Attempted murder

Attempted murder — but who was the intended victim?

The German missionary Carl Hugo Hahn wrote the following entry in his diary on 11 July 1859:

Der früher erwähnte Willem Meintjies hat einen Mordversuch auf Fr.[?] Stewardson gemacht. Man benachrichtigte mich davon von der Mine aus, und Jonker, den ich davon in kenntnis setzte, versprach auf Bestimmteste, ihn einfangen zu lassen.

I’m not a German fundi, so I tried Google translate and Bing, without much success; their efforts did not make much sense. One said a suicide attempt, the other an assassinatuion attempt. So my attempted translation is as follows:

“The previously mentioned Willem Meintjies made a murder attempt on Fr. Stewardson. They informed me of this from the mine, and Jonker, when I informed him of this, promised that he would definitely arrest him” (Hahn Diary, 11 Jul 1859).

I would be grateful if anyone who knows German better than I do could comment on and possibly improve the translation.

But the biggest problem is not so much the translation as the interpretation, and for that some of the background and backstory is needed.

C.H. Hahn was a missionary of the Rhenish Mission Society in Germany who was based at Otjimbingue on the north bank of the Swakop River in what is now Namibia. But back then there was no Namibia, just a lot of principalities that often squabbled among themselves.

That would not have seemed strange to C.H. Hahn, since the Germany he came from was also not a united nation, but a lot of small kingdoms and principalities. But it was the very next year that Otto von Bismarck began his project of uniting Germany under Prussian rule. He succeeded 10 years later, and moved on to what became Namibia, and began to unite it under German rule. But in 1859 none of that had happened.

Jonker was Jonker Afrikaner, the ruler of one of the principalities, with its capital in Windhoek, about 150 kilometres from Otjimbingue. Willem Meintjies was one of his underlings, an assistant.

The “mine” was Matchless Mine a copper mine in the Khomas Hochland, south of the Swakop River (The Swakop was dry most of the year, and only flowed after it rained, but there was water under the dry bed, so it was a wagon route to the coast — the trek oxen could graze on its banks, and drink water if one dug in the sand.

Frank Stewardson had a contract to transport ore from the mine, and goods to the mine, and he and his family lived at or near the mine. His name was Francis, and his wife was Frances Morris, the sister of James Morris of Wynberg in the Cape, who had been a trader in Damaraland some ten years previously.

Namibian countryside. This picture was actually taken at Brandberg, north-west of Otjimbingue, and about 110 years later, but it shows the kind of country they trekked through with their ox waggons.

Namibian countryside. This picture was actually taken at Brandberg, north-west of Otjimbingue, and about 110 years later, but it shows the kind of country they trekked through with their ox waggons.

The editor of the diaries, Brigitte Lau of the Windhoek Archives, put a question mark next to the “Fr.” in front of “Stewardson” in the diary, probably because it could have been short for “Frau”, which would have meant that it was Mrs Stewardson who had been victim of the murder attempt. It could also be short for Mr Stewardson’s first name, Francis or Frank. But that would not be why Brigitte Lau put a questi0n mark there, because she thought Frank Stewardson’s first name was Ian, and listed him as such  in the index to the diaries.

That was because a bloke called Colin Bell wrote a book called South West pioneer : a memorial tribute to James Frank Bassingthwaighte, first permanent white settler in South West Africa. While Bell acknowledged that his book was a fictionalised account — he was writing a historical novel, not actual history — he did not say which bits were fact and which were fiction. He did not know the first names of Mr and Mrs Stewardson, so he made them up — Ian and Norah. I don’t blame him for that — it took us 30 years to find what their first names were — but he could have said so.

But this sort if thing is so typical of family history research. You find a tantalising hint of an incident, but many of the vital details are missing. You have to read between the lines to try to see what happened, and even then there are more questions than answers.

  • Who was the intended victim, Frank or Frances Stewardson?
  • What was the motive? Had they quarrelled, or was he trying to rob them?
  • What happened to Willem Meintjies? Was he arrested? Was he tried? Where and by whom?

And, for that matter, what happened to Frank and Frances Stewardson? We don’t know where or when they died. We know something about their four daughters, and who they marriedf, but their three sons are just as much a mystery.

Morris family of Cape Town, Namaland and Damaraland

The Morris family has been one of our long-standing family puzzles.

From Edward C. Tabler’s book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland (Cape Town, Balkema, 1973) we learned that Val’s great great grandmother Kate Stewardson’s mother was a daughter of one of the Morrises — Thomas Morris the elder and Thomas Morris the younger, the latter being a nephew of the former.

Further research showed that “Thomas Morris the Elder” was actually James Morris, and that it was his sister Frances Morris who married Frank Stewardson, though we haven’t found a record of their marriage. There is more about the Stewardson family here. According to research done in the Namibian Archives, James Morris was born in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, England on 8 August 1817.

There is a document in the Cape Town Archives  giving a partial history of the Morris, Huskisson and Titterton families of Cape Town (Cape Archives, Accession A610), drawn up by a William Charles Titterton in about 1951. He was a grandson of James Morris.

Thanks to FamilySearch, we were able to to discover the baptisms of the Morrises in the parishes of Nether Seal and Over Seal, near Ashby de la Zouch. Their parents were Thomas and Sarah Morris.

Children of Thomas Morris & Sarah at (Nether) Seal

  • Thomas baptised 25 May 1806
  • William baptised 23 Oct 1808
  • Sarah baptised 14 Feb 1813
  • Elizabeth baptised 7 Sep 1815
  • James baptised 8 Aug 1817
  • Frances baptised 27 Aug 1820
  • Catherine baptised 1 Dec 1822

Thanks to some very helpful people at the Rootschat site we were able to learn that the Thomas and Sarah Morris lived at Donisthorpe, on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire, where Thomas was a baker and later a butcher, and that he was born there about 1781. At that time there was no church in Donisthorpe, which explains why the children were baptised at Nether/Over Seal. Donisthorpe got its own church in 1838, though it apparently closed recently, so it is back to square one.

It also appears from the 1851 census of Donisthorpe that Thomas Morris the eldest married a second time to Susanna, who was born in the Cape of Good Hope, so he himself must have been in the Western Cape at some time.

These discoveries made over the last few months, enable us to construct a very provisional Morris family history.

Thomas Morris was a butcher, and at least four of his children emigrated to the Cape Colony in the 1820s or 1830s, where his eldest son Thomas was also a butcher. Perhaps the whole family emigrated, or perhaps the father just visited them there. Though they were baptised in the Anglican Church at Nether/Over Seal, in the Cape the family were Methodists.

Thomas Morris had a contract to supply meat to the British government and his younger brother James went to Namaland and Damaraland (now part of Namibia) apparently with the object of procuring a regular supply of cattle for the market. The Hereros (then called “Damaras” by outsiders) were great cattle herders. So James Morris and his wife Mary Elizabeth Huskisson went with another family, the Dixons, overland through the Northern Cape and Namaland, visiting Methodist missionaries on the way. The Morrises had two sons with them. Eventually they reached Walvis Bay in mid-1844, and they wanted to return to Cape Town by sea.

As Tabler (1973:78) puts it

Morris and Dixon reached Walvis Bay in mid-1844, and Morris and his family sailed for Cape Town in Lawton’s vessel so that Mrs Morris could be confined there, but contrary winds drove the ship back. Morris joined Dixon at Sandfontein where they built a store and each man built a house. Mrs Morris gave birth to a daughter there.

And the Methodist baptism register in Cape Town shows the daughter, Sarah Ann, as being born on 6 September 1844, and being baptised on 6 December 1847.

James Morris apparently continued to live in Damaraland until the end of the 1840s, when, according to Tabler, he handed over the business to his nephew Thomas, who was dead by August 1863, and was buried in the Kuiseb River canyon. The problem here is knowing where this Thomas fits into the family. We know that James Morris’s elder brother Thomas had a son Thomas, but he appears to have been alive in 1864, because when his father went insolvent then, he was occupting most of the property. The other brother, William Morris, may have had a son Thomas, but we have found no record of his marriage or children. There are records of a William Morris (perhaps more than one) in the Western Cape in the middle of the 19th century, but the problem is knowing which records pertain to which William, and which of them, if any, was a member of this family.

Frances Morris, the sister of Thoms, William and James, also went to Damaraland in the later 1840s with her husband Frank Stewardson, and their daughter Kate (Val’s great great grandmother) was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay about 1848. According to the Lutheran missionary C.H. Hahn, James Morris, the Wesleyan trader, lived in fierce enmity (arger Feindschaft) with his brother-in-law Frank Stewardson, which might explain the lack of any mention of Frances in the Titterton history.

We’re trying to sort out these relationships as we hope to go to Namibia later in the year and do some fossicking in the archives in the hope of finding more, and tying up some loose ends. One of the more interesting loose ends is Abraham Morris (1872-1922), the leader of the 1922 Bondelswarts Rebellion. According to the Dictionary of South African Biography (Vol III, p 634) he was the son of an English trader and a Bondelswarts mother and was educated in the Cape Colony, so he could quite possibly be related — but how?

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