Friday, June 25, 2010

Rev Aldin Grout and family in Natal mid 19th c.

Charlotte Grout wasn’t the only correspondent in the family: despite his busy schedule, Aldin Grout also managed to write home occasionally – even to the Baileys, his parents’ in-law.

In a letter from Umvoti, July 1850, to Mrs James Bailey, Rev Grout gives a clear picture of the isolation endured by the American missionaries on their rural stations:
Having written thus far, I went to Mr. L. Grant’s station to attend a meeting of the contiguous missionaries to see if we might not form ourselves into a sort of association for mutual improvement but as it happened instead of six or seven members present as we had hoped, we had but three. The distance is such that starting at about nine in the morning, I arrived only at about four in the afternoon riding on horseback, and this perhaps my nearest missionary neighbor, though two others, Mr. Tyler and Abraham will be about the same distance from me.
Agricultural skills or a knowledge of crafts such as building and carpentry were often of more value in the mission field than an academic education. Aldin Grout, like most missionaries, was able to undertake a variety of practical tasks. In 1848 he describes his building operations at Umvoti:

If my house when done is not as well finished as a workman would do it yet I swear that every part of it shall be strong, durable, and comfortable. The walls are of brick made of ant hill dried in the sun. My boys [i.e. Africans living at the mission] have made them all. I have an L to the house, but that was built first by itself. Then a little more than half of the main house was commenced, joining upon the kitchen. The walls of that part are now up, the roof timbers on ... Thus far have I progressed my work. When the totality is done, then comes plastering and laying floors. That done I design to move into that part and put up the other part. I submit to this slow and tedious way of building for two reasons. 1st I cannot hire workmen to build me a comfortable house for the amount allowed me for that purpose and 2nd I am in the mean time going on with my missionary work …
Parental anxieties were compounded by the family’s isolated situation:

Our children have both colds & coughs. Humphrey was so poorly last Sabbath that Charlotte stopped at home with him all day and in the afternoon I stopped with her giving him medicine and witnessing its duration. We were quite alarmed about him, but as no doctor was nearer than forty-five miles it was of no use to think of calling one, and our only alternative was to do our best and commend our case to the great [God?]. We now think them both better and hope in a few days to see them about again.
As the year 1850 approached, Natal became the focus of British emigration schemes, notably that of Joseph Byrne: 20 ships carrying about 2 700 settlers arrived at the port between May 1849 and April 1850. Other smaller private schemes followed in their wake. No doubt missionary families like the Grouts read in the local press about these interesting developments, and pondered over the inevitable changes such an influx of emigrants would bring to Natal.


Thandanani Umlaw said...

Dear Sir / Madam
My name is Thandanani Umlaw.
I am earnestly trying to trace the origin of my family.
I have been led to believed that it is intertwined with that of Rev Aldin Grout.
The legend has it that Rev Grout adopted my great-great-grand-father who was the son of Sifuba Khuzwayo, after the Reverend had asked for protection from Sifuba to cross over the Tugela, the Reverend then saw a boy who was Sifuba’s son, who was sickly. The Reverend then went on say that he can cure the boy, to which he did and Sifuba then gave him the son to bring up as his own. Sifuba then went on say to Rev Grout that “Umulawu wami!” , which means that you are my healer, umulawu was a name of a tree that heals, in gratitude of the Rev healing his son.
The boy was then called Umlaw. He grew up with the Grouts.
He then bore three sons; Stephen Umlaw, James Umlaw and Elijah Umlaw.
My lineage is with James Umlaw who went on to live in a place called Madundube.
My family is from Groutville Stanger, a town subsequently named after the Reverend as you may no doubt know that.
While this may sound like a fairy-tale given the history of South Africa and the racial divide which existed and still does, I would like to get into the heart of this matter.
Therefore, I would be greatly indebted and would appreciate any assistance from yourself in shedding the light on this subject.
My contact details are as follows; email : / mobile : +27732809283
Please do not hesitate to get back to me.
Yours faithfully,
Thandanani Umlaw

Mole said...

Thank you for sharing this interesting story. I will at present leave your comment visible on my blog in case any readers have ideas for avenues you could follow in your research. I should mention that the Grout letters referred to are not in my personal possession. Regards,Mole.

les said...

Hi Thandanani,
Very interesting story, thank you for sharing.
I too am a descendant of James Umlaw, who bore Rhoda, who in turn bore my late grand-mother Sylvia. I manage the family tree on Geni (an oline genealogy application). Perhaps register for an account and we can collaborate on the family tree? the url is


Unknown said...

Hi Lesego

Apologies for replying this late, I have just read your response only a few minutes ago.
I am glad to learn about you. I am now based in Johannesburg, please email me at
I have tried to update the Family Tree on Geni website but I failed, dismally. I did create my own tree (when I say I did I mean I tried) but soon it required some payment and to date I have never paid for anything over the internet.
Just a bit of history and more importantly the dates for James et al, unfortunately it is quiet patriarchal but it is one family tree that we should endeavour to correct and to update with as many members as possible, including naturally the names of those belonging to the fairer sex.
Here goes,
Mkhomolo Khuzwayo had a son Sifuba Khuzwayo who in turn had 5 sons - Hangu, Makhuza, Geme, Khabinala, Umlaw. Umlaw had 3 sons, Stephen (1852-1933), James (1856-1934) and Elijah(1859-1943). James had a son Walter (1897-1967) who had 4 sons Faya(1930-1980), Marshall(1931-), Arthur(1932-) and Victor (1945-2002). Faya had two sons Sakhile(1963-) who begot Njabulo (1992-); and Sandile (1964-) who begot Nhlanhla(1994-). Marshall had two sons Boyi(1963-) and Temba(1965-). Arthur had one son Bongani(1965-) who begot Siyabonga (1998-). Victor had two sons Njabulo(1974-) who begot Nsikayethu(2000-) & NandileManguni (2005-); and Thandanani(1978-).

I am a proud father to a wonderful daughter and perhaps I will have to answer to her one day if this is not timeously updated.

Keep well brother,