Joseph Wilhelm von Molendorf, SV/PROG

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About Joseph Wilhelm von Molendorf, SV/PROG

There has long been speculation about JW Molendorf. A letter written in 1808 at the Cape, detailing his activity in Jamaica, being shipwrecked on his way from there to Prussia, and his service in the 89th (The Princess Victoria's) Regiment of Foot gives some information. This was published in 1986 but is not widely known: Africana Notes and News: Africana Aantekeninge en Nuus, Band 27 published by the Africana Society, Africana Museum.; in 2015 the original document was accessed by the writer:

Transcription of an Application for Leave to Remain in the Cape Colony

16 March 1808

F.W. Fagel His Excellency The Lord of Caledon Govenor and Commander In Chief at the Cape the Good Hope V. V. V.

My Lord

I grave your Lordships pardon in addressing this lines to your Lordship. I have being Unfortunate in my undertaiking in returning to my nation Country Prussian from Jamaica being a Planter there by being ShipRacket taken by an English Ship and brought to England Where General Whitelock a Gentleman who did Know me was so Kind in my Distressed Situation being very Sickley and having brocke my rigth Arm I had lost my Ship and ondert there to bee tacken on me in the Milletary Hospital at the Ile Wight General-Whitelock was send off on a Expedition to South America and I had no body to trouble him selfe with my Persson when I was Curit I was send to the 2d.. Balt. of the 89th Regiment and Send to South America to the 1st Battallion to the Said Regiment and arived at the Cape of Good Hope My Colonel Lord Blaney was so Kind on Account of my having a Epidemand in my Spicoh to allow me a Dicharge by providing a Substitute -

I take Leave to annex here to my Dicharge from the 89th Regt. and lick wisse your Lordships reply to a Petition addressed to your Lordship by my Friends at this Place Mr. J. Lissar and Mr. C.J. Heckrath and I farther Salluit your Lordships permission to grand me his to remain in This Colony untill I shall hear from my Frinds at Berlim in Brandenburg or from Jamaica where I have my Plantation and property

I am, My Lord Your Lordships Most Obedt and humble Servant JW Molendorf Esqr.

Cape Town the 8th of March 1808 No 4. Green market.

The inclosure, being the Memorialist, Discharge, was returned to him this 23d. of March 1808 C Höhne Chief Clerk

  Comments on the document, by Roderick Hinkel, 4 September 2015, who has a copy of the letter:

The document was clearly written by a non-English speaker, for example the use of the word ShipRacket instead of Shipwrecked. He wrote that he had broken, not lost, his right arm (see article below). As the document appears to be in his own handwriting, he must have retained the use of his arm. His native country was Prussia and he refers to Berlim (Berlin?) where he had friends, but does not mention any relatives. He was travelling from Jamaica where he was a Planter (plantation owner) to Prussia by ship, was shipwrecked and taken to England by an English ship where he was assisted by a person who knew him, General Whitelock, and was treated at the military hospital on the Isle of Wight. General Whitelock Ltn-Gen. John Whitelocke went off on an expedition to South America (see below, he was in Jamaica too), and knowing nobody else there, he was sent by the 2nd Batallion of the 89th Regiment to South America and to the 1st Batallion of the same Regiment to the Cape of Good Hope. Owing to an ailment, his colonel, Lord Blaney (see below), allowed him to be discharged. Although he was waiting for news from friends in Berlin or from his plantation in Jamaica, he remained at the Cape where he married.

The letter is signed, presumably in his own hand, as J.W. Molendorf, Esqr.

Esquire historically was a title of respect accorded to men of higher social rank, below the rank of knight and above the rank of gentleman. At that time, it was a title used "by sons of knights", indicating he was from an aristocratic/landed gentry background. He also seems to have been of considerable means. The army regiments referred to, which we assume to be British, might have records of him that would mention his place of birth and service record.

General John Whitelocke (1757 – 23 October 1833) was a British Army officer. Ltn-Gen. John Whitelocke

Educated at Marlborough Grammar School and at Lewis Lochée's military academy in Chelsea, Whitelocke entered the army in 1778 and served in Jamaica and in San Domingo. In 1805 he was made a lieutenant-general and inspector-general of recruiting, and in 1807 he was appointed to command an expedition to seize Buenos Aires from the Spanish Empire, which was in disarray due to events in Europe. The attack failed and the British surrendered after suffering heavy losses. Whitelocke undertook negotiations with the opposing general, Santiago de Liniers, and having decided that the British position was untenable, signed the surrender and ordered the British forces to abandon Montevideo and return home later that year. This proceeding was regarded with great disfavour by many under his command and the British army and public, and its author was brought before a court-martial convened at The Royal Hospital in London in 1808. On all the charges, except one, he was found guilty and he was dismissed from the service. He lived in retirement until his death at Hall Barn Park, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on 23 October 1833.

Readers may be interested in this book: Journal of a Soldier of the 71st, Or Glasgow Regiment, Highland Light also Poor General Whitelock seems to have been a kindly person but a bad soldier and was cashiered.

Lieutenant General Andrew Thomas Blayney, 11th Baron Blayney (30 November 1770 – 8 April 1834) was an Irish peer. He ruled the Blayney estate at Castleblayney, County Monaghan for fifty years from 1784 to 1834, and was one of the most illustrious soldiers ever to come from Co. Monaghan.

As commander of the 89th Regiment of Foot, 'Blayney's Bloodhounds' as they were called, he fought with distinction in the Napoleonic Wars. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Fuengirola, when making a raid from Gibraltar into Spain against a small group of Polish soldiers a tenth his number, and was kept prisoner for four years by the French government. His sabre is currently on exhibition in the Czartoryski Museum, in Kraków.

He wrote a two-volume account of his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars - Narrative of a Forced Journey through Spain and France as a Prisoner of War in the Years 1810 to 1814, by Major-General Lord Blayney (London, 1814). He was captured by one of the O'Callaghans of Cullaville, a colonel in the French army and a prominent United Irishman who escaped after 1798. It is said he insisted on Blayney being held to ransom for some of the United Irishmen who were in British prisons.

During Blayney's long incarceration, the 2nd Earl of Caledon looked after his financial, domestic, and political affairs, and on his return, Blayney was given a seat in parliament for Caledon's infamous "rotten borough" of Old Sarum, Wiltshire.

Lord Blayney died on 8 April 1834 and was succeeded by his son Cadwallader, the 12th and last lord.

The 89th (The Princess Victoria's) Regiment of Foot was a regiment of the British Army, formed on 3 December 1793.

Its nickname was 'Blayney's Bloodhounds'. The nickname stems from 1798 when the regiment was under the command of Lord Blayney and became known for its unerring certainty and untiring perseverance in hunting down the Irish rebels.

During the Napoleonic Wars the regiment served in Egypt in 1802, in Portugal and Spain in 1810, and in Java in 1811. When the regiment fought in the Peninsular War it was involved in the defeat at the Battle of Fuengirola of 1810. It particularly distinguished itself during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Crysler's Farm when it defeated several US regiments. It later fought in India and Burma in 1819-1826 during the Anglo-Maratha and Anglo-Burmese Wars, and in the Crimea in 1854-55.

The regiment amalgamated with the 87th Foot on 1 July 1881, to form the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

General comments:

The origin of Joseph William (Josef Willem) (von) Möllendorff is uncertain. His father can not have been the famous Field Marshall as he never married and left no children of his own.

According to the archivist of the von Möllendorff Family in Germany (July 2015), there is no documented member of their family who might be identical with the immigrant Joseph Wilhelm v.M. Furthermore, the name Joseph is typical in Roman Catholic families, but would appear very strange in their Protestant family.

However, there was also another von Möllendorff family (now extinct), from the same north German region. In both families, many of the men were Prussian army officers. It cannot be precluded that an illegitimate son, not mentioned in any genealogical records, emigrated to the Cape Colony. So, the question about genetic relationship must remain open.

The family tree (from the 1750 book) belongs to the "other" v.M. family. In the brief text listing land possessions, the last item (4.) is incorrect, as those places were belonging to the Field Marshall's family. It is quite common in old literature to find the two families mixed up.

Also, there are two coats of arms - the one showing four points or pointed objects, in German called Spitzen, on the shield is for the family denoted in newer literature "von Möllendorff (Spitzenwappen)". Their last male descendant died in 1885.

According to some of the reports, Joseph Wilhelm claimed his father to be a Prussian field marshal (in German, Generalfeldmarschall), not just some officer. The Spitzenwappen family had several generals, but no field marshal. The only Generalfeldmarschall v.M. was Wichard Joachim Heinrich v.M. (1724 - 1816), a descendant of Markus von Möllendorff, "von Möllendorff (Leuchterwappen)" (showing a chandelier with three candles in the shield). Wichard had no wife and (officially) no children and, therefore, adopted some offspring of his elder sister. See

It may of course also be that he simply assumed the "von" name on a few occasions at the Cape and might not be a member of the family. To be sure, and to calculate how many generations ago there was a common male ancestor, a South African descendant and a descendant of the documented von Möllendorff family could do a Y (paternal) DNA test. Only this would solve the mystery.

Overberg families HJ ENgela - Available from eGGSA and GSSA ENtry no-69529 SV/PROGJosef Wilhelm VON MOLENDORF

* Berlin, Germany 


  1. »» Kinders (3): x{69530, 69534},
  2. x Swellendam .02.1809, Johanna Hendrina WASSERMAN † <1825
  3. xx{69536}
  4. xx George10.08.1825, Cornelia Susanna KUIPERS

---------------------------------------------------------- Losing a treasure - Reference:

"South African Beachcomber" by Lawrence G. Green "The Von Mollendorf Treasure"


"South African Beachcomber" by Lawrence G. Green

Quote :

"Joseph Wilhelm von Mollendorf, son of a Prussian field marshal, came to South Africa towards the end of the eighteenth century. He transshipped at Cape Town, but the vessel, which carried him round the coast, has not been identified with certainty. It may have been the Dutch East India ship Maria  , which put into Plettenburg Bay in 1788 with her crew suffering from scurvy. A southeast gale drove her away from the anchorage, and she was wrecked farther along the coast. 

About the man Von Mollendorf there is no doubt at all. His treasure may have become exaggerated with the years, but his descendants believe that he had the equivalent of many thousands of pounds in gold coin and jewels in his iron strong-box. When the ship went down he made a raft, placed his strong-box on it and drifted hopefully towards the entrance of the bay now known as Ballot's Bay.

Ballot's Bay is a rocky cove with a narrow entrance partly barred by a submerged reef. The sea breaks heavily on the reef at times, but there are calm days when fishing boats can use the entrance in safety. According to legend, Von Mollendorf lost his box on the reef. He was able to save his life, but his arm was shattered and had to be amputated.

For weeks after his recovery Von Mollendorf haunted the little bay, mourning over his lost wealth. Local farmers heard his tale and tried to help him. In calm weather they could see the iron box wedged between two boulders about fifteen feet below the surface: but they were unable to raise it.

Von Mollendorf never became resigned to his loss. He married an Afrikaans girl on the farm Kommandokraal in the Oudtshoorn district; and often he took his children to the little bay and told them of the wealth that would be theirs if only he could reach the box. But every attempt failed.

Many people declare that they have seen Von Mollendorf's box. Mr. Edward Robertson of Sandkraal farm, in the neighbourhood, has stated that one salvage party rigged a cable across the entrance to Ballot's Bay and sent a diver down. The diver hoped to steady himself with the aid of a rope and pulley running on the cable, but the current was too strong and the attempt was abandoned.

Ballot's Bay supported a fishing settlement years ago. It is a great place for Geelbek, but the graves and the ruined cottages tell a grim tale of boats that capsized in the surf and families who decided that the risk was not worth while.

Some of those fisherman will tell you that Von Mollendorf's box is still there, and that Ballot's Bay will never give up its treasure."
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Joseph Wilhelm von Molendorf, SV/PROG's Timeline

Berlin, Germany
December 19, 1809
Age 27
Spitskop near Mosselbay, South Africa
March 6, 1812
Age 30
Paardedrif near Oudshoorn, South Africa
July 7, 1814
Age 32
George, South Africa
Age 32
Paardedrif near Oudshoorn, South Africa
January 28, 1816
Age 34
Oudtshoorn, South Cape DC, Western Cape, South Africa
January 14, 1820
Age 34
Oudtshoorn, South Cape DC, Western Cape, South Africa
September 30, 1826
Age 34
George, South Africa