Stewardson family breakthrough

In the forty years we have been researching our family history, the Stewardson side of the family has been one of the longest-standing “brick walls”, as family historians like to say, referring to the inability to get further back than a particular ancestor. In the case of the Stewardsons, the brick wall is more like a dam wall, because once it has broken, down comes the flood.

We discovered quite early on that Val’s great great grandmother was Kate Stewardson, who was born at Rooibank near Walvis Bay (now part of Namibia) in about 1847-48. Her parents were mentioned in several books, but for 30 years we were unable to discover their first names. The author of one book even made up names for them, Ian and Norah, which somehow carlessly slipped into some historical records published by the Namibian Archives. Eventually, after 30 years, we found, in a Methodist baptism record in Cape Town, that they were Francis and Frances, or Frank and Fanny, and also that Frances’s maiden name was Morris. We have described the story of that search more fully here.

Thanks largely to FamilySearch, the online genealogical research tool of the Mormon Church, we were able to learn more about the origins of the Morris family. FamilySearch have placed online indexes, and sometimes original copies of the registers kept by other denominations, and by this means we were able to trace the Morris family back to the village of Donisthorpe, on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire in England.

Donisthorpe village, home of the Morris family, on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire in England

Donisthorpe village, home of the Morris family, on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire in England

At the time there was no church in Donisthorpe, so the Morris children were baptised in the nearby village of Over Seal in Leicestershire.

Family tradition, which was also found in published sources, was that the Stewardsons originally came from Scotland, and we had assumed that Frank Stewardson had come to the Cape Colony and met Frances Morris there, and married her before moving on to Damaraland. But no amount of searching Cape marriage records, in the originals in the Cape Archives, on microfilm in the LDS (Mormon) family history centre in Johannesburg, or later online when some of the records became available on the web, revealed this marriage.

Another useful online resource that became available was FreeBMD, which is the birth, marriage and death record indexes for England and Wales. The handwritten, typewritten and printed indexes have been transcribed by volunteers, and are almost complete for the 19th century. And there we eventually found the marriage record of Francis Stewardson and Frances Morris. We received the marriage certificate on 2 May 2015, and that broke the dam wall.

They were married in Donisthorpe on 8 Oct 1838, and the entry was No 1, so theirs was the first marriage after civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in England in 1837. His father was Samuel Stewardson, and his occupation was listed as Servant. Her father was Thomas Morris, and his occupation was listed as Butcher. The residence of both parties was given as Donisthorpe. The witnesses were Thomas Proudman and Elizabeth Morris.

View over the Amber Vaslley from Coxbench, where members of the Stewardson family lived in the 18th century.

View over the Amber Vaslley from Coxbench, where members of the Stewardson family lived in the 18th century.

Thanks to the availability of online records, mainly through FamilySearch, we were able to follow up the father’s name, and it appears that the Stewardson family went back a few generations in Derbyshire, mainly in the village of Coxbench, in an area called Amber Valley.

Not only was Frank Stewardson’s father named Samuel, but so were his grandfather and great grandfather. He also had a brother Samuel and a couple of cousins named Samuel as well. Unlike the Morris family, where several members came to the Cape Colony, Frank seems to have been the only Stewardson to have done so.

One family tradition/rumour/legend did prove almost true,  however. About 30 years ago a cousin, Bernard Lindholm Carlsson, said that his brother, Ernest Gay Carlsson, had done some research into the family history and maintained that the correct spelling of the name was Stuartson. Some of the entries in the parish registers at Horsley (near Coxbench) spell the name as Stuardson, but that appears to be the idiosyncrasy of a particular clergyman, and  in all other cases the Stewardson spelling was used. We were never able to make contact with Ernest Gay Carlsson to see what he had discovered, though we tried several times to do so.

Anyway, after 40 years the Stewardson drought has truly broken, and we are now busy trying to sort out all the Stewardson relations and seeing where they fit into the family tree. And, thanks to the availability of online records, one discovery leads to another, and what would have taken three years to discover 30 years ago takes about three days now.


Morris family of Cape Town, Namaland and Damaraland

The Morris family has been one of our long-standing family puzzles.

From Edward C. Tabler’s book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland (Cape Town, Balkema, 1973) we learned that Val’s great great grandmother Kate Stewardson’s mother was a daughter of one of the Morrises — Thomas Morris the elder and Thomas Morris the younger, the latter being a nephew of the former.

Further research showed that “Thomas Morris the Elder” was actually James Morris, and that it was his sister Frances Morris who married Frank Stewardson, though we haven’t found a record of their marriage. There is more about the Stewardson family here. According to research done in the Namibian Archives, James Morris was born in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, England on 8 August 1817.

There is a document in the Cape Town Archives  giving a partial history of the Morris, Huskisson and Titterton families of Cape Town (Cape Archives, Accession A610), drawn up by a William Charles Titterton in about 1951. He was a grandson of James Morris.

Thanks to FamilySearch, we were able to to discover the baptisms of the Morrises in the parishes of Nether Seal and Over Seal, near Ashby de la Zouch. Their parents were Thomas and Sarah Morris.

Children of Thomas Morris & Sarah at (Nether) Seal

  • Thomas baptised 25 May 1806
  • William baptised 23 Oct 1808
  • Sarah baptised 14 Feb 1813
  • Elizabeth baptised 7 Sep 1815
  • James baptised 8 Aug 1817
  • Frances baptised 27 Aug 1820
  • Catherine baptised 1 Dec 1822

Thanks to some very helpful people at the Rootschat site we were able to learn that the Thomas and Sarah Morris lived at Donisthorpe, on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire, where Thomas was a baker and later a butcher, and that he was born there about 1781. At that time there was no church in Donisthorpe, which explains why the children were baptised at Nether/Over Seal. Donisthorpe got its own church in 1838, though it apparently closed recently, so it is back to square one.

It also appears from the 1851 census of Donisthorpe that Thomas Morris the eldest married a second time to Susanna, who was born in the Cape of Good Hope, so he himself must have been in the Western Cape at some time.

These discoveries made over the last few months, enable us to construct a very provisional Morris family history.

Thomas Morris was a butcher, and at least four of his children emigrated to the Cape Colony in the 1820s or 1830s, where his eldest son Thomas was also a butcher. Perhaps the whole family emigrated, or perhaps the father just visited them there. Though they were baptised in the Anglican Church at Nether/Over Seal, in the Cape the family were Methodists.

Thomas Morris had a contract to supply meat to the British government and his younger brother James went to Namaland and Damaraland (now part of Namibia) apparently with the object of procuring a regular supply of cattle for the market. The Hereros (then called “Damaras” by outsiders) were great cattle herders. So James Morris and his wife Mary Elizabeth Huskisson went with another family, the Dixons, overland through the Northern Cape and Namaland, visiting Methodist missionaries on the way. The Morrises had two sons with them. Eventually they reached Walvis Bay in mid-1844, and they wanted to return to Cape Town by sea.

As Tabler (1973:78) puts it

Morris and Dixon reached Walvis Bay in mid-1844, and Morris and his family sailed for Cape Town in Lawton’s vessel so that Mrs Morris could be confined there, but contrary winds drove the ship back. Morris joined Dixon at Sandfontein where they built a store and each man built a house. Mrs Morris gave birth to a daughter there.

And the Methodist baptism register in Cape Town shows the daughter, Sarah Ann, as being born on 6 September 1844, and being baptised on 6 December 1847.

James Morris apparently continued to live in Damaraland until the end of the 1840s, when, according to Tabler, he handed over the business to his nephew Thomas, who was dead by August 1863, and was buried in the Kuiseb River canyon. The problem here is knowing where this Thomas fits into the family. We know that James Morris’s elder brother Thomas had a son Thomas, but he appears to have been alive in 1864, because when his father went insolvent then, he was occupting most of the property. The other brother, William Morris, may have had a son Thomas, but we have found no record of his marriage or children. There are records of a William Morris (perhaps more than one) in the Western Cape in the middle of the 19th century, but the problem is knowing which records pertain to which William, and which of them, if any, was a member of this family.

Frances Morris, the sister of Thoms, William and James, also went to Damaraland in the later 1840s with her husband Frank Stewardson, and their daughter Kate (Val’s great great grandmother) was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay about 1848. According to the Lutheran missionary C.H. Hahn, James Morris, the Wesleyan trader, lived in fierce enmity (arger Feindschaft) with his brother-in-law Frank Stewardson, which might explain the lack of any mention of Frances in the Titterton history.

We’re trying to sort out these relationships as we hope to go to Namibia later in the year and do some fossicking in the archives in the hope of finding more, and tying up some loose ends. One of the more interesting loose ends is Abraham Morris (1872-1922), the leader of the 1922 Bondelswarts Rebellion. According to the Dictionary of South African Biography (Vol III, p 634) he was the son of an English trader and a Bondelswarts mother and was educated in the Cape Colony, so he could quite possibly be related — but how?


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