Richard Hewitt Rowlinson (1886 – 1967)


   1. His childhood

Richard Hewitt “Dick” Rowlinson was born on 14 January 1886 at Barnton, Cheshire, England. A month later on 24 February 1886 he was christened.1,2 His parents were John Rowlinson (1839 – 1914) and Mary Hewitt (1843 – 1926).2-4 They were from the poorer working class and laboured as farmers or farm hands in various places in Cheshire.5,6

How much schooling Richard received, is uncertain. In his late teens, he was already working as a yard labourer. When he was in his twenties, Richard left Britain in search for a better life and migrated to the southern tip of the African continent which had been dominated by Britain since 1806. During the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, the colonisation expanded further north.

   2. His wife

Dick married his wife, Rose Mary Sepp (née Stitson) in Johannesburg, Transvaal in 1914.1,7,8 Rose Mary was the sixth child of Samuel Stitson (1848 – ?) and Elizabeth Ann Wood (1859 – 1948), who were from the poorer labouring class in Britain. Rose Mary was born on 14 April 1888 at Keighley, Yorkshire, England. She had one half-brother, Henry, from her father’s first marriage, and nine brothers and sisters from his second marriage: Ernest Walter, Henry William, Havelock, Violet May, Lily, Samuel, Hannah Eliza, Alfred and William. READ MORE on the Stitsons.1,9-12At the time of her marriage to Dick Rowlinson, she was a widow with a young son, William Gustave Sepp (1911 – 1998), from her first marriage to Witwatersrand gold miner Charles Frederick Sepp who died in 1912. Rose Mary came from England to South Africa with her first husband in ca 1910 during the ‘gold rush’ in British Transvaal.13,14

Rose Mary was a housewife and took care of her children. She died of gall bladder cancer at the age of 78 years and 3 months on 10 July 1966 at Boksburg-Benoni Hospital, Boksburg, Transvaal, South Africa. The cancer was diagnosed six months prior to her death.8

   3. His career.

Dick Rowlinson arrived in South Africa sometime between 1901 and 191115 during the height of the ‘gold rush’ on the Witwatersrand which started with the discovery of extensive gold deposits on the Rand in 1886. As a result of the influx of fortune-seeking foreigners and natives, as well as hopeful residents of the two British colonies and two independent Boer republics, Johannesburg rapidly developed from a temporary tented mining camp into a thriving town, and eventually received city status in 1928, becoming the largest city in Africa.16,17 Dick also lived in Johannesburg where he worked as a miner at the deep-level gold mines. Working as a miner underground was a dangerous task under difficult working conditions, with exposure to dust, gases, heat, clamminess, poor air ventilation and inadequate safety provisions. Miners worked long hours, often for wages that could be considered exploitative. Mine bosses tried to keep wages as low as possible, to ensure the highest possible profits.17,18 That the Rowlinson family had difficulty to make ends meet on the mines and later on, was evident from the fact that the boys left school and sought work as they reached puberty. Willie, the eldest, left school at the age of 14 years (Standard 6 level) to find work at a shoe shop in order to help providing financially for his childhood family.19

Later on, Dick found work as a butcher, worked himself up and finally succeeded to own his own butchery in Johannesburg. This career he pursued until his retirement.19,20 Moving away from the mines, the Rowlinson family was able to carve out a better life for themselves. As a result, however, of the Great Depression of 1929 to 1934 when meat became a luxury food commodity for most people, Dick’s butchery business went bankrupt and he was unable to pay his debts. Yet, his wife vowed that they would pay back every cent they owed. She started to sow and make clothes for others, and also baked cakes, including wedding cakes, to keep their family financially afloat. And slowly, the family recovered.19 By the time Rose Mary died, the couple owned a 1960 Renault Dauphine (registration plate number TB 6583) and property shares to the value approximately R 16 000. They lived comfortably in a South African middle-class society at Boksburg, a town in the Witwatersrand area in the Transvaal (now Gauteng).8 Their oldest son Willie, later followed in his father’s footsteps and eventually became the proud owner of his own butchery in Krugersdorp, Transvaal.19

   4. His death

Richard Hewitt Rowlinson died of pneumonia with associated cardiac failure at the age of 81 years and 7 months on 17 August 1967 at Sterkfontein Hospital, Krugersdorp. At that time, he resided at Boksburg, and was probably visiting his one son who stayed in Krugersdorp when he fell ill. From his estate, each one of his five children and each grandchild received cash to the value of R 2 605 and R 200, respectively. The bulk of this pay-out came from the shares Dick owned at the Johannesburg Building Society.20

Leaving Britain as a young man belonging to the poorer laboubering class, in search for better prospects at the southern tip of Africa, seemed to have paid-off for Dick Rowlinson. The initial start-out on the mines where most of the job opportunities were, were challenging circumstances. Later in the early 1930s, the lost of income and dignity that came with the Great Depression, was another blow, yet Dick persevered and was able to retire contentedly. I hope he felt proud of what he had made of his life.

   5. His children

The couple had four more children of their own: John Hewitt (1915 – 2012), Richard (1918 – 1987), Olive (1921 – ?) and Ernest (1923 – 1987).1,20 The family belonged to the Methodist Church.19

5.1  William Gustave (adopted stepson)

William Gustave “Willie” Sepp was born on 20 April 1911 at Johannesburg Transvaal, Union of South Africa. Sadly, Willie had little memory of his biological father as he was only fourteen months old when his father died in 1912.13,14 Dick Rowlinson, however, became the person Willie would come to know and love as his father in every way. Dick formally adopted Willie and in his will he bequeathed his estate in equal shares among his stepson and his four own children.15

William Gustave Rowlinson married Isabella Plenderleith “Pat” Smorenburg in 1936. They became my husband’s grandparents. The couple had a daughter, Pamela Jean (*1941) and a son, Robert Anthony (*1944).19 READ MORE on Willie Rowlinson.

5.2 John Hewitt “Hew”

Hew was born on 3 October 1915 at Johannesburg, Transvaal, Union of South Africa and died in the same city at the age of 97 years on 19 August 2012. He married Una Unste(a)d on 12 June 1943 and they had four children: Anne, Geoffrey Hewitt (*1947), Elizabeth (*1951) and Roger Arthur (*1958).1,20-23

5.3 Richard “Chum”

The origin of the nickname “Chum” that friends and family called Richard, is not known. He was born on 16 October 1918 at Johannesburg. He married Florence Margaret Victoria Locke (24 May 1921 – 25 May 1990) on 6 March 1943. The couple had two daughters: Lynette Dawn and June Rosemary (*1950). Chum worked for many years at the Witwatersrand gold mines and died of emphysema on 6 June 1987, Boksburg, Transvaal, South Africa.1,20,21,24,25

5.4 Olive

Olive was born in ca 1921 in Johannesburg. She married Alfred Edwin “Eddie” Plint, son of Alfred Claude Plint (1889 – 1945) and Annie Charlotte Northway (1893 – 1963). Alfred Edwin was born on 15 October 1920 in Johannesburg, married Olive Rowlinson on 14 April 1945 and died of septicemia on 16 July 2005 at East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Their children are: Desmond Brian (ca 1946 – 2018), Richard James (*1948), Audrey Jean (*1952) and John Edwin (*1954).1,20-22,26-28

5.5 Ernest “Ern”

Ern was born on 14 May 1923 at Johannesburg. He married Margaret MacRae (*11 May 1925) on 8 May 1948. They had three daughters: Gillian Margaret (*1951) and twins Mary and Joyce (*1953). Ern died of septicemia on 20 December 1987 at Sterkfontein Hospital, Krugersdorp, Transvaal.1,20-22,29 < BACK

  1. Rowlinson in All Collections.
  2. Christening of Richard Hewitt Rowlinson. England, Cheshire Parish Registers, 1538-2000. FamilySearch ( : accessed 18 April 2016), Richard Hewitt Rowlinson, 24 February 1886, Christening; citing item 1 p 216, Barnton, Cheshire, England Record Office, Cheshire; FHL microfilm 2,106,995.
  3. Richard H Rowlinson. 1891 England and Wales Census, Brindley, Cheshire. National Archives, London, England.
  4. Mary Rowlinson. 1901 England and Wales Census, Baddiley, Cheshire. National Archives, London, England.
  5. John Rowlinson. 1891 England and Wales Census, Burland, Nantwich, Cheshire. National Archives, London, England.
  6. Mary Rowlinson. 1901 England and Wales Census, Baddiley, Cheshire. National Archives, London, England.
  7. Rose Sepp.
  8. Death certificate, death notice & will of Rose Mary Rowlinson. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 6423/66, 1966.
  9. Elizabeth Stitson.
  10. Samuel Stitson. 1881 England and Wales Census, Belgrave, Leichestershire. National Archives, London, England.
  11. Samuel Stitson. 1901 England and Wales Census, Cullingworth, Bingley, Yorkshire. National Archives, London, England.
  12. Samuel Stitson. 1911 England and Wales Census, Cullingworth, Bingley, Yorkshire. National Archives, London, England.
  13. Death notice & will of Charles Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 20404/1912.
  14. Christening of William Gustave Sepp. Baptism: “South Africa, Church of the Province of South Africa, Parish Registers, 1801-2004,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 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.
  15. Information received electronically in August 2017 from Ian Roberts of England
  16. History of Johannesburg.
  17. Colonial history and development of Johannesburg. 28 April 2016. South African History Online.
  18. Johannesburg. 24 February 2016. South African History Online.
  19. Interview on 20 August 2017 at Pretoria, Gauteng with Pam Jamison, daughter of Willie and Pat Rowlinson
  20. Death certificate, death notice & estate of Richard Hewitt Rowlinson. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 7583/67, 1967
  21. Interview on 14 March 2016 at Pretoria, Gauteng with Pam Jamison, granddaughter of Richard Hewitt Rowlinson
  22. Rowlinson photo album in possession of Pam Jamison of Randfontein, Gauteng, granddaughter of Richard Hewitt Rowlinson
  23. Marriage record of John Hewitt Rowlinson.
  24. Marriage record of Richard Rowlinson.
  25. Death record of Richard Rowlinson.
  26. Marriage record of Olive Rowlinson.
  27. Death record of Alfred Edwin Plint.
  28. Alfred Plint.
  29. Death record of Ernest Rowlinson.