Wine Merchant, later Civil Commissioner and first Resident Magistrate of Mossel Bay, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
Biography of George Marsh, written by Greg Marsh in 2004.
Marsh Street in Mossel Bay is named after George Marsh, the first magistrate of Mossel Bay. He appears to have come out to the Cape Colony in at least 1812, after the British finally took possession of the Cape in in the early 19th century. George Marsh was born in Knightsbridge, London in 1790, the son of William Marsh, who had twelve children. George was not the first born son, and he obviously decided to make his fortune in the new British colony of the Cape.
William Marsh, of Wilkin House, Hampshire, and Stratheden House, Knightsbridge, was senior partner in a well-known London banking firm of Marsh, Sibbald, Stracey, Graham and Fauntleroy of No. 6, Berners Street, London, and the firm of Marsh, Page, and Creed, Army Agents of No. 23 Norfolk Street, Strand . The famous Lord Nelson was a client of both firms. The ancestors of William Marsh had strong navy links. His father, George Marsh (1722-1800), was a Commissioner of the Navy. His father before him had worked as a merchant in ocean trade. Originally, the family could be traced back to the villages of East Langdon and Marton ( "Marsh town") in Kent, near Dover.
There are many intriguing references to a George Marsh in the Colonial Office Archives in Cape Town from the early 1800s on. He appears to have gone into a business partnership called Marsh and Cadogan. On 12 December 1812, he and his partner Cadogan used the local newspaper to announce that they had just arrived and would engage in a "house of general agency for the conduct of business in the Cape of Good Hope on commission in all its branches". On 12 February 1813 it was announced that he was in the ship "Fort William" bound for England on business. In 1815 Marsh and Cadogan were awarded two game shooting licences, and in the same year they acquired the property at 2 Keizersgracht from Mr. J.J. van den Berg. In 1816 they sold their premises at 19 Heerengracht. In the period 1817 to 1820 they traded as merchants at 2 Keizersgracht. In 1819 they were granted a Cape Wine Licence, and in 1822 they were Founder Members of the Commercial Exchange. This is supported by the fact that a George Marsh acted as an honorary steward at the first ever banquet held by the Cape Town Commercial Exchange, the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, in April 1822. This same banquet was attended by the aforementioned Lord Somerset (who gave his name to Somerset West and East). There is a letter from Marsh and Cadogan dated 1821 in the archives to Colonel Bird, Colonial Secretary, asking whether they can keep their foreign spirits and wines, including Mauritius Rum, in their original containers when selling them.
In these early days George Marsh sponsored an American called John Washington, perhaps a slave, who wanted to stay in the colony, writing a memo to Lord Charles Somerset asking that he be given permission to stay, having been regularly discharged from the ship "Havannah".
"Marsh and Cadogan" appears to also have been involved in salvaging material (liquor?) from a shipwreck on the Cape shore. There is an angry letter in the archives from this partnership dated 1819 protesting that a farmer in Paarden Eiland near Cape Town called Mr. Petersen will not let them cross his land to salvage the wreck of the "Elizabeth" for which they have the legal concession.
George Marsh married Josephina de Waal, the daughter of Arend de Waal. An Arend de Waal is singled out by George McCall Theal, author of the " History of South Africa 1795 - 1835" as being one of the Dutch officials who managed to keep the position given to him by the Dutch when the British first occupied the Cape in 1797. Hermann Giliomee makes reference to an Arend de Waal in his book "Die Kaap tydens de Eerste Britse Bewind". He was the assistant to the chief wine taster Richard Blake in the newly set up wine tasting department, which Governor Yonge had instituted to enforce strict standards of quality. Both men had sweeping powers of inspection of wine being transported into Cape Town, and if the wine proved sour or unfit for use, the right to confiscate it before it entered the city.
George and Josephina had the following children: William Wheeler Marsh, George Cuthbert Marsh, Anna Josina Marsh, Arthur Henry Marsh, and Egbert Bletterman Marsh. Josephina was to die relatively young of illness soon after the birth of their fifth child in 1837.
George Marsh and Cadogan's business seems to have become based more and more on the sale of Cape Wine. Unfortunately this industry suffered a dramatic downturn in the 1820s following the withdrawal of the tariffs on European wine by the British government after peace with France. This caused the Cape wine export industry to collapse. Marsh and Cadogan filed for insolvency in 1825 citing as the main reasons therefor "Cape Wines and foreign cheques". As far as the latter was concerned, it appears that bills of exchange were frequently unavailable, and in an attempt to secure new markets for the wine, the merchants were forced to accept foreign cheques that were later not honoured.
Judging from the assets seized from them by the Dutch balju at the premises in Keizersgracht, the whole affair must have been traumatic. Numerous items of fine furniture were carted away, including chandeliers and pianos. The creditors included Lord Somerset himself, who put in a claim for 1000 rixdollars for some horses that he had provided for the pair. Nevertheless, Cadogan noted in his official correspondence that when it came for the pair to be rehabilitated and released from the bonds of their insolvency, all the creditors were very keen to sign the necessary forms, which he felt was a sign of their honour. Mistakes in the liquidation and distribution account were blamed on an incompetent bookkeeper who "died of drink at Somerset hospital".
Round about this time it appears as if George Marsh appeared to have started lobbying for a position as a civil servant, in Lord Charles Somerset's government. The Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote to Lord Somerset from Downing Street in a letter dated 30 April 1825: "My Lord, Mr. George Marsh now a resident at the Cape of Good Hope having been recommended to me as an intelligent and respectable person, whom is anxious to obtain some employment under your excellency's government".
His wish was granted and George Marsh was appointed as a secretary to a Commission sent to Albany to "adjust the affairs of the settlers" in May 1824 after the Frontier Wars. A similar appointment at Clanwilliam followed in February 1825.
He then took up a position as the Superintendent of the Printing Department on the 1st of August 1825. His annual salary of 200 pounds was more than double anyone else's in the whole department. His printers and compositors only earned 100 pounds, while his bookkeeper, one P.J. Truter only earned 60 pounds a year! It can be surmised that through this department the Colonial Office probably held a monopoly over all government and perhaps other printing. Somerset ruled with an iron hand and disapproved of a free press: had actually banned private newspapers during this time.
In 1827, George Marsh was nominated by Lieutenant Governer Bourke to be Magistrate of Port Elizabeth at Algoa Bay, but at his own request was appointed as the Government Resident and Magistrate at Saldanha Bay as well as Justice of the Peace for the Cape District.
At around the same time, George Marsh was granted a large farm, 2382 Morgen in extent, on the shores of Langebaan lagoon, by Governor d'Urban (who gave his name to Durban), and the original title deed dated 1836 still lies at the Deeds Registry Office in Cape Town. The farm, called Meeuklip now makes up the better half of the present town of Langebaan. There is a good chance that the original farmhouse built by George Marsh and shown on the title deed still stands today as one of the old renovated houses on the lagoon. The land is extremely beautiful and must even then have been desirable. It is now of course of much greater value. In 1845 he applied to have his quitrent changed to freehold ownership, which was granted.
In 1835, George took sick leave from his position at Saldanha Bay and returned to London, where he wrote a letter from The Park, Blackheath to the Secretary of State for the Colonies stating that "my health has suffered at Saldanha Bay, especially my sight from opthalmia, and having an increasing family, beg to have my wishes made known to the Secretary of State for the Colonies - to recommend to Benjamin d'Urban for some more eligible situation both as to locality and profit". But the autocratic and abrasive Somerset had by then left the Cape, and it is likely that George did not have as much influence over his career as he would have liked. He had to wait another 13 long years before he was promoted.
In 1836 he wrote to Governer Benjamin d'Urban, finding it necessary to assert his rights regarding the boundaries to his farm. He reminded the authorities that in the year 1828 he had prayed for a grant of land at "Sandy Bay", the land was inspected by the Civil Commissioner MacKay, but that the Land Poster had now thought proper to alter the lines of the farm to exclude Sandy Bay as a site set aside for a village. He begged for his priority of claim to be respected and for the borders extending to "the Cliff in the South, skirting the Slangshoek mountain to the East, extending to the base of that mountain in the West, and extending as far inland to the North and East as may be permitted." In 1837 he asked that he be allowed to water his cattle at the Residency dam as the springs at his farm Meeuklip dried up in Summer. This was permitted, but only so long as he was magistrate!
In 1840 George was the subject of a wrongful arrest civil action brought against him by a local farmer who complained that "he did seize upon the defendant by the hand and did with force of arms . . . strike the said plaintiff and did threaten him and put him to great bodily fear by threatening with a loaded pistol . . . (he then) ordered the police to take (the plaintiff) into custody and taken to Malmesbury gaol". George defended the matter and judgment was given to him as the defendant with full costs. Obviously he was no softie!
George Marsh was appointed the Civil Commissioner and first Resident Magistrate of Mossel Bay by Lord Grey on 28 January 1849. George had been asked to temporarily continue his position at Saldanha Bay as a result of an accident there in 1848. Mossel Bay was then called Aliwal after the then Governor Sir Harry Smith's exploits in Aliwal, India for the British Army. The name never took and the town is today still known under its original Dutch name. There are numerous references to George in the archives, and letters written by him in his own hand still exist there. He seems to be continually asking the Governor in Cape Town for more and better facilities, bigger offices and a bigger jail. Nevertheless, he seems to have settled well in Mossel Bay. An indication of his position in the community and his involvement in the development of the town is that he gave his name to the main street in Mossel Bay, Marsh Street, still so called today.
There is a gossipy letter in the archives concerning his conduct as magistrate by a resident of the village. Part of it reads: "I must again communicate the language of my heart and say candidly that Mr. Marsh the Magistrate has many enemies, but is much esteemed by all the Farmers, and that there will never come a better Magistrate at Mossel Bay and those who are his enemies are just people in the village who would rather have a man of their own choice with whom they can do as they like . . .".
The records of the criminal and civil cases presided over by him still exist along with notes on each matter in his own hand. He heard his last criminal case in Mossel Bay on 17 July 1862. Many of the criminal cases that he heard concerned violations of the new Master and Servant Act, which had been brought in after the abolition of slavery. For example, he would give a Dutch farmer 15 shillings fine or one week imprisonment for hitting his manservant. However, hitting a woman servant earned a sentence of one month in jail! One detects his sense of humour in some of the cases: "a Mrs. Lys, a Female of colour, residing at Aliwal. For assaulting Goliath, a boy of colour by tying him up by the hands for a period of 3 hours in her Pondok. Sentenced to be put 3 hours in Stocks!".
George Marsh died on 30th July 1868 at 13 Amersham Park Road, in Greenwich, near London in the house of his daughter-in-law Fanny Marsh at the age of 77 years, 7 months, and 21 days. On his death certificate, filled in and signed by his sons Arthur and Egbert in Cape Town. his oldest son William Wheeler Marsh is described as living in Paris, his daughter Anna Josina as being married to Monsieur Charles Bergeron and living at Lausanne, Switzerland, and his two sons Arthur and Egbert as living in Mossel Bay.
The following document is held in the Stafford Record office 4229/1/5/1.
Dated Fourteenth August 1862. Appointment of Trust Funds by Mr. George Marsh in favor of his Children.
To all to whom these Presents shall come George Marsh of Mossel Bay in the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope Esquire Sends Greeting Whereas Mary Marsh late of Blackheath in the County of Kent Spinster deceased by her Will dated the sixteenth day of December One thousand eight hundred and thirty eight after making diverse bequests and a devise of certain Copyhold hereditaments bequeathed all the residue of her personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever unto her half Brother Arthur Cuthbert Marsh and George Delmar and Henry Rowles Esquires their executors administrators and assigns Upon the Trusts therein mentioned for converting such parts of the said residuary personal estate as should not consist of Leasehold tenements or any share or shares of leasehold tenements or of money invested as therein mentioned and for paying her debts and funeral and testamentary expenses and for investing the surplus of the monies to be produced as aforesaid after paying thereout the said debts funeral and testamentary expenses and legacies upon the stocks funds and securities therein mentioned with power to vary such investments and the stocks funds and securities of which she should be possessed at the time of her death. And the said Testatrix declared that the said surplus money and respective stocks funds and securities should be holden Upon trust during the lives and life of her Father William Marsh and her Sister Georgiana Nelson Marsh and the survivor of them (both of which last mentioned persons are now deceased) to pay the interest dividends and annual produce thereof as therein mentioned and subject to the aforesaid trusts Upon trust during the life of the said George Marsh to pay the interest dividends and annual produce thereof to the said George Marsh and after his decease and subject to the aforesaid trusts the said trust monies stocks funds and securities should be In trust for the Child (if only one) and for all and every or such one or more exclusively of the other or others (if more than one) of the Children of the said George Marsh by his wife Josina Arendina Marsh (then deceased) in such manner as the said George Marsh should by Deed or Will appoint and in default of or subject to any such appointment upon the trusts therein mentioned. And the said Testatrix declared that the Trustees or Trustee for the time being of her Will should be possessed of and interested in all such parts of her said residuary personal estate as should consist of leasehold tenements or any share thereof upon such trusts as would best or nearest correspond to the trusts thereinbefore declared concerning the surplus money arising from the residue of her personal estate thereinbefore directed to be invested and the stocks funds and securities in or upon which it should be invested in pursuance of the trusts aforesaid and the interest dividends and annual produce thereof. And the said Testatrix appointed the said Arthur Cuthbert Marsh, George Delmar and Henry Rowles Executors of her said Will. AND WHEREAS the said Mary Marsh made two several codicils to her said Will respectively dated the twenty eighth day of December One thousand eight hundred and thirty eight and the twenty seventh day of January One thousand eight hundred and thirty nine but neither of the said Codicils affected the disposition made by the hereinbefore recited Will of the said residuary personal estate or the power of appointment thereby given to the said George Marsh. AND WHEREAS the said Mary Marsh died on or about the sixth day of March One thousand eight hundred and thirty nine without having revoked or altered her said Will save as the same was altered by the said two Codicils And the said Will together with the said two Codicils were duly proved on the seventeenth day of July One thousand eight hundred and thirty nine in the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury by the said Arthur Cuthbert Marsh alone. AND WHEREAS the said George Marsh has had five children and no more by his said late wife (namely) William Wheeler Marsh, George Cuthbert Marsh, Anna Josina now the wife of Charles Bergeron Esquire, Arthur Henry Marsh and Egbert Blitterman Marsh. AND WHEREAS all the said five Children of the said George Marsh have now attained the age of twenty one years AND WHEREAS the said George Marsh is desirous of exercising the said power given to him by the hereinbefore recited Will by appointing the residuary estate thereby bequeathed as aforesaid (subject to his own interest therein under the said Will) to or in favor of his said five Children in equal shares in manner hereinafter appearing. NOW these Presents witness that for effectuating the said desire and in exercise and execution of the said power given to him the said George Marsh by the hereinbefore recited Will and of every other power or authority in this behalf enabling him He the said George Marsh Doth by this Deed appoint that all and singular the residuary personal estate bequeathed by the hereinbefore recited Will as aforesaid and the monies stocks funds and securities which now or hereafter may represent the same residuary estate or any part or parts thereof shall subject to the prior interest therein of the said George Marsh under or by virtue of the trusts of the hereinbefore recited Will henceforth belong to and be vested in the said William Wheeler Marsh, George Cuthbert Marsh, Anna Josina Bergeron, Arthur Henry Marsh and Egbert Bletterman Marsh and shall be held In trust for them respectively their respective executors administrators and assigns in equal shares as Tenants in Common and as to the share of the said Anna Josina Bergeron for her separate use independently of any Husband IN WITNESS whereof the said George Marsh has herein to set his hand and seal this Fourteenth day of August in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and sixty two.
Signed sealed and delivered by George Marsh
the above named George Marsh in the presence of
Thomas Heard, Curate of Mossel Bay
R.W. Crokets (?) JP