View Full Version : Boer War Concentration Camps
13-10-2007, 4:37 PM
I'm a newbie to this forum. I wonder if anyone can help me with my mystery of a lifetime - don't ask, it's a long long story. To get to the point, I am trying to trace a man who is supposed to be called Robert Morrison but whom I have reason to believe used a totally different name which I have yet to discover. This, as you can imagine, makes things a little difficult.
One of the oral family stories about this man is that he was in the British Army during the Boer War and, to quote his descendants "was in charge of a POW camp, got sick and died". The man's son wrote in a letter years later that he had stayed with relatives for nearly 5 years while, and I quote, "my father was in Heidelberg - my mother could only take my brother who was the younger". Alas, I have already proved that this family love a good story! So, although I think there must be a grain of truth here somewhere, it is nevertheless possible that there is some embellishment!
The timeframe for those 5 years when my target was supposed to be in Heidelberg would have been the late 1880s to early 1890s. I am unable to establish whether the stay in Heidelburg would have coincided with the "got sick and died".
From the reading I have already done, it seems to me that the so-called POW camp would have been the Heidelberg Concentration Camp in the Transvaal. So 4 questions really. 1. Does anyone know of any records which may contain information of the officers who were in charge of these Camps? 2. Would he have had to be an officer to be allowed to take his wife and child with him? 3. Does anyone know of a good source for British Army memorials, graves or rolls of honour for the South African wars? 4. Any way to find out which regiment was running a camp?
Sorry this is so long - but any help appreciated!
13-10-2007, 5:48 PM
"The timeframe for those 5 years when my target was supposed to be in Heidelberg would have been the late 1880s to early 1890s."
The first issue is the timeframe. The Boer War was 1899-1902 and I think concentration camps were first set up in 1900 (I'm happy to be corrected).
There was an earlier Boer War in 1880-81, but no concentraton camps in this one.
Do these dates not fit with Robert Morrison?
13-10-2007, 7:37 PM
I'd have said the first step was to consult the Army Lists to see if there really was a Robert Morrison who seems to fit what is known about him.
If there is, the next steps should be straightforward.
If there isn't, well, at least you haven't wasted much effort.;)
13-10-2007, 7:50 PM
There is no entry for a Robert Morrison in the 1898 Whitaker's Naval & Military Directory, so little chance that he would have commanded a concentration camp as a British army officer in the Boer War of 1899-1902.
13-10-2007, 8:06 PM
QUOTE "The first issue is the timeframe. The Boer War was 1899-1902 and I think concentration camps were first set up in 1900 (I'm happy to be corrected). There was an earlier Boer War in 1880-81, but no concentraton camps in this one. Do these dates not fit with Robert Morrison?[/QUOTE]
I didn't realise that the concentration camps started that late so perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree entirely. That's my problem with this man - nothing really fits. The timeframe the son suggests for him being in Heidelberg is a period of 5 years which probably ended around the middle or end of 1891.
The information about him being in charge of a POW camp doesn't come from the same source - so there is nothing to say that it wasn't in a different place at a different time. I get the impression he didn't die until around 1900 or so.
So if the Heidelberg timeframe is outwith the period of the two wars, could there have been a garrison or something there at that time? It sounds feasible that he could have been out there for a period, come home and then returned again when the 2nd war broke out.
Just to let everyone understand the problem here, I've already looked for Robert Morrison in Army Lists, medal rolls, etc but can't find a match. There is no record in the UK of his marriage, the birth of his children or his death. There is no record of those events in the records of Army or Consular BDMs abroad either. None of the family appear on the 1891 or 1901 UK census apart from the son who stayed in the UK with relatives while the family was supposedly in Heidelberg. And yet he and his family definately existed - his widow and son reappear in records in Canada years later.
I can't think of any solution other than that they were using a different name for some reason. That's why I thought I might be able to work back from some of the known facts by finding out who was in charge of these camps.
13-10-2007, 8:18 PM
None of the family appear on the 1891 or 1901 UK census apart from the son who stayed in the UK with relatives while the family was supposedly in Heidelberg. And yet he and his family definitely existed - his widow and son reappear in records in Canada years later.
Starting from what is known - there is a son with a mother. The son appears in a census (1891/1901) staying with relatives.
So, is the son's birthplace and age recorded?
What relationship to the son are the people with whom he is staying?
Does the son have a marriage certificate? If so, does this certificate give an age at marriage and does this match up with the age in the census?
In the marriage certificate, is the father's name and occupation given?
Does/did the son use the surname MORRISON?
At the son's marriage what was his address? Have you tried any directories to see what they show for the address?
When the mother and son appear in Canada, was she definitely a widow or was that description a matter of convenience?
13-10-2007, 9:34 PM
[QUOTE=Geoffers;115497]Starting from what is known - there is a son with a mother. The son appears in a census (1891/1901) staying with relatives.
Thanks for taking an interest Geoffers - the answers to your questions are as follows:
At the 1891 census, the son was staying in Dundee with his mother's step-sister and his step-grandfather. His age and birth place (Leith, Edinburgh) are recorded. I've searched births for all of Scotland for a 10 year window around the right time with no success. As I live near Edinburgh, I also went to GRO and looked at the Leith indexes, just in case he was missed in the online database - no success. The son himself actually wrote to Edinburgh from Canada around the 1940s asking for his birth certificate quoting 4th July 1884 in Leith but the registrar's office couldn't find a record.
The son moved from a Dundee school to an Edinburgh school in September 1891 - the school confirm his registration and quote an Edinburgh address. I've checked out all the people (6 families) living at that address in 1891 and 1901 but none of them appear to have any connection to the family. Two of the households, however, had several boarders living with them. The school records have no other information - not even a date of birth.
The son is said to have run away to sea at a young age. He jumped ship in the USA and worked his away from California across to the east coast. His mother married another man in Glasgow in 1907 - saying that she was a spinster and 10 years younger than she actually was. The family story is that this husband ran off and she then emigrated to the USA to join her son. I have a record from the Ellis Island website of her arrival in 1915 - it shows her as a widow with last address Manchester, nearest relative a cousin in Dundee and her age as 5 years younger than she really was. Mother and son lived together in the USA for a while (nobody else at address in direcories etc) and then he got his US Army draft papers. They show his date of birth etc as 1884 Leith. He was turned down for the US Army on medical grounds and went over the border to Canada to join up. I have his Canadian Army records - all very logical and quoting all dates etc as previously stated.
He married in Canada on his return from WW1 in Europe - certificate age ties up, father's name is given as Robert Morrison but no occupation quoted. The son used the surname Morrison all his life. BUT one significant fact here is that the mother's maiden name was also Morrison.
We have always thought it was possible that the father's surname was not Morrison and that the mother never married the father. If she brought the children up using her own maiden name, she may have told the son that this was their father's surname to prevent awkward questions.
Sorry this is such a confusing story but believe me, they are some famly!
13-10-2007, 11:09 PM
My initial thought is that for an unknown reason he was given the wrong date and/or place of birth.
I would initially suggest
1) Check to see if the mother was admitted into a workhouse and if she gave birth there.
2) Try to locate a baptism for the son to see what it records for parents.
3) Have you located the name of the mother's father? Do you know when he died? - and most importantly did he leave a will?
4) Did the son have any siblings? If so have you traced their births?
Also, did the son by any chance have an unusual middle name???
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