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?

2 Responses

  1. Dear Steve,

    My name is James Jonas-Morris, a descendant of Annie Morris, sister of Abraham Morris and Edward Morris. They were the only 3 children of James Morris and Anna Christian, the Nama/Bondelswarts lady you mentioned. We are doing a family/tribal research also, re the legacy Abraham as our War Captain of the Last Tribal War, 1922. Perhaps we could collaborate on this as there a number of missing links from ourside as well, as specially evidence of the Morris legacy in the Cape and Namibia as well.

    Otherwise are you welcome to give me a ring too on 0829302547.

    James Jonas-Morris.

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