About Sunny Dunn
Another of Minna’s - the Grosvenor castaway'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]
- Crampton, Hazel. ‘The Sunburnt Queen’. Johannesburg: Jacana. 2004. Print. Contact Sharon Doubell