Port Elizabeth of Yore: General J.P. Nixon and Balmoral

The Cape Colony attracted men of all types from the cultured to the eccentric. Amongst the latter was a colourful settler, Major-General John Pigott Nixon, [1822-1906], also known as the Raj of the Eastern Cape. This property was subsequently purchased by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and renamed Amanzi.

Main picture: Balmoral

Balmoral prior to Nixon

According to Harradine’s and Logie’s Gazetteer, “Balmoral was a subdivision of the farm Rietheuwel. The earliest records of human activity on the farm, uncovered during excavations conducted by Hilary Deacon of the Albany Museum in the 1960s, were stone tools including large hand-axes, cleavers, cores and flake tools found in the vicinity of the warm, chalybeate springs. The tools, of the Acheulian culture, date back to more than 70 000 BP. Because of the high acidity of the surroundings no bones were to be found.

In 1797 Colonial Secretary John Barrow visited the springs and in 1839 the German botanist Ferdinand Kraus paid a visit and recorded that the flow of water from the spring was so great that he was swept from his feet when trying to cross it. For this reason by 1847 the property was known as the Mineral Bathsand was owned by James Bevan the assistant field-cornet for the area. He also acted as postmaster in 1863, being succeeded in 1865, in both capacities by John Bevan. In 1854 James Bevan offered 300 erven for sale, noting that it was now to be named Balmoral. In Feb 1861 the Balmoral post office was established. It ceased operations in 1867.

Maj-Gen John Pigott Nixon

Major-General Nixon was a colourful and eccentric figure. Born on the Isle of Wight, he ran away to sea at the age of 15 and jumped ship in Algoa Bay, where he befriended a Mr Human of the farm Papiesfontein, near Gamtoos River mouth. His parents directed enquiries to the Cape Governor for their son, who was traced and returned to England. He never forgot his kind friends and kept in touch with them.

Major General John Piggot Nixon

John Pigott Nixon, the son of Major John Nixon of the 17th Regiment of Foot and his wife Eliza Ann Ward, was born on 16 February 1822 at Caris-brooke Castle on the Isle of Wight where his father was presumably on military duty. The French, Pigott, Eccles and Nixon families’ ancestry goes back to the 1600s in Fermanagh, Ireland. His grandfather was Major General Sir Eccles Nixon, b 1736, (knighted 03.12.1799) of Madras Army who had 3 sons: George, John and Joseph.

Young John Pigott Nixon was educated by a Mr. Balfour in Worthing, Sussex but his school days ended prematurely when he ran away to seek his fortune in India. The story goes that he was put work as a cabin boy and was ill treated by the crew. So, when the sailing ship anchored at Algoa Bay Nixon disembarked and set off to look for work. The dates of Nixon’s arrival or departure are unknown but must have been between 1837 and 1840. Nixon obtained work on a farm “Papiesfontein” near the mouth of the Gamtoos River which belonged to a Mr. Human. The Cape Government was asked to look out for him and in turn the request went to all magistrates and circuit judges. One day Judge Denyssen arrived at the Human’s farm and heard him call for “Nixon” to help outspan. The boy was sent to Cape Town and back to England. It is difficult to reconcile known dates, but it appears that Nixon was commissioned as an ensign on 12th June 1841 and that he was in Bombay by 17th November, when he executed an affidavit prior to his posting to his regiment so he could not have been sent back to England. Documents in the Indian Army Museum in London show that he was out of England when he was nominated for a commission.

His military service was entirely in the Bombay Army and entirely in one unit, the 25th Native Light Infantry. The young officer had a short but extremely creditable spell of active service. He joined just in time to take part in the first Afghan War in 1842. Eventually the troops had to beat a disastrous retreat and Nixon was one of the lucky few who managed to get back into India. Early in 1843 he fought in the war in Scinde in which he came into favourable notice of the commander-in-chief. After the conquest of Scinde, Nixon was posted to two years duty at the East Indian Company’s military College in England and it was during this period that he concluded his first marriage. The wedding took place at the British Embassy in Brussels on 28th October 1847 to Ella Sophia, daughter of Dr George Cooper of Brentford Butts in Middlesex.

Nixon’s brother Edward Maitland, born in 1823, had stolen a march on his elder brother by securing a nomination to an Indian Army cadetship in 1839 but when Nixon’s brother was cashiered out of the army Nixon transferred to political duty in 1853 and never returned to his regiment though he was later given its highest post, that of its colonel-commandant.

Nixon did, however, come very near to some further active service in the Indian mutiny in 1857. He was then serving in the Indian State of Bharatpur in the south of Delhi. When he heard that a force of mutineers was leaving Delhi (which they had captured) to seize the important fortress of Agra he mobilized two thousand state troops and marched them to Delhi. The mutineers then decided to abandon their expedition and the fort was saved. All Indian soldiers became very restless during the Mutiny but Nixon’s tactful handling of affairs in Bharatpur kept the local men from joining in the mutiny. He later received “the gracious appreciation of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria”, for his services.

The details of his return have been greatly confused by various authors and it is not clear whether they were aware that Nixon came back more than once before his ultimate return. His first wife died before 28th December 1861.

Nixon bought his first South African properties on 7th August 1863 these consisting of two subdivisions of the old Mineral Baths farm (ex Rietheuvel – now Amanzi Estate) near Uitenhage. The deed of sale shows that the farm was sold under the name Alwyn Balmoral. One would have thought that he must have come over to inspect the properties before he made any purchases, but the Uitenhage Times puts his first return to the Eastern Cape around 1870. The Indian Army Lists show that Nixon was on furlough by late 1868 and still away in July the following year. He may indeed have been here by late May 1868 when he bought further land at Coega. This was apparently at the Coega to the east of Uitenhage and not the Coega (Kouga) River near Humansdorp though Nixon did at some time own land there.

On 24th February 1869 he married Marie Georgina, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Leonard O. Bean who farmed at Ncanaga about thirteen miles east of Port Elizabeth. Nixon is then recorded as a resident of Port Elizabeth; probably he had not yet built his retirement home at Balmoral. He came on leave again in the latter part of 1872 and he made further purchases of land to enlarge his Balmoral estate, in January 1873. It had been stated that he bought up farms all over the district and that he was the largest landowner in the Uitenhage and Humansdorp districts.

Maria Georgina Nixon

In the political service, Nixon finished up as British Agent for Turkish Arabia and Consul-General in Bagdad, which to all intents and purposes he was the British Ambassador. Britain was closely involved when Russia and Turkey went to war in 1877 and his services in that period and at the subsequent Treaty of Berlin received warm appreciation of the Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury. Nixon retired from the political service and from the Indian army, with the rank of major-general, on 11th June 1879 and settled at Balmoral.

Despite conflicting dates of when the house had been built at Balmoral, it was certainly completed by August 1881 when the local newspaper announced that he was to hold a grand ball there. He and his wife and daughter are listed as staying at the Royal Hotel in Uitenhage on a number of dates between May and September 1883 which suggests that the house was being enlarged or altered. When Nixon sold out in 1890, he claimed that the house had been built of (local) stone and cost him £3000, which must have meant in those days that it was large and well built. Nixon’s house was a smaller version of the palace Queen Victoria erected in the Scottish Baronial style in 1853. The local single-story building had lancet windows and battlemented walls and a low castellated tower. The finest room was the banqueting hall which was more than twelve metres long and six metres across and had a floor of the best Knysna yellowwood. Nixon adorned the rooms with fine furniture, oriental rugs and silken drapes from India. A varied collection of Indian weapons and curios graced the walls.

In spite of reports, research have only been able to trace this group of five farms to the east of Uitenhage. At one point it stretched southwards to only eleven kilometres north of Port Elizabeth, from which he could export his farm products by sea. The main roads from Port Elizabeth to Graaff Reinet and Grahamstown ran through Nixon’s lands. A railway from Port Elizabeth reached Uitenhage in 1875 and was extended to Graaff Reinet in 1879 and the Zandfontein station was less than five kilometres from the Balmoral house. In the eastern part of his farms a line was opened to Coega and Addo in 1875. With good markets so easily accessible Nixon was determined to increase the productivity of his lands and he proved to be a most energetic farming pioneer.

There was already a plentiful water supply from the Swartkops River and the Winterhoek Mountains. The notice of sale of the properties in 1890 mentioned there were twenty springs of water. Nixon improved the supplies by digging a notable number of canals and making weirs and he also sank artesian wells. These were in addition to two springs of warm mineral water which were considered a good cure for rheumatism and other complaints, and there was also a sulphur and iron spring. These medicinal springs had been in use before Nixon’s time and had indeed given Balmoral its former name of Mineral Baths Farm. Nixon built a small Spar Hotel at a cost of £1750 and rehabilitated the baths. As the name of Alwyn* or Albyn Balmoral implied, there many aloes on the property. (*Alwyn is Dutch word for Aloe).

Nixon also imported American aloe (which, strictly speaking, is an Algarve or sisal and not a true aloe). In about 1887 he gave Dunell Ebden & Co of Port Elizabeth a commission to import a three horse-power engine, manufactured by the Death’s Fibre Machine Company of Leadenhall Street in London, to drive his sisal processing machinery. By the time he sold his properties Nixon had a banana plantation and three gardens growing vines, apples, peaches, apricots and figs. There were also orange groves. Nixon had in fact planted the first oranges in the Uitenhage area, an enterprise which would develop into the great citrus industry in the Sundays River Valley of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s day.

Nixon probably took over the livestock already on the farms and added to them. Apart from cattle these included ostriches, a number of which AH Roskell saw in enclosures at Balmoral in 1880.

There was a rich deposit of table salt at Grootpan, just off the old road from Uitenhage to Grahamstown. A great quantity of stone-age artefacts was unearthed by Rhodes University in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Nixon became known as the Rajah of the Eastern Cape. He had been appointed a justice of the peace for the Uitenhage division by August 1880 and he was a field cornet from 1881 to 1884. He was one of the leading local men elected to raise funds for the widow of a Uitenhage man killed in the Basuto War.

When elections for the seventh Cape Parliament were due Nixon was nominated for the two-member constituency of Uitenhage. The Afrikaner Bond had been founded in 1879 and was giving support to English- speaking candidates who would work to further their farming interests. He was present at the opening of Parliament in its old premises in the Supreme Court in Cape Town on 1st May 1884, and probably witnessed the opening of the fine new Parliament building (which still stands) in May the following year.

Nixon paid a visit to England in 1886 and held talks with EH Stanley, the Secretary of State for the Colonies on matters concerning the Cape. After a fairly short return to South Africa, he travelled to England again and witnessed the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. When elections to the eighth Cape Parliament fell due Nixon at first declined to stand but later decided to stand. Due to his late start he failed to secure election but when John Tudhope resigned, he was elected in a by-election. He supported the passing of the Quit-rents Relief Act which proved of great help to farmers. He managed to secure the dropping of a proposal to move the Railway workshops from Uitenhage to Salt River which avoided local unemployment. The chief criticism of Nixon as a parliamentarian was that he spent too much time away in England or India.

The reasons why Nixon decided to leave South Africa are not clear. There seems to be little doubt that he did become less wealthy. The truth of the matter seems to have been simply that the general lived above his income and had to stop. Like many other amateurs who had taken to farming late in life, Nixon was not very efficient at it. The five farms in the Balmoral group were put up for sale by Armstrong & Co of Port Elizabeth on 29th April 1890. This was a period of trade depression all over South Africa and a bad time to sell. Nixon gave CH van Zyl a power of attorney to negotiate a sale and the farms were sold to Arthur Waithman of Clayton Vale House near Manchester. In the meantime, Nixon had moved his assets to a (presumably rented) house opposite to Dr Lamb in Baird Street. Here on 21st May the local auctioneer AP de Villiers held a sale of household furniture and farming implements and also four horses and eight oxen.

At this stage Nixon evidently intended to remain in South Africa and as late as 3rd November 1890 he was elected one of the founding members of the Uitenhage Horticultural Society. He and his wife travelled to Ceylon and Bombay and took his seat in the Cape Parliament again on 5th July 1891. He seems to have settled in India soon after as the Speaker of the House announced that Nixon was absent without leave of the House and declared his seat vacant.

 He was evidently a man of splendid health and lived to the age of eighty-four and died in Bombay on 9th June 1906 from the effects of a carriage accident.

There were three sons by the first marriage, Edward Baynes Nixon, born 26th September 1848. Married firstly Florence (d 07.07.1878) daughter of E Benham of Sion Lodge, Isleworth and secondly, he married his cousin, Emily Maria Mc Donald (d 11.02.1891) daughter of GF Cooper MD He transferred from the British Army to the Indian in 1878. Major E.B. Nixon was murdered by one of his sepoys in April 1891.

The second son was George Tate St Aubyn Nixon married on 16.02.1876 to Marie Therese Amelia the only daughter of Alexander William Innes of Surbiton.

The younger son was John (later Sir John) Eccles Nixon was born at Brentford on 16th August 1857. On 18.08.1881 he married Amy Louisa, daughter of James Wilson of The Admiralty, Whitehall. He too exchanged from the British service to the Indian in 1878. After an extensive and distinguished career in the Indian Army, he became a General and rose to fame in the First World War when he commanded the British Expeditionary force in the Mesopotamia campaign. He died on 15th December 1921.

I am not clear whether Nixon had one or two daughters. A Miss Nixon was living at Balmoral in 1883. It was perhaps the same lady who married a wealthy man named Roberts who died young. Mrs Roberts accompanied her parents to India where she married Sir Saiyyid Ahmed Khan (1817– 1898), a retired Judge who founded an Anglo-Muslim college and became a member of the Indian Legislative Council.

In many eminent families, the eldest son qualified in the Professions and looked after the family estate; the next entered the Armed Forces or the Ministry, etc. Many of the Nixon family were in the Army and over a period of 200 years many of them served with distinction in India. An Uncle of John Pigott Nixon settled in America and a descendant was Richard Millhouse Nixon.

Sample of the booklet:

RECORD OF SERVICES

Of

Lieut. Col. J.P. Nixon

Bombay Staff Corps and Political Agent of Meywar

I entered the Bombay army in 1841 and joined the Field Force at Quelta under General Sir R. England – Was present at the battle of Hukubeze and forcing the Kujuk  – I served in the garrison at Candalbar, under General Nott – During the Battle of MeeanneeI was detached with General Ontram to operate on the enemy’s flank and burn the Shikargahs – I was present at the Battle of Hydrabad and record copy of the report made on the occasion

From Major A. Woodburn, commanding 2nd Brigade to Lieut. H.J. Pelly

Camp near Allyar KaTanda

March 28th, 1843

(Vide Calcutta Gazette, May 29th. 1843, Page 587)

Sir, In reference to Division Orders of the 26th instant calling on Commanding Officers to forward a statement of acts of gallantry performed by any Commissioned or Non-Commissioned Officers or men in the action of the 24th instant, I do myself the honour to transmit the only letter on this subject which I have received in the 2nd Brigade.

As I was myself partly witness to an act of courage and good example in the 25th Regiment, I beg to be allowed to submit to the Major General Commanding. “When this Regiment reached the village, the fire of the enemy, though greatly lessened, was still kept up in a very galling way from many of the houses. This was particularly the case from a Mosque which had been loopholed, and shots from it had knocked over several Sepoys. The building was entered by several of the end who were almost immediately driven out by the enemy. On seeing this, Ensign Nixon and Lieut. Thompson, 25th Regiment, instantly rushed into it, sword in hand, and attacked the enemy, eight in number. The former officer cut down three. While so engaged his life

Subsequent owners of Balmoral

In 1890 Balmoral was put up for sale and bought by a Mr. Arthur Waithman. Later Balmoral became the property of Hugh de Renzy Magennis. In 1908 Fred Harvey purchased part of Balmoral and in 1909 another portion was acquired by a Mr Haywood. It was noted that there were two fast flowing boreholes on the farm. In 1913 Sir Percy Fitzpatrick bought Glen Hay, part of Balmoral, from I.J. Ferreira and 743 morgen of the same farm from Mr F Haywood. Sir Percy used the estate, which was then named Amanzi, as an experimental citrus farm in connection with his grand scheme to develop the Sundays River Valley.


Sources

Gazetteer of the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage Divisions of the old Cape Colony, compiled by Bartle Logie and Margaret Harradine (2014, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

The Algoa Gazetteer by C.J Skead (1993, Algoa Regional Services Council, Port Elizabeth)

Wikipedia

Record of Service of Lieut. J.P. Nixon. Bombay Staff Corps and Political Agent of Meywar by Maj. G.P. J.P. Nixon

Chronicles November 2010 No. 94 by the Eastern Cape Genealogical Society of South Africa

Nixon by RR Langham-Carter (Looking Back December 1977 & September 1978)

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