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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The Stewardson and other families of Namibia

We have recently solved a number of puzzles relating to our Stewardson family in Namibia.

Val’s great great grandmother was Kate Stewardson (1848-1898), or Catherine Anne Agnes Stewardson, to give her her full names. She married Fred Green at Otjimbingwe in 1865, and after he died in 1876, she married George Robb. She gave birth to 16 children, only five of whom lived till adulthood, most of them dying in infancy, and one as a teenager. As Fred Green wrote to his friend and business partner, Charles John Andersson, if the children got sick as they travelled around in the bush by ox wagon, there was nothing one could do. There were no doctors, no nurses, no hospitals. He wrote of how helpless he felt, knowing that there was nothing he could do except hope that they recovered, as they sometimes did, or, in most cases, didn’t.

Anderson might not have sympathised, as he had opposed Fred Green’s marriage to Kate, and thought it a bad match, though he never said exactly why. One can, however, speculate. Kate was Fred’s second wife, and she was  20 years younger than him. He was nearly 36 and she was 16 when they were married. His first wife was a Herero princess, Betsey Kaipukire Sarah ua Kandendu, and it is not clear what happened to her. Did she die, or did he abandon her for someone younger and prettier? At any rate their daughter Ada Maria Green was only two years old at the time of his second marriage. Nevertheless, as Andersson wrote in his diary on the day of the wedding, “the thing is done”.  There is more about Fred Green on our family wiki page here.

When we began researching the family history, and got back on the Green side as far as Fred and Kate, were stuck. One of the most informative sources was a book by Edward C. Tabler, Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland, 1738-1880 which is a series of potted biographies of adult male foreigners who were in Namibia before it became a German colony in the 1880s. Women and children are only mentioned in passing. Tabler culled his information from other published sources, and collected it together conveniently in one place, so it is a very useful book. But the names of Kate’s parents are not mentioned anywhere. Her father is “Stewardson the elder” whose three sons, William Charles and James, Tabler refers to as “a bad lot”, the youngest brother, James, being “a bit of a scoundrel”. They were hunters and traders around Omaruru in the mid 1870s, and that’s all we know. His wife was “a daughter of one of the Morrises” — and he mentions two Morrises, Thomas Morris the elder, and Thomas Morris the younger, who, according to Tabler, was a nephew of the elder.

C.H. Hahn, a German missionary at Otjimbingue, mentioned in his diary the arrival of Stewardson with his brother-in-law Morris, the Wesleyan trader, with whom he lived in fierce enmity.

So all we knew was that a nameless Stewardson had married a nameless Morris, who had a brother Thomas, who took over his uncle’s business.

In 2003 we went to Cape Town on holiday and found a document about the Morris, Huskisson and Titterton families, which said that the Morris who did business in Damaraland was a James Morris, and from other sources as well it appears that this James Morris was indeed the brother-in-law with whom the elder Stewardson lived in deep enmity. And perhaps that enmity explains why James Morris’s sister Frances, who married Frank Stewardson, does not appear anywhere in that rather long and detailed document.

And then we found, in a Methodist Church register from Cape Town, the baptism of Elizabeth Stewardson, daughter of Francis and Frances Stewardson, so at last we had a name for the elder Stewardson, who was apparently also known as Frank.

In addition to their three sons, the Stewardsons had four daughters: Elizabeth, Frances (or Fanny), Catherine (or Kate) and Charlotte. And they all married traders who plied the route between Omaruru and Walvis Bay. Elizabeth married Oskar Theodor Lindholm, from Sweden. Fanny married Axel Eriksson, also from Sweden. Kate, as we have seen, married Fred Green (who was from Canada) while Charlotte Caroline Stewardson married John Gunning of Walvis Bay (and just to confuse things, one of their daughters married a John Harold Green, who was unrelated to Fred Green). And one of the Lindholm daughters married another of the traders, Charles (or Carl) Reinhold Carlsson.

We have information on several of their descendants, so if you think you might be related, please get in touch.

And there’s more.

Twent years ago Val also found, in the Windhoek archives, an Emily Jacoba Stewardson who married a Jacob Dennewill, an Alsatian.

Where did she fit in? Was there a fifth Stewardson daughter?

Dennewill grave in Omaruru Cemetery

We left her unattached, and earlier this week things fell into place. A cousin of one of the Eriksson descendants put us in touch with Naomi McFadden who hasd been recording the Omaruru cemetery. We did have a record, also found in the Cape Town archives, of a rather messy divorce between Axel Wilhelm Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson. She had taken the children to Cape Town because there was a war on in Damaraland, and while there had an affair with the lodger, one Clement Stephen Stonier. So when Axel came to Cape Town and realised that young Emily could not be his, he divorced Fanny. And so Emily who married Jacob Dennewill was the daughter of C.S. Stonier and Fanny Stewardson.

Fanny went back to Omaruru, and had a couple more daughters by the Herero cook, whose name is only recorded as Johnathon. One of the daughters died young, but the other may also have descendants somewhere.

And one of Axel Wilhelm Eriksson’s sons, Andrew or Andreas, went to Sweden, changed his surname to Waerneman, and became a priest. No wonder we couldn’t find him.

But many thanks to Naomi McFadden of Omaruru, Bo Lindquist, and Peter Johansson of the Vänersborg Museum, who helped us to find missing links, fill in some gaps, and gave us the clues we needed to make further links.

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