Researching, by following one’s nose

Researching, by following one’s nose

I decided to spend a day over the Christmas and New Year period just pottering on Whites Writing Whiteness research matters, but this has somehow turned into an entire week. Not a week of 9am to 6pm days, but certainly involving a few hours each day. What has happened has been rather like the game ‘Pin’ I used to play with my mother. The point is to say the first thing that comes into the mind when another person says a word, and the person who starts always starts with the word ‘pin’. So on one occasion it might go: pin, needle, thread, cotton, wool, sheep, lamb, spring, bed…. But on another occasion it might go: pin, prick, Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney, Hollywood, California, wine, glass, window… And so on. In this case, it started with thinking about Harriet Townsend nee Hockly (who features in a major way as an Eastern Cape businesswoman in the Pringle collection and appears in multiple places in WWW webpages), and more precisely about the certificate recording her marriage to Edward Joseph Townsend. A Trace on this document will appear shortly on the WWW website. But from the marriage certificate, thinking and searching went in a number of different directions…

In addition to her own distinctive career as a businesswoman after she was widowed and before re-marrying, a number of Harriet Townsend’s siblings had equally out of the ordinary lives. Her sister Fanny (who acted as one of the witnesses to Harriet’s marriage to Edward Townsend) had a strong religious calling, later married the LMS Wesleyan missionary Rev William Ross and lived in a number of remote places in Southern Africa including at Kuruman, so a close Moffat connection exists here. And Harriet’s youngest sister Maria married the ill-fated James Brownlee, who, when working as an administrator for his brother Charles, was mistaken to him during the 1851 Frontier War and was beheaded in retribution for the adverse treatment of a Xhosa leader.

A close friend of Harry Townsend, Sarah Munro nee Barker, also worked for her as an outworker, a dual relationship that underpinned a number of Harriet’s business practices. Sarah was married to the slightly mysterious GA Munro of Grahamstown, who was hard to name let alone find any more details about him. But Sarah’s father was another matter, with LMS data and web sources providing the following information.

Rev George Barker (1789–1861, died Paarl) was a Congregationalist. He worked for the London Missionary Society as an artisan and went to South Africa with his wife Sarah Williams (1790–1836, died Theopolis). She worked as a servant before marriage and met George when he was training at a missionary establishment in Gosport, near Portsmouth. They married in February 1815 and left Britain soon after. Their children were:

Sarah 1815–1864, m. George Alexander Munro, Grahamstown
Elizabeth 1816 –1904, proprietor Paarl Ladies Seminary for European girls and young boys
Anne/Anna 1818–1886, m. Rev James Read junior
Edward Thomas 1821–1879
John 1824–1881
Jane 1825–1 924, m. Daniel Hockly, younger brother of Harriet Townsend
Marianne/Mary Ann 1827–1903, m. Dutch Reform minister Johannes Budly
George 1830–1892
Harriet 1831–1900, m. Dutch Reform theologian J.H. du Plessis

Some of this information was provided by genealogical websites, some by publications on particular churches or small towns, some from snippets of information in digitised South African newspapers of the time, and other aspects by reference to earlier WWW research. It was a matter of letting the fingers linger on the keyboard and try many possibilities in making searches, both online and on my own computer in all of the stockpiled files from earlier research.

Barker first went to Bethelsdorp (at the time a key mission station near what is now Port Elizabeth and later known as Genadendal), then was ordained in 1819 before taking over heading the Mission Church in Theopolis (a mission station in what is now Bathurst in the Eastern Cape). From there he went to Cradock and stayed for around a decade, then removed to Paarl. He built the Zion Chapel in Zion Street, Paarl, and established a large congregation for it. While there, he had a number of dealings with David Livingstone and appears in some of Livingstone’s letters, through this establishing a connection with Mary and Roberts Moffat, the parents of Livingstone’s wife Mary and key figures in the LMS missionary presence in Southern Africa. Barker’s daughters became involved in running what became a well-known local seminary for girls and young boys, specified as being ‘European’. This school was attended by a number of the adopted children of Ettie Stakesby-Lewis, an elder sister of Oliver Schreiner. Some of this information was provided by web information, some by referring back to my earlier work on the LMS, Moffat and Schreiner-Hemming collections

As well as being friends, Sarah Munro and Harriet Townsend became linked by marriage when Sarah’s sister Jane married Harriet’s younger brother Daniel. And through Sarah’s sister Anne who married James Read junior, there is a connection to Arthur Brown, a key figure in the Schreiner-Hemming papers who married Olive Schreiner’s niece Effie. James Reads Junior’s mother, Susannah, was a Khoisan woman; and it was her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Bulley Read, sister to James junior, who was Arthur Brown’s mother, a close friend of Ettie Stakesby-Lewis and an acquaintance of Olive Schreiner. Another set of connections are established here, using the information ferreted out above and prior background knowledge to piece it together.

Harriet Townsend was herself a practising Congregationalist or rather a Wesleyan, as indicated by the invoices for pew rentals among her papers. A significant figure in the papers is the minister of the Cradock chapel she attended, John Munro, who also seems to have been a connection of Sarah Munro by marriage, as possibly the brother or cousin of Sarah’s husband George Alexander Munro. Web sources confirmed that John Munro had been an LMS teacher in Bethelsdorp 1821–1827, then moved to Grahamstown as a missionary, and then to Cradock. He died in Cradock in April 1848.

Among the letters in the Townsend part of the Pringle collection, there are quite a few from Harriet Townsend’s uncle, Rev Thomas Samuel Hood (1799-1863). He had arrived in South Africa as an 1820 Settler, and in 1828 married Mary Anne Hockly (1801-1865), the sister-in-law of Elizabeth Hockly nee Moore and the sister of Daniel Hockly, who were Harriet’s parents. He became an LMS missionary. Thomas and Mary Ann Hood lived and worked at Avontuur, Langkloof, and Thomas had a rather prickly relationship with the LMS hierarchy in South Africa. Interestingly, Harriet’s connection was with him, and not her aunt. Previously, I had supposed that his wife was a sister of Harriet’s mother Elizabeth Hockly, and so a Moore by birth, and am pleased to have now discovered that this is incorrect and she was actually Daniel’s sister.

Another important figure in Harriet Townsend’s papers is John Maskell. A web source concerned with the early history of Port Elizabeth indicates that he arrived in South Africa in 1822, established a store for H Rutherford & Co of Cape Town in Theopolis, where he lived 1822–1832. Then in 1834 he opened a shop in Port Elizabeth, as one of the early inhabitants of what was then a village but which grew rapidly because of its pivotal communications relationship with Cape Town (from which it was reached by sea) and the frontier towns of the interior (to which it was reached by cartage).

Then there was a jump in my finding things out, or rather two, which occurred for reasons not discernible. The first jump was to thinking about the Sophia Pigot journal of 1819/20 as a possible comparison with the Southey letters and Aiken diary, both also Eastern Cape and ‘arrival’ period as well as all knowing each other. Yes, it deserves a closer read, so the book is now off the shelf ready to be re-read, with the ‘original’ transcript in the Killie Campbell Library in Durban. The second was a jump to the 1829/31 Elizabeth (Lisanka) Cozens journal in the Public Records Office in Britain, which I had not previously come across and don’t know how I found it now. She was friend/companion to Lady Frances (Fanny) Cole, wife of the then Governor Sir Lowry Cole.  Interesting, but… but there aren’t obvious ‘ordinary’ letters it could be connected with, because these people lived in very rarified circles, so I’ve discounted further exploring her journal.

Now time for doing this is up. Back to other pressing things, like a certain draft article on pronouns and figurations… Some quick overviewing thoughts about these enjoyable activities in finding things out are as follows.

These activities have involved a large dose of serendipity and a willingness to try any and every search for information possible or likely, using a combination of websites, books on my shelves, files about previous research on my computer. This has resulted in a different exploration from any done before, but has covered various of the same people, time-periods and places; and not unexpectedly, it has given rise to much of the same information, as a comparison with what is in this blog and the Analysing figurations tab under Overviews on the WWW website will show. So why do it? Doing so has refreshed the memory, confirmed some information and discounted other aspects. Although doing similar searches, some new information has been added in particular to websites and this has been incorporated into WWW research. New thoughts have been stimulated about all of this, in particular regarding links between various people whose letters and other writings have already been considered as part of WWW research. And a possible addition to the collections covered in detail in the research, in the shape of the Sophia Pigot Journal, has come into frame. It has also been enjoyable in and of itself to revisit all this material and think new thoughts about it.

Last updated:  3 January 2019


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