Chapter 9: Johanna ("Grandma Hoolie") and Grandpa Edgar
When Oliver Percival Porter Hoole (OPP) married Lydia Taute in 1872 they almost certainly lived here for the first few years of their married life. Their first son, named James, was born here in 1874 and died in 1878 -- and he was buried on the farm. Our Grandmother Johanna (nicknamed Hoolie) was born a year after the wedding, in 1873 -- a year before her brother -- and so it is highly likely that this was her place of birth as well.
As the oldest daughter, Johanna may have taken some responsibility within the family, but she maintained close relations throughout her life with her three younger sisters Lilian (b 1878), Verena (b 1881) and Mabel (b 1884). Hoolie was given some private education together with her cousin Johanna Barry -- they attended lessons with a Mrs Crockett. When they were 12 years old the two girls attended the new Girl's High School in Oudtshoorn, but after a term Johanna was sent to a convent school instead, and it seems that Hoolie went to the Good Hope Seminary in Cape Town for a while. Probably most of her education was in the company of private tutors.
We don't know how and when Hoolie met Edgar Stephens, who was to become her husband on 13 June 1900. Edgar was born in 1868 at Cilfaethy Farm near Llandyfaelog, and he had five siblings: Eleanor (Nellie), Esther, Llewelyn, Winnie and Tom. We now know that he travelled to South Africa in February 1894, when he was 24 years old. We don't know who inherited Cilfaethy -- but the substantial house called The Grove in Llansteffan passed into the family, and in 1920 it was occupied by Edgar's father Evan, at the time of the death of his wife Sarah. Later on it was occupied by three maiden aunts -- who must have been Nellie, Winnie and Esther.
According to family tradition, as a young man in South Africa Edgar tried his hand at ostrich farming, gold digging, diamond mining etc -- and made a fortune in none of these. Did he start as a soldier? He is referred to in some documents as "Col Edgar Harries Stephens." We have found an old press cuttiing whch says he served with the Colonial forces as a lieutenant during the Zululand campaign, the rebellion in the Transvaal and Free States, the riots in Johannesburg, and the Boer War. Then at the beginning of the Great War he served as a captain in German South-West Africa.
Maybe he was still a military man when he met Hoolie. Maybe he was in the army when he went to South Africa, or maybe he signed up for service after his arrival. Neither are we sure of the real reason for his journey. One tradition has it that he travelled out simply to make his fortune; another has it that he was ill, and was recommended by his doctor to travel to a warm country for recuperation; and yet another has it that he travelled out as a male chaperone to one of his sisters or cousins who was suffering from TB................ could that have been Eleanor ("Aunt Nellie"), who travelled back to Britain in due course with Owen in 1913? Yet another possibility is that he set out to visit a member of the Anthony family which had rented Cilfaethy after the long tenure to the Stephens family. (They gave up that tenancy after the purchase of Coedybrain.) This particular friend had married into the Parry family and had moved to Grahamstown to live.
At any rate, towards the end of the Boer War in 1901 Edgar and Johanna were living at Fir Glen, in Atherstone near Grahamstown. Over the next ten years seven children were born -- Owen in Dordrecht (1901), Harold (1902), Ivor (1904), Stanley (1905), Gwladys (1906), and Llewelyn (1908) in Queenstown, and Alwyn (1911) in Bloemhof. Harold was drowned in 1910 when he was seven years old, but the other children survived.
As the children grew up the family seems to have moved about within the Eastern Cape -- no doubt as Edgar tried to make his fortune in one business enterprise after another.
In July 1907 ship's records show that Edgar Harries Stephens (our grandfather) and Owen (then aged 6) and Harold (then aged 5) arrived on the passenger vessel "Gaika" at Southampton, having embarked from East London (Port Elizabeth) some 3 weeks earlier. He is shown as being 37 years old, and is referred to as a farmer. His place of residence is shown as Transvaal. This must have been a holiday visit to Edgar's home family -- and Joan has a photo of him and the two little boys in the porch at The Grove in Llanstephan with Sarah Stephens (Edgar's sister) and a lady who might be another sister. We do not know how long the holiday lasted...... but it was a little strange that Edgar and the two oldest boys took off as they did, leaving Johanna to cope with two toddlers (Ivor and Stanley) and a small baby (Gwladys) to look after on her own. Probably we can assume that black servants took on many of the child-minding duties........
Back in South Africa, following the return of Edgar and the two boys, Johanna produced two more boys, Llewelyn on 1908 and Alwyn in 1910. Seven children in ten years. Maybe that was not so unusual at the time, but one wonders what this intensive child-bearing did to Johanna, who went on to suffer from long periods of ill health later in her life. In spite of that, she outlived her husband by three years.......
Our mother Gwladys related a very strange tale surrounding the death of Harold. Apparently on the morning that he was drowned, the black servants were weeping and wailing, and were quite convinced that something terrible was about to happen. They were inconsolable, and for the rest of her life Mum was quite unsettled by the memory of this weird premonition.
Apparently Johanna was a crack shot, and according to another tale related by our mother she discovered a puff adder (or was it a black mamba?) curled up in Alwyn's cot one day, and shot it in the head without doing any harm to the baby.
The headstone of little Harold's grave, dated 1910, in the cemetery in Queenstown.
This very beautiful lady is Verena, Hoolie's younger sister. The photo was sent to Hoolie after she moved to Wales at the beginning of the First World War. There is another photo in existence which shows Verena with her husband Joseph Henry Harvey. The couple had four children.
Johanna's sister Lilian, who was known to our Mother as "Aunt Lily" -- another very good-looking lady...... She married Gilbert Biggs but had no children.
Is this Johanna? There is no name on the back of the photo......
Mill River Farm, built around 1830 by the Taute family. It's located near George in the Eastern Cape. This water colour was painted by one of the Taute family, but it does not have a date.
An old picture of one of the open-pit diamond mines in South Africa in the 1890's. According to tradition, Grandpa Stephens worked in the diamond mines for a while, without much success........
Above: two "heroic" images of action during the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902). We don't know whether Grandpa Stephens actually saw military action. The British had vastly superior numbers, but employed antiquated tactics; and the Boers were very effective in employing guerrilla tactics and remaining out of sight for much of the time.
One of the 31 British Concentration Camps set up around 1900 during the Second Boer War to accommodate the women and children whose houses had been destroyed and whose livestock had been killed during an appalling attempt to crush the spirit of the Boers. The "scorched earth" policy was brutally implemented by the British Army. Conditions in the camps were appalling, and starvation and disease were rife. About 27,000 of the inmates died in what was a deliberate act of genocide. One Welsh observer said: "The way in which these wretched, unfortunate and poor women and children are treated in South Africa is barbarous, outrageous, scandalous and disgraceful." Another Welshman, David Lloyd George, stated: "The fatality rate of our soldiers on the battlefields, who were exposed to all the risks of war, was 52 per thousand per year, while the fatalities of women and children in the camps were 450 per thousand per year. We have no right to put women and children into such a position." An Irish commentator said: "I can produce and endless succession of confirmations that the conditions in most of the camps are appalling and brutal. To my opinion the fatality rate is nothing less than cold-blooded murder." How much did Edgar Stephens and his family know about all of this? We can only speculate...... but the truth was heavily suppressed.
A charming photo of Stanley and Gwladys ("Girlie") probably taken in South Africa around 1910.
We are speculating here, but we think this is a photo of Edgar and Johanna with the three oldest boys -- Owen on the left, Harold in the sailor's suit, and Ivor on the right. Who are the other ladies? Probably Great Aunts Mabel and Lilian? The photo was probably taken in 1905, when Lilian was 27 and Mabel was 21. We know that Mabel was living with the Stephens family a few years before that, so as to help with the children.
The Queenstown Male Voice Choir, with conductor Edgar Harries Stephens holding the baton in the front row. This photo probably dates from around 1910.
Johanna and Edgar. This photo probably dates from about 1918 -- Johanna is wearing the same blouse in two other photos of the family, so all three photos were probably taken in the same studio session.