William Gustave (Sepp) Rowlinson (1911 – 1998)

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  1. His childhood

William Gustav “Willie” Sepp was born in Johannesburg at the height of the Witwatersrand ‘Gold Rush’ that started in 1886 when rich deposits of gold were discovered in the area. Afrikaners and Englishmen as well as Black natives living at the southern tip of Africa flooded to the Rand in search for their fortune. The news quickly reached all corners of the globe and soon the high influx of foreigners (outlanders) from all over the world became an alarming trend for the government of the independent ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaansche Boer Republiek [South African Republic]) where the Rand was situated. It eventually became an instigating factor for the Second Anglo-Boer War (also known as the South Africa War) of 1899 to 1902. The outcome of the war, however, was a defeated ZAR and a penurious Boer nation (white Afrikaner famers) living under British dominion in a colonised Transvaal. After the war, the influx of immigrants and migrant mine labourers continued, with many of the impoverished Boers joining the ranks at the deep-level gold mines.1-5

Willie’s parents, Charles Frederick Sepp (1885 – 1912) and Rose Mary Stitson (1888 – 1966) too, were immigrants from Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, who arrived in 1910 to early 1911. Willie was their only child. When he was born on 20 April 1911, they lived at Malvern, a suburb on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg closely associated with Jumpers Gold Mine. Willie was christened on 20 August 1911 at St Patrick Anglican Church, Cleveland, Johannesburg. The ceremony was conducted by Rev Noel Aldridge and witnessed by his aunt, Lena Sepp, Matthew Armer (surname unclear) and ‘The Father’ (presumably his grandfather, Gustav Sepp).6-10 This church was built in 1903 in Cleveland, but years later was moved brick-by-brick to Frusquin Street in Malvern.11 Willie’s father worked as a gold miner. He passed away in 1912 at the age of 26 years and 10 months when his son was a mere 14 months old. By then, they lived closer to the mines at Denver, a suburb just south of Malvern.8Willie’s mother, Rose married again in 1914 to Richard Hewitt “Dick” Rowlinson (1886 – 1967), a miner from Johannesburg. Dick formally adopted Willie as his own son and thereafter he  became known as William Gustave Rowlinson. Willie had three half-brothers, John Hewitt (1915 – 2012), Richard (1918 – 1987) and Ernest (1923 – 1987), and one half-sister called Olive (ca 1921 – ?).7,12,13 William Gustave Rowlinson would later become my husband’s grandfather.

Willie attended school in Johannesburg until ca 1925, upon which he left school at the age of 14 years to find a job to assist with supporting his childhood family financially.13

  1. His wife

Isabella Plenderleith “Pat” Smorenburg, only child of Herman Hendrik Smorenburg (1883 – 1946) and Janet Connell Thomson (1887 – 1961), married William Gustave Rowlinson on 16 May 1936 in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng), Union of South Africa. Isabella was born on 11 May 1914 in Johannesburg. She died unexpectedly on 19 June 1993 at the age of 79 years at Krugersdorp. The cause of her death was pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a blood clot gets lodged in an artery in the lung.10,14-16As she never liked her Christian names, Isabella was known as “Pat” in her adult life – a name of her own choosing. She was a staunch supporter of newborn babies’ right to choose their own names at birth! Pat worked as an accountant at a flower shop in Johannesburg. When they moved to Krugersdorp, she continued working for the flower shop, albeit in part-time capacity. She later worked as an accountant at her husband’s butchery. In her spare-time, she was very involved for many years with Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa, a national humanitarian initiative that brings relief to the less fortunate and the aged. Pat prepared food, made food parcels and delivered healthy cooked meals to the needy in the surrounding communities.17,18

She was also the secretary of the Mayor’s Welfare Fund, and often the mayor’s chauffeur would fetch Pat for events in the limousine with its flags and all. And all the neighbours would be peeking through their windows! Oh, that such an important person lived next to them!… Pat had a beautiful voice and sang soprano solos for charitable events. She also was the choir leader at the Krugersdorp Methodist Church where they attended services. Pat will be remembered as a quiet, gentle, friendly woman with a compassionate heart for others in her surrounding community.13

  1. His children

Together Willie and Pat Rowlinson had two children; Pamela Jean (*1941) and Robert Anthony (*1944).

3.1 Pamela Jean “Pam”

Pam was born on 28 April 1941 in Johannesburg. She married Anthony Alan “Tony” Jamison and they have two children. Their son has in his safe-keeping a hand fan that belonged to his grandmother. READ MORE on Pam Rowlinson and her husband, Tony Jamison.

3.2 Robert Anthony “Rob”

Rob was born on 12 June 1944 and matriculated in Krugersdorp. He became Bank Manager of the Krugersdorp branch of West Bank. On a part-time basis, he also assisted at the Krugersdorp Game Reserve as a volunteer game ranger and, particularly over weekends, led guided walking tours in the reserve. Rob was the founder of the vulture restaurant at the reserve. ‘Vulture restaurant’ refers to a safe place where different, and often endangered vulture species are attracted to feed, in an attempt to reduce their risk of being killed via hunting or poisoning on surrounding farms.10,13

Rob has been married four times. He and his first wife, Diane Lyn Peterson married on 15 March 1969 at the Methodist Church in Krugersdorp and seperated after almost six years of marriage. The divorce was finalised on 28 January 1975. The couple had two children, Vanessa and Hylton John.19 After Vanessa graduated from college in Architectural Design, she moved to England to work as an artist and muralist. In ca 2009, she moved to the United States of America where she eventually opened her own business Vanessa Rowlinson Designs with artesian specialization in decorative artistic designs for homes, businesses, offices, etc.20 Hylton was born on 28 July 1971. He qualified as a culinary chef from Apex Chefs’ School in Johannesburg and worked at various fine restaurants and hotels worldwide. He finally settled as Executive Chef of the Diplomat Restaurant at the Kuriftu Resort Spa in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Here he met his wife and they had two sons, Robert and John. Hylton died from liver cancer at the age of 44 years on 7 December 2015 at Boksburg, Gauteng, South Africa. He was cremated and a memorial service to celebrate his life was held on 9 December at Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa where his ashes were scattered at sea.10,13,21,22

Rob married a second time to Cynthia Binks (née Human). They had one daughter, Penny who is now married and lives with her family in Durban. Rob and Cynthia divorced on 4 July 1978.17,23 Rob married a third time to Phyllis NN, who had two sons from a previous marriage, Derek Bruce and Patrick who were born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Rob adopted both these boys as his own, but after the divorce Rob lost contact with them. Currently, Derek is a hospitality manager who lives in Australia. Patrick lives in New Zealand and has a private psychic practice called Soul and Pepper Ltd, which offers psychic healing and fortune telling services.17,24,25 Rob’s fourth wife, Estelle Human, with three children – Cindy, Chantelle and Wayne – from a previous marriage, married Rob on 6 September 1997.26 They retired to Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal coast in 2001, but recently relocated to George in the Eastern Cape.17    4. His career.

Having achieved only a Standard 6 schooling level, Willie started to work in a shoe shop but later did a 5-year apprenticeship to become a butcher. It is uncertain where he did his training, but his father’s butchery in Johannesburg is a possibility. One month after his first child was born, he was transferred to Roots Cold Storage (Poultry And Game Wholesalers) in Krugersdorp. Through hard-driven work, he was eventually able to buy his own butchery from a Mr Wright, as well as a pig farm, to provide for the required demand of pork meat at the local abattoir and at his own business. Willie worked long hours to keep his business profitable and the family seldom went away for long visits or on holiday.13,17

One of the Rowlinson’s friends raised lion cubs, and when these grew up, they were walked around Krugersdorp on leashes. When the friends with their pet lions entered Willie’s butchery to shop, pandemonium would ensue among the Black employees and Black customers in particular, and the inevitable stampede towards the door followed!13,17

During his career, Willie lost three left-hand fingers during two separate accidents at work with an industrial meat saw. This led to his nickname “Fingers Rowlinson” at the local Krugersdorp Bowling Club where he was a member. Because of the long hours Willie worked, there was little time for leisure, but playing bowls was his hobby and he made time for it over weekends. The club was very active and participated in various tournaments. Willie turned out to be quite good at the game, and many times he would walk away with the winner’s trophy.10,13,17

Willie lived through the many political changes in South African history. When he started his career, South Africa was a union consisting of the two original Boer republics, Transvaal (or ZAR) and Orange Free State and two British colonies, Natal and Cape of Good Hope. This Union was self-governing and semi-independent of the British Empire. Complete independence only came about on 31 May 1961, when the Republic of South Africa was established. By then, Afrikaner Nationalism has grown into a formidable political force, since its formal inception in 1948, and led to a White-dominated government that formalized apartheid as constitutional law. This was enforced with vigour to the detriment of millions of Black, Coloured and Indian people in South Africa. Democracy and political freedom for all South African citizens, irrespective of race, language, religion and gender finally came about in 1994, when the first Black government was elected and the Constitution was redrawn. South Africa was also rearranged into the nine present-day provinces: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape and Western Cape. Our country has come a long way to create equal opportunities for the previously disadvantaged and to set past wrongs right.27 Yet, much healing from pain, fear, hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, disrespect, poverty, intolerance and cultural ignorance is still desperately needed in our beautiful South Africa.

  1. His death

The sudden death of his wife was a huge blow for Willie and his own health started to deteriorate as well. The last four years of his life, he lived at Randfontein with his daughter and son-in-law where he was cared for until his death on 9 August 1998. He died of pneumonia at Robertson Hospital, Randfontein, Gauteng.13,17

William Gustave Rowlinson will be remembered as a quiet, reserved, hard-working family man. He was not one for long conversations but often his dry sense of humour would unexpectedly lighten up the banter. In his younger and more adventurous years, Willie owned a motorcycle, which he was notorious for speeding with. One time, he and his dad was driving down Main Street in Johannesburg at high speed – with Dad Dick hanging on for dear life – when suddenly a horse cart appeared in front of them crossing the street. “Duck!” Willie yelled over his shoulder, and duck they both did, whizzing through underneath the legs of the two large cart horses and out on the other side, unscathed and alive! Another time, Willie took his new girlfriend (and later his wife) for a spin on his bike. Along the way while driving, he noticed that she was no longer responding to his talking to her over his shoulder, for the mere reason that she was no longer on the bike with him! Willie backtracked his steps and eventually found her a few blocks away … unharmed. Turned out she lost her grip going around a corner and fell off. Well, Isabella Smorenburg still married Willie, but the motorbike had to go.13 Love … a most wondrous thing.

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  1. Potenza, E. All that glitters – The glitter of gold. South African History Online. http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/all-glitters-glitter-gold-emilia-potenza
  2. History of Johannesburg. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Johannesburg
  3. Johannesburg, the segregated city. 24 February 2016. South African History Online. http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/johannesburg-segregated-city
  4. Colonial history and development of Johannesburg. 28 April 2016. South African History Online. http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/discovery-gold-1884
  5. Harington, J.S., McGlashan, N.D. & Chelkowska, E.Z. 2004. A century of migrant labour in the gold mines of South Africa. The Journal of The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. https://www.saimm.co.za/Journal/v104n02p065
  6. Charles Sepp. https://www.myheritage.com/names/charles_sepp
  7. Rose Sepp. https://www.myheritage.com/names/rose_sepp
  8. Death notice & will of Charles Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 20404/12 of 1912
  9. Christening of William Gustave Sepp. South Africa, Church of the Province of South Africa, Parish Registers, 1801-2004,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVSH-F8KQ : 6 November 2014), Charles Frederick Sepp in entry for William Gustave, 20 Aug 1911; citing Baptism, St Patrick, Cleveland, Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa, p. 72, William Cullen Library, Wits University, Johannesburg
  10. Rowlinson Photo Album in possession of Pam Jamison, Randfontein, Gauteng, South Africa
  11. The caring suburb of Malvern.29 January 2003. Official website of the City of Johannesburg. https://joburg.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&id=914&Itemid=0
  12. Rowlinson in All Collections. https://www.myheritage.com/research/collection-1
  13. Personal interview with Pam Jamison, daughter of Willie and Pat Rowlinson, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa on 20 August 2017
  14. Parenteel van Hendrik van Galen. http://members.upc.nl/y.galen2/vgs/Ede/gn23951.html#p24074
  15. Isabella Plenderleith Rowlinson. http://www.gendatabase.com/paid/index.php
  16. William Gustave Rowlinson. http://www.gendatabase.com/paid/index.php
  17. Personal interview with Kevin Jamison, son of Pam and Tony Jamison, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa on 23 September 2016
  18. Meals on Wheels Community Services. http://www.mealsonwheels.org.za/about/
  19. Divorce of Robert Anthony Rowlinson. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB WLD 8489/74 of 1974
  20. Vanessa Rowlinson Designs. http://vrowlinsondesigns.com/biography
  21. Hylton Rowlinson. https://www.identitynumber.org/
  22. Diplomat Restaurant. http://kurifturesortspa.com/DiplomatRestaurant
  23. Divorce of Robert Anthony Rowlinson. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB WLD 5096/78 of 1978
  24. Derek Rowlinson. https://au.linkedin.com/in/derek-rowlinson-0a984374
  25. Patrick Rowlinson. http://www.soulandpepper.co.nz/mobile/About%20Us
  26. Robert Anthony Rowlinson. http://www.gendatabase.com/paid/index.php
  27. General South African History Timeline. http://www.sahistory.org.za

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