In a previous post, I wrote about Victor QUESNELL, my husband’s uncle who was killed in World War I. Church records indicate that he was probably named for Reverend Victor LEWIS, the priest who baptized him in 1898 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Port Nolloth, South Africa.
The first time around, I had looked at the transcription of the baptism record only long enough to record the dates and places in the family database and had missed this nugget of information. I often urge genealogy buddies to write about their ancestors: “You don’t know what you’ve found until you write about a person!” However, I don’t always follow my own advice; reviewing Uncle Victor’s file before writing his post drove home the lesson yet again.
Having discovered Reverend Victor LEWIS’s connection with my husband’s family, I couldn’t resist doing a bit of online research into his life. Now, a day and a few facts later, it seems a waste just to file him away, even if I could decide where to put him. He’s not a collateral relative so he doesn’t fit on the tree anywhere. Should I start a binder titled “Peripheral Persons?” Instead, I’ll write a post about him; someone out there might be looking for him.
Googling the term <victor lewis minister port nolloth> led to a listing for him in the South African Missionary Archives of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, a mission agency founded in 1701 that works in partnership with Anglican churches outside the UK. For the most part, this 1971 document is an index to the Society’s microfilmed records held at Birmingham University in England. However, it also contains “photostats” of missionary rolls taken from a book on the society’s history published in 1900. These lists of missionaries who served in South Africa during the previous 200 years include the following entry for Victor LEWIS, which shows him having earned an M. A. at Merton College, Oxford, and serving as a missionary in Port Nolloth from 1893 to 1900.
Without the help of the USPG archivist, who responded within hours to my e-mail query, I would never have figured out the remaining abbreviations used: o.D. 1889 = ordained Deacon in 1889, and P. 1890 = ordained Priest in 1890. Both ordinations were performed by the Bishop of Bath and Wells (B. &W.).
Searching Ancestry.com using the triple forenames of Victor Arthur Nicolas LEWIS yielded two useful results. The first was his listing in Oxford University Alumni, 1500-1886:
“Lewis, Victor Arthur Nicolas, Is. Arthur, of Plymouth, Devon, cler. MERTON Coll., matric. 29 May 1873, aged 19.”
A forum at British-Genealogy.com helped to translate the entry. “Is. Arthur” means he was the first son of Arthur, a cleric or clerk of Holy Orders at Plymouth, Devonshire. Victor matriculated, or was formally admitted, to Merton College in 1873 at the age of 19. His age and probable birthplace at Plymouth helped to locate him at Ancestry.com in the England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915; his birth was registered in the fourth quarter of 1853.
The second Ancestry.com result gave information about Reverend LEWIS’s death. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861-1941, lists a summary of the probate proceedings for his estate:
“LEWIS the reverend Victor Arthur Nicholas of 64 Bullingdon-road Oxford clerk died 19 November 1902 at the Contagious-disease-hospital Trieste Austria Administration Oxford 28 January to Mary Ann Lewis widow Effects £9338 11s. 11d. in the United Kingdom.”
At the time of his death, Victor was a clerk of Holy Orders and he lived in Oxford; he must have returned to England some time after 1900. I assume that “widow” Mary Ann LEWIS was his wife. However, the remainder of this summary raises as many questions as it answers. If I am reading the entry correctly he didn’t die in Oxford, but in Trieste, Austria, possibly the victim of a contagious disease. If he lived in Oxford, what was he doing in Trieste? We know that he served in Port Nolloth until at least 1900; did he contract a disease while living in South Africa? If so, wouldn’t he have made his way back to England rather than to Austria?
The real surprise is the size of the estate he left to Mary Ann: more than £9338. According to the Economic History Association website, the most conservative estimate of current value for that sum (using the retail price index) would be £782,000!! Obviously, Reverend LEWIS was not an impoverished clergyman.
The 1891 census for England on Ancestry.com lists him as a 37-year-old “clerk in Holy Orders” who is visiting a cousin in Hampshire. He is married, but no wife is listed. A search of the England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837-1915 records shows that he married Mary Anne CLAYTON in East Ashford, Kent, in the third quarter of 1885.
In the 1881 census he is a visitor in a home in Paddington, London. He is 27, unmarried and an “undergraduate at Oxford.” Eight years after matriculating at Oxford, he is still an undergraduate. Did his comfortable economic circumstances enable him to pursue a degree at his leisure? Or did “undergraduate” carry a different meaning at the time?
All of these findings indicated that his sojourn in Port Nolloth starting in 1893 was his only assignment in South Africa. At this point, I decided to discontinue research into the early life of Reverend LEWIS, since it probably would not uncover any other facts pertaining to my husband’s family in South Africa.
1) Priests working in United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel missions sent annual reports back to the home office. Although it is unlikely that Reverend LEWIS would have included the names of individual parishioners in his reports, I would like to examine these letters at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, to learn more about the conditions in Port Nolloth at the time.
2) Order a copy of Reverend LEWIS’s Death Certificate, which might lead to knowledge of what contagious diseases were prevalent in Port Nolloth at the time.