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.)