Family links with Cecil John Rhodes

I’ve just been reading about the (largely posthumous) cult of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), the former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony who made his fortune in diamonds.

RhodesBkI was interested in the book for several reasons — first, as a background to the #RhodesMustFall movement, which is a kind of countercult or anticult movement. Secondly, because of the rise of Donald Trump, another unscrupulous businessman turned politician, who is in the news right now, and thirdly because of our interest in family history, and several members of our family had links with Rhodes. I’ve already written a review of the book and dealt with the first two points in a post on my other blog  – see  The Cult of Rhodes. In this one I just want to point out some of the family connections.

C.J. Rhodes wasn’t related to us in any way that we know, but he came to southern Africa for his health at the age of 17 and, like many others, was drawn to Kimerley by the discovery of diamonds there in 1868.

A member of our family who was also drawn there was Henry Green, brother of Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green. The Green brothers came to the Cape Colony in about 1846, and Henry, like his father William Green, was in the commissariat department of the British army, in which capacity he accompanied the Cape Governor and High Commissioner Harry Smith to the Battle of Boomplaats, which established the present Free State as the Orange River Sovereignty. Henry became the British Resident of the Sovereignty, and after it was abandoned, went to England, and married his cousin Louisa Margaret Aitchison. He then went to Colesberg in the Cape Colony and became magistrate and civil commissioner. His wife died on the road to Cape Town, and became the family ghost. Henry married again to Countess Ida Von Lilienstein, and they had several children.

Henry Green and several associates formed the South African Diamond and Mineral Company, and when he was suspended as magistrate over some missing money, he became a diamond digger, first at Pniel and then in 1872 Henry Green moved to Kimberley and entered into a partnership with George Paton on the diggings of Colesberg Kopje. They worked claim 144 for a long time.

George Paton and Henry Green lived for a while at the Boarding House – or rather Boarding Tent — called ‘The 12 Apostles’. It was there that they got to know Cecil Rhodes who had just come out as a young lad from England for health reasons. Rhodes had a contract to pump out water that flooded the claims. The friendship seems to have continued even after Rhodes bought out all the other claim holders and established his company, De Beers, as a virtual monopoly in the diamond business.

One of Henry Green’s daughters, Ida Margaret Catherine Green, married George Arthur Montgomery Tapscott (see The Tapscott Family), and their great-granddaughter Burnett McMillan Milne recently wrote on Facebook “Henry Green’s daughter, Ida Margaret Tapscott, was a great admirer of Cecil Rhodes — the feeling was mutual, they had quite a voluminous correspondence and in one of his letters he refers to her as ‘The cleverest women in the Cape Colony’. He gave her a magnificent diamond brooch which is still in possession of the family.”

Then there was Henry Green’s nephew, Arthur Walpole Francis, son of Henry’s sister Agnes. Arthur was born and educated in Sydney, New South Wales. He came to South Africa in 1880 and farmed at Harts River, Griqualand West. He went to the Transvaal in 1886 and took up Botha’s Reef on behalf of a Kimberley syndicate and Cecil Rhodes. He was involved in the purchase of Luipaardsvlei for £60000 and a load of poplar poles. Perhaps he was introduced to Cecil Rhodes by his uncle Henry. He later went back to farming and died of bladder stones in Mariental, Namibia, in 1921. His eldest son was named Cecil.

Henry Green’s niece (Fred Green’s daughter), Alice Elizabeth Green, married John Martin Cuthbert O’Grady in Johannesburg in 1893, and they named their second son John Rhodes O’Grady, and he was known as Rhodes. They probably didn’t know Cecil Rhodes personally, but would have known of him though Alice’s cousin Arthur Walpole Francis, and perhaps admired him from afar.

The last instance I can think of is probably getting back to the cult, which is the main topic of the book. My mother’s cousin Betty Hannan married John Christian Fowler in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, in 1935, and their eldest son was named Brian Rhodes Hannan Fowler. I think by then the cult of Rhodes was in full swing.

Willie Hannan, MP for Maryhill, Glasgow. 1966

Willie Hannan, MP for Maryhill, Glasgow. 1966

I liked cousin Betty, and I think she was my mother’s favourite cousin, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye politically, not at all. In 1965, just after the Rhodesian UDI, Betty wrote to my mother and mentioned a mutual cousin, Willie Hannan, who was at that tome a Scottish Labour MP, and, according to Betty, “a one-man-one-vote bastard and a sick leftist”. A few weeks later I skipped South Africa to escape the clutches of the SB, and had a brief stopover in Salisbury, so I phoned Betty from the airport and she brought some of the family out to the airport to say hello. We chatted for a bit, and as we said goodbye and I was going out to the plane Betty fixed me with a beady eye and said fiercely “We’re determi9ned to see this thing through” (meaning UDI). Shortly after that I met cousin Willie at the Houses of Parliament in London, expecting, from Betty’s description, to meet a revolutionary Che Guevara-like figure. Instead he turned out to be mild and inoffensive, and indeed, very conservative (with a small c).

That was probably my closest brush with the Rhodes cult.

 

Sir Harry Smith, bungling hero

Sir Harry Smith, Bungling HeroSir Harry Smith, Bungling Hero by A.L. Harington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sir Harry Smith arrived in the Cape Colony as Governor at the end of 1847, with a mandate to settle its affairs, and those of its neighbours as well. He was recalled in 1852, after a little more than four years, and his bungling cost the British taxpayers a lot of money, and impoverished and alienated most of the neighbours.

My main interest in reading his life was that a year before he arrived my wife Val’s Green ancestors arrived, and since they had come with the British military, Sir Harry Smith was their boss for those four years, and his policies (and bungling) shaped their lives as well as those of many others.

Val’s great great great grandfather, William Green, recently widowed, was transferred from Canada to the Cape Colony in about 1846, along with several of his children, including Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green, who was about 17 years old. Fred’s older brother Henry, like his father, joined the commissariat department, and another brother, Edward, joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as an ensign.

Edward enlisted in the middle of the 7th Frontier War, or 7th Kaffir War, as the British called it, otherwise known as the War of the Axe. It had begun when a man of the Ngqika tribe, Tlili, had been arrested for stealing an axe from a Fort Beaufort shopkeeper. His friends organised a jailbreak, and freed him by cutting off the hand of a fellow prisoner to whom he was handcuffed. The other prisoner subsequently died, so murder was added to the charges, and war was the result.

The British Secretary of State for War and Colonies, Henry Grey (the 3rd Earl Grey) in the Liberal government of Lord John Russell, decided to appoint Sir Harry Smith as Governor of the Cape Colony and Commander in Chief of British forces there to bring an end to the war (Harington 1980:88ff).

Harry Smith was a career soldier, and had served in the Cape Colony in the 1830s under Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban, where he had taken part in the 6th Frontier War, and defeated the Xhosa tribes. He believed that the Xhosa people were tyrannised by their dictatorial chiefs, and thought that by deposing the chiefs he would liberate the Xhosas, so that they could be Christianised and civilised and become good citizens of the British Empire. On that occasion, when the Xhosa paramount chief Hintsa (who had taken little part in the fighting) came to the British camp under a flag of truce to negotiate peace terms, the British had treacherously kept him as a hostage, and finally treated him as a prisoner and murdered him while he was trying to “escape”. Smith then attempted to browbeat the other chiefs by intimidation and bluster, which he himself had referred to as “play-acting” so that, in effect, he pretended to rule them, and they pretended to surrender (Harington 1980:41ff).

Smith had then been transferred to India, where he had distinguished himself militarily against the Sikhs at the Battle of Aliwal, which had enhanced his reputation as a great military leader, and on the strength of this he was sent to the Cape Colony in three capacities – political (as Governor of the Cape Colony), diplomatic (as High Commissioner) and military (as Commander in Chief).

Sir Harry Smith

Sir Harry Smith

Smith arrived at Cape Town on 1 December 1847, when the Green family had been in the Cape Colony for about a year. He immediately set out on a tour of his domain.

With increasing numbers of British subjects (notably the Voortrekkers) from the Cape Colony settling north of the Orange River, the British government appointed Major Henry Douglas Warden as Resident in the area to keep the peace, and he settled on the farm Bloemfontein, near the Modder River in what was then known as Trans-Orangia. That, too, was to be on the itinerary of Smith’s grand tour.

The 7th Frontier War was almost over by the time Smith reached Port Elizabeth on 14 December 1847. Among those there to greet him was the Ngqika chief Maqoma, one of Smith’s old enemies from the 6th Frontier War. Maqoma had been neutral in the 7th Frontier War, and so had sat on his horse, unmolested, among the crowd who were waiting for Smith. Harington (1980:98f) describes what happened next:

From a window in the Phoenix Hotel [Smith] looked down upon an excited crowd that included many old friends and an old enemy, Maqoma himself, who astride his horse was especially prominent and noticed by Smith. To the amusement of the crowd the governor stared meaningfully at the chief, then half drew his sword. That should have been explicit enough, and sufficiently undignified, but Smith’s next actions show how success had gone to his head and affected his judgement. Though his intentions had always been good his earlier behaviour vis-à-vis the Xhosa had all too often been overbearing and eccentric, and he treated Maqoma in a manner that was outrageous, dangerous and foolish. He summoned the chief to his presence and when Maqoma offered his hand he was forced to prostrate himself in front of the governor who, having placed his foot upon his neck, poured forth a torrent of menacing vituperation over him, and threatened that all the other chiefs were going to get similar treatment. They were to be crushed and compelled to submit and obey.

Such was the man under whom three members of the Green family were to serve – William and his son Henry in the commissariat, and Edward as a Lieutenant in the Cape Mounted Rifles.

After browbeating the other Xhosa chiefs, Smith annexed their land between the Kei and Keiaskamma rivers under the name of British Kaffraria (later called the Ciskei), and told them that henceforth they would be under British rule.

In February 1848 Sir Harry Smith, after discussions with the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, proclaimed British sovereignty over Trans-Orangia, and a village was laid out at Bloemfontein , with a fort and a garrison. The garrison consisted of the Cape Mounted Rifles, the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment and the Royal Artillery88b:7). This was a mere ten years after the Great Trek.

The Sovereignty was challenged by the Boers, who proclaimed a republic at Winburg and marched on Bloemfontein, but were defeated by the British, lef by Sir Harry Smith, at the Battle of Boomplaats on 29 August 1848, where Henry Green was in charge of the commissariat. Henry Green remained in Bloemfontein, and eventually replaced the incompetent Major Harry Warden as British Resident in July 1852. In the mean time his younger brothers visited him there, and Henry seems to have found work for some of them to do, while Charles and Fred Green used it as a base for hunting expeditions to what is now Botswana. .

After a couple of years another frontier wart broke out (the 8th), and it is probably fair to say that Sir Harry Smith’s arrogance and overbearing manner in dealing with the Xhosa chiefs made it much more bitter than the preceding seven wars. He sent optimistic reports back to Earl Grey in Britain about his victories, but in spite of all the battles he claimed to have won, the Xhosas still occupied their strongholds and kept the British tied up in their forts. Eventually Harry Smith was recalled.

There is more in the book about his life before this period, though his recall marked the end of his career. It was also William Green’s last posting. In 1855 he retired on half pay, and went to live in London.

View all my reviews

A bit of Eastern Cape history

My great grandfather William Matthew Growdon came to the Cape Colony in 1876 to work on the railway being built inland from East London. My blogging friend Deon Strydom posted a photo of an interesting cottage built for those working on the line with a link to a site saying where it is and how to get there Tracks4Africa Padkos – Gangers Cottage (Historical Building):

When the railway line between East London and Queenstown was first built it bypassed Stutterheim by several kilometres. It was built during the Frontier War of 1877-1878 when the gangers (railway workers) were in danger of attack by Xhosa tribes. To protect the gangers, fortified ‘gangers cottages’ were built. Cottage No. 17 is situated on the Komga road which branches off the main road at Dohne Station. The cottage was declared a National monument on 3 December 1976. There are four tambours one on each corner, with slits so that the gangers could defend themselves against attack.

There was something of a frenzy of railway building after the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley — not that railways were needed to carry the diamonds, but rather to take mining equipment, and food and goods for the miners. Though the railways were owned and built by the Cape government, there was a certain amount of competition between the lines from the various ports.

Great grandfather William Matthew Growdon came from Cornwall with his family (my grandfather George Growdon was 3 years old at the time). He had been a stonemason in Cornwall, so perhaps he had a hand in building this fortified cottage too.

Railway workers' cottage near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape

Railway workers’ cottage near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape

Interestingly enough some of William Matthew Growdon’s descendants are still living in the vicinity of Stutterheim, and if you are passing you can go there to stay in a somewhat different kind of cottage. The place is The Shire, just outside Stutterheim, where my cousins Hamish, Monica and Rob Scott live.

Click on the links for more pictures and stories.

 

The family ghost — it’s official!

The Ghost That Closed Down The Town: Stories of The Haunting of South AfricaThe Ghost That Closed Down The Town: Stories of The Haunting of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck

I still haven’t finished the book yet, so this still isn’t a review, but I’m quite excited that I’ve found the family ghost, and it’s official.

In an earlier blog post I jotted down some thoughts about some familiar places that the book said were haunted. But finding a family ghost takes it to a new level.

I noted that Arthur Goldstuck has written several books about South African urban legends, and we have found several family legends about royal descent in the course of our research into family history. But a family ghost? Not till today!

Arethur Goldstuck recounts stories the haunting of theatres and film sets, mostly in Hollywood, and then he comes to a more local one, in the Karroo during the filming of The story of an African farm. It was being filmed near Matjiesfontein in February 2004. The ghost was apparently haunting both the derelict farmhouse being used as the film set and the Lord Milner Hotel where some members of the cast were staying.

As Goldstuck writes (page 170)

Local historian Rose Willis is convinced that the ‘ghost’ that haunted the set is that of Louisa Margaret Green, wife of a civil commissioner.

‘She was travelling with her husband Henry, who was on his way to become the civil commissioner of Colesberg in the 1860s, but then she fell ill with dysentery and died at Zoute Kloof,’ said Willis. ‘Her ghost has been seen often… she wears a kappie (bonnet), has a small waist, and wears flowing white clothes that look like they come from the 1860s.’

Now, ghosts or no ghosts, we’d really like to get with Rose Willis, because she could obviously tell us some things about the family history that we didn’t know. Three months ago we visited Colesberg in the hope of finding out more about Henry Green (see Ghwarriespoort to the Gariep Dam | Hayes & Greene family history).

The old Drosdy in Colesberg, now a restaurant

The old Drosdy in Colesberg, where Henry Green once lived, now a restaurant

We knew that Henry’s wife Margaret had died on 4 July 1860, somewhere in the Cape Colony, but we did not know where. If we had known, we might have made a detour in our journey to have a look at her grave. Their twin sons died about six months earlier. We thought they haddied and were buried in Colesberg, but if their mother died six months later when their father was still on his way to Colesberg to take up his post, they must have died elsewhere. So perhaps Rose Willis can clear up some of these mysteried.

I’m a bit surprised that Arthur Goldstuck, an inveterate collector of urban legends, did not pick up the Green family legend, which would have it that Henry Green was the nephew of Queen Victoria, and that his father, William John Green, was her older brother, who should have inherited the throne. This family legend has been completely refuted by Mollie Gillen in her book The Prince and his Lady, but as a legend it goes well with the family ghost story.

Just to add to the interest, the ‘ghost’ was not only Henry Green’s wife, but his first cousin. Her maiden name was Louisa Margaret Quilliam Aitchison, and her parents were Edward Aitchison and Louisa Green. They were married in London in 1856. Before his marriage Henry Green was British Resident of the Orange River Sovereignty, before it became the Orange Free State.

Even though the legend of royal descent was a dud, Henry Green did the next best thing, and married, as his second wife, Countess Ida von Lilienstein — see here Found! Ida Carolina von Lilienstein, wife of Henry Green | Hayes & Greene family history

View all my reviews

Proposed trip to Western Cape: August 2015

In August 2015 we are hoping to visit the Western Cape to do some family history research, and also to see living relatives and friends.

Since we are now both retired, it will probably be the last chance we will ever have to go on such a holiday trip, and to visit the Cape Archives for research.

If you would like to see us when we visit the Western Cape in August/September, please fill in the form below with your contact information.

We are hoping, in particular, to find out more about the Morris, Stewardson and Dixon families, and ones related to them. Members of all these families were traders in what is now Namibia from 1840 onwards, They would trade manufactured goods (cloth, knives, axes & guns) for cattle, ostrich feathers and ivory. They would drive the cattle overland to Cape Town for market, replenish their stock-in-trade, and return by sea to Walvis Bay.

So we hope to travel down the N14 to the Northern Cape, with stops at Kuruman and Aughrabies Falls. The N14 joins the N7 at Springbok, and we hope to spend a few days at Kamieskroon, exploring that area, which the old-timers passed through on their way between Damaraland and Cape Town. One of the places that has been mentioned in their journeys is Leliefontein, the Methodist mission station, and one member of the Morris clan, Thomas Morris, is said to have lived there at one time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Greyton, Western Cape. May 2011

Another Morris, Abraham, also lived in the area when he was on the run from the Germans. He was one of the leaders of a rebellion against German rule in South West Africa in 1904. Sorting out the relationships between the various members of the Morris family is difficult, and a lot depends on compiling a chronology to show which members of the family were in which places at what times.

The area, called Namaqualand, is also famous for its wild flowers in spring, so we are hoping to see some of them too.

The families that livedf in or passed through Namaqualand are not the only ones we are interested in, of course. We’ll be looking up others — Green, Tapscott, Decker, Falkenberg, Crighton, MacLeod/McLeod, Growdon and many others in the archives as well, and, we hope, in real life too.

Devil's Peak, Cape Town, 2011

Devil’s Peak, Cape Town, 2011

When in Cape Town we usually stay at the Formula I Hotel (called something else now). It’s reasonably cheap, and very conveniently placed for going to the archives. The problem is, it’s very inconvenient for just about everything else — it’s in a semi-industrial area, so there is nothing to do there in the evenings, and nowhere in the vicinity where one can even get something to eat. But we hope that after the archives close at 4:00 pm we can visit family and friends, so if you know us, and wouldn’t be averse to a visit, please contact us and let us know (see form below).

While in the Western Cape, or possibly on the way home, we hope to pay another visit to the Orthodox Centre at Robertson, and perhaps also to the Volmoed Community at Hermanus, to meet John de Gruchy and put the finishing touches to our book on the history of the Charismatic Renewal in South Africa, which we hope to have ready for publication by the end of the year.

We are planning to return via the Eastern Cape and Free State, though with less definite ideas about the route. Quite a lot will depend on what we find in Cape Town, and whether we need to look at the Methodist Church archives in Grahamstown.

I’ve been twice up the N7 from Cape Town to Windhoek, in 1971 and 1972, but on both occasions I passed through Namaqualand in the dark, so neither of us has ever actually seen it before.

If you would like to meet us when we travel to the Western Cape in late August/early September, please use the contact form below so we can get in touch to let you know when we will be around and arrange to meet. Please note that whatever you type in this form will be seen only by me — it is not public! It will help us to see who we should try to get in touch with on our travels.

 

To the river’s end

To the River's EndTo the River’s End by Lawrence G. Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was at school, some 60 or so years ago. I found it in the school library, and thought it was OK. My main memory of that reading was that it was there that I first learnt about the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. I had never heard of the Augrabies Falls before, which, according to the book, were higher and had a greater volume of water than the Victoria Falls and the Niagara Falls, which weveryone in the school knew about. But no one else at the school had heard of the Aughrabies Falls either.

I thought that one day I would like to visit the Aughrabies Falls, and about 25 years ago I did. They were impressive. I still haven’t visited the Victoria Falls or the Niagara Falls, and probably never will, but with the possibility that we may pay a second visit to the Aughrabies Falls later this year, I took this book out of the City of Tshwane municipal library and read it again.

The second reading was very different from the first. The first reader was a schoolboy who had never been to any of the places described, and could only imagine what they were like. I had to picture it like the land of Mordor in a work of fiction (which I only read abouot 10 years later, in 1966).

On the second reading I had visited several of the places described in the book, and so the second reading was a reminder of places I have known. The second reading was also after we had embarked on the study of family history, and Lawrence G. Green mentions relatives of mine or my wife’s in this and several others of his books. His anecdotes are not always accurate, but they are nevertheless informative and entertaining.

How does one characterise Lawrence G. Green‘s books? He is a journalist, travel writer, amateur historian, gossip and raconteur. He has a journalist’s nose for the news, and so in his travels he makes notes of stories, not just current news, but old news, news of years ago, stories that are, as he puts it in the title of one of his books, Almost forgotten never told.

I come to this book now with a more critical eye. Not only have I researched the family history (and so know that some of the details of his stories about our relatives are inaccurate), but I’ve also studied general history and historiography, and so am on my guard for evidence of racism or colonialist propaganda, which are evident in many books written by white people about history and travel in southern Africa in the first half o0f the 20th century. There is some, but less than I expected. In describing the wars of the German colonial rulers of Namibia with the Bondelswarts tribe, he notes several instances of the Bondelswarts chivalrous behaviour, trying to avoid civilian casualties, leaving a note of apology on the body of a military medical officer they had shot by mistake, as they had not noticed his medical badgges until it was too late, and saying they would not shoot unarmed doctors. The Germans, representatives of Western “civilization”, on the other hand, were carrying out wars of extermination in that period (1904-1908).

Green begins his story a bit away from the river, at Union’s End, the remote boundary marker where the borders of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa meet, now part of the Transfrontier Kalahari Park. I haven’t been to Union’s End, but I have travelled through the Kalahari Gemsbook National Park from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata, up the dry and dusty valley of the Auob River, on my first visit to Namibia in 1969.

I did not know, having forgotten from the first reading, that there was a settlement of Basters there, different from those of Rehoboth, who once had a shortlived Republic of Mier.

Of course there is the description of the Aughrabies Falls, though when Green visited in the 1930s he had to swim streams to get to where he could see the falls, whereas when we went there in 1991 there were bridges.

Aughrabies Falls, 8 April 1991

Aughrabies Falls, 8 April 1991

He describes the history of Onseepkans, where we crossed into Namibia in 1991, a year after it became independent, when the border officials were still housed in prefabs and tents. I took the name to indicate that some travellers who had crossed the hot and dry plains of Bushmanland, south of the river (which Green also describes) had taken the opportunity to wash their hair in the river, and washed the soap out too. But apparently the name is derived from a Hottentot word, meaning the drinking place for cattle.

The Orange River at Onseepkans, halfway between South Africa and Namibia. Namibia on the left, South Africa on the right. 8 April 1991

The Orange River at Onseepkans, halfway between South Africa and Namibia. Namibia on the left, South Africa on the right. 8 April 1991

Green tells some of the history of the mission station at Pella, which we have not visited, but may visit later this year, where Roman Catholic missionaries, with no knowledge of building at all, constructed a large cathedral.

Green also describes Goodhouse, where a relative, Abraham Morris, seems to have worked at one time, probably in the early 1920s. Green gives more information about Abraham Morris in another book, So few are free, and you can read more about the Morris family here. If we travel this way again in August, we hope to see more of the places where these families passed on their overland journeys between Damaraland and Cape Town, and also to do some more research on them in the Cape Archives.

So the second read was much more interesting than the first, partly because I have been to some of the places mention in the book, and we hope to see some of those he mentions that we have never seen before.

So I recommend this book to anyone who has travelled in the Northern Cape or southern Namibia, or who is planning to. Others might find it interesting too, as I did when I read it the first time.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.