Africa Bastard b.1829

Africa Bastard is one of those names that certainly raises an eyebrow when you first come across it!

However the first thing to remember is that the surname would not once have had the exact same connotations it does now (although I rather like the idea that someone just kind of went “I’m illegitimate, so what?” and rolled with it, but alas not).

However it has rather more respectable origins; a surname that dates back to the Norman invasion, indeed William the conqueror was of course also known as William the Bastard, and recorded in the Domesday book is one ‘Robert Bastard of Devon’, not to mention the very respectable Bastard family who resided at Kitley, in Devon, for many centuries.

Next came the suppositions about his first name, perhaps he was in fact of African descent, or perhaps he’d been born overseas (I have come across a child named Ocean, the langitude and longitude co-ordinates of the ship at the time she was born was given as a birth place!) yet our Africa was born in Whitwell, a small hamlet just outside of Reepham, in Norfolk.

As is typical, Africa’s siblings all have very regular names, Samuel, James and William. It is perhaps a little strange that on the online baptism record only his Mother Margaret is mentioned, where his 3 siblings have their Father, James, on it as well. This could be a transcription error or just a different vicar’s way of doing things, and although there are 5 years between Africa and his next oldest sibling (2 years between the other 3), James snr is around until 1836, and Africa names him as his Father on his marriage certificates.

Aside from this, I am, for the first time, truly stumped. I have no idea what could have prompted them to name him Africa, the family seemingly had no connection, and Africa as a country had not been in the news much at the time. I can only come up with ideas of personal acquaintance, or fanciful romantic notions of far away lands!

Africa moves to London and first marries Sarah Ann Mercer in 1851. She dies a year later (most probably in childbirth) and he then marries a Louisa Griffin b.1830 in 1853. Such quick marriages were not uncommon especially when there’s a baby to look after!
Africa and Louisa also have a son in 1870 who is named for his father, and both of them are Tanners.

After the 1881 census when his wife Louisa is away visiting friends it gets a little difficult to track Africa snr (not least becasue the surname is transcribed as everything from Bostard to Bustano!). In 1891 he is boarding as a Tanner’s Labourer in East Peckham, many miles away from his wife residing in the Walsall, Staffordshire with their daughter Louisa, and her illegitimate child George Edward. By 1901 Louisa, George Edward and new child Arnold have the surname Williams, although I can’t find a marriage for Louisa and there’s no sign of the father on the census. Louisa Snr. is now calling herself a widow, although Africa does not actually die until 1902.

It seems there was a split around 1881-1891 and they did not reconcile, although in 1901 Louisa and her daughter and grandchildren are back in Norwood, Surrey, where as Africa dies in Walsall, so perhaps he did go to find them.

Africa junior also moves to Walsall, and as he is a Tanner, and Walsall’s primary trade was leather (in fact there is even a Leather museum there!)  this does make sense. He lived until the ripe old age of 91! However he did not continue the naming pattern and these two seem to be the only two Africa Bastards that have ever been, and, let’s face it, probably ever will be!

 

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