The Arrival in the Cape Colony

(All pictures are from the Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement which I obtained when I arrived in Port Elizabeth in 1970 – so fitting Marianne’s descendent arriving in the same place 150 years later!)

On the deck of the Amphetrite, Marianne struggled against the icy blast of wind as she wrapped her shawl closer around herself and baby Mary Anne, she had only given birth a week ago, she was trying to feed the child while she sniffed and sneezed as well. Most of Wilkinson’s Party were sick with colds and some were suffering from frostbite as well. Life on board a small sailing ship was a harsh reality, the Captain had assigned duties and each person had to pull their weight. Marianne called to eight year old Sarah,

Credit: Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement

“Sarah, please can you come and help out here with cooking the beef and biscuit, and line up for our hot water to make the tea.” Sarah had to grow up quickly assuming some of her mother’s tasks; it was a tough call minding little James and Sophie well. Sarah brought her mother the hot water to make tea, Marianne looked at the raw chapped little hands. The poor child had also had to help out with washing the single men’s clothes not having the strength to squeeze the water out, the clothes were permanently damp with no sunshine to dry them. The ship’s food was rationed, beef and biscuit twice a week and tea, sugar, cocoa, salt, rum and port on other days. James helped when he wasn’t doing duties assigned to the men.
By the middle of January 1820 the whole fleet of ships bound for the Cape Colony was on the high seas. They were now past the extreme weather of the Bay of Biscay. Once they entered the tropics sometimes the ships were becalmed. People became fractious in the overcrowded boats and it was not always easy to keep the peace between the different parties and the social classes of the passengers. In some ships there was lack of leadership of the heads of parties. There were of course a

Credit: Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement

number of births and deaths and breakouts of disease during the course of the four months voyage, including the death of John Jenkins from Wilkinson’s party.
One morning, after this long, arduous voyage, the outline of Table Mountain loomed out of the mist, with its table cloth of cloud dropping over the side. The ships began to arrive in Table Bay and drop anchor. James called his family.
“Look! There is our future, we have almost reached our destination,” said James as he put his arm around Marianne, Sarah, little James and Sophia. The family stood there staring for a long while at the mountains and the shore line. Marianne was excited, yet apprehensive; this adventure they had planned was she up to it?
“Oh James,” she said in awe as a shiver ran down her spine “Do you think we are going to be happy here? It is all so different,” James drew her nearer, “We have to have faith that it will, we are both young and hardworking, we will be fine”, he said to soothe her fears. The journey had exacted a lot from Marianne, what was Albany going to be like? The ships spent several days re-provisioning in Cape Town for the final leg of the journey to Algoa Bay. Only Wilkinson and Morton from their party were allowed ashore to make the final arrangements for the settlers with the Acting governor, Sir Rufane Donkin, which was a disappointment.
Rumours started to get back to the ships about the poor conditions in the Zuurveld where their land was allocated; some settlers were regretting their decision to emigrate and blamed their leaders that they had been deceived. The ships set off again to round the Cape of Storms travelling 500 miles up the coast to Algoa Bay. As the Amphetrite hugged the coast, James and Marianne looked at the majestic mountains, untamed nature and forests reaching down to the bare rocky stretches of coastline. They also sailed past great bays and lagoons near Knysna, James saw how uncivilised it was with a savage loneliness born of lack of inhabitants.


Credit: Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement

It was the first week of March 1820, when the fleet of ships dropped anchor in Algoa Bay. This was an emotional moment for James and Marianne – they were to disembark. They looked at the shore line with its first sign of habitation, the fortified barracks and few thatched cottages of Fort Frederick, with tents and marquees spread along the shoreline. They saw the hive of activity as the 72rd Regiment prepared to receive the settlers. There were wagons drawn up ready to transport them to the interior. James turned to Marianne and said,
“Whatever the future holds we are on our own now, there is no turning back, but I trust that we have made the right decision for the family and I know that as far as I am able with the help of God, I will take care of our family and protect us.”
Marianne replied “You are a good man James, and we have General’s Scherer’s compass to give us direction and with his indomitable spirit to give us courage we will make Albany our home.” James held her tight, his eyes teared up as he kissed her, she was his everything, this strong courageous young woman, his child bride.
In the morning the sailors started to transport the settlers in flat bottomed boats from the ships through the roaring surf as it pounded on the beach. The men and boys waded ashore, the women and children being carried by the soldiers of the 72nd Regiment.
Marianne found herself hoisted up and carried by a burly soldier through the surf. James had gone with the children and they were waiting for her on the beach. The Smith family was shown to a tent, where they had to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Once all the settlers were ashore, the provisions, rations, seeds and agricultural implements were sold from Government supplies and delivered to each Party and family.
Wilkinson, Morton and the rest of their party were housed in tents near to the Smiths and Marianne and Sarah continued to help them with preparing meals. The menfolk sorted out their requirements, equipment and food and the arrangements for the wagons to transport them to their allotment which had previously been surveyed and demarcated.
It was a whole month before Wilkinson’s party was ready to move into the interior and it was with apprehension they set off as stories of the Zuurveld started to filter back to them.


Credit: Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement

They travelled with other groups of settlers in the wagons requisitioned from farmers in the district. They crossed the Quagga flats and saw how barren the Zuurveld looked; they forded the Bushman’s River at Rautenbach Drift and then congregated at Assegai Bush before the settlers finally dispersed to their allocated destinations. Wilkinson’s party was headed to the north-east, to a location consisting of 2342 acres on the Blaaukrantz River, a tributary of the Kowie River.
Marianne felt the journey would never end, cooking and washing for the menfolk and looking after a small baby and the other children as well. She struggled the sixteen days the ox wagon took to walk the 130 miles to the settlement, which was one of the furthest from Algoa Bay.
“James”, she said wearily one evening, “will we ever get there? The children are cranky and it is so hard to keep everyone happy on the move, how I long for my own home again.”
”It won’t be long now, Wilkinson is calling our allotment New Essex, that will certainly feel like home, and we have the privilege of being on a river. Already I am thinking it would be so much easier to transport things by boat up the river,” James reassured her, hiding the uneasiness in his own breast at the distance from civilisation, and he certainly did not want to scare her with the stories he had heard of the native tribes across the Fish River.
Eventually the lead wagon came to a standstill, and the surveyor who had ridden with them to show them the boundaries of the Allotment called out.
“Here you are, this is New Essex!” James and Marianne looked around them; there was just barren soil with a few bushes and trees that lined the edge of a steep ravine. James rushed down to look at the river. He froze in his step – that was no river that was a seasonal stream, with a very rocky bed, not a navigable river. His dream of being a shipbuilder and his own business died in that moment.
He slowly turned around and went back to the family. Marianne said, “But where are the villages and fields?” The realisation that they were to be dumped in the middle of the veld to make a living for themselves with very little to no support slowly dawned on the group.


Credit: Eastern Province Herald 150th Anniversary Weekend Post Souvenir Supplement

Wearily they unloaded the wagons and put up temporary shelters with tents and some of the men got to chopping down trees to make rudimentary structures to live in. There were squabbles as people from other groups came to chop down trees from their allotment as they had no trees on theirs.
Wilkinson, Morton and James all worked hard together with the help of the other men and boys to provide shelters for each family or group. Someone cut a pathway down the ravine to the river so Marianne and the children could go and draw water.
Her back hurt, she was exhausted with the hard work. James hands were blistered and he had cuts and bruises sustained with cutting wood. The children too had cuts and bruises and were tired out each day as they helped fetch and carry and hold to help with the building of their home.
At the end of that month just before the harsh winter rain and cold hit the Zuurveld, James carried Marianne over the threshold of their humble home. She laid her weary head upon his breast and sighed.
“Thank you James, you are so strong, making our home with your own hands, I am sure together we will be able to make a new life here”. James kissed her, weary in body and soul.

Farewell Forever, England’s Shores

Marianne picked her way through the filth littered streets back to their home in Mile End. The stench nauseated her heightened senses as she was pregnant once again. She leant over an open drain and added the contents of her stomach to the slow moving filth. She held tightly to her purse and small packet of potatoes and beans that she had been out to purchase. Wretched orphans jeered at her and she feared they would snatch her purse. London was even worse than Paris now after the war. Life was a struggle with overcrowding, poverty, wretchedness on all sides and crime flourished when people were reduced to stealing a loaf of bread to feed their hungry families. Even the threat of deportation to Australia didn’t make any difference when you could die of starvation anyway.

She just made it home to No 7, Grove Street, James was anxiously waiting for her; he could see she looked pale and wan.  He too was struggling to get work now that the war was over, there was no need for new ships to be built, he was kept reasonable busy with repairs, but there was a strong undercurrent of discontent in the country as people were starving. His in-laws Joseph and Elizabeth Scherer had helped them out with a place to stay when they had arrived back from France.

Elizabeth had joined a charitable organisation to help the starving elderly who could no longer fend for themselves, taking them food and coal to relieve their suffering. Marianne had gone with her on some occasions and seen the abject squalor of their conditions. She feared for her own children’s future as she saw ragged orphans huddled together under bridges. Marianne’s grandfather Mr Noble continued to supply James with work to keep the family going and James was a resourceful young man as well after having spent some time in the Cape Colony during the war years.

James was good to Marianne and was by her side when little James was born.  He was a strong baby and thrived with the tender monitions of his grandmother and sister Sarah. Two years later little Sophie arrived on the scene, a bonnie child named after her grandmother with the same dark curly hair.  James now had quite a brood to care for and wanted a better life for his family. London with its daily hazards of disease and crime and his dependence on Mr Noble for his livelihood had no appeal. He envisioned having his own ship building company in one of the Colonies.

“Listen” said James, as he read from The Times to Marianne.

Amphitrite fully_rigged_ship “….since our minds have long been made up as to the necessity of employing emigration for one, perhaps the principal, among the means of regular and lasting provision for the surplus inhabitants of these islands, it becomes to us to urge with the greatest earnestness the selection of a scene the most desirable of all others, and of a plan of emigration the most vigorous and effective than can be adopted by the state.”

“I am going to find out more about this emigration scheme,” said James and jumped up to write his letter of application.  This was just the impetus he needed. [From National Archives, Kew]

No 7 Grove Street
Mile End Road
July 26th 1819


In consequence of the official communication made by Government respecting the emigration to the Cape, I beg leave to intimate that (with permission) I mean to avail myself thereof & request you will have the goodness to register my name if required, & in the mean time you would particularly oblige by informing me where the vessel is expected to sail from hence, what room or tonnage in the Ship each family will be allowed for the purpose of taking out tools, implements for husbandry or any thing else required & if there are frequent or any communications from the Colony of Cape Town.

I am a ship carpenter by trade & have superintended the building of several ships of war in this time. I have a wife and three children I intend to take with me.

The favor of an early reply will oblige

Sir, your obdt hble servt


There was a lot of public interest, but the information given to prospective emigrants to the Cape of Good Hope was of dubious nature, in fact it was deliberately withheld that they would be exposed to the plundering native hordes to the north of the proposed settlement and that it was in fact to be a buffer zone between the Xhosas and the trek-Boers. No one could give any real information about climate, crops, land etc.  Neither was information published about the local population, Dutch Boers,  indigenous Hottentots and Xhosas and the continuing warfare between the two as the Boers trekked north after the British Occupation of the Cape of Good Hope in 1814 when it was handed over in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty.

The scheme was confined to those persons “ ….possessing the means, will engage to carry out at least ten able bodied individuals above eighteen years of age, with or without families, the government always reserving the right of selecting from the several offers made to them those who may prove, upon examination to be the most eligible.

..Every person engaging to take out the above mentioned number of persons or families, shall deposit at the rate of Ten Pounds (to be repaid  as hereinafter mentioned) for every family taken out, provided that the family does not consist of more than one man, one woman and two children under fourteen years of age. All children above the number of two will have to be paid for, in addition to the deposits above mentioned, in the proportion of five Pounds for every two children under fourteen years of age and five pounds for every person between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.

In consideration of this deposit a passage shall be provided at the expense of the government for the settlers who shall also be victualled from the time of their embarkment to the time of their landing in the colony. A grant of land under the conditions hereafter specified shall be made to him at the rate of 100 acres for every person or family he takes out.  One third of the price paid at outset, one third as soon as the settlers are located and the remainder three months after being located.” [From National Archives, Kew]


The total assistance therefore from the Government consisted of free passage, a grant of land, and remission of quit-rent on the first ten years; otherwise the settlers were to fend for themselves from the moment they landed, except that tents were to be lent to the settlers until such time they had built themselves more permanent homes.

Full of enthusiasm for the scheme and dreams of owning his own ship building company James set off to find workmen and ex-colleagues to come with him to make up the ten men required for the group to emigrate.  He continued to ply the government with reasonable questions regarding the Cape Colony and the navigable rivers and the tonnage required to take with on the ship. While James was busy getting the group together Marianne had realised she was pregnant again. She decided to keep it quiet so as not to influence James or her parents as she knew they would be concerned. Their situation was pretty bleak and she wondered whether the child would survive anyway. So when James made his application it was quite correct they were a family of five. By September he had found his group of persons to emigrate with him.

James discussed the prospect of this assisted emigration scheme with Marianne’s parents and Mr Noble.  They encouraged the young couple to make the move for a better life for the children and opportunity for the expansion of business interests. James wrote again to the government with the annexe of the names of his group.  [From National Archives, Kew]


No 7 Grove Street

Mile End Road

8th Sept 1819


I hereby send you a annexed statement of the number, names & age of all the persons I propose to take out with me to the Cape of Good Hope agreeable to your letter of 28 of August and I do hereby agree to conform to all the conditions upon which His Majesty’s Government have offered to grant land in the said Colony.

Your further communication will oblige

Sir, your obd’t serv’t


Name and Description of the Person taking out the Settlers:

James SMITH, Shipwright, age 36, Mary Ann SMITH my wife, age 20, Sarah Fish SMITH my daughter, 7, James SMITH, 3, Sophia SMITH, 2 years of age. John ASTHORP, Joseph ALFORD, John ALFORD, William HAYWOOD ,James GIBSON, Richard WHITE ,Timothy ROGERS, Robert GIBSON ,Thomas HORNER ,Thomas ADAMS.  There were ten men, four of whom had wives and nine children of which eventually only Richard White remained to sail with them.

By the 30th September James had still not heard from the Government whether his proposals were accepted and when the vessel would proceed. The family were now excited and gearing up for their proposed emigration, the Government’s dilatory lack of correspondence frustrated him and James being a man of action decided regardless of the Government approving his application he would take matters into his own hands.  He made contact with George Wilkinson from Essex whose application had been turned down.  George’s father Rev Thomas Wilkinson rector of Bulvan, a man of influence, put in a new proposal to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State to the Colonies whereby he offered to charter a vessel privately for the party to proceed to the Cape at their own expense if the government would give them ‘settler privileges’ as well as a substantial grant of land. This proposal was met favourably with the additional benefit of a refund of the cost of chartering the vessel at £12 per head on arrival at the Cape.  They were also to be given 100 acres per the Albany settlement.

George Wilkinson and John Morton were appointed leaders of the party and with James, set about getting sufficient people to join them and to find a vessel to charter.

“This is it!” said James one Thursday morning in October as he was poring through the classified ads in The Times.

“To sail immediately for THE CAPE of GOOD HOPE, the remarkably fast-sailing SHIP AMPHITRITE,  burden 400 tons, A.L. copper and copper fastened, SAMUEL DAVIDSON commander, lying in the London docks.”

He immediately contacted the commander and Rev Wilkinson, George and John and so the arrangements were made to charter the Amphitrite.  Now began the great task of procuring equipment, seeds and anything they might require.  It was really hard to get any information what to expect in the Colony and as they were only experienced in English agriculture took what they thought would be suitable equipment.  James was hoping that there would be a navigable river like the Thames so he could continue with his trade as a ship builder, and thus make a good living for his family. James also recruited his apprentice Robert Humphrey to join the party.  There were many applicants for the other party members, but people kept dropping out, some lost courage at the last minute and it was only when the whole group was eventually on board that the final Party of 25 persons could be verified. The other party aboard the Amphitrite was David Thomas Nightingale’s Party, he was a retired naval surgeon, and this party consisted of 35 persons.

Each party was meant to have a clergyman to perform all the sacred rights that the people may need. There was a great evangelising spirit at the time when people were fired up to spread the gospel to the heathen nations around them. There were also adventurous spirits on board wanting to explore the unknown. As well as those who were financially secure and wanted to open up trade and businesses in the colonies, such as James.

The day arrived when the Smith’s finally packed up their home at No 7, Grove Ave. As they stood before the carriage doors Joseph handed Marianne General Scherer’s compass that he had given him on the general’s death bed.

“Take this Marianne, not only to find your way in your new life, but also to be a reminder of your family heritage.” They warmly embraced Marianne’s parents’ and said their goodbyes. Marianne shed tears as they bid farewell as they would never see each other again. Joseph and Sophia felt their hearts ripped out as the coach turned the corner and began the journey to Gravesend.

This was a particularly hazardous journey and as Marianne was now quite heavily pregnant she groaned as the coach shook and rattled its way down the rutted roads.  The children looked out of the window hoping to see a highwayman, as this was a notorious route for attacks on coaches and they were loaded down with all their worldly possessions to make a new start in the Cape Colony. They were excited with this new adventure and chatted as they snuggled together under a warm rug as it was bitterly cold and rain and gusts of wind rocked the coach from side to side.

They encountered other travellers to Gravesend at the coaching Inns along the way. Marianne’s heart sunk as she heard stories of black hordes waiting to kill them all, others were full of hope and anticipation, some travellers gave up just at the mention of the black hordes and went back home.

”James, I am frightened, it is still not too late to turn back” she said.

“There is not much choice between a bleak future in England or taking the risk of a new life in the Cape Colony whatever that will entail.” said James.

Resolutely the Smith’s set their face to their new life. Eventually the party arrived at Gravesend and embarked on the Amphitrite, only then was a full head count done of George Wilkinson’s Party. George, John Morton and James set about organising their belongings on board according to the Captain’s rules and on board procedures. They had brought along a portable threshing machine and a water-boring machine and as far as they knew were as prepared as they ever would be.

The other members of George Wilkinson’s were James’s apprentice Robert Humphrey, John and Joseph Cleaver who were soap makers, John Gaugain, John Harris.  The labourers were James Cannon, Charles, James and John Jenkins and James Neale.

Copyright Unknown

The weather was appalling it was stormy and bitterly cold. The children were miserable, all excitement had now gone with the harsh reality of life on board ship. Marianne with the other wives had to prepare food for her family and for the other unmarried men as well. She also had to wash the clothes in the bitterly cold weather and there was not much chance of getting them properly dry.  Some of the party fell ill with colds and some even suffered frostbite with the chill wet air on board ship. Some of the ships had been frozen in and could not leave on time; there were massive storms in the Bay of Biscay.  The Amphitrite had to pull in at Brixham, four of the labourers decided they did not want to leave their homeland and deserted at Brixham and John Jenkins died at sea. At last the Amphitrite set sail from Brixham into the unknown on 28th December 1819. Marianne went into labour and amidst the cold; wet and gales of the Bay of Biscay, the plaintive wail of Mary Ann Smith could be heard.

Death has its Sting

The atmosphere felt oppressive as James and his young bride Marianne made their way to Paris. People walked the streets viewing one another with suspicion after Napoleon had established his hereditary Empire by installing members of his family into high positions across Europe. War had become such a part of daily life, people made the best of it they could; life was hard for the poor.  In Paris the bourgeoisie continued to live their privileged lives at a reduced scale.

James knocked at the door of Aunt Marie Francoise Scherer’s home. Marie opened the door and invited them in, she greeted Marianne affectionately.

“I am so glad to see you my dear, life has been hard since your Uncle Bartholomy Louis Joseph died in 1804. We had to move back to Paris and leave our lovely Chateaux in Commenchon, Chauny.” Aunt Marie turned to Marianne,

marianne-timeline-to-1820-001“It was a good idea of your father to let you come and stay here with Henriette and I while James is away on the ships of the line.”

“Yes, “said James “The British Fleet showed its superiority in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 but the ships need to be maintained. We have also regained control of the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch, so ships require a lot of work keep them in condition to do the long route to the East. It is quite likely I will be sent to maintain a merchantman so will be away for some time.”

“We really could not stay isolated in the countryside,” Aunt Marie continued, “Henriette will not find a good match out there in the country, she is at a marriageable age and I need to find her a husband”.

“It is difficult,” said James “as marriageable men are mostly at war, but you still need to get on with your lives.  Life in Britain is also difficult as there is no strong leadership in government after William Pitt, the Prime Minister died. How I wish this was all over and we could live in peace.”

“You are looking very weary my dear” said Aunt Marie to Marianne, “Henriette, do show you cousin up to the rooms where they will be staying.”

“Yes, I am actually starting to feel pretty dizzy and nauseous,” said Marianne to Henriette as they went upstairs, “I am really looking forward to a comfortable place to lay my head. James has been very kind to me, but being married is quite an adjustment, and it was a long journey to get here.”

“You must tell me what it is like to be married”, said Henriette blushing.  “Mother is busy

Source Unknown

negotiating a match with one of my father’s friends and colleague, Claude Juste Alexandre Louis Legrand.”

“Oh” said Marianne, “He must be quite a bit older than you if he is your father’s friend”

“He is 33 years older than me” Henriette said, “but he wanted someone who knows the full implications of men at war, but he also wants the comfort of a home when he comes back from battle.” Claude Juste Legrand was a hardened general who had risen to lieutenant colonel during the Revolution and fought in many battles.

Marie Francoise was glad for the extra pair of hands and she and the two girls sat and chatted over the forthcoming marriage making plans as they sat sewing. It was now pretty obvious that Marianne was with child and the girls excitedly looked forward to the coming events.

“Marianne, do you know what to expect when you have a baby?” Aunt Marie asked as the time drew near for the confinement.

“I have been with my mother when she gave birth to my brothers,” Marianne said, “but I am still afraid, my mother was very weak after the birth of Charles?”

The midwife, Aunt Marie and Henriette were on hand to welcome little Sarah Fish into the world, Marianne bore the pain bravely and was delighted with her little daughter. James Smith had managed to take time off between ships to check on Marianne and see his little daughter and to attend the wedding.

It was a joyous family occasion as Claude Juste Legrand and Henriette took their marriage vows. They were feted in various Paris homes as the General recounted his war stories about the 1809 campaign under Marshall Andre Massena where they had fought tenaciously against the Austrians in the notable battle of Aspern-Essling. The battle ended when both sets of troops were too exhausted to fight anymore and the French retreated.

All too soon Napoleon called up his troops and soon Claude Legrand was on his way to Russia and James was back to his ship, he was going to the East this time on a merchantman. The women reconciled themselves to keeping the home fires burning and a resemblance of some sort of social life while their men were away.

The family in Paris were kept busy looking after little Sarah and keeping up with their Parisian circle. Henriette waited anxiously for news from the Russian front, Claude was with Marshal Oudinot’s II Corps. She watched out daily for a message or a letter as she had heard the Russian’s had retreated to Moscow leaving a scorched-earth policy behind, burning towns and villages as they retreated so the French could not live off the land. It was a bitterly cold and freezing winter and the news was not good – many soldiers had died of starvation.

Aunt Marie came through to the drawing room, her face white and drawn, she had a newspaper in her hand.

“What is it Mother?” said Henriette.

“The bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic wars took place at Borodino, seventy miles west of Moscow on September the 7th. The French army made contact with the Russian Cossacks, there were heavy losses of officers and 70 000 casualties.  Napoleon marched to Moscow, only to find it evacuated and on fire – no decisive victory there.  The Russians continued to retreat – they would not fight.  Napoleon’s troops are exhausted, suffering from hypothermia, starving and there is no fodder for the horses. “

Henriette put her head in her hands and cried, she had only had a few weeks with Claude before he went off to battle.

Picture from Wikipedia

“Oh no! Is there any news of Claude?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Marie going to her daughter and putting her arms around her. “You know how it was with your father, we never knew, it is only when you get a messenger at the door you really need to worry.”

It was not a week or two later when there was a knock at the door of the Scherer home in Paris. “Mademoiselle, I am sorry to bring bad tidings, but General Legrand has been badly wounded, but he is alive, please can you prepare a room for him.” Henriette wept, she pulled herself together and said,

“Certainly, please bring him home and I shall take care of him.  What happened?”

The messenger replied,   “By the time we arrived at the Berezina River in November only 27,000 able soldiers were still standing. The Russian soldiers continued to harass us with short encounters.  Clause Juste Legrand arrived at the river with the French II corps to take the bridge, but the Russians had destroyed it. Napoleon realising our vulnerability, with great difficulty and minimum equipment got our troops to distract the Russians whilst we built a bridge.  Musket balls tore through Claude’s flesh and he fell into the freezing water and we had to drag him ashore and make our escape.  Napoleon has fled back to Paris to raise more troops and secure his position”.

Henriette, Aunt Marie and Marianne took turns nursing Claude. He was battle weary and in dreadful pain from the injuries he had sustained and the frostbite to his extremities, he slowly recovered under the women’s tender care. The General was amused by little Sarah and eventually was able to get up and about again.  Claude was promoted to senator on 5th April 1813, Pair de France on June 1814 and Chevalier de Saint-Louis on June 27 1814. These days in Paris were the best Henriette was to know as Claude’s health slowly deteriorated.

Claude came through one morning with the newspaper, “Napoleon has abdicated and been sent to Elba. Louis XVIII has returned to Paris. Although the Peace of Paris has been signed, Britain is still at war with the American colonies and it seems there will never be peace in the world and Wellington is approaching Paris.” Claude sighed; he was still in pain and was thoroughly sick of war and the uncertainty of daily living.  It was a stressful time for the family and the inhabitants of Paris.

Marianne found herself pregnant once again, this time she had had little time to take care of herself as she was busy looking after Sarah and helping to nurse Claude. She did not know where James was, it was months since she had last seen him. Claude took to his bed, his wounds were festering again. Henriette and Aunt Marie felt the strain of tending to the needs of the dying Claude who expired his last breathe on 8th January 1815. The peace in Paris did not last long, Napoleon returned in March 1815.  Louis XVIII fled Paris and Napoleon started his Hundred Days expansion into Europe.

As Marianne’s confinement drew near she became edgy and anxious.

“Where are you James? I really need you now,” she cried as the birth pangs started.  “I feel so alone here, I want my mother,” she sobbed and struggled as the midwife stood over her. This confinement was not as easy as when Sarah was born, and she was stressed out.  The midwife’s face was grave as she delivered the tiny Rebecca.

“You will have to be careful with this one, she is underweight and not a good colour” The midwife said as she laid the child in Marianne’s arms. Aunt Marie and Henriette dressed in black were also sombre as Aunt Marie announced,

“Wellington and the Allied armies’ are gathering to march on Paris. How I wish this war over and we had a man around, what will become of us?”

On the 18th June 1815 the decisive Battle of Waterloo was fought and Napoleon was exiled to St Helena.  The Treaty of Ghent had been signed signalling the end of the American war.

James returned to the house in

Courtesy of the Post Office

Paris to find a sad and grieving family, Marianne was ill and was not able to feed the ailing Rebecca. James greeted Sarah who hardly recognised him and held his new baby daughter as she slowly faded and died in his arms.

“We can’t intrude any longer on your hospitality and Marianne wants to go home to see her mother and introduce little Sarah to her parents” James said to the grieving Marie and Henriette.

So it was a sad parting as the cousins embraced and bid Aunt Marie a final farewell, they had all aged, youth was left behind as they set off once more for England’s shore. The family had lost so much through these wars, first General Scherer and the lovely chateaux; Claude had died leaving them with the house in Paris but not much else. James and Marianne had lost a daughter; it was now a time for new beginnings.

White on White


“White on white lace on satin”, I hummed along with Danny Williams dreaming of my wedding day as I put the finishing touches to the nightdress I was making for my trousseaux. The song came to an end and the broadcast was interrupted. “We have a message from the Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith” the announcer said. I stopped what I was doing to listen. The speech ended.

“We may be a small country, but we are a determined people who have been called upon to play a rôle of world-wide significance.

We Rhodesians have rejected the doctrinaire philosophy of appeasement and surrender. The decision which we have taken today is a refusal by Rhodesians to sell their birthright. And, even if we were to surrender, does anyone believe that Rhodesia would be the last target of the Communists in the Afro-Asian block?

We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization, and Christianity; and in the spirit of this belief we have this day assumed our sovereign independence. God bless you all.”

The date was 11th November 1965 and my wedding was just over a month away in January. Unbelief and uncertainty about the future numbed my mind, what would happen now?

My father a top government official came home that evening and said,

Deryn with bridesmaids Pam Thompson and Beulah Smith

“I am going to have to work on a lot of projects to stabilise the communications systems so the country can carry on its business, as the rest of the world has turned its back on us and we are in for a difficult time.”

“What about the wedding?” my mother and I chorused.

“You will just have to carry on without me, I am sorry, I will help if I can, but I am going to be very busy right now,” he replied.

My mother had to carry the burden of the wedding arrangements, all of which kept changing as people found they could not offer the services or products they had promised, due to sanctions. My father was often away on business trips to undisclosed destinations, sometimes only coming home to sleep.

The wedding day arrived and instead of being driven from my parents’ home in the countryside to the church in a white Jaguar as originally planned, we all had to go into town to the bridesmaid’s house to get dressed and her father drove us to the church in his Morris. A few guests cancelled as they did not have enough petrol, as this commodity was now rationed with coupons, but most made it to the church and the reception. This was held in the Highlands Presbyterian Church hall, the foundation classroom for the new Borrowdale School I had attended as a child. Family and friends had pulled out all stops to make sure

Deryn with her father, Robert Cherer Smith

we had everything we needed so we forgot about the problems and my father was able to walk me down the aisle.  ‘I’ve been dreaming of this day and how proud I’d be, when she came walking down the aisle and held out her hand to me,’ my dream wedding had materialised at last and we enjoyed the day.


We rode off into the sunset for our honeymoon on a 150cc Honda motorbike, heading for a cottage in the Inyanga Mountains. At times when the road was too steep I would have to get off the pillion and walk up the hill as the engine could not cope, but at least we had enough petrol to get us the 300 miles to our destination.

On our return to Salisbury we were confronted with the news that our marriage may not be valid as the British government was not recognising any marriages conducted by ‘illegal’ officials. We did not allow this to worry us and learned to live with the sanctions and shortages. People stood together and there was a real sense of community in solving problems resulting from sanctions. We had two beautiful children, again we had difficulty trying to register them as British citizens as Rhodesia was not recognised and they had to be registered as Rhodesians. We often joked with them that they were illegal. They are now grown up and immigrated to counties around the world and are now citizens of their adopted countries.

Who would believe that politicians’ decisions could have such an impact on your family life and your dream wedding?

© Deryn van der Tang 2015

The Child Bride

Sophie looked at Joseph, the lines on his face had deepened, and life in London was certainly getting worse. There had been the constant anxiety of the French invasion last year. This was so much harder for him as he was an émigré and people were suspicious of him. Although he hid it, he could not change his French soul and she worried about him. They had made their place in London Society and she was an exemplary hostess to the small circle of her father’s business associates, but they were a pretty snobbish lot and she felt for Joseph as he struggled to fit in.

Her father, Richard Noble, was working harder than ever, he had to expand his carpentry business as there was a boom in the ship building industry. Britain had increased her output of ’ships of the line’ and more wood and carpenters were needed to supply the shipyards. It was necessary to have an enormous fleet of ships to outdo the French in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Baltic and the English Channel as the threat of war was on all sides. It was not only for the war, but ships were needed to transport slaves and to send convicts to Australia, as well as prison hulks for captives.  People were employed making all the necessary items for war mongering, smelting, blacksmiths, rope makers, carpenters, weavers, tailors and all their associated trades. The mechanisation of a lot of these tasks was also causing unrest at home and women and children were exploited as cheap labour in the new sweat factories. The army had to be fed and clothed; they required arms and the ships had to be fast and well equipped to spend months at sea.facebook_1481569258078

Richard had had to borrow money from Hoare’s Bank to expand his business, but now the banks were in trouble as there was huge government debt to pay for the war and the lines of credit were being cut. Richard was concerned that the bank would go under and all his debt be called in.

Sophia had had her own sorrows to bear; she had lost two more children not long after they were born. She was pregnant again and so badly wanted to keep this child, so she rested a lot.  Marianne took over quite a bit of the household responsibilities to help Sophie through these difficult times. Marianne was growing up into a fine young lady; she helped to entertain her parent’s guests and lent a hand in the kitchen when necessary, although they employed the services of a cook and housekeeper.

Sophie played her part too in alleviating the distress of the poor.  She would send Marianne and the cook out to deliver food parcels to those elderly folk she knew that lived in her neighbourhood who were ill and could not feed themselves. The daily grind was a struggle for most people and London was no longer a safe place to live as people turned to crime to survive. The law was bl3cherer-rental-001pretty harsh, the prisons were overcrowded and a person could be transported to Botany Bay for just stealing a loaf of bread. Sophia counted her blessings and was thankful for such a loving husband as Joseph, although she felt she was the one having to hold things together most of the time as he did not have the confidence to voice his opinions and make his own way in London Society.

Funds were running low and even Sophie’s father Richard was battling financially as he had to borrow a lot of money to supply wood to the shipbuilders.  Amongst those he owed money to was a ship builder James Smith, who worked on both building and repairing the ships of the line.

James was a tall and sinewy young man of 28 years old and a hard worker.  His mother was of Norwegian descent and his father was a post office clerk.  He was born in 1782 just before the American War of Independence.  He had gone to a Boy’s Commercial School in London where he had learnt bookkeeping, navigation and shipbuilding skills before serving his apprenticeship on board the ‘’Minataur,” he knew his trade well and was more often than not at sea repairing ships.  The war was also taking its toll on him. After months at sea when the cold salty spray drenched him and he was tired and hungry, he would look at his rough chapped hands and long for the warmth of a home, a good meal and the tender hands of a woman to care for him. Most men of his age were already married, but this infernal war had kept him far away from any eligible young ladies as he had little time on shore to find himself a wife.

When his ship the ‘Argonaut’ docked at Portsmouth he was determined to make the most of his shore leave.  Richard Noble owed him money and he was headed to Woodbridge to go and collect his dues. He was negotiating with Richard about what money he was owed when he said half-jokingly,

“I am looking for a wife”.

Richard ever the businessman thought for a bit and said,

“Aah, I have a granddaughter; maybe if you find her acceptable, we can come to some arrangement with the payment!”


James stood and knocked on the door of the house in Kensington, the housekeeper opened the door.

“I am looking for Mr and Mrs Cherer”, he said “I have a letter for them from Mr Noble.”

“Come in I will take you to the parlour”, the housekeeper ushered him in.

bl3marianewedding-certAfter greeting Joseph and Sophia and introducing himself, James felt a bit awkward handing Joseph the letter from Richard requesting they consider this proposal. He looked coyly around the room to see if the daughter was there.  He looked at his feet and fidgeted.

“Please sit down and we will send for a cup of tea for you while we discuss this letter” said Joseph.

Joseph and Sophia discussed the letter in private, both thought Marianne was too young, but sometimes desperate times required desperate measures and Marianne was an extra mouth to feed and clothe, they would have to marry her off sooner or later they reasoned. Joseph wanted her to marry well to a good provider as he had little to offer as a dowry. They were dependent on Richard’s good will to keep them in London, so it was decided to entertain James and introduce him to Marianne who was now 14 years old.

Her bright blue eyes sparkled and she held her head well. James watched Marianne as she helped her mother and the cook; he saw she was a competent young lady.  After dinner as was the custom she played the piano. To his hungry eyes she was delightful as her dark hair shone in the soft candlelight and the smooth skin of her face glowed softly.  He looked at her lips pursed in concentration as she played her piece on the piano; the notes became soundless as he desired her more than anything right now, she was young, so very young and vulnerable. When she had finished playing James sat next to her on the sofa.  Sophia busied herself in the corner of the Drawing Room with some embroidery giving the young people some time to get to know each other.

bl3entry-in-parish-register-001James visited the Cherer’s every day and courted Marianne; she was flattered by his attention and found him to be courteous and a gentleman. Her parents had told her it was her duty to be married as they still had the burden of providing for her three brothers that needed to be educated, money was very tight right now and James would be a good provider for her. At the end of the week James spoke to Joseph and asked for Marianne’s’ hand in marriage.  Joseph was heartbroken as he loved his daughter, she was his French soul, his Marianne, his voice of ‘liberty and reason’, but he knew that Sophia’s father held the upper hand – he owed everything he owned in this country to Richard – now he was being asked to offer up his only daughter as a sacrifice on the altar of obligation.  He assented to the marriage with heavy heart.

The eighteenth of July 1810 dawned bright and sunny. Sophia dressed Marianne in her best silk dress and packed all her other clothes into a leather case, she tried her best to explain to Marianne what to expect. Marianne felt anxious and excited at the same time; butterflies in her stomach made her feel light headed as she entered the church. Sophia and Joseph escorted Marianne into the old Anglo-Saxon church of St Giles in Camberwell, Southwark, with its stone walls and crammed box pews. They took their place in the Lady Chapel in the south transept. James was waiting there with the License he had purchased and as they took their vows he promised he would take good care of his child bride. The marriage was witnessed by Sophia, giving her consent as Marianne was under age.  Joseph could not sign, his heart was broken.

churchAfter the wedding tea at her parents’ house, James and Marianne set off for Portsmouth as James was due to sail on the ‘Argonaut’, and so Marianne was thrust roughly into adulthood as she waved her parents goodbye. Joseph turned away with tears in his eyes as they disappeared from view. ‘Poor child, tonight she will be a woman’, he sobbed to himself. Sophia held him close. They comforted one another, she too felt for the child’s pain, life was harsh these days.

The Alien

As he stepped ashore, the fetid stench of raw sewerage accosted his nostrils.  Jean Baptiste Scherer had hoped to see the green fields and forests of the England he had imagined. The blood, gore and conscription of Revolutionary France in 1792 was too much for his sensibilities; a musician, he looked down at his hands and sighed.  His brother, General Bartholomy Louis Scherer had offered him a commission, but after an acrimonious argument, Jean had packed up his few possessions and become one of the many bourgeoisie émigrés to flee France and the guillotine to make a new life elsewhere.

cherer-rental-cert-001Clutching his bag, he carefully picked his way along the harbour wall stepping over rotting debris and drunken sailors sprawled along the street.

“Ooi, Mister, spare a coin,” a toothless man with tarry stump called after him. Jean drew his cloak closer and shuddered in revulsion. The poor and bloodied were everywhere, not only in France.

He decided to start out straight away; he had the name of an old Huguenot family, in Woodford, Essex, outside of London whom he hoped could help him. They had escaped religious persecution earlier in the century. He set off to find transport and soon found a hostelry.

“Bonjour monsieur,” he greeted the head groom, as he went around to the stables.

The groom, looked at him through squinted eyes and spat at him.

“No ‘oss o’ mine’ll tak ya, Jacobin.”

Jean had not expected this vehement antagonism; he turned back to the inn to make enquiries there. A sullen silence fell on the company as he entered. He approached the innkeeper, his hands sweaty as hostile eyes bored into him.  He swallowed hard.

“Bonjour monsieur, I am in need of transport to Woodford, do you know anyone who will take me?”

“Out! Out, no Jacobin in my inn,” the innkeeper hissed pointing to the door. Shouting and booing followed him as he blindly stumbled back out into the street. Emotions welled up, he was tired and hungry and now he was afraid. Doubts flooded his mind, whatever had made him think England would be better than France? The English had just lost the American colonies.  Winning or losing, he was an idealist and hated war. Pictures of blood flowing in the streets, the smell of death, pillaging soldiers and hunger all floated through his mind.

He straightened his shoulders, gritted his teeth, checked his money bag and set off on the road to London. He walked alone trying to blend in with other travellers and as long as he did not open his mouth, no one could guess he was French, only occasionally would he ask for directions.

By night fall Jean was tired, hungry and thirsty and he wondered where he would sleep.  He stopped alongside a stream to rest and drink some water. He nibbled on a stale crust he found in his pouch.  Fear of being robbed and the hostility of locals made him reluctant to ask for accommodation.


Wearily he dragged himself along until he came to the edge of a forest. He decided to alien-timeline-jpg-001shelter amongst the trees.  A fallen tree offered a bit of protection so he lay down and pulled his cloak tightly around him and drifted into a fitful sleep. He was woken early in the morning with dogs barking over him.

“What have we here?” rasped a rough voice.  Jean stared in the eyes of a mongrel dog and two wild looking men with dead rabbits and pikes in their hands.

“Bonjour,” Jean immediately regretted opening his mouth and letting the men know he was French.

“Ah, French infection?” The man’s lips twisted in a horrible grin.

“Ere ‘and over your money,” the heavy accent of his companion threatened. They made a grab at Jean’s pouch, he had expected this and with stupendous effort and adrenaline rush, leapt over the tree trunk. He fled back along the track he had been following to London with the dog snapping at his heels. The men laughed and called the dog off, not before it had ripped his cloak.

Nauseous from hunger and shaking from his narrow escape he trudged another day along the road, keeping himself to himself. Jean drank from streams and foraged along the way to keep his hunger at bay.

After another night in the open sleeping under a hedge, Jean struggled to his feet. His bones ached, he felt feverish and unwell as he set off.

The church tower of Woodford came into view at nightfall.  Jean dragged himself towards it, his eyes blurred, his throat burnt and he felt delirious. He just made it to the door of St Mary’s and collapsed unable to lift his head.

“Get up and move on,” the verger said roughly, as he came out to lock up and saw Jean lying at the bottom of the stairs like a bundle of rags. He kicked him to underline his words, Jean moaned. The verger inspected him more closely and saw he was ill and called the vicar, Rev Shephard.

“What is your name?” asked the vicar standing over him.

“Jean, Monsieur,” he croaked. Rev Shephard battled waves of emotion and indecision. His human nature wanted to leave the ’French infection’ to die on the steps of the church, but his conscience and Christian duty said he should help the man; compassion won the day and they helped Jean to his feet and half carried him to the vicar’s house at the back of the church.

He was dragged into a low beamed room with a large fireplace. A fire flickered in the hearth, a table and chairs stood at one end, the rest of the room was in dark shadow. The vicar’s servant girl took his sodden clothes and hung them by the fire to dry and found a homespun blanket with which to cover himself and offered him a bowl of broth. Jean felt life seep back into his body. The girl made a rough pallet out of hay at the back of the kitchen where he could lie down, then left him to sleep in peace.

Sounds of scuffling and banging woke Jean from his fitful sleep, it was still dark but a candle stood on the kitchen table. The servant girl bent over to light the fire to heat water in copper kettles over the glowing coals. She began kneading dough and making gruel. She set the small loaves by the fire to rise. He was afraid to open his mouth in case he frightened the girl, but watched her as she worked.

She poured hot water into a basin and brought it to him with a rough piece of linen, she indicated a small alcove near the back door where he could get washed and dressed. She also brought him his clothes which had dried out overnight.

“Merci, Mademoiselle,” Jean said struggling to his feet.  He still felt weak and unwell, but managed to get over to the alcove and clean himself up which made him feel a bit better. When he was finished the girl indicated he must sit at the table, she set a bowl of gruel before him. Jean smiled at her grateful for this kindness, but she merely shrugged and turned back to her duties. The vicar entered the room for his breakfast, the girl shooed Jean back to the pallet, so the vicar could sit alone.

“Good morning, Mr Jean,” said the Rev Shephard as he sat down to eat his breakfast. “I hope you are rested now. Tell me about yourself and why are you here?”

“Bonjour Monsieur, thank you for your hospitality, you have saved my life. I have travelled many miles from Lyons. I am looking for peace and a better life I am tired of war and the killing, but I see life is difficult in England too.”

“So you are an émigré?” said the vicar. “What can you do here to make a better life? War is expensive, England is nearly bankrupt and food is scarce. How can you improve it?”

Jean pointed to the church, signifying he wanted to go into the church. Doubtfully the vicar opened the door. Jean slowly made his way up to the organ loft and indicated the vicar should work the bellows. Jean sat down and played a few bars of music he had composed. The vicar’s eyebrows shot up, he stopped and looked closely at Jean and saw under his haggardness and uncombed hair he was a fine looking man.

“I am a musician,” said Jean. “I am looking for Rev Sydney Smith, his wife’s family were Huguenots and they might be able to help me. I have an address here in Woodford.” He handed a scrap of paper to the vicar.

“Rev Smith has moved, but perhaps I can arrange something for you,” he said slowly. They went back to the house and Jean lay back on his pallet and rested while the vicar went about his duties in the parish, the kitchen girl ignored him, but gave him water to drink and a slice of bread to eat which was the least she could do.

That evening, the vicar returned with a tall dark haired man and introduced him as Richard Noble.

“This is Jean, the émigré I told you about”. Mr Noble looked Jean over assessing him as he would a piece of furniture.

“Yes,” he said brusquely, “I will take him in.” He nodded to the vicar and intimated to Jean to pick up his things and follow him.

“Merci,” he said to the vicar and took a coin out of his pouch and pushed it into the vicar’s hand. Rev Shephard looked at it in surprise, but merely nodded a thank you as Jean followed Mr Noble out of the door.



Jean stepped into a well-kept kitchen, where a thickset older woman stirred a pot on the fire and a raven-haired young woman was shelling peas.

“Mary, this is Jean,” he said to the older woman and turning to Jean “My wife, Mary, and my daughter Sophie.”  Mary looked up and smiled and Sophie peeped shyly through her lashes at him. Richard took Jean up a flight of stairs at the back of the house and showed him into a small room. It looked like some sort of workroom with bits of half-finished furniture, he was told to put his things in there. Downstairs in the back yard Richard showed him a water trough where he could wash, then told him to come into the kitchen.

Jean made himself presentable and although he still felt unwell, he could feel his strength coming back and hope fluttered in his heart.  He entered the kitchen as the meal was being served and he sat down at the place indicated.

Mary Noble was able to speak a little French; she was Rev Sydney Smith’s sister-in-law from Huguenot descent and was able to interpret as Jean told his story.

“My brother, one of the Generals of the Revolution, offered me a commission to fight in the Armie de Italie, but I am an artist, a musician, not a soldier. My father, a surgeon, was disappointed and my brother angry with me but I must be true to myself, therefore I had to emigrate or be killed.”

Richard’s eyes lit up when he heard this, here was a good connection. His wood and carpentry business supplied the navy with wood and workers for their shipyard.  Shipbuilders were in great demand as British ships of the line limped home after battle needing repairs or replacement. This gave him a constant supply of work. He had made his money out of war.

Richard turned to Jean and said, “We will help you, but you must speak English, you must become an Englishman to be accepted in this community.”  Jean pressed his lips together and sighed, his French heart rebelled, but he saw the necessity of this after the treatment he had received from the locals.

Over the next months with Mary and Sophie’s help, Jean learned to speak English with just a slight French accent. He now called himself Joseph Cherer and once he had regained his health he was able to help out in the workshop with the finer details of finishing off and polishing furniture and fittings. Joseph played the organ at St Mary’s and so he took his place in the community.

Richard’s business grew as carpenters were in great demand building prisons as the war escalated. He received orders from London for his fine furniture so he took on more carpenters. He decided to open an office in London and suggested that Joseph move to Covent Garden to facilitate the receipt and dispatch of orders. This suited Joseph as he could start to live independently. He became a member of a Gentleman’s club where he made contacts and could read the latest news on the war with France. Everyone was grumbling about the heavy taxation being levied to pay for the war and as an alien, Joseph was taxed even more. The country was a melting pot with tensions between loyalists, reformers, politicians and the émigrés as well as an angry groundswell from the starving poor.


Joseph arranged a meeting with Richard.

“When the Aliens Act is made law in March 1793 this will increase the taxes that I will have to pay for the agency and it will make business more difficult for me as I will have no rights and cannot hold any office or vote.”

“Mary and I have discussed this, and we have decided on a plan that would secure the business in London in our name and give a position to Sophie. We propose that you marry Sophie,” Richard said.

Joseph drew in his breath and blinked back a tear.

cherernoble-marraige-cert-001“I could never have dreamed of a better solution, Sophie is a beautiful young girl. I am already fond of her, I promise I shall be a good husband and take care of her,” he said softly, breathing out slowly. The wedding was arranged in London in January 1793 at St Pauls in Covent Garden just months before the Aliens Act became law. Sophie the lovely young bride, gave herself fully to Joseph; she had secretly adored him and was determined to be an ideal wife.

After listening to the heated discussions over the war and politics at the Gentleman’s club and seeing people poring over newspapers to find out news of their families in war dispatches Joseph announced to Sophie one day.

“People are hungry for news of their families; we could open a postal agency to help people communicate directly with their families by post. It would also help me to find out what is going on in France with my family there.”

Joseph and Sophie settled down to a comfortable life in their rented property in Kensington. Joseph ran the postal agency as well as Mr Noble’s agency business. Sophie showed off her father’s furniture in their home showroom and entertained his clients, she also delivered food parcels to the poor.  In due course little Charles was born, a sickly child who only lived a few months. The grieving parents were comforted by the arrival of a daughter the following year.  Joseph was overwhelmed with longing for his homeland and family as he watched Mary cooing over the baby. Sophie’s parents were wonderful but he still felt like an outsider no matter how well he spoke English and acted like an Englishman. They named the baby Marianne after the icon of France, an allegory of liberty and reason. This helped Joseph keep his roots within the family, this dear little daughter whose blue eyes reminded him so much of his beloved mother whom he had not seen in many years.

News came in 1804 that his brother, the General was ill and had retired to his Chateau near Chauny and was asking to see him.  With trepidation he travelled to France with the seven year old Marianne so she could meet her uncle, aunt and cousins Charles and Henriette.  That first evening, Joseph put his head in his hands, his heart pained, his own flesh and blood especially his brother’s family made him feel like a traitor that had prostituted his French soul to become English.

The General gave Joseph his compass and said, “Jean, find your way but don’t ever forget you are French.” It was not many days before he closed his eyes for the last time. Joseph bent over his brother, with tears in his eyes he whispered goodbye and left a splinter of his soul in the graveyard in Chauny.

“Marianne, you must never forget your French origins, history has intervened. We are aliens in an alien land and culture and have to make the best of it.” On their journey back to London Joseph explained why he had left France and came to England and why he had called her Marianne.


The coach turned into their street in London. Sophie stood on the doorstep with her arms wide open to welcome them home, her smile radiated her love for him. Joseph took her in his arms, smelt the sweet perfume of her dark locks and the warmth of her body, at that moment he knew this was what he had been looking for, love and kindness for, not whether he was French or English but a place his heart could call home in this cruel world.

He pulled the compass from his pouch and gave it to Marianne. One day she must marry an Englishman and leave England so they could be free to pioneer a new family culture and identity for themselves in one of the colonies. Somewhere in the new world freedom from war waited.

An alien no longer Joseph knew his heart had come home.

French Connection

arc-de-triumph-001The start of our family story begins with the French Revolution, I have tried to write it up as ‘Faction’, to make it interesting and readable for modern readers. I have used facts I have researched but have woven them together with fiction, using my imagination as to what may have occurred. If anyone has more facts to complete the story and make it more accurate, please feel free to contact me so I can re-write. Little was known about the General’s private family life, but lots can be found out about his military career. I will be following his brother Jean Baptise Scherer as he is the branch of the family from which we are descended. General Scherer’s name is on the Roll of the Revolution and Empire Generals carved on the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile.



The mists of time unfurled to reveal the rugged landscape of the Pyrenees with a band of rag tag soldiers huddled around their camp fires.  The bleakness of their surroundings only added to the gnawing pangs of hunger and numbing cold that etched itself into the very marrow of their bones.

General Barthelemy Louis Joseph Scherer looked down on his men as he walked around the camp. Men huddled over fires trying to keep warm.

“I cannot do this to them” he said to his Lieutenant who was walking beside him.

“Monsieur General, we have instructions from Paris, from Napoleon himself” said the Lieutenant who had had the misfortune to personally deliver the instructions from Paris to General Scherer.

“Let the man who drafted the plan carry it out!” spat out the General.  “Look at them, their boots are falling to pieces, their uniforms are in tatters.  We have very little food and look at the horses, they are in such poor condition; we cannot attempt an attack over the Italian border in these conditions.”

“Oi, Monsieur General” said the Lieutenant

“Besides, it is the middle of winter; the conditions are just not favourable to attempt an offensive.  Bring me some paper, let me write back to Paris and to tell them we require mules, food and medical supplies as well as cavalry and will wait until the weather is more favourable.”

With that General Scherer went back to his tent, which was reduced to a ragged flap of gen-scherer-research-letter-001canvas strung roughly across a couple of wooden poles.  He sat down heavily, took out his flask of cognac and took a sip to give him succour to write to Paris. He wrote the letter outlining his strategy and requesting reinforcements, sealed it and called his Lieutenant.

“Lieutenant, please see to it that this letter is dispatched to Paris immediately” said General Scherer handing it over.

“Oi, Monsignor General”, said the Lieutenant bowing out of the tent.

Bartholomy went back into his tent, drew the flap and took out his flask again. He was cold, stabbing pain wracked his feet and his body ached with every movement. He felt the warmth of the cognac slowly seep into his bones, it helped him relax, to forget about this atrocious war and the Revolution and the loneliness of his position.  He had always wanted to be a soldier, the army had always been first in his life, so he had never had time to marry and raise a family.

His mind wandered and he could see himself as a child playing soldiers with his brother Jean Baptiste, who did not relish playing the enemy in their games. They had been born and lived in Delle on the upper Rhine in Eastern France near the border of Germany. His father Nicolas was the village surgeon, to whom the villagers deferred as its head citizen. His mother Catherine Lanos had insisted that the boys be well educated. Jean Baptiste had studied music and had some success as a  composer.

Barthelemy took another swig from his flask and mused.” This darned Revolution and war has torn the family apart. My parents are old and have moved to Freiberg ,Germany, near where  my mother Catherine’s family live, as they were at risk of the guillotine. My brother Jean Baptiste has escaped to England, he did not want any of the social changes the Revolution had forced onto the bourgeois population. Now the childhood game of soldiers was a reality they were on opposing sides. England and France had taken different sides in the American War of independence and they were still at war now. Would this never end?”

A few weeks later, a mounted soldier rode into the camp with the brief from Paris.

“I have been told to personally place this letter into General Scherer’s hand,” he said. The lieutenant escorted him to the General’s tent.

fonteinbleu-001“Monsieur, General, these are you orders. You are asked to attend them immediately” said the soldier.

General Scherer went into his tent, opened the letter and read “There is urgency in the moment; success can only be gained in the winter. It would be better to have supplies and transport, so it would be more useful and correct to procure them from the enemy.” He sat down slowly, sickened with the order. The Directory was expecting him to take an ill equipped army into battle with no supplies; he was expected to live off the land, pillage and loot from the enemy to keep his men and horses fed.  He had no medical supplies and not only was he ill, but so were many of his men.

“I shall send a reply on the morrow” said the General “Managers surround the Government.  I do not wish to name individuals gnawed by ambition or greedy for posts above their abilities.  I have been an officer in the Austrian, Dutch and French armies, and they doubt my professional training in these matters?”

With that he dismissed the Lieutenant and brought out his flask of cognac, if he could just be warm for once. If only the pain would leave and he could feel the vigour of his youth return. He drew up another less ambitious project and wrote to the Directory.

“If you are unable to provide the re-enforcements requested, I beseech you, I implore you to send here a general of more resource and skill than I have, for I admit I am incapable in the present conditions of sustaining the burden of command.  I request you as a special favour to send me a successor.  My health is impaired by the fatigues of the body and the pains of the spirit and my moral and physical means are below the task you require of me.” With a sigh he sealed the brief and tried to get some sleep.

In the morning the soldier received the dispatch and with heavy heart Barthelemy watched him ride off in the direction of Paris. He knew that his position was now in jeopardy as he was refusing the commission to take the Italian border.  Life was very precarious in this revolutionary age, and possibly the guillotine awaited him, but he was adamant he was not going to launch an assault without being properly equipped with men, horses and supplies.  He most certainly was not going to let his men loot and pillage to gain supplies. There were certain rules of war which he had always adhered to; it was not the local population he was at war with. These young upstarts did not play by the same rules he was taught and he was tired of the battlefield.

20160910_153558-1‘Return to Paris immediately’ was the response to his letter. He was made Minister of War, now it was his responsibility to get the supplies to the army.  He had complained about having to live off the land, now he had to work out the logistics for getting the supply chain through, but because the army was now using guerrilla tactics, the old methods did not keep up with the soldiers.  He was made the scapegoat for the woes of the food supply and was blamed for losing the Italian campaign, it all turned rather ugly and he had to leave the country for a while. All this stress made his health worse, and he turned to the cognac to relieve the pain.

“Father”, Barthelemy said as he consulted with his father on his ill health. “What am I to do?  I am a pariah with the Directory in Paris now and my body aches all the time.”

“It is time to retire to the country, find a good wife and raise a family”, was Nicholas’ practical advice.

Barthelemy took his father’s advice and bought Vieux Chateaux at Commenchon near Chauny in the north of France. A marriage was arranged with Marie Francoise Henriette Caroline Muller in Freiburg, his mother’s home town, in May 1794. Two children were born shortly after that, Charles in 1794 and Henriette in 1795.

His health did not allow him to enjoy the fruits of his labour or of his loins and in 1804 his health deteriorated so badly that the family was called to his bedside at Vieux Chateaux. Jean Baptiste (Joseph Cherer, his brother, now an émigré in England) was there at the last to reconcile before it was too late.

“Take my compass,” Barthelemy wheezed, struggling to get the words out, “It is a symbol, let it direct you home.” He fell back on the cushions, expiring his last breath on 19th August 1804.




Exploring the Navajo National Lands and ‘Valley within the Rock’

My son and I went to visit his Navajo family in Arizona. Our flight landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico from there we drove through to Gallup along Route 40 which follows the old Route 66. After booking ourselves into a Quality Inn we visited the family who lived in Window Rock. They welcomed us warmly and treated us to a traditional Navajo meal of ‘fry bread’ with mutton and white corn stew.
The reservation is dry and arid and the houses sit in the open scrubland with little shade to protect them, img_2756 it is hard to see how people can exist in this harsh environment. We drove some way along a sometimes steep and winding road where the scenery changed from very dry arid low scrub to wooded areas of juniper and piñion trees. The piñion nuts are harvested by the Navajo and sold for a good price as they are extremely rich in protein and minerals and have a high calorific value.
We arrived at Canyon De Chelly img_2758 and decided do the “White House Trail” to view the ruins at the bottom of the canyon. We walked down the 600ft narrow trail path that wound its way down through arched rocks and narrow ledges. A dry river bed ran through the canyon floor. The Anasazi people ingeniously built houses of clay the same colour as the rock face so it was not easy to distinguish it from the rock at a distance. Some houses were built on a high ledge in the cliff face above the other houses. We then began the long, slow ascent up the same path img_2772.
We drove on to Monument Valley via Rough Rock, a town with its original Trading Post where the family had once lived. We arrived in Monument Valley and checked into Goulding’s Lodge, a place where actor John Wayne stayed when making movies in the area. Our suite was at the bottom of a large sandstone butte. img_2792
Our Navajo family explained a lot of their culture and customs as we explored the area. The traditional Navajo dwelling is called a Hogan, a rounded wooden hut. The Navajo belief system is to work in harmony with nature, so the entrance faces east; they say their prayers in the morning asking for help each day on all their activities and for protection. They walk from east to west inside a Hogan, the left hand side is for the women and the right hand side for the men, the back of the Hogan is the ceremonial area and the stove and the cooking area is in the middle. The framework of the Hogan is logs and the outside is packed with mud. If someone dies inside a Hogan they will remove the body through a hole cut in the north side signifying the end of life season. It will usually be razed to the ground, so no one will live in that Hogan again. img_2789
The sandstone buttes are all named, usually with Navajo spiritual significance. We then drove onto Mexican Hat which is a formation of balanced rocks which look like a Mexican Hat, img_2817 followed by Goosenecks with well developed horseshoe gorges of the San Juan River Canyon. We then went onto The Bluff in Utah; we looked at an Artist’s Fair at Bluff Cow Trader’s Post. The nearby Sand Island had petroglyphs , which are images chipped or scratched onto the surface of the rock, they hold the sacred messages and stories of an ancient people.img_2820
It was a long drive back to Gallup via Shiprock. That evening we ate at El Metate a Mexican food and tamale factory which Jamie Oliver featured in his programme ‘Jamie’s American Road Trip’. I had delicious vegetarian tamales, made from cornmeal with vegetables rolled up in a maize husk parcel and steamed, served with Mexican cheese on top.
The following day we drove to the Petrified Forest National Park. We stopped at the Painted Desert with its glowing earth colours and patterns in the valley below. Next stop was Agate Bridge, img_2839 a fallen petrified tree that the earth had slowly eroded from underneath. The colour of the earth gave names to places like Blue Tepees, where the earth was blue, purple and white. At Newspaper Rock there were more Petroglyphs. In Jasper Valley, petrified trees had fallen out of the sediments as they were eroded away and had landed on the valley floor. We had a close up view of the petrified trees at Crystal Forest. The Rainbow Forest Valley Museum had crocodile-like dinosaur skeletons and plant eater skeletons, giving an indication of the geological environment at the time.
We then proceeded to Meteor Crater where NASA had practiced moon landings. img_2851 We then drove on to Flagstaff, a large town in the lee of a mountain. The scenery changed from open plains to wooded areas at an altitude of 7000’. We took a side route to Sedona, this was a magnificent drive through the mountain pass. It was well wooded with deciduous trees changing into their fall foliage. About 30 miles out of Flagstaff we arrived in Sedona, a busy, small town with a Wayside Bible Chapel and lots of Arts and Crafts shops. We drove back to Flagstaff and on to Williams about 25 miles to the west, the gateway to the Grand Canyon.
Next day we set off to see the Grand Canyon, we started at the west side, Mather Point, on the South Rim, and looked down on to this amazing wonder of the world where the Colorado River deeply etched the canyon, showing the layers of sediments. img_2863 We stopped off at the Tusayan Ruins where Pueblos had lived and saw the types of plants they would have eaten. Next was the Desert View which had a Watchtower and Trading Post with a panoramic view across the canyon, we then exited at the Eastern Gate.
We drove to Cameron, a large Indian Trading Store selling local hand crafted goods. We returned to Gallup via Flagstaff, a very long drive of 180 miles. Dinner was at El Rancho, on the old Route 66, img_2885 it is an old western style hotel which sometimes served as headquarters for the movie stars and directors who worked on the cowboy films. Autographed photographs of all the stars that had stayed there decorated the walls. Our Navajo family told us when the movies needed Indian extras they asked the locals and they sometimes used to play a part. After dinner we drove another 198 miles through to Sante Fe. img_2889
The architecture in Sante Fe is Pueblo style. After admiring paintings, wind sculptures and rock quartz fountains at the galleries and artist’s mile of Canyon Road, we drove through to Albuquerque. We hiked for two and a half miles at the Petroglyph National Monument, a sacred site, to look at the rock ‘paintings’ with their strange symbols. It was very hot and heavy going through the sand, but worth the effort.

We learnt so much about the Native Indian culture and their deep spiritual attachment to their land. The expanse and the scale of these natural wonders made this an unforgettable trip.

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