Suave and dapper film star Hugh Grant family ancestral roots did not begin in the lavish suburbs of Notting Hill, London but right here in our very own vibrant mother City of Cape Town. Stumbling across an article I found about a year ago mentioned Hugh Grants’ grandfather Major Ronald Grant being born in the Cape and passing away at his home in Newlands, Cape Town tempted me with my bloodhound instincts to dig a little deeper to see what I could find.
But let’s go back to the beginning…… Hugh Grant’s grandmother Mina Waller Stewart was the daughter of Dr. James Stewart well loved and respected Missionary who was institutional in the creation of the Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape. His background has includes some wonderful and well respected people in his family as well inheriting his renowned social standing through his grandparents and through the generations of wealthy backgrounds.
Hugh attended Wetherby School, Latymer Upper School as well as gaining a scholarship at the New College in Oxford he studied English and was a member of the Piers Gaveston Society, a notorious dining club. Before his finals exams at Oxford, he was set to do a PhD in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute but could not follow through as he failed to attain a first class degree which he would have required to achieve for his doctoral studies. As a child, he was taught the piano by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mother Jean Hermione (née Johnstone; 1921–1993), a violinist and pianist…….and so my search began.
Cape Town Archives
An initial trip to the Archives to find Major Grants death notice and estate papers was first on the agenda. Finding Ronald Grants deceased estate papers opened up a whole new perspective on this British actor’s family tree. The good old fashioned method of pulling out deceased estates methodically and one generation at a time was time consuming and exhausting, but uncovering the past and finding exactly the answer I was looking for was well worth it. This traditional method is probably one of the most rewarding and successful parts of being a genealogist. Touching, feeling and absorbing such a famous person’s personal history has its merits.
Tracing each one of Hugh’s ancestor one by one was not as difficult as I imagined as each death notice was filled in beautifully and produced the desired results. They were model documents – both signed and filled in by a reputable member of the family. Unfortunately the archives at the time had imposed a ban on the use of cameras so the old fashioned method of hand transcripts has to be used.
On extracting all the necessary documents and making notes many hours later I then crept into my “little library” of gems where most of the information that I gleaned from the archives was verified. South Africa must be the only African countries that have such wonderful resource books with family trees, pedigrees, biographies and images available for such a large variety of families going back until the mid 1600’s.
A simple one second decision to open my South African Genealogies Volume two I looked up the surname of Fynn [you can purchase the SAG from GISA here] and then in British Settlers in Natal by Shelagh Byrne Spencer and British Residents at the Cape by Peter Philip I found more clues to the parentage of Matilda Jane Fynn wife of James Murray Grant and daughter of William McDowell Fynn and Margaret Johanna West.
Margaret West was the daughter of Thomas West a tailor from Bristol living with his wife Dorothea Adriana born van der Schyff in Long Street. She was born on 6th May 1810 in Simonstown and died on 13th May 1907 at Mrs. Shepstone’s house in Kingwilliamstown.
In the 1814 African Court Calendar mentions Thomas West listed as being a tailor in Waterkant Street. His long family association with Andriessen was a Norwegian and Matthew Hopkins an American whom he did business dealings with as well ensured the fortunate marriage of his sister in law Isabella Magdalena Van der Schyff to both men. Thomas West was fined for having unlawful meetings in his house in 1806 and some of his property had to be attached to pay off some of his debts.
Dorothea Van der Schyff was born in Cape Town on 04 September 1777 to Hermanus van der Schyff and Johanna Margaretha Boomhouer. The Van der Schyff family originated in Rotterdam, Holland and much of the family settled in Simonstown where many descendants still live today. Hermanus’s mother was Cape Slave Magdalena Christina Adolphse van die Kaap.
According to source SA Genealogies and Family Register of the South African Nation Margaretha Boomhouer was the daughter of Frederik
Boomhouer and Hermina Claasen van die Kaap, a Cape Slave.
Looking for more information on Hugh’s Scottish ancestors did not require a trip to the Edinburgh archives but rather a visit to the Manuscripts and Archives Library at UCT where I found folders with almost 50 years of correspondence between James Stewart (Missionary) and his mother Christy Stewart (born Dudgeon) as well as letters to his father, siblings and relatives. The letters were not easy to read and did not give much information on family members except the dates the letters were written and the address to which they were sent. These addresses would be particularly useful to any follow up research in Scotland for census’s and for ordering of birth and marriage certificates.
Dr James Stewart’s associates played an immense role in his life and according to documentation and letters of those he corresponded impacted on the naming of his children such as Captain Mathew Blyth, Livingstone, Bisset Berry, Peacock, Jenkins and Slater.
Stephen Family of Linthouse Scotland
On the Stephen side of his Family Alexander Stephen, his great great grandfather – came from a family of wealthy Shipbuilders in Glasgow and Dundee where money was not a problem and owned the West Coast mansion house of Kelly, situated on The Firth of Clyde, in a very commanding position above Wemyss Bay which was in later years destroyed by fire in December 1913 when at that time the house had been purchased by a Mr James Young a close friend of Dr Livingstone. A replica of the straw hut in which Livingstone died, erected by the explorer’s two native servants who brought his body to Britain, was a prominent feature of the estate policies. About twenty-six years prior to the fire Kelly was purchased by the late Mr Alexander Stephen of Linthouse for £30,000. Theo mansion-house, which was situated near the public road where it passes Wemyss Bay Station, was cleared away and Mr Stephen had the new house built of local red sandstone in a position higher up the slope.
A large sum of money, the amount estimated is £70,000, was spent in erecting the mansion and improving the property. On Mr Stephen’s death, the property became the property of his sons.
Alexander Stephen and Sons of Linthouse produced the highest tonnage on the Clyde River in Scotland in 1876 and were among the leaders in the industry. William Stephen (1690-1761) was a farmer at Kinnedar, and of his two sons, William (1720-99) and Alexander (1722-93); the former was also a farmer and the latter started shipbuilding in Burghead, about 1750. The second William’s son, also William (1759-1838), served an apprenticeship with his uncle at Burghead, and then started on his own account at Aberdeen. Of his two sons, William (1790-1829) was a shipbuilder at Arbroath. and Alexander (1795-1875), a shipbuilder at Aberdeen, Arbroath, Dundee, and Glasgow. It was Alexander who started the Glasgow firm, in 1850, realising that the future of shipbuilding in Scotland lay in the south-west. He had three sons, William (1826-94), a shipbuilder at Dundee, Alexander (Great great grandfather of Hugh) (1832-99); and John (1837-1917). The last two and especially Alexander guided the firm’s destiny throughout the period under consideration.
Alexander Stephen 1832 – 1899
In the years before 1870 enterprise had been displayed in the move to Glasgow, and in the speed with which Alexander Stephen, Senior, started producing ships of iron. In the years after, no less drive was shown. The yard was kept constantly up to date, and the Stephens were aggressive in their quest for markets.
The research on this project has been fascinating and incredibly rewarding especially finding all these wonderful South African families associated with one of my personal favourite actors. This project is also far from being completed and will take a considerable length of time to dig a little deeper to see what I can find. I hope you have all found this an interesting topic and that those of you who are related to Hugh will send us your information to add to this article.
Article written and researched by Heather MacAlister
Image Acknowledgements: Gallo Images (Copyright), National Archives Cape Town
They were South Africans
British Settlers at the Cape 1795 – 1806 by Peter Philip.
South African Genealogies Volume 11 + 8
British Settlers in Natal – A biographical Register Vol 6 by Shelagh Byrne Spencer
Dictionary of South African Biography
Studies in Scottish Business History by Peter Lester Payne
UCT Manuscripts and Archives – BC 106 The James Stewart Papers
MOOC 7/1/159-120 Thomas West
MOOC 6/9/8206 Ref:75913 Waller-Grant, Mina. Nee Stewart. Estate Papers
MOOC 6/9/537 Ref:3733 Stewart, James. Death Notice
MOOC 6/9/17962 Ref:551/51 Grant, Ronald Charles. Estate Papers
MOOC 6/9/4888 Ref: 53838 Grant, Matilda Jane. Nee Fynn. Estate Papers
MOOC 6/9/572 Ref:1509 Fynn, Margaret Johanna. Death Notice
MOOC 7/1/216 Ref: 117 Fynn, William Mcdowell. Inventory
Stephen of Linthouse: A record of two hundred years of shipbuilding,1750-1950 by John Lees Carvel