Mary 'Minna' Wilmot, SM/PROG (1775 - 1828) MP

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Nicknames: "Mary Wilmot; Minnie; Minna", "MINNIE"
Place of Burial: East Griqualand, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Birthplace: Kolkata, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Death: Died
Managed by: Sharon Doubell
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Mary 'Minna' Wilmot, SM/PROG

Minna - the Grosvenor Castaway's Descendants

Minna was possibly Mary Wilmot, the 7yr old survivor of the wreck of the East Indiaman, the Grosvenor in 1782. In 1907 William Bazley describes how, “after the women and children were abandoned by Capt. Cox and his officers, one little girl, who he calls Minna, was carried across the Mzimvubu River by a Lascar man. … Bazley calls her maMolo [so] she was probably raised by the amaMolo.” [Crampton, p299.]

Said to have married a soldier who had deserted from the Cape. Crampton speculates that it might have been one of the four Englishmen deserters who associated with the rebel boers: John Madder, Thomas Bentley; Harry Obry; Coves Bork associated with Willem & Nicholas Lochenburg (the old boer who guided the first missionaries to Bessie’s son, Mdepa in 1827) [Crampton, p299.]

Minna – or Minnie – as Bazley sometimes calls her, is said to have had children with this man, before he died. He says that she then married an escaped slave (or one of the Lascars who survived the Grosvenor) – ‘Domosi’. Crampton suggests the name could be a corruption of ‘Damin’ – a runaway Bengalese slave, who spoke Dutch and acted as Ngqika’s mother’s interpreter, and who is known to have lived alongside the boers.

A missionary, van der Kemp, at Ngqika’s Great place, taught Damin – who he called a ‘Mahometan Hindoo’ to read and write. Another of van der Kemp’s pupils was the Khoi woman Sarah, who later married Nicholas Lochenberg, and a ‘Heathen’ woman called Mary… As Minna, like Sarah, eventually settled at the Butterworth mission station, it seems like to Compton, that Minna – the child survivor of the Grosvenor, Mary, the convert, and Mary Wilmot – the 7 year old Grosvenor survivor were the same person. [Crampton p300]

Minna and Damin had several children. One, a son – May Jong (Eastern name?) is said to have lived for many years at the Ibisi in East Griqualand and died there, an old man.

Bazley says at least two of her daughters married white men – one becoming Mrs ‘Toughy’ and the other Mrs ‘Piarse’ – with a daughter, Catherine, who marries John Dunn.

'Mr ‘Toughy was probably DC Toohey, a ship’s cook, who liked to be addressed as ‘Doctor,’ who arrived at Port Natal early in 1835 aboard the ‘Circe’. Within 4 years he had established himself as the acknowledged chief of around 2000 Zulu refugees, and along with another English settler, Henry Ogle, had considerable territory extending down the coast from the Mgeni River. He worked as a trader for a Grahamstown firm, travelling up and down the country with two other traders – Robert Biggar and John Cane. He had at least one son, Tshali (The Zulu version of Toohey’s name, Charles) by a Zulu woman who lived at the Thukela. [Crampton, p303]

Another of Minna’s daughters married ‘Piarse’ or Pierce. The Pierces first arrived in SA as 1820 settlers aboard La Belle Alliance. Richard Pierce, a 41 year old banker, his wife Ann, and 3 sons were members of Wilson’s party. The eldest son, Dick, who was then 11, grew up to marry a woman of ‘Cape Malay Origin’ – the daughter (name unknown) of the castaway Minna and Damin the runaway slave. The other two sons were Paul Pierce, aged 10, & Joseph Pierce, aged 9.

Dick Pierce and his wife worked in PE as servants to Robert Newton Dunn, also an immigrant of 1820. When Robert Dunn moved his family in the 1830s to Port Natal, where his father-in-law, Alexander Biggar was a leading figure in the fledgling settler community, with – like most of the other Englishman there – a son by a Zulu woman, the Pierces went with them.

Dunn settled at South Coast Junction, imposing his authority over several hundred Zulu and coloured clients. His son, John , was born in about 1835, followed three years’ later by the Pierce’s daughter Catherine. The 2 children grew up together. WhenJohn was about 14 his father was trampled to death by an elephant. His mother died a few years later and the household broke up. The orphanedJohn , in his own words ‘took to a wandering existence, having always been fond of my gun and a solitary life.’ He disappeared for a few years, taking Minna’s granddaughter, Catherine with him.

The teenagers lived off the land – ‘Dunn was a regular white kaffir and used, as a boy, to go about in native dress,’ said one old settler – surviving by hunting and ivory trading. They were ‘found’ by a trader named Walmsley while hunting in the wilds of Zululand near the Thukela River. Walmsley took Dunn under his wing and educated him. John Dunn stayed with the trader for 6 years, marrying his childhood companion, Catherine Pierce in 1853. (He was about 18; she 15.) [Crampton, p303]

“By the 1860s John Dunn was well established as a gunrunner, conducting an extensive trade in firearms, for which the Zulu king, Cetshwayo was a leading customer. Dunn became his friend and confidant and was awarded some land near the eMatikulu River. He became a man of power and adopted Zulu customs, one of which was polygamy.

Eight years after his marriage to Catherine he took a Zulu woman by the name of Macebose Mhlongo as his second wife”, then 48 others another, securing marital ties with clans living in his district, and beyond. “He was careful to respect traditional marriage rituals, paying lobola of 9 to 15 head of cattle for each and every one of them..

During the Anglo-Zulu War Dunn sided with the British and betrayed Cetshwayo. When hostilities ceased, the vanquished kingdom was divided into 13 chiefdoms and Dunn was rewarded with the largest portion, the southern region, stretching from the coast to the Buffalo River. John Dunn was described in 1880 as follows: ‘a handsome well-built man about 5 ft 8 in height, with a good forehead, regular features, and keen grey eyes; a closely cut iron-grey beard hides the lower half of his bronzed, weather tanned countenance, and a look of determination and shrewdness is discernible in every lineament.’

He was frequently visited by Whites – important officials from the colony and Natal, hunters and travellers – but neither his wives nor his children were allowed to socialise with them. Nor did Dunn ever take any of his black wives with him to Natal, and in this way their existence could be politely ignored. His son, Dominic acknowledged that ‘there was a kind of segregation practised… My father kept to his whiteness in social matters..we, the children, as coloureds, lived separately from the natives.” They were not encouraged to establish relationships with the Zulus.

Catherine remained very much opposed to his marriages to Zulu women, and despite t fact that she was herself of mixed descent, she ‘aspired to being as ‘European’ as possible and condemned Dunn for his ‘degenerate social behaviour.’

Dunn died on 5 August 1895, aged 60. He was survived by 33 sons, 46 daughters, and 23 wives, including Catherine. 2 years after his death the rinderpest epidemic destroyed 90% of Dunn’s cattle, and his descendants and dependants were reduced to extreme povert. The government of the colony of Natal set aside a piece of land for the occupation of Dunn’s descendants, but many were forced to leave Zululand to seek employment, and today can be found all over the world, including Britain, America, Canada and Australia.

Catherine died on 27 January 1905, aged about 70. She left no building or land to her surviving children; the ones she lived in reverted at her death to her husband’s will, which stated they were ‘to be shared amongst all members of the family.’ Described as a ‘housewife’ in her estate papers, she was survived by several children, listed as Ann Agnes (41), Sarah Amy (39), Mary Rose (38), Alice Lilly and Lizzy Edith (both 35), Catherine Louise (34) and Sunny Dunn (26)”. [Crampton, p305-6]

Minna’s third daughter, Lydia, married Poswa an Mfengu of the ‘Maskati or Langalati’ tribe, and had several children – the youngest of whom was Elizabeth – who Bazley mistakenly says married Carson – actually Charles Canham; a white trader of dodgy repute. “One official described him as ‘a rascal.’ He’d lived on the Wild Coast since at least 1856, in which year he’d written a letter on behalf of the Thembu chief to the colonial governor regarding the murder of Rev Thomas of Beecham Wood mission, a crime in which some of Bessie’s descendants were involved. The missionary had apparently been caught up inadvertently in a squabble between the ‘Morley people’ – Canham’s close friend, Mathew Ben Shaw, son of Rev William Shaw, co-founder of Morley mission, and the ama Mpondo. the feud included an attack on the latter by several armed and mounted men led by Shaw…

When Sir Walter Stanford, a colonial official, met the Canhams in the 1880s, they were living in the vicinity of today’s village of Lusikisiki – a little inland from the Lambasi Bay where Bessie was shipwrecked”. Elizabeth, says Stanford, was ‘a light-coloured woman of civilised ways and habits’ and assumes she is descended from Bessie: ‘one of the three old women seen by Jacob van Reenen at Umgazi on his expedition in search of survivors of the Grosvenor. Elizabeth’s death notice in the Cape archives proves, however, that she was really Mina’s granddaughter, according to Crampton. [Crampton, p301-2]

“Mina’s grandson, Smith Poswa, the son of a Coloured man, was a Xhosa chief. He was literate, promoted education, and petitioned the granting of individual title deeds, which directly opposed the traditional communal use of the land. He was a Christian, condemned initiation dances, complaining ‘of being kept awake at night by the dancing going on’ and was opposed to ukulobola and polygamy. “His nephew was the exact opposite: Francis Canham, the son of a white man, was a polygamist with two Pondo wives and appears to have been illiterate.

Crampton thinks Mina may have married a third time – as on 14 Dec 1828 Rev Shrewsbury of Butterworth married Simon Xila aka ‘April’ ( a 70 year old runaway slave) to a woman called Mina (who he describes as one of Matiwana’s people– an Mpondomise chief of San descent) Brought to the Cape from Batavia, he escaped to the Xhosa of the east coast. He had at least one child – a daughter. By 1828 he had been living among Hintsa’s people for upwards of 30 years – since about 1798 (the same time as Lochenbergs arrived in the area. Rev Shrewsbury baptised him on 22 June 1828.In 1828 – when she was 53yrs old , Mina could have known Xila from the time a ‘Zila’ had acted as van der Kemp’s interpreter at Ngqika’s Great Place. (William, Lochenberg – eldest son of Nicholas confirms he was the same man – who had left Lochenberg when the Butterworth mission was established.) [Crampton p300]

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Minna's Timeline

1775
April 21, 1775
Kolkata, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
1775
Kolkata, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
1828
December 14, 1828
Age 53
Butterworth Mission, eastern Cape, South Africa
December 1828
Age 53
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