Tag Archives: STEVENS Richard Walford /

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

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

Partridge and Walford

Cornelius Walford; Witham House; and grandfather Arthur Partridge Stevens.

My grandfather’s name was Arthur Partridge Stevens and my great-grandfather’s name was Richard Walford Stevens. Why Partridge and Walford?

It seems likely that the second name, Walford, was derived from Cornelius Walford who was Richard Walford’s uncle and married to his mother’s sister at the time of his birth. A not uncommon naming practice at the time was to give a child its godparents’ surname as a second or third name. The likelihood, therefore, was that Cornelius (2 April 1827 – 28 September 1885) and Jane (neé Malyon; 1827 – 1 January 1863) Walford were Richard Walford’s godparents.

Cornelius was a very interesting person. He was clearly talented with a wide range of interests and aptitudes. He was involved with building societies and insurance in Witham and had an abiding interest in shorthand. He went on to become a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries (as I did 120 years later) with a significant career in insurance, including managing some significant companies of the day. He was also a Fellow of the Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Historical Society and a barrister. He published work for both Societies and the Institute including a year book on insurance.

It seems almost certain that Richard Walford named his son Arthur Partridge after his next eldest brother of the same names. Arthur Partidge died at the age of 22 in September 1878 on the north coast of New Guinea while prospecting for gold as part of the Victorian New Guinea Expedition. Richard Walford arrived in South Africa in April 1878 suggesting that the two of them had gone off together to seek their fortunes – one to Africa; one to Australia. The question, therefore, is why Richard and Eliza Stevens named their third son Arthur Partridge at about the same time as Cornelius and Jane Walford named their first son Richard Partridge?

The likely source of the name is Robert Partridge who was a real estate and land agent of prominence in Witham. He and his wife occupied Witham House (57 Newland Street), a grand house with extensive land including a cricket pitch. He acquired the house from the Pattisson family who had built it in about 1750. Jacob Pattisson was a prominent merchant and well respected, but his great-grandson, also Jacob, was not of the same calibre. He was a solicitor and was, in 1852, publicly accused by Cornelius Walford of inappropriate dealings with the funds of the Witham Building Society. He survived this accusation, but in 1859 went bankrupt and fled Witham and Robert Partridge acquired Witham House.

Witham House is not far from Batsford (100 Newland Street, the Stevens family home) so it is probable that there was interaction between the families. The Partridge children were of similar ages to the Stevens children and later history shows a fairly close connection between the Stevens and Partridge boys involving cricket.

The likelihood, therefore, is that Robert and Jane Partridge were the godparents to Arthur Partridge.

©Alun Stevens 2018

Trip to Witham

My great grandfather was Richard Walford Stevens. His parents were Richard Stevens and Eliza Ann Malyon. Richard practised as a solicitor in Witham, a small town in Essex, as well as in London. He was initially articled to Edward Banks in Witham and lived with him at his residence in Newland Street. Once qualified, he became Edward Banks’s partner and eventually took over the practice and the residence.

Eliza Ann grew up in Witham and was, at one stage, a servant to Edward Banks and his clerk, Richard Stevens, whom she eventually married. Their family arrangements were interesting in that Eliza Ann and the children lived in London while Richard continued to live and practice with Edward Banks in Witham.

Richard Walford was born in London in 1859, the youngest of their eight children. His mother died soon afterwards and he and his siblings moved to Witham. The 1861 census shows them living in Newland Street with their father, an uncle, a cousin and four servants. The residence was therefore reasonably substantial.

In August 2016, Megan and I went to Witham to trace the family home and any other information we could find on the family. Janet Gyford, a local historian, very kindly showed us around and provided us with a lot of local knowledge.

We found the old residence. It was indeed a substantial building and still is. It is located at 100 Newland Street and, at the time the Stevens family lived there, was called Batsford. It is now a Wetherspoon public house.

This means that the building has had a number of additions and alterations, but much of the original building remains and it retains its character.  The advantage of it being a pub is that we could just wander around and look at the building. We were also able to have dinner in the front room – probably close to where the family had had their dinners back in the mid to late 19th century. It was quite atmospheric.

I took a number of photographs and Janet Gyford provided a lot of historic detail about the house which can be found HERE.

©Alun Stevens 2018