The Journey Begins

East Perth Cemetery

The image is of the East Perth Cemetery and the Purkis Family tomb

Welcome to Down Rabbit Holes.

Our site is called Down Rabbit Holes because I have been fascinated by family history for many years and the process of finding out who is who, what they did, where they did it and who they knew is much like exploring a rabbit warren.

We already have a lot of information about our families and will be posting it as we convert it to a format suitable for publication on WordPress.

©Megan Stevens 2018

Richard Walford Stevens at Isandlwana

Richard Walford Stevens at the 60th anniversary of the battle and as a Natal Mounted Police Trooper against the backdrop of the battlefield as seen from the camp.

My great grandfather, Richard Walford Stevens, was a 20 year old Trumpeter with the Natal Mounted Police when the Anglo Zulu War began on 11 January 1879. He crossed the Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River into Zululand that day at Rorke’s Drift and was part of the first battle of the war the following day. On 20 January, he had to walk the 11 km to the base of the strange, sphinx-like hill, Isandlwana, because his horse was sick. His sick horse also prevented him from heading out with most of his comrades in a big scouting party the next day so he was in the camp on 22 January 1879 when it was attacked by the main Zulu army of some 20,000 warriors pouring over the ridge and racing towards them.

He played a small part in the spirited forward defence by the mounted troops in “Durnford’s Donga” until they were overwhelmed and had to retreat back to the camp. All was lost by that stage because Zulu warriors were already there when they arrived – stabbing and slashing. His only weapon, a revolver, was broken so he made his harrowing escape down the back of Isandlwana to the Mzinyathi river along the route that became known as the Fugitives’ Trail, now marked by a string of burial cairns. He managed to get across the river into Natal and rode to Helmekaar as one of only nine Natal Mounted Policemen to escape.

He wrote about his experiences to his family back in Witham, Essex, and they sent his letters to the newspapers so we know what he said. Quite a lot it turns out despite the brevity of his letters. And pithy. Which is why he has been much quoted by historians especially regarding the mayhem in the camp.

He had gone to Natal on an adventure and left the police to do the same by going to the diamond fields of Jagersfontein. He did not make his fortune and instead embarked on a career that can best be described as entrepreneurial and opportunistic, but not particularly successful. He had his ups and he had his downs with two bankruptcies and a prosecution for embezzlement. He pleaded guilty but was pardoned by the judge without a conviction being recorded. Amazingly.

He lived out his life with his son and daughter-in-law on their farms in the Witsieshoek and Kestell areas of the Free State.

He valued the comradeship of his first great adventure and was a regular attendee at Isandlwana and Natal Mounted Police reunions. He was remembered as the last survivor of the nine Mounted Policemen who escaped Isandlwana.

His story has taken a lot of work to put together because there were no family records and only sketchy recollections of his life. When I started out, all I had was what my father had told me: his name was Richard William Stevens; he was from England and had fought at Isandlwana; he had married Kate Norton (who was Jewish and possibly called Nortonovski) from Barkly East; he lived with my father’s family on their farm for many years; he liked his reunions and died aged 85 on the way to a reunion; he was never without his fob watch on its chain; he swore by a good suit; and there were his medals. But only some of this was true. Kate Norton, for instance, was baptised and confirmed in the Dutch Reformed Church!

His only remaining mementos are his medals and a fob watch chain that was his pride and joy. It is an interesting story of a young man from a privileged English background who embarked on a colonial adventure. And if he hadn’t managed to avoid the warriors that fateful day in January 1879, it would have been a very short adventure, and I wouldn’t be here to tell what happened to him.

The full story with transcripts of his letters, a detailed explanation to what he said, plus details of his earlier and later life and marriage, can be found HERE.

©Alun Stevens 2023

Why Granny was in the concentration camp

Granny Sarah Alice Liddell; Bluegumbush farm, Witsieshoek, Free State, South Africa; Harrismith Concentration Camp

I posted an article in November 2020 discussing my granny’s internment in the Harrismith Concentration Camp during the Anglo Boer War and why the family had not spoken of it to succeeding generations. I could answer that question, but not why my granny’s family went to the camp. Nor why her uncles, aunts and their families went to this and other camps. I could make educated guesses from the information I had, but could not say for certain. I now know the answers.

I have at last obtained the claims for compensation that most of the families lodged after the war. My enquiries were held up by air conditioning failures at the Archives in Pretoria and then by Covid-19 lockouts, but these are now past and the documents have arrived. Over 500 pages of statements, receipts, military passes, letters, forms and the rest. These provide the reasons in the words of the people themselves.

This has required a major rewrite of one section of the article in order to correctly describe their experiences and to replace many “might haves” with “dids”.

The key revelation with respect to my granny is that she, her siblings and her mother were forcibly driven off their farm, Bluegumbush, by Boers of the Harrismith Commando because her father had begun working for the British military. They were given a day to leave with only what they could carry on a single ox-wagon. They went to Harrismith and sought safety in the “Refugee Camp” as some of its very first inmates.

Other families were forcibly removed from their farms to the camps by the British. Their British sympathies were no protection.

Everyone suffered depredations by Boer and British forces alike. Horses, cattle and sheep confiscated. Stores confiscated. Equipment deliberately damaged to render it unserviceable. Grain, fodder, crops and buildings burnt. One uncle rode around his farm with a British officer watching the farm being burnt. And he was regarded as a British Subject and had spied for the British.

The rewritten section can be found HERE.

The full article can be found HERE.

©Alun Stevens 2021


Harold “Carrots” Ayliff with his friend Frikkie Brink; Harold with his sister Margaret “Meg” in the cockpit and her friend “Beery” de Beer; Charlotte “Charlie” Ayliff

My great uncle, Harold “Carrots” Ayliff, wrote a short, and incomplete note with his reminiscences of his time in the Royal Air Force at the very end of World War I, and also his involvement in World War II. I was given a copy by his great-granddaughter, Georgia. Some time later, when visiting my cousin, Janet, in New Zealand, she showed me the photograph album that her grandmother, Charlotte “Charlie” Ayliff, Harold’s sister, had kept of this same period during World War I. I was struck by the overlap between the written record and the photographic record. The photographs brought life to the story and the writings put the photographs in context.

I was particularly struck by the photograph, in the banner above, of my grandmother in the cockpit of one of Harold’s training planes. She was obviously thrilled.

I was reminded of the reminiscences and photographs recently when I read this article on powered flight at Hermanus. Harold’s story is not that different from that of Henry Luyt of Hermanus.

I had already created an album combining Harold’s story with Charlotte’s photographs and felt that it would be good to publish it on our web site for everyone to see. Here it is with links to many of the places and events that Harold mentions. Please click HERE.

©Megan Stevens 2021

My Granny was in a concentration camp

Granny Sarah Alice Liddell; Bluegumbush farm, Witsieshoek, Free State, South Africa; Harrismith Concentration Camp

A few years ago, Megan found a reference online that indicated that my grandmother, Sarah Liddell, had been interned in the British Concentration Camp at Harrismith during the Anglo Boer War. This was a big surprise. My grandmother’s family were English and my father and grandmother had never mentioned anything like this. My first reaction was that someone had made a mistake. My surprise turned to shock when I discovered that it was true. My grandmother, her parents and her siblings had indeed been interned in the Harrismith concentration camp. Two of my grandmother’s sisters had died there from typhoid. And a number of my grandmother’s Liddell aunts, uncles and cousins had also been interned and other children had also died.

This was not a little event that had slipped from memory over time. This was a big deal. It would have been firmly imprinted in the minds of all who were involved. But it had never come up in family conversations. I checked with my brother. He too is sure that these events were never discussed. I checked with my cousin, daughter of my father’s elder brother. She too is sure that these events were never discussed by our grandmother or her father.

What happened? Who knew? Why was it kept quiet? All the protagonists are now dead so we will never know all the answers, but there are a lot of records and some people who remember things. There was a lot to know, but I now do know what happened and have a good idea why no one talked about it.

The investigation was quite difficult because I essentially knew nothing except that my grandmother was a Liddell from Witsieshoek in the Free State who had grown up on a farm called Bluegumbush and that her parents, my great-grandparents, were James Greaves Liddell and Sarah Eleanor Clark. I now know a lot, lot more, but that is thanks to meeting a number of fellow Liddell descendants online. Descendants who, unlike me, actually knew something – and had an interest in family history.

The reason why no one discussed the war is, strangely, quite simple. The reasons why they were in the camps are not. They were caught up in some of the major, chaotic events of the war and these need to be understood in order to understand why they were where they were and did what they did. I have set out the family background and experiences in some detail. I have also provided a summary of the historic context for those people, like my children, who have not grown up in South Africa.

The article can be found HERE.

©Alun Stevens 2020

Portraits of a Merchant Family

The book; Benthall Hall, Shropshire.

While researching our paper, The Wrong Marshall, Megan met Tim Benthall on an online forum. This was fortunate as Tim has provided us with a lot of invaluable information and a number of family documents that we could not have obtained otherwise. Our favourite is what we call “The Analogue Photograph“. This was a document signed by all the descendants of Dorothy Marshall (neé Chadder), the wife of Dr. William Marshall, who were present at her 80th birthday function on 29 August 1822, before the invention of cameras. We both enjoyed working with him.

Tim was working on a book about his Benthall ancestors that is now complete and has been published. PORTRAITS of a MERCHANT FAMILY is an elegant and impressive book in coffee table format available on Amazon:

Benthall Hall is a National Trust property in Shropshire. It contains about 70 portraits that depict eight generations of a single family, together with their many relatives. The two portraits on the front cover are of William Bentall and Dr. William Marshall. They met in Devon and became friends in around 1760, one a young merchant and the other a medical student. They remained friends for life, and became the patriarchs of that large extended family. Their children and grandchildren intermarried, and in the 19th century this clan exemplified the importance of “incest and influence” in maintaining a successful merchant class (as engagingly described by the anthropologist Adam Kuper in his book of that title). Its most successful members sometimes brushed with greatness, becoming entrepreneurs or civil servants in the British government and its colonies. Several others lived colourful but less respectable lives. The author draws on public and private documents to bring this family to life and show how, for better or worse, they lived through the political and social developments of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Any net profits from sales of the book will be donated to the National Trust.

The Author Notes state:

T. P. Benthall was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in West Bengal and educated in England. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in Mathematics, he spent over fifty years working with computers, as an operations research analyst, management consultant and executive at a computer software company, before being coaxed into becoming a genealogist and amateur social historian.

Whilst the book is primarily about the Benthall family, it is also a wonderful source of pithy information about the Marshall, the Adams, the Drake and the other families who joined together to further their own joint interests. It is meticulously researched and presented and definitely a must read for anyone with an interest in these families.

The book is previewed here on the Amazon US site. If you wish to buy it, you will need to find it on your local Amazon site.

©Alun Stevens 2020

The Wrong Marshall

Alfred Marshall and his favourite uncle, Charles Henry Marshall.

Megan has been researching her Marshall ancestors for many years. As part of this research, she came upon Essays on Economics and Economists by Professor Ronald Coase. Ronald Coase was a Nobel Prize winning economist who had written two essays on the family background of the well-known Cambridge economist, Professor Alfred Marshall. These essays contained a lot of information about other members of the Marshall family as well, including Megan’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Henry Marshall and his parents and siblings.

Coase’s research did not present the family in a flattering light, but it filled in a number of holes in the story that Megan had managed to uncover by that time. Megan knew that Charles had been a successful squatter on the Darling Downs of Queensland, but had no idea of how or why he had moved to Queensland or of how he had acquired the capital that allowed him to buy Glengallan station.

Coase offered an explanation. He described a meeting on the Turon goldfields in 1851 between Charles and Nehemiah Bartley who had published a book about his travels around Australia. Coase described how Charles had misrepresented his family background to Bartley by claiming to be the son of the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, whereas his connection to the Bank of England was via his brother, who was a mere clerk at the Bank. From this episode, Coase then built a narrative of a deceitful and self-aggrandising family that permeated all aspects of his essays.

Whilst this was disappointing, the incident still needed to be explored. Was this where Charles had made his money? What was Charles doing there? Why had he gone? When had he gone? This exploration began almost exactly three years ago when Megan started looking through the old newspapers and family records. This is when the Coase narrative began to unravel.

A letter written by Charles to his aunt made it clear that as a grazier on the Darling Downs, he was struggling to cope with the loss of labour to the diggings rather than having gone to the diggings himself. The newspapers had no record of a Charles or even a C. Marshall on the goldfields, but did have a record of an F. Marshall. Newspaper articles and the Bank of England records showed that the Chief Cashier at that time was indeed a Marshall. A Matthew Marshall. No relative. So there was a real possibility that Nehemiah Bartley had met someone other than Charles.

After a lot more digging, Megan then found the clincher. Death notices in Sydney and London showed that a Francis Marshall had died in Sydney and that he was the son of Matthew Marshall of the Bank of England. Further investigation put this beyond any doubt. Shipping records showed that Charles was travelling between Brisbane and Sydney at the time that Bartley had met “Marshall” at Turon. Bartley had met Francis Marshall. Coase had found The Wrong Marshall. Charles had not lied about his position.

We then decided to look into all of Coase’s other claims. This was a lot of work and involved visiting archives and libraries in Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, and Cambridge, UK, and having documents copied at The National Archives in London. It also involved examining a multitude of family sources and this is where we fortuitously made contact with Tim Benthall whose family is extensively connected to the Marshalls. He provided us with access to a number of very valuable Benthall family documents without which our research would have struggled in some key areas. The National Library of Australia’s TROVE service was also invaluable and this research would not have been possible without it. Coase’s narrative unravelled even more. I won’t describe all the details, they are in the paper, but I will say that this research proved that much of what Coase had written about the Marshalls was wrong.

The public record was also wrong. Coase’s work had been used by a number of other authors, so his erroneous descriptions of the family had spread far and wide. The definitive biography of Alfred Marshall, A Soaring Eagle: Alfred Marshall 1842-1924, by Professor Peter Groenewegen repeated Coase’s errors. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography had even been amended to reflect Coase’s and Groenewegen’s view. What to do about this? We decided that because of the standing of Coase and Groenewegen, we would need to have a meticulously researched and presented rebuttal published in a peer reviewed journal.

This was our next great journey. Compiling all the information we had uncovered into a cogent and engaging narrative which dealt with the list of misconceptions was a challenge. Many, many drafts ensued. A long and complicated ramble was progressively reorganised into a coherent structure. The words pared back to essentials. We then circulated the draft to a number of very helpful reviewers with experience of publishing professional papers. More refining and structuring ensued. And some more. We were encouraged to submit the paper to History of Political Economy as the pre-eminent journal in this field. This we did. With trepidation.

Surprise and relief. They liked the paper, but wanted an extensive rewrite. It had to be significantly shortened, but at the same time its scope expanded to include a critique of Peter Groenewegen’s book. The editor commented that he had not previously seen a paper with as many references as ours. So, many more weeks trimming and paring and rephrasing. But we did it. The rewrite was accepted in late 2018. Whew! Then the wait.

At last. In December 2019, we began to engage in the typesetting and proof editing. And now we have the final product. Our paper, The Wrong Marshall: Notes on the Marshall family in response to biographies of the economist, Alfred Marshall was published by History of Political Economy in its April 2020 issue, just out. We have also prepared an extended version for family historians with photographs, maps and copies of family and archival reference documents many of which would not otherwise be available to readers. It also includes further research that was not ready for the published paper.

The published paper and our extended article can be found HERE

Please enjoy and let us know what you think.

©Alun Stevens 2020

Our complicated family tree

The story of Megan’s and my shared ancestors can be found in our article Shared Ancestors and Shared Experiences. Whilst this is fascinating, it does not show all the complexity of our family linkages. Mere descriptions cannot adequately portray the extent of the complexity which was impressed on me when I tried to construct the family trees that I used in the article. I was forced to keep only the simple and direct lines of connection and present only those people who I discussed. But I still needed multiple descendant charts just for the main family connections.

I wanted to put everything together so that the true complexity and extent of the interconnectedness could be seen at a glance, but the family tree applications are not up to the task, and the online services are even less useful. There are just too many cross linkages in our families: cousin marriages; multiple children of a marriage separately linking to us; these children linking at different generational levels; people marrying multiple times with children from each family linking to us; these linkages being at different generational levels.

I turned to a package that is used for genetic mapping and analysis. This suffers a little from the opposite problem to the family tree packages in that it is designed for analysing massively complex networks and doesn’t have the most elegant charting interface. Nonetheless, it was able to arrange the families and generations into optimised layouts with the least overlapping which I could then adjust to get more readable images.

I have constructed two layouts. The first replicates, as far as possible, the standard hierarchical network that is usually used to show ancestral lineages. Megan and I are at the top with earlier generations in layers below us getting wider and wider as we go down thirteen generations. The second shows us at the centre (more or less) of a spider web of ancestors clustered in families with the earlier generations further and further from us. The first is better for visualising the generational linkages. The second is better for visualising the familial linkages.

Both trees are too complicated to lay out for a web page so they are presented in PDF files. If you click on the links below, they will open in a browser window and allow you to see the overall structure. Most browsers, however, will not allow you to zoom in far enough to see all the detail. For this you will need to download the file to your computer and then use Adobe Acrobat Reader (PC or Mac) or Preview (Mac). You can do this by saving the image open in your browser. Every browser does this differently so I leave it to you to figure it out. You can also right click on the links below and select the Save/Download option.

The hierarchical family tree
can be found
Right click to download
The clustered family tree
can be found
Right click to download

The information is presented in successive layers of Parents/Couple/Children using boxes and arrows as below.

Dates are birth years.

Red stars highlight interesting ancestors who appear in the discussion.

The grey ellipses highlight individuals who were either slaves, people of colour, or illegitimate. The detail is in the square brackets:
* – a parent of colour
S – a Slave
I – Illegitimate.

Megan’s and my mothers are just shown as “wife” because their maiden names are used as security questions. (The times we live in?!)

Hierarchical layout

The layout is pyramidal rather than the usual square layout because it goes down to thirteen generations before us. The lower levels would be far too wide with a square layout. The structure is quite well ordered down to Level 8 below us when connections start crossing generations and linking the right (Megan’s ancestors) to the left (my ancestors). Levels 9 and 10 are then a spider-web of cross hatchings which thin out in Level 11, mainly due to us not being able to trace all the ancestors back to this level.

The complexity of the interlinkages can be seen by considering the Snyman family that is used in the example above. If you open the hierarchical family tree, you will find them at the bottom in the middle. Their story is here. Christoffel Snyman was born illegitimately as a slave to Catharina van Paliacatta. He was freed when his mother was freed and he was legitimised when his mother then married. He, in turn, married the aristocratic Marguerite de Savoye and they are shown at Level 12 with connection lines radiating upwards cutting across the ordered structure.

Their daughter, Elsje Snyman (born 1697) connects to both Megan and me. She married Jacobus Botha (born 1692) and their daughter, Catharina Botha (born 1714), married Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (born 1706). The Van Staden’s linkage to both of us is discussed here. Their daughter, Catharina Maria (born 1739) links to me via the Ferreira’s making Elsje Snyman my 8th great-grandmother by this route.

Their older daughter, Aletta Maria (born 1731), links to Megan via her marriage to Johannes Lombard (born 1725). He was the son of Elsje Snyman’s younger sister, Johanna Snyman (born 1699), who had married Anthonie Lombard (born 1693). One sister’s son married the other sister’s granddaughter. Aletta Maria and Johannes Lombard link to the Bruwers, the Van Eedens, and Megan’s Ouma via their daughter Aletta Lombard (born 1752). Johanna Snyman is Megan’s 7th great-grandmother by this route, and her sister, Elsje Snyman, is Megan’s 8th great-grandmother.

Their youngest sister, Elizabeth Snyman (born 1706), interestingly, is Megan’s 5th great-grandmother via her marriage to Jan Hendrik van Helsdingen (born 1696) and the marriage of their daughter, Anna Susanna (born 1740), to Christman Joël Ackermann (born 1728) and then on to Megan’s Oupa.

As a result of this, Christoffel and Marguerite Snyman are independently Megan’s 6th, 8th, and 9th great-grandparents, and my 9th great-grandparents! Lots of cross links just from one couple.

Clustered layout

This layout does not attempt to keep track of the generations. It is designed to show the linkages within and between families. Linkages that span the breadth of the hierarchical chart, like Elizabeth Snyman, are frequently close to each other in this chart format.

The software has arranged the family groups around the end point – Megan and me – with the minimum of cross linkages across the chart. We can be found towards the bottom left with a red circle to highlight us.

The high level view shows that the connections within the family groups are fairly well ordered as are those between families that are closely associated like the Rossouws and Van Eedens, and the Mullers and Ferreiras. My ancestors are mainly down in the bottom right while Megan’s, much more extensive group, fills the top half of the diagram.

The more complex interlinkages criss cross across the centre of the diagram. For instance, the Potgieters near the middle who link to the families on both the left and the right. The Bothas and Van Stadens are also key linkage points and do the same.

©Alun Stevens 2020

Shared ancestors and their shared experiences

Cape Town from Table Bay 1778

Megan and I are 8th cousins because of our shared 7th great-grandparents, Johannes (Jan Harmensz) Potgieter (1674-1733), Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (1706-1746) and his wife Catharina Botha (1714-1781). As I indicated in my last post, there is more to tell because there are interesting people with colourful stories associated with these ancestors. I have spent a few weeks putting those stories together.

The stories go back to the earliest years of European settlement at the Cape in the mid 1600s for which there are surprisingly good records. The records required some hard work in order to extract the stories because quite a few are in Old Dutch script and use an antiquated Dutch language. The perseverance was worth it and has revealed a rich group of characters.

The most impressive amongst them are the young slave women taken to the Cape from India, Madagascar and Africa. Yes, we have slaves as ancestors. Some died young. Most survived their enslavement and went on to prosper and to found a number of prominent Afrikaans families. Also impressive were the contemporary attitudes that allowed these ex-slaves to take their place in society. One was granted a block of land on what is now Castle Street in the middle of the Cape Town CBD. One owned Camps Bay. Another owned Groot Constantia.

There is the free settler from Cologne who received one of the first grants of land, but was murdered just outside the Castle on what is now the Grand Parade.

There is the rifleman from Rotterdam, with a green thumb, who married the murdered man’s thirteen year-old daughter, but only after he had fathered a child with a slave at Groote Schuur. You guessed it. He was a Van der Merwe. But not a Koos.

There is the young man, born a slave to a slave mother, who married an aristocratic Huguenot woman and had to rescue other Huguenot ancestors from a murdering soldier who took them hostage.

There is the young man’s father, a soldier from Germany, who kept running foul of the law and was banished to Robben Island.

There is the young man’s mother who washed Jan van Riebeeck’s clothes.

There is adultery and divorce and some very choice language.

There are ancestors that we don’t share, who jointly helped an Empress grieve the death of her son.

And more.

The stories are intertwined and complicated in places, but I have provided them with references and links to maps that hopefully help explain them and put them in context. Thanks to the internet, I was also able to source a number of fascinating old maps and pictures from the Netherlands Rijksmuseum and Nationaal Archief that provide a contemporaneous flavour to the stories.

Please have a look HERE and let me know what you think.

©Alun Stevens 2019

My Cousin Megan

The old Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk at Glen Lynden built in 1828 by Thomas Pringle.

Despite my distinctly British heritage, my great-grandmother’s ancestry provides a link to the earliest settlers in South Africa; some European; some not; some free citizens; some not. My great-grandmother was baptised Catharina Louiza Norton in the Dutch Reformed church at Komga in the far Eastern Cape province. Her father, Benjamin Norton, was born in South Africa to Jewish 1820 Settlers. He converted to Christianity and married Aletta Maria Muller, a young woman with a long Afrikaans pedigree. Tracing this pedigree has been fascinating, but quite complicated.

We initially struggled with tracing the ancestors. The Suid-Afrikaanse Geslagsregister (South African Genealogical Register) (SAG) proved very helpful. SAG was the product of a project of the Department of Home Affairs to map the familial connections of the Afrikaans population of South Africa using church records. This showed Aletta Maria’s parents as Cornelis Johannes Muller and Agatha Catharina Ferriera and provided links from them right back to the original Muller and Ferreira settlers in the early 1700’s – the Stamvaders. With Megan having links to the same founding families, we established that we are in fact related.

This was wonderful, but problems soon began to emerge with the narrative. Agatha Catharina could not have been the second wife of the Cornelis Johannes nominated for her, because his first wife was reliably recorded as having married a second time, as a widow, and having a second family whose descendants clearly exist. There were also doubts as to Agatha Catharina’s parentage. Generations of Ferreira descendants show her as being the daughter of a different Ferreira father and mother than SAG does. All very confusing and annoying and would Megan and I still share ancestors?

I had researchers photograph documents in the South African National Archives. I visited all the websites – eGGSA, Ancestry, Geni etc. I interrogated the people who maintained family trees and profiles. None was able or willing to provide solid documentary evidence to support their propositions. Agatha Catharina’s parentage, however, began to firm up as being Thomas Ignatius Ferreira and Aletta Maria Potgieter. Naming conventions would have seen Aletta Maria Muller named after her maternal grandmother so this seemed quite probable, and there was a convenient gap in the family tree in SAG. This link, however, brought the quandary of Agatha Catharina’s sister, Susannah Elizabeth, who is well documented everywhere as also marrying a Cornelis Johannes Muller, but with some commentators suggesting that this Cornelis Johannes was actually the one who had married Agatha Catharina. This was just more confusion.

Then Megan found links to two document collections on the Family Search web site. The first is for church records from the Dutch Reformed churches in the Cape and the other is for the official death notices for the Cape Province. These yielded three critical documents that settled the questions of where Agatha Catharina fits in and who her husband was.

The first is the baptismal record for Agata Catharina Feraire who was born in 1817 to Thomas Ignatius Feraire and Aletta Maria Potgieter. So SAG was wrong and the Geni profilers had got it right.

The second is the death record for Cornelis Johannes Muller who died in 1844 on the farm Mak Fontein in the Somerset district of the Cape. It shows that he was married to Agatha Catharina Ferreira and was born in 1812 to Cornelis Johannes Muller and Johanna Catharina van Rooy(en). This is the Cornelis Johannes Muller who is shown in SAG and on virtually all the websites as having married Susannah Elizabeth Ferreira. They all have it wrong.

The third is the marriage record for Susannah Elizabeth Ferreira and Cornelis Johannes Muller who were married in 1841. This provided the second confirmation that the Cornelis Johannes Muller everyone was showing as Susannah Elizabeth’s husband could not have been so. The record shows that both parties to the marriage were Minderjarig (Under Aged) – ie less than 21 years old. On the wedding date, the nominated Cornelis Johannes, born as he was in 1812, would have been almost 29 years old and therefore definitely not Under Age. Susannah Elizabeth’s husband was clearly one of the many other Cornelis Johannes Mullers living in the area at the time.

We knew that Agatha Catharina’s and Cornelis Johannes’s second child, Cornelis Johannes, was baptised in the Anglican church at Port Elizabeth. The collection yielded the baptismal records of their younger children; all at the old church at Glen Lynden (near modern day Bedford) where they would have been baptised by the Scottish dominee, Alexander Welsh. These showed an extra daughter not recorded on any of the websites or on Cornelis Johannes’s death notice. She clearly died as a young child.

Their oldest child, Aletta Maria, was born in the Gamtoos River area south-west of Port Elizabeth on 3 October 1832 – ten days before her parents were married with her mother just 15 years old!

The confirmed marriage and parentage of Agatha Catharina has allowed us to revisit the connections between Megan and me. Looking back over twelve generations we have a number, because there was only a small population pool which intermarried extensively – especially amongst the French Huguenots to whom we are both connected. Our closest common ancestors are our shared seventh-great-grandparents, Johannes (Jan Harmensz) Potgieter (1674-1733), Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (1706-1746) and his wife Catharina Botha (1714-1781).

We are officially 8th cousins.

More to come. There are some interesting characters.


After posting this, I examined all the death notices for Cornelis Johannes Mullers and found one for 1860 showing Susannah Elizabeth Ferreira as his wife. The notice named his parents and gave his age, which enabled me to find his baptismal record. He was born in April 1822 which would have made him just 19 at his wedding in April 1841. His father was also Cornelis Johannes Muller and his mother was Anna Margaretha Vogel. So we had two Ferreira sisters who both married Cornelis Johannes Mullers each of whose father was also Cornelis Johannes Muller. To make it even more complicated, my Cornelis Johannes’s grandfather was yet another Cornelis Johannes Muller. No wonder there was confusion as to who was who.

I can’t fix SAG. I have fixed the Geni website and have tried to fix the Ancestry website, but to no avail.

©Alun Stevens 2019

Whatever happened to ‘Alma’ and ‘Inkermann’?

Megan came upon a blog post by Philip Boys regarding an intriguing side-story to the Crimean War. The image is a photograph by Roger Fenton taken during the siege of Sevastopol in 1855 of two Russian boys with Colonel Brownrigg. The boys were nicknamed ‘Alma’ and ‘Inkermann’.

The one standing holding the tent pole, ‘Inkermann’, real name Simeon Paskiewitch, was taken back to England where he adopted the surname Sinca. After this photograph was published in 1901, Simeon’s son came forward and this resulted in Simeon being interviewed:

“I remember quite well that photo being taken; it was before Sebastopol, forty-six years ago.”

“After the battle of Alma, when the English, French and Turkish soldiers got into Balaclava, the Russian farmers became frightened, and ran inside the walls of Sebastopol, leaving the grape crops behind them. We boys got out and began picking the grapes, but one day we saw some English soldiers in front of us. We all ran away, and I and the other little one in the picture got under a big tub. Here we had to stay in fright all night and part of the next day. In the afternoon one of the soldiers came across our poor old tub and knocked it over, and there was a surprise for him to see us two frightened little nippers.”

Mr Sinca (or Paskiewitch) went on to tell how they were let go, and were chased and ill-treated by Turks, and finally got into English hands again, and were taken care of by Colonel (then Captain) Brownrigg.

Mr Sinca says he was brought to England and educated at St Mark’s School, Windsor, eventually entering the service of the Earl of Pembroke, where he has been for thirty years.

It is this reference to St Mark’s School (“the Working Class Eton“) that provides the interesting link for us because St Mark’s was founded by Rev. Stephen Hawtrey M.A. who was Vicar at Holy Trinity Church, Windsor, and eventually Head of Mathematics at Eton College. He also took Simeon, and other boys, on trips to HMS Pembroke and the Suffolk seaside.

Stephen Hawtrey was also the person who Charles Henry Marshall and Charlotte Augusta Dring Drake chose to marry them in 1857. The Hawtrey and Marshall families were linked over many generations and Charles and Stephen were second cousins. Charles and Charlotte named their second son Hawtrey.

I have also found another point of connection. Simeon Sinca was a seaman in his early years. He was an apprentice aboard The Florence Nightingale from 1863 – 1868 and his first voyage was to Melbourne. The interesting link is that Charles Henry Marshall in a letter dated 4 March 1874 indicated that he was shipping new wool bales to his partner at Glengallan “per ‘Florence Nightingale’ for Brisbane”.

The fascinating story of ‘Alma’ and ‘Inkermann’ can be found HERE

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