Friday, August 31, 2018

Gibson family continued

Four generations of the Bell/Gibson family

At left, with child on knee, is Annie Bell b 14 February, 1859 at West, Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario, Canada. She married Finlay Gibson in Stevenston, Ayrshire when her family returned there after their time in Canada. The lady with the large lace collar seated next to her is Catherine Thomson Ross b 1834 who married Samuel Bell, b 1833 Shropshire, in 1858. Behind is Mary Gibson, daughter of Annie and Finlay Gibson, and usually known as Polly. Polly b 1886 married William Dalzell and the child in the photo is her eldest son, James Dalzell. Dalzell was Polly's first husband - they had four children. Later she married again, H Milton Stacey. Two children were born of this marriage, Richard and Elva. 

My mother, Cathrine Gibson Hamilton, who left me this photo and wrote information on the back, was usually accurate but I do wonder if the lady at left is correctly identified - she appears rather too old to be the daughter of the lady on her right, Catherine Thomson Ross, who married Samuel Bell. However, as I don't know who else she can be, and she so closely resembles the Annie Gibson who married Joe Hamilton, perhaps my mother was right. The photo was taken outside Hawthorn Cottage, Caledonian Road, Stevenston.

Catherine Thomson Ross married Samuel Bell in 1858. Note she wears the same collar as in the photo above.

Stevenston, North Ayrshire, Scotland
DEATH26 May 1913 (aged 78)
Stevenston, North Ayrshire, Scotland
BURIAL   New Street Cemetery, StevenstonNorth AyrshireScotland

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Gibson, William - his travels and travails with the Army

William Gibson, brother of my great grandfather Finlay Gibson, enlisted in the Army on 21 June 1859. His service papers reveal he was 'absent before attestion' 22 June - in fact William had immediately gone AWOL.It does not speak of much enthusiasm for his enlistment. He rejoined his Regiment and was ordered to be inducted into his Corps as a pardoned deserter.

This was the start of a pattern of ups and downs for William as a Private in the 2 Btn 4th Regt of Foot [King's Own Royal Regiment of Foot].
He was imprisoned several times but by July 1866 seems to have settled down a bit and was awarded Good Conduct - pay 1d 7 June 1865. He was promoted Corporal 28 July 1866 to 10 August that year. 

Next we hear he is in confinement awaiting trial, losing his Good Conduct pay and reduced to Private by Court Martial for 'clearing post without authority'. He was imprisoned 15 August to 5 September 1867.

Another settled phase follows and he re-engages for the 2/4th at Dublin, completing 21 years service.

He was in trouble again and was tried and imprisoned for perjury 27 September 1870 to 19 December 1870. By 18 August 1875 he was promoted Corporal having had about a year of good behaviour. He was awarded Good Conduct Pay (2d) 7 September 1878.

He was promoted Sergeant 25 November 1878 - 11 May 1880. During that time he was serving in Natal - the period of the.Anglo-Zulu War. He survived without injury. Perhaps he wasn't in any of the hot spots of that conflict. He missed Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. The luck of the draw. He was in Natal 1 year 5 months. His Regiment, The Kings Own, had Battle Honours for South Africa 1879.

Credited 31 days service and pay for 7 Dec 1860 - 11 Feb 1861 then In confinement 12 May 1880 -31 May 1880  Reason not stated - Tried 1 June 1880; reduced to Private again 2 June 1880. Forfeit GC (1d) pay 12 May 1880
Discharged 17 Aug 1880

Movements and Medical

Arrived Chichester 22 July 1859
Admitted Hospital (no 217) Gonorrhea 27 Aug 1859-16 Sept 1859
Admitted Hospital (entry No 7) Chichester
1 Jan 1861-2 Feb 1861 (syphilis)
Arrived Chatham: 27 Aug 1861
Arrived Corfu: 11.10.1861
Admitted hospital: 12.10.1861 - 5.12.1861 (syphilis)
Arrived Cape Halonia ? 18.12.1861
Arrived Corfu 11.4.1863
Arrived Malta 4.6.1864
Hospital (174) 3.6.1865 Cause? to 8.6.1865
Hospital (29) 6.2.1866 Constipation to 10.2.1866
Arrived Halifax Nova Scotia 27 April 1866
Re-engaged (Dublin) 21 years service 7 July 1868
Arrived Chester 31 May 1869
Arrived Aldershot 14 Mar 1871 Vaccinated 26.6.1872
Arrived Woolwich 24 Aug 1872
Arrived Cork 5 Aug 1874
Arrived Curragh 4 June 1875
Arrived Athlone 10 Aug 1875
Admitted Hospital (no 10) Colic 16.1.1876-19.1.1876
Arrived Curragh 5 June 1876
Arrived Dublin 17 May 1877
Arrived Aldershot 7 Aug 1877
Arrived Natal 17 Jan 1879
Arrived Preston 13 May 1880 discharged 17 Aug 1880

1265 Pte William Gibson b June 1842 St Georges London Middlesex Pardoned deserter ordered to serve (age 17) Documents prepared at Lancaster 19 Aug 1880
Age 38 years 2 mths  Height 5' 7 & half "
Complexion: fresh
eyes: grey
hair: dark brown
Intended Place of residence: 57 Newcomen St, Borough, London.

As we've learned, he went to Stevenston, Ayrshire to join his brother Finlay at their sister Margaret's home. He may have returned to London's East End a short while after the 1881 Census shows him at Stevenston. The jury is still out on the identity of the William Gibson recorded in the 1891 Census in St George's in the East, Borough, London.

DISCHARGE PAPERS  1265 Pte William Gibson, 2 Btn 4th Regt of Foot [King's Own Royal Regiment of Foot].
Service completed 19 years 251 days; 8  a half years abroad.
Stations: Corfu 2 yrs 7 mths
Malta 1 year 10 mths
Halifax Nova Scotia 2 yrs 3 mths
Natal 1 year 5 mths 
Discharged 17 Aug 1880 at Preston
Reason: In the interest of the public service 
Granted modified pension after 18 years service by direction of the Secretary for War under article 1279 Royal Warrant 1st May 1878.

Defaulters Book entries:
Conduct Fair
Has one G C badge (good conduct)
No School Certificate for education
Appeared on Regimental defaulters 35 times including 4 Court Martials
Never wounded or injured.

Chelsea Pension No 83453A

Acknowledgements to military researcher Graham Mason.  .........

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Gibsons and others in the East End of London

It is regrettably true that thousands of young boys on the verge of manhood joined the British Army as there was no alternative. From poor backgrounds, they may have been employed in unskilled occupations from their early teens. Finlay Gibson was a parasol maker in London's East End before he joined up. Even though the parasol was then an important female accessory, this occupation would not have brought in a large income. 

'By the 1850s when Charles Dickens was at his most creative and influential London was the world’s most powerful and wealthiest city. But it was also the world’s most crowded city with a growing problem of poverty that threatened at times to overwhelm its magnificence. Whilst at the beginning of the 19th century less than 1 million lived in London by the 1850s the capital’s population had doubled and, by the end of the 19th century 6.5 million lived in an ever expanding Greater London. London was now home to one in five of the UK population.' 

Epidemics of diseases such as cholera and typhoid in such an overcrowded city were never far from the surface. Whilst those living in overcrowded slum conditions were at greatest risk of infectious disease it was not just the poor who died young. Tuberculosis, smallpox, cholera and typhoid were no respecter of class and killed both rich and poor. In the mid-19th century the high death rate amongst young children brought average life expectancy in London down to just 37 years.

'It is incontrovertible that children grow up into rotten adults, without virility or stamina, a weak-kneed, narrow-chested, listless breed, that crumples up and goes down in the brute struggle for life with the invading hordes from the country. The railway men, carriers, omnibus drivers, corn and timber porters, and all those who require physical stamina are largely drawn from the country’. (Jack London, The People of the Abyss 1903)

Malnutrition remained a problem for London’s poorest and it was estimated up to 500 starved to death in the capital annually. Those who could afford to eat regular meals usually had a diet lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables resulting in vitamin deficiency and diseases such as rickets. In the East End rickets, caused by a lack of Vitamin A and with consequent fragility of bones, was common among young children - there was noticeable weakness and deformity of the legs.

So when we read of the Gibson brothers being 'of slender build' we can understand the years of deprivation that led to such a description given in their Army papers. They were just two of many. And it was from this population that the British Army drew most of their recruits eventually to be sent off to fight in one or other of Victoria's little wars and to form the basis of the 'PBI' - the Poor Bloody Infantry. 

East End boy.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Gibson, William: his later life

The last we hear of William Gibson is in the 1881 Census Record where he is listed, with his brother Finlay, residing at their sister Margaret's home in Stevenston. Finlay married and went to live elsewhere in Stevenston but it is less clear what William's next move was. He was not listed in Stevenston in 1891.

There is a possibility that he went back to his old haunts in the East End of London and this may be William and family in 1891:

Name: William Gibson
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1891
County: London
Parish: St George In The East
Ecclesiastical Parish: ST JOHN
Registration District: St George In The East
Residence Note: Great Hermitage Street
Gender: Male
Age: 50
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Wharf Labourer
Relationship to Head of Household: Head
Birth Year (Estimated): 1841
Birthplace: London, England
Page Number: 29
Registration Number: RG12
Piece/Folio: 288/ 116
Household Role Sex Age Birthplace
William Gibson Head Male 50 London, England
Sarah Gibson Wife Female 40 Kent, England
Nellie Gibson Daughter Female 8 London, England
Rosina Gibson Daughter Female 5 London, England
John Foreman Lodger Male 46 Essex, England

The birth year and age fit - he was 40 in the 1881 Census, here he is 50. The strongest clue is mention of St George in the East which was William's district before he joined the Army. His occupation is given as 'Wharf Labourer' and he was a 'labourer' when he enlisted so that is not too much of a stretch. 

He had clearly married, and his first child was 8 in 1891. So he could have started his family about 1883. There were two daughters and a lodger, the latter no doubt a helpful addition to the family income. 

However, this is speculation and apart from the clues as to birth year, parish and occupation more information is required to be certain of the identity of this William Gibson.

Map showing St George in the East - the proximity of the River Thames
makes it a good location for a 'wharf labourer'.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Gibson, Finlay's and William's military records

According to his Army Discharge papers, Finlay was born in 1841 in the parish of St George's East (usually known as Borough, Southwark), London, Middlesex, England. 

His service number was 778 and his rank was Private. His Regiment was the 15th - The King's Regiment of Hussars - to which he attested on 7 April 1859 aged 18 years 6 months.

15th Hussars: The King's Regt.
He was discharged on Pension as shown in WO 97 Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913, National Archives reference WO 97 Box 1735 Box record number 105.

There are regrettably no service papers for Finlay Gibson, unlike in his brother William's case. The information available on Finlay is in his Discharge papers - Chelsea Pensioners WO 97.

Finlay was discharged on June 22, 1880 and headed for Stevenston, Ayrshire, to his sister's house.

In due course his brother William, also an Army Pensioner, joined the household, at least for a while. William had been in the 2 Btn 4th Regt of Foot [King's Own Royal Regiment of Foot].for nearly 20 years when he was discharged on 17 Aug 1880 at Preston.
Because some of Finlay's papers are regrettably missing, we know more about William's career than we do about Finlay's. William deserves a more detailed account than there is space for here but note that he appeared on Regimental defaulters 35 times including 4 Courts Martial. On the plus side he was never wounded or injured.

When William joined up he was under age. He deserted immediately and was pardoned. Desertion directly after joining up was not that unusual and reminds us that for young men from poorer backgrounds the Army was an option they were frequently forced to take. It wasn't a matter of patriotic duty but of survival in a harsh world. His father was also a soldier so presumably William and Finlay both knew what to expect.

William, born in Westminster, Middlesex, in June 1842, enlisted on 21 June 1859 at Newington. He was a labourer. His record gives a personal description: Height 5'4 and half" Chest 30", Hair dark, Build slender. He probably hadn't had three square meals a day while growing up. At least he'd be adequately fed in the Army. 

At Discharge he gave his residential address as Newcomen Street, Borough, London. However, he didn't go to that address - it may have been his parents' home at one time; perhaps they were by then both deceased - but to his sister Margaret's in Stevenston, Ayrshire. 

Photo by Lyle Dixon-Smith

[Acknowledgement to Graham Mason for military research.]

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Gibson: Annie and Canada 1925-26

Annie Bell who later married Finlay Gibson was born in West, Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario, Canada where her parents were living in 1859. Later they moved back to Ayrshire, Scotland and it was there that Annie met her husband, Finlay. They married in Stevenston, May 20, 1881. They had five children, one son and four daughters.

After Finlay's death at the end of December 1924, Annie decided to go to one of her daughters living in Winnipeg, Canada - Kate was by then married to William Robson. I found her departure on board the steamship Letitia, of the Anchor-Donaldson Line; Master, David Taylor, 280 passengers; date of departure from Glasgow 18 June 1925 bound to Quebec and Montreal. Canada is given as Annie's 'Country of intended future permanent residence'.

She was 66. A year later she died and various notices appeared in the local press as follows:

The Manitoba Free Press, Wed, 29 Sept 1926 p 7 col 3 'Deaths & funerals':

'Mrs Annie Gibson, widow of the late Finlay Gibson, died at St Boniface hospital on Monday. A native of Hamilton Ont she had spent most of her life in Scotland and had resided with her daughter, Mrs William Robson, 197 Hill Street, Norwood, about a year. The funeral will be held at 2 o'clock this afternoon from the Gardiner funeral home to Elmwood cemetery and Rev J E Ramsden will officiate'.

The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Wed, 29 Sept, 1926, p 15 col 3 'Deaths':

'GIBSON - Entered late rest on Sept 27 at St Boniface Hospital, Annie Gibson, aged 67 years, widow of the late Finlay Gibson and mother of Mrs Wm. Robson 197 Hill Street ... p.m. Wednesday, from the ... Gardiner Funeral Home, 172 Kennedy St. Interment in the family plot* at Elmwood Cemetery.'

Medical Certificate of Death:
Place of Death St Boniface 
Name of Deceased: Annie Gibson 197 Hill St Norwood
Date of Death September 27th 1926
Name Annie Gibson
I hereby certify that I attended the deceased from Aug 18th 1926 to Sept 27th 1926, that I last saw her alive on Sept 27th and that death occurred on 27th Sept 1926 at 9 p.m.
Cause of death:
Primary: Exhaustion from long continued sub acute disease (emphysema) duration 1 month 18 days
Contributory (secondary) emphysema duration 1 month 20 days
Did an operation precede death Yes  date of Sept 18th
Signed Sept 28 1926
Place of burial Elmwood Cemetery
Date of burial 29 Sept 1926

[Acknowledgements to Denise Neufeld in Canada for the above information.]

*** Ryan Moore please contact me via this blog - I have tried emailing you but your address must have changed. More on the Gibsons and Bells - we discussed these earlier

Annie Bell Gibson's memorial stone at Emwood Cemetery, Winnipeg
photo at Findagrave

The official notice of death includes Annie's parents names: Full name of father: Samuel Bell
Birthplace of father: England Maiden name of mother: Catherine Ross. Birthplace of mother: Stephenston (sic, should be Stevenston) Scotland.

Samuel Bell was born in Chetwynd, Shropshire in 1833 and married Catherine Thomson Ross in 1858. Catherine was born November 18, 1834 in Stevenston, where she died in 1913. More information on the Ross family has been acquired.

Catherine Thomson Ross Bell
 Samuel Bell
Samuel Bell
[Photos from FindaGrave]

Friday, August 24, 2018

Gibson, Finlay and family:1901 and after

In the 1901 Census Finlay Gibson, aged 60, and family were still living at Nobel's Villas in Dynamite Road, Stevenston.. He was the 'Cartridge Foreman' at the dinnamit. 

The family had grown: listed in the household, apart from Finlay, are

Ann Gibson  42 his wife
Ann Gibson 18  eldest daughter
Kate Gibson 16
Mary Gibson 15
Maggie Gibson 14    4 daughters
William Gibson  12    and one son

The eldest daughter, Annie, would marry Joseph Hamilton in 1907. The couple emigrated to South Africa ca 1910 eventually settling in Durban.

Kate, or Catherine, married William Robson. It was to this couple's home in Winnipeg that Finlay's widow went to live after his death in Stevenston in 1924. She did not survive him long.

197 Hill St Norwood Winnipeg, the Robsons' home
where Annie stayed for the last year of her life
[Photo Acknowledgement - 
Becky Johnson via 
 Denise Neufeld]

Memorial Inscription New Street Cemetery, Stevenston.
: Finlay Gibson and Annie Bell Gibson.
Annie was buried in Winnipeg, Canada.

The other person mentioned, William F(inlay) Gibson,
was their youngest child who died in 1911 aged 22.
Occupation: engine fitter; lung problems caused death..
Death Certificate gives Pleuritis, emphysema, asthma and operation.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Gibson in Stevenston Ayrshire 1881-1891

The 1881 Census entry above shows Margaret McIntyre and her children living in Schoolwell Street Stevenston. Included in her household are her two brothers, William and Findlay [sic], occupations given as Army Pensioners. 

The two Gibsons had recently taken their discharge from the Army and gone to join their widowed sister Margaret in Stevenston, Ayrshire. She was at that time working as a Pauper Sick Nurse, probably earning a pittance.Only one of her children, William aged 15, was working - apprentice cabinet maker. The others were all under twelve and at school. 

It would have been to Margaret's advantage, as well as to her brothers', 
for the latter to form part of the household. But Finlay wouldn't be with her for long as his marriage to Annie Bell meant he would have to find new accommodation.

By the 1891 Census Finlay and family were living at Nobel's Villas, Dynamite Road. He was 50 years old and his occupation was Gatekeeper (at the 'dinnamit'). It's noted that he was a British Subject. His wife Annie, maiden surname Bell, was then 32 and her birthplace is given as Canada (West). This was my great grandmother, who must have been a very busy person. Their children at that date were Ann aged 8 (later married Joe Hamilton), Catherine 6, Mary 5, Margaret 4 and William 2, all born in Stevenston.

Dynamite Road, Stevenston ca 1890-1900

My grandmother, Annie Gibson  - later wife of Joe Hamilton. This photo
was taken in Stevenston shortly before Annie, with daughter Beth, went
out to South Africa. Joe had emigrated there ca 1910.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Gibson Family: from London to Stevenston, Ayrshire

In this photograph the elderly gentleman's neat three-piece suit gives no indication of his profession. Finlay Gibson was a military man: that was the first helpful clue I received about my great grandfather and it came from my Aunt Beth (nee Hamilton). At the time I was mystified as to Finlay's origins. He had certainly married in 1881 a lady named Annie Bell (by the way these Bells were no relation to Captain Bell and family) in Stevenston, Ayrshire, but Finlay (also spelled Finley) was English, by all accounts a Londoner by birth - so why had he ended up in the village of Stevenston in Scotland and what had he been doing between his birth and his marriage?

Finlay's story was to prove one of the most fascinating to emerge during my research into the Gibson line and to compound matters he had a brother, William, beside whose exploits Finlay's paled into insignificance. If there is a black sheep among the Gibsons, William, brother of Finlay, seems a likely contender.

For more on Finlay and other Gibsons enter his name into the search facility on this blog - see top left of page - and read several articles on the topic.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Port Captain's Residence at the Point, Durban

It's evident from George Russell's 'History of Old Durban' that Captain William Bell's residence was at the Point. In discussing John Milne's work for the Natal Harbour Board, Russell mentions: 

'His (i.e. John Milne's) main project was to carry out a North Pier to the Bar with a short South Pier opposite, gradually narrowing the entrance and facilitating scour. He employed the fragments of labour and funds doled out to him in wattling the sandhills from Captain Bell's house to the Point, with a series of rough fences divided into sheepfold-like paddocks, to divert and retain the drifting sands from entering the Bay. These sands were then secured by planting the Hottentot Fig or any green thing that would grow there.' 

This is important: Bell's residence was near to or part of the Signal Station at the Point – we're not speaking of Conch Villa on the Bluff. Obviously the Port Captain had to be constantly in touch with goings-on at the harbour and the area adjacent to the Entrance Channel. His house and office at the Point was also not far from the Time Ball where Thomas Alfred Gadsden worked after leaving the lighthouse.

Port Office, the Point Beach, Durban ca 1870. It doesn't look a hive of activity but the Port Office was central to all Harbour activities, reports being kept of all vessels entering or departing, or using the slipway; shipping agents and masters of ships came to see the Port Captain here.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Bluff Lighthouse Family

Captain Bell had literally been out of the picture since his death in 1869, of an abscess on the lung. The family had struggled on with some help from George Cato and were living at Conch Villa on the Bluff. Regrettably no photograph of this oft-mentioned residence has been found. Thomas Alfred Gadsden married Eliza Ann Bell at Conch Villa in August 1873. Ellen Harriet Bell married Edward Baxter in 1870 at the 'Port Captain's Residence, Addington, Durban, Natal'. It was as though Mary Ann Bell was anxious to get as many of her daughters off her hands as possible. Jessie McGregor Bell, at the age of 17, married James Pascoe Martin in April 1874.  Martin was Engineer of the steamer Basuto at the time of their marriage. Speedily following her sister down the aisle, Sarah Scott Bell married Charles George Pay at Conch Villa in May 1874. 

But sadder times were just around the corner. Douglas Bell died in 1898 so his income was no longer a help to his mother. Eliza Ann Gadsden, nee Bell, died in June 1900 (Her husband Thomas Gadsden had died in 1893.) Eliza and Thomas's son William Gadsden died of typhoid in 1900 at Verulam leaving a widow and daughter.

James Colquhoun Bell, always elusive, emerged briefly in Durban as reported in the Natal Mercury 12 Dec 1872:

The Ferdinande – 'James Colquhoun, son of Mrs Bell, widow of the late Port Captain Bell arrived in the Ferdinande. He is, we believe, anxious to get employment here, so that he may be with his family.'

But not long afterwards James Colquhoun fetches up in England marrying Sarah Clark at St Mary Stratford, Bow in September 1874. By 1891 James and his large family were living in South Shields where he worked as a Marine Enameller. He did not return to Natal. 

Mary Ann Bell died in October 1899. She had been a widow for thirty years. On her Death Notice, her son Sturges Bourne Bell is listed as 'missing'. He had been involved in and survived a shipwreck in November 1873 but there is further research needed on Sturges's career after that incident. Missing does not necessarily mean 'dead'.

Her other remaining children were George John Head Bell who married Mary Catherine Tonkin; he died in 1904, and Alice Millican Bell who married Alfred Mathias Tilley and died in 1926. 

A son named Alfred Thomas Payne Bell, about whom little is known other than his birth in Durban in December 1860, died 19 March, 1884 in Whitechapel, London. His Death Certificate could be acquired from the GRO to find out cause of death and any other useful nuggets.

Ella Horne's house remained as a Bell family reminder for many years at the corner of Essenwood Road Durban until sadly it burnt down. Ella, recently deceased, was a descendant of Captain Bell's through his daughter Alice Millican Bell who married Alfred Mathias Tilley.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Buff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 6

If, as seems likely, Douglas Bell is one of the group depicted in this photograph, he may be the figure on the extreme left, apparently holding a telescope. I like to think it would have been his father's Dollond instrument, seen held by Captain Bell in other pictures.

When this photo was taken, Douglas was one of two keepers at the Bluff light. 

The other man could be either Stephenson or Shortt who kept the light circa 1898.

Exterior photographs were not usual, even by the 1890s, but it makes sense that W E James found it preferable to take the group outside rather than in the small, probably somewhat dark, interior of the keeper's cottage. 

The structure behind, which doesn't have visible windows, may have been for storage of items necessary for lighthousekeeping.

Why Aunt Ellen should be accompanying her nieces Violet and Natalia on a visit to Douglas is not clear, but it seems a friendly gesture especially considering the isolation of the keepers in their Bluff eyrie. 

Ellen's husband, with the grandiose name of Edward Abbott Forbes Baxter, was a clerk in the magisterial service from 1867-1874, second extra clerk in the G.P.O., 1875, and second clerk assistant in the Legislative Council, 1876. Whether he went on to higher rungs of the colonial ladder is not known, but he survived his wife, who died in Pietermaritzburg in 1906.
They had an only son, Alexander Baxter, who became manager of a bank and at one time coincidentally owned the house at Durban North where I grew up from the age of three: 19 Kelvin Place.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 5

The photographer W E James first emerged in Durban in 1874 operating a studio at Central West Street. By the time he took the photo of the Bell family group currently under discussion he had a studio at the Point, Natal. This is evidenced by his tradeplate on the back of the photograph. [See previous post for the group photo.]

If, as seems indicated by the handwritten note on the back of the photo, the members of the group include 'Uncle Dog' - undoubtedly an error for Uncle Douglas i.e. Douglas Bell - the picture was certainly taken before July 1899, when Douglas Bell died. So that gives a starting point from which to work back to a possible date for the photograph.

Thomas Alfred Gadsden had been Head Lighthousekeeper at the Bluff until 1880, with Douglas Bell serving as Assistant Lighthousekeeper during the 1870s. In about 1880 Thomas Alfred Gadsden was appointed Timekeeper for the Natal Harbour Board, working at the Timeball, Point. He is, however still listed in the Natal Almanac of 1880 as Head Lighthousekeeper - probably due to the time lapse in publishing the Almanac, often about a year behind. In the 1881 edition, the Keeper is listed as D Moffat, with Douglas Bell as Assistant. At that date Captain Airth is shown as Port Captain: it was due to a clash between Thomas and Captain Airth that Thomas ceased working as Head Lighthousekeeper. He continued as Timekeeper for some years, dying in October 1893. So, by the time this picture was taken, Douglas Bell was either Head Lighthousekeeper or Assistant to the new man.

The other Bell family members mentioned on the back of the photograph are 'Aunt Ellen' and 'Cousin Violet Bell'. Aunt Ellen would have been Ellen Harriet Bell, daughter of the Captain. Born in 1846, she married Edward Baxter in 1870 (her previous husband was Frederick Wise) and died in 1906. 

'Cousin Violet' was Violet Amy, daughter of Sarah Scott Bell (the latter was the third daughter of Capt and Mrs Bell and married Charles Pay in 1874). Violet was born in 1882 and married David O'Donovan in 1907. She looks to be in her teens in the photograph, so it could have been taken towards the end of the 1890s, perhaps 1897 when Violet was fifteen and before Douglas Bell died (1899). The younger girl, ignored in the handwritten note, is likely to have been Natalia Beatrice, Violet's sister, born in 1887. She could have been aged about nine or ten, to fit in with our approximate date of 1897 for the picture.

Remember that we are relying on the information provided by the handwritten note being true but there are some small inaccuracies to give us pause e.g. the misspelling of Doug, and Cousin Violet Bell's name would have been Pay not Bell.

The photograph is a cabinet print - these came into use in the 1860s and gradually supplanted the smaller cartes de visite, becoming more popular by the 1890s.

The costume worn by the ladies is not particularly typical of the late 1890s but the Bells probably did not dress in the height of fashion. Violet's hair is piled fashionably on top of her head but Ellen clings to an outmoded cap. The men appear to be wearing Tam O'Shanter hats (traditional working men's headgear and not only in Scotland).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 4

Just for fun - a colour version of the restored Bell group photograph, artwork by Hartmut Jager.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Bluff Lighthouse: Keeper's Quarters 3

Before restoration - the Bell group:featured in yesterday's post:

The original photographic print had damage to the left-hand area, making it impossible to see clearly the figure hidden there. It is a man wearing a hat and perhaps holding a telescope. The handwritten inscription on the back of the photo reads 'Uncle Dog (sic), Aunt Ellen, Cousin Violet Bell'. The tradeplate is of W E James, Photographer, The Point, Natal.

If 'Uncle Dog' is a misspelling of 'Uncle Doug' (quite likely), this group could include Douglas Bell, son of Captain William Bell. He may be the indistinct figure at far left. At that time Douglas would have been lighthousekeeper at the Bluff. The other man could have been his assistant.

'Aunt Ellen' was Ellen Harriet Bell (who married Edward Baxter, deceased by the time this photo was taken). Ellen was Captain Bell's daughter. 'Cousin Violet Bell' was the daughter of Sarah Scott Bell, Captain Bell's daughter who married Charles Pay.