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

Two Scotts on the trot

Andrew and Catherine Scott (cousins on the Growdon side of the family) are cycling around in South America, and have started a blog Two Scotts on the trot, where you can follow their adventures.

Cycling round South America, but a lift can help if there’s a headwind

As they put it, “A trot, yes, but on our ‘burros de aceros’ (iron donkeys)… a “cheap-as-we-can” cycling-camping expedition around southern South America.”

Thursday 20th August saw two firsts.  We obtained our first hitchhike (owing to a nasty headwind and dry heat) with a friendly gentleman, an electrical engineer, who was heading as far as Wanda, which happened to be a perfect destination.  It gave us enough distance to cycle to Iguazu, but without having to spend a week getting there.  The drive also turned into a Spanish lesson.  We unloaded in Wanda and gratefully thanked him.  It was then we noticed Andrew’s bicycle’s back tyre was completely flat. Our first puncture.

 

Home from holiday trip

Val and I have just returned home after a holiday trip to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State, which lasted just over three weeks. It was very much a “seeing people” holiday, and we saw old friends and cousins we hadn’t seen for many years, and some family members we had never met before. We left on Bright Tuesday, 26th April 2011, and travelled through Springs, Nigel, Balfour, Villiers, Frankfort and Bethlehem to Clarens, where we stayed at the Cottage Pie B&B, and visited Dons and Anneke Kritzinger and Toni Badcock-Walters, wife of my second cousin Peter Badcock-Walters, who was away in New York.

On 27 April we drove to Graaff-Reinet, and were struck by the deterioration of the road and rail infrastructure caused by road transport deregulation — — the Free State roads were particularly bad. We stopped at Aliwal North for lunch and Val ate a venison pie under the reproachful gaze of a gemsbok whose head was mounted on the wall above. In Graaff Reinet we stayed at Villa Reinet, run by Hannan cousins Nick and Ailsa Grobler, but Ailsa was away, visiting her son in Dubai. We spent two nights there, and on Thursday visited the Valley of Desolation and Nieu Bethesda, which is famous for its Owl House, but deserves to be more famous for its beer, which is much better than the insipid chemical concoctions produced by SAB-Miller.

On Friday 29 April we drove to Barrydale and stayed overnight at the Watercourt Lodge, and saw an old friend Dick Usher, whom I had known when he was a journalist on the Daily News in Durban in 1969, and a member of the Christian Institute youth groups.

On Saturday 30 April we had a shorter trip to Robertson, where we visited cousin Sandy Struckmeyer (nee Vause) and her daughter Kerry, and then went to the Orthodox Centre established by Fr Zacharias van Wyk, who has converted an old packing shed into the last homely house, with a chapel attached, where we stayed the night and had Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgy in a mixture of Afrikaans and Dutch.

After Liturgy on Sunday 1 May we drove to Hermanus, where we stayed at the Volmoed Community for four days, and I spend a lot of time with John de Gruchy, another old friend, discussing our proposed book on the history of the charismatic renewal in South Africa.

On Thursday 5 May we went to Villiersdorp, where we spent a couple of nights, and visited Val’s sister Elaine Machin and her friend Averil
Anderson, and on Friday went with them to Genadendal and Greyton where we had lunch, with magical misty mountains all around.

On Saturday 7 May we went to Cape Town and stayed at the Formula 1 hotel on the Foreshore, and visited Richard Girdwood, now Rector of St Michael’s Anglican Church in Observatory, whom we had known in Durban North in the 1970s. We had supper with Val’s first cousin Gail Stierlin (formerly Farqhuarson, formerly Alldred, born Terblanche) and met her husband Gustav Stierlin for the first time, and Gail’s mother, Val’s aunt Pat, was staying with them.

On Sunday we went to the Divine Liturgy at St George’s Cathedral in Woodstock, where I served with Fr Nicholas, and afterwards had lunch with Renfrew Christie at the Foresters Arms in Rondebosch. I wasn’t sure whether I had met him before or not, but I certainly knew of him from the 1970s. Then we went to Simonstown to visit more Hannan cousins, Arthur and Jean Vlok, and met their daughter Anthea for the first time. We had met their son-in-law Julian Buys on an earlier visit in 2003.

The next three days we spent mainly in the archives, doing family history research, and had supper with Erica Murray, another old friend, whom I had first met in 1964, but had not seen since she went to Canada in the 1980s. We also saw His Eminence Metropolitan Sergios, the Archbishop of the Cape of Good Hope.

On Thursday 12 May we left Cape Town early in the morning on our return journey, travelling eastwards on the N2 to Knysna. It was misty much of the way, and at one point we saw three bright lights, which we at first took for lights on a mountain, but when we didn’t pass them and as they went higher in the sky realised were stars or planets. No other stars were visible, just those three in the east, which were quite magical. One was certainly Venus (Lucifer), but I’m not sure what the other two were. We caught the tail end of a news item on TV saying that it was a quite rare conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars (or was it Mercury?).

We spent a couple of nights at Knysna, and saw my first cousin Glenda Lauwrens (nee Growdon), her husband Brian and daughter Joanne, whom we hadn’t seen since they moved to Knysna from Ladysmith 21 years ago. We also saw Val’s father’s first cousin, Patrick Clark, and his wife Carol, whom we had never met before.

On Saturday 14 May we drove to Port Elizabeth, and were forced to use a toll road (boo! hiss!) for the only time on our trip, as the Bloukrans
Pass was closed. In PE we had tea with David and Mary MacGregor. David was formerly the Anglican Dean of Pretoria, and we had not seen them since the 1980s. We had supper with Val’s aunt Nat Greene, On Sunday we went to the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Dormition, and afterwards went to lunch with Dimitri and Marguerite Paizis, and stayed talking with them the whole afternoon.

On Monday 16th May we drove to Stutterheim via Port Alfred. At Bathurst we tried to visit Lindsay Walker, an old BBS friend, but did not have his address. We got a phone book at the post office and called the only Walker listed in Bathurst, but there was no reply. At Stutterheim we stayed with Growdon cousins, Hamish and Monica Scott. Their son Robbie runs a nursery and an eco-lodge called “The Shire”, and we spent the night in one of the splendid cabins at The Shire.

On Tuesday 17th May we travelled to Burgersdorp via Cathcart, Queenstown and Molteno. We had driven through Burgersdorp on the way down, and wanted to see more of it, and so spent the night there.

On Wednesday 18th May we retraced our route to Clarens over the horrible Free State roads, and Wepener was as dirty and run-down as Burgersdorp was neat and well kept. This time we stayed with Toni Badcock-Walters (my second cousin Peter was away again, this time in Namibia), but we met their son Craig, and Peter’s half-sister Louise Philp, and caught up on a lot of family history information. It was election day for the local government elections, but there was no way we could get home in time to vote, in spite of a flurry of urgent SMS messages from the Democratic Alliance urging us to vote for them so they could take the City of Tshwane. I thought it was a bit presumptuous of them to assume that we would vote for them.

On Thursday 19th May we drove the last leg homewards, via Petrus Steyn Heilbron, Vereeniging, Heidelberg, Nigel, Springs and Bapsfontein. We stopped in Petrus Steyn to visit church friends Danie Steyn and his mother, who gave us mushroom soup for lunch.

Well, that’s the outline, but we will also be posting more detailed accounts, with pictures, on our various blogs, perhaps after the pattern
of Cobbett’s “rural rides”.

Visiting Hannan cousins, almost

Last Tuesday we went on holiday, and travelled to Clarens in the Eastern Free State. Some of the things we saw (and drank) can be seen on our other blog here.

My second cousin Peter Badcock-Walters retired to Clarens some years ago, but  on Tuesday he had to be in New York, but we called in anyway and chatted to his wife Toni.

Val Hayes and Toni Badcock-Walters, Clarens, 27 April 2011

Nick Grobler

On Wednesday we drove to Graaff Reinet and stayed at the Villa Reinet Guest House, run by more cousins on the Hannan side of the family, Nick and Ailsa Grobler. But unfortunately (for us anyway) Ailsa had gone to visit their son Gavin, who is a chef in Durbai. But Nick told us quite a bit about the family history as well.

And if you’re looking for a place to stay in Graaff Reinet, we can recommend Villa Reinet. In addition to chatting about family history with Nick, we visited the Valley of Desolation and Nieu Bethesda, a village about 40 kilometres north of Graaff Reinet, which must be the only place in slouth Africa where real ale is brewed, and very good it is too.

More updates to follow, as and when we get internet access in our travels,

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