During one of our recent visits to sister and brother-in-law, we got onto the subject of family stories and legends, and began bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t asked for chapter and verse or more details on them when we could have. 

As some examples, the chat my aunts had with King George and Queen Elizabeth on their visit to South Africa, the merriment caused by my father to (then) Princess Elizabeth in (then) Rhodesia by tripping and falling while trying to take a picture of her, how it came about that Much Better Half’s grandmother was delivered by Florence Nightingale (although dates don’t seem to tally), how my mother came to dance with the Prince of Wales in India, and all that led to her having been accused in the press of killing Queen Alexandra (… sang before her and shortly afterwards she died …!) not to mention the full details of how, armed with a pistol when in the WAAFs (Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force), she had an entire platoon surrender to her.

Much Better Half had an uncle who owned a farm that Gandhi bought – what was that all about?

Her grandfather was brought out from UK to build Pietermaritzburg Town Hall, travelled from Kimberley to Johannesburg by stagecoach with Barney Barnato – a significant figure in early South African history after becoming a millionaire from diamonds in competition with Rhodes.  Then, as refugees from Pretoria during the South African (Boer) War, on the way to Mozambique to take a boat to Durban, they had occasion to help an escaped prisoner of war by covering him with straw in a goods train truck.  The name of the escapee was Winston Churchill.


Previously unpublished picture of Churchill after escape – Dorset Echo

Oh, to have a more detailed account of that incident!

Her other grandfather, who came to South Africa as a cavalryman, used to ride in the UK on Phillips’ Farm where ‘The Brook’ of Tennyson fame ran, and later in South Africa with Sir Percy Fitzpatrick during his transport riding days.  Did he ever meet Jock of the Bushveld, one wonders? 

We still have little idea how it came about that her father’s godmother was Lady Dunbar, wife of Sir Drummond Miles Dunbar who established the SPCA in South Africa.

Only when jotting down such things does one realise how sketchy the information is, and how much could have been added by some determined questioning. 

© January 2013 Colonialist (WordPress)


About colonialist

Active septic geranium who plays with words writing fantasy novels and professionally editing, with notes writing classical music, and with riding a mountain bike, horses and dinghies. Recently Indie Publishing has been added to this list.
This entry was posted in Genealogy, History, Personal Journal and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. gpcox says:

    Great post, I’m jealous.


  2. footsy2 says:

    Fascinating. It gave me goose bumps 🙂


  3. The Asian says:

    Seems like the six degree of separation rule really does exist! Because of all your family encounters, I indirectly know those people too! 😉


  4. Arkenaten says:

    I actually had to come back. Caught up in all that metyforying I forgot to mention how good this post actually is. A smashing read, in fact.
    I recounted the Winston tale over dinner and got a Wow! from Emily which then led to an hour long chat about why continental families are closer than their English counterparts etc etc.


  5. akenaten says:

    Talk abart names droppin’ Sheesh! 😉


  6. adinparadise says:

    Fascinating bits of family history, Col. I wish I knew more about my ancestors too. I have so little information, and my mom can’t remember anything now. I wish I’d thought about this decades ago, but too late now. 😦


  7. optie says:

    Col your families sound like they would make very interesting episodes of “Who do you think you are”. We also sit with loads of old photos and no idea who most of the people in them are. What a pity we don’t take more notice of our grandparents tales when we are young.


  8. 68ghia says:

    Such cool stories they must have had Col 😉


  9. melouisef says:

    How very interesting!
    Youth is wasted on the young , we never took interest when the time was there…


  10. I actually don’t know much about my family history, in the sense that there are no special stories.


  11. nrhatch says:

    Well . . . those are some notable notables, Col.

    One solution . . . do a fictional “family history” capturing as many factual details as you can, while embellishing the rest.


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