The English and Dutch didn’t make for good bedfellows from the very beginning of the establishment of the Cape Colony in the southern part of Africa, but not so according to my grandma. My great-great-grandfather Benjamin Bradley Dodgen, who was an English coal miner, came to the Cape of Good Hope in search of his fortune at the diamond diggings in Kimberley in the 1800’s, and my great-great-grandmother Liesbeth De Groot, who was from the Netherlands, came to the Cape of Good Hope with her parents as settlers also in Kimberley. Although with much opposition from her family at first, a situation arose that resolved that and they eventually got married.
The De Groot’s were farmers and resided on the farm Nooitgedachte (Dutch = Never thought), and the circumstances of how those two met was due to his diamond claim that was in close proximity to the farm. On making her way past the many digs to reach a provision store, which was a tented affair, she would pass the admiring diamond miners. On her way back with the purchases all they would do was still caste friendly glances and greetings because of their concentrated involvement with the diggings, but not so Benjamin, for he would down his tools and offer to carry her supplies to the farm. I was told he was rough and tough but a real gentleman in Liesbeth’s company. She been young and impressionable took his considerations to heart and began looking for unrelated reasons to go to the store, whereby he would walk her to the farm gate as usual. They became good friends through that; on the other hand, her father wasn’t very friendly and impressed when coming upon the two of them when returning after selling his farm produce amongst the miners. Although they were only laughing and chatting with the shut farm gate separating them, he though jumped to the wrong conclusion. He also jumped off his horse drawn wagon with horsewhip in hand and laid into Benjamin who stood his ground. Seeing that he wasn’t gaining ground with his unsuccessful attempts of whipping that was warded off by brawny arms of a miner, he had turned on his daughter with the whip raised in his frustration and anger. That wasn’t acceptable to Benjamin who intervened, and while she ran sobbing towards the farmhouse to her mother, Benjamin manhandling the whip from him. While her father stood fuming, Benjamin without a word opened the farm gate, led the horse through, handed the whip back to him and left without looking back. The consequence of that episode resulted in her not been allowed to leave the confines of the farm unless accompanied by her parents, forbidden to see Benjamin and with the threat of been bundled off to relatives in another province if she did. Fate and love always wins out in the end and theirs was no exception.
Kimberley’s tented town was a hellhole at that time, just like any other worldwide diamond diggings at the start where life and limb wasn’t a priority, and fights at the drop of a hat were the order of the day for any inconceivable reason. Her father and Benjamin just happened to be in the same place and time for different reasons, one to sell his farm produce and the other for mining tools. The going price for the farm produce wasn’t to the satisfaction of a group of disgruntled miners who were eking out a living on their claims and their confrontation had turned ugly. To safeguard his wares and himself he went for his rifle, which angered them further, and when one of them knocked it out of his hands with a spade the rest pulled him off the wagon. While he was been punched and kicked while down, the not so law abiding citizens were helping themselves to his produce. Benjamin coming on a scene that at other times he would have ignored, especially as it was an expected part of mining life if it wasn’t of your doing, at first only glanced in that direction, but on recognizing the horse and wagon made straight for it. He had just bought a new pick and shovel, and with one in each hand he was like a flaying whirlwind amongst them. Some of them never knew what hit them as they lay out cold where the fell, and others as they scrambled and fell in their haste to get away felt and heard the thump of the pick and shovel as it contacted with their bodies. Those who stood with the stolen produce wore terrified expressions on seeing it was Benjamin because they knew of his reputation of not giving any quarter when in a fight, and dropped what they were holding and fled as he advanced on them. Liesbeth’s father was unconscious and bleeding, and after carefully laying him in the wagon Benjamin ripped his own shirt for bandaging, collected the scattered wares and then rode the horse and wagon to the farm. Wife and daughter were at their wits end when he arrived at the farm door with the still unconscious and makeshift bandaged farmer, and while they both were ringing their hands in anguish and accusing him of been a blackguard for assaulting him, he again without a word as was his manner carried him to his bed. After explaining to what had really occurred their apologies knew no bounds, and when the wife busied herself in bathing and re-bandaging her husband’s wounds she became aware of a further injury, for his arm was broken too. Benjamin like the kind fellow he was rode back into to town to fetch a doctor wearing a shirt of her husband that she had insisted on him having. After having done what he could he left for his digs with the wife’s thanks ringing in his ears, not so Liesbeth who walked him to the farm gate to thank him with a hug and kiss without the farm gate separating them. He half expected at a later date some sort of response from the father for coming to his aid when he recovered sufficiently, he though didn’t anticipate Liesbeth’s foresight in striking while the iron was hot.
Knowing that her father would be incapacitated for some length of time according to the doctor, her convincing the mother of Benjamin’s gentlemanly behaviour, kind disposition and his unselfish offer of continuing to assist them whenever the need arose, saw them arrive with horse and wagon plus farm produce at his digs. The mother’s request of him acting as a safeguard while they delivered the wares to a store in the town, which only the father had done previously, saw him place his pick, shovel and rifle in the wagon and take over the reins from the mother. That was ongoing while the father recuperated, and he was not only invited around for meals but it also saw Liesbeth at times turn up at his digs with a picnic lunch, and the romance blossomed. Her father by then was not only up and about but also differently impressed than the first time by the quite spoken strapping miner, and he showed his gratitude and admiration by allowing the courting of my great-great-grandmother to be by my great-great-grandfather to be. Their eventual marriage (1853) saw them residing on the farm, furthermore, with his claim been in close proximity it became a convenient way for him to assist on the farm and for his father-in-law to reciprocate in kind at his digs.
I never tired of that most romantic story of my ancestors, and when badgering my grandmother to relate it again and again just in case she remembered something additional, all she could account for was what was told to her, and the only thing she would expand on was that the families became prosperous in both diamonds mining and farming. My grandmother’s other reminiscing memories of my great-great-grandparent’s three sons, which she was a bit reluctant to tell me at first, were also a revelation. There was the one son William Bradley Dodgen (born 1851) and his Irish wife Annie that had a son Bill (William) (born 1889), and the other son Benjamin Bradley Dodgen (born 1856) and his Dutch wife Elizabeth Carolus that had a daughter Maria (born 1891). Farm life must have given them an early education of the birds and bees where farm animals weren’t discrete in their sexual relations, for Benjamin William James (Bill) Dodgen and Maria Annie Margaret Dodgen as first cousins married in 1906 at the young age of nineteen and seventeen respectively. They set up house at 119 Barkley Road, Kimberley, where they had Benjamin, who died at infancy, followed by Elizabeth, William and Benjamin, and Elizabeth is my mother.