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23 Jan 2012

Twenty-three days

The Windsor Castle in 1873 sailed from London to Cape Town in a miraculous 23 days, the subject of this post.  Sarah Carr turned 18 in 1876 and the following January had herself baptised at Eyam parish church, her ancestral home.  I was suspicious of this event: there being too much significance for this to be a casual adult baptism, ‘oops I forgot’.  All the more so as she thereafter disappears entirely from English records!  So I decided to see the Eyam parish record at Kew, to learn where she was then living.  What I saw there excited me, opening as it does so many possibilities and hard questions:

Sarah Carr was indeed baptised at Eyam in January 1877, her address given as Glossop.  The priest notes that she left Eyam the following day, 22 January, for Griqualand West, South Africa!

This was not what I had expected.  It's a very helpful entry for which I am so grateful. But what next? And indeed what before: with whom had Sarah been engaged since her birthday which led to this turn of events?  Unfortunately it's not yet possible to interrogate FamilySearch and find out who else was baptised as Sarah was, on 21 January 1877.

Griqualand West is a diamond-shaped territory, later to be subsumed in with the Cape Colony, and diamonds were the main reason this territory drew such interest.  It was also the Griqua people's homeland, with Griqualand East across the Drakensburg mountains.  1877 was a very significant year in the region, only six years into the ‘New Rush’ of miners.  The Tantallon Castle carried the first group of Scottish farm workers to Cape Town in the very month that Sarah set sail.  A census was held revealing there were 12,374 people of European descent resident, just over a quarter of the whole, a mixture of chancers, farmers, miners, preachers, shopkeepers, and the Griqua people, all competing with each to reside in this rainless place.  The Annexation Act was passed in July, the ninth frontier war took place and stamps were first issued in this year.  Ships of the Union-Castle line were investing in getting people here quickly.  So we imagine Sarah made the trip to Cape Town, and then on by cart on muddy poor roads, to Kimberley, Griqualand West's largest settlement, not yet a town, and surely, her destination, if she made it.  – Although it seems the region had more than mines: ‘most Griqua [1870s] were forced to sell their farms to whites’, records Encyclopaedia Britannica.

After those 23 days, or more, Sarah enters a land of few records, where disease, the fast transient nature of the place and the passage of time could wipe out all memory of a person.  To me this is deeply ironic.  She was a young lady, with a considerable amount of fire to execute such a brave plan, of which we do not yet know the details.

Yet a niece came to my grandparents' wedding in 1930.  And another niece lived in old age with our cousin Edna in Southampton.  I was too busy to contact Edna before she died in 2005, but she would certainly have said if there’d been talk of an aunt in South Africa, had I known to ask.  Two of Sarah's siblings have grandchildren who are alive, but if we expect a story to somehow make up for 130 years of lost history, we are perhaps clutching at straws.

I have though, some hope.  I have tried some clever searches of the South African records, to see which infants were given the name 'Carr', 'Hannah' 'Millicent, in Kimberley or environs, names significant to Sarah, though I lack the dates.  Right now Dermot Carr McClure interests me, I have ruled out the Carr Furnesses.  There are also 50 pages of Methodist baptisms live at familysearch, which one can browse.  In a very real way one can feel the bravery of those mission folk, of whom William Woodman Treleaven and Samuel Morambo: had Sarah married one of them?  Nolene Lossau's terrific transcripts of Kimberley Methodist baptisms supplement this resource, and I am interested in Robert Brooker and others who are listed with a partner named Sarah.

I found reference to several families from Derbyshire settling in the Cape, if not in Kimberley, the Fletchers and Bundys.  I also browsed those listed as born in Cape Colony or Kimberley who appear in British censuses back home.

Let’s face it the shipping lists are unlikely to survive.  However we have the Eyam vicar telling us she left almost immediately.  There was no time for a marriage in England or Scotland (but Belfast has one), so she boarded the vessel a single woman.  I have followed the ships as best I can through the British Newspapers: we read of the Walmer Castle allowing its passengers to disembark at distant St Helena.  Did Sarah leave the vessel at St Helena one wonders?  She would have had two weeks on board to change her mind about where she was going, but we imagine she had connections in the Cape waiting for her.

At 18, she could not have been a nurse, nor did the Cape yet require trained nurses in large numbers.  Could she have been a missionary, and who in Derbyshire had been stirring up such foment that Sarah chose to leave?  She was, surprisingly, Anglican, and hers is the only entry where the Eyam vicar records such an impulsive decision.  Was she engaged to a Derbyshire man, already abroad, who’d written for her to come?  This is a plain explanation with just two people in the picture rather than a host of missionaries or preachers.  Was she going to travel with a family as housekeeper or maidservant, and, if so, we wonder who!

None of her immediate family were abroad, though there remain her father's family yet to be fully searched.  Hugh Carr had a report in the paper at his death in Cheshire 1880.  It would be nice to see that record, though I am afraid should South Africa not be mentioned, I might infer that Sarah had died there.  This absence of information would be a pretty mournful way of learning of the failure of Sarah's plan, which we trust, succeeded, whatever it was.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to have ignored the possibility she died on board the vessel - aren't these records another part of the GRO death indexes in London? Had she died that quickly, the vicar would quite possibly have put in a note in the Eyam register.

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