Beyond the Orange: trading families in Namibia

Beyond the Orange: Pioneers in a Land of Thirst and PerilBeyond the Orange: Pioneers in a Land of Thirst and Peril by Marius Diemont

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In May 1844 Frank Bassingthwaighte, a blacksmith turned sailor, was at St Helena Island when Thomas Lawton a trader from Walvis Bay came aboard his ship, and recruited him to work for him and and his partners, so he transferred to the Susan and went back to Walvis Bay with Lawton, whose partners, Ben Dixon and James Morris (erroneously referred to as Thomas Morris in the book), had a contract to supply meat to the British garrison on St Helena.

This book is the story of Frank Bassingthwaightte and his eldest son James, several of whose descendants still live in Namibia today.

Frank Bassingthwaighte married the boss’s daughter — Rebecca Dixon — which did little to advance his career, since they lost the contract a few years later, and the partnership broke up. The Dixon family moved to the Northern Cape, where they had a farm, and the Bassingthwaightes also lived there for part of the time, and young James stayed with his grandparents until he was 9 years old, and then went back to Namibia to join his parents, and found himself kept busy working as a herdboy, wagon driver and various other jobs.

The Bassignthwaightes were sometimkes farmers, sometimes traders, and sometimes hunters, but their hard work did not make them rich, and they had long thirsty treks through the semi-desert country of the Northern Cape and Namibia with little to show for it except dead oxen and horses that had died of thirst.

Towards the end of his life Frank was infirm and could not do much, but he still travelled around with his son, apparently loving the wandering nomadic life.

James Bassingthwaighte married Philipina Von Schlicht — according to her father she was marrying beneath her — and they had several children. She died young, and James brought up his family as a single parent. The Germans took over Namibia, and the Bassingthwaightes lost the family farm at Neuheusis because they lived in such remote areas that they did not hear of the regulation requiring them to register it until it was too late.

In the First World War the South Africans invaded and took over from the Germans, and threatened to intern James Bassingthwaighte as an enemy alien. They asked his nationality and he replied, “I am the son of an Englishman, born in this country. During my life I have lived under the rule of Hottentots, Hereros and Germans. I don’t know what I am, but perhaps you bcan tell me.”

It’s an interesting story of hard lives, well told.

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That’s the end of the review on Good Reads, but there are a few things to be added. The James Morris referred to above was the brother of my wife Val’s great great great grandmother Frances Morris, who married Frank Stewardson (also mentioned in the book as having been mauled by a lion). The book was recommended to me by another descendant of the Stewardson/Morris family, Jean Mary Gray, when I mentioned to her that we were hoping to visit the Northern Caspe later in the year to see some of the places these ancestors passed through in their travels. It turned out that the publisher, Gabriel Athiros, is a mutual Facebook friend, and he very kindly sent us a copy of the book free of charge.

I noted that there are a couple of inaccuracies in the names in the book, but that is not surprising. It took us more than thirty years of family history research before we found out the first names of Francis and Frances Stewardson, and we are still trying to sort out the Morris family. We do know that the partner of Ben Dixon and Thomas Lawton was James Morris, not Thomas, though his father was Thomas, and he had a brother and two nephews named Thomas. One of the nephews may have taken over the business after the partnership dissolved.

Death of Joan Pearson (1924-2014)

The other day we were heir-hunted, by two firms that specialise in tracing relatives of people who died without leaving a will, and so learned of the death of Joan Pearson, Val’s first cousin once removed. In the 40 years of doing family history we had not been able to find her address, and so contact her directly, and so we only learn something about her after she died.

Joan Pearson was the daughter of Gilbert Pearson, a watchmaker of Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, and part of a fairly large family of Pearsons. Gilbert Pearson married Maud Dixon in 1922, and they had two daughters, Joan and Barbara, neither of whom married or had any children.

As far as we know, Joan and Barbara Pearson worked in the civil service. Joan worked in the Colonial Office and is said to have spent some time in Uganda, where her great-uncle, Charles Pearson, had been a pioneer missionary in the 1880s.

So, having learned of her death, we found this:

PEARSON Joan OBE formerly of 13 Wharf Mill. Died peacefully on 3rd September 2014, aged 89. Sister of the late Barbara. ———- Funeral service at Basingstoke Crematorium on Thursday 16th October at 11.45am. Flowers welcome or donations, if desired, to Alzheimer’s Society (Winchester Branch) c/o Richard Steel & Partners, Alderman House, 12-14 City Road, Winchester, SO23 8SD or via http://www.rsponline.co.uk (Hampshire Chronicle, 9 Oct 2014)

The OBE was presumably for her work in the civil service, and I also have a vague memory that she or her sister Barbara were involved in secret intelligence work during the Second World War.

The nice thing about being contacted by heir-hunters (whose activities have been documented in several TV shows) is that it provides an opportunity for members of different branches of the family to get in touch with each other again. The rather worrying thing is, when someone dies intestate, and apparently in an old age home, whose living relatives have to be told of her death by specialist firms of heir-hunters,  what happens to her stuff. I don’t mean her money — I doubt there will be much of that, since she was presumably living on a civil service pension, much of which would probably be going to her care in an old age home.

But what happens to family photos and papers? Will they just be tossed out by someone who doesn’t care, and doesn’t care whether anyone else cares? Perhaps there are letters and diaries documenting her time in Uganda, or some interesting information about the family history. Maiden aunts and uncles are usually good sources of such things.

The good thing is that it has got members of the scattered Pearson clan communicating with each other again. The sad thing is that one learns more about a relative after they have died than when they were alive.

 

So few are free

So few are freeSo few are free by Lawrence George Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lawrence G. Green‘s books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.

This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the “Diamond Road” and the Skeleton Coast.

As I’ve already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.

We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, “To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen.”

Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.

I’ve been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.

Abraham Morris’s mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val’s ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us — but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham’s father.

This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.

One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.

Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.

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How does my garden grow?

About 9 months ago we started to turn our ruin into a garden.

Now the building has been completed, and we’ve started to plant things in it — tomatoes, parsley, potatoes and lettuce. If the birds and insects let them grow, perhaps we’ll be able to eat some some day.

Garden01When I was taking the photos our dog Squiffylugs came along and posed, so I took some of her too. She has many nicknames, which probably gives her an identity problem. She was Fatty Lumpkin (because she was the fattest and greediest in the litter when she was young), Pidlet, and several others. But Squffylugs because her ears stand up at different angles. She is threequarters Alsatian and one quarter border collie.

Squiffylugs

Squiffylugs

 

 

Slava and Ruby Wedding

On Saturday 8 November we celebrated our Slava and Ruby Wedding at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg. In addition to friends from the church, we were glad to celebrate with family and friends, some of whom we had not seen for a long time.

Entrance procession at Vespers: Fr Athanasius Akunda, Fr Elias Palmos & Deacon Stephen Hayes

Entrance procession at Vespers: Fr Athanasius Akunda, Fr Elias Palmos & Deacon Stephen Hayes (photo by Jethro Hayes)

After the regular Saturday evening Vespers, we had our Slava. Slava is a Serbian custom, which is a family celebration, remembering the day when the first members of that family were baptised, and you can find an explanation of the service here, on a blog post we posted on a previous occasion, so we won’t repeat all that here.

As we explained in our blog post about our wedding 40 years ago, we were actually married on 29 September 1974, which in the Western Church was the feast of St Michael and All Angels. We were received into the Orthodox Church 27 years ago on the 8th November 1987, which was the Orthodox equivalent of the same feast, and so became our Slava. We had the opportunity to choose new saints. names, and our son Jethro (then aged 7) chose Raphael, one of the archangels celebrated on that day. And so, because of the coincidence of the saints, we celebrate our wedding anniversary on the same day.

Nicky (Nektaria) Reynders, Val & Steve Hayes, celebrating name day and Slava at St Nicholas, Brixton

Nicky (Nektaria) Reynders, Val & Steve Hayes, celebrating name day and Slava at St Nicholas, Brixton

This time we had the parish priest, Fr Athanasius, and Fr Elias Palmos, with whom we are working on several mission projects. Also the celebration overlapped with that of St Nektarios of Pentapolis, who died on 8 November 1920, but is commemorated on the 9th because the 8th was the Synaxis of St Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven. So it was also the name-day of another member of the parish, Nektaria (Nicky) Reynders, and so we celebrated that too.

In addition to members of the parish, we were also joined by friends and family, who represented different periods of our life.

The family was representred by Graham Downs and his wife Elmarie (whom we had not met before). As the family tree calculator tells us, Graham Craig DOWNS and Valerie Muriel Katharine GREENE are 3rd cousins 1 time removed.  Their common ancestors are Henry CRIGHTON and Petronella Francina Dorothea FLAMME. An interesting point there is that Graham is actually just a year older than our son Jethro, but is a generation further back. Val is descended from the eldest son of Henry and Petronella Crighton, William John Crighton, while Graham is descended from a younger son, Frederick Crighton, and Frederick’s descendants seem to have had children when they were quite old, so there are fewer generations in between.

Family gathered for our Slava: BacK Elmarie Downs and Jethro Hayes. Front: Graham Downs, Stephen & Valerie Hayes

Family gathered for our Slava: Back Elmarie Downs and Jethro Hayes. Front: Graham Downs, Stephen & Valerie Hayes

There were also some old friends. One was Lionel Murcott, an artist, whom I had known before we were married, and in fact we had not seen each other for more than 40 years, but since he was living in Gauteng, he thought it would be quite easy to come and join us, and we were very glad to see him.

Stephen Hayes and Lionel Murcott.

Stephen Hayes and Lionel Murcott.

Another old friend was Phillip Pare, whom we knew from St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Centurion in the early 1980s. At about the same time that we joined the Orthodox Church, Phillip joined the Roman Catholic Church, but he and his wife and children live in Silverton, which is not far from us, so we’ve kept in touch.

Phillip Pare and Stephen Reynders

Phillip Pare and Stephen Reynders

There were also several friends that we knew from St Thomas’s Church in Sunninghill, including Mira Mihaljevic. It was good to see them again too.

Val Hayes and Ivo (from St Thomas;s Serbian Orthodox Church in Sunninghill.

Val Hayes and Ivo (from St Thomas;s Serbian Orthodox Church in Sunninghill).

Many people gave us gifts, which were somewhat unexpected, and much appreciated. and thanks for all for their kindness and friendship. We can’t mention all of them here, but only one or two.

Anthia Falekkos gives Val Hayes a bunch of flowers on behalf of the parish of St Nicholas

Anthia Falekkos gives Val Hayes a bunch of flowers on behalf of the parish of St Nicholas

And these helped to make it a memorable occasion. Father Athanasius read some special anniversary prayers for us as well.

Stephen and Valerie (Katharine) Hayes, Ruby Wedding

Stephen and Valerie (Katharine) Hayes, Ruby Wedding

It’s quite interesting, looking back, to see how many things have changed, since we were first married. I’m typing this on a laptop computer, but back in 1974 personal computers were known only to serious technonerds, and were very limited in what they could do. Television broadcasting was just beginning to make an appearance in South Africa, and soociologists from other parts of the world were making a study of South African children because they were the last generation in a relatively developed country who had grown up without TV. The Sunday Tribune had a weekly Charity Jackpot, a crossword puzzle competition, where the prize was a car worth about R5000. Most people could not afford a television set (they cost about R1200) and so they changed the prize to a TV set, and the name of the competition to a “Tellypot”. I wonder if they’ve changed it back. The price of petrol had just increased to 8c a litre, which everyone thought was iniquitously high.

Ruby grapefruit for a ruby wedding, from Grahasm and Elmarie Downs

Ruby grapefruit for a ruby wedding, from Grahasm and Elmarie Downs

Cellphones were unknown too. We were just starting our family history, and we corresponded with relatives overseas by snail mail, writing out family group sheets by hand, and occasionaly making photocopies — plain paper copiers were cutting-edge technology as most of them still used special coated paper. Occasionally we would type out family trees on wax stencils and run off copies of a Gestetner or Roneo duplicator. When did you last use an actual typewriter?

Finally, for closing, one of the most interesting presents we received was from Graham and Elmarie Downs: since it was our Ruby Wedding, they gave us “His” and “Hers” ruby grapefruit.

 

 

 

Denneville in Silverton Cemetery

In correspondence with Gunter von Schumann of the Windhoek Scientific Society (who helped us a great deal with out family history research in Namibia last year) he mentioned that some cousins were buried in Tshwane. We discovered that they were buried in Silverton Cemetery, which is probably the closest one to where we live, and we went along to see the grave.

They were Karl Jacob Denneville (1907-1982) and Gladys Adelheid Denneville (1915-1979), both Val’s second cousins twice removed, and second cousins to each other, all being descended from Francis Stewardson and Frances Morris.

Denneville grave in Silverton Cemetery

Denneville grave in Silverton Cemetery

Karl Jacob Denneville’s father, Jacob Denneville, was an Alsatian, and was born in 1869, the year before Alsace was transferred from France to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. In German South West Africa most of the records used the German spelling Dennewill, and it seems that many of the family did too, but Karl Jacob retained the original spelling. Jacob (father of Karl Jacob) settled in Omaruru, and married Emily Jacoba Stewardson,

Gladys Adelheid (or Adelaide) Lindholm was the daughter of Gustav Adolph Lindholm who was born and died in Omaruru, and Johanna Susanna du Plooy.

Gunter von Schumann drew our attention to the record of the gravestone on the eGGSA website here, but as the inscription was faded and hard to read, and the cemetery was nearby, we went along to have a look at it. The cemetery is in the middle of the industrial area of Silvertondale, a kind of oasis of spring green peace.

We drove down Cemetery Street, turned around at the end, and wondered where to start looking for the grave. We stopped under a suitable shady tree, and thought that graves dated from the late 1970s would be a good place to start, but even before we got out of the car we spotted the grave, about four away from the road.

The grave, like many other nearby ones, had a granite base, but the part with the information we were looking for was made of marble, and the paint had peeled out of the inscription, which, after 30 years, was barely readable. That is probably the result of of industrial pollution and acid rain. Granite is a much more long-lasting material.

It seemed like a good opportunity to try the BillionGraves app on my cellphone, but we had some problems with it, so took some photos with our ordinary cameras as well, and when we got home entered the results into the Find-a-Grave web site, using the full dates instead of the years only recorded on the eGSSA web site.  The BillionGraves application sounds useful, but we found it difficult to use. Find-a-Grave is easier, and both do roughly the same thing. For more infor on the comparison between them, see our other blog.

Priest in shock wedding

Priest in shock wedding. So read the headline in the Natal Daily News the day after our wedding 40 years ago on 29 September 1974.

We were married in St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in Durban North, where I was the assistant priest at the time. The “shock” was a bit of an exaggeration; “surprise” might have been more accurate. We were married at the regular church service on Sunday morning, and of the congregation of about 400 only about 10 knew beforehand that we were getting married. Not even the guest preacher that Sunday, Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM, knew, and so he too was taken by surprise at the announcement that followed his sermon.

The reason for the secrecy was that I was banned at the time, and was not allowed to attend any social gatherings, that is, gatherings at which the persons present also had social intercourse with one other. There was one exception to this: with the special permission of the chief magistrate of Durban, I was allowed to attend tea parties after regular church services at St Martin’s, provided that those at the tea party had also attended the service beforehand. That meant that our wedding had to be at one of the regular Sunday services that was followed by tea, which at St Martin’s was on the fourth Sunday of each month.

Wedding of Stephen Hayes and Valerie Greene at St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, Durban North. 29 September 1974

Wedding of Stephen Hayes and Valerie Greene at St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, Durban North. 29 September 1974

Issuing a public invitation to attend would be likely to attract the unwelcome attention of the Security Police, and we did not want them snooping around and recording the number plates of all the cars outside the church and things like that. In these days of freedom that may sound quite paranoid, but things were different back then. At that very time my cousin’s husband, who was also banned, was facing charges of having broken his ban by attending a friend’s wedding in Pietermaritzburg — he had chatted to a couple of people after the service, and the Security Police interpreted that as a “social gathering”, and subpoenaed a lot of people who were at the service to give evidence, including the Anglican suffragan bishop of Natal, Ken Hallowes.

Wedding of Stephen Hayes & Valerie Greene, 29 Sep 1974. The officiant was the Revd Arnold Hirst

Wedding of Stephen Hayes & Valerie Greene, 29 Sep 1974. The officiant was the Revd Arnold Hirst

It so happened that on Sunday 29th September the choir of the Northlands Girls High School was singing a special musical setting of the service, called “The Mass of St Francis” (by aniticipation, St Francis was actually commemorated on 4 October). This provided a suitable excuse: we invited our friends and acquaintances to come to church that Sunday to hear this special choir, so we weren’t actually inviting them to attend a wedding or a gathering afterwards that could possibly be interpreted as a “social gathering” as defined in the Suppression of Communism Act (as amended). So we told our parents, and swore them to secrecy. And the parish priest, Arnold Hirst, knew, of course, and the head server, Richard Girdwood, and Ian Bastable, who had arranged the visit of the choir, and that was about it.

Going into the vestry after the service to attend to the legal bits.

Going into the vestry after the service to attend to the legal bits.

So after the sermon by Father Michael Lapsley, which went on for about 45 minutes, we were married.[1] And, despite the Mass of St Francis, the day was actually the Western feast of St Michael and All Angels.

With the preacher at the service, Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM

With the preacher at the service, Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM

Thirteen years later, on the Orthodox feast of St Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, on 8 November 1987, we were received into the Orthodox Church, and since then we have observed the 8th November as our Slava and wedding anniversary. Slava is a Serbian Orthodox custom. All Orthodox Christians celebrate their name day, the day of the Saint whose name they were given in baptism. A Slava is a kind of family name day, celebrating the day of the Saint on which the first members of that family were baptised. In the case of most Serbs, that would have been several centuries ago, but in our case it is in living memory. It also seemed to be a good custom to adopt in Africa, where ancestors have played a significant role in culture.

Val Hayes, formerly Greene

Val Hayes, formerly Greene

As our actual wedding had to be “secret”, in the sense that we couldn’t invite anyone to it, we would like to celebrate our 40th anniversary by issuing an open invitation to friends and family to attend our Slava and anniversary celebrations. With the blessing of the Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Damaskinos, and the parish priest, Father Athanasius Akunda, it will take place at Vespers at the Church of St Nicholas of Japan, 156 Fulham Road, Brixton, Johannesburg, at 6:30 pm on Saturday 8 November 2014. As they say in the funeral announcements: friends kindly accept this intimation.

After the service, in the wedding garments Val had made

After the service, in the wedding garments Val had made. Unfortunately our negative scanner doesn’t cope too well with Fujicolor film, so the colours are a bit off

Unlike the original wedding, therefore, we are inviting people to join us. But, like the original event, and in memory of it, the refreshments will be of the “tea after church service” variety”.

It might have been better to plan such a thing for our 50th anniversary, in 2024, but who knows if we’ll survive that long in this world, so perhaps we’ll save that one for the next.

—-
Notes
[1] Actually if the Security Police had been alerted, they would probably have classified the whole thing as a “political gathering” (another type of gathering banned people were not allowed to attend), since Fr Michael pulled no punches when he said what St Francis would probably have thought of the contemporary political situation in South Africa (a “political gathering” was one at which any principle or policy of a state or of the government of a state was discussed). One woman walked out in the middle of the sermon, though whether because of political objections or because she thought it had gone on too long, we never discovered. She missed the fun afterwards, though she might also have disapproved of that too.

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