Friday, November 4, 2011

Photographers & Costume in Natal: Kisch

Alice Mary Swires nee King (1866-1919)

This Natal lady wears her hair in a snood, fashionable towards the end of the 1860s but the photograph was taken much later in at least the mid-1890s.

Benjamin Kisch, whose name is (unusually) simply stamped on the lower edge of the carte de visite, died in 1889. His widow continued to run the studio in Mercury Lane, Durban, until 1894, when she surrendered the business to B W Greenacre, who held a bond on the premises. Greenacre later sold the studio to Ebenezer Edmund Caney, one of another famous Natal family of photographers.

Alice Swires, the subject of the photograph, died in 1919 of the Spanish Flu at 53.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Costume in Natal: 1880s

A mature lady of the mid-1880s manages to maintain her benign appearance despite her uncomfortable apparel. In this photo it’s the undergarments which draw our attention.
The line of her corset is clearly visible, pushing up the front of her bodice: at this date the corset would be long (similar in shape to the pointed bodice front) and its lower edge could be attached to a petticoat. Beneath her tightly-fitting bodice sleeves the edge of her camisole sleeves can be seen. Her bustled outfit is lavishly trimmed, tucked and pleated. Her indoor morning cap, probably of muslin with lace edging, is reminiscent of those worn by Queen Victoria in photographs taken during this era.

At this date, South African fashion lagged about two years behind European trends.

Fashion plates shown in publications such as the Young Ladies’ Journal would be anxiously perused in Natal, and local dressmakers would do their best to copy the styles chosen by their customers. Unfortunately, not every lady resembled the willowy figures shown in the magazine engravings. Plus ca change ...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Costume in Natal: 1870s

By the 1870s, photographers favoured padded chairs for their subjects to lean on, and a three-quarter view of the figure. This is a typical example.

The lady's hair, plainly centre-parted in front, is piled up on the top of her head in a thick plait, presumably - though not necessarily - her own. As the decade advanced, hairstyles became far more elaborate, especially at the back, waves, ringlets and curls being encouraged by overnight plaiting or by curl papers and curling tongs.

The emphasis of the skirt was all at the back, too, becoming larger and fuller as the bustle developed and the front and sides taking on a smoother appearance. Tapes fixed to the side-seams of the skirt were tied round the back underneath the projecting bustle.

The bodice for day wear was high-necked, with fussy trimming at neck and wrist.

In South Africa the change to the bustle took longer than it did in Europe: there was still a slight time lag in fashion though by the 1890s, with improved communications, this gradually became less noticeable.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Costume in Natal: 1860s

Mrs Appleyard nee Archbell wearing the fan-shaped hoop of the 1860s, with a bolero bodice. Considering that she is a missionary's daughter, as well as the wife of a missionary, her ringlets are surprisingly frivolous. Her left hand, resting on a prayerbook, lends some solemnity.

The classical decor with draped arch, column and balustrade are typical of the 1860s, as is the full-length figure.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Early Natal Photographers

The earliest documented photographer working in Natal was William Henry Burgess, a ‘dispensing chemist’ by profession, who had arrived on the Rydal in 1856 and advertised in October 1857 as follows in the Durban press:

Photographic Likenesses
Taken by the Collodian Process* …
West Street, Durban, every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
until further notice.
Hours from half past 10 a.m. till 3 o’clock p.m.
Terms Cash.

By early 1858 Burgess had moved to Verulam on the Natal North Coast where he continued as a chemist, though not, as far as we know, as a photographer.

Other early Natal photographers included J S Brock, Bowman, Fry & Co., James Pulleyn (listed as a watchmaker of West Street in the 1856-57 Durban electoral roll) and James Lloyd.

*George Russell notes in his History of Old Durban, ‘alas! the collodian process … has yielded to our climate, for few of their works survive them. They are now, with rare exceptions, faded ghost shadows of the persons and scenes which they took’.

Wet collodian negatives – glass plates – could be used to make prints on albumen paper: however, these printed images tended to turn yellow and fade, as Russell points out above. 

Brock and Bowman in partnership, 1864

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Natal Photographers: T. Crawford Erwin

Maud Alice Gadsden nee Swires ca 1917-18

There are instances where knowing the name of the photographic studio isn't particularly helpful for dating purposes. This photograph was taken by T. Crawford Erwin, who had a studio in Durban for almost 50 years. He first puts in an appearance in local directories in 1906 as 'Erwin and Graham' at Cuthbert's Buildings, West Street, Durban.  By 1908 the erstwhile Mr Graham is no longer in the picture and Erwin appears alone. The following year, 1909, Erwin apparently decided to give his studio a name, the 'Kan Studio' and it is this title which is shown on the above vignette - a style of photo which remained popular from the 1890s and throughout the first two decades of the 20th c.

The cool, simple, white cotton shirt worn with a dark soft bow at the neck was a favourite for ladies' day- wear in Natal. By this date - ca 1917 - the frivolous riot of tucks and lace and broderie anglaise trimming which had been prevalent in the 1890s had quietened down. Women were now to be taken more seriously. Her hat is broad-brimmed and practical for the summer heat, but is rescued from being too severe by the scalloped net frill and flowers around the edge of the brim. Its general shape is reminiscent of the 'Boss of the Plains' hat from which Baden-Powell developed the well-known scouting headgear.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photographers and costume: Natal 1880s

This portrait was taken by James Lloyd, a Durban photographer from the end of the 1850s to 1899, at his 'West End Studio'.

The carte de visite dates to the early to mid-1880s: the high-buttoned front of the jacket is a clue, as are the narrow lapels and the cut-away jacket corners. This young man’s trousers are without a front crease or turn-up and cut fairly wide in the leg, another indication of the date. He wears a hat, possibly of straw, with upturned brim and a band of patterned fabric. 

It is unusual to find formal studio portraits of African subjects - as distinct from tourist views which were popular e.g. of women in beaded costume or Zulu warriors in full rig plus shield and assegai. Most photographers took some of those and judging from advertisements there was a demand for such pictures.

 In this instance, the subject is seen as a person, an individual in his own right. He was employed by a family who lived in Durban for some years, later returning to England. They wanted a photograph of him for sentimental reasons:  a record of someone they were attached to, who had been part of their household and had looked after their young son. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Costume and Photographers in Natal: Watson Robertson

Because men’s costume, i.e. the basic suit, changed very little from about the 1890s to the 1920s, it is sometimes difficult to use this aspect when dating a photograph, especially in a head-and-shoulders ‘window’ view. The dapper young man in this portrait taken circa 1910-12 wears a stiff, fairly high-collared shirt, not turned down at the corners, his tie is soft and loosely knotted. Button-holes (the flowers on his lapel) were popular for special occasions; perhaps this is an engagement photograph. Unfortunately, we can’t see his trousers which by this date probably had turnups (trendy from 1902), and would have been worn slightly shorter than previously and with a knife-edge crease. His hair is fashionably short with a side-parting, and his moustache well-trimmed.

The photographer, William Watson Robertson, operated a studio in Chapel Street, Pietermaritzburg, from about 1898; his success may have been due to his marketing strategies. That he wished his studio to be regarded as an establishment with class is evidenced by a coat-of-arms imprinted on the card mount, announcing that he is photographer ‘By appointment to H.E. (His Excellency) the Governor of Natal’. According to his advertisement in the Natal Almanac of 1908  he is ‘the leading photographer in Natal’.

The Watson Robertson studio continued to run until the 1930s, under a new proprietor, Walter Linley.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Photographers in Natal: Benjamin Kisch

Ernest Bell Pay b 1875*. He is still wearing skirts – boys were usually ‘breeched’ at the age of four so he may be about 3 or 4 years old in this photograph taken, therefore, circa 1878/79. He has elastic-sided boots with socks turned over the tops; his garment is of a durable fabric such as serge, somewhat warm for the Natal sub-tropical climate, and a touch of white frill shows at the high neckline relieving the sombre
colour. Ernest’s hair falls into natural curls.

The photographer has taken care in positioning his subject, the attractive Natal colonial-style lattice work behind and wooden diamond-shaped embellishment below providing a decorative frame though not detracting from the main focus of the picture. The date of 1878/9 fits in with the plainness of the mount, which has rounded corners and is blank on the back: the value of the space on the reverse of the carte for advertising purposes had yet to be considered.
An impressed stamp, ‘KISCH’, is hardly visible at the bottom right of the carte de visite.

In 1878/9 Benjamin Kisch was operating his Durban studio without the help of his brother Henry, also a photographer, who had moved to Pmb in 1875. At the date this photo was taken - and until 1880 - Benjamin Kisch worked from his studio in Smith Street ‘opposite the Durban Club’; previously advertised as ‘Kisch Bros’ now ‘Benjamin Kisch, photographer and artist’. In 1881 he moved to premises in Mercury Lane, Durban, ‘opposite the Congregational Church’.

*Grandson of Captain William Bell and Mary Anne nee Caithness; son of Charles George Pay and Sarah Scott nee Bell.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Natal Photographers: T Dickinson

Maud Alice Swires, Pietermaritzburg, 1909

In her crisp white day dress, with fashionable tucked detail on her high-necked tunic-style bodice, this colonial lady epitomizes the end of the first decade of the 20th c. Her hair has been encouraged into a loose, curly style, the bouffant shape probably owing something to coir pads worn under her own hair. The waist of the dress is placed slightly above the normal waistline, and accentuated by a fabric belt. Her sleeves end in a point over her wrist with a hint of feminine frill. All signs of the bustle have disappeared and her skirt is long and tubular, widening at the hem.  
The brooch at her throat spells out her name, Maud. This photograph was probably taken shortly before her marriage in 1909. The photographer’s name is stamped on the reverse of the enlarged print: T. Dickinson (sometimes spelled Dickenson), who owned the Imperial Studio in Pietermaritzburg ca 1900-1910. By the date this photo was taken he was located at 128 Chapel Street, Pietermaritzburg.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Photographers in Natal: James Lloyd

Photography was in its infancy in Natal during the 1850s and remained an experimental art for some years. Outdoor photographs were a late development and it is the carte de visite showing the subject posed in the photographer’s studio, which most family historians will find among their collections of memorabilia.

The corners of the cartes can give an immediate indication of date: square corners were typical of the 1860s and early 1870s, but from about 1875 rounded corners were in vogue.  So when taking a digital copy of a carte de visite it’s advisable not to crop off those vital corners.

The striking couple featured below were photographed ca 1880 by James Lloyd, who describes himself as ‘Artist’. One of Durban’s earliest photographers, Lloyd’s studio was in operation in Durban in 1860 and after a brief hiatus continued working from the beginning of the 1870s. In 1896, and up to at least 1910, he was listed in the Natal Almanac at 425 Smith Street, Durban. He is perhaps best-remembered for his photographs taken during the Anglo-Zulu War, 1879.

The costume details all point to the early 1880s:  the gentleman’s jacket has a high opening with minimal lapels. Virtually nothing of his shirt can be seen other than the collar and plainly-knotted tie; no shirt-cuffs show at the end of the jacket sleeves. The lower buttons of the jacket are left unbuttoned and the edges are cut and rounded to curve away at the sides, revealing a hint of matching waistcoast with the ubiquitous watch chain. It’s difficult to tell if he has a side-parting but his hair is cut fairly short at the back, a trend which developed by the end of the 1870s and would continue for many decades; he wears side-whiskers and a neat moustache.

The three-quarter length portrait, a trend at that time, prevents us seeing the lower half of this couple’s costume.  The lady’s hair is centre-parted and smooth, worn in a plait coiled at the nape of her neck.  She is demurely dressed in what may be a cuirass bodice with a high neckline, neat tucked detail and straight, fairly tight sleeves, decorated cuffs at the wrist. With her touches of lace and simple jewellery pieces, while perhaps not aiming at the height of fashion, she conveys a pleasing, calm, ladylike aura.

Lloyd's West End Studio advertisement from the Natal Almanac 1876.
'Ross Type Miniatures' refers to the attempt by photographers to reproduce miniature
portraits in the style of Queen Victoria's miniaturist painter, Sir William Ross. Few could afford
the services of Ross himself, so photographers were quick to supply the need to a greater public.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More on Natal Photographer W L Caney

Carte de visite  by William Laws Caney during his Durban studio phase; taken
mid-1880s.  It's an appealing informal portrait: the little boy in everyday clothes rather than Sunday best
and appropriately barefoot among the photographers' farm props (including animal skin).
But the crochet collar and intricate quasi-military design of the jacket-front show the quality of the garments. The child's hair has been left in natural curls and waves.

Reverse of the above carte de visite showing photographer's trade-plate,
offering any portraits enlarged to life-size and in oil or water colors [sic]
to order.

For more on Caney family history see  'Family Forest' section: go to Caney on surnames list.

Footnote: William Laws Caney married Sarah Grogan: one of their children was William Grogan Caney b 1878 who studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and later became well-known in Durban musical circles.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photographers in Natal: William Laws Caney

From the Natal Almanac 1889.

William Laws Caney operated a studio in Durban from 1883-1893 before moving to Pietermaritzburg, where he remained for several years. In 1909 he was at 208 Church Street, Pietermaritzburg. Prior to his Durban phase, he ran a studio in Kimberley; then (1872) still known as New Rush, the town was renamed Kimberley in June 1873.

The Caneys are an example of a family of photographers who continued working through a couple of generations as well as in various centres in South Africa: something to bear in mind when dating photographs.

Cabinet photograph of lady holding her small-crowned hat, the brim swept up at one side,
fashionable in 1892-3. The photographer has gone over the top with his
rustic decor.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dating Photographs in Natal: costume and studio

Sydney Bartle Gadsden (1880-1953)

What the well-dressed young man-about-town was wearing in Durban, Natal, in the first decade of the 20th century: the ubiquitous three-piece suit (three buttons to the jacket which has fairly narrow lapels), worn with a white shirt with a stiff collar and almost invisible knotted tie peeping above the high opening of the waistcoat. Not much concession, therefore, to heat and humidity, other than the straw boater (often incorrectly referred to as a 'basher') with wide ribbon trim. This gives a jaunty seaside tang to an otherwise formal appearance. The moustache, brushed neatly to the sides, was virtually obligatory at this period.
The photograph may have been taken just prior to the gentleman's marriage in November 1909. The Bower Studio was run by W Thomas at Smith Street, Durban, from 1905 and continued in existence into at least the late 1940s, when the studio was listed at both Smith and West Streets, Durban. By that time, it was the Bower Studio (Pty.) Ltd. The good quality grey card mount has decorative touches in the Art Nouveau style.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Soga/Burnside family history

Janet Soga m.s. Burnside (1827-1903)
Janet Burnside, wife of Tiyo Soga, was born to Alan Burnside and Isabelle Kirkland on 18 March 1827, Hutchesontown, Glasgow. Scotland. Her father was a weaver, Janet and her sister Margaret were yarn winders, another sister, Anne, was employed at a gingham warehouse and their mother was a dressmaker.

The 1851 Census reveals that the Burnsides were then living in the Saltmarket area of Glasgow. Janet and family were part of the congregation of Hutchesontown Relief Church.

Tiyo Soga was at that time studying at the United Presbyterian Church College in Edinburgh, financially supported by the John Street Church, Glasgow. It seems likely that he and Janet met through church circles.

1857 was a turning point for the couple: they married, Tiyo Soga was ordained in February and in April he and Janet sailed for South Africa on the Lady of the Lake, arriving in Port Elizabeth 3 July 1857.  Soga founded a mission station at Mgwali, remaining there until 1867 when he moved over the Kei to Tutura, where he died.   

Their children were:

WILLIAM ANDERSON SOGA, b. January 5, 1858, South Africa; d. July 15, 1916,
South Africa. [He was 13 years old when his father Tiyo Soga died. Medical missionary; established Miller Mission nr Elliotdale, Transkei; 1885 married Scotswoman Mary Agnes Meikle. Their son Alexander R B Soga followed his father into the medical field, qualifying at Glasgow in 1912; he practised at Elliotdale and subsequently at Idutywa.]

JOHN HENDERSON SOGA, b. February 10, 1860, South Africa; d. March 11, 1941,
Southampton.[Trained for the ministry in Edinburgh, qualified 1893, returned to South Africa, established mission station at Mbonda; married Isabella Brown, daughter of Christina (m.s. McKay) and David Brown. See previous post on this blog.]

ALAN KIRKLAND SOGA, b. November 24, 1861, South Africa; d. 1938, South
Africa. [His forenames a combination of Janet Burnside's parents' names. He studied law, became a magistrate in Transkei; later he became editor of a South African newspaper; married Ellen Mba of the Xhosa. Their son De Villiers Soga became a Presbyterian Minister.]

ISABELLA MCFARLANE SOGA, b. May 10, 1864, Inverkip Renfrew; d. March 16,
1884, South Africa.

JOTELLO FESTIRI SOGA, b. 1865, South Africa; d. December 12, 1906, South
Africa. [Qualified as a veterinary surgeon at Dick College, Edinburgh in 1886 and returned to South Africa; he played an important role in the fight against rinderpest in 1897. Jotello married Catherine Watson Chalmers; they had three daughters: Catherine, Margaret and Doris. For further information on Jotello Soga see]

FRANCES MARIA ANNA SOGA, b. February 10, 1868, South Africa; d. September
20, 1942, South Africa. [Missionary.]

JESSIE MARGARET SOGA, b. February 8, 1870, South Africa; d. February 23,
1954, Glasgow. [The youngest of the children, was only a year old when her father Tiyo Soga died in August 1871.]

There was one other child who was stillborn; Tiyo and Janet Soga had 8 children in total.

Janet died on 1 September 1903 in Glasgow. Although she had limited education, she was an intelligent woman: this is borne out by the fact that after Soga's death the Foreign Mission Committee of the United Presbyterian Church offered her a position as one of their missionaries in the field.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Soga/McKay/Brown family connection

In this photograph:

Christina (McKay) BROWN and family.
Back Row: (L-R) Roberta, George, Christina
Front Row: (L-R) Christina (mother), Euphemia (in lap), Elizabeth and Isabella.

The little girl on the chair, Isabella, later married the missionary John Henderson Soga, son of Tiyo Soga and Janet Soga (m.s. Burnside). Isabella was the grandmother of Hector Soga (see post on this blog 10 September 2011).

Christina Brown (m.s. McKay), was the daughter of George and Christina McKay who sailed to the Cape on the Ascendant in 1859.

Christina Brown's brothers, Donald and Robert McKay, are mentioned in The Outspan by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (author of Jock of the Bushveld).

David Brown, born March 1840, who married Christina McKay died on 17 Nov 1885. His parents were George and Elspeth Brown. His birthplace was Crail, Fife. He worked as a Transport Rider after his initial start at the Cape. By the time he died he owned property in King Williams Town and 4 Wagons and 60 oxen. 

The obituary of David Brown reads: 

Yesterday there was taken to his last resting place Mr David Brown, for many years a resident of British Kaffraria; he having come to this Colony many years ago with Mr George Peebles and other 'brither Scots' who are well-known in this community.

The deceased was a native of Pershshire [sic; presumably Perthshire], N.B., and was brought up as an agriculturist and after settling in this colony he took to sheep and stock farming in the Komgha district, carrying on too as his opportunities served him the pursuit of a carrier.

He married a niece of Mr Donald McKay of this town, by whom he had two sons and four daughters.

He was a temperate and industrious man, and those who had transactions with him learnt to know that Davy Brown's word was as good as his bond.

He was a great sufferer in pocket by the depredations made on his flocks and herds by native thieves, and on his last Kurveying trip to Kokstad and on the return journey therefrom was again mulcted, as we took occasion to mention in a recent issue of our paper. His intimates, however, say that Davy took these losses and bore the irritation of them in a very philosophical spirit, remarking to those who spoke hotly about them that they should remember that this was South Africa, intending to convey the meaning that it was unlike any other country.

Mr Brown left on Monday morning last to join at Kei Road his wagons loaded up for Mount Frere and with the exception of complaining of a slight pain between the shoulders seemed in his usual good health.

However on Tuesday morning, Mr George Saunders of Kei Road, an old friend of Davy's, came into town for immediate medical aid, Mr Brown, having been brought to his house during the night by his (Brown's) native servants suffering great agony, and we regret to have to record that those sufferings terminated fatally during the course of Tuesday, the cause being we are given to understand the drinking of some water which proved to be unwholesome and which brought on violent vomiting and purging resulting in prostration and collapse.

Thus death overtook, at the comparatively early age of forty-eight years, a man who was greatly esteemed by a large circle of friends, and to them and to the widow and children we tender our sincere sympathy in the sorrow this swift and severe bereavement must entail. The funeral was attended by the Celtic Lodge of Freemasons and by the brethren of the Order of Odd-Fellows.

[NOTE: David Brown was from Fifeshire, it was George Peebles who was from Perthshire.]
Source: research by Delyse Brown, great granddaughter of David Brown.

September Anniversaries


11 September 1995 death of Cathrine Gibson Gadsden (m.s. Hamilton)

12 September 1928 birth of Michael Killick; died 17 September 1989

13 September 1989 death of Richard Bance, husband of Elizabeth Smith Bance (m.s. Hamilton)

19 September 1964 death of Valerie Fisher

20 September 1951 death of Annie Hamilton (m.s. Gibson)

25 September 1916 birth of Anne Millar  (married William Finlay Hamilton)

The Hamilton Trio, Durban, 1930.
Cathy (violin), Beth (piano) and Bill (cello). 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tiyo Soga's descendant on SATV

Hector Soga, a descendant of Tiyo Soga, made a brief SATV appearance on the evening of 9 September 2011.  As part of Heritage Month, a memorial to Hector's famous ancestor was unveiled in the Nkonkobe Local Municipality, Amathole.

Tiyo Soga (c 1829-1871) was the first black South African to be ordained as minister in the United Presbyterian Church. He was the grandson of Jotello Soga of the Xhosa. Tiyo's mother was a converted Christian and sent him to the local mission school; he subsequently attended Lovedale and when his education was interrupted by the frontier wars was taken to Scotland in 1846 for religious instruction. In 1848 he returned to South Africa to assist in establishing a Mission Station but when the 8th Frontier War broke out Tiyo returned to Scotland, where he was ordained in December 1856. He married a Scottish yarn winder, Janet Burnside, at Govan in February 1857 and returned to South Africa to found a Mission Station at Thuthuru.

He translated the Gospels into Xhosa as well as part of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; his son John Henderson Soga (1860-1941), also a missionary, completed this translation. Tiyo Soga served on the board which revised the Xhosa Bible. Of his seven children, the eldest, William Anderson Soga, attended Glasgow University and became a medical missionary; William married Mary Agnes Meikle in 1885 and established the Miller Mission in Transkei where he worked until 1903. John Henderson Soga trained for the ministry in Edinburgh, qualifying in 1893 and returned to South Africa to establish a mission at Mbonda. Tiyo's son Jotello Festiri Soga (1856-1906) was the first South African-born black veterinary surgeon, and after he qualified in 1886 returned to South Africa where he did research on animal diseases - particularly the rinderpest - in the Eastern Cape border region. Tiyo Soga was 42 when he died in August 1871. John A Chalmers wrote the story of Tiyo Soga's life, Tiyo Soga: A Page of South African Mission Work published in Edinburgh 1877.

Tiyo Soga

Cape Town Heritage Event 20 - 23 Sept 2011

September is Heritage Month in South Africa. Visit the Cape Town Heritage Expo in the Civic Centre, Cape Town from 20 till 23 Sept 2011. There will be a variety of events, activities, workshops, tours. Also stalls for City departments, museums, institutes, collectors and hobbyists. Another feature will be traditional crafts and food.

Merle Martin of the South African St Helenian Heritage Association will be showcasing her St Helena research.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ned Kelly: a jigsaw of family history clues

Very few people ever handle the physical remains of their ancestor and perhaps most would prefer not to have that privilege. For descendants of Ned Kelly, Australian hero or villain depending on one's point of view, his skeletal remains have unlocked past mysteries. Read more of this bizarre story at

If Ned Kelly is a new topic for you, see

Head of a young man with a long, untrimmed beard, and with hair cropped above the ears, but longer and slicked strikingly up and back on the top. His moustache and beard are so long that his mouth and shirt front can barely be seen. His eyes look over the viewer's right shoulder .

Ned Kelly (25) the day before his execution,
11 November 1880, Melbourne, Australia.
(Photo from Wikipedia.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Voice from the Past

Recently I was lucky enough to find a notebook containing family history notes and a partial narrative written by my mother (Cathrine Gibson Gadsden, nee Hamilton). This had remained hidden among other less interesting documents since her death some years ago. There's no doubt that the writings were intended for me. Reading the pages, which are closely-clovered with her beautiful script, it was as if we were having a chat - and a very informative chat it was, too. My mother lists all her father's siblings (born in Stevenston, Ayrshire, Scotland), mentioning who they married (accompanied by a pithy description if the spouse wasn't all he/she might have been), and what offspring they produced. In conjunction with her 'bible' (her address book), I'm now able to work out who the descendants are and where they might be found - spread from Scotland to England, some in South Africa, others in Canada and US.

I've learnt that an unmarried great-aunt, far from being the guid Scots home-body I'd imagined, was manageress of her department at Rattrays, a huge wholesale company in Glasgow. It was a surprise to find that my Hamilton great grandmother had given birth to 17 children - according to the Census she had only 13 'born alive', and of these 'reared' 12. Still, a full household. I'd never realised that, before he emigrated to South Africa, one of the great-uncles had been in the Merchant Navy during World War I: another avenue to explore. Great Gran apparently used to buy from the mobile fishmonger a 'two-eyed steak '- i.e. herring - and would make 'Tatties with their jackets on' for lunch.

Facts and accurate dates are essential ingredients for any family narrative, but when they come with a pinch of fond memory the flavour is so much sweeter.

Cathrine Gibson Hamilton aged 21

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Gadsdon by any other name ...

George Stephen Gadsdon (later changed his name to Leader) as a dashing young officer in the 6th Dragoon Guards, the emblems on the sleeve of his uniform indicating his prowess at marksmanship and swordplay.  He was also a boxer of note.

Though he spent a great deal of time in the army, George seems not to have taken readily to authority: he was court-martialled four times for various offences, including being in possession of a stolen pistol and for being drunk on the frontline in France, allowing a prisoner in his care to escape. On another occasion, he objected vehemently to what he considered an inappropriate order by a commanding officer on board ship, when repatriating prisoners after World War I. He had applied in 1916 to join the 'special services' transporting detainees back to their counry of origin, making his application under yet another name - George Ford.

There's an obvious lesson here for family historians: an ancestor could take on several new identities, making it more difficult to track down every phase of his career. When George emigrated to Australia he changed his surname to Leader. There he worked on a site building the Burrinjuk Dam as well as on the railroad in 1914. By the start of World War I he was an Australian citizen and may have enlisted under the name Leader. He was then about 33 and apparently unmarried. It was while recuperating in hospital after suffering the effects of mustard gas (in France) that he met his wife, Emily Toovey, who was a nurse. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Down Memory Lane In a Rickshaw

Two uniformed passengers take a rickshaw ride at Durban, Natal, South Africa, during World War I. One of the Australian soldiers depicted - he is seated on the right hand side of the rickshaw - is George Stephen GADSDON (aka George Stephen LEADER, 1882-1933).

Born in Islington, London, in 1882, George Stephen Gadsdon lied about his age to get into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment: he was 15 at the time but stated he was 18. This circumstance led to his being discharged from the Regiment a month after he enlisted. He then joined the 6th Dragoon Guards, saw action in the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa and later went to Australia where he changed his surname to LEADER.

He survived several major battles of World War I including Ypres: his battalion (2nd Australian) lost 90% of their number at Gallipoli. George was wounded twice during his military career and also suffered the effects of mustard gas in France from which he never fully recovered. When George was reported Missing in Action at one stage of the Great War, his wife was asked if he had any distinguishing marks: she replied, 'A Union Jack tattooed across his chest.'

Aussie soldiers World War I with rickshaw, Durban.

                                Unidentified lady and child in rickshaw at Durban, ca first decade 1900s.

The word rickshaw (sometimes spelled ricksha) stems from the Japanese jinrikisha meaning literally 'man strength vehicle'. It was introduced in Japan ca 1870; by the 1880s the word was anglicised and shortened. Rickshaws became a popular tourist attraction in Durban from the 1890s. Today their numbers have dwindled but it is still possible to take a rickshaw ride along Durban's Golden Mile (the beachfront).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Was your ancestor on the Waratah?

At 8 p.m. South African time on 26 July 1909, 102 years ago today, SS Waratah left Durban from C Shed carrying a total of 211 souls.

The pilot, Lindsey, went on board at C Shed and the tug Richard King shepherded the Waratah out of Durban Harbour. Early the following morning, near Port St. John's, the Waratah overtook the Clan MacIntyre which had also left Durban the previous day for England. Signals passed between the two ships, identifying each other's names and where they were bound. The Waratah remained in sight of the Clan Macintyre for about three hours and at about 9.30 a.m. about 12 miles off the Bashee River mouth, the Waratah was lost to view below the horizon.

She was never to be seen again. Her fate remains one of the greatest mysteries of the sea. 

Josiah Ilbery, the Waratah's Captain, was 69 when he was lost along with his ship. He had been with Lund's line for forty years. The son of Walter Ilbery and Eliza Vachel; he was christened at Saint Peter's, Church Street, Liverpool, Lancashire 13 Jul 1840. At the time of his application for his certificate his address was given as Egremont, Cheshire and his birth date as 22 June 1840.

Captain Ilbery was for many years on the England-Australia run and maintained his contact with members of the Ilbery family in New South Wales (where he owned land) and Victoria. During his long maritime career, he commanded most of Lund's new ships as they came onto the run.

The earliest of Lloyd's Ship's Captain's Registers shows his birth at Liverpool 1840 and that he obtained his certificate in 1865. His first command was Lund's clipper Mikado in 1868, voyaging to China, Japan and the Oriental Archipelago. While master of the Mikado, Ilbery was recognised by the US Government for the rescue of the Grace Clifton. He later commanded the Serapis 1878 and Ocean King in 1879, then in 1880 took command of the Delcomyn, first steamship of Lund's line, on the Cape Australia route. While with this vessel, Ilbery was instrumental in the rescue of the boat's crew of SS Koning der Nederlanden.

For the last thirty years of his life he commanded steamships plying between England and Australia. Before taking command of the Waratah, he was on the Geelong in 1904.

It's likely that Josiah Ilbery was related to William Ilbery, a famous watchmaker working in London who produced exquisitely enamelled and decorated watches for the Chinese market from ca 1780. There were other Ilberys in the watchmaking profession.

A list of passengers on the Waratah's final fateful voyage from Durban can be viewed on this blog at:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St Helena descendants

Alice Armstrong photographed on her wedding day, 18 July 1910, St Michael's Church, Observatory.

Born Alice Mary Harriet Weston on St Helena on 27 February 1885, she was the 2nd child of George Weston, a Corporal in the Royal Engineers, and Ann Maria Sim, born Bagley on the Island in 1859 and widowed in 1881. Ann Maria married George Weston in St John's Church, Jamestown, 8 August 1882.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Descendants of the Saints: St Helena Heritage

Many St Helenians came to the Cape shortly after the abolition of the slave trade in 1832 because there was a shortage of labour in the Colony. 

Between 1873 and 1884 the Cape government shipped 22 232 St Helenian immigrants to the colony. The  Emigrants Advice Office was established in London in 1887, through which financial support was provided by the government to employers of artisans and domestic labour. The newcomers from St Helena moved into relatively empty areas east of the city such as District Six and Woodstock. These became overcrowded before the turn of the 19th c.

St Helenians integrated with various South African communities - European, African, Malay, Khoi, Chinese - and the local freed slaves, as well as slaves who had been liberated by the British Western African Squadron from slaving vessels which were still trading illegally after the abolition of slavery.

The South African St Helenian Heritage Association was founded by Merle Martin. The Association's mission is to promote awareness, preserve and protect St Helena Island Heritage in South Africa. Merle is compiling a list of descendants whose ancestral lineage can be traced back to St Helena Island:

'My aim is to get people to come and tell us their stories. I was always interested in searching my family tree. I've heard so many people say they have ancestors from the island. My paternal grandmother was from the island. Our motto is: We do know our roots.'

Merle mentions: 'My research has shown that St Helenians arrived in the Cape from 1795 until 1949 when SA barred St Helenians from entering. Also, note that that the total of 22 232 immigrants stated above would have included mostly temporary residents of St Helena who were freed off slaving vessels.'

Anyone wishing to know more or to share information is welcome to contact Ms Martin by email: or phone 021 7018422
Read descendants' stories at

Rediscovering St Helena: a Gathering of Saints in Cape Town    

Alice Armstrong with her eldest son Jack  aged about 2 or 3 and her mother Ann Maria.
The person on the right is not identified.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pruning the Family Tree

Did you know that implexion is the term for the ‘pruning’ of a family tree in earlier generations? Coined by  Cecil Humphery-Smith OBE over fifty years ago, to describe why we do not have more ancestors than the world’s population at that time, it simply means that an individual can appear in more than one position in the tree.

Robert C. Gunderson also called it ‘Pedigree Collapse’. In twenty generations, an individual would have 220 ancestors, but the more generations back, the less likely it is that there were enough people alive - unless some of them were the same. Instead of a binary tree, the result of pedigree collapse is a directed acyclic graph. Many genealogists find cousin marriages in their trees, often to such a distance that the couple themselves did not know they were related, yet it reduces the number of ancestors in the tally.

The effect can be particularly strong in isolated communities such as islands, persecuted communities, and within royal families. Indeed, some members of royal families, such as Alfonso XII and Charles II of Spain, have been shockingly inbred, to the extent that Charles II was likely to have had more copies of the same genes from each parent than if they had been brother and sister. That resulted in genetic disorders because there was no ‘good’ copy of a gene to counteract the ‘bad’ copy. For the rest of us, of course, pedigree collapse is a natural phenomenon that has no harmful effect- beyond depriving us of the occasional branch to hunt.

[Extract from IHGS Newsletter July 2011]

Queen Victoria's family tree

Queen Victoria, who married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was the last British monarch of the German House of Hanover. Her son, King Edward VII, belonged to the same line as his father. Victoria was also the grandmother of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. Hence, she is the great great grandmother of both Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Accuracy in Family History Research

A quote from the Society of Genealogists Exhibition catalogue of 1937:

It is of importance that individuals should be encouraged to study the history of their own families: not in the boastful and snobbish spirit which produced such a spate of false pedigrees in the nineteenth century, but on the scientific lines of modern genealogical research which demands proof of every statement and the recording of every fact, whether pleasant or unpleasant, for whatever view may be held on the merits of such research, all will agree that unless it be conducted with accuracy it is entirely futile.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grimaldi of the Natal Police

When a collector acquired two campaign medals awarded to S Grimaldi of the Natal Police, it was the beginning of an absorbing search for information on a man who had blood ties with numerous aristocratic families of Europe - yet was at one stage of his career a Collector of Dog Tax in South Africa.

The medals were a Queen's South Africa medal for service during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, and a Natal Rebellion 1906 medal, both named to S Grimaldi, Natal Police. The collector takes up the narrative: 
Part of the fun of phaleristics is researching the recipient of the medals collected and discovering something of their life story ... I wanted to find out as much as possible about Sergeant Grimaldi. The World Wide Web and search engines became my initial source. Searching on GRIMALDI produced a host of links to Italy, Monaco, actors, clowns and other famous people.
Searches on NAAIRS, the South African National Archives online index, brought up seven references to the surname. A South African researcher was able to trace Grimaldi's career in the Natal Police through the enlistment and order books of this unit preserved in Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, as well as retrieving some reports written by the man himself.

At this stage I knew when and where Grimaldi was born and some details of his service and his appearance. Due to this information I believed him to be Australian and born in November 1867. However I wanted more details, such as did he marry, when and where did he die, did he have any children? So back to the web and now the fun really began, I went on a virtual tour from the Australian outback, to the English countryside via the South African veld, with the occasional detour to Monaco and Italy.

Using various surname and other sites, the following was established:

Stacey Grimaldi, born Swan, WA [Western Australia], 1867, two elder sisters also born in this area. His mother and father were English. These details came from the Church of the Latter Day Saints. I tried a further search using this utility against England and the UK. Further details were revealed, as this searched the 1881 census. I now knew Stacey and his family were back in England in 1881, his dad was a curate in Devon, Stacey himself at Probus School, Probus, Cornwall. Also there were four more siblings that I was certain of and possibly a further brother who was at Christ's Hospital School then in London before later removal to Lancing in Sussex.

Now I had some geographical data I searched the web for Probus, York and Guildford in WA, Greenwich, Pietermaritzburg and other places in the UK and SA. From these searches I obtained photographs of Probus School, the Police Station in PMB where Stacey had worked, maps of Western Australia and South Africa at the time he would have lived there. The 1881 Census return had proved productive so I tried the 1901 census ... This gave more details of the employment of Stacey's relatives. Further refined searching using both first and surnames produced some very exciting results. I was able to ascertain that Stacey's grandfather was also called Stacey (1790-1863) and was a genealogist and had published books on the subject. He also was a lawyer and has a room at the Law Society in London named in honour of him. Stacey's (1790) father was William Grimaldi, a miniature portrait painter and examples of his work are available on the web. A portrait of him by his daughter-in-law is hanging in the National Gallery, London. Both these Grimaldis are titled as Marquis and at one stage I thought my Natal Policeman might even have been the 11th Marquis, however I later discovered Stacey (1790) had two sons earlier than my Stacey's father, Henry. One interesting fact was that Stacey (1790) had given all 9 of his children (6 sons 3 daughters) Beaufort as their second name. I still do not know where this appellation has come from. There are no Beauforts in the family that I have discovered. I returned to web search engines and even more exciting was the lineage of my Policeman's grandmother Mary Anne KNAPP, whom it turned out was 21st in direct descent from Henry II: her lineage includes a plethora of European royalty.

Tracing William Grimaldi's family tree led to Alexander Grimaldi born 1659 in Genoa, died 1732 London. Other sources show this man as fleeing Genoa in 1684 for London. I had discovered a Genealogy forum and more information on the surname, including other descendants of Alexander in Australia and the USA as well as the UK.

FreeBMD, FreeCEN and other similar web facilities added further detail, as did Australian genealogy sites and sites for individual English counties:

I was able to confirm Henry Beaufort Grimaldi, Stacey's dad, had served as a curate at St. Giles in Sidbury, Devon. I visited my local central library and found Crockfords Clerical Directory, confirming details about Stacey's dad, an uncle and a brother all of whom were clergymen. The main finding in the library however was the microfiche listings of all BMDs in the UK from 1837. Scanning these I found my man had died in Paddington, London in the last quarter 1952. Armed with these details I was able to obtain a copy of his death certificate showing the date of death as 28/11/1952, cause of death and address. I have been unable to discover a marriage in the UK although I know his wife's name from research undertaken at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

An exciting and rewarding journey in search of a Natal Policeman with a famous surname.

Extracts re Stacey Grimaldi by kind permission of Paul Summers.

Grimaldi Family

On 2 July 2011 Prince Albert II of Monaco, born 1958, marries his South African Princess-to-be, Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer, during a two-day extravaganza.  Tens of thousands of tourists are expected to flood in to the wealthy enclave (it's the smallest state after the Vatican) to witness the ultimate prince and commoner wedding.

Somerset Maugham famously called Monaco a sunny place for shady people. Run by the Grimaldi family for over seven centuries, the principality is a tax haven: a recent report in the Guardian refers to its 360,000 registered bank accounts and population of 35 000 – the vast majority of whom are foreign expats, many of them British.

All this depends heavily on the stability of the House of Grimaldi, which has a history of tragic events including the death in 1982 of Grace Kelly, wife of Prince Albert's father, Prince Rainier. Perhaps Prince Albert's forthcoming wedding will be the start of a new golden age in Monaco. As with any dynasty, it's essential that a legitimate male heir is produced to continue the line. It's even more important in this case, for without a prince, Monaco would revert to France.*

For a fascinating account of the history of the principality and the rise of the Grimaldi family, including a tree of the princes of Grimaldi, see

*Prince Rainier changed the constitution before his death so that succession would pass to Princess Caroline and her heirs. The recent marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene may bring a further change in due course.

Knuckleduster: An undated photograph provided today by the Monaco Palace shows Prince Albert with fiancée Charlene Wittstock

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kissing Cousins

Cousin is a term bandied about with sublime disregard for precision. This is particularly the case among internet-using family historians: any distant relative who pops up out of the ether is immediately given the epithet 'cousin', no matter what the actual degree of relationship. Such assumptions can produce tricky situations.

A person's first cousin (or cousin german) is the child of an uncle or aunt. That seems fairly straightforward, except that to be accurate the 'uncle' and the 'aunt' must be the person's parent's brother or sister - not merely someone who has been called 'uncle' or 'aunt' yet isn't a blood relative. This presents a problem if you've grown up, as I did, being told to call a large number of adults 'uncle' or 'aunt', many of whom were simply close friends of my parents. Our neighbours - a childless couple who took an interest in me - were naturally 'uncle' and 'aunt', and remained so to me until their deaths by which time I was a married woman with children of my own.

 My paternal grandmother had a whole raft of sisters who should have been regarded as my 'great-aunts' (grand-aunt being the old-fashioned form) but who much preferred me to call them 'aunt'. A real aunt's husband may be called uncle, but he isn't a blood relative, just an 'in-law'. This is not always explained to the younger generation who can't be blamed for the resulting confusion.

Perhaps most people don't much care one way or the other, though these perceived relationships can plunge family historians into deep trouble. It's vital to know the distinction between a first cousin twice removed and a third cousin. The term twice removed indicates a difference of two generations - once removed a difference of one generation, and so on. Second cousins are the grandchildren of a person's grandparents' siblings. Er - yes, I think that's right.

The habit of calling people 'Cousin Helen' etc died out some time ago, which is probably just as well. During my childhood it simply wasn't the done thing for a schoolgirl to call her aunts and uncles by their first names. The current trend is for a child to call almost anyone by their first name - not excluding its own parent.

There are several charts available online to help with working out complex relationships while you're compiling the family tree, for example:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hamilton of Stevenston, Ayrshire

Annie Hamilton nee Gibson b 17 Aug 1882 d 20 Sept 1951
Her parents: Anne Bell and Finlay Gibson.
Her husband: Joseph Hamilton, son of William and Elizabeth Hamilton
of Stevenston, Ayrshire.
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