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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

William Dower - Scottish Joiner & African Missionary

 A pioneering South African Missionary, a politician, a  test cricketer   - and one of the leading scientists of the  20th century - you can stumble across some amazing stories when you start to delve into sidelines of your family history. 

Such was the experience of my cousin, Stuart who was researching the family of his great grandmother Isabel Edward from Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

Isabel's sister Jesse married William Dower in 1865 and  the photograph here shows  Wiiliam Dower himself (1837-1919) and his wife Jesse Edward (1838-1924),  with their respective parents - William's parents John Dower (1808-1872) and his wife Jane Forbes (1811-1866) and Jesse's parents   Alexander Edward (1811-1879) and  Margaret Stewart (1811-1905)

The original of this wedding photograph is in the museum in Kokstad, South Africa.

William Dower, after following his father into the local building business,  went to Edinburgh University on a bursary and was ordained as a Congregational Minister.    William was appointed by the London Missionary Society as a Wesleyan Missionary in South Africa and he and his new wife Jesse set sail there  in 1865. 

In March 1870, William and Jesse set out on an ox wagon journey to East Griqualand and the town of  Kokstad, where he was asked to take on the role of pastor.  

William drew the plans for the first family home in Kokstad and did much of the building himself, completing it in 1871.   The  windows and doors were made by his father and imported from Scotland. The building still stands and is now a craft outlet.
The church building was also built by the Reverend  Dower .    In the Gothic revival style of the time, it has beautiful examples of woodwork bearing testimony to his skill as a carpenter.

The opening in 1877  was marred by sadness, in that the ceremony was due to be performed by William's eldest child  Mina Margaret Jane. but she died just a week before the opening date, aged only 11.    .

The  Griqua Church Kokstad built by Rev. William Dower 
and opened in May 1877 
Jesse is in the centre front and William is just behind her. The other lady in the photo who looks very much like Jesse is Jesse’s sister Margaret Edward. Margaret Edward was a qualified teacher and at one time had taught at the Free Church School at Inch in Wigtownshire. She followed William and Jesse out to South Africa and became the teacher at the local school.
William went on to write a definitive history of the area in "The early annals of Kokstad and Griqualand East".

 William Dower and his wife Jesse taken in Blackpool in 1913
when they made a visit to England.

William and Jesse (left) with Jesse's sister Isabella Edward
 and her husband John Ingram Smith

William and Jesse had  family of eight - four sons and four daughters.

  • The two eldest  sons William John Dower  and James Martin Dower  became minsters, with James marrying four times between 1901 and 1927 - his wives possible dying in childbirth. 

  • Third son Edward Ebenezer Dower was a champion of 'native' citizens' rights and higher education in the Cape. who  in 1908  became Secretary For Native Affairs, Cape Town.
  • Youngest son Robert Reid Dower was a cricketer who played for South Africa against England in 1899.  He later became a lawyer, but when he died in 1964, he was the oldest South African Test cricketer.   

  •  Daughter Jesse  Edward Dower married a German mining engineer Semmy Joseph Blumlein of Jewish descent. They settled in Britain and Semmy took out citizenship in 1903.  Their son Alan  Dower Blumlein (1902-1942)  has been described as "the greatest electronic engineer of the 20th century", notable for his many inventions in telecommunications, sound recording, stereo, television and radar 
    But that is another story!

William Dower died on died 21 December 1919 at  "Banchory", Innes Street, Uitenhage, South Africa - his house named after his birthplace in Scotland.  He left behind a legacy in the country he came to love and a family who made their mark in many different fields.


  1. What a wonderful story Susan and amazing photos. Many thanks to you, and your cousin Stuart, for sharing.

  2. Hello Susan, I am also looking into the Dower family history as I am the daughter of Robert Hereward son of Mina Phillipine who in turn daughter of Semmy and Jessie Blumlein. I am most interested in the way they travelled from South Africa to England in those days. I have 6 granddaughters and want to get as much history down on paper for them. Would love to write to you by email. my email: marangos.marangos@gmail.com


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