Trevor Lloyd Blunden, my great-great grandfather, was born in May 1843 in Mullinahone, County Tipperary, Ireland.
Not much is known about his early years, but considering that he was born 2 years before the great famine, otherwise known as the potato famine, one cannot imagine that his first years were very comfortable. In 1859, seven years after the famine had ended, he emigrated with his father Maunsell Andrews Blunden Esq., his mother Margaret, and three of his five sisters: Rebecca; Elizabeth (Bessie) and Isabella. The reasons for immigrating are not known but one of them almost certainly was that Maunsell Andrews Blunden had a family to support and not the means to do so and that he hoped for better things in a new country. So on 2 October 1859 the family boarded the ship “Jalawar” in Liverpool, and set sail for South Africa, arriving in Table Bay on 16 December 1859.
Like so many others of his class at that time Trevor was not, as far as is known, trained in any particular direction. That he eventually gravitated to the Diamond Fields at Kimberley well before the turn of the century is not surprising but I never heard the slightest suggestion that he himself participated in the business of delving for diamonds. At some stage he was in the transport business operating wagons from the Cape into the hinterland but in due time the construction of a railway line from the Cape to Kimberley would of necessity have rendered transport by ox wagon a less attractive alternative. Approximately 30 years after his arrival in South Africa, he was living in Modder River in the Northern Cape. It was here that in 1890 he built and owned a modest hotel known as The Criterion. During the Anglo-Boer war The Criterion was demolished by Lord Methuen’s soldiers, but it was later rebuilt and is still standing today. Also in 1890, on 15 December in Kimberley, Trevor married Mary Anne O’Malley. They went on to have three children, Margaret Anne (Girlie); Ambrose Christopher (Baby); and Trevor Lloyd (Sonny).
Trevor made a good living for himself and his family, and was reasonably affluent prior to the arrival of Lord Methuen and his troops. The Criterion was one of three hotels that existed at Modder River at that time, the others being the Island Hotel and the Crown & Royal. Business both local and from Kimberley was very good and he also had farming interests at Kalkbult, a farm that was adequately stocked at that time.
But for reasons of his own, Lord Methuen decreed that the Criterion Hotel should be razed to the ground. The official explanation was that it was “in the line of fire”. This was nonsense of course. The battle of Modder River was well and truly over and not a shot had been fired over it after the Boers had fled. Only Magersfontein lay between Methuen and the besieged town of Kimberley and everyone knew that the Boers would make their next stand either at Spytfontein or Magersfontein. That the wanton vandalism constituted by the razing of the Criterion was a product of animosity and ill will can’t be doubted. During the battle a few days earlier Lord Methuen had been struck in the buttocks by a Boer bullet (the standard historical works on the battle of Modder River place the wound in Methuen’s thigh but that was not the story that did the rounds at Modder River) and he can be forgiven for a degree of cantankerousness at that time, but Trevor could hardly be blamed for that. Although an Irishman, Whether Trevor’s sympathies and loyalty lay with the Boers or the Brits is unknown, but one family story is that Lord Methuen had approached Trevor and offered to let bygones be bygones if he would instruct the children to keep an eye out for Boers in the vicinity. Trevor’s reaction to this was apparently to call the children in and, in Lord Methuen’s presence, to tell them what had been said adding however that if they did what Lord Methuen suggested he would shoot the lot of them.
It is interesting but not over important to establish who the children in question were. It is furthermore not surprising that at this stage Trevor reacted as he did. He was an unforgiving old man and the gratuitous destruction of his property would have been foremost in his mind. What is very significant however is that reference was made to bygones since the use of words of that kind imply that in Methuen’s book Trevor was deserving of censure for something or other and, quite naturally, Trevor’s rebuff would have added a great deal of fuel to the fire. Thereafter Methuen really rubbed it in. Trevor soon found out that he was not merely to be left without an income from the hotel. His farm was, in the parlance of the day, declared to be “an anthrax farm”. Officially it would no doubt have been designated a place of quarantine for anything that resembled a sick animal and in practice this meant quite simply that he was ruined.
Whether or not there was an actual outbreak of anthrax at the time is not known, but it seems that since no animals could be taken from the farm he had no means of engaging in the selling of stock in the usual way and such animals as he had perished as a result of contact with the diseased creatures that were forced upon him. By the time hostilities ended he is reputed to have had very little left in the way of stock except some cattle that had been quietly moved at dead of night by a sympathetic officer in charge of members of the Black Watch who had been deputed to guard the farm’s perimeters. The fact that the farm was registered in his wife’s name made no difference.
In time the Criterion once again rose from the ashes but Trevor never regained any interest in it. Although he could not be induced to live elsewhere than on the farm he also had no real interest in farming on any serious scale. He was left with the reputation of having been “pro-Boer”. Perhaps he was, in the end. He certainly was embittered by the treatment he had received at the hands of Methuen.
Documentation found in the Bloemfontein archives give another bit of history to fill in the story of Trevor’s life.
Trevor had loaned his Mauser Rifle to a Mr. Botes, whom he apparently knew did not have a permit to carry or use a rifle. He also gave him permission to shoot this rifle on his farm in the Orange River Colony. Trevor apparently also did not have a license to possess the rifle. Apparently Botes, upon seeing police in the area, dropped the rifle out of his cart. The police confiscated the rifle and Trevor then subsequently, on 26 Aug 1907, applied to have the rifle returned to him. The letter dated 28 Aug 1907 is from the Office of the Resident Magistrate, Jacobsdal, recommending that the application be refused since Trevor had known it was against the law to own a rifle without a license permitting one to do so.
Trevor then consulted an Attorney – Mr. I.W.B. De Villiers, who sent a letter to the Resident Magistrate on 5 November 1907 stating that Mary Ann Blunden was the registered owner of the farms Oudedrift No. 62 and Kalkbult No. 176, adjoining each other and situated in Jacobsdal District, the latter being a border farm, bordering on the Kimberley District, and that Trevor resided at Modder River which is a little way beyond the border. On or about 20 Aug 1907 Trevor gave the gun to Willem J. Botes with instructions to shoot a few springbok on said farm, and Botes was thereafter, by the R.M. Court in Jacobsdal, on 20 Aug 1907, convicted for being in possession of the gun without a permint, and the gun was confiscated. During the time Trevor resided at Kalkbult and he had held a permit for, and license to be in possession of, the rifle in 1904. Trevor had stated that he did not consider there was much, if any, harm in sending Botes to shoot game on his wife’s property. Under those circumstances he requested that the rifle be returned to him.
On 20 November 1907 the Resident Magistrate replied to this letter, stating that he had sent it on to the Governor who stated that “Mr. J.W.B. De Villiers did not in his opinion disclose any new facts of which you were not aware when making your former recommendation” (letter dated 28 Aug 1907), and under these circumstances the Governor was not prepared to authorise the return of the rifle.
On 30 December 1907 Trevor himself wrote directly to the Colonial Secretary of Bloemfontein. In this letter he states that he was seriously ill at Modder River, and that he was very anxious to get a Springbuck to send to a friend in Rhodesia. Since he was “totally unfit to do so myself”, he asked a W. Botes to go out to his farm and shoot one for him. He states that he made a point of asking Botes if he had the necessary permits, and same informed him that he had, so Trevor lent his Mauser Rifle to Botes, and the rifle was subsequently found in his possession and confiscated. He states that had he not been assured that Botes had all the necessary permits “I should certainly not have lent him my gun, but he convinced me that he had.” He concluded by stating that it was not his fault that the rifle was confiscated and he therefore hoped that the Governor would see his way clear to returning the rifle. He received a reply in January 1908 stating that his request had been received, and that the Governor still refused to allow the rifle to be returned to him.
On 8 March 1915, at his farm Kalkbult in the Jacobsdal Distrcit of the Orange Free State, Trevor signed his last will and testament. In his will he nominates his sons Trevor Lloyd and Ambrose Christopher to be the sole and universal heirs to his estate. He appoints Trevor Lloyd as Executor of his Will, Guardian of his minor children and Administrator of his Estate and Effects. He states it to be his wish that after his death, his Estate not be realized or distributed until his youngest son, Ambrose Christopher has come of age, after this he wants Trevor, as Executor, to sell, call in and convert into money the whole of his Estate and Effects, and after all debts of the Estate have been settled, he requests that Trevor split the remaining money equally between himself and Ambrose. Trevor was to support Ambrose until same reached the age of 21.
Although Trevor was an Anglo-Irishman by birth he too had his superstitions. One of these was that one never ever travelled anywhere on a Friday and to this he firmly adhered all his life. That is, except for one Friday when he felt it necessary to depart from the rule that he had always observed. What it is that was so urgent as to cause him to do so I do not know. He was on the farm that day and decided to come in to Modder River with his cart and horses. To reach his destination he passed the racecourse and proceeded to cross the Riet River by means of the causeway (or drift, as it was then called) that ran through it. As he was going down the slope at the southern end of the causeway some part of the harnessing equipment broke and the shaft of the cart dropped causing it to dig into the ground and come to a sudden stop. Trevor was flung over the splashboard and fell heavily to the ground suffering a fractured skull and a broken neck. He did not die immediately but was taken to the Crown & Royal hotel where he was placed on a bed. His son Trevor was at his side when he expressed a desire to sit up. Someone present advised against lifting him and Trevor junior solicitously bent forward over him to explain this, but the old man would have none of it and putting out his hands grasped his son by his braces in an effort to pull himself into a sitting position. He died almost instantly in the attempt.
When Trevor died he had for some time been rather less than active in the affairs of the farm and had left most of the responsibility for it to Trevor junior. He had even less interest in the hotel trade and continued to live on the farm whilst his wife, Mary Anne, ran the Criterion. At the time of his death she was still in her forties and enjoyed the social life at the hotel whereas Trevor, who was then already an old man preferred the peace and quiet of the farm.
Trevor is buried in Magersfontein, Northern Cape, South Africa.
1. South African Settlers, “Full Settler List,” database, South African Settlers – Settlers from the British Isles to South Africa (http://www.southafricansettlers.com : accessed 8 Sep 2012), Entry for Maunsell Andrew BLUNDEN.
2. Orange Free State, Bloemfontein, Estate Files, File B4262, Estate Papers of Trevor Lloyd BLUNDEN; Free State Provincial Archives, Bloemfontein.
3. Death Notice no. R10/463 (1927), Mary Ann BLUNDEN; Western Cape Provincial Archives & Records Service, Cape Town.
4. Memoirs of Trevor Lloyd Blunden V, “Yed Dad, We Know” (typescript, Bef 2006), p. Page 2, Chapter 4.