I mentioned that I visited Evelyn House in Richmond in a previous post, see Elizabeth Robb’s Memories. I was loaned a little booklet giving some detail of the Sparks Family by Mrs Maureen Stoute, a descendant and Evelyn House resident, who gave me permission to put the notes up on FAD.
The main body of the the booklet is a long family tree which I did not put up but what I did was extract the parts that are relevant to Durban namely the area we know today as Sparks Estate. It is a short memoir. There are very few pictures and I include the best ones. The little booklet is undated as to when it was written.
THE SPARKS SETTLERS
David Gifford N. Sparks
From records to hand the first Sparks family to land in South Africa came out with the 1820 Settlers – they sailed with Sephton’s Party in the ship “Aurora” .
Henry Sparks and his wife Mary, sailed out to this country in the year 1817 when he was 30 years old. They landed at Angola Bay Cape then made their way up to Grahamstown.
Details of the family are as follows:
Henry Sparks (1787) died 1871, 84 years of age
spouse Mary (1780) died 1859, 79 years of age
The family details are as follows:
Mary Jane Sparks (1838) spouse Thomas Ikin Cockcraft (1857)
Henry George Tufslar Sparks (1840) spouse Margaret Manly (1865) died 1837
Sarah Elizabeth Sparks (1842) spouse Charles Callaghan
Martha Ann Sparks (1844) spise James Temblett Hockey
John Benjamin Knott Sparks (1847)
The second family of Sparks to sail out to South Africa were two brothers Thomas Sparks and David Sparks.
Thomas Sparks (1826) landed at Port Elizabeth, Cape Province in 1850.
David Sparks (1828) landed at Durban, Natal in 1850.
HISTORY OF A PIONEER DURBAN FAMILY
In January, 1850, David Sparks arrived at Port Natal in the good ship Ballengeich, after a voyage that had lasted the traditional three to four months. He was then about 20 years old, very energetic, and determined to make his way in the new country. It was not long before he got to work. The pay was small but food was cheap and he managed very well.
The wreck of the Minerva had an important part in his life. Among the passengers were Mr Thomas Walsh, Mr and Mrs William Walsh, and their sister, Miss Walsh, a pretty delicate girl, who had been sent on the voyage for her. health. She was t6 remain a year in Natal and then return home to Stockport, near Manchester, where her father was a medical man.
But young David Sparks and pretty Miss Elizabeth Walsh met and she did not go back to England, but founded one of Natal’s best-known families when she and David were married. Archdeacon Lloyd married them and as there was no wedding ring to be bought in the tiny town, Mrs Lloyd lent her ring. The wedding ring was a much married one, as it had been used for the same purpose many times until a jeweller or merchant decided there would be profit in stocking the like golden symbols of eternity.
Young Mr and Mrs David Sparks settled in the area now known as Sydenham. A portion of Brickfields Estate had been bought by him from Joseph Cato, and here two wattle and daub rondawels were built with the kitchen – a-lean-to-shelter – 10 or 12 yards away. Often at night Mrs Sparks was unable to get to the kitchen through leopards prowling around hungrily looking for tasty morsel of dog, cat or hen. The country was wild and heavy forests covered the Berea ridges through which wound a narrow track down to the township and the point.
Land was leased on Springfield Flats from Milner and Tyrell who owned the estate. A syndicate built a small sugar mill known as Potter’s Mill on a site at the foot of the first inland ridge from the Berea. David Sparks grew sugar cane and was doing quite well when the flood of 1856, which put the whole countryside under water between the Berea and Umhlanga, washed away the cane and put the mill three feet under water.
For months after that flood housewives were unable to buy so much as a pound of flour. The sailing ships failed to arrive at regular intervals, and the whole population lived on mealie-meal, beef bread, venison and such vegetables as they could grow in their gardens. Baboons and monkeys often spoiled or stole fruit and pumpkins and mealies while they were ripening.
Hippos were shot on Flats because of the damage they did to the young crops. Adventures with wild beasts and snakes were common place incidents in their daily lives. But for many years David Sparks never forgot one adventure. He came in very tired from his “fields and flung himself down onto the floor of the rondavel with his head on a hassock. His wife moved the candle to see if he was asleep and saw a nine-foot mamba coiled around his neck with it’s head only six inches away from his face. She called desperately: ” Wake up, David, wake up, but don’t move!” He woke, saw the snake and kept perfectly still. Then the mamba slowly uncoiled itself and glided to a comer of the rondavel where it was shot. Many years afterwards David Sparks could still feel the pressure of the snakes coil’s around his throat.
A fight with badgers
His native name of Insels was given after a fight with two badgers. David heard a terrific commotion in the fowl house and went out to investigate, taking with him his muzzle-loading blunderbuss. The badgers were robbing the hen-roost in wholesale style, so he pressed the trigger, but the gun misfired. The animals turned on him, clawing at his legs and clothes until these were in shreds while he broke the wooden butt of the gun over them and then beat them off with the steel barrels. He did kill them but paid the price with two months of illness from blood poisoning.
From the two rondavels Mr and Mrs Sparks moved into a house of six rooms built of wattle and daub and thatched roof in the best colonial style. This was luxury compared to the previous home and here Harry Sparks was born on March 3, 1854. After this a bigger house was built, David cut up a portion of the land he had bought from Joseph Cato and sold it in lots of two to five acres for building purposes. Many names still well known in Natal and around Durban were borne by the pioneers who settled in the wilderness, farming on leased land in the Springfield Estate and cultivating their own plots around their homes. Among these were Messrs Phillips, Spearman, Kinsman, Seager, Harvey, Churchhill, Tyrrell, Louch, Keal, Bell, Watson, Ingram, Hirst, Mc Corkindale, Stevens, Baker, Carter, Wilson, Clarence, Plowright, Seymour, Midgley, Kenworthy, Phipps, Hindle, Murdoch, Fernie and Adams. No descendants of these hardy folks live in Sydenham now, except Colonel Harry Sparks. They have scattered far and wide, and in some cases have left the country.
A House warming.
Some years after the selling of the plots David Sparks built himself a seven-roomed brick house with a slate roof – a home then thought to be one of the best and up-todate in the Colony. When the house was finished being built a housewarming party was held. People came from all parts of Natal, in carts, on horseback and ox-wagons to camp out in the grounds around the house. That huge picnic lasted a whole week, everyone being in the highest spirits, taking part in the games and dancing and feasting that marked the entertainment. The David Sparks’s housewarming party was remembered for years. That was more than seventy years ago. It was at this festival that Sydenham got it’s name. Old George Spearman suggested three names: Sparksville, Parkville and Sydenham. David Sparks chose the name Sydenham, and the homestead was called Sydenham House.
Any improvements in the district were undertaken by the residents without Government help, and paid for by them. It brought the little community into close touch with each other when any big matter had to be tackled, such as the building of the village school. David Sparks gave two or three acres of land and the school was erected by the residents. The first schoolmaster was Mr Adams and everyone from the biggest children to the tiniest who could scarcely walk went to school. Mr Adams was succeeded by Mr Baker until years afterwards when a school board was appointed.
A communal effort.
Sydenham Hall was also a communal effort. David Sparks donated the site and the bricks. Mr Louch supplied the galvanised iron for the roof, and the other residents found the money for the woodwork and the erection expenses. When the hall was finished, Sydenham became one of the most noted places in the Colony for entertainments, which included concerts and spelling bees. The late Harry Escombe took a leading part in these, Mrs Johnston of Waterloo Estate on the North Coast was a much appreciated performer; also Mr Lamport of Merebank, F.W. Louch, William Hartley and others who have passed on.
The first Congregational Church of Europeans at Sydenham was no bigger than 20 feet by 16 feet. It was built on the site given by the late Ralph Clarence, Senior of Clare Estate, and was a branch of the Smith Street Congregational Church of which the Rev. A. Mann was minister Once a month a good man known as “Father” Lennox walked out from Durban to take the service held in the church, which with the Sydenham Congregational Church cemetery, was in a lovely place. The Valley of a Thousand Hills could be seen from there as well as the winding Umgeni river, like a silver ribbon twisted around the cane fields. But the villagers did not think it a beautiful sight when they passed a bush full of baboons carrying the pumpkins stolen from their gardens.
The first minister of Sydenham Congregational Church was the Rev. John Fernie, who at the time was unmarried. He was assisted by “Father” Lennox. The Rev. J. Fernie returned to England where he married and eventually came out again to Natal with his wife to take charge of the new church at Sydenham.
Most of the residents of the district were farmers, planting their crops on land leased from the Springfield Estate. Before the flood of 1856, the Springfield farmers were annoyed constantly by hippos damaging their crops. At that time there were many little lakes on the flats, each with reedy shores and shaded by water-loving palms. Here were homes for the hippos but several were shot by irated planters. The flood however, silted up these lakes and either buried the reeds under the sand or washed them out altogether, .leaving the whole flat without shelter or comfort for the hippos. These beasts went back across the Umgeni to Sea Cow Lake, where they occasionally raided the gardens over the river when crops once again grew there.
It was during these same floods that Mr Fell and his servants were rescued by boat from the huge tree in which they had taken refuge. The Fells, who were growing arrowroot, lived near the Buttery family. The boat was brought from Durban by wagon. Rowing against the current was really hard work and it was somewhat unnerving to see the water filled with buck, snakes, Native huts and pumpkins-all being washed out to sea
As many as seventeen crocodiles at one time were seen sunning themselves on the Umgeni banks It was not safe even to wash one’s hands in the river, as Mr Grix discovered at the cost of an arm . He leaned down to wash after having been hunting and a crocodile nipped one arm right off. The unfortunate man died after this bite.
Lions were frequent visitors during the winter. The shelter, the warmth and the abundant game in the Berea forests attracted them, and there were no houses between Sydenham and the heart of the town to frighten them by the smell of human beings. Once, when David Sparks was riding into the town through the lane that passed Barker’s Windmill and joined St Thomas’s Road on the Ridge, he met a lion and a lioness on the narrow path. Luckily the wind was blowing to him from them. His horse was terrified and stood still. The lions went away, but David decided that he would find another track to town that day.
His children met lions too one morning when going to school – a mile and a half away from home. The beasts were in the lane that led to the Clare Estate church. It is remarkable in one way how fearless and independent children were in those days. In another way, they had the example of supreme courage set them by their parents, one of the most valuable lessons they could ever learn. Harry Sparks when only 11 years old, walked from Sydenham at night down the narrow forest track to fetch Dr Lyle when his mother had taken ill and his father was away on a transport venture to Mpondoland. The doctor protested that he could not find his way in the night but the small boy asked for a lantern and they set off through the forest with the light bobbing just ahead of the horses nose.
Leopards and Jackals
The Palmiet bush was “alive” with leopards, called colloquially “tigers”. Calves had to be taken in at night as even the highest fence did not keep Mr and Mrs “Spots” away from the animals. Stories of the narrow escapes and maulings were quite common when the leopards were wounded. The Clarence boys were noted for the number of leopards they caught and killed. Jackals wandered around all night, nibbling the leather odds and ends that might be left out. Once when the children were very small and her husband was away trading, Mrs Sparks had to go into the Inanda reserve because a wagon wheel had collapsed and the natives did not know how to fix it. They had been trading mealies for cattle – a profitable little bit of business carried on by two old Natives in the Sparks’s service. One of these came back with the tale of how Mrs Sparks went off with him taking a spare wagon wheel in the ox-cart which carried her. She had to sleep in the open that night, so big fires were kept burning right until dawn to discourage jackals and other wild animals. When she reached the place where the wagon had broken she showed the “boys” how to fix the wheel she had brought alongside the damaged one and returned a few days later with both their own wagon and the borrowed cart. She had quite enjoyed her experience in the wilds and had felt perfectly safe under the care of their old Natives.
Trading with the Natives in Mponodoland and transport riding often took David Sparks away from home. He had a concession to mine copper in the Insizwa mountains for which he had paid Cheif Jojo with a saddle and bridle. The mines were worked to some extent, but after the Cape took over the Pondoland Province, documents in connection with the concession got lost and the ownership has never been taken up since that time.
After the death of his first wife, Mr. Sparks married again. His second wife was Miss Welsh, a missionary.
It is interesting to know that there were five generations of Sparks from the original marriage of these two young people. There were eleven children by the first wife, six boys and five girls, of whom seven are still alive. The son of the second marriage is farming in Nyassaland and his mother lives at Scottburgh, on the South Coast. The surviving members of the family are Colonel Harry Sparks, Mrs Meyrick Bennett, Mrs John Ellis, Mrs Joseph Ellis, Mrs Heywood, Mr Abraham Sparks and Mr David Sparks junior. In the next generation are 68 grandchildren whose descendants are 88 greatgrandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
FOUR GENERATIONS – Right to Left: Major David Sparks, his son, Mr Ernest Sparks, his great-grandson, Gifford Sparks. In the background is the Major’s grandson, Mr Neville SparksShare this: