Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tracing a Master Mariner 6

By the 1860s Captain George Henry Caithness was a well-known local figure in the Eastern Cape.

Street scene: Old Uitenhage

Whether he ever lived in one of the nine cottages he bought in Port Elizabeth in 1867, or whether they were simply a property investment, is not recorded but by 1869 he had evidently been residing in Uitenhage for some time. 

According to the Centenary publication, Uitenhage Past and Present, in that year he was on the Board of Commissioners of the town. Uitenhage had been founded in 1804 on the Swartkops River not far inland from its estuary at Algoa Bay, about 28 kms from what would later be Port Elizabeth, and initially formed part of the district of Graaff-Reinet.*

'The Commissioners then in office were
 ... George Caithness' etc

Did George find time to tear himself away from civic duties to attend the wedding of his niece Emily Mary Ann Caithness to Herbert Lee Carige at Christ Church in the parish of Addington, Durban, on 12 December 1863? If so, he would have seen his nephew James Edward/Ernest Caithness who was present. It’s possible that George’s sister Mary Ann Bell nee Caithness and her husband William Bell, the latter still in office as Port Captain at Durban, were among the guests. 

Captain William and Mary Ann Bell

As already noted, in the late 1860s/early 1870s George made at least two trips to England as a passenger on Union Line steamers Cambrian and Northam and in 1873 presented some stones from the diamond diggings to the Hartley Institution (the modern day Southampton University).** He may have been the Caithness who in August 1870 joined Slater’s party to the fields though it’s more likely this was James Edward/Ernest. Seven years later James would marry Eugenie Westmacott in London and settle in India.

In 1875 George’s daughter Caroline Ann married John Loftus and became 4th Marchioness of Ely. It’s not known whether George attended the wedding in Chelsea, London. 

During the 1880s George Henry Caithness kept a low profile, no doubt enjoying a peaceful retirement in Uitenhage. When his wife Leopoltina Cornelia Frederika died on 10 August 1894 George survived her by only a few months, dying at the Royal Hotel, Uitenhage on 28 December 1894. His Death Notice gives his ‘condition in life’ as Sea Captain.

A brief line appeared in the Colonies and India edition of 9 February 1895:
‘Captain Caithness, one of the oldest inhabitants of Uitenhage, South Africa, died there recently.’

Note: There is a Caithness Road in Port Elizabeth, about 400 metres south of Bakens River; it seems likely this street was named after James Ramsay Caithness since James's Death Notice describes his residence as being on the south side of Bakens River. There's a Caithness Road in Simonstown which may also owe its name to James. If anyone has further information regarding these two streets it would be most welcome.

* The city of Uitenhage was incorporated in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality together with Port Elizabeth and the town of Despatch in 2001


Tom Sheldon

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