Jeske families. We don’t have any current addresses for them, but we may be able to make contact with some of them while we are there.

HiskiaUOne of the friends we hope to see is Hiskia Uanivi. When I lived in Windhoek he was a student at the Paulinum, the Lutheran theological seminary then based at Otjimbingue. In early 1971 my friend and colleage Dave de Beer and I went on a holiday trip to see friends and family in South Africa (rather like the trip we are planning now, but in reverse).

Hiskia had never been to South Africa, and the Paulinum was closed for the Christmas holidays, so he came with us, travelling via Keetmanshoop, Vanzylsrust, Hotazel and Kuruman to Johannesburg (about a 22-hour drive). There we were joined by my cousins Jenny and John Aitchison, and we travelled to Nqutu in Zululand, staying at the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital (then an Anglican church hospital), and then via KwaMagwaza and Mphumulo to Pietermaritzburg, where John and Jenny Aitchison lived. We left Hiskia at the Mapumulo Lutheran Seminary for a couple of days, as he was curious to see how it compared with the Paulinum, and one of the old Paulinum teachers, Dr Theo Sundermeier, was then teaching there.

We spent a couple of days with the Mnguni family in the foothills of the Drakensberg, helping them to erect a chicken run that would gather manure for fertilising the crops, and then went on to Umtata, Alice, Grahamstown and Cape Town, and from there back to Namibia. At that time there were Anglican theological colleges in Umtata, Alice and Grahamstown, and we visited them, so Hiskia was able to make more comparisons.

With the Mnguni family at Stepmore, near Himeville. Hiskia Univi on the left, Mr & Mrs Mnguni on the right, Chris Shabalala in the middle, flanked by Dave de Been and Steve Hayes, Jenny Aitchison in front, and other members and neighbours of the Mnguni household. 16 Feb 1971

With the Mnguni family at Stepmore, near Himeville. Hiskia Uanivi on the left, Mr & Mrs Mnguni on the right, Chris Shabalala in the middle, flanked by Dave de Beer and Steve Hayes, Jenny Aitchison in front, and other members and neighbours of the Mnguni household. 16 Feb 1971

Now we are planning, for the first time, to travel to Namibia via Botswana on the Trans-Kalahari route. Back then it was not possible, as one needed passports to cross Botswana, and the South African government, which then ruled Namibia, would not give passports to people it regarded as politically unreliable. We also hope to visit the Etosha Pan Game Reserve, and Ovamboland, and return via the Okavango and following the course of the Taokhe River to Lake Ngami, which in Fred Green’s day was navigable by boat, though getting a boat there by ox wagon must have been quite a feat.

So, if the opportunity arises, we hope to blog about our trip as we go. You’ll find the first instalment of our travelogue here.

Life in Namibia and Angola a century ago (book review)

William Chapman: ReminiscencesWilliam Chapman: Reminiscences by William Chapman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I saw this book in the Protea Bookshop in Pretoria, I immediately bought it, mainly because of my interest in family history and Namibian history. My wife Val’s paternal great grandfather, Frederick Vincent Greene, was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, in 1868. His father, Frederick Thomas Green, a Canadian, lived in Damaraland for 25 years as a hunter and trader, and when he died in 1876 William Chapman attended him at his death bed, at Heigamkab in the dry bed of the Swakop river. He describes the scene in his book in some detail.

The late Mr Frederick Green had arrived shortly before at the bay [Walvis Bay] and had gone with his family on a trip to Cape Town so I decided to wait for his return and then go with him to the interior. During the time I was waiting for Mr Green I enjoyed the hospitality of Mr John Gunning, the manager of Mr A.W. Eriksson’s store in Walvisch Bay.[1]

When Mr Green returned I joined him and we left the Bay for the interior, he was very unwell. After reaching Hykamgap in the Swakop River he became worse and died on the 4th May 1876, succumbing to what Mr Palgrave said was an acscess on the liver, the last days of his illness being marked by vomiting. I was in the wagon with him during the last night and present when he breathed his last. Poor man, he left a widow and a number of children!

Chapman goes on to give a summary of what he knew of the life of Fred Green, who had been a friend of his father, James Chapman.

Family historians like to get birth, marriage and death certificates for information about their ancestors, but there was no registration of these events in Namibia in those days — at that time the country consisted of a number of mini-states that sometimes quarrelled among themselves. Fred Green’s death took place during one of the peaceful interludes, though he himself had participated in some of the earlier battles. But Chapman gives as much information as most death certificates, and with a more human touch.

William Chapman went to Damaraland as a teenager to seek his fortune. He had a romantic notion of following in the footsteps of his father James Chapman, and saw Fred Green as a Nimrod who would teach him the ropes. He was 16 at the time.

Instead he had to be content with Fred Green’s brothers-in-law, William and Charles Stewardson, teenagers not much older than himself, who were equipped and sent out to hunt and trade by the aforementioned Mr A.W. Eriksson. It makes me wonder about the youth of today. How many parents would send three kids aged 16 or 17 out on a business trip, putting them in charge of expensive equipment, and in a country full of wild animals, some of which they would hunt, and others which would hunt them? Though I suppose we do send them to war, to hunt and kill other human beings.

But William Chapman did not get on well with the Stewardson brothers, nor they with him. Reading between the lines, it sounds like a high school kid being excluded from a gang. The Stewardsons had been brought up rough, in a desert country. Chapman was the citified kid, who had been to a relatively posh school, which taught him gentelman’s manners. The Stewardsons preferred the company of their Damara and Herero servants, and at nights around the campfire preferred to talk to them, in their own languages, thus excluding the city slicker, who spoke only English and Dutch.

Chapman grew up fast, however, and eventually went into business on his own account, and migrated northwards to Angola, where he farmed, hunted and traded for 48 years.

The book is in two parts. The first part, the reminiscences proper, he began to write in 1916, mainly for his children, or at least at their request, and is the story of his life and of the people he encountered. The second part is an account of the Dorsland Trekkers, who left the Transvaal when it was under British rule about 1880, and went north-west through what is now Botswana, ending up in Angola, which was gradually coming under Portuguese rule.

It seems that he may have intended the second part for publication, but never actually got round to finishing it, because there are blanks for things like dates and names to be filled in later, and towards the end it is in obvious need of much editing. Most of the last part is a series of anecdotes intended to show how terrible Portuguese rule in Angola was, and why the Dorsland trekkers left after having lived there for nearly 50 years. There is no account of how they left and what subsequently happened to them.

Except for those last 50 or so pages, the book is very readable, and gives an interesting picture of what life was like in Namibia and Angola a century or more ago. There are also several photographs.

One of the things that struck me was some strange inconsistencies. I’m not sure if they were mere personal idiosyncracies, or if they were attitdes common among white people living there at the time. At times Chapman rails against the Portuguese for their unjust treatment of the “natives”, and gives accounts of such practices as forced labour, imprisonment (and even killing) without trial, confiscation of livestock and so on. And then in another place he accuses the Portuguese of over-familiarity, giving chairs to natives to sit on when they meet for discussions and similar malpractices. The British and the Boers, he avers, would never sink to that level.

The value of the book is enormously enhanced by comprehensive annotations by the editor, Nicol Stassen. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to identify people and places mentioned in the text and to provide useful information about them in footnotes. It is almost worth buying the book for these alone.

Notes

[1] John Gunning, A.W. Eriksson and Fred Green were brothers-in-law, since they had all married into the Stewardson family. Frank and Fanny Stewardson (Francis and Frances, if you want to be formal) went to Namibia from the Cape in the late 1840s, and their daughter Kate married Fred Green, Fanny married Axel Eriksson, and Charlotte married John Gunning.

View all my reviews

Fearless Females: my brick walls

I’ve only just discovered about the idea of blogging about Fearless Females in the month of March, and there’s a list of blog prompts, one for each day of the month, here, hat-tip to GenWest UK.

Today’s theme is Is there a female ancestor who is your brick wall? Why? List possible sources for finding more information., and since GenWestUK, who gave me the idea, is in the west of England, I’m choosing a couple from that part of the, world too.

The first one is Mary Barber, who was my great great great grandmother. She married Simon Smallridge Stooke in Hennock, Devon, England, on 11 December 1813, and that’s about all I know of her.

Though, according to the 1851 Census of England she was apparently born in Hennock in about 1796, the Online Parish Clerk for Hennock, who kindly looked them up for me, said that the only Mary Barber baptised there was born in 1791. Perhaps she lied about her age on the census, so I’m not sure of her parents.

Her husband, Simon Smallridge Stooke, was baptised in Ashton, Devon, on 4 May 1788, the son of  Francis Stooke and Ann Smallridge. He was a farmer of Chudleigh, and he and Mary Barber had two sons (that we know of), Thomas and Francis. Simon died in 1828 at about the age of 40. The elder son, Thomas, went to Bristol and married Mary Harriet Hollins. The younger son, Francis, does not seem to have married or had children, but what happened to him is uncertain too — there is a possible death record for him in the 1840s.

Our other brick wall there is Mary’s mother-in-law, Ann Smallridge, who married Francis Stooke at Ashton, Devon, on 26 June 1775. Actually she is not so much a brick wall as her parents, as we would love to know more about them. She was from Doddiscombsleigh, a village a couple of miles north of Ashton, and possibly the daughter of Simon and Elizabeth Smallridge of Doddiscombsleigh, where she was probably baptised in 1748.

Mary Barber has been a brick wall for a long time, but perhaps that wall ids beginning to crumble…

The Dixon family of Namaqualand (book review)

Die Dixons van NamakwalandDie Dixons van Namakwaland by Ledivia van Vuuren

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.

We were interested because some members of my wife’s family had married into a Dixon family (as described in the blog post in the link above) and they also appeared to be business partners of the Dixon family, but most of the records we had found were confusing and it was possible that there was more than one Dixon family. We made contact with the author of this book, but weren’t able to get hold of a copy because of a postal strike. Now at last we have a copy, and things become a little bit clearer.

It seems that there were definitely two Dixon families, and Edward C. Tabler confused them in his book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland and conflated them into one.

This book deals with only one of the families, and makes no mention at all of the other, but that at least helps us to say that people who can be identified as members of this family are very unlikely to be members of the other.

Both Dixon families were probably Irish in origin, however.

The two Dixon families are:

1. Benjamin Dixon and Lodivia Manifold (the subjects of this book)
2. Peter Daniel Dixon and Whilhelmina Hendriks

I will refer to them as the “Ben Dixon” and “Peter Dixon” families.

Ben Dixon became a business partner of James Morris, and their two families set out for Namibia in 1843, travelling overland by ox waggon. They were Wesleyan Methodists and travelled part of the way with some Wesleyan missionaries, and stayed at mission stations on the way. They crossed the Orange (Gariep) river on Christmas day 1843, and reached Walvis Bay in about June 1844. This is all described in detail in the book, seen through the eyes of the Dixons’ eldest daughter Jane, who was 13 years old when they left, and had her 14th birthday on the journey.

The Dixon and Morris families built two houses and a store on the Kuiseb River, at a place they named Sandfontein, about three miles from the present town of Walvis Bay, and began trading for cattle, which they exported to St Helena to provide meat for the British garrison there. In September 1844 Mary Morris gave birth to a daughter at Sandfontein (she was named Sarah Ann Kuisip, because she was born on the Kuiseb River, though that is not mentioned in the book).

They kept a couple of lion cubs as pets, and various sailors from ships in Walvis Bay harbour wanted to buy them, and when they would not sell, tried to steal them. Walvis Bay harbour was amazingly busy in those days, mainly with ships collecting guano from the offshore islands, and sometimes there were 10 or 12 of them in the bay at the same time, come to re-stock with stores before going back to collect more guano.

For a while the business prospered, and then things went bad. Fewer guano ships arrived, and many of the people inland who traded cattle for goods did not pay for the goods, and so Ben Dixon and James Morris had so go on debt collecting tours. The debtors, however, sometimes decided that they easiest way to pay their debts was simply to steal the cattle from someone else, or even from those to whom they were owed. One group bought a waggon for a number of cattle, and then took the cattle back to haul the waggon home. Complaints to the British government about this led to the St Helena contract being cancelled.

James Morris took a large herd of cattle overland to Cape Town, to try to sell them there, and returned by sea with his sister Fanny and her husband Frank Stewardson, and their two children. Fanny and Frank Stewardson were my wife Val’s great-great-great grandparents, so snippets like that were of special interest to us.

So one thing that we learned from the book was that while that Ben Dixon and the Morris and Stewardson families were in a business partnership together, they did not intermarry.

Eventually Ben Dixon returned to the Cape Colony, but instead of going back to Cape Town he settled in Little Namaqualand, on a farm near the town of Garies. Their eldest daughter Jane married William Latham, and remained in what is now Namibia until her husband’s death, then went to stay with her parents. The second daughter, Rebecca, married Frank Bassingthwaighte, and their family remained in Namibia, and some of their descendants are still there today. The younger members farmed in the Northern Cape, and so the Ben Dixon family is mainly associated with Namaqualand, as the book’s title suggests.

The Peter Dixon family seems to be entirely different, though also perhaps originally from Ireland.

Peter Daniel Dixon was the son of McCombe Donald Dixon and Maria Sprewt. He was born in the Cape Colony about 1821, and married Wilhelmina Hendriks, by whom he had at least 7 children. He was trading in Walvis Bay in the early 1860s, and his daughter married Fred Green, the elephant hunter, but died in about 1860, and they seem to have had no children. Fred Green then married Sarah Kaipukire, and after a separation or divorce, married Catherine Stewardson, the daughter of Frank and Fanny Stewardson mentioned above. So Fred Green was married into the Peter Dixon family, but was also friendly with the Ben Dixon family.

Peter Dixon married a second time to Annie Cloete, probably in Damaraland, but if they had any children, we know nothing of them. We are hoping to visit Namibia in May, and to do some research in the archives here, and reading this book was in part a preparation for that. When visiting archives a long way away, with limited time, it is useful to know what you are looking for, and also to know what you are not looking for. It can save a lot of time not going down false trails.

But though it appears that we are not related to the Ben Dixon family either by descent or marriage, the book was nevertheless a fascinating and informative read, and gives a good insight into life 150 years ago.

View all my reviews

Goodbye Blogfrog

A couple of years ago I linked this blog to a community site called Blogfrog. It provided discussion forums where you could discuss family history in general, or ask questions that were unrelated to any particular post on this blog. You could click on the logo down the right sidebar, and join in discussions. Only no one ever did.

BlogfrogI thought it might be a replacement for MyBlogLog, which performed a useful function, but then was taken over by Yahoo! and then closed down.  There was another such site, called BlogCatalog, which is still there (you can see it down the left sidebar), but it was revamped by some whizzkid who had no idea of what it was supposed to do, and it became dysfunctional. Blogfrog looked as though it might develop into something useful, but it hasn’t, and now the people who run it have decided to close it down.

According to the letter sent out by the people running the show:

We recognize that bloggers and their audiences are expanding their engagement beyond blogs to include more socially-driven content. In addition to engaging on blogs,  readers increasingly want to also engage on Facebook, Pinterest, and  Twitter and community owners are responding by building their audience, content and revenue there as well.

To support this evolution, we are discontinuing the community platform to focus our efforts on our influencer marketing platform. This means communities will no  longer be available after May 31st, 2013.

Do they seriously think that anyone believes weasel statements like “To support this evolution, we are discontinuing…”

Having annnounced just that they are going to discontinue it, they then say: “Remember, BlogFrog is STILL your product, we’re just building it for you.”

In what version of the English language does “discontinuing” mean “building”?

I thought I’d try Blogfrog on this blog to see if it would develop into something useful, and if it did, I might extend it to my other blogs. But it never did develop into anything useful. Instead they say this:

If you are not already a member of the Influencer Circle and are interested in working with brands, please join by completing our application form…

Working with brands?

Brands of what?

There are brands of motor cars, brands of ironing boards, brands of lawnmowers. I can understand someone being interested in lawnmowers, and thus being interested in brands of lawnmowers. But being interested in brands, unassociated with any product or device? That’s weird.

This letter from Blogfrog really does seem to encapsulate everything that is wrong with Western society, focusing on all the wrong things. It’s a weird sense of values — community is nothing, marketing is all.

More on the Stooke family

A couple of months ago I wrote about the family of Thomas William Stooke, of Littleham, Devon, and wondered why his son Lionel Leigh Stooke changed his name to Stephen Rendel (see Why did the Stooke change his name?) Now a cousin has found that article, and got in touch, and sent some photos of Thomas William Stooke and his children, which he has given me permission to post here.

Lionel Leigh Stooke alias Stephen Rendel (1884-1969)

Lionel Leigh Stooke alias Stephen Rendel (1884-1969)

Thomas William Stooke (1854-1915) was the brother of my great grandmother Mary Barber Stooke (1849-1931), and so Tony Meyer, who sent the photos, is my third cousin. Thomas William Stooke was first a sailor, and later a builders merchant, and married Mary Ann Johnson in 1881. They had two children, Lionel Leigh (1884-1969) and Mildred May (1888-1930, known as May).

Mary Ann Stooke (born Johnson)  died in 1902, and Thomas William Stooke then remarried to Jane Moore in 1905, and had a son Leslie Roy Stooke (1908-1973, known as Roy). The children of the first marriage were not too happy about the second marriage, and perhaps that is why Lionel Leigh Stooke changed his name to Stephen Rendel, as described in the earlier post.

All these younger Stookes would have been first cousins of my grandfather Percy Hayes, though he was about 10 years older than Lionel Leigh Stooke, and emigrated to Natal in 1898, when the latter would have been about 14, and his sister May about 12.

May Stooke (1886-1930)

May Stooke (1886-1930)

May Stooke lived with her father and stepmother (and later her younger brother Roy) until her marriage to Leonard Oswald Meyer in 1911. In her photo she has the kind of mischievous look, which fits with the kind of person who would fill in  a census form describing her baby brother’s occupation as “guzzla”, and the maid’s marital status as “Awaiting opportunity”. Sad to say, she died of bone cancer at the relatively young age of 42.

The “guzzla”, Leslie Roy Stooke (known as Roy) was a pilot officer in the RAF in the 1920s, which makes him something of an aviation pioneer, but he had to relinquish that because of ill-health. At the time of his death he was an insurance clerk of Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex. In the picture below, showing him with his father, he looks much the same age as he would have been in the 1911 census, possibly a little younger.

Roy Stooke (1908-1973) and his father Thomas William Stooke (1854-1915)

Roy Stooke (1908-1973) and his father Thomas William Stooke (1854-1915)

Thomas William Stooke was the son of Thomas Stooke and Mary Hariett Hollins, and was born in Bedminster, south of Bristol. His father was Thomas Stooke, born in Chudleigh, Devon, the son of Simon Smallridge Stooke and Mary Barber. We know quite a lot about earlier generations of the Stooke family, but nothing of the Barber or Smallridge ones.

We hhave started a Stooke family mailing list, for members of Stooke families of Devon. For more information, including how to join, click here.

 

Gunning for the Dixons

For many years we have been puzzled by some Dixon family connections in Namibia.

We are interested in the Morris and Stewardson families, and we know that a Morris family (related to us) went to Damaraland (now part of Namibia) in 1843/44 with a Dixon family, and each family built a house at Sandfontein on the Kuiseb River, near Walvis Bay.

Mary Elizabeth Morris gave birth to a daughter there, whose name was Sarah Annie Kuisip Morris — named after the river where she was born. All this we know from estate files and divorce papers in the Cape Archives and various printed books.

Sarah Annie Kuisip Morris’s aunt Frances Morris arrived soon afterwards, with her husband Frank Stewardson, and they had three sons and four daughters. We have no idea what happened to the sons, but the daughters married Oscar Lindholm, Axel Eriksson, John Gunning and Frederick Green. Fred Green was Val’s great great grandfather.

Frederick Green’s first wife was a Dixon — Kate Stewardson was his third wife. But we don’t know his Dixon wife’s first name.

And two Gunning girls —  Charlotte Annie Gunning and Catherine Elizabeth Gunning — married Dixons. But we don’t know the first names of those Dixons.

This is where things begin to get complicated, because it appears that there were at least two, and possibly three or four different Dixon families in Damaraland in the period 1840-1880.

They were:

1. The Ben Dixon family
2. The Peter Dixon family
and possibly
3. The Sidney Dixon family (Sidney may be an alias for Ben)
4. Another Peter Dixon family

A book has recently been published on the Ben Dixon family. We are havingdifficulty in getting a copy because of the post office strike, but have been in touch with one of the authors.

We have collected a fair amount of information on the Peter Dixon family, mainly in the Cape Archives, and the author of the Ben Dixon book has told us that none of the names in the two families match — they really do seem to be two entirely different families, with no links at all.

We’re hoping to go on a research trip to Namibia later in the year, and tie up some of these loose ends, but in the mean time we’re trying to .sort out what we know of the Dixon families, so that if we do discover which Dixons married the Gunning girls, we’ll know which Dixon family they belonged to — it would be funny if one married into one family, and the
other into the other family.

Of the Peter Dixon family we know that he married twice, first to Wilhelmina Hendrikse, and second to Annie Cloete. The children of his first marriage are listed on his death notice in the Cape Archives, but those of the second marriage weren’t known — presumably they stayed in Damaraland and never went to the Cape.

It is through his son Daniel Esma Dixon (there are lots of Daniel Esma Dixons in this family) that we know that Fred Green married a Dixon — in testimony in a court case in Windhoek in 1911 he said that he had arrived in Walvis Bay from Cape Town in 1861 with his brother in law Fred Green, at the age of 14. His sister had died the year before, and Fred Green was cohabiting with a Herero woman (she later gave evidence in the same court case, and her name was Sarah Kaipukire) Daniel Esma Dixon then went to his father in Walvis Bay, and returned to the Cape for a while. He later farmed at Ubib, near Karibib. We seems to be the most probable father of the Dixons who married the Gunning girls, but we’ll probably have to wait till we get to Windhoek to find out.

I’m just wondering if anyone else has connections with Dixon families in Namibia.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.