The changing scenes of life

Yesterday I went to Johannesburg to do some research in the Family History Centre, and after it closed I had a couple of hours to kill before fetching my son from work in Fontainebleau, and so revisited some of the scenes of my childhood and youth.

Glenhazel Court, 1959

We lived at Glenhazel Court at 2 Long Avenue, Glenhazel from August 1958 to August 1959. It was then the only building on the top of the hill. The place where I was standing when I took the photo was a vacant piece of land. It used to be a riding school, run by Mr and Mrs Groos, and they also ran a nursery school there, but they left in about 1951 because there was no water. It was then outside the Johannesburg municipal area, and the relied on a borehole, which dried up, so they sold their horses and moved to Bramley. For a long time the house and stables stood derelict, and at the time of the photo was taken someone had just bought it for sevelopment, and graded a road down the middle of the property, now called Tancred Road, where I stopped the car to take the second photo on my cell phone.

Glenhazel Court, 2010

Now it is surrounded by other buildings and it is hard to imagine what it looked like before. There were some houses behind it, to the wewst, when we lived there, but there were lots of empty plots in between, and none of the roads were tarred. The photo below was taken from the balcony behind the building when we lived there.

Sunset from Glenhazel Court, 1959, looking towards Fairmount

When we first went to live there in 1948 the whole area was called Sunningdale, and the part now called Glenhazel did not exist. We lived around the corner, in what is now Ridge Road, from 1948-1954, and the house is now unrecognisable. Perhaps it was demolished and rebuilt. The only thing I recognised was the deodar trees.

Tombstone Tuesday: Adelaide & J.B. Cottam

West Street Cemetery, Durban, KZN, South Africa

John Bagot Cottam was born in Salford in 1836, the son of Richard Cottam and Margaret Bagot. He grew up in Manchester, where he was a warehouseman. Her married Adelaide Herbert, daughter of Reuben and Ellen Herbert, in 1858, and their first three children, Margaret, Ada and Jessie were born in Manchester.

Adelaide Cottam, born Herbert

He came to Natal in 1863 as accountant to the Natal Cotton Plantation Company. The American Civil War had disrupted the supply of cotton to the Manchester cotton mills, and it was thought that Natal might be an alternative source of supply. That soon fell through, however, and in 1867 J.B. Cottam set up business on his own account as a wool presser and fresh produce dealer. When the Durban fresh produce market was opened in 1876, he became the first market master. In 1891 he became a city councillor. For two terms he served as a town councillor of Durban until he retired in 1894. He then started his own business as accountant and auditor at 61 Esplanade Buildings.

Like many people of his time, he was a member of the Freemasons and other social and charitable organisations. He was district Grand Warden EC since 1887. He was district grand secretary for 12 years and held other offices in the Craft as well as being a prominent member of the Durban Town Guard formed during the Zulu War. He was also treasurer of the Durban
Benevolent Society for several years and occupied the position of secretary to the Seamens Institute.

He took an active interest in church affairs, and was one of those who supported the Colenso schism from the Anglican Church in Natal, and was at one time publicly rebuked to be Bishop of Natal for preaching without a licence from the bishop.

John Bagot Cottam (1836-1911)

They had five more children in Natal: Richard Herbert, Lucy, Bessie, Lily and Kate.

John Bagot Cottam’s younger brother, William Henry Cottam, also came to Natal, and farmed near Verulam.

The mystery of the cast-off Castorffs

Solve one family history mystery, and another dozen spring up to take its place.

Last week we had a breakthrough with Val’s Morton ancestors, described in the previous post. Val’s great-great grandmother, Mary Nevard Morton, married August Decker of the British German Legion at St Botolph’s, Colchester in Essex on 31 October 1856. We’ve known that for more than 30 years. But now it appears that two of Mary’s sisters may also have married German legionnaires, possibly on the same day, and we have ordered their marriage certificates just to make sure.

According to the FreeBMD Index, Emma Morton married George Casdorff:

Surname      First name(s)            District      Vol      Page
Marriages Dec 1856   (>99%)
Casdorff     George David Julius          Colchester     4a    443
Decker     August                              Colchester     4a    443
Morton     Emma                              Colchester     4a    443
Morton     Mary _e_and           Colchester     4a    443
Rodwell     Emma                              Colchester     4a    443

and Emma Morton alias Rodwell married George David Julius Casdorff. They sailed to the Easten Cape on the Stamboul, and disembarked at Eastlondon on 2 February 1857. According to the German Settlers Database George Kasdorf purchased his discharge on 16 February 1860.

Having finally found the Morton family in the 1851 census we know Mary had a sister Emma, and when August and Mary Decker had their first and only son Edwin baptised at King William’s Town in 1861, the godparents were George and Emma Castorff.

But that seems to be the last sign of George and Emma in South Africa. Searching for Castorff or Casdorff (and Kasdorff and Kastorff) in the South African archives index NAAIRS draws a blank, and they should have appeared there if they died in South Africa. There are a few references to Kasdorf, but none appear to be related. So they must have emigrated again, as many of the German military settlers did. Any reports of sightings anywhere will be gratefully received.

The mystery of the Mortons

We’re taking another look at the mystery of the Morton family of Colchester in Essex, and their South African connections.

Over the last week or so, as you can see from the previous posts, we’ve been looking at the family of Val’s paternal grandmother, Emma le Sueur, formerly Green, formerly Chelin, born Decker. When we started looking into the family history, soon after we were married in 1974, she was our only survivang grandparent, and so we started with that side of the family, and within a couple of years had got down most of the (then) current generation in Southern Africa. A few years later a German genealogist helped us to trace one branch of them back to the Brandenberg Huguenots. But one branch we were stuck on was the Mortons.

Val’s gran and her surviving brother Cecil Decker, and her sisters, told varying stories. She told us her father was Edward Decker. Turned out he was actually Edwin Robert Morton Decker, and we found his baptism in King William’s Town. Grandmother and great aunts told us that Edwin’s father was De Nevard Decker, a Swedish nobleman, or a French nobleman, and that his wife Mary Morton came from Colchester in Essex and had an aunt or a sister who was Lady Mount, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.

St Botolph's Church, Colchester

We found August Decker’s death notice in the Cape Archives. Not a Swedish nobleman, but a German waiter, died at Mr S. Grussendorf’s house, no property, buried by public subscription. The real disappointment was the family connections — parents unknown, spouse unknown, one son, name unknown. Well, we found the link to the son in the King William’s Town Anglican baptism register, but also in the KWT museum we asked if they had anything not on display, and they had a card index of the German military settlers of 1857, and August Decker was there, and it said he came from Auerstedt in Prussia. We knew that a lot of the German military settlers of the British German Legion had come from Colchester Camp, where they had trained to fight in the Crimean War, and that gave us a date – 1856. So we wrote off to the General Register Office in England for the marriage certificate, and got it. August Decker and Mary Nevard Morton were married at St Botolph’s Church in Colchester on 31 Oct 1856. His father was Carl Decker, farmer. Her father was George Morton, gardener. That helped with the Decker family, but what about the Mortons?

Some time soon after that we trawled through microfilms of the 1851 census of Colchester at the LDS Family History Centre, but found nothing. Perhaps we missed it, perhaps we were looking in the wrong place. At that point we more or less gave up 0n the Mortons.

We visited Colchester when we went on holiday to the UK in 2005, and even looked in at St Botolph’s Church, where they were preparing for a play or a concert of something. We had heard many things about Essex girls, and wondered if their reputation had been the same in 1856, when Val’s great great grandmother got married. A sign in a shop window in Colchester seemed to confirm what we had been told about Essex girls.

After the death of her first husband, Mary Nevard Morton married another German military settler, Ernst Bergesheim or Burgersheim, from Stralsund in Prussia. At one point they ran the Butterworth Hotel in the Transkei, and she also ran the Waverley Hotel, between Tarkastad and Queenstown, and Val’s gran was brought up there after her father died when she was 8. Mary Burgersheim died in Durban during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Now, looking at that side of the family again, we did manage to get hold of the 1851 census which shows Mary Morton, aged 8, with her parents, George and Elizabeth Morton, both aged 45, and therefore born about 1806. Elizabeth came from Boxted, up near the Suffolk border (perhaps nearly not an Essex girl!). Mary had an older brother G. Fred, and an older sister Emma, aged 10. Her younger siblings were Thomas (3) and Catherine (1). And here’s where the mystery deepens.

If she was 8 in 1851, she was surely too young to get married in 1856, when she would have been only 13, even as a minor with her father’s permission. It must be the right family, unless there was another George Morton in Colchester who was a gardener and had a daughter Mary. And the FreeBMD site shows Mary Nevard Morton being born in 1843.

FreeBMD also shows an Emma Morton being born in 1838 (when we would have expected Mary to be born) and dying in 1839. Then there is Mary Nevard Morton in the June Quarter of 1843. Emma is dead, long live Emma. She shows up alive and well and aged 10 in the 1851 census.

And get this: on the same index page as Mary Nevard Morton’s marriage to August Decker, TWO Emmas married a George David Julius Casdorff — Emma Morton and Emma Rodwell. As if that were not enough, on the previous page of the FreeBMD index, an Elizabeth Mount Decker married another German. Perhaps she was the “Lady Mount”!

It looks as though we will need to order the other two marriage certificates, as well as Mary Nevard Morton’s birth certificate to see what happened.

One of the interesting stories about the German military settlers is that some of them were married on board ship (presumably to Essex girls) just before the ship sailed. At the end of the ceremony one of the ship’s officers remarked to the chaplain who married them that he thought some of them were holding the wrong hands. “Don’t worry,” said the chaplain, they can sort themselves out when they get outside.” The result was that a special Act had to be passed by the Cape Pasrliament, to remove doubts concerning the marriages of certain German settlers. Now I’m wondering if there wasn’t a similar chaotic scene in St Bololph’s Church, with hundreds of German soldiers marrying Essex girls, and perhaps two Emmas marrying poor old George Casdorff. And somewhere, in the back of my mind, is a memory of one of the documents in the family history being signed by a George Castorff, as a witness or something.

And one last thought. Val’s middle name was Muriel, and it was said that she was given it after her paternal grandmother, Emma Muriel Decker. And perhaps the Emma came from her aunt. But there are more mysteries. When she signed for her share of the Koch inheritance (see earlier post), a fifth of a sixth of a third, she signed Emma Isabel. So we thought we would order her birth certificate to see what names she was registered with. The certificate came back with a rubber stamp in the space for the first names: Not Stated. Attempts to see if she was in the baptism register for Butterworth in 1900 were not successful. Perhaps we should try again. But at any rate we now have a lot of things to try for on that side of the family.

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