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.
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.