Heirlooms and other family news

An heirloom is an article or object that has been in a family for several generations. Most objects that might become heirlooms don’t, because they are broken, thrown away, stolen or destroyed or lost (by fire, flood, earthquake etc). So in the end, only a few may survive to be passed on from one generation to another.

bell01Those that do survive, however, often have stories attached to them, and the stories are often forgotten, so we’re recording the story of one such heirloom — a measuring tape in the shape of a china fisherwoman. It was made in Germany, and belonged to Auntie Belle.

Auntie Belle was Val’s great aunt, Isabella Carr Ellwood (1873-1958), who was Matron in a hospital in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England. She was married to Jim Hurst, and they had no children. Val’s grandmother, Mattie Pearson (née Ellwood), who was living in a granny flat with Val’s parents in Escombe, Natal, travelled to the UK about the time that Auntie Belle died, and brought back the measuring tape, and gave it to Val, who was then about 9 years old.

Mattie Pearson wrote regularly to her brothers and sisters in England, and especially to her younger sister Maggie, who was married to Ernest Pearson, Mattie’s late husbands brother, which made him a double brother-in-law. The family tried in vain to persuade Mattie to make the journey home to England to see her brothers and sisters. When Mattie’s daughter (Val’s Auntie Mollie) was ill with jaundice, Mattie stayed with them to look after the children. When Mollie recovered, the family primed the family doctor, Doctor Rosenthal (who was well-known and well-loved in Escombe and vicinity) to tell Mattie that she needed a rest, and that a trip to England to see her family there would do her good. What Dr Rosenthal suggested was tantamount to a command.

Mattie Pearson and her sisters when she visited the UK in 1939, bust before WW2. Mattie is on the front right. Behind her at the back right is Maggie. Bessie was at the top left. We think the other two are Belle and Lizzie -- can anyone identify them?

Mattie Pearson and her sisters when she visited the UK in 1939, just before WW2. Mattie is on the front right. Behind her at the back right is Maggie. Bessie was at the top left. We think the other two are Belle and Lizzie — can anyone identify them?

So Mattie booked a trip on the Southern Cross, a three-week relaxing voyage in company with her old friend Mrs Mitchell who had been glad to join her on her trip, and saw her brothers and sisters. Auntie Belle died either while she was there, or shortly before, and so she brought the fisherwoman measuring tape back for Val.

Mattie Pearson (on the left) at dinner on the ship, with her friend Mrs Mitchell on the right.

Mattie Pearson (on the left) at dinner on the ship, with her friend Mrs Mitchell on the right.

The time for such sea voyages has passed; air travel is quicker and cheaper, but far less relaxing, and if you want to go by sea, for the most part you can only take cruises to nowhere. The days of passenger ships was dying by the early 1970s.  The ship that took Mattie and Mrs Mitchell to England was the Southern Cross.  When Val and her sister Elaine travelled to England in 1971 they went on the very last voyage of the Arawa and came back in September on the very last trip of the Southern Cross.

banana1Now here’s another family artefact that will never become an heirloom because we’ve already eaten it. Our son Simon saw a food programme on TV where the presenter said that food should be artistically presented, so Simon made this artistic arrangement of bananas in the fruit bowl. But the photo might last a bit longer than the bananas.

Mention of the Ellwood family, and the fact that Mattie Pearson kept in touch with her siblings by letter for almost 60 years reminds me of changing patterns of communication. When our daughter Bridget went to Greece 20 years ago, we kept in touch by snail mail, writing almost every week. When Bridget got e-mail, it should have been easier to communicate, but it actually wasn’t. E-mail messages were much less frequent and much less informative. Now there is Facebook, but Facebook, though it allows one to share photos, lends itself to textbites rather like soundbites. You see a photo of a place and realise that whoever posted it might have visited it, but there is little description of the when, where and how, or who they were with, or what they did there.

For the last 3 weeks our internet connection has been faulty. I’ve been able to download e-mail (after 5-20 attempts), but the replies are all queued, waiting to be sent when the line is repaired (for more on this problem and the reasons for it, see Incommunicado). But in these 3 weeks there have been almost no personal messages from friends or family. There was one very welcome message from a cousin whose existence I was quite unaware of — Roxanne Williamson, née Dryden — and I’ll reply to that more fully when our internet service has been restored (if you are reading this, then it will have been restored). But apart from that all the genuine mail has been in two mailing lists, one from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and the other the Legacy User Group – a support service for a genealogy program I use. Two-thirds of the mail that we have downloaded with such difficulty is spam — things like discount offers from shops I’ve never heard of (which country is “Macy’s” in? Or “Everest Windows” or “Takahashi?).

But that’s what the state our communication has been reduced to, in spite of, or perhaps because of, all the marvellous technological aids. I can receive and send email without moving my bum from this chair, whereas to send a snail-mail letter I have to go 2,6 kilometres to the nearest post box, a 40-minute walk one way. Yet Mattie Pearson managed to write to her sister Maggie once a week, and at less frequent intervals to her other siblings, and her letters were probably far more informative.

When we first started doing family history just after we were married back in 1974 we tried to re-establish contact with those relatives, and Maggie’s daughter-in-law, Nora Pearson, wrote to us by snail mail once a month or so, long chatty letters telling about her children (Val’s double second cousins) and grandchildren, what was going on in the town, and in their church (she and her husband John had just joined St Begh’s Roman Catholic Church). Now we are “friends” with her children on Facebook, but Facebook censors the communication so we only see about 10% of what they post 10% of the time, and in spite of the wonders of modern technology, we are less in touch with that side of the family than we were by snail mail 40 years ago.

King Solomon’s mines revisited

King Solomon's MinesKing Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I’ve read this book before, as a child. I certainly saw the film as a child. The only scene I remember from my first reading of the book was Captain Good going around for half the story with a half-shaven face. For the rest of the story it was like reading it for the first time.

But re-reading a book after a lifetime of experience and acquisition of knowledge makes a difference to what you notice, and the significance of things that passed you by when reading it as a child. For a child, it was a straightforward adventure story; the heroes got into difficulties and dangers, and they got out of them. Reading it as an adult, the historical and political background moved to rthe foreground.

Richard Vause, Mayor of Durban 1883-1885

Richard Vause, Mayor of Durban 1883-1885

The book was published in 1885, and the action of the story seems to have taken place in 1883-84. The protagonist and narrator, Allan Quatermain, was living on the Berea in Durban then. And my great great grandfather, Richard Vause, was also living there, and was mayor of Durban at the time — he died the following year, in 1886. That gives a new and personal interest to the story. I didn’t know that when I first read the book. Yes, I knew I had an ancestor who had been mayor of Durban at one time (acually five times), but had little idea of the dates until I began researching family history.

Quatermain also mentioned fighting in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, and escaping from the Battle of Isandlwana (which the Zulus won pretty decisively) because he was sent back with some wagons — precisely what happened to my great grandfather, Wyatt Vause. Perhaps H. Rider Haggard himself lived on the Berea, heard the story from my great grandfather, and decided to incorporate it into his book;

Allan Quatermain also mentions having been an elephant hunter, and describes in some detail how elephant hunters travelled in those days — the kind of wagons they used, the features they looked for in buying them, and how they travelled. That sort of thing is rarely mentioned in contemporary primary sources — letters and diaries and news items and the like. The people who wrote those things assumed their readers knew about them. But a writer of fiction, who knew most of his readers would be in the UK and would be unfamiliar with them, takes care to describe them in some detail. My wife Val’s great great grandfather, Fred Green, was an elephant hunter in what is now Namibia and Botswana, and so those little details throw light on his life too.

In many ways the story is fantasy. It describes a country unknown to outsiders. In the 20th century, when most of the world was mapped, it was no longer possible to do that, and so such fictional countries were moved to other planets and other galaxies and became science fiction. But in other ways the story is not like that — the people in the strange country are hypothetical relatives of the Zulus, and speak a dialect of Zulu, so the travellers are able to communicate with them.

It is also a typical fairy story — the exiled prince who returns to overthrow the wicked usurper and reestablish justice in the land.

And there is also a darker side to the story, which takes place on the cusp of the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa. From about 1880 onwards the New Imperialism gave rise to an ideology of imperialism, which was racist at its root. While racism was not unknown before, it became much more ideologically driven after the rise of the New Imperialism, and a consciousness of ethnic superiority was actively promoted in the imperialist powers. Children’s literature abounded with it, and it was taught in schools.

There are some echoes of this in King Solomon’s Mines. Allan Quatermain disapproaves of the budding romance between one of his white companions and a young black woman. While in Natal, Quatermain is upset and annoyed when “natives” speak in a too-familiar manner with white men. In the fictional African kingdom they travel to, he describes the local inhabitants in terms of a somewhat grudging equality. At times I wondered whether Haggard was doing this consciously or unconsciously. Could he be consciously trying to show the changes in Quatermain’s attitude to black people the further he travelled from colonial Natal, as part of his character, and as a result of the influence of his less racist companions? But what is certain is that after 1885 there was a sharp increase in racism as part of the ideology of British Imperialism.

So re-reading the book was interesting for various reasons — as filler material for family history, but also as a mirror reflecting changing attitudes in the British colony of Natal in the 1880s.

View all my reviews

Family links with Cecil John Rhodes

I’ve just been reading about the (largely posthumous) cult of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), the former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony who made his fortune in diamonds.

RhodesBkI was interested in the book for several reasons — first, as a background to the #RhodesMustFall movement, which is a kind of countercult or anticult movement. Secondly, because of the rise of Donald Trump, another unscrupulous businessman turned politician, who is in the news right now, and thirdly because of our interest in family history, and several members of our family had links with Rhodes. I’ve already written a review of the book and dealt with the first two points in a post on my other blog  – see  The Cult of Rhodes. In this one I just want to point out some of the family connections.

C.J. Rhodes wasn’t related to us in any way that we know, but he came to southern Africa for his health at the age of 17 and, like many others, was drawn to Kimerley by the discovery of diamonds there in 1868.

A member of our family who was also drawn there was Henry Green, brother of Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green. The Green brothers came to the Cape Colony in about 1846, and Henry, like his father William Green, was in the commissariat department of the British army, in which capacity he accompanied the Cape Governor and High Commissioner Harry Smith to the Battle of Boomplaats, which established the present Free State as the Orange River Sovereignty. Henry became the British Resident of the Sovereignty, and after it was abandoned, went to England, and married his cousin Louisa Margaret Aitchison. He then went to Colesberg in the Cape Colony and became magistrate and civil commissioner. His wife died on the road to Cape Town, and became the family ghost. Henry married again to Countess Ida Von Lilienstein, and they had several children.

Henry Green and several associates formed the South African Diamond and Mineral Company, and when he was suspended as magistrate over some missing money, he became a diamond digger, first at Pniel and then in 1872 Henry Green moved to Kimberley and entered into a partnership with George Paton on the diggings of Colesberg Kopje. They worked claim 144 for a long time.

George Paton and Henry Green lived for a while at the Boarding House – or rather Boarding Tent — called ‘The 12 Apostles’. It was there that they got to know Cecil Rhodes who had just come out as a young lad from England for health reasons. Rhodes had a contract to pump out water that flooded the claims. The friendship seems to have continued even after Rhodes bought out all the other claim holders and established his company, De Beers, as a virtual monopoly in the diamond business.

One of Henry Green’s daughters, Ida Margaret Catherine Green, married George Arthur Montgomery Tapscott (see The Tapscott Family), and their great-granddaughter Burnett McMillan Milne recently wrote on Facebook “Henry Green’s daughter, Ida Margaret Tapscott, was a great admirer of Cecil Rhodes — the feeling was mutual, they had quite a voluminous correspondence and in one of his letters he refers to her as ‘The cleverest women in the Cape Colony’. He gave her a magnificent diamond brooch which is still in possession of the family.”

Then there was Henry Green’s nephew, Arthur Walpole Francis, son of Henry’s sister Agnes. Arthur was born and educated in Sydney, New South Wales. He came to South Africa in 1880 and farmed at Harts River, Griqualand West. He went to the Transvaal in 1886 and took up Botha’s Reef on behalf of a Kimberley syndicate and Cecil Rhodes. He was involved in the purchase of Luipaardsvlei for £60000 and a load of poplar poles. Perhaps he was introduced to Cecil Rhodes by his uncle Henry. He later went back to farming and died of bladder stones in Mariental, Namibia, in 1921. His eldest son was named Cecil.

Henry Green’s niece (Fred Green’s daughter), Alice Elizabeth Green, married John Martin Cuthbert O’Grady in Johannesburg in 1893, and they named their second son John Rhodes O’Grady, and he was known as Rhodes. They probably didn’t know Cecil Rhodes personally, but would have known of him though Alice’s cousin Arthur Walpole Francis, and perhaps admired him from afar.

The last instance I can think of is probably getting back to the cult, which is the main topic of the book. My mother’s cousin Betty Hannan married John Christian Fowler in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, in 1935, and their eldest son was named Brian Rhodes Hannan Fowler. I think by then the cult of Rhodes was in full swing.

Willie Hannan, MP for Maryhill, Glasgow. 1966

Willie Hannan, MP for Maryhill, Glasgow. 1966

I liked cousin Betty, and I think she was my mother’s favourite cousin, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye politically, not at all. In 1965, just after the Rhodesian UDI, Betty wrote to my mother and mentioned a mutual cousin, Willie Hannan, who was at that tome a Scottish Labour MP, and, according to Betty, “a one-man-one-vote bastard and a sick leftist”. A few weeks later I skipped South Africa to escape the clutches of the SB, and had a brief stopover in Salisbury, so I phoned Betty from the airport and she brought some of the family out to the airport to say hello. We chatted for a bit, and as we said goodbye and I was going out to the plane Betty fixed me with a beady eye and said fiercely “We’re determi9ned to see this thing through” (meaning UDI). Shortly after that I met cousin Willie at the Houses of Parliament in London, expecting, from Betty’s description, to meet a revolutionary Che Guevara-like figure. Instead he turned out to be mild and inoffensive, and indeed, very conservative (with a small c).

That was probably my closest brush with the Rhodes cult.

 

Ten years ago: a sad day

Ten years ago, 10 July 2006,  was a rather sad day in the life of our family.

When Val was leaving for work early in the morning, when it was still dark, she found the back gate open and our Toyota Venture gone. There was no sign of the cable we used to lock the gate.

Our Toyota Venture, stolen on 10 July 2006

Our Toyota Venture, stolen on 10 July 2006

There was also no sign of of our four-month-old puppy Mardigan, and Val called him and went looking for him while I phoned the police. Eventually, after quite a long search, Val found Mardigan cowering behind a wall. He looked ill, and we thought the thieves may have poisoned him, and Jethro and Simon took him to the emergency vet that was open at that time of morning.

Mardigan

Mardigan

Later Ariel, our older dog, started looking sick, so they took her to the vet as well, and brought her back, and the vet said she was OK, but kept Mardigan for treatment.

Ariel

Ariel

Later in the morning Ariel looked very sick, so we took her to our vet, and he gave her an atropine injection. He said we should warn the neighbours as other dogs had been poisoned, and when they left to take them to the vet, burglars broke into their house. Val worked at home for the rest of the day. Jethro came home as well, and bought new and bigger locks for the gate.

A couple of days later we fetched Mardigan from the vet, thin and weak and wobbly on his legs. The vet said we should watch him because he could have a relapse, and might need immediate treatment. And the following day he looked ill again, and so, not having a car since the Venture had been stolen, Simon set out for the vet’s surgery on foot, with Mardigan in his arms, but later returned saying that Mardigan had died even before he had got there.

We had used the Venture for our mission work, taking people from our mission congregations to services and courses and conferences.

At Tembisa, with Fr Spiridon of St Thomas's Church in Sunninghill

At Tembisa, with Fr Spiridon of St Thomas’s Church in Sunninghill

A few months later we got the insurance money for the Venture, but it was not enough to buy an equivalent vehicle. It also didn’t cover the R2500 vet’s bill. In August 2006 we drove to Durban to buy a second-hand Subaru station wagon, which the insurance money did cover, and we still have it, and I would say it is the best car I have ever had. It is a nice family car, but could not do the same job in the mission congregations as the 10-seater Venture, and looking back over the last ten years we can see that the mission congregations have declined ever since, so we are still feeling the loss.

 

Sir Harry Smith, bungling hero

Sir Harry Smith, Bungling HeroSir Harry Smith, Bungling Hero by A.L. Harington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sir Harry Smith arrived in the Cape Colony as Governor at the end of 1847, with a mandate to settle its affairs, and those of its neighbours as well. He was recalled in 1852, after a little more than four years, and his bungling cost the British taxpayers a lot of money, and impoverished and alienated most of the neighbours.

My main interest in reading his life was that a year before he arrived my wife Val’s Green ancestors arrived, and since they had come with the British military, Sir Harry Smith was their boss for those four years, and his policies (and bungling) shaped their lives as well as those of many others.

Val’s great great great grandfather, William Green, recently widowed, was transferred from Canada to the Cape Colony in about 1846, along with several of his children, including Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green, who was about 17 years old. Fred’s older brother Henry, like his father, joined the commissariat department, and another brother, Edward, joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as an ensign.

Edward enlisted in the middle of the 7th Frontier War, or 7th Kaffir War, as the British called it, otherwise known as the War of the Axe. It had begun when a man of the Ngqika tribe, Tlili, had been arrested for stealing an axe from a Fort Beaufort shopkeeper. His friends organised a jailbreak, and freed him by cutting off the hand of a fellow prisoner to whom he was handcuffed. The other prisoner subsequently died, so murder was added to the charges, and war was the result.

The British Secretary of State for War and Colonies, Henry Grey (the 3rd Earl Grey) in the Liberal government of Lord John Russell, decided to appoint Sir Harry Smith as Governor of the Cape Colony and Commander in Chief of British forces there to bring an end to the war (Harington 1980:88ff).

Harry Smith was a career soldier, and had served in the Cape Colony in the 1830s under Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban, where he had taken part in the 6th Frontier War, and defeated the Xhosa tribes. He believed that the Xhosa people were tyrannised by their dictatorial chiefs, and thought that by deposing the chiefs he would liberate the Xhosas, so that they could be Christianised and civilised and become good citizens of the British Empire. On that occasion, when the Xhosa paramount chief Hintsa (who had taken little part in the fighting) came to the British camp under a flag of truce to negotiate peace terms, the British had treacherously kept him as a hostage, and finally treated him as a prisoner and murdered him while he was trying to “escape”. Smith then attempted to browbeat the other chiefs by intimidation and bluster, which he himself had referred to as “play-acting” so that, in effect, he pretended to rule them, and they pretended to surrender (Harington 1980:41ff).

Smith had then been transferred to India, where he had distinguished himself militarily against the Sikhs at the Battle of Aliwal, which had enhanced his reputation as a great military leader, and on the strength of this he was sent to the Cape Colony in three capacities – political (as Governor of the Cape Colony), diplomatic (as High Commissioner) and military (as Commander in Chief).

Sir Harry Smith

Sir Harry Smith

Smith arrived at Cape Town on 1 December 1847, when the Green family had been in the Cape Colony for about a year. He immediately set out on a tour of his domain.

With increasing numbers of British subjects (notably the Voortrekkers) from the Cape Colony settling north of the Orange River, the British government appointed Major Henry Douglas Warden as Resident in the area to keep the peace, and he settled on the farm Bloemfontein, near the Modder River in what was then known as Trans-Orangia. That, too, was to be on the itinerary of Smith’s grand tour.

The 7th Frontier War was almost over by the time Smith reached Port Elizabeth on 14 December 1847. Among those there to greet him was the Ngqika chief Maqoma, one of Smith’s old enemies from the 6th Frontier War. Maqoma had been neutral in the 7th Frontier War, and so had sat on his horse, unmolested, among the crowd who were waiting for Smith. Harington (1980:98f) describes what happened next:

From a window in the Phoenix Hotel [Smith] looked down upon an excited crowd that included many old friends and an old enemy, Maqoma himself, who astride his horse was especially prominent and noticed by Smith. To the amusement of the crowd the governor stared meaningfully at the chief, then half drew his sword. That should have been explicit enough, and sufficiently undignified, but Smith’s next actions show how success had gone to his head and affected his judgement. Though his intentions had always been good his earlier behaviour vis-à-vis the Xhosa had all too often been overbearing and eccentric, and he treated Maqoma in a manner that was outrageous, dangerous and foolish. He summoned the chief to his presence and when Maqoma offered his hand he was forced to prostrate himself in front of the governor who, having placed his foot upon his neck, poured forth a torrent of menacing vituperation over him, and threatened that all the other chiefs were going to get similar treatment. They were to be crushed and compelled to submit and obey.

Such was the man under whom three members of the Green family were to serve – William and his son Henry in the commissariat, and Edward as a Lieutenant in the Cape Mounted Rifles.

After browbeating the other Xhosa chiefs, Smith annexed their land between the Kei and Keiaskamma rivers under the name of British Kaffraria (later called the Ciskei), and told them that henceforth they would be under British rule.

In February 1848 Sir Harry Smith, after discussions with the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, proclaimed British sovereignty over Trans-Orangia, and a village was laid out at Bloemfontein , with a fort and a garrison. The garrison consisted of the Cape Mounted Rifles, the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment and the Royal Artillery88b:7). This was a mere ten years after the Great Trek.

The Sovereignty was challenged by the Boers, who proclaimed a republic at Winburg and marched on Bloemfontein, but were defeated by the British, lef by Sir Harry Smith, at the Battle of Boomplaats on 29 August 1848, where Henry Green was in charge of the commissariat. Henry Green remained in Bloemfontein, and eventually replaced the incompetent Major Harry Warden as British Resident in July 1852. In the mean time his younger brothers visited him there, and Henry seems to have found work for some of them to do, while Charles and Fred Green used it as a base for hunting expeditions to what is now Botswana. .

After a couple of years another frontier wart broke out (the 8th), and it is probably fair to say that Sir Harry Smith’s arrogance and overbearing manner in dealing with the Xhosa chiefs made it much more bitter than the preceding seven wars. He sent optimistic reports back to Earl Grey in Britain about his victories, but in spite of all the battles he claimed to have won, the Xhosas still occupied their strongholds and kept the British tied up in their forts. Eventually Harry Smith was recalled.

There is more in the book about his life before this period, though his recall marked the end of his career. It was also William Green’s last posting. In 1855 he retired on half pay, and went to live in London.

View all my reviews

A bit of Eastern Cape history

My great grandfather William Matthew Growdon came to the Cape Colony in 1876 to work on the railway being built inland from East London. My blogging friend Deon Strydom posted a photo of an interesting cottage built for those working on the line with a link to a site saying where it is and how to get there Tracks4Africa Padkos – Gangers Cottage (Historical Building):

When the railway line between East London and Queenstown was first built it bypassed Stutterheim by several kilometres. It was built during the Frontier War of 1877-1878 when the gangers (railway workers) were in danger of attack by Xhosa tribes. To protect the gangers, fortified ‘gangers cottages’ were built. Cottage No. 17 is situated on the Komga road which branches off the main road at Dohne Station. The cottage was declared a National monument on 3 December 1976. There are four tambours one on each corner, with slits so that the gangers could defend themselves against attack.

There was something of a frenzy of railway building after the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley — not that railways were needed to carry the diamonds, but rather to take mining equipment, and food and goods for the miners. Though the railways were owned and built by the Cape government, there was a certain amount of competition between the lines from the various ports.

Great grandfather William Matthew Growdon came from Cornwall with his family (my grandfather George Growdon was 3 years old at the time). He had been a stonemason in Cornwall, so perhaps he had a hand in building this fortified cottage too.

Railway workers' cottage near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape

Railway workers’ cottage near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape

Interestingly enough some of William Matthew Growdon’s descendants are still living in the vicinity of Stutterheim, and if you are passing you can go there to stay in a somewhat different kind of cottage. The place is The Shire, just outside Stutterheim, where my cousins Hamish, Monica and Rob Scott live.

Click on the links for more pictures and stories.

 

Meeting new Green cousins

Last Saturday we met some cousins on the Green side of the family that we had not met before when we met Rupert and Sarah McKerron for coffee. Rupert is Val’s fourth cousin on the Green side of the family, and though we had been in correspondence with people from that side of the family, it was good to meet some face to face.

Val Hayes with Rupert & Sarah McKerron 14 May 2016

Val Hayes with Rupert & Sarah McKerron 14 May 2016

Rupert and Sarah have a bush cottage that they named after the Green brothers, and we met to swap stories about them.

The Green family came to the Eastern Cape about 1846. The paterfamilias, William Goodall Green, who was born in Quebec in 1790, was in the Commissariat Department of the British Army based in Newfoundland, when he was transferred to the Cape Colony, probably as part of a boosting of British military strength because of the War of the Axe (1846-1850). William Green’s wife Margaret had died a couple of years earlier, and some of their 15 children died young, but quite a number of them seem to have come to southern Africa at that time.

Henry Green, the eldest, and Rupert’s ancestor, had followed his father into the commissariat department, and accompanied a British force led by Major Harold Warden to what was then called Trans-Orangia (now the Free State province). After establishing British authority and defeating the short-lived Republic of Winburg at the Battle of Boomplaats Warden was appointed British Resident of what became the Orange River Sovereignty, and he established a capital on the farm Bloemfontein. Henry Green succeeded Warden as British Resident in 1852, but his post lapsed in 1854 when the Sovereignty was abandoned and the republic of the Oranje-Vrijstaat was established.

Another of the Green brothers, Edward, joined the Cape Mounted Rifles, took part in the War of the Axe, and was wounded in the thigh. He married Emily Ogilvie of Grahamstown, and after having two children they left, Emily to stay with family in England, and Edward to India, and later to China, where he took part in the Opium Wars, the aim of which was to persuade the Chinese government to lift its embargo in the importation of drugs. Edward Green never returned either to the Cape Colony or Canada, but eventually settled in New Zealand.

Three other brothers, Charles, Fred and Arthur, went to Bloemfontein. Arthur, the youngest, got a job in his brother Henry’s office, while Charles and Fred, aged 25 and 21 respectively, set out to the north-west on a hunting expedition. In those days elephant hunting and the sale of ivory must have seemed like an easy way for young men to earn a living. Charles and Fred Green returned to Bloemfontein as their base after each hunting season, and spent their holidays playing billiards and cards with the soldiers, and taking them on hunting trips on nearby farms. Fred (Val’s great great grandfather) seems to have planned to settle there, because he bought a plot of land in Bloemfontein.

Charles and Fred were friends with the Bakwena chief Setshele (his name is sometimes spelt Sechele), and left cattle in his care when they went west up the Boteti (or Botletle) River to Lake Ngami, where tsetse flies were bad for cattle (follow the links to read more about their journeys). On their return they found that their cattle had been looted by Boer raiders from the Transvaal, who had also wrecked David Livingstone’s house in Kolobeng, and abducted hundreds of women and children as slaves.

Charles and Fred took Setchele with them to lay his complaints before the British government, in the person of their brother Henry, but he was told by his superior, the Governor of the Cape Colony, that since the signing of the Sand River Convention in 1852 the British government took no official interest in events north of the Vaal River. Charles Green may have accompanied Setshele back home, and then possibly went to Australia, perhaps with his sister Agnes, whose first child, Caroline Wilson, was born in Sydney in 1854.

After reconnoitering trade routes to east and west, Fred Green seems to have decided that the western route was safer, and made his base in Damaraland, later called Hereroland, and now part of Namibia, and spent the rest of his life there. Charles joined him a couple of years later, but was drowned in the Okavango River when his boat was upset by a hippo in the early 1860s. I don’t think Fred ever saw any of his siblings again.

Fred married three times. We know nothing of his first wife, other than that her name was Dixon and they had no children. The second was Sarah uaKandendu Kaipukire, a Herero princess. They had a daughter, but parted when the Hereros did not want her to accompany him to the Cape Colony. One of her descendants, Mburumba Kerina, is credited with the invention of the name Namibia.The third wife was Catherine Agnes Anne Stewardson, They had seven children, of whom four died young. Of the surviving ones, Fred Vincent Green was Val;s great grandfather.

Henry disappeared for 6 years, married his cousin Margaret Aitchison in England, and returned to the Cape Colony in 1860 as Civil Commissioner and Magistrate of Colesberg. His wife and two children died soon after their arrival, but she still lives on as the family ghost. He married again to Countess Ida Von Lilienstein, and had several children by her, and many of the Green descendants in southern Africa come from them. When diamonds were discovered near Kimberley Henry Green went with a syndicate to work them, became a member of the legislative assemby for Griqualand West, and then retired to his farm near Barkly West, where he died in 1884.

Arthur Green became a photographer, and achieved some fame as a pioneer in that field. His daughter Agnes married twice and had children, some of whom were born in Canada, but eventually returned to South Africa. We met one of his descendnats some years ago, Doreen Armstrong of Pinetown, who was also interested in the family history.

Agnes Green, who went to Australia, married four times (twice to the same man). Her first husband was William Wilson, who drowned in the Tuross River in New South Wales. She next married Alfred Dawson Francis, who may have caused a stir in Durban  as Alfred Francis Dawson. He committed suicide, and she then married William McLean Thwaites, once bigamously in Sydney, and the second time after the birth of their four children, in Adelaide. Though she never returned to South Africa, some of the grandchildren of each of her marriages did. Caroline Wilson, the eldest daughter, went to New Zealand to stay with her uncle Edward Lister Green. She married  Roy Ashley Warre Brathwaite, and one of their children, Frank Brathwaite, came to South Africa and made a name for himself as a racing tipster. Arthur Walpole Francis, a son of her second marriage, lived at Langlaagte, near Johannesburg, and made contact with several of Fred Green’s family, who had moved to the Transvaal after his death. One of his daughters married a coffee planter from Tanganyika, and was caught in Germany diring the first and second world wars. One of her sons was killed in the German army during the invasion of Poland in 1939. Her letters to her sister in Sydney provide a fascinating insight into the history of that side of the family.

Another member of the Francis side of the family was Peter Bridges, whom we met in Johannesburg, and whose granddaughter Jenny was at the same school as our daughter Bridget for a while. Peter discovered that on his mother’s side he was descended from another of the Green siblings, Caroline, who married Robert Leslie Cowan and died of cholera in Shanghai in 1863.

So the Green brothers had interesting lives, and seem to have spread the family to many different parts of the world, with quite a number from several branches still living in South Africa and Namibia.