Gustav Sepp (1846 – 1912)


   1. His childhood

Gustav Sepp was born in 1846 at Oberderdingen, district Karlsruhe, in the Grand-Dutchy of Baden (now Baden-Württemberg) in south-western Germany.1,2 He was the son of Bernard and Louisa Sepp.3 Most of his life, however, he spent in Britain and the last few years in South Africa. Whether George migrated to Britain as a child with his childhood family or as a young adult on his own is not known. Calculations indicate that he must have left for Britain between the late 1840s and late 1860s.3,4

By the time Gustav was born, Germany existed as an assortment of 39 sovereign states that was known as the German Confederation. It came into existence in 1815 and lasted until 1867. There were 35 Empires, Kingdoms, Grand-Dutchies and Dutchies ruled by princes, and 4 free cities. During this time the need for a unified Germany with uniform government, legal system and financial currency grew and dissatisfaction eventually erupted into the 1848 rebellion, albeit unsuccessful. The ultimate unification of Germany was achieved under the leadership of Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898) with the formation of the German Empire in 1871. The Empire  consisted of 25 states consolidated into one political, administrative and economic entity. King Wilhelm I of Prussia was appointed first emperor of the new German Empire, later succeeded by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1888. This empire lasted until 1918 when World War 1 ended.5,6 Although urbanization grew rapidly from 1815 onward, the German people were at large agriculturists. From the 1850s, however, Germany started to catch up with the rest of Europe regarding industrialization, causing even more people to migrate to the cities in search for job opportunities. “Berlin grew from 172,000 in 1800, to 826,000 in 1870; Hamburg grew from 130,000 to 290,000; Munich from 40,000 to 269,000; and Dresden from 60,000 to 177,000. As a result of this growth, as well as periodic epidemics, harvest failure and wars fought to ensure unification, there was extensive emigration, especially to the United States via Britain. Emigration from the various German states totalled 480,000 in the 1840s, 1,200,000 in the 1850s, and 780,000 in the 1860s.” Gustave Sepp was one of these many thousands. By the 1880s, Bismarck attempted to reduce the outflow of German immigrants by expanding on welfare programs and introducing high work tariff policies.5,6 READ MORE on the history of Germany.

  2. His wife

Gustav Sepp married the 21 year-old Mary Elizabeth Stitson in 1872 in Devonshire (now Devon) when he was 26 years old.4 Mary was born on 21 January 1851 at Wolborough near Newton Abbott, Devonshire, England. She was the daughter of John (James) Stitson (10 March 1816, Wolborough – ?) and Mary Anne Gale (1821, Exeter, Devonshire – ?).7 Mary had nine siblings; one sister, Eliza and eight brothers, William, John James, Harry/Henry, Samuel, Isaac, Alfred George, Ernest and possibly Andrew.4,8 READ MORE on the Stitsons.

   3. His career.

Nothing is known about Gustav and his childhood family’s life in Germany. In Britain, however, he initially lived with his family at Bradford, Yorkshire for about 10 years (ca 1873 to 1883). The England & Wales Census of 1881, when Gustav was 35 years old, listed his profession as waiter. At that time, Gustav and Mary also offered lodging at their house, possibly to supplement Gustav’s income. Lodgers Frederick Lewitz, a 49 year-old widower and George Holiday, a 25 year-old manager from Scotland lived with them by 1881.9 They later moved to Whitehaven in ca 1884 and lived there for more than 15 years, where Gustav continued working as a waiter. By 1891, the family lived at 4 St George Terrace Bransty, Whitehaven. They were then rendering lodging to three people; William H.H.F. Sepp (26 years), a railway clerk and possibly a nephew of Gustav, Elizabeth West, a 58 year-old spinster who worked as a refreshment room manageress and 21 year-old Edith M. Pominly, who worked as a domestic servant elsewhere. In the Sepps employment as domestic servant was 14 year-old Amy A. Pominly, probably the sister of Edith Pominly.1,8,10 By 1899, the family stayed at 5 Henry Street in Whitehaven, where the 53-year old Gustav prepared his will, dated 13 February 1899.3

During the 18th and 19th century, Whitehaven was a major coal mining town with a substantial commercial port to support the coal as well as the tobacco and haematite (an iron ore used to produce steel) trade. The nearby Lowca engineering works also manufactured steam locomotives for the railroad industry. By the late 19th century the town’s fortunes started to wane rapidly, as larger ports such as Bristol and Liverpool started to take over its main trade. Whitehaven offered many job opportunities for stevedores, ironmongers and miners at the harbour, locomotive manufacturing plant and mining pits respectively.11 Accommodation for the residential working class labourers and those with families had to be provided for in the form of hotels, inns and lodging houses, thus creating for Gustav many vocational openings in the hospitality business.

Gustav and his wife migrated to South Africa, possibly around 1910 or early 1911, together with his sons, John William and Charles Frederick and their families. At the time of Gustav’s death at 66 years, he was a waiter at a boarding house in Johannesburg, a gold mining settlement on the Witwatersrand that was growing rapidly. They lived at 16 Main Reef Road, Denver, a Johannesburg suburb for the middle and lower-middle working class about 5 km from the town centre.3,12,13 Nowadays, Denver is an industrial area just east of the CBD (central business district).14

   4. His death

Gustav Sepp died on 8 November 1912 at Cumberland House, Denver, Johannesburg. He bequeathed all his belongings to his wife, including policies of Assurance and monies invested in stock. His estate was less than 200 pounds in value. But his will indicated that he had movable property elsewhere not located in the Transvaal.3

   5. His children

Together Gustav and Mary had nine children: John William (1874 – 1921), Ada Maria (1880 – 1881), Percy Bernard (1883 – 1943), Charles Frederick, (1885 – 1912), Louisa Mary, Louisa Fredericka, Lena Stitson (1892 – 1962), Gustave and Clemens (uncertain).4,8,10 In none of the England and Wales Censuses of 1881, 1891 or 1901 are the names of the children Louisa Mary, Louisa Fredericka and Gustave listed1,9,15 and they presumably died young like Ada Maria. Thus far, additional information could be found on only four of their children – presumably the ones who survived into adulthood.

5.1 John William

He was born on 4 November 1874 at 11 Regent Place, Bradford, Yorkshire (now West Yorkshire), England.8,16 When he was ten years old, his parents relocated to Whitehaven, Cumberland (now Cumbria), England and at the age of 16 years, he was already working as an ironmonger apprentice.1 He married Barbara Graham (*1875, Whitehaven) on 1897 at Newport, Monmouthshire (now Caerphilly), Wales.8,16 The couple had four daughter, Lilian (*1898), Sebetha (*1901), Mary Elizabeth (*ca 1906) and Lena (*1908), and one son, Charlie W. John later moved his family to South Africa, possibly in 1910 or early 1911 together with his parents and brother Charles and sister Lena. But it is also possible that he moved to South Africa at an earlier stage. John settled his family at the gold fields of Johannesburg on the Witwatersrand, Transvaal, Union of South Africa (previously Zuid-Afrikaansche Boer Republic). As an ironmonger by trade, he was able to manufacture iron goods and sold them for mainly domestic use, but may also have worked in the mines. They lived at 170A Fawcus Street, Belgravia, Johannesburg, South Africa. When John died at the age of 46 years and 11 months on 22 October 1921 at Johannesburg Hospital (ward 14, bed 17), his four youngest children were still minors. In his will, dated 18 April 1917, he bequeathed the effects of his whole estate to his wife. His estate had a value of less than 300 pounds upon his death.17

5.2 Percy Bernard

Percy was born on 17 April 1883 at 13 Victoria Street, Bradford, Yorkshire (now West Yorkshire), England.8,18 He also, like his parents and brothers John and Charles as well as his sister Lena, moved to South Africa. However, Percy’s name appear as Private Percy Bernard (Trooper no. 31391) on the nominal roll of the French Scouts, a colonial unit that served during the Anglo Boer War (South African War) of 1899 to 1902.19 On 4 February 1906, he also witnessed the christening of Percy George James, son of Robert Michael James and Lettie Johanna Armstrong, at Christ Anglican Church in Adelaide in the eastern British Cape Colony.20,21 It seems as if Percy was already living in South Africa for quite some time before the rest of his family’s arrival. Maybe he was the one who encouraged his parents and siblings to move to South Africa.

He married Agnes Riddick (née Benn) in Johannesburg between 1910 and 1912. Agnes and her first husband, James Henry Riddick were married on 29 March 1902 at St James Church, Whitehaven, later migrated to South Africa but divorced in October 1909 after seven years of married life as a result of Agnes’s adulterous relationship between May 1908 and August 1908 with Cesare Halsall of Johannesburg. Agnes and James had one son, but his father obtained custody of the minor after the divorce.8,16,22

Most of his life, Percy worked as a miner on the Johannesburg mines. He died at the age of 60 years on 26 October 1943.22 Percy and Agnes also had just one son, John William Bernard Sepp who was born on 13 October 1912 at Johannesburg. He married Audrey Vivienne Minnie Muir (17 March 1910, Johannesburg – 15 August 1956, Durban) in 1938. They had one son, Rodney Vivian Sepp (*9 January 1942). The couple later divorced in June 1954. By then, John had already being institutionalised since 1945 at Pretoria Mental Hospital due to his ‘insanity’ that posed a danger to others. The cerebral syphilis he was diagnosed with, was the most likely cause of his mental instability. John died on 27 July 1963 at the age of 50 years at Sterkfontein Hospital, Krugersdorp of bronco-pneumonia. Audrey married again on 25 August 1954 at Durban, Natal to John Dougall (*16 November 1895).23,24

Agnes Sepp seemed to have been quite a character as her only ex-daughter-in-law described her (in 1947) as “abusive and an inveterate drinker” that “spent all her money on alcohol”.22 Percy himself also had a run-in with the law in 1926 when he pleaded guilty to contravening the Gold Act. What exactly he stole is not clear but he was rather honest about the “sudden temptation” that got the better of him.25

5.3 Charles Frederick

Charles was born on 1 October 1885 at Whitehaven, Cumberland, England.8 He also, like his brothers John and Percy, came to South Africa in search for a better life. He became my husband’s great-grandfather. READ MORE on Charles Frederick Sepp.

5.4 Lena Stitson

Lena was born on 2 January 1892 at Whitehaven.9,26  She came to South Africa with her parents and brothers. By 1911, she witnessed the christening of her nephew, William Gustave Sepp on 20 August 1911 at Cleveland, Johannesburg.27

Lena married her first husband, Thomas Odgers on 9 January 1912 at the Johannesburg Magistrate Court. They had one son, Gordon Thomas Odgers. Thomas Odgers died on 8 January 1939 in Johannesburg. Lena married a second time on 15 April 1942 at the Johannesburg Magistrate Court to mechanical engineer and widower Frederick Roberts (26 May 1888, Cornwell, England – 10 January 1956, Johannesburg). Lena died of atrial thrombosis at Johannesburg on 6 March 1962 at the age of 70 years.26,28,29


  1. Gustav Sepp. 1891 England and Wales Census, Whitehaven, Cumberland. National Archives, London, England.
  2. Oberderdingen.
  3. Death notice & will of Gustav Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 21900/12, 1912
  4. All Public Member Trees for Sepp.
  5. History of Germany.
  6. The German revolution 1848. Frankfurt Vorparlament – German National Assembly.
  7. John Stitson.
  8. Mary Sepp.
  9. Gustav Sepp. 1881 England and Wales Census, Bradford, Yorkshire-West Riding. National Archives, London, England.
  10. Charles Sepp.
  11. Whitehaven.
  12. Death notice & will of Charles Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 20404/12, 1912
  13. Johannesburg. 24 February 2016. South African History Online.
  14. Denver, Johannesburg.,+Johannesburg,+2094/@-26.2095644,28.0805293
  15. Gustav Sepp. 1901 England and Wales Census, Whitehaven, Cumberland. National Archives, London, England.
  16. John William Sepp.
  17. Death notice & will of John William Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 47715/21, 1921
  18. Percy Bernard Sepp.
  19. Nominal Rolls of the French’s Scouts.
  20. Christ Church Adelaide. Baptismal Register 1861 – 1909.
  21. Percy George Armstrong.
  22. Death notice of Percy Bernard Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 5261/43, 1943
  23. Detention order for John William Bernard Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 5452/46, 1946
  24. Death notice of John William Bernard Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 5982/63, 1963
  25. Criminal Case. Percy Bernard Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB WLD 195/26, 1926
  26. Death notice of Lena Stitson Sepp. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 3305/62, 1962
  27. 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
  28. Marriage record and death notice of Thomas Odgers. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 225/39, 1939
  29. Death notice of Frederick Roberts. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria. TAB MHG 630/56, 1956