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Nundoo family in India

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  • Henry Nundoo (3624) (c.1846 - 1902)
    Aged 18, arrived in Durban on 9th October 1864 aboard the 'Ocean Chief' from Calcutta. Originated from Seekra, Khas in Benares. Was assigned to the Trenance Estate and worked as a printer for about t...

The original surname was most likely Namdeo (variant of Namdev or Narsi meaning poet or saint). Less likely alternatives are Nanda ("Joy" in Sanskrit), or Nande .

The ship records show that Henry Nundoo (3624) listed his home village as "Seekrah" in Benares (now called Varanasi) and he had been trained as a printer there. However a search for historical information on this village, called "Sigra" today, indicates that it was a Christian mission village.

See also the online book: "Conference on missions held in 1860 at Liverpool, including the papers read, the deliberations, and the conclusions reached". According to this book, there was a lot of violence in that area around 1860, and many Christian Indians fled to the safety of Sigra. The same book also records two boatloads of Indian Christians being sent to Calcutta via the Ganges, and the trip was paid for by Nilakanth-Nehemiah Goreh, a well known early Brahmin convert to Christianity from Benares. Given that Henry Nundoo arrived in South Africa in 1864 at the age of 18, aboard the Ocean Princess that departed from Calcutta, he is likely to have known Father Nilakanth-Nehemiah Goreh, see <> - in fact if you compare the profile picture of Henry Nundoo and the picture of Nehemiah Goreh (i.e. from the previous url); they do look quite similar - probably that's what people looked like in Benares around 1860. Nehemiah Goreh was a Brahmin (Hindu priestly caste) who are traditionally clean-shaven therefore his beard and moustache are atypical, compared to the Kshatriya (Hindu warrior caste) who had large moustaches.

Since it was known that Henry Nundoo was rejected by his family after his conversion to Christianity (as recalled the late Mrs Ethel Somasundram; his grand-daughter), it is therefore not likely that his family lived in Sigra. It is more likely that he lived and was educated in Sigra, only following this rejection. There are records that a number of Christian refugees also lived in Sigra around 1860, having fled from attempts at forced conversion to Islam during a revolt. The British were not involved in similar forced conversions (i.e. to Protestant Christianity), although apparently the Portuguese on the west coast of India were (i.e. to Catholicism).

So his actual home village is unknown. It is possible that it was near Benares, but not necessarily.

The ship records also indicate that Henry Nundoo send 38 Pounds from Natal, South Africa (where he had been working as an indentured labourer) to India, together with Soonder Sing (3632). Sooder Sing listed his home village as "Susrawo" in the city of "Arrah" (today known as "Ara", in the Indian state of Bihar). See <>

The link with Soonder Sing is unknown, and could be a friend, relative, or originated from the same village as Henry Nundoo. In the first two cases, Henry Nundoo could have simply been sending money home via the family of a trusted friend or relative. In the latter case, he could have been sending money to his home village, in which case it would have been in the city of Ara of Bihar and not in Benares of Uttar Pradesh. Henry Nundoo's family in India has never been traced. The late Mrs Ethel Somasundram did try many years ago to no avail, when she visited Benares. It is possible that perhaps the city of Arrah would have been another option?

What further complicates a Nundoo family search in India, is that (also according to Mrs Ethel Somasundram, his grand-daughter) "Nundoo" was not his original family name. At the time, she could not recall the actual name, but said that it was the name of some saint. Having been rejected by his family for converting to Christianity, we can assume that this was not the name of a Christian saint, but probably a Hindu or Sikh; there is no indication of it being Muslim.

Apparently the name Nundoo indicates a Vaishnavite (i.e. worshippers of the Hindu god, Vishnu) origin, so it is likely that the original surname could have been that of a Vaishnavite saint - there is a list of Hindu saints that may be located via an internet search, with many of them ending in "nanda"; possibly one of them may be the original Nundoo surname. However one of the Hindu/Sikh saints "Namdeo" provides the most likely original surname for a number of reasons.

After some investigation, I am quite convinced that the original surname was Namdeo, descendents of the Marathi saint Namdeo who was born in 1270 in the western part of India. Going even further back, Namdeo's family name was Relekar, and they were of Rajput ancestry. The Rajputs ( appeared in history around the 6th century AD, and there is no prior mention of them. Rajput origins are a source of continued debate, but a common view is that they are the descended from the Hephthalite or White Huns (, who invaded India destroying the Gupta Empire at the same time that Rajputs appear in the records. They are considered to be of different ancestry ( to Atilla's Huns. It is possible that this group may have adopted Hun culture. There is speculation that they were in fact "Hun-ized" Scythians who did not flee Scythia after the Hun invasion, but integrated with the Huns. The Scythians themselves are considered to be Northern Aryans, originally living in the North of Persia in the Caucasus. However there are many theories that they were infact Aryanised Israelites from the 10 lost tribes that were deported ~700BC by the Assyrians, into the same area.

Original surname possibilities:

1. Namdeo or Namdev (alternative variant: Narsi according to, this Hindi name means poet or saint. It refers to a Marathi Saint Namdev of the 1300s, born in the village of Narasi-Bamani (Narsi Namdev), who was the son of Damasheti Relekar and his wife Gonai. "Relekar" probably refers to an even earlier ancestral village, since surnames ending in "-kar" denote "village". His family profession was that of a calico printer (and Henry Nundoo had been trained as a printer in India, at a young age. Although this training was by the British, it is likely that he was selected for such training because of his prior exposure and experience due to printing being a family caste and hence profession) or tailor, also known as the Chhimba or Chhipi . In Uttar Pradesh (the Indian province where the city of Benares is), the community has two four sub-divisions, the Rohilla, who are traditionally tailors, the Tonkia, are mainly dyers, while the Hansari and Pacchade are mainly calico printers. A number of coincidences result from assuming that Namdeo was the original surname of Henry Nundoo such as (1) phonetic similarity to subsequent surname Nundoo (as recorded by the British in Natal), (2) refers to a saint, (3) printer by original training - since it is possible that he had studied the family profession as a student in Benares, (4) one of the subdivisions of Chhipi printers in Uttar Pradesh are called "Hansari" that may be anglicised to the name "Henry". An alternative Hindi root name prefix could also have been "Hari" as in "Hari-lal" or "Hari-persad" . Anglicisation of Indian names was quite a common practice in the British Empire and also in English speaking countries today and it is also possible that this anglicisation is the reason behind the baptismal name of "Henry", (4) Kshatriya (warrior) by ancestral caste and Rajput by ancestral tribe - also identified by their large moustaches ( - see Henry Nundoo's prominent moustache in his profile picture, (5) the life goal of the saint Namdeo according to numerous websites (such as []) was "Will dance to the tune of Kirtan, light the lamp of knowledge the world over" - this could have been the inspiration for the title of Henry Nundoo's book, "Light of Knowledge", (6) many descendents of Henry Nundoo are part-time musicians, so this may indicate an inherited musical aptitude, which again is compatible with what is known about Sant Namdeo. In which case, Henry Nundoo may have been born as Hansari Namdeo?

2. Nande: There are some instances in South African records where Henry Nundoo is referred to Henry Nande - this could just be an incorrect spelling or could perhaps be the original name, or possibly also another distortion of the most like original surname Namdeo? See e.g. the online pdf of the book "A short history of Indian Education" at <> for the use of Nande as his surname.

3. Munshi: An unlikely possibility is that the family name was actually "Munshi", in which case Henry Nundoos father's name could have been Nundoo Munshi, Nande Munshi, Namdeo Munshi etc in the modern naming system. The use of Munshi as a surname would based on the ancestral profession of a family of scholars. The name itself seems to have been introduced into India by the Mughals ( However it is more likely that he was referred to as a Munshi in the British colony of Natal, simply because of his later profession as a teacher. His original training and profession was that of a printer which is linked rather to the Namdeo caste.