Losing half a tree

Last night it rained, and what with raindrops and seed pods it proved too much for the big tree in the corner of our garden, and with a loud crash two of the lowest and longest branches broke off.

Tree1Some years ago our neighbour, Mr Veldhoen, wanted to erect a thatched shelter in his garden, and he had to have our permission because he wanted to build it next to the wall. We were a bit worried that branches might fall off the tree on to it, and had some of them cut. Mr Veldhoen said that before we moved in, he was tempted to move the boundary wall so he could have the tree in his garden. It really is a magnificent tree.

Tree2Now it is autumn and it’s all over seed pods (a few months ago we showed pictures of it with catkins), and for the first time in the 30 years we have lived here, baby trees have started springing up in the garden. Perhaps we’ll try to plant some over the road by the railway line.

Tree3Mr Veldhoen moved away years ago, but the thatched shelter he erected is still there, behind the palm tree on the right of the picture. Fortunately the broken branch missed it, and landed almost entirely on our lawn, without causing much damage to anything else.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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Second vegetable garden

With the success of our first raised vegetable garden, we started a second one yesterday. The first one took a long time to build, using bricks we had salvaged from our ruin. This time we had it up in half an hour, using cinder block bought for the purpose, with no cement.

Garden2aThe raised garden keeps the dogs out, and also makes it easier to work on.

Garden2bJethro was on leave, so we used his bakkie to fetch the blocks, and many hands made quick work of putting them together.

First fruits

For some time we’ve been making use of parsley from our kitchen garden, and in the last week we’ve been having lettuce and tomato as well.

First tomatoes from our garden - 6 Feb 2015

First tomatoes from our garden – 6 Feb 2015

The garden seems to be getting a bit overcrowded, so we’re planning to build another raised bed to add to it.

Tomatoes and potatoes going te kere - 6 Feb 2015

Tomatoes and potatoes going te kere – 6 Feb 2015

The tomato plants have grown big, and in the back on the right are the potatoes, which have spilled over and reached thr ground. We hope they have put as much energy into producing spuds as they seem to have put into producing stems and leaves!


Last days for Squiffylugs

Today our dog Squiffylugs was diagnosed with bone cancer, so she probably won’t be with us for much longer.

Squiffylugs, 12 Jan 2015

Squiffylugs, 12 Jan 2015

On Friday she was fine, on Saturday she began limping, and as there seemed no improvement today we took her to the vet, and he said it was bone cancer, and the prognosis is not good.

She was born on 12 November 2007, her father being our German Shepherd Samwise, and her mother being our cross German Shepherd-Border Collie, Ariel. There were three surviving puppies in the litter, and two of them went to a monastery then at Hennops Pride.

She had lots of nicknames when she was growing up — Fatty Lumpkin, because she was the greediest of the litter and the fattest. Jethro called her Pidlet, because she would piddle when she was excited, and she didn’t merely wag her tail, but her whole body.  Eventually it became apparent that she would always have one ear sticking up and the other folded down, so she became Squiffylugs.

She is the third dog we have had who has had cancer. The first one, Lucy, died in January 2001, also from bone cancer, in the same place. She was quite old, and would probably have died of old age quite soon anyway. Squiffylugs’s mother Ariel died of the canine equivalent of breast cancer nearly three years ago.

And that makes us wonder. One sometimes hears stories of people living near to high tension electricity lines having higher rates of cancer than normal. We’d not paid much attention to such stories before, but there are high tension lines just across the road from us.

The view from our sitting-room window

The view from our sitting-room window

And it was in October 1994 that another line was strung up on the other side, so that we have high-voltage lines on two sides of our house. Three dogs getting cancer makes one wonder if there is a link.


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