- Queens South Africa Medal to CONDR. G.N. HOUSTON, NATAL TRANSPORT
Tracking down the history of Gilbert Houston proved to a rather daunting task. Somewhere in the mists of time the family (or certain members of it) decided to add the McMillan moniker to their surname adding, perhaps unwittingly, layers of further complication to the research process.
Born on 23 January 1877 at Ensikeni near Ixopo in the midlands of the Colony of Natal he was the son of John Solomon Houston and his wife Dorothea, alternately called Dora or Dorothy. He, in turn, was the product of a marriage between John McMillan (changed later to Houston) who came out to Natal in 1850 with his bride of one year Sarah Sykes from Bute in Scotland to farm in the Ixopo district.
As was very often the case in those days where female companionship was in short supply and high demand, John Solomon took for his wife a lady of mixed blood in the form of the above mentioned Dorothea. She was of the Fynn family famous for the exploits of her forebears – Henry Francis Fynn and others who had in years gone by wed any number of Zulu maidens with whom many children were conceived. Gilbert was thus of mixed blood when he saw the first light of day. It wasn’t until April 1885 that the Houston brood were to be baptised in the Parish of Clydesdale, Ensikeni, East Griqualand and on that day Gilbert donned Christ along with siblings Henry, Frank Hugh, John Edward and Louise Jane Ada.
Growing up in the rural hinterland was idyllic for a young man and the family settled into the routine of life on the family farm “Ashley Vale” in Ixopo. Far from the madding crowd would best describe this scene of pastoral bliss but even they could not escape the harsher realities of life – this being the advent of the Anglo Boer War in October 1899. Initially this conflict was confined to the major protagonists in the form of the British Empire and the two Boer Republics who had dared to challenge her ever expanding grip on the southern African region.
As the conflict moved into Natal the call went out for the mobilisation of the Colonial Militia and regiments for duty with the Crown. Not everyone was destined to be enlisted in the likes of the Natal Carbineers or the Colonial Scouts and to them fell the duty to assist in a more civilian capacity. There was a special and urgent need for Transport Drivers and Conductors to help with the conveyance of thousands of tons of provisions and supplies needed by an army on the move, to this end the Natal Transport section came into being – staffed in the main by men of mixed blood it was a natural fit for the 23 year old Houston.
Although the Natal Transport men were awarded Queens Medals without clasps (on the authority of the Home Government) it is possible by looking at the clasps on the medal roll for which they were eligible to discern where they were present and, in the case of Gilbert Houston, it makes for interesting reading placing him squarely at the forefront of the actions at Tugela Height, the Relief of Ladysmith and Belfast and Laings Nek. A veritable “full house” of Natal-based campaigns and he was in the thick of it with his wagon and team of oxen conveying supplies and other necessities to the front.
Quite how confusing Houston becomes is evidenced by the medal roll off which his medal was issued – there reference is made to Houston, Gilbert N of New Bigging, Polelala. This is in itself no problem save for the fact that the New Bigging farm was owned by his uncle, Gilbert Sykes Houston. This confusion wasn’t confined to only this instance – in June 1902 the good citizens of the district petitioned to Colonial Government for the appointment of Gilbert Houston as a Justice of the Peace for the area – the only problem being that the Commission document had to be returned with the comment that Mr Gilbert Houston’s “second Christian name is Sykes and not Norton”. A very clear case of mistaken identity that could have caused problems for the younger Gilbert.
Having returned to farm life a 31 year old Houston found romance and wed, in the Mission Chapel at Highflats, near Ixopo, on 7 November 1908, Emma Mabel Christina Lester. Emma was a girl of 19 at the time and the daughter of Albert Augustus Lester of Creighton. One of his brothers Reginald Gregson Houston was a witness at the ceremony. As time went on he continued with his farming endeavours taking occupation of the farm “Cradock” in the Dronkvlei area of the midlands – this according to the 1908 Natal Directory. In 1916 he was still in the area.
His father, John Solomon Houston passed away on 11 August 1921 and a snippet from his Last Will and Testament is rather interesting - it read thus,
“I desire it to be understood that I have not left any of my Estate to my two sons Gilbert North (Norton) Houston and John (Jack) Houston – as I consider they have already had their share from me.”
When and where Gilbert Houston passed away is unknown.
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, Brett Hendey, JimFish
I think I made my thoughts clear on Houston in your other thread, their medal roll, does indeed, make for interesting reading and leaves absolutely doubt whatsoever about just how these particular recipients earned their medals, I like it very much.
Interesting that on the roll there are 62 medals issued and it looks like two were returned. Quite distinctly on the first page is the normal notation of 62 medals, no clasps issued.
The clasps on all pages are ruled through, which raises the point of how does one come across a medal with clasps when in the absence of any additional service and annotation referring to another issue they appear on the market.
I have the no clasp medal to E Thorrold, although he qualified for Transvaal, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith and Laings Nek, the medal is as issued with no clasps just as in Rory's example.
Are the medals with clasps as issued an error or is it possible a collector after checking only the relevant page with the recipients detail assume the bars were lost and had it reconstituted,
I have seen this also on medals to the Imperial Transport Corp that appear with clasps, no additional reference to other service and clearly stated on the first page of the roll "MEDALS ONLY"
Indeed a minefield when determining eligibility of clasps, and one should always examine the complete roll, especially the front page where additional details are written, although there will always be a degree of uncertainty in such cases
I'm inclined to agree with you on this Jon. To my mind the medals to the Natal Transport chaps were issued without clasps.
There were many who were doubtless in actions which would have qualified them for clasps (as in Mike's case) but weren't issued with them. Either an over zealous collector or the recipient himself might have affixed the clasps they felt entitled to.