SERENDIPITY – The Pikes of Clumber

pa-serendipity-2LASTING LANDMARK: The Clumber Methodist Church is what remains of the original settlement

ONE of the settlements or villages that played a vital role in the region is Clumber.

The story of William Pike and family migrating from Keyworth to South Africa in 1820 began and ended with words from Pike’s letter home, written a few months after their arrival in Clumber. They show a deeply and fervently religious man – he took the lead in getting a Methodist church built within five years, after first building his own house and carving his own farm out of the native bush. They also show a strong continuing attachment to his Keyworth family and friends.  Perhaps he was already feeling homesick.

Pike, his wife Mary and five children went as part of a government “assisted passage” scheme set up to relieve unemployment at home and to establish a British settler presence in a recently acquired col­ony in The Cape. The government invited local initiatives to form parties, mainly of paupers, who wished to emigrate.

Fifty-four such parties were formed, one of which was a Nottingham party sponsored by a committee led by the Duke of Newcastle. It consisted of 60 men, 26 wives and about 50 children. Some were no doubt victims of depression in the framework knitting industry and loss of common land following parliamentary enclos­ures. Pike registered as a pauper and unemployed framework knitter.

Their journey began in January 1820, first from Nottingham to Liverpool, with the men walking over the Peak District, the women and children taking a longer route in carriages. They boarded a sailing ship provided by the government, the Albury, and after waiting in port for two weeks for storms in the Irish Sea to subside, they set sail. Three months later they landed at Algoa Bay, then an almost deserted coastal inlet, the site of the modern city of Port Elizabeth. Here they waited another eight weeks until carts arrived to take them on the two-week trek to their final destination, Clumber, which they reached at the beginning of July.

Pike’s letter, written in November 1820, is full of optimism. Like the other settlers, he was soon to have some of that optimism eroded by hostile weather conditions, crop disease and raids by indigenous African tribesmen. But unlike many of their fellow settlers, the Pikes hung on and in time were able to enlarge their farm.

The introduction of Merino sheep and pineapples (both more suited to the climate than the breeds and crops they started with) enabled those who stayed to become moderately prosperous. Mechanisation later led to further depopulation, but still part of the Pike family remained. Today, six generations on, Pike’s descendants are scattered through­­­out South Africa and beyond. The land around Clumber Church is still farmed by Pikes, but much of the original settlement at Clumber has gone. The railway and station, local shop and tennis courts have all been abandoned.

Those who hung on at Clumber had to endure several “native” raids on their property. In one of these, the settlers gathered in the nearby town of Bathurst where there was safety in numbers, reinforced by a small detachment of local militia. After some weeks they ran short of food. Twenty two-year-old Elijah Pike (who was seven when he left Keyworth) led a group of young men back to Clumber under cover of darkness to retrieve potatoes planted before they left, but they were discovered by the occupying “natives” and were besieged in the Pikes’ house until the following morning, when a rescue party found them still holed up with over 30 dead besiegers outside, shot by the muskets of Elijah and his companions.

William Pike was a frequent preacher in the church built in 1825 until he died aged only 50, four years later. He is buried immediately outside the door of the present church, built in 1867. His epitaph reads: “William Pike, preacher of the Gospel. May we follow him as he followed Christ”. Two of his three sons who stayed in Clumber, Thomas and Elijah, became elders, and the church prospered until depopulation led to declining congregations.

About a third of the Clumber churchyard is given over to Pikes, most of them descended from Elijah, who had ten children. Pikes travel from afar to attend monthly services and maintain the church and churchyard so that they can be buried there when their time comes, including Cynthia Pike, great-great-granddaughter of William and great-granddaughter of Elijah, who lives in Grahamstown some 15 miles from Clumber.

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