George Hough Wilson (1875 – 1950)


   1. His childhood

George Hough Wilson, my husband’s great-grandfather, was born into a mid-Victorian middle-class family who resided on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors in England. He was born on 12 February 1875 at the vicarage of St John’s Church in Huddersfield, West Riding, Yorkshire (now West Yorkshire). George was the sixth child of Rev George Edwin Wilson (1833 – 1915) and Cecilia Wrigley (1840 – 1920).1-4 George jr. had ten brothers and sisters: Edith Cecilia (1865 – ?), Herbert Wrigley (1866 – 1940), Arthur Joseph (1868 – 1931), Lucy (1870 – 1923), Helen Mary (1871 – 1929), Hannah Spurrell (1873 – >1912), Frederick Ernest (1876 – 1955), James Bromley (1878 – 1968), Emilie Hilda (1880 – 1964) and Francis Norman “Frank” (1882 – ca 1934).1-3In his autobiography titled Gone down the years (1947), George recalled his happy childhood within a large, loving family. His father taught him and his siblings elementary mathematics, Greek, Latin and some Hebrew, as well as tennis, football and cricket. The unwavering (and for George, the unpleasant) dedication of their German governess in his nursery years also ensured the early mastering of elements of the German language and the young George spoke it as much as English. The children got along well and often conducted plays for their parents and visitors. The adventurous Wilson boys also explored surrounding villages, churches, castles, old mines and nature. They would regularly launch expeditions into the moorlands of West Riding. His older brother, Herbert had a great interest in explosives, and the boys often conducted experiments, sometimes with startling results. On one occasion, they succeeded in the complete destruction of their mother’s cherished green-house, by discharging a heavily loaded cannon within.5 The lofty tower spire of St John’s Church at Huddersfield6 where his father was the local Anglican vicar, also offered opportunities for adventurous and often hair-raising games. The 25 meter-long ladder within the gloomy, hollow spire led to the battlements of about half a meter wide, where the boys would spend much time, with the vast depth beneath and often a howling wind outside. The family spent many summer holidays in Merionethshire (now Caernarfonshire & Gwynedd) in Wales where the adventures and explorations never ceased.5

In 1890, at the age of 15, his family moved to Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England, when his father accepted the position of Vicar at the small parish of St Peter and St Paul Church. In those days bell ringing was still an integral part of English village life and one of George’s responsibilities was that of bell ringer. All the ringers would meet in the belfry to conduct the task at hand. To ring a full peal of grandsire triplets on eight bells required three hours of steady ringing and at each peal the order of the bells would change, requiring much coordination, synchronisation and calculated effort from the skilled ringers.5

Great Missenden became the first town in England to have electrical street lights, all because of the innovative initiative of the Wilson boys. The boys rigged a few electric light poles, and connected the street lighting system to the dynamo near the vicarage where they lived. It worked! …. but the conservative villagers did not appreciate the new phenomenon in their little village and the wires were cut on several occasions until the boys gave up. George jr. scribbled down various versions of their successful endeavours and submitted these notes to four different newspapers – all four his articles were published! That hooked George into journalism and he later became a successful journalist in South Africa. It certainly was a safer and more profitable career choice than the pursuit in life he had in mind at the age of five years old – that of becoming a missionary in the South Sea Islands and be devoured by cannibals!5

At the age of 11 years, George Hough won a scholarship to Oundle School in Oundle, Northamptonshire, England, about 110 km north of Great Missenden, after being educated by his father until then. He started there in January 1886 and completed his schooling in 1893.5 The school for boys was founded in 1556 by Sir William Laxton and was originally known as Laxton Grammar School. By 1876, it split into Laxton Grammar School (for local boys) and Oundle School (for boys from outside regions). By the time George attended, Oundle School had become a respectable Public English School.6 Boys were encouraged to settle their own problems and gain by experience. They were inspired to learn from each other through clubs, sport and study groups. At one point, George was captain of the rugby team.5 These new ideas were introduced by principal Frederick William Sanderson (1857 – 1922), an educational reformer of the public school system in England.5,7

Although George won a classical scholarship to Peterhouse, University of Cambridge at the age of 17 years in 1892, his father persuaded him to follow a career in journalism. This was mainly because of the financial strain his father experienced having had two sons at university already, three more younger sons that would have required formal education too, as well as having all five unmarried daughters still living at home.3

   2. His wife

George and the beautiful Sarah Ann “Sybil” Hearn met in ca 1893 and became engaged – both of them then 20 years old – before he left for South Africa in late 1895. Before his departure, George put a gold chain bracelet on her wrist with a tiny padlock and key. While remaining in Great Missenden, Sybil prepared her trousseau. She made beautiful Irish linen sheets and pillowcases, embroidered with a “W” in fine thread-work. Three years later she followed George to South Africa.3 They were married on 10 December 1898 at St Paul’s Church, Rondebosch, Cape Town, British Cape Colony (now South Africa). The church, previously known as Rondebosch (Anglican) Chapel, was consecrated in 1834.3,8,9

Sybil was born on 8 March 1875 in England and died on 14 May 1944 at Cape Town at the age of 69 years. She was the daughter of Samuel Hearn (1845 – 24 June 1904, Great Missenden) and Sarah Tilbury (15 July 1843, Little Missenden – 1928), my husband’s great-great-grandparents.  The family of Samuel’s wife owned a hardware store, called Tilbury’s, in Great Missenden.2,3,10

Samuel Hearn was a farmer and the family moved a number of times. Their first home was Depp Mill Farm at Great Missenden, then Tusmore Lodge at Watford, followed by Hawthorn Farm at Chesham and finally Road Farm at Great Missenden, where the children attended school. Although Samuel didn’t own any farms but always rented, the Hearns were a fairly prosperous family. In their house were fine china and quality furniture. They had a carriage and horses, were well-dressed – the girls wore silk dresses to church on Sundays – and the family had several employees: a washing-lady, a maid, a cook, a stable-boy and a number of farm hands. They kept pigs, cows, horses, turkeys and hens and grew apples, cherries and turnips, as well as vegetables. All the animals needed to be fed, chickens and turkeys had to be plugged and the fruit and vegetables had to be picked and taken to the market to sell. Water had to be drawn from the well and butter had to be churned. There was much to do and everyone worked hard, as nothing was mechanised.3 (On the photo of Tusmore Lodge, a horse and carriage appears with some members of the Hearn family: Samuel, Sam, Tom, Sybil and Elizabeth. Unfortunately the photo is not of the best quality.)

Tragedy struck in 1904 when Samuel Hearn set off from Road Farm with the farm cart loaded with produce for the market. At the market, scheming men lured him into the pub and plied him with drink. He was not accustomed to it, being a staunch member of the Strict Baptist Church. He was in a sorry state – one wonders if those men stole his money too – and when arriving home, clambered out of the cart on the wrong side, fell into the pond and drowned. Both Sybil’s parents were buried in the old cemetery of Prestwood (Strict) Baptist Church at Prestwood, a village about 3 km southwest of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England. Their adult children had converted to Anglicanism in 1895, when Sybil got engaged to George Hough Wilson, son of an Anglican vicar.3

Sybil had two brothers, Samuel jr. “Sam” and Thomas “Tom” and three sisters, Elizabeth “Lizzie”, May and Martha.2,3,10

  • Sam continued running Road Farm after his father’s death, together with his mother and sisters Elizabeth and May, but went bankrupt sometime after World War 1, after freak floods caused much damage to the farm fields and harvests. Thereafter Sam went to work as a gardener at a nursery.3 Sam Hearn had ten children: Reginald, Cyril, Alan, Herbert, Harold, Brenda, Blanche, Joan, Doris and Hubert.3,10
  • Tom had four sons: Tom jr., Arthur, Edward and Frederick.3,10 After his bankruptcy, Sam must have lost it for a while and started an affair with Tom’s wife which resulted in her pregnancy. Understandably, Tom had a nervous breakdown and his brother’s treason must have caused severe strain on their relationship for many years thereafter.3
  • Lizzie never married but had two illegitimate children, Margery (1910 – >1993) and John (? – 1987),2,3 with John Archer Barnes, a surveyor who had plans to go to Australia. Lizzie’s mother opposed their proposed marital match, saying that Lizzie was needed on the farm. The two had an affair instead. John Barnes eventually left for Australia, but when he returned after some time, he married his cousin instead. Lizzie’s two children were passed off as adopted, and this skeleton remained in the closet for decades. After her brother, Sam went bankrupt, Lizzie had to support herself and became a nanny to some children in the Great Missenden village.3
  • May (ca 1882 – ca 1909) was a talented artist who enjoyed painting and drawing, but sadly died at the age of 27 years.2,3,10
  • Martha (26 November 1884 – 22 March 1896) died when she was twelve years old. Both May and Martha were buried at Prestwood beside their parents.2,3,10

It is not surprising that Sybil seldom spoke about her own family, particularly while in the company of members of her conservative in-laws. She probably felt ashamed of the disgraceful behaviours of some of her own family members. Sybil herself, however, was a serene lady and dedicated mother with strong views on discipline, propriety and morality.3

   3. His career

George started his journalistic career in early 1894 at the British and South African Export Gazette, a South African monthly trade paper in London that dealt with South African affairs. By the end of 1894, he was offered a position at the African Review, a weekly newspaper, and became a staff member of Sir Rider Haggard. His salary was rather scandalous, and most days he would lunch off one orange, which he would secretly eat inside St Paul’s Cathedral. George noticed an advertisement for journalists in South Africa and he applied for the post via Mr Spencer at the Westminster Gazette. Mr Spencer told him that his prospects were very poor, but if he could come back after two months with enough knowledge of shorthand and the turf (horse racing), he would be selected. George went on and attended various race meetings which he described as “dreary occasions”. But at least he got to know “one end of the horse from the other”. He also attended Pitman’s Shorthand School, and with putting in six to eight hours of work per day acquiring shorthand skills, it became a time of “one of the hardest pieces of concentrated work that I can remember”, according to George in his autobiography. Needless to say, after a year at African Review, he joined the staff at The Cape Times at St George’s Street (now St Georges Mall walk-way) in central Cape Town, South Africa. He left England in late 1895 on the Roslin Castle,5 also known as the “Rolling Castle”, a 4300 ton passenger liner. The two-mast iron screw steamer was built in 1883 and was owned by Castle Mail Co. Ltd. at that point.11,12 George arrived in Table Bay at Cape Town on 2 January 1896.  The town was buzzing with excitement, but not because of the arrival of the Roslin Castle. On that very day, the news broke of the ill-fated Jameson Raid that just took place in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) (South African Republic) up in the north.5,13 This disastrous event was a provoking factor towards the South African War (Second Anglo-Boer War) of 1899 to 1902.13

When George joined The Cape Times, the paper was 20 years old. It was founded in 1876 by Editor Frederick York St Leger. The first edition (Vol 1 No 1) was published on 27 March 1876. The English-language paper was the first daily morning newspaper in South Africa and became known for its honest and fearless reporting, with a specific focus on exposing corruption, irregularities and mismanagement in suburban municipalities and in the early local government. Its primary market was the poor working class.5,14

George was attached to the parliamentary staff of The Cape Times. He started at the paper in January 1896 under the dynamic Editor Fydell Edmund Garret 1863 – 1907) until 1901 when Garrett retired due to his collapsing health. After about three years at the newspaper, the paper column Notes in the House was delegated to George. Garrett’s position was filled Saxon Mills, a rather unpopular editor who was sacked upon the arrival of Maitland Hall Park (1862-1921), who became the editor from 1902 to 1921. George himself remained attached to the paper for 52 years,5 becoming Assistant Editor under Maitland Park, later Acting Editor when Maitland Park took ill and died, and finally Editor of The Cape Times from 1935 to 1945.15 Even after his retirement, George Wilson continued as Consulting Editor until shortly before his death in 1950.5

Because it was a morning paper, George regularly worked until midnight, then returned home to read until 3 am or 4 am, then often went out in the morning to do research in the Archives and be at the office at noon. In his spare time, he and a great friend and colleague, George Green, jointly edited a satirical weekly journal, called The Owl, in which they made fun at the British Government’s handling of South African affairs but equally also poked fun at the anti-war, pro-Boer faction.3

Over time, his position as political correspondent and later editor of a newspaper brought George Wilson in close and often prolonged contact with all government Ministers and prominent Opposition Ministers of the British Cape Colony and in later years, the Union of South Africa. Reading George Wilson’s autobiography, one realises that these men were but ordinary human beings, with flaws and eccentricities that are rarely portrayed in history books.3,5,16-22 Another, rather infamous politician figure in the history of Italy that George Wilson unexpectedly interacted with in 1924 was none other than Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, who at that time, was the owner and writer of Il Popolo, a Fascist newspaper. He was also organising the Blackshirts, the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party. On a visit to Milan in Italy, George was in the office of The Times newspaper when none other than Mussolini “dashed into his office in a state of intense excitement”. Mussolini was very interested to hear that George came from Africa, remarking “I have always taken a deep interest in Africa”.5 Mussolini later went on to translate his interest to action when he invaded Tunisia and Egypt during World War 2 (1939 – 1945).13

At one point George Wilson was also delegated to accompany the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on his tour of South Africa in 1925.5 George and his family lived in an exciting yet tumultuous time in South Africa’s history. Soon after the Jamison Raid, war was declared between Britain and the two independent Boer Republics, the ZAR (also known as the Transvaal) and the Oranje Vrystaat (Orange Free State). After three years, the Boers (Afrikaans for ‘farmers’) were defeated, a peace treaty was signed and nine years later the four British states received Dominion status within the British Empire, when the unification of the states (Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and Cape of Good Hope) was finally formalized in 1910 into the semi-independent Union of South Africa that allowed for self-governance. The early 1900s also saw the rise of Afrikaner Nationalism, which had a momentous impact on the history of South Africa in the 20th century.13 READ MORE on the history of South Africa.

George Wilson and Jan Smuts (Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, 1919 – 1924 and 1939 – 1948), however, formed a bond much deeper than simply professional and they became very close friends. When George travelled up north in the Union for business, he would often be a guest of the Smuts family on their farm, Doornkloof at Irene, Pretoria, Transvaal. On one such an occasion, in 1936, George again stayed over at Smuts House, also known as Die Sink Paleis (The Tin Palace). George was allocated the guestroom known as Die Donkerkamer (The Dark Room). He awoke early one morning to vividly seeing the apparition of a man, who to his mind at the time looked somewhat like President Paul Kruger, the last president of the ZAR. As he stretched his hand out to greet the spectre, it vanished. Smuts’s wife, affectionately known as “Ouma Isie”, scolded Wilson for not asking the ghost where the gold treasure was buried on their farm – not the legendary Kruger Millions though, but the 30 000 pounds worth of gold that the former farm owner, Alois Nellmapius, allegedly had buried. Ouma Smuts had herself seen the apparition, and from Wilson’s description, she immediately knew it had to be Nellmapius, at which point she told her husband, Jan Smuts, that they now had confirmation that there was indeed a ghost present in Die Donkerkamer.5,23,24 Nowadays, visitors to the Smuts House Museum are still entertained with stories of Nellmapius’s ghost ….. and if you stand very still in Die Donkerkamer and remain very quiet, you may actually feel him brush past you! Well now, that’s if you believe in this kind of paranormal phenomenon.

Among the famous guests whom the Smuts family entertained in their home were the British Royal Family, who visited them at Doornkloof while on the Royal Tour in 1947.25 In the same year, George completed his autobiography Gone down the years. The foreword in the book was written by Jan Smuts, describing George Wilson “a lifelong and deeply cherished friend of mine”.5

George Hough Wilson was described in a tribute by Victor Norton, his successor as Editor of the Cape Times, as follows: “He had a fine and well-trained mind, but there was something more, a sort of mental fire, a tireless intellectual force, a restless energy to which there was no limit.”3

   4. His personal life

St Olaves at Belveredere Avenue, Oranjezicht, lying against the lower slopes of Table Mountain, was the first house that the young married couple rented. They lived there for 11 years – the first five children were born during this time, although Helen was born in 1906 in London, England while her parents were visiting family. The house was walking distance from the city centre and the Cape Times newspaper office. This is perhaps the reason that George didn’t own a car, but had a chauffeur, called Johnson, that would drive them around from time to time.3,5

In ca 1910, the Wilsons moved to a house they bought in the suburb of Tamboerskloof in Cape Town. Over weekends the family would take long, leisurely walks up or round Table Mountain, or over Kloof Nek and down to Camps Bay. In 1914, George and his eldest son, Herbert left for England to attend the golden anniversary of George’s parents, but arrived one day too late due to the onset of the First World War that caused delays. Herbert stayed behind to continue his schooling at Oundle in England.3

In 1920, they moved to Woodward, a stylish house on a large yard in Devonshire Hill Road, Rondebosch, Cape Town. The house was filled with stinkwood furniture, Persian and Turkish carpets and antiques, carefully collected by Sybil, and was the first house in Rondebosch that had a water-borne sewerage system installed, that replaced the out-door bucket toilet. The property had a large and lovely garden with benches tucked away, an oak tree in the bottom part of the yard, a thatched summer house, a lily pond in the centre of a circular front lawn and a tennis court. Sybil enjoyed gardening, particularly in later years when her worsening deafness isolated her from the rest of the world. George was a formidable and keen tennis player, even into his seventies. The property was sold for 9 000 pounds, after George had passed away.3

In his younger years, George Wilson was a member of the Suicide Riding Brigade, a horse-riding club in Cape Town that would often ride and even race on the open Cape Flats. He also enjoyed climbing Table Mountain and did so numerous times over the years, something that Jan Smuts also enjoyed doing.5 George had an excellent memory, a delightful sense of humour and was a great story-teller. He loved playing games such as cards (bridge) and chess, and doing cross-word puzzles. He was a avid reader and and an enthusiastic collector of the Africana book series. George also liked music and had a good voice, and the family would often sing songs together. In 1932 at the age of 57 years, George bought his first car and, with the youngest unmarried children, undertook their first major holiday to Durban, via Pondoland (formally Transkei, now Eastern Cape Province) and Knysna. George seemed to have been a good grandfather too, as he would entertain his grandchildren with games, stories and silly rhymes.3

George and his wife regularly visited family in England, and then extended their tour to Italy, for which they had a special affinity. On one of these trips in Italy, George met an old nun on a train and they fell into conversation. Because of his lack of knowledge of the Italian language, and hers of English, they started conversing in Latin, a language George was fluent in having been tutored by his father. Eventually the nun remarked that only once before did she actually conversed with anyone before in Latin and that was 30 years ago. Interestingly enough, it was also with an Englishman who was a clergyman, called Rev George Wilson …. George Hough Wilson’s father!!3

   5. His death

George Hough Wilson died at the Tamboerskloof Nursing Home at the age of 75 years on 14 May 1950 at Cape Town, Union of South Africa.3,26 At the time of his death, he resided at Woodward, Rondebosch, Cape Town. He was buried at Maitland Cemetery No1. George died of bladder cancer that was diagnosed nine months earlier, although he had also suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema, diagnosed seven years before his death.26

6. His children

George and Sybil Wilson had six children, but sadly one was stillborn. Their other children were George Herbert Wrigley (1900 – 1994), Arthur Norman (1903 – 1990), Helen Cecilia (1906 – 1992), Basil Wrigley (1909 – 1996) and Hilda Watney (1912 – 2012).1-3,10 All their children, except Helen, were born in Cape Town and were christened at St George’s Church (now referred to as Old St George’s Church) in the city centre.2-4,10St George’s Church was designed by architect John Skirrow. It was the first Anglican Church building in South Africa for the already existing Anglican Church community in Cape Town.  Initially they met at the Castle of Good Hope and later at the Groote Kerk, the meeting place of the Cape Town Dutch Reformed Church and a hospitality that was offered by the Cape Dutch congregation to fellow English-speaking Christian believers. The foundation stone of St George’s Church was laid on 23 April 1830 on a site donated by the colonial government, at the lower end of the Dutch East India Company’s Gardens and the upper end of St George’s Street (now St Georges Mall walk-way). The building formally opened its doors on 21 December 1834. Until Bishop Robert Gray arrived in his newly-created diocese in 1848, the Anglican church services were conducted by military chaplains. The old church building was finally demolished in 1954. In its place on the same site was already being built the St George’s Cathedral (officially known as the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr), which was the vision of Bishop Gray who desired a more spectacular Anglican Church building …. nothing less than a cathedral would do! It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and the corner stone of the oldest cathedral in Southern Africa was finally laid on 22 August 1901. Thereafter worked continued slowly, in phases, and with many stops-and-starts in between. After three wars, depressions and recessions, the St George’s Cathedral is still a work in progress to this day. It was formally opened in 1978.27-296.1  George Herbert Wrigley

Herbert was born on 10 April 1900 at Cape Town and christened on 11 June 1900 at St George Church in St George’s Street, Cape Town. Witnesses at the ceremony were Lulu Elizabeth Stephens, George Alfred Lawrence Green and his uncle and godfather, Herbert Wrigley Wilson from England.30

At the age of almost 14 years, just as World War 1 broke out, he left for England to continue his schooling at Oundle School, his father’s alma mater. His uncle, Herbert sponsored his four years there.3 At the age of 17 years and 10 months – straight out of school – Herbert joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 30 January 1918. Soon thereafter he started his pilot training.31 On 1 April 1918, however, the RFC and Royal Naval Air Services (RNAS) merged to give rise to the Royal Air Force (RAF), an unified British Air Force that was independent of both the British Army and the British Navy.32 Herbert became officially attached to the RAF on 14 April 1918.31 His flight training text book and technical notes, a personal note book, training transfer card, flight log book and a photo album with photos taken between August 1918 and May 1919, are in possession of his great-grandnephew Kevin Jamison who presently lives in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa.

Pressure was mounting for pilots to train as quickly as possible due to the demand for qualified fighter pilots at the height of the war. Training included theoretical classes, practical training with an instructor in various types of air craft and solo flights which included take-offs and landings. Safety procedures and regulations, however were as not as well developed as we have today. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was more like learning how to ride a bike – you ride, you fall off, you get back on and try again. One photo below (at the bottom left) shows one of Herbert’s less successful solo landings on 20 September 1918. Luckily he was unhurt ….. the plane was less fortunate. Herbert, however, never had the opportunity to engage in air-to-air combat with the enemy as the war ended on 11 November 1918. He remained attached to the RAF until 1919, before he returned to South Africa.31

By 1930, Herbert was already farming with sheep and cattle near Lady Grey, a rural village tucked away in the valley below the majestic Witte Mountains in the north-eastern Cape, where he eventually farmed for more than 50 years. At the age of almost 50 years, he married Joey Friedrichs (? – 1950) on 4 June 1949 in Aliwal North, but sadly she died one year later.1,2,10 Herbert remarried on 7 February 1953 to Isabella Aletta “Isabel” Liebenberg (2 October 1911 – 7 June 1999, Lady Grey).10,33,34

Herbert finally retired from farming at the age of 88 years in April 1989 when he sold the farm. His son in law, Eric Fincham, continued to lease the farm but Herbert and Isabel went to live in  town.The Wilsons must have been prominent or well-known members in the the community, because when Herbert turned 90, the mayoress of Lady Grey baked him a chocolate cake and a savoury tart for his birthday.35 He died four years later on 18 December 1994 of age-related heart failure. His widow died five years later of multiple organ failure.33,34

6.2 A baby

In 1902, George and Sybil had their second child, but sadly the baby was stillborn.3 It is not known whether it was a boy or a girl.

6.3  Arthur Norman

Their third child, Arthur was born on 27 December 1903 at Cape Town.3,10,36 He was christened on 12 February 1904 at St George’s Church. Witnesses at the ceremony were Lilian Crowhurst, John Henry Talbot (by proxy) and his uncle Arthur Joseph Wilson in England (by proxy).36

He married Carina Perle Tozen (10 March 1904 – 1991) on 21 April 1928. The couple resided in Johannesburg. They had two sons, Basil Trevor (29 July 1929 – 27 September 2012) and Christopher George “Chris” (*25 September 1934). Arthur Wilson was a journalist and author and during World War 2, he acted as an Advisor to Gen. Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa while serving as Minister of Information in the South African government. Arthur later became the Publicity Director of Anglo-American plc., a British multinational mining company with business interests in South Africa. He died of liver and renal failure at the age of 87 years on 7 February 1990 at Bryanston, Randburg, Transvaal, South Africa.1-3,10,37-396.4  Helen Cecilia

Helen was born on 22 November 1906 at Pinner, Middlesex, London, England.2,3,10 She was christened in the dining room of the vicarage at Great Missenden by her grandfather, Rev. George Erwin Wilson, who used a silver fruit basket, as it was snowing and too cold to go to the church. On one of her parents’ trips to England when Helen was about 15 years old, they bought her a beautiful cello, at a hefty price of 50 pounds. The label inside said ” Jacob Raymann at ye Bellyard, Southwark, London, 1652″. Helen went on to study piano, cello and singing at the College of Music at the University of Cape Town. For many years she played the cello in the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and in many other chamber groups. Helen owned and played on this cello for 65 years until the age of 81 years, when her fingers were becoming to stiff to play well. It was sold in England in 1987 by Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art, jewelry, real estate, and collectibles.3

Helen married the journalist, John William “Jack” Patten (1 October 1906 – 22 May 1973) on 20 January 1934.3,10,40 Jack  grew up in a small town called Aliwal North in the eastern Cape where he went to school. There was not enough money for him to go to university and he got a job as a journalist at the local Aliwal Newspaper which proved to be in bad shape. He quickly found that he had to run the paper! After a brief stint at the local paper, Jack broadened his horizon and applied for a job at a Johannesburg newspaper, The Star. He was made their Parliamentary Correspondent, which meant that for six months each year he had to go to Cape Town to report on Parliament. It was there in Cape Town that he met Helen Wilson and they got married. The other half year they went back to Johannesburg to The Star, where Jack was to spend his entire career eventually becoming editor.40

Back in Johannesburg the Pattens first lived on the outskirts in Florida, but then bought a large property – four acres – with a tennis-court in Waverley, Johannesburg, very close to Helen’s brother, Arthur. The house was quite old and quite small with only two bedrooms which proved a bit difficult as their family increased, for they then already had four children. It was war time and so extensions to the house were then illegal, but in 1945 when the war ended they were able to build on two extra bedrooms and a bathroom attached to their bedroom with another one for the children. Later they were able to make other alterations adding on another bedroom, so that each of their family had a room of their own. They also altered the kitchen and enlarged the sitting-room and added on another veranda out of the  sitting room with a raised terrace below it. They were also able to build a swimming-pool and made a large cricket field for the boys. There was a two room cottage in the garden which proved excellent accommodation for their servants, the cook, Leah, and the gardener, Solomon, who both worked for us for many years. When the children were small there was also a nanny.40

By the early 1960s the Pattens moved to Pretoria where Jack Patten was appointed Editor of the newspaper called The Pretoria News, a position he held for two years. Thereafter he returned to The Star as the preferred Editor, a position he held until his retirement.40  Eventually, when he retired the couple relocated to Fish Hoek, a small, peaceful coastal town about 40 km south of Cape Town, where they bought a property on the mountainside below Elsie’s Peak with a beautiful view down to the beach of drifted sand with the railway plat-form running alongside it and right across False Bay to the mountains beyond. They built a house and resided there until Jack Patten passed away in 1973. Thereafter Helen moved to retirement home.1,2,10,15,40,41 Helen died of myocardial infarction at the age of 86 years on 30 October 1992 at Rondebosch, Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope Province, South Africa.42

Jack and Helen Patten had four children: Margaret Anne (*9 January 1935, Cape Town), John Michael (*10 February 1937), Anthony Robert “Tony” (5 September 1940 – 28 November 2009) and Timothy James “Tim” (17 November 1942 – 1 December 2011).1-3,10,40,43,44 Margaret went to St. Mary’s School in Waverley, Johannesburg while the boys completed their schooling at King Edward’s School for Boys. Margaret, John and Anthony studied further at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, while Tim went to the University of Cape Town. Both John and Tim became journalists like their father.40 John got a job at the Natal Mercury, a daily newspaper based in Durban, Natal (now Kwazulu-Natal), and later at the Cape Times.1,2,40 Tony joined the U.N.D.P. (United Nations Development Programme) and was sent abroad to several different countries, including Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) , Tanzania, Cyprus, Thailand and Western Samoa, which was his last post. In between all these, he also worked for some time at the Head Office in New York City in the United States of America.40Margaret obtained a B.A. degree and then a post-graduate diploma at the Johannesburg College of Education, majoring in English Literature and History. She was a teacher in Johannesburg for a short while before moving to the UK where she taught in Tottenham in the northern part of London. In the evenings and weekends she and a friend very often went to the theatre. After three years, she decided to return to South Africa. On the sea voyage to Cape Town, she met her future husband, Stephen Muir (*10 November 1931) who had been on leave from his job as District Officer at the British Colonial Services in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He lost little time in getting to know Margaret and asked her to marry him.39 A year later on 17 April 1961 they were married in Pretoria, where her parents resided at that time.3,10,15,39 After their marriage, the young couple went back to Tanganyika. As a district officer Jack Patten had to spend about ten days every month out on safari, visiting different villages in his district, discussing problems with the village chief, collecting taxes, building dams or roads, inspecting schools and prisons and sorting out other problems. His wife often accompanied him. The year 1961 was also the year of Independence and it was Jack’s District Commissioner who suggested that the name should be changed to include Zanzibar and so the country was renamed Tanzania. They left after the independence celebrations were over, went briefly to visit Margaret’s family in South Africa and then went to England where Stephen joined the British Foreign Office. As British Diplomat his first posting abroad was to Singapore. Stephen then volunteered to learn Arabic and were sent for a year to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The next year they went to Lebanon where the Foreign Office had set up a school for teaching Arabic in a mountain village called Shemlan. It was a lovely village and villagers were friendly. They much enjoyed exploring the country, though it was a very demanding course for Stephen. Margaret got a teaching job down in Beirut and used to drive down the mountain each day. Their next posting was to Kuwait, after which we had two other non-Middle Eastern postings – Indonesia and Zambia – and finally, back to Bahrain, before returning again to the house they had also bought in 1970 close to the Thames and Richmond Park, a very large park with deer in it, in Richmond, an outer suburb of London.40

After Margaret’s mother moved to a retirement home, Margaret and Stephen bought her parents’ house in Fish Hoek, and spend three months each year in this house.15,40 Margaret recalls “the moulded dunes, whiter than any snow that no longer roll up to the brown and purple valley of splintered rocks and dry scrub as they did then and in my early childhood, having been flattened to build houses, but the fishermen still haul their nets beside their boats and at either horn of the bay the railway line cut just above high-water mark does still run round a shoulder of piled rocks, and disappear”.15 Helen’s cousin, Tony Jamison and his family, remember the many pleasant holidays they spent at Fish Hoek with Aunt Helen, while staying in the flat attached to her house.45 Eventually, and rather sadly, the Muirs sold the house when they were no longer to able to travel themselves. Presently Margaret and Stephen still reside in their Richmond house.40

6.5  Basil Wrigley

Basil was born on 16 June 1909 at Belvedere Avenue, Cape Town. He was christened on 7 September 1909 at St George’s Church. Witnesses at the ceremony were Basil Kellett Long (1878 – 1944; journalist, author and at one point Editor of the Cape Times), Charles McGowan Kitching (by proxy) (ca1864 – 1916; medical doctor and possibly a family friend) and Ethel Louisa McPherson (1869 – 1962; journalist and possibly a work colleague).46-49He was profoundly deaf (100 % in one ear and a lot in the other ear) as a result of falling off the staircase in their house while sliding down the bannisters as a child and hitting his head. His deafness made communication difficult at times, but it never held him back in having a full life. His gift for engineering manifested at an early age when he built his own hearing aid into his school suitcase.10 He completed his  B Sc Hons degree in Civil Engineering in 1931 at the University of Cape Town. From 1932 to 1952, he worked for South Africa Railways & Harbours. During this time in 1939, he completed his M Sc degree in railway engineering at the University of Illinois, United States of America (USA). While studying in Illinois, he met Elizabeth Mary “Betty/Beth” Davenport. They wed in February 1941 in Cape Town. 4,50 In 1951, Basil completed his D Sc degree at the University of Cape Town. His thesis focused on the control and reduction of surging in the harbour with engineering application in Table Bay, Cape Town.50,51

Basil and his family immigrated to the USA in 1952, receiving citizenship in 1956. There he worked as a coastal and oceanographic engineer and made significant and pioneering contributions to surging in harbours, ship motion, mooring technology and tsunami hazards. He also consulted widely and assisted with harbour designs such as the Harbour of Cape Town (in the early 1960s), Walvisbaai in South West Africa (now Namibia) and other places in the world. He was known for his professionalism, dedication, thoroughness, high standard of work and innovative problem-solving skills.50

Basil loved bird watching, photography, writing poems and touring the world. He was also a nature lover and skilled artist who specialised in wildlife paintings. Many of his paintings were used for the State of California postal stamps. He also wrote and illustrated two poetic children’s books. Dr Basil Wrigley Wilson died on 9 February 1996 at Pasadena in California, USA at the age of 86 years.2,50

Together Basil and Betty had four children, namely Mary Douglas (*24 April 1942, who married Robert “Bob” Holmström), Richard Lyman (*23 April 1944), Gerald Hearn (*2 April 1946) and Derek Wrigley (5 November 1949 – 6 January 2012).10,50,52,53

6.6  Hilda Watney

The youngest child, Hilda was born on 6 January 1912 at Cape Town and was christened on 7 March 1912 at St George’s Church.54 She became my husband’s grandmother. She lived to the ripe old age of 100 years and two months. READ MORE on Hilda and her husband, Robin Ralph Jamison.



REFERENCE 3 & 40: The outstanding research work of Margaret Muir of England (granddaughter of George and Sybil Wilson) requires special acknowledgement. Without her intensive research, collection of photos and documentation of facts as well as anecdotes over many years, a significant and invaluable portion of the history of the Wilson family would have been lost. Much gratitude is due to Margaret Muir for graciously granting permission to use her work as reference material for the purpose of this website. Thank you also for the ongoing support and for sending additional family information.


  1. George Edwin Wilson.
  2. Jamison Family Tree Website by Rob Jamison.
  3. Muir, M. 1994 The Wilson Family Album. Copy made available in March 2018 by Bob Hölstrom of Portland, Oregon, USA, with permission granted by Margaret Muir
  4. Photos in possession of Tony Jamison, Randfontein, Gauteng, South Africa, grandson of George and Sybil Wilson
  5. Wilson, G.H. 1947 Gone down the years. Howard B. Timmins Monarch House: Cape Town
  6. St John’s Church, St John’s Road, Huddersfield.’s_Church,_St._John’s_Road,_Huddersfield
  7. Oundle School.
  8. George Hough Wilson.
  9. St Paul’s Church, Rondebosch.
  10. Family tree notes by Jean Jamison, made available by Katie Taylor of Germany, October 2017.
  11. Roslin Castle.
  12. Screw steamer Roslin Castle.
  13. Reader’s Digest. 1989 Illustrated history of South Africa. The real story. 2nd Ed. The Reader’s Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Limited : Cape Town
  14. Cape Times.
  15. Kipling’s letters to Maitland Park. 2009 The Kipling Journal, Vol 83, no 331. Kipling Society: London.
  16. Photos of Leaders Past to Present. National Archives & Records Service of South Africa. Department of Arts and Culture. Republic of South Africa.
  17. Cecil John Rhodes.
  18. Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner.,_1st_Viscount_Milner
  19. Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr (Onze Jan).
  20. John X. Merriman.
  21. Louis Botha.
  22. Jan Smuts.
  23. Smuts House. Home of General Jan Smuts, 1910 – 1950.
  24. Smuts House Museum (Irene).
  25. Munro, K. 26 October 2016. Rediscovering the 1947 Royal visit to South Africa.
  26. Death notice of George Hough Wilson. South Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths, 1895-1972, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 June 2016), George Hough Wilson, 14 May 1950, Cape Town, Cape Province, South Africa; citing National Archives, Pretoria; FHL microfilm 1,795,815
  27. St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town.
  28. St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town.’s_Cathedral,_Cape_Town
  29. St Georges Street, Cape Town, circa 1894. Islandora Repository, Photographic Collections, Independent Newspapers Archive.
  30. Christening of George Herbert Wrigley Wilson. South Africa, Church of the Province of South Africa, Parish Registers, 1801-2004, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 6
  31. Royal Air Force Flight Training text book and technical notes, a personal note book, training transfer card, flight log book and a photo album of George Herbert Wrigley Wilson. 1918 -1919. In possession of Kevin Jamison, Pretoria, South Africa
  32. Royal Air Force.
  33. Record of marriage and death of George Herbert Wrigley Wilson.
  34. Record of birth, marriage and death of Isabella Aletta Wilson (née Liebenberg).
  35. Letter by Herbert Wilson to his sister, Hilda Jamison, dated 27 April 1990
  36. Arthur Norman Wilson. South Africa, Church of the Province of South Africa, Parish Registers, 1801-2004,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 6 November 2014), George Hough Wilson in entry for Arthur Norman, 12 Feb 1904; citing Baptism, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, p. 111, William Cullen Library, Wits University, Johannesburg.
  37. Record of marriage and death of Arthur Norman Wilson.
  38. Record of death of Basil Trevor Wilson.
  39. Information and photos received on 17 January 2021 from Giles Wilson of England, grandson of George Hough Wilson and Sarah Hearn
  40. Additional information received on 21 November 2020 from Margaret Muir of Richmond, London, England, the granddaughter of George Hough Wilson
  41. Neptune’s Rest.
  42. Death record of Helen Cecilia Wilson.
  43. Record of death of Anthony Robert Patten.
  44. Record of birth, marriage and death of Timothy James Patten.
  45. Interview in Pretoria on 23 May 2017 with Kevin Jamison, great-grandson of George Hough Wilson
  46. Christening of Basil Wrigley Wilson. South Africa, Church of the Province of South Africa, Parish Registers, 1801-2004, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 6 November 2014), George Hough Wilson in entry for Basil Wrigley, 07 Sep 1909; citing Baptism, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, p. 222, William Cullen Library, Wits University, Johannesburg.
  47. Author: Basil Kellett Long.
  48. Grave of Charles McGowan Kitching, Cape Town, Maitland (Woltemade Cemetery).
  49. Death certificate of Ethel Louisa McPherson. South Africa, Civil Death Registration, 1955-1966,” database, FamilySearch ( : 21 November 2022), > image 1 of 1; National Archives, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.
  50. Saville, T. 2001 Basil Wrigley Wilson. Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering. Vol 9, p 286-291.
  51. Wilson, B.W. 1951 Ship response to range action in harbour basins. Copy of published article in possession of Tony Jamison, Randfontein, Gauteng, South Africa
  52. Information received in February 2018 from Bob and Mary Holmström (daughter of Basil Wrigley Wilson) of Portland, Oregon, United States of America
  53. Information and photos received on 18 August 2020 from Giles Wilson of England, nephew of George Hough Wilson
  54. Christening of Hilda Watney Wilson. South Africa, Church of the Province of South Africa, Parish Registers, 1801-2004, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 6 November 2014), George Hough Wilson in entry for Hilda Watney, 07 Mar 1912; citing Baptism, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, p. 262, William Cullen Library, Wits University, Johannesburg