(Our gratitude goes to Mary for this wonderful account. The beginning deals with hardships centuries ago in the area around Hobkirk. It moves into early Melrose Hopkirk history and finishes with the South African Hopkirk history.)
The surname Hopkirk, variously spelt Hopekirk, Hobkirk, is derived from the village of Hobkirk which lies just inside Scotland on the lonely road leading through Liddesdale over the Knote-the-Gate-pass, high up on the Cheviots. (The Jacobites crossed the Border by this almost unknown pass in 1745, when the Prince camped at Wolfelee). Even today the country is very wild. When we last saw it the Northumbrian side was a vast area of bleak mountain and moorland; but the Forestry Commission were engaged in planting it, and by 2000 A.D. it will be one huge coniferous forest - Kielder Forest.
Until 1603 the people of this desolate but beautiful region lived by mutual pillage and cattle-reiving. For strategic and political reasons trans-border hostilities were fostered by both Scots and English governments. It was clearly desirable that one's wild men should let off steam across the frontier. Each scattered settlement was based on a formidable castle or peel tower - the locals constituting the private armies of the thugs who owned the castles. They passed their time fighting and murdering one another ecstatically, and there was no agricultural life of any kind. The absence of law and order, the rigours of the climate, and these forays, kept the population down to a minimum and there was food and shelter for everyone capable of fighting. Whenever any one tribe got out of hand the government would try and exterminate it. In 1510, alarmed by the vigour, defiance and misdeeds of the Turnbulls (one of the tribes who terrorized most of the country from the source of the Rulewater to its confluence with the Teviot) James IV of Scotland summoned all the Turnbull men to meet him at Spital-o'-Rule wearing linen sheets, and submit to his authority. This, surprisingly, they did; whereupon he hanged every man at Deadman's Haugh as a warning to the remainder - which was regarded as perfectly reasonable and normal by their neighbours.
When, in 1570, the Northumbrian partisans of Mary, Queen of Scots, fled
across the Border after their defeat and were well received by the Scots, an English Army
under the Earl of Sussex was sent into the Rulewater valley and set fire to every house
in it, with special attention to Bedrule, which had harboured the rebels.
Liddesdale, on the Northumbrian side, was the territory of a gang of cut-throats known as the Liddesdale thieves, who terrorised the entire area for a century. From time to time both the Scots and English governments had tried in vain to exterminate them - or at least contain them in Liddesdale. In 1598 they broke out of their reserve. About 300 men, led by one, Martin's Hob (probably an ancestor of yours) attacked Torwoodlee, murdered the master of the house, and removed 1000 pounds in cash, the family silver and seventeen horses. They then proceeded to Abbotsrule whence they took away 330 head of cattle, 800 sheep and 40 horses, together with all the furniture of Abbotside and Harwood. Owing to these depredations the district became uninhabitable and many people fled to safer and more civilized places. When James VI and I ascended the English throne in 1603, Anglo Scottish relations improved. Hostilities abated and cattle reiving was discouraged by both governments - though no self-respecting Scot could resist an opportunity to raid a fat Northumbrian farm should occasion offer. The castles became redundant and were abandoned. Fighting being no longer the done thing, everybody was unemployed. There was no agricultural tradition in the Cheviots. The soil was poor and the climate grim. The land could not support a population no 1onger kept in check by murder and sudden death, and there was soon a near famine. Living in caves, lake-dwellings and hovels of rocks and logs, the more savage minority survived in the mountains in barbaric conditions for another century, successfully resisting all attempts on the part of the government to civilize or dislodge them. Even as late as the mid-eighteenth century after the Union, it was dangerous for strangers to enter these unmapped moors lying between Rulewater and Jedwater; civil servants and travellers alike avoided these passes and stuck to the coastal highway through Berwick-on-Tweed. The more enterprising section of the population, however, abandoned the mountainous region for the sheltered valleys to the north, where they eventually settled down to agricultural pursuits and crafts, and where their pugnacious instincts and traditions were soon channelled into ferocious religious strife.
Scots parochial registers are very defective. There was no law, as in England, compelling ministers to keep them, and no inspection to the preservation of those which were kept. Few Scots parishes have any very early registers. Those of Hobkirk do not begin until the mid-eighteenth century, by which time your rude ancestors had left it for the beautiful wooded valley of the Rulewater.
In the mid-seventeenth century, largely through the influence of James Kerr, the minister of Abbotsrule, and John Gillon, minister of Cavers, the Rule Valley became a Covenanting centre.
The Covenanters (or Cameronians) were a courageous but self-righteous
set of people. Being of opinion that they alone believed in God correctly and that everyone
else was heading for hell, they were pledged "to overthrow the Kingdom of darkness,
popery, prelacy and Erastianism; to reject the royal family, and to set up a republican
government" - and they formally excommunicated the King. No government could be expected to tolerate
this in those days, and the Covenanters were persecuted mercilessly - though for
rebellion rather than for their religious opinions. In 1662 all ministers with Covenanting
inclinations were ejected from their parishes and replaced by men of extreme Episcopalian
and royalist sympathies. Kerr contrived to remain at Abbotsrule - probably because
he was the son of an influential local landowner; but Gillon was ejected from Cavers and replaced
by a determined royalist, Thomas Somerville. The minister of Bedrule couldn't
Covenanters, and it was doubtless he and Somerville who kept the authorities informed of the goings-on in the valley.
The Covenanters found a friend in the laird of Cavers, Sir William Douglas, who encouraged and protected them. On refusing to take the Test in 1662, he was removed from his Office of Sheriff of Teviotdale. After that, he and his wife refused to go to church, and sponsored secret conventicles on their estate. From about 1669 parties of worshippers used to meet at midnight in Denholme, a hamlet in Cavers parish close to its frontier with Bedrule. Among the leaders of this conventicle was James Hopkirk of Bedrule.
After Sir William died in 1676, Lady Douglas, known as 'The Good Lady Cavers', turned Cavers House into a Covenanting conference centre, where she sheltered the famous preachers, Peder and Cargill, who were hiding from the local authorities. For some years Peder lay concealed in a Covenanting household at Langside (now a ruin) and whenever the authorities arrived to search the house, he hid in a cave in Denholme Dean. From this hideout he used to preach and baptize secretly on the summit of Ruberslaw - the great brown hill which dominates the valley. (The stone bowl he used as a font is preserved at Hallrule farm).
The ministers of Cavers and Bedrule could hardly fail to find out what was going on in their common parochial boundary, and in 1678 the government pounced. In September, Peder and two Cavers men were brought before the Scots Privy Council, and upon their refusal to betray their fellow Covenanters, were condemned to transportation to the American plantations. They were put aboard a Leith ship bound for London for trans-shipment to Virginia where they would be sold as slaves; but when they reached the Thames the American ship had already sailed and the Captain released them in England, whence they eventually returned home.
In March 1679, James Kerr defiantly held a field conventicle of 500 people on the lawn of his manse at Abbotsrule; and in the late summer Adam Urquhart of Meldrum and Sir Francis
Ruthven were sent to the valley with a troop of dragoons and instructions to root out the Rulewater Covenanters once and for all. They made many arrests, among them, Kerr, who was brought before the Privy Council for the conventicle held on his lawn, and Lady Douglas of Cavers, who was ordered to hand over her infant sons to guardians appointed by thegovernment. Upon her refusal to do so, she was fined 500 pounds, imprisoned for two years, first in the Edinburgh Tolbooth and later in Stirling Castle, and was only liberated on the condition she went into exile. The soldiers visited several suspect farms, but found them empty: everybody was up on Ruberslaw holding a prayer meeting. Hoping to catch them en flagrant delit, the dragoons started to climb the mountain, but a cloud came down and hid the worshippers until the troops gave it up as hopeless and went home. Amongst those sought by the authorities was James Hopkirk, described in one document as "of Bedrule" and in another as "of Cavers". He almost certainly lived in Denholme, which, though in Cavers Parish, is actually nearer to Bedrule. He was one of those who hid Peder, and the Denholme conventicle was probably held in his house.
But James was not at home. With other Rulewater men he had joined a party
of insurgents who besieged the Tower of Hawick and captured arms stored there. They
then proceeded to Bothwell Brig where they were among the 1200 prisoners taken after the
battle by the Duke of Monmouth in October 1679. They were marched to Edinburgh where they
were received by jeering crowds, and shut in the walled Greyfriars churchyard under
guard, where they remained for four winter weeks without shelter of any kind and no beds
but the graves beneath them. Much is made of the brutality with which they were treated,
but they had risen in arms at Bothwell Brig against the lawful government, and there was
no building in
Edinburgh capable of holding 1200 men - later augmented by a fresh round-up to 1500. The wounded had been taken to the Tolbooth. While Monmouth remained in Edinburgh he ordered each man to be given a loaf daily and some ale occasional1y; but when he left, this dole ceased and the majority where starved into submission and released an admitting their rebellion and undertaking "not hereafter to rise in arms against authority". This seems reasonable on the part of the government, but, with 400 others, James Hopkirk refused to bow the knee to Baal and was condemned to be deported to the plantations of "the Isles of America, Carolina, Jersey and Gemecol". But he never got there. With 257 others he was
marched to Leith an 15th November and put aboard a ship bound for Barbados. Though there was space below decks for only 100, they were kept under hatches for twelve days before the ship sailed. Twelve days later they reached the Pentland Firth and were driven ashore off Deerness in the Orkneys in a storm. The sailors refused to open the hatches to give the prisoners a chance to escape, and when the vessel broke up, attacked them. Fifty prisoners were dashed ashore alive, but over 200, including James, perished, and were buried on Scarvating.
When young Douglas of Cavers grew up, he conformed; and with the withdrawal of the protection afforded by Cavers House, and the abolition of Episcopacy and the establishment of the Presbyterian religion in Scotland and the accession of William and Mary, Covenanting faded out in the Rule Valley.
As neither Cavers nor Bedrule registers antedate the early eighteenth century, I know nothing more about James Hopkirk or his family. His land, if any, would have been forfeited and his dependents left destitute.
In 1682 a certain William Hopkirk, your first authenticated ancestor, brought a child for baptism at Melrose, about seventeen miles north of Denholme. He was not a native, for, although the register goes back to 1642, be was not baptised there himself, nor is there any indication of his parents. (The only earlier Hopkirk was Isobel, who, in 1643 was hauled before the Kirk Session for fornication with Alexander Ealias - the result of her sins being a son, George. There is no evidence of any connection between her and William, who must have moved in from some other parish).
Earlier in 1682 William Hope, living in Ellistoune - a hamlet or farm about half way between Denholme and Melrose, in the parish of Bowden, and Bessie Swanstoun, his wife, were listed among those who frequented conventicles - which they denied. He could well be the same man as William Hopkirk of Melrose. The spelling means nothing. The village of Hobkirk is pronounced Hopekirk, and William Hopkirk of Melrose was himself buried under the name, William Hope.
Whether or not William Hopkirk of Melrose was the same man as William Hope of Ellistoune, he could well be the brother or son of James the Covenanter. The dates fit and the name, James, was continued in William's descendants. It is also significant that William Hopkirk's landlord in Melrose was among those accused of frequenting conventicles. As there is a gap in the Melrose marriage register between 1666 and 1690, I know nothing of William's wife. In 1688 he was listed among the fewers of Melrose. Between 1682 and 1697 he had seven children baptised in the chancel of the ruined abbey, which retained its roof and served as the parish Kirk until 1820; and there were probably more than seven, as there is a gap in the baptism register between 1686 and 1690. He was possibly an alehouse-keeper, for, in 1732, he and his two married daughters, Bessie Atcherson and Helen Ormiston, were punished by the Kirk Session for selling alcoholic refreshment to some passing tinkers: "The vagrant beggars being, many of them, beastly drunk", apparently ran amok in Melrose in consequence of the Hopkirks' over-lavish hospitality. He died before 1738, and it was almost certainly he who, as William Hope, was buried in Galashiels an 29th April, 1732. No other Hopes appear in the Galashiels register; and as the entry is taken from a copy of the original register which has disappeared, Hope may well be a scribe's error for Hopekirk. By 1732 William was a very old man and was probably living with his son at Galashiels.
William Hopkirk II does not figure in the Melrose baptism register so was probably born during the period covered by the gap or prior to his parents' arrival in Melrose. He married on 23rd November, 1711 at Melrose, Isobel Hunter.
The Hunters, who appear in all the records of Melrose from the beginning, lived in Lessuden (the old name for St. Boswells). By his first wife, James, who died in 1673, had a son, John, who was baptised at Melrose in 1649 and was still living there in 1702. John's daughter, Isobel, who was baptised at Melrose on 29th March, 1683, later married William Hopkirk II.
I know nothing about her except that she was one of a jury of matrons appointed by the Kirk Session to examine an erring young lady.
William and Isobel settled at Kilknow, a mill along the Gala Water belonging to the Kerrs of Abbotsrule and formerly the scene of a conventicle - an offshoot of that at Denholme. This, to my mind, is further evidence that the Hopkirk family still had strong Covenanting affiliations. Even in 1711 the mill (which is still there) must have been very remote.
Galashiels consisted only of two slated houses and a few handloom weavers' cottages.
Kilknow was away from the centre of the village and though in Galashiels parish by that time, was formerly in Melrose.
The first child of William and Isobel Hopkirk, William III, was baptised at Melrose from Kilknow in 1714. In 1718 two of their children (un-named, so presumably infants) were buried at Galashiels, and in 1720, a second son Alexander, was baptised there. William Hopkirk II was buried at Galashiels on 14th May, 1753.
William Hopkirk III would appear to have gone to England, to find work,
for in 1738 he was hailed before the Kirk Session on his return to Melrose, for getting a
young lady of Newcastle-on-Tyne, Susannah Wanless, into trouble. He was ordered to appear
a fortnight later to be admonished, and again summoned in January, 1739, to be rebuked,
dismissed and fined 2 pounds and.10.. - a lot of money in those days. This was nothing
unusual. The procedure was for the offender, clothed in sackcloth, to stand on a Platform in front
of the pulpit during Divine Service on several successive Sundays to be publicly rebuked. The
Kirk Sessions wasted a lot of time punishing people whose morals were out of order,
and the records show
that the Melrose people were greatly addicted to fornication.
William did not marry Susannah, but he soon afterwards settled down, marrying twice.
By his first wife, Isobel Tait, whom he married at Melrose in 1739, and who died in 1751, he had five children whose descendants are the Hopkirks of Canada, New Zealand and USA - (note: there are no known descendants of this marriage at this time, the New Zealand & USA branch are descended from the second marriage and some of the Canaian Hopkirks are descended from the Glasgow Line) though they were to remain in Melrose for several generations before emigrating. On 30th December, 1752, he married as his second wife, Margaret Lawrie. The Lawries were an old Melrose family. George Lawrie of Danielton in Melrose had, by his second wife, a son named George, who was baptized at Melrose on 1st October, 1676. George Lawrie II married on 27th November, 1702 at Melrose, Margaret (baptised Melrose on 8th November 1668) the daughter of John Guill, miller, and Jennet Stenhose, his spouse, whom he had married on 2nd June, 1663. George Lawrie II was living at Danielton when his daughter, Margaret, was baptised at Melrose on 26th February, 1710. She was a widow with five children when she married William Hopkirk III. Her former husband, William Cook, whom she had married in October, 1731, must have died in 1751. Her posthumous child, Helen, was baptised in February, 1752, and she married William on 30th December. He was buried in 1764 at Melrose, and Margaret (Peggy) on 15th January, 1780. By this marriage, William Hopkirk III had two sons, of whom the elder, James, was your ancestor.
Here follows a digression which I include because it is interesting:
William Hopkirk III's brother, Alexander, born at Galashiels in 1720, became a linen dyer in Dryburgh. By his second marriage with Jane Bridges, he had a son, George, born in 1765. George went to Jamaica, made a lot of money, and built himself a mansion in Manchester parish which, somewhat vaingloriously, he named Roxburgh Castle. In 1804, he revisited Scotland and erected an imposing obelisk in Dryburgh Churchyard in memory of his parents, to which his own name was added after his death in 1813.
Now, as was customary in the West Indies at that time, George had a black concubine, a slave named Elizabeth Roan, by whom he had a large family of khaki children. On returning to Jamaica from his trip to Scotland, he made a will in which he instructed his executors to emancipate "my friend, Elizabeth Roan, my present slave and housekeeper" and to provide for her as follows: She was to have "three of my negro slaves, viz: a man slave named Peter, and Charlotte, his wife, and also a slave named Princess, my present washerwoman, marked 'G.H.'". Also ten acres of land (one of which was to be in good coffee-bearing land), a house on the said land, to be worth at least 100 pounds, a chaise, a horse or mule worth 50 pounds, "all my household furniture, wearing apparel and small stock of every description, and 50 pounds in cash, for herself and her heirs for ever." He left the rest of his property to his sister, Janet Grey, in Scotland.
Elizabeth Roan evidently predeceased him, for, early in 1813, he added
a codicil leaving to his "housekeeper, Miss Bruce, two of his slaves, "the one named Mary and
the other, Crushey, a girl about the house", together with 25 pounds down and 100
pounds later to buy a house. She was also to have "the use of my own room and furniture and wearing apparel
for nine months or longer if she requires it'. The nine months allowed her and the use
of his own room is suggestive, and one may assume that she also obliged him in a concubinary
capacity. As he refers to her as "Miss" she was probably not black, but a mulatto. Anyway,
as a consequence of George's domestic arrangements, Jamaica is full of dusky Hopkirks to
In the late 1940s the husband of one of the South African Hopkirks (of whom, more later) was representing South Africa at an international conference in Jamaica. Having heard that there were Hopkirks living there, he looked them up in a directory, and, assuming they were white, invited them all to dine at his hotel. Imagine his confusion when a tribe of black-and-tans arrived! His mother-in-law told your Aunt Maggie this story.
To return to your direct ancestors:
James, the elder son of William Hopkirk III by his second wife, Margaret Lawrie, was baptised at Melrose on 16th May, 1756, and became a shoemaker. His wife, Agnes (or Anne) Wright, was not a Melrose girl and I know nothing about her except that she died on 19 April, 1833, aged 72, leaving 9 children. (This is where the confusion comes in, for there were actually 11 children, two of whom were baptised at Jedburgh. They were James and William. The New Zealand and USA branches are descended from William)
They were reared in the single-storied stone cottage with the long upper window characteristic of a weaver's house, opposite
Burt's Hotel, which we saw in 1950. It remained in the Hopkirk family until 1890, when the
last of the Melrose
Hopkirks, Malley, died at a great age and was buried in Melrose Churchyard. James Hopkirk departed for Abraham's bosom in June, 1841, at the age of eighty six. They were all very poor. There were far too many people in the little town - and far too many Hopkirks, who were very healthy and prolific. The more adventurous moved out and sought work elsewhere. Most of James's children emigrated to Canada and USA, but David, your ancestor, baptised at Melrose on 21st June, 1789 became a linen-weaver and set out for Edinburgh. There he met and married on 17th May, 1811, at St. Giles Cathedral, Margaret Grieve. Born at Gullane, East Lothian, on 4th August, 1786, she was the daughter of James Grieve, the carrier to Dirleton, and Janet Murray (1747 - 1789) whom be married on 17th August, 1777.
David and Margaret Hopkirk lived at Melrose for a few years, where their
eldest child, Janet, was born in 1812. In 1814, this child was killed by a horse a few days
before the birth of their second son, James. They must have returned to Edinburgh immediately
afterwards, because he was not baptised at Melrose. They remained in Edinburgh for
the rest of their lives. David died on 15th September,1856, at 17 Earl Grey Street, and
was buried in Dalry cemetery. Margaret survived until 16th September, 1872, leaving number
17 to her descendants. In 1967 Kate Owen and I went to look at it and found it to
be the middle flat in a most dismal, three-storied tenement approached through a damp, dark
and very dirty wynd.
We lacked the courage to mount the rotting staircase and ask to be shown over. I should imagine it will soon be demolished. The house itself was early nineteenth century and had evidently seen better days. Although, from 1856, her second son, James, who was then in the Royal Artillery in Natal, allowed his widowed mother 1 pound monthly from his meagre pay, leaving him with just over 5 pounds a month for his own large family, his children were done out of their share of their grandmother's flat by the children of her eldest son, David, who were then living in Perth.
James Hopkirk was born at Melrose on 20th August, 1814, and was apprenticed
to an Edinburgh upholsterer. His mother hoped he would eventually become a minister;
but on 27th August, 1834, he was so carried away, by a recruiting march through
the city, that he enlisted on the spot as a gunner- driver in the 7th Battalion, Royal
Artillery. His mother was aghast, but nothing could be done about it, and James had obviously found
his vocation. The Army's official description of him in 1834 was "5ft. 9.5 inches. Fair
Complexion. Blue eyes. Red hair"; and it is the Army records which reveal that he was born
at Melrose and that he was an upholsterer by trade. Soon after enlistment he was transferred
to the 4th company
of the 5th Battalion, in which he served for the rest of his army career.
On lst April, 1835, he sailed in HM Troopship, Atholl, for Quebec, where
he disembarked on 6th July. In 1836, he was batman to Lieut. G.R.H. Kennedy and was paid
1 pound & 19.4 monthly. In April, 1839, he was promoted Bombardier, and on 1st March, 1843, became
a Corporal. The Company remained in Canada for nine years, moving around
between Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Drummondville and London, Ontario.
In July, 1843, they were back in Montreal where, on 31st January, 1844, he married at
the Garrison church of St. Catherine (now incorporated in the Anglican cathedral) Catherine
Morrison. Who she was, I don't know, as the marriage certificate gives neither her
age nor her
parentage. Janet Hopkirk, her niece, whose father had known her, told me that she was an "Irish American"
On 11th September, 1844, the 4th Company embarked at Quebec on HM Troopship,
Apollo, for home. On 1st October, they sighted the St. Agnes lighthouse on the
Scilly Isles, passed the Eddystone light during the night, and Beachy head early on 3rd October.
After meeting the royal yacht, Victoria and Albert, in the Thames, they anchored off
Woolwich that same night. There, three weeks later, their first child, John, was born, only
to die at one year old. In May 1846, a daughter, Catherine, was born, and just before her birth
James was promoted Sergeant. He was paid 2/8d a day. When Catherine was three weeks old the
unit moved to Gosport where they remained for three years, first at Fort Monckton, later
Blockhouse, and finally at Colewort Barracks, Portsmouth, where, in 1847, another child, James William, was born and died soon afterwards. Meanwhile James's younger brother, William, had joined the unit at Portsmouth, and in February, 1849, they all returned to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich, where, in April, Catherine gave birth to another son, David. She was evidently very ill, for James was given a month's compassionate leave to look after her and their two infants. (This strikes me as rather unexpected in the pre-Crimean Army).
The sufferings of these early Victorian soldiers' wives must have been terrible. If on the strength, they were entitled to lodging money or barrack accommodation, where they lived, cooked, washed, ate and slept in huge, un-ventilated rooms with no privacy. Sometimes the families were separated with curtains or screens provided by themselves. When the unit moved they had to go with it - even if in the middle of a confinement - or get left behind. If they were not on the strength, no provision of any kind was made for them and their existence was entirely ignored by the Army. Conditions on the troopships and transports were appalling. The women and children lay on blankets - or sometimes in hammocks - on the deck, usually the lowest deck, in perpetual darkness. The food was horrible. When it was rough it must have been terrifying - especially for women with young children. The paddle steamers were bad enough, but the sailing ships were worse. Voyages took months rather than weeks. To get to India or the Cape they had first to go to Rio and wait for the trade wind to take them back across the Atlantic to South Africa.
In June, 1849, William Hopkirk was promoted Corporal and was posted to the 3rd Company at Devonport.
On 16th August, part of the 4th Company embarked in London on the chartered freighter, Devonshire, for the Cape. (The main body had sailed a fortnight earlier from Woolwich in HM Troopship, Atholl, for Simonstown).
While the Devonshire was still off the South Coast, Catherine Hopkirk, already a very sick woman, died. Cholera was raging in south London when they sailed and two soldiers were put ashore at Portsmouth with suspected cholera. There was also a scarlet fever epidemic on board and at least one soldier died of it. The ship was becalmed off Plymouth, and Catherine's body was taken ashore and buried in Devonport by her brother-in-law, William (who told his daughter this). Her death is not registered at Somerset House, nor in any Plymouth churchyard, nor among the deaths at sea, nor in the Army chaplain's registers. Cholera was raging in Devonport at this time and it appears that many burials were never registered.
In case the wind rose, James was not allowed ashore, and he had to continue
the voyage to South Africa with his two little motherless children - Kate, only three,
and David, four months old. Tradition in both the South African branch of the family and
in William's family records that an officer's wife and her nursemaid were very kind
to James and looked after the orphans during the ten weeks' voyage via Rio de Janeiro. The
unit disembarked at Cape Town on 22nd October, 1849; and on 5th November, with two other NCO's,
30 men, 5 women and six children, James sailed on the 100-ton brig, Douglas, for
Natal, but she was forced back by the weather. They sailed again on the 14th and anchored
off Port Natal
(Durban) on 22nd November.
In 1847, a Methodist missionary described Port Natal thus:
"There were a few thatched cottages embowered the richest herbage. These were made of poles and wattles with clay walls, having verandahs to protect them, and, being whitewashed, they peeped out prettily among the shrubbery. The paths to them wound amidst copse and grass. The streets were not defined, nor were substantial buildings erected". There was no landing stage, no barracks and no church for another ten years.
If James had not already left his children in Cape Town, he must have found a compassionate foster mother in Port Natal (there was no orphanage in either place), for his detachment marched immediately to Fort Napier (Pietermaritzburg) which they reached on 30th November. They were the first troops to be sent up there, following hostilities between Boers and Zulus. Until 1855, when the Army built one, there was no road between Port Natal and Pietermaritzburg, and the men had to drag their guns across 55 miles of trackless country. Pietermaritzburg was then very primitive. Apart from the Army (the 45th or Nottinghamshire regiment was also stationed there) only 61 people could sign their names (and, incidentally, only 56 people in Durban could do so). Fort Napier was only just completed, a brick-built fort on a hill overlooking the settlement.
For the next nine years the detachment moved between Fort Napier, Port Natal and King William's Town. In 1851 and 1852 they were on active service on the frontier during the 8th Kaffir War. But they were mostly in Fort Napier. As there was only one RA. officer there, James was, in effect, second in command and acting ordinance storekeeper.
On 30th September, 1855, he married again. His bride, Emma Elizabeth Alder, was resident in Pietermaritzburg at the time, but the Army chaplain who married them recorded neither her age, occupation or parentage in the register. (I have ascertained on other evidence that she was 24). They were married in the government school, which was used as a Court Room and Garrison church - there being as yet no other English church. In 1850 Bishop Grey of Cape Town described this building as having "the upper end screened off for worship, a very handsome Early English stone font and a massive lectern of Colonial wood". In 1854 the chaplain considered it "a very plain barn of a building". (This was not the same as the former Dutch Church of the Vow - now the Voortrekker Museum) which the Boers leased to the Government for a school a few years later, but which, in 1855, was still in use as their church).}
Who was Emma?
One family tradition says that she "came out with Bishop Colenso. This, I doubt. Bishop Colenso arrived in Natal an 30th January, 1854, to survey his new diocese. He came alone, kept a very detailed diary in which Emma is not mentioned, and was back in England in May. In 1855 he returned, bringing with him his wife and children and "body of clergymen, female teachers and others" - the others being some villagers from Forncett St. Mary in Suffolk, Colenso's last parish, as potential settlers. The S.P.G. (which sponsored the expedition) states definitely that Emma was not among the missionaries: and the 1851 census records no Alders in the village or Rectory of Forncett St. Mary. The party sailed from Liverpool in the Jane Morris, a chartered ship, and disembarked at Durban an 20th May, 1855.
Emma could, of course, have been Mrs. Colenso's nursemaid and entered her service after the census was taken in Forncett St. Mary; but the Colenso's did not arrive in Pietermaritzburg until early September, and on the 20th of that month Mrs. Colenso gave birth to her fifth child. If Emma was her nannie, she would hardly have left her in order to marry, when the infant was only ten days old, and remained friends with the family (who used to visit her many years later in Cape Town and referred to her as "dear Miss Alder"). In any case she would hardly have married a total stranger within a fortnight of her arrival in Pietermaritzburg.
A census taken in 1854 records only 1,204 whites in Pietermaritzburg, most of whom were Dutch, and 625 of whom were children. I have established that Emma was not Dutch, and as the only British people there were either missionaries or Army personnel, she must have been connected with one or the other. The Methodists, the only non-Anglican body with missionaries in the area, also disown her, so she must have been attached to the Army or else she arrived from elsewhere in order to marry James.
As she was born before Civil registration of births, I have no knowledge of her antecedents. Her younger sister, Isabella Mary (of whom, more later) though born in 1840 after the introduction of registration, is not registered at Somerset House, so she was evidently born in Scotland, Ireland or abroad. She became an officer's nannie. This suggests that they were soldier's daughters. The birth certificates of their two younger brothers, born in Chelsea in 1842 and 1844, name their parents as Joseph Richard Alder, an out-pensioner of Chelsea Hospital, and Isabella, nee Hearly, his wife. They were then living at 16, Union Place, which, according to the 1841 census, consisted of tenement houses occupied by humble people. The Alders had not arrived there by 1841 and were gone by 1851
Another tradition in both the South African branch of the family and in that of her brother-in-law, William, is that Emma was the young nannie who helped James with his babies on theDevonshire six years earlier. It seems probable, therefore, that Emma, a soldier's daughter, became a nursemaid to an officer's wife (there were other Army units on board the Devonshire), met James on the voyage to the Cape, corresponded with subsequently from Cape Town, Durban, or India (or wherever her employer was stationed) and came to Pietermaritzburg for her wedding.
On 30th September, 1856 James was promoted Company Sergeant; and early
in 1857 the Company moved to Durban, where it split up. The main body was despatched
to India to help fight the Mutiny, and a smaller draft, which included the Hopkirks,
sailed on SS Madagascar for the Cape where they disembarked an 10th Feb . For eighteen
months James was stationed in Cape Town, and when, on 27th September, 1858, he was
discharged after 24 years' service, with a Good Conduct and Long Service medal, he decided
to settle there. In 1858 he joined the newly-formed Cape Town Volunteers, which comprised
a troop of cavalry, a rifle corps, and a company of artillery. James was appointed
Instructor and Acting Adjutant in the Artillery, which consisted of 36 men. In 1859 he received his Commission as Captain and Adjutant, and in the same year the Cape Town directory shows him as Superintendent, and Emma as Matron, of the Immigration Board Depot at 56, Roeland Street, where they remained until the end of 1862. By that time they had several children. While they were there, Emma's younger sister, Isabella, an Army nursemaid, was put ashore from a homeward-bound troopship very seriously ill in consequence of her sufferings during the Indian Mutiny. Emma nursed her until she died in 1862.
On 1st January, 1863, James was appointed Keeper. and Emma, Matron, of the Somerset Hospital (now known as the Old Somerset Hospital).
This grim, prison-like edifice - more a fort than a hospital, and now used as a military storehouse - had been built by the Government in 1818 for the reception of sick soldiers and sailors and sailors and such civilians as were unable to provide for private medical attention. Patients paid 1/3d a day (except Masters and Chief Officers of ships, who paid 3/-). Paupers and anyone sent in by the police as 'nuisances to the community" were taken in free. By 1863 it was out of date as a military hospital; and in 1865, the New Somerset Hospital was opened for soldiers, sailors, and respectable civilians - the old hospital being retained for chronics, paupers, lunatics and the sort of patient whom the new hospital would not receive. It resembled an English work-house infirmary run on military lines; and attached to it was the fever-hospital, quarantine station and leper colony an Roben island.
James and Emma received 50 pounds per annum jointly, with free quarters and full board. He was also Superintendent of the Lock hospital and Governor of Roben Island - which sounds more impressive than it was.
They had four sons and two daughters, of whom the youngest son, George Howard, was born on 25th January, 1865 and baptised in St. John's Church, Cape Town. As there was then no registration of births in Cape Colony, I know no details, but he was presumably born in the Old Somerset Hospital.
Inevitably, the hospital was subject to gruesome visitations of typhus, smallpox and cholera; and on 28th October, 1867 in the performance of her duty as matron in one such epidemic, Emma died of "fever" at the age of 36, leaving six children under ten - George being only two years old.
Once again, James, now in his 54th year, was left with small motherless
children. Their step-sister, now Mrs. Graham, brought them up; and their
father carried on alone at the hospital, devoting his spare time to the Cape Volunteer Artillery (later to be known
as Prince Alfred's Own) and acting as secretary to the Cape Rifle Association. He was also
a Freemason. In 1872 he was given a rise to 100 pounds, and in 1875 another, to 120 pounds.
He was still Superintendent of the hospital when he died on 25th August, 1875, at the age of 62, and
was buried beside the wife and two sons who predeceased him, in the old English Burial Ground
in Somerset Road. This cemetery was subsequently built over, the graves and monuments
being transferred to the existing cemetery outside the city, where I was shown
an obelisk inscribed:
"In memory of Captain James Hopkirk Late of the Prince Alfred's Own Cape Volunteers Born 20th August, 1814, Died 25th August, 1875
This tablet is erected as a mark of esteem and respect by the members of the Battery."
The Cape Argus gave him a handsome obituary notice:
"The deceased served for a considerable period in the regular army, and when the Volunteer movement commenced at the Cape several years ago, he joined the Artillery. From that time to the present he kept the corps together, and, first as Adjutant, and latterly as Commanding Officer, he maintained it in a high state of efficiency. When there was a prospect of war with the United States through the Alabama affair, and when the men of Cape Town came forward in large numbers to learn how to serve the guns on the batteries defending the city, the deceased, as an artillery instructor, won golden opinions by his attention and zeal. He was a genuine old soldier of the British Army of a past generation. Rough in exterior, he was exceedingly kind at heart, and devoted to his duty whatever that might be. It is needless to say that he was highly re\-spected by all who knew him and a great favourite in his corps and with the Volunteers as a body...... Doing his duty according to his light, James Hopkirk, without effort of his own, except the highest gift which nature can bestow - honesty of intention - lived honoured and respected in every walk of life into which his duty or his inclination took him. He was a strict disciplinarian. He knew of only one road, and that was the one of duty."
They gave him an impressive funeral:
"His remains were followed to the grave by everything that military pomp or Masonic demonstration could give it. His pall-bearers were (Here follow the names of eight officers and NCO's of the Volunteer Cavalry, Volunteer Rifles, Volunteer Artillery and Royal Artillery.) On leaving the old Somerset Hospital.... the procession was headed by a firing party of Rifles, the Military Band, the Rifle Band, the Masons in Masonic mourning, the coffin an a gun carriage, relatives and friends, the Cape Town Rifles, the Cape Town Cavalry, Volunteers, the Royal Artillery and a Company of the 24th Regiment. As the procession wound its way to the English burial ground, whilst the Military band played a funeral march, it had to pass through a dense crowd of people who lined the road.... At the grave the service was read by the Rev. Mr. Russell after which a firing party from the Rifles fired a salute over the grave. Sprigs of myrtle were then thrown on the coffin, upon which
many an affectionate glance was cast, and thus was left, after every tribute of respect had been paid to it, all that was earthly of James Hopkirk" And a good time was had by all. The descendants of Catherine's children have died out. Of Emma's children, descendants of one son, Frank (1860 - 1920) and one daughter, Margaret, Mrs. Love (1859 - 1920) continue in South Africa. Emma's youngest child, George Howard, who was only ten when his father died, was brought up by his stepsister, Kate Graham, and was apprenticed in 1879 to the Table Bay Harbour Board Construction Department. After completing his apprenticeship he became a marine engineer, between Cape Town and London. There he met and married on
15th January, 1888, at St. Luke's, Tidal Basin, Mary Phemister Kirkman.
Home or Family Histories or James of the South African Hopkirks