William Matthew Growdon (or Growden) was my great grandfather. Today my cousin Jenny Aitchison asked me for the story of his death, and I thought it might be more interesting to tell the story of his life — what little we know of it.
His story can be briefly told: he was born in Cornwall in 1851, and emigrated to the Cape Colony about 1876, and lived in the Eastern Cape, working on the Cape Government Railways as a platelayer. He was later promoted to permananet way inspector, and when he retired from the railways he went farming in the Free State. He tired of that, and went to live in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, where he died a few months later after a cart accident in 1913.
But from various pieces of information from censuses and church records and the like, it is possible to expand the story a little.
He was born on 22 February 1851 at Scarlet’s Well, Bodmin, Cornwall, the son of Matthew Growden and Christiana Growden, formerly Pope, born Dyer. His father Matthew Growden was also born in Bodmin, the son of William Growden and Elizabeth Sandercock, and his mother Christiana was apparently born in the nearby town of Roche.
By the time the widow Christiana Pope married Matthew Growden she already had three children, so when young William Matthew Growden was born in 1851 he had four older siblings — his half-brother James Dyer, aged about 15, another half-brother Thomas Pope, aged about 13, a half-sister Philippa Pope, aged about 11, and a full sister, Elizabeth Ann Growden, aged 2. Only his sisters were at home when he was a baby, though, because when the 1851 Census was taken when he was a month old, his father and brothers were living at Constantine, Cornwall, where all three were listed as labourers. Constantine is about 50 km (30 miles) south-west of Bodmin.
Scarlett’s Well, where William Matthew Growden and his sister Elizabeth Ann were born, is an interesting place, a holy well on the outskirts of Bodmin. The Holy Wells of Old Bodmin Town | The Heritage Journal:
Scarlett’s well, is another of Bodmin’s peaceful and secluded holy wells. A mineral rich healing well situated by the beginning of the Camel trail on the edge of town. The site is set back into an Ivy clad bank, where a spring gushes forth from the hillside and flows into a granite trough which holds the water briefly before it continues its flow towards the bubbling stream which meanders along the valley floor towards the larger River Camel and beyond to the Atlantic Ocean. This site is very beautiful and peaceful. The well was once part of the Priory of Bodiniel and has many stories of healing and miracles associated with it. The well and its immediate vicinity is reputed to be haunted by a lady dressed in white. This ghost has been linked to Victorian times, but it is undoubtedly a much earlier ancient folkloric echo of the goddess of the sacred spring.
I’m a little sceptical of the “undoubtedlys” that are liberally sprinkled in such accounts, but since William Matthew Growden grew up there in Victorian times, I wonder if he ever saw the ghost, or witnessed the events that gave rise to it.
But whether or not he ever saw a ghost, there are plenty of other things to see, and it must have been a marvellous place for a child to grow up, with woods, fields and streams to play in.
William Matthew Growden was baptised at St Petroc’s Church in Bodmin on 28 December 1851.
The family was probably poor, and so I find it difficult to picture them living in this house as it is today, but it is the only house in the vicinity of Scarlett’s Well. Perhaps back in the 1850s it did not have so many additions, or perhaps they lived in another house nearby, now demolished.
Matthew Growden’s occupation is shown on contemporary documents as “woodman”, which does not seem to have been lucrative or well paid. It could mean someone who cared for the woods, thinning trees, clearing away dead wood, repairing fences and stiles etc. Or it could be someone who simply scavenged dead wood for sale as fire wood and so on. If Matthew Growden was the former, it is possible that the cottage shown in the picture (in its original form) went with the job. If the latter, the family might have lived in a dwelling of the type found in what are today called “informal settlements”, and being a temporary structure, could easily have vanished or fallen into ruin after 150 years.
By the time of the 1861 census, when William Matthew Growden was 10 years old, the family was living at 3 Higher Bore Street, in Bodmin, which is not very far from Scarlett’s Well. Theirs would probably have been one of the whitewashed houses on the right of the picture, unless the street numbering hass changed drastically since then. He is shown as a scholar on the census, though it is not clear which school he attended. By that time he also had two younger brothers, Mark Dyer Growden born in 1853 and Simeon Growden born in 1855. Simeon died at the age of 8 in Plymouth, Devon.
On 2nd August 1868 William Matthew Growden married Elizabeth Greenaway, in the parish of St Breward. He was 17 years and 5 months old, and she was about nine years older than him, which makes her look, on the face of it, like a bit of a cradle snatcher. They lived at Limbhead (also called Limehead) down the hill from the centre of the village, and W.M. Growden is described on their marriage certificate as a labourer. Their banns were called in the 12th, 19th and 26th of July 1868. His mother, Christiana Growden, died a month after they were married
We can only speculate about what took W.M. Growden to St Breward. Possibly he worked for, or was apprenticed to, a stone mason, as stone working was one of the industries St Breward was known for. In later life his occupation was sometimes listed as “stonemason”.
Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when they married, and their first child, Christiana, was born about November 1868, named after William Matthew’s mother who had died a couple of months previously. Christiana was baptised on 26th August 1869, and died a few weeks later. She was buried on 16th September 1869 in St Breward. Her name was listed in the baptism register as Growdon with the “o” spelling rather than Growden with the “e” spelling, and thereafter William Matthew Growdon, his children and his grandchildren used the Growdon spelling.
Soon after Christiana’s death William Matthew and Elizabeth moved to Bodmin, where they were living at the time of the 1871 census with their 9-month-old-daughter Melinda Francis. William Matthew Growden (the Growden spelling was still used on the census) was shown as a general labourer.
In about February 1872 another child, Richard Matthew Growden (known as Dick), was born in Bodmin, and on 28 July 1873 William George Growdon (known as George, and with the Growdon spelling) was born at Penpillick, near Tywardreath. William Matthew Growdon is shown on George’s birth certificate as a tin miner.
The family’s stay in Penpillick did not last long, however, because by 1875 they were back at St Breward, where another son, Mark Dyer Growdon, was born about February 1875. He was baptised in St Breward on 27 Jun 1876, and died a few days later. It seems that the Growdons only had their children baptised when they were in danger of death. But the next child, Simeon Growdon, born on 12 May 1876 in St Breward, was baptised on 27 June at the same time as his ill-fated brother Mark.
Some time between the middle of 1876 and the middle of 1878 the Growdon family moved to the Cape Colony, where railway lines were being built from the costal ports inland. In 1870 there were only two railways in the Cape Colony, one from Cape Town to Wellington, and another to Wynberg, built and owned by private companies. In 1872 the Cape Government bought the railways, and a railway boom developed, wilth lines going inland from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London, all aiming to connect to Kimberley, the diamond boom town.
William Matthew Growden was a platelayer, building the new lines. By 1877 the railway line from East London had reached King William’s Town, and James (Jim) Growdon was born there about 1878. Joseph (Joe) Growdon was born in Cathcart on 3 December 1879.
In 5 May 1880 the railway reached Queenstown, and Christiana Jane (Jenny) Growdon was born somewhere along the line on 12 January 1882, possibly at Cathcart, because her younger sister Florence Growdon was born in Cathcart on 12 September 1883. In 1888 the Anglican priest from Queenstown discovered the Growdon family living at Bushmanshoek, and on 14 April 1888 the South African-born Growdon children were all baptised on the same day. On 2 September 1885 the East London line reached the Orange River at Aliwal North.
On 22 September 1890 William Matthew Growdon’s eldest surviving daughter, Melinda Frances, married John Ainscough, a well-sinker for the railways, at Springfontein in the Free State.
At Springfontein, across the Orange River in the Free State, the East London railway line joined with those from Port Elizabeth and Cape Town on one side, and Bloemfontein on the other. On 2 November 1899, a month after the start of the Anglo-Boer War, William Matthew Growdon was transferred to Springfontein on account of the resignation of Permanent Way Inspector W. Blair. Blair may have resigned because of the war, and it would be interesting to know what WMG did in Springfontein in war time, when it was unlikely that there would be a great deal of cross-border traffic. Possibly there were attempts on the part of one side or the other to blow up parts of the railway line, which would require repairs that a permanent-way inspector would supervise, but we don’t know. At that time Springfontein was simply a railway junction in the middle of nowhere, probably with few inhabitants other than railway employees. Free State forces had crossed the Orange River into the Cape Colony at about this time, but by February 1900 the British had pushed them back and were advancing on Bloemfontein, In May 1900 the British announced the annexation of the Free State as the Orange River Colony, though it would be another two years before they had undisputed control of it. Later in the war, in January 1901, a concentration camp was established by the British at Springfontein, in which over 700 women and children died.
Melinda Francis Ainscough and her husband had nine children, several of whom died young. At least two of them, Alice and George Ainscough, were born at Springfontein during the Anglo-Boer War, and George died at the age of two weeks, perhaps of the same disease that caused the death of so many children in the concentration camp nearby. On 29 May 1903 Melinda Frances Ainscough herself died, and the surviving children were brought up by their grandparents, William Matthew and Elizabeth Growden.
In 1904 a town was established at Springfontein. William Matthew Growdon bought a farm in the area, Mooiplaats, on 4 January 1904. He must have retired from the railways soon afterwards, because he received a pension of £36/4/2 which, according to the resident magistrate at Bethulie, he drew up to and including 31 March 1908, but at no later date.
In April 1913 the Growdons moved to Queenstown, and William Matthew Growdon died four months later in a cart accident. He had taken Mrs Berry and Mrs White on a drive to see the Bongolo Dam, on the afternoon of Tuesday 26 August 1913, and on their return the horse bolted, and the spider overturned, and the occupants were dragged for about 50 yards. They were taken to the nearby Bongolo Tea Room, where he died the following afternoon. Here is a contemporary newspaper account:
FATAL CART ACCIDENT: MR GROWDEN SUCCUMBS
A serious carriage accident occurred on Tuesday afternoon last near the Bongolo Dam as a result of which Mr. W. Growden, the driver and owner of the vehicle, received such serious injuries that he succumbed on Wednesday evening. From what one can gather, it appears that Mr. Growden, who resides at the corner of Batchelor and Berry Streets, took out to the Bongolo Mrs S.J. Berry of Milner Street, and Mrs. Geo. White, a lady friend from Port Elizabeth, who has been spending a holiday in town (and who was due to leave for home the following morning.) Having viewed the dam the return journey was commenced. The horse, which was very frisky, set off at a brisk trot down the hill, and when passing through a drove of cattle evidently took fright, and becoming unmanageable, ran the spider into the side of the hill, violently overturning it and burying the unfortunate occupants beneath the smashed vehicle, under which they were dragged some 50 yards, till the horse broke its traces. No one, it seems, saw the accident occur, and the injured ladies say that it all happened so quickly that it is hardly possible to say how it all occurred. Mr. Myburg, who was working in the field near by, saw a cloud of dust and a horse careering down the road, having freed itself from the vehicle. When he arrived upon the scene the Port Elizabeth lady, though injured in the hand and shoulder, was endeavouring to lift the broken spider off her less fortunate companions, who lay stunned and bleeding beneath. They were taken as speedily as possible to the Tea Rooms, and a telephone message was sent to Dr Clark and the S.A.P. who were soon on the spot and gave all the aid that was possible. It was found that Mrs. Berry was badly cut about the head and face, and her ankle was sprained. Mrs White received injuries to her left shoulder and arm, and her right thumb was sprained. In Mr. Growden’s case it was seen that the injuries were the most serious of all. The skull was badly cut nearly half way wound, and the poor old man never regaind consciousness for any length of time. Add to this his age (72 years) and one can hardly wonder that the shock was too much.
The injuries were so serious that it was deemed advisable to keep the patients at the Tea Rooms for the night, where every attention was given them by Mr. and Mrs. Myburg and many willing helpers. Corpl. Avery, of the S.A.M.P., rendered yeoman service in dressing the wounds of the injured, remaining with them all night, and saw to the safe removal into town the following day of Mrs. Berry and Mrs. White For this purpose Mr Bremmer kindly placed his motor car at their disposal. It was deemed inadvisable to move Mr Growden who, as stated above, died at Bongolo the same evening.
The ladies, we hear, are progressing favourably towards recovery.
Mr Growden was at one time on the C.G.R., and afterwards he went farming in the Free State, There he remained until four months ago, when he returned and took up his residence in Queenstown. He was an old Freemason and will be buried with Masonic honours on Saturday ar four o’clock. To his sorrowing wife and family we offer our sincere sympathy.
Like many journalistic accounts, there are some in accuracies. WMG was 62 years old, not 72 as stated in the article. After his death, the family gathered for his funeral at Queenstown.
Elizabeth lived for another 14 years, and was buried next to William Matthew Growdon in Queenstown Cemetery. Her tombstone lies too, because it says she was 87 when she died (which would have made her 15 years older than her husband), but if her birth certificate is to be believed, she would have been 84, having been born at St Teath, Cornwall, in 1842. My mother, Ella Hayes (second from the left in the front row of the photo above) did not have fond memories of her grandmother, and said she was a fierce termagant. According to my second cousin Violet McDonald, the Aiscough children (of whom her mother was one), who were brought up by Elizabeth after their mother died, had similar memories.
If you have any more stories about William Matthew Growdon and his family, please add them in a comment below, or better still, add them here.