The Merrington Family in SA


According to the Somerset Herald, College of Arms, London, in a certificate dated 29 June 1899 it would seem as if the family originated from a small area in County Durham, where there is now a town called Kirk Merrington. I quote ‘the earliest known occurrence of the surname is Simon de Mereton, (Patent Rolls 1241) and is found regularly in both Warwicksire and Yorkshire from the 14 century onwards.
Variations Merrington, Mirrington, Marrington, Morrington and Mannington.’

My interest began by chance in 1992 when I was given three or four letters written fifteen years earlier by two of my uncles to a Mr Mirrington in England who was researching the Merrington family world-wide. I was surprised at how much inaccurate information had been supplied. My uncles knew the names of their own wives and children, and the names of their brothers, but very little else.
Amongst the correspondence received from Mr Mirrington were copies of letters written to him in 1976 by the Director of the Reference Department, South African Library, quoting from the SA Commercial Advertiser and various Cape Almanacs, and also from the Chief of the Cape Archives, in response to his enquiries about a John Samuel Merrington. One of the letters included a list of the names of the children and some of the grandchildren of John Samuel Merrington. One of them was my grandfather!
I was suddenly aware of just how little I knew about my family – not only about my long-dead ancestors but also first generation uncles, aunts and cousins. Where and when had they been born, married, died? I decided that trying to create a family tree was something I wanted to do.
I bought a copy of Mr Peter Philip’s book ‘British Residents at the Cape 1795-1819’, as I was told that it contained information about the Merrington family, and discovered that John Samuel had arrived in Table Bay on H.M.S. Camel on 6 December 1809 via Rio de Janeiro. His occupation at that time was given as ‘clerk’. This book contains a fair amount of information about his subsequent career, the births of his children and the comings and goings of his family between 1809 and 1829 and, together with the information provided by the SA Library and the Cape Archives, provided me with a base from which to work.
A visit to the family history library at the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in Mowbray and the use of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) there gave me details of the marriage between a Thomas Merrington and Elizabeth Maynard on 28 April 1781 at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London. The records of the City of London churches are kept at the London Guildhall, so that was my next stop.
At the Guildhall library I obtained a copy of the marriage certificate of Thomas and Elizabeth, as well as copies of the baptism notices of their two children, Elizabeth and John Samuel. Elizabeth was born on 14 December 1782, baptised on 8 January 1783, and John Samuel was born on 31 March 1784 and baptised on 21 April 1784. Elizabeth was buried on 1 June 1783, just six months old. Both baptisms and Elizabeth’s burial took place at the Church of St Mary Mounthaw, London.

I had now discovered the origins of John Samuel but this was where my search for his father,Thomas Merrington, ground to a halt. In spite of many visits to England over the past ten years I have been unable to trace the family further back than 1781. I have searched many old church records, and all available recorded memorial inscriptions (gravestones), hospital and prison records, but have found no reference to Thomas Merrington –when he was born, where he came from, where he lived or when he died.
From John Samuel’s Will at the Cape Archives I learned that Elizabeth Merrington had remarried and was now Elizabeth Brinkworth. On a visit to London in 1997 I found a record of her marriage to William Brinkworth, widower, on 24 December 1797 at St Giles in Camberwell. The marriage certificate cites her as a widow, which means that Thomas had died some time between the birth of his second child John Samuel in 1784 and his widow’s remarriage in 1797. This is a gap of only thirteen years and one would think it would be fairly easy to trace the death of Thomas. However anything further back than about 1857 in England is almost impossible to find unless one knows in which county or town to look. To find somebody in ‘London’ without an accurate address has proved impossible.

At the Guildhall library I also obtained a copy of the marriage certificate of John Samuel Merrington to Lydia Docker on 7 June 1807 at St Giles, Camberwell, the same church in which his mother had married William Brinkworth ten years earlier.
Lydia did not accompany John Samuel to the Colony in 1809 but she and their children joined him from England in April 1811. It seems likely that the reason for his travelling without his wife was that his second child was born on 10 September 1809, only three months prior to his arrival at the Cape, and the eldest was less than two years old. To travel with two small children at that time would have been unthinkable.
From records at the Cape Archives I found that ‘on 23 February 1811 Merrington of 23 Long Street announced in the Gazette that, on the 4 March, he would open a school for the instruction of a limited number of pupils (12) in the English language, writing and arithmetic’. Later that year he and a Mr Kock combined their respective schools and included the additional subjects of French, Dutch, history and geography to their curriculum. This school was eventually taken over by Mr W Hopley.
A copy of the book ‘Fairbridge Arderne & Lawton – A History of a Cape Law Firm’ written by R M (Bobby) MacSymon in 1990 was given to me by the Senior Partner Mr B J A (Tony) Hardy in 1998. This has been an invaluable source of information and has provided me with much of the detail regarding John Samuel’s movements over the next few years.
On 6 November 1812, John Samuel was licensed to practice as a notary public. He opened an off2ice at 3 Kortemarkt Street, Cape Town, and commenced a legal career that was to continue until his death on 12 October 1845. This practice, today known as Fairbridges, is the longest-surviving legal practice in South Africa and in the southern hemisphere – there are no older legal firms in either Australia or New Zealand.
In 1828 John Samuel took Joseph Sturgis into partnership and they practised as Merrington & Sturgis. Both John Samuel and Joseph were admitted as attorneys of the Supreme Court on 10 January 1828. John Samuel was the first English-speaking attorney so admitted. In the 1929 list of proctors John’s name appears for the first time and he was then allowed to plead in the Vice-Admiralty Court.
In addition to his legal practice John Samuel was, from 1819 to 1831, secretary to the Commercial Room, later to become the Commercial Exchange. Today one of his descendants has in his possession a silver tea/coff2ee service and tray, each piece inscribed ‘Presented by the Merchants of the Cape of Good Hope to J S Merrington for his long gratuitous and valuable service to the Commercial Exchange’. He also became a director of the South African Fire and Life Assurance Company and a member of the committee of the Expedition for Exploring Central Africa.
John Samuel died in Cape Town on 12 October 1845 at the age of 60 years. His Will, copy of which is in my possession, was signed on 28 December 1844 at ‘Rygersdal’ otherwise known as ‘Charlie’s Hope’ in Rondebosch. This building could be seen next to the tennis courts at Rustenburg Girls’ High School for many years.
There is no date of death recorded for Lydia, and although at the time of John’s death he was described as ‘married’ his Death Notice was signed by his son John Alfred and not by his wife. Lydia was the sole beneficiary.
John Samuel and Lydia had six children, five of whom survived. The sixth was a baby girl who was born and died in 1817, and about whom nothing is known.

Elizabeth born in December 1806 in London was the oldest. She married John Harfield Tredgold in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town on 1 January 1825. John Tredgold was involved in work amongst the poor and was a member of the Cape of Good Hope Philanthropic Society. He was also one of the founders of the Commercial Exchange and one of the managers of the Cape of Good Hope Savings Bank. John Harfield Tredgold, licensed on 3 July 1818, was the first person in the Cape to be registered simply as a ‘chemist and druggist’. On 19 February 1837 he left the Cape on account of his own and the family’s poor state of health. After John’s death in Richmond, Surrey in 1842 Elizabeth returned to South Africa with five of her children. Two boys had died in London, aged thirteen and eleven.
She died on 16 March 1892 in Ceres at the residence of her daughter Elizabeth McIntyre.

Thomas Samuel, oldest son and second child, was born on 10 September 1809 in London and was sent to England to be educated. He worked there for a while but returned to South Africa and in 1836 was given permission to practice as a chemist and druggist. He was an enthusiastic member of the Union Church in Cape Town and eventually relinquished his business interests and off2ered his services to the London Missionary Society. He was engaged by the LMS in the Cape Colony and served as teacher-evangelist at Bethelsdorp for three years from 1837. In 1840 he met and married Sarah Ann daughter of Revd. James Kitchingman another member of the LMS. He worked as a missionary at Theopolis and Graaff2-Reinet and started the stations at Somerset East, Grahamstown and Uitenhage. For many years he declined ordination, but eventually accepted and was ordained at Bethelsdorp in 1845 and took charge of the station there.
He died on 8 July 1890 whilst still at Bethelsdorp. The London Missionary Society records read ‘For thirty-eight years the church had been the centre of the village and no one ever turned to its pastor in vain, his medical knowledge enabling him to prescribe a cure for the body as well as the soul.’
There were seven children of this marriage.

John Alfred, third child of John Samuel, was born in Cape Town on 14 April 1812. He joined his father and Joseph Sturgis as a clerk in 1825 at the age of 13. On 12 October 1832 he applied for admission as a notary public. Nearly two years later he was articled to his father to become an attorney. John Alfred admitted Charles Fairbridge and Edward Hull into partnership in 1847 (John Samuel having died in October 1845) and the firm’s name then became Merrington, Fairbridge and Hull.
He left Cape Town for England aged 38 in 1850 and never returned. He off2icially retired from the law firm, where he was still a partner, in 1852 and died without issue at the age of 96 on 20 July 1908 in Exeter, Devon. He was married twice – the first time to Constantia (date and surname unknown) who died at Sidmouth on 23 November 1876 and then in 1879 to Amelia Teed, a widow, who died in Exeter on 25 September 1911. The second marriage took place in England but no details are known about the first marriage.

The fourth child William James, my great-grandfather, was born in Cape Town on
16 May 1814 and baptised in St George’s Cathedral on 14 August that year. He married Anne Harfield Mathew in about 1846. Anne, my great-grandmother, died at ‘Willowbank’, Church Street, Claremont aged 77 years and 7 months on 3 December 1903. She was the daughter of Thomas James Mathew who built Harfield Cottage and its adjacent chapel which later became the Claremont Congregational Church. The Cottage still stands today although it has been converted into two houses.
William James and Anne had twelve children, eight boys and four girls. My grandfather, Walter Moff2at, was the eighth child.
William, who was an accountant, died aged 51 years on 26 September 1866 at Glen Etive, Ceres.

During the early years in the Cape Colony there were not many English-speaking families, and this resulted in a fair amount of intermarriage between them.
‘The Ardernes & Their Garden’, written by Arderne Tredgold and privately published in 1990, contains a wealth of information regarding the lives of people mentioned in the above paragraphs. Most chronicles of early life at the Cape contain the same surnames at some point. I have read a number of biographies and autobiographies written by or about early Cape settlers and have seldom failed to find some reference to the prolific Merrington family.

Lydia was the youngest surviving child of John Samuel and Lydia. She was born on 3 December 1815 in Cape Town and baptised in St George’s Cathedral on 11 February 1816. Lydia is mentioned many times in the book ‘The Life and Fortunes of John Pocock of Cape Town 1814-1876’ which was compiled from his journals and letters by Mrs M G Ashworth and published by the College Tutorial Press in 1974.
On 1 February 1837 John entered into a partnership with John Tredgold (husband of Lydia’s sister Elizabeth) and the name of the firm became Tredgold and Pocock Chemists & Druggists.
John was deeply in love with Lydia whom he described when he first met her in 1832 as ‘an elegant, lively and genteel young lady and I shall not do her justice were I to deny I was attracted by her beauty’. However he did not declare his love until six years later. She turned him down and on 14 February 1839 left to live with her brother John Alfred in England. On 25 January 1859 nearly twenty years later, when he had been happily married for over seventeen years, John heard from John Alfred of Lydia’s death in England. ‘Your letter’ he wrote to John Alfred ‘has touched a chord which I thought had long ceased to vibrate within me….’.
Lydia never married and is buried in Nunhead cemetery.

The above is a synopsis of my records relating to the first two generations of Thomas Merrington’s descendants in this country. All the Merringtons in South Africa are descended from John Samuel and I believe I have records of most of them, down to the ninth generation in some instances.

Lorna White (born Merrington)