Chasing Namibian families

Next week we hope to travel to Namibia to see friends and family, and do some historical research — family, church and general history. We’ll try to update our blogs with our progress if we have internet access: this one for family news and family history; Notes from underground for general observations, photos and chit-chat; and Khanya for general history, church history and more serious observations. It used to be possible to keep in touch with all of them by following Tumblr, but Tumblr doesn’t seem to work as a blog aggregator any more.

It’s more than 20 years since we last visited Namibia, and more than 40 years since I lived there, so we expect to see many changes. We plan to go first to Windhoek, where we hope to stay with Val’s cousins Enid and Justin Ellis. Enid is a cousin on the Pearson/Ellwood side of the family.

We also hope to see Mburumba Kerina, a more distant cousin on the Green side of the family. “Kerina” is the Herero form of  “Green” and Mburumba Kerina is descended from Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green through his second wife, Sarah Kaipukire (Val is descended from his third wife, Kate Stewardson). We also hope to find out something about Fred Green’s first wife, who was a Dixon, and died about 1860. We don’t even know her name. There’s more on this in the earlier article Gunning for the Dixons. On the Stewardson side of the family, there are several descendants in Namibia, mainly of the Lindholm, Dennewill and Jeske families. We don’t have any current addresses for them, but we may be able to make contact with some of them while we are there.

HiskiaUOne of the friends we hope to see is Hiskia Uanivi. When I lived in Windhoek he was a student at the Paulinum, the Lutheran theological seminary then based at Otjimbingue. In early 1971 my friend and colleage Dave de Beer and I went on a holiday trip to see friends and family in South Africa (rather like the trip we are planning now, but in reverse).

Hiskia had never been to South Africa, and the Paulinum was closed for the Christmas holidays, so he came with us, travelling via Keetmanshoop, Vanzylsrust, Hotazel and Kuruman to Johannesburg (about a 22-hour drive). There we were joined by my cousins Jenny and John Aitchison, and we travelled to Nqutu in Zululand, staying at the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital (then an Anglican church hospital), and then via KwaMagwaza and Mphumulo to Pietermaritzburg, where John and Jenny Aitchison lived. We left Hiskia at the Mapumulo Lutheran Seminary for a couple of days, as he was curious to see how it compared with the Paulinum, and one of the old Paulinum teachers, Dr Theo Sundermeier, was then teaching there.

We spent a couple of days with the Mnguni family in the foothills of the Drakensberg, helping them to erect a chicken run that would gather manure for fertilising the crops, and then went on to Umtata, Alice, Grahamstown and Cape Town, and from there back to Namibia. At that time there were Anglican theological colleges in Umtata, Alice and Grahamstown, and we visited them, so Hiskia was able to make more comparisons.

With the Mnguni family at Stepmore, near Himeville. Hiskia Univi on the left, Mr & Mrs Mnguni on the right, Chris Shabalala in the middle, flanked by Dave de Been and Steve Hayes, Jenny Aitchison in front, and other members and neighbours of the Mnguni household. 16 Feb 1971

With the Mnguni family at Stepmore, near Himeville. Hiskia Uanivi on the left, Mr & Mrs Mnguni on the right, Chris Shabalala in the middle, flanked by Dave de Beer and Steve Hayes, Jenny Aitchison in front, and other members and neighbours of the Mnguni household. 16 Feb 1971

Now we are planning, for the first time, to travel to Namibia via Botswana on the Trans-Kalahari route. Back then it was not possible, as one needed passports to cross Botswana, and the South African government, which then ruled Namibia, would not give passports to people it regarded as politically unreliable. We also hope to visit the Etosha Pan Game Reserve, and Ovamboland, and return via the Okavango and following the course of the Taokhe River to Lake Ngami, which in Fred Green’s day was navigable by boat, though getting a boat there by ox wagon must have been quite a feat.

So, if the opportunity arises, we hope to blog about our trip as we go. You’ll find the first instalment of our travelogue here.

The Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven

In the early 20th century three members of an Ellwood family from Whitehaven, Cumberland married three members of a Pearson family from the same town.

We’ve been scanning old photos, and it is good to have them in electronic format, so that they are less likely to fade and be damaged. But in electronic photos it is not possible to have the stories written on the back of those photos, so this blog post is really to help preserve the stories of the photos. In our family we call them “whozit” photos, because when we look at them everyone says “Whozit? Whozit?” And when the back of the photo just says “William” or “Henry” or “Uncle Joe”, I think many people will forget whose uncle Joe it was.

The Pearsons

Charles Pearson, a shoemaker of Whitehaven, born about 1768, married Ann Gatey in 1799, and they had several children.

One of their younger sons, William Pearson (1820-1895), became a butcher, and married Sarah Johnson (1819-1894) in 1845. Sarah Johnson was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, which is quite a long way from Whitehaven, so one of the mysteries of the family history is how they met.

They had six children, two girls and four boys. Two of the sons, Charles and Henry, became Anglican priests, and Charles was a pioneer missionary in Uganda, travelling up the Nile to reach that country. A third son, John Johnson Pearson, was a mysterious character, and we are not sure what happened to him. He travelled quite a bit in India and the Middle East, and was a keen supporter of the British Israelite movement, and wrote books on that topic.

The remaining son, Daniel William Pearson, was prosaic by comparison with his brothers. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a butcher, and spent most of his life in Whitehaven, and ended up by becoming the town sanitary inspector and inspector of nuisances.

The eldest daughter, Margaret, married Thomas Binks Cooper, who died young, and their daughter Sarah Johnson Cooper was brought up by her grandparents, and married Charles Stewart, a railway engine driver from London.

The youngest child, Sarah Johnson Pearson, married Joseph William Peile, and they had several children.

Daniel William Pearson

Daniel William Pearson (1855-1929) was the stay-at-home Pearson brother. In 1883 he married Sarah Jane Walker (1857-1929) and they had nine children, eight boys and one girl.

  1. William Walker Pearson (1883-1956)
  2. Edith Pearson (1885-1956)
  3. Henry Pearson (1886-1905)
  4. Charles Pearson (1888-1967)
  5. Frank Pearson (1890-1974)
  6. Ernest Pearson (1892-1975)
  7. Gilbert Pearson (1894-1969)
  8. John Pearson (1895-1918)
  9. Victor Octavious Pearson (1897-1971)

Children of Daniel William Pearson & Sarah Jane Walker, about 1902: William, Edith, Henry, Charles, Frank, Ernest, Gilbert, John, Victor

Henry died within a couple of years of these picture being taken, and so these are the only pictures we have of the whole family together.

The Pearson family about 1902. Back: Edith, Henry, William. Middle: Frank, Charles (kneeling), Daniel William, Sarah, Ernest. Front: Victor, John, Gilbert.

William, the eldest, was the first to leave home. After working for a shipping firm in Whitehaven, he applied for a job in the Port Captain’s Office in Durban, Natal, and emigrated there about 1909. His fiancée, Martha Ellwood, joined him there, and they were married at St John’s Church, Pinetown, in 1913.

With William overseas, and Henry dead, another picture was taken of the remaining six brothers in Easter 1913.

John, the second youngest, worked for Whittle & Co in Whitehaven, and in the First World War he joined the Border Regiment, and was killed in France in May 1918.

Charles worked for the Bell Telephone Company in Whitehaven, and then for its successors, GPO telephones which became British Telecom. He married Dorothy Roff in 1926 and they lived in Wragby Road, Lincoln.

3 Pearson brothers in Easter 1913: Back: Gilbert, Frank, Ernest. Front: John, Victor (on ground), Charlie.

Frank Pearson served in the army in the 1914-1918 War. He was Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Egremont, near Whitehaven. He married May Dobbins and they had two children, Janet and Anthony. May was said to go off her nut occasionally, and their son Anthony, who never married, seemed to be eccentric, to say the least, but probably harmless. When we asked him about the mysterious John Johnson Pearson, he told us that he had taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, and had a harem of Sikh ladies, and one of their sons was Joseph Stalin. In addition he (Anthony) had invented a wave-actuated boat, which was stolen by the Norwegians). Janet married twice, first to Thomas Birkbeck the headmaster of the Cleator Moor School, and secondly to John Sharp. There were no children of either marriage.

Ernest was originally an acetylene welder at Lowca Engineering Works, near Whitehaven. He served in the 1914-1918 war in the Royal flying Corps (Service No 163675) at Halton, Bucks and at Blandford, Devon. In 1916 he married Margaret Ellwood, the sister of Martha Ellwood who had married his edler brother William. In about 1923 the Lowca Engineering Works closed down, and Ernest went to work for his brother-in-law’s company, John Ellwood & Co as a plumber and electrician, and remained there for the rest of his working life.

Gilbert trained as a watchmaker and jeweller. He served in the Black Watch Regiment in the First World War. After the war he started his own business as a watchmaker and jeweller in King Street, Whitehaven. He married Maud Dixon, and they had two daughters, Joan and Barbara.

Victor worked for Pattinson’s Flour Mill in Whitehaven. After his parents died he lived until his marriage (in 1929) with his brother Ernest Pearson. He married a niece of Ernest’s wife Margaret, and so became the third Pearson brother to marry into the Ellwood family. After their marriage they lived with Edith’s parents, John and Kate Ellwood, and then at Henry Street, and finally at Loop Road (South), Whitehaven. They had no children.

Martha Ellwood and William Walker Pearson about the time of their marriage at Pinetown, Natal, in November 1913

In the meantime the eldest brother, William, and his wife Martha (nee Ellwood) lived in Pinetown, and later in Durban. She had their wedding pictures printed on postcards, and wrote to the family. One of the cards, dated 23 Dec 1913, and sent to her brother John and his wife Kate, read

My Dear John & Kate,

It is rather late but we wish you every good wish for the New Year. We are getting a bit more settled down now & I like Pinetown well, it is a fine life. You will have heard all about our house etc. from Senhouse Street. Tell Edith I see plenty of “niggers” but am not a bit frightened of them.[1] How is May tell her to write & tell me all the news. It’s not a bit like Xmas to me, it is so hot today. Love to all from us both.

Your loving sister Mattie.

In 1915 William and Mattie’s first child was born, William Ellwood Pearson, known as Billy, followed by twins Mary (Mollie) and Arthur in 1918, but Arthur died young. Another daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1923, but before she arrived Mattie travelled back to Whitehaven in 1921, to see her family, and the children were able to meet their cousins for the first time.

Billy was 6 years old, and Mollie 3, when they met their double first cousins, Gilbert (4) and Ralph (nearly 2). They travelled by ship from Durban in January 1921, and the voyage lasted about three weeks. Martha and William met their brothers and sisters again, but John Pearson, William’s younger brother, had been killed in the First World War.

Pearson double first cousins, 1921. Molly Pearson (3), Billy Pearson (6), Gilbert Pearson (4), Ralph Pearson (nearly 2).

Gilbert and Ralph Pearson were the children of William Walker Pearson’s brother Ernest, and Martha’s sister Margaret.

There were also plenty of other cousins to meet.

There were also plenty of other cousins to meet. William Ellwood Pearson’s sister Edith had married David James Elson, and they lived in Liverpool. Their daughter Marjorie Pearson Elston was born in 1917, and was 5 when the South African cousins came visiting. Her brother Gerald was born in 1922. In 1939 Marjorie Elston herself married a South African, the Revd Terry Blake, a Congregational Minster, and her mother Edith went to live with them in South Africa when David Elston died. The Blakes had four sons and two daughters.

Another family with several links was the Nicholsons.

Samuel Nicholson and Isabella Frears had several children, who of whom married into the Ellwood family. Their daughter Catherine (Kate) married John Ellwood, and had two daughters: Mary Isabella Carr (May) Ellwood who married John Kelly and went to Canada; and Edith, who, as we have seen, married Victor Pearson, The son, Isaac Nicholson, married Elizabeth Renney Ellwood, and had two children, Doris and John Nicholson.

John Nicholson, Martha and Billy Pearson, Elizabeth Nicholson, May Addison, Ernest Pearson (holding Ralph, who is partly obscured), Maggie Pearson, Doris Nicholson, Grandmother Nicholson (Isabella Frears), and in front, Mollie, Billy and Gilbert Pearson.

This picture has four Ellwood sisters: Martha who married William Pearson, Elizabeth who married Isaac Nicholson, May who married Jonathan Addison, and Maggie who married Ernest Pearson.

John Ellwood Nicholson was about 14 when the picture was taken. He later became a draughtsman, and lived in Barrow in Furness. Isaac Nicholson, his father, was an iron moulder.

Mary (May) Ellwood married Jonathan Addison and from about 1910 they lived in Belfast, Ireland, where their two youngest children were born. They had seven children, three girls and four boys. One of the girls (not in the picture), Bessie, who later married Len Jupp, became legendary, at least in the South African branch of the family as the one who won a pissing contest with her brothers. The oldest, Mary Addison, married John Hayes and they lived in Belfast. They had no children. We wrote to them a few times before they died in the late 1970s, and those were the times of troubles in Norther Ireland, and on one occasion John Hayes wrote “Tempus fungus – times are rotten.” The second, Thomas Alexander Addison, emigrated to the USA in 1930, and married Elli Link from Latvia. Jack Addison married Mary Brown. Arthur married Margaret Hills. Ada married William McAlpine, and their daughter married Norman Little and livers in Canada, while their son Roderick married Margaret Banyard in Birmingham and lived in Suffolk.

Martha (Mattie) and Margaret (Maggie) Ellwood, two Ellwood sisters who married Pearson brothers.

Ernest and Maggie Pearson had two more children after Gilbert and Ralph in the picture – John (born 1923) and Edith (born 1929). Gilbert was killed in the Second World War in Burma, as a result of an accident when an ammunition lorry was being unloaded. Ralph served in the air force in the Second World War, mainly in personnel management, and at one point visited Durban, and made contact with his cousins there. After the war worked for NAAFI, which ran recreational services for the British armed forces, which meant they led a somewhat wandering life. He married Jean Mary Bearn and they had three children, Joseph, Susan and Gordon. When we became interested in the family history after we were married in 1974, Ralph was one of the people we wrote to, and he got interested, and did a lot of research, collecting a great deal of information, especially on Charles William Pearson, the missionary. He died in January 1996, just before Val won a ticket to see the cup final between Manchester United and Liverpool, but while she was there she visited Jean Pearson, and met their daughter Susan, whose son Kevin is the same age as our Jethro, and both being crazy about cars, they wrote to each other and swapped video tapes.

John, the third child of Ernest and Maggie, married Nora Lees, and we had quite a lot of correspondence with Nora, who wrote wonderfully informative letters, not only about the family history, but also current news about the family, and happenings in Whitehaven. In 2005 we visited her in Whitehaven (John had unfortunately died by then), and also met their daughters Maxine Wincott and Zania McKenzie, who were living in Edinburgh.

Edith Pearson married Ted Worsley and they had two children, Michael and Caroline, and lived in Northumberland.

Doris Nicholson married Reynolds (Rennie) Bonnington, a photographer, and they had a son Ian.

To be continued, as there are more photos of the Ellwood and Pearson families. Other members of the family may have copies of these photos, so we hope these stories will help, and if there are other stories, please tell them in the comments.


[1] Edith was Mattie Pearson’s niece Edith Ellwood, then 12 years old, who later married William Pearson’s brother Victor. May was Edith’s older sister, then aged 19. Senhouse street was the home of the Ellwood family.

Namibian cousins visit

Last month we had a visit from Val’s cousin Enid Ellis and her husband Justin, who were on holiday from Windhoek, Namibia. Val and Enid are cousins on the Pearson side of the family. We manage to see them once every 5 years or so, usually when they are passing through, and catch up with news of family and friends. This time we did it over lunch in Centurion Mall.

Enid Ellis, Val Hayes, Justin Ellis

Val (nee Greene) and Enid (nee Gammage) grew up in Escombe, in Queensburgh, Natal, near Durban and the families were very close, and they spent a lot of time together.

Steve met Justin when he came to Windhoek with a group of  students from Stellenbosch University to spend part of their summer vac there in 1970. Actually it was a funny summer, as for one week it was bitterly cold, and there was snow in the Cape, in December!

Steve and Justin met again in July 1972 (the real winter) at an Anglican Students Federation conference at KwaMagwaza in Zululand. Steve had been deported from Namibia, along with some other church workers, including the bishop, Colin Winter, and so Steve tried to persuade Justin to go there to take the place of some of those who were kicked out. Whether the persuasion did the trick, or whether it was something else, Justin eventually went.

A few months after that meeting, Steve met Val and Enid in Queensburgh, and in 1973 Val and Enid went to Namibia on holiday. In 1974 Enid decided to go back there, and later that year Val and Steve were married, and Enid and Justin as well. And a few years later Justin and Enid were deported from Namibia (an insidious habit), and spent a few years in England, returning when Namibia became independent in 1990.

Back in the 1970s we were all Anglicans. Now Enid and Justin are Quakers, and Val and Steve are Orthodox.

Keeping in touch with emigrants

I’ve been reading The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History and one of the articles raised the question of how long families that have emigrated keep in touch with those back in the country they came from.

Most of  of our ancestral lines have immigrants from somewhere else, and it is quite interesting to look at how they maintained contact, and how and to what extent we have re-established contact, mainly because of an interest in family history. A recent post about a Canadian Growden family is a case in point — they seem to have little or no contact with any other branches of the family, and little or no memory of where they came from.

Pearson-Ellwood

One of the clearest cases is Val’s maternal grandmother’s family. She was Martha Pearson, nee Ellwood, and both she and her husband William Walker Pearson. They came to South Africa from Whitehaven, Cumberland, England about a century ago, and were married in Pinetown, Natal, in 1913. They lived just down the road from Val when she was young, within walking distance, and when her grandfather died her grandmother came to live in a granny flat that they built on to their house in Escombe, where she lived with them for 12 years until she died in 1968.

So Val grew up with her grandmother’s stories of Whitehaven, and Martha (Mattie) Pearson kept in touch with her brothers and sisters who lived there, and some of them had also married into the Pearson family. During the Second World War some of Val’s mother’s cousins were soldiers, and visited when troopships called at Durban on the way to south-east Asia. Martha Pearson occasionally returned to Whitehaven to visit family, and we have some of her old passports. Val’s mother and aunt went with her as teenagers, and remembered some of their English cousins, though they did not stay in touch with them. Val and her sister visited England in 1971, and passed through Whitehaven, and had thought of visiting relatives there, but it was late and they thought they were old and would already be in bed, so they drove through.

When we got married in 1974, six years after Val’s grandmother had died, and became interested in family history, one of the starting points was some of Val’s relics from her grandmother — her birthday book, cuttings of newspaper marriage and death notices, and obituaries of her father Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914)  and grandfather John Ellwood (1819-1892). We wrote to the Whitehaven News, asking if any members of the family still living in Whitehaven would get in touch. From that we discovered that Val’s great-uncle Ernie Pearson had died the previous week. But his daughter-in-law Nora Pearson wrote to us regularly for the next thirty years, keeping us in touch with news of the family, so the contact was maintained for another generation, and thirty years later, in 2005 we visited Nora, and her daughters who live in Edinburgh. Whether our children will keep in touch with their children after we die remains to be seen. We also visited another second cousin who lives in Wales.

But our letter to the Whitehaven News also brought contact with a forgotten generation of emigrants, about whom Val had heard no stories as a child. A Mrs Mary Ann Tumilty, nee Ellwood,  had been visiting Whitehaven from the USA in the week that our letter was published, and when she got home she wrote to us, and sent extracts from the Ellwood family Bible, which she had, and it gave all the children of John Ellwood, Val’s great great grandfather, who was born in 1819. Mary Ann Tumilty’s parents had lived in Northumberland, and emigrated to the USA in 1923.

Hayes-Stooke

On this side of the family I’ve told in another post how my father visited England for a Scout jamboree, and met a cousin with the unusual name of Herrick Hayes, and that helped us to make contact with second cousins that we had not previously known about, though attempts to make contact with Herrick Hayes’s descendants have so far been unsuccessful.

In general it seems that, unless there is a conscious interest in family history, contact seems to be lost in the generation of the great grandchildren of immigrants, and family history research can lead to the re-establishing of contact.

Cottam and Bagot and reading novels

I went to the LDS Family History Centre in Johannesburg today and transcribed more baptism records for the Cottam, Bagot and Mashiter families.

I reread Rider Haggard’s novel Allan Quatermain, and found that family history made me enjoy it more, as it had links with my great grandfather Wyatt Vause and Val’s great grandfather Daniel William Pearson. I’ve written about it more fully in my LiveJournal.

Charles William Pearson — Wikipedia article

Well, I’ve created the Wikipedia article for Charles William Pearson, so have a look at it and edit it or improve it, or make comments ab out it in the comments sections below.

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