IRONS, Theophilus

Born c.1829, St Alban’s, Hertfordshire, England. Died 11.09.1895, Bloemfontein, Orange Free State.

Clerk, farmer, hotel proprietor/manager.

1829c. b. in St Albans, England. (IGI). Son of William Irons of ?Boltons Farm, near 1829.02.15 Baptised in Dagnall Lane, Wesleyan Church, Saint Albans, Hertford, England.

1849.05.09 “… do not forget to take a good stout umbrella, the rains in Natal are very

1849.05.13 On the eve of his departure his brother wrote giving him a lecture on the task he

Potter’s Bar, five miles from Barnet in Herefordshire. (S. Sturge to Ralph

Clarence* 02.05.1849 in IP). His mother’s maiden name was Loveluck, Sarah.


Parents William and Sarah Irons. (IGI). His father was Land Steward to the Earl

of Verulam. (Park.p.258, note). St Albans was built on the ruins of the Roman

City Verulamium. (Ibid p.247). Brother of William Josiah Irons* who initiated the

Wesleyan-orientated co-operative scheme known as The Christian Emigration and

Colonization Society under which about 400 settlers came to Natal. The bulk of

these were shipped and provided with land under arrangement with Byrne & Co.

They were settled as a group on the Natal North Coast at Verulam, named after

the Earl of Verulam who initially was patron of the scheme. (SO’BS all vols).

Theophilus was used to farming and to a certain amount of practice in handicraft

pursuits. (S.Sturge as above). He was sent by his brother to Natal ahead of the

settlers to prepare the way for them. (BMS). He sailed on the John Gibson. (Hatt.

p.126). Before he left, and at regular intervals after that, his brother plied him with

advice and guidance. (BMS)

different to ours… do not buy a poor week thing got up for sale, but buy a good

old fashioned with strength and size about it, never mind the appearance, study

comfort”. (WJI to TI in IP)

was about to undertake and also instructions, including the injunction to keep a

diary of everything that happened on board. (Ibid.)

1849.05.18 Left London on the 269 ton brig John Gibson, Capt. D. Halllady. (NW 26.10.18)

1849.06.25 Letter telling him how the plans for the emigration scheme are going. The Earl of

1849.09.00 Communication to say he had called a public meeting at his hotel in London. J.C.

Verulam, his landlord, has kindly promised to call on the Emigration

Commissioners and see if he could obtain special terms for the Society. (WJI to

TI in IP)

Byrne had attended and suggested they should work in with him. An agreement

with Byrne had been signed. Among other injunctions urges Theophilus to

endeavour to foster beauty and correct architectural designs so that Verulam may

be the model settlement of Natal. (Ibid.)

1849.10.00 A party of 48 has just left and he thinks things are moving satisfactorily. The Earl

1849.10.20 The barque King William, Capt Avery, tonnage 463, sailed for Natal from London

1849.10.22 John Gibson arrived at Port Natal with 36 men, women and children on board.

1849.10.27 Moreland [Moreland, John Swales*] asked by J.C. Byrne to find employment for

1849.12.07 Wrote to Moreland – letter dated 7 December, 1850 [sic], received 7 January

of Verulam, however, has withdrawn his patronage and has requested his name to

be discontinued. This at the time that the prospectus was issued. Appeals to

Theophilus to do all in his power to make life comfortable for the women, as the

success or failure of a colony depends on its being attractive to them. (Ibid.)

via Plymouth with 153 emigrants on board. This was the first of Byrne & Co’s

ships to bring Wesleyan’s as a group separate from the other emigrants. They

were sent out by W.J. Irons under his Christian Emigration & Colonization

Society, they settled in due course at Verulam. Byrne provided a “sumptuous

dinner” at the Royal Hotel, Weymouth, for his people. In contrast W.J. Irons gave

a farewell tea-party for his emigrants at Radley’s Hotel, no doubt a temperance

one, in London. Irons also boarded the ship at Plymouth and settled a few

troubles. There is a separate list of Wesleyans numbering 53 men, women and

children, (Clark pp.209, 220–223)

(NW 26.10.18). Included on the passenger list was Irons, Theophilus, aged 24,

clerk. (NW 02.11.49)

Theophilus Irons either in helping with surveys or as a clerk. (Byrne to Moreland

in MP). Under W.J. Irons’ agreement with Byrne Theophilus Irons was

guaranteed employment in Natal as a surveyor (Hatt. p.128)

1850 – saying the arrival of the emigrants may be shortly expected, wants to

know when it will be convenient for Moreland to proceed with him to the lands

intended for these emigrants, as it will be of vital importance that the lands should

be ready for selection immediately they arrive. Address letter c/o E. Griffiths

[Griffiths, E.P.J.*] Esq., Dbn. (Irons to Moreland in Moreland’s immigrants’

correspondence book. MP)

1850.01.23 The King William arrived at Port Natal. (Clark p.221)

1850.05.23 Mr Irons paid us a visit today [at Verulam], sent a letter to the Bay with him.

1854c. Travelled with Lionel Deveraux*. It is possibly at this time that he reached as far

1854.02.23 Boers took over the Orange Free State on the signing of the Bloemfontein

1858.01.24 Writes asking for a farm at the foot of the Drakensberg. Has been in Harrismith

(Todd [Todd, William*])

north as the Zambezi river prospecting and big game hunting on the way. (FTI).

Deveraux d. in Natal in 1862. (SO’BS vol.5, p.106)

Convention. (Thompson)

for several years and has intended ever since Boers took over to go to Natal.

(SGO/5/20 no.888)

1859.12.31 Granted farm Waterkloof 3 079 acres. (SGO III/12/1 p.98). To a piece of land

1860.02. 07 Deeds of farm Waterkloof sent by post to Ladysmith as requested verbally by

1861.03.13 Waterkloof (3079 acres) transferred from grantee to Marthinus Wm de Jager. The

1862.05.02 The trustee of the insolvent estate of John Green [Green, John b.c.1827*], canteen

containing 3079 acres named Waterkloof, Ward 5 [Klip River County]. Bounded

on the North by Crown Land, North East by Sand Spruit, South by Berg Spruit

and West by Wilkin [?Wilkin, James*]. Annual Quit Rent payable on 31st

December in each year. Amount £3.4.2. First payment to be made December 31st,

1860. (SGO III/11/12 Folio 62)

grantee. (SGO III/12/1 p.98)

transfer did not seem to happen as Irons continued to pay Quit Rent until 3rd

March 1886. (SGO III/11/12 Folio 62)

keeper Pietermaritzburg, stated that Theophilus Irons who is now in town, has

some property belonging to Green’s estate and he believes Irons can, if compelled

by the court, give valuable information on the missing property of the late John

Green and also the trade dealings of Green. (RSC I/8/5 no.370)

1862.05.06 Ordered that Irons be brought before the Master. (Ibid.)

1863.11.24 Presumably he was the Capt Irones [sic.], presumably the commanding officer of

1864.07.12 Married at Harrismith by the Revd D. McMillan, M. [sic] Theophilus Irons to

a Mounted Corps at Harrismith, who had induced Sgt Currie [Curry, George*] of

the Cape Mounted Rifles in Natal to visit Harrismith – the corps had about 30

members. (NM 24.11.63 in English vol.3, pp.37–8) This was to assist the corps

with a few weeks’ drill. (SO’BS, vol.5, p.54)

Miss Ellen Spilsbury. (NM 00.07.64). Dau. of H. Spilsbury*. (SO’BS). Irons was

proprietor of the Oaks Hotel, Harrismith. (Brink). He is said to have run an hotel

in Harrismith, possibly Spilsbury’s Hotel. (v.d.B.)

1865.11.16 On 16 Nov. the wife of Theophilus Irons, of Harrismith, a son. (NM 00.12.65)

1865–68 Field-Cornet, Harrismith, during the Basuto War. (Brink)

1869.02.00 M. Wessels, W.A. van Aardt and Irons drew up municipal regulations for

1870.00.00 Had a hotel in Harrismith. (HD 19.03.70).

1872.07.26 Ellen Irons b. Spilsbury (our daughter) d. aged 24. (Tomb HMC). When Ellen d.

Harrismith, but nothing further eventuated at that stage. (Steytler p.106)

Irons deserted his family of four children. They were brought up by relatives. (DI

via EMG). After the death of his wife Irons, overwhelmed with the responsibility

of raising four young children, placed them in the families of various Dutch

friends and left Harrismith. Their Spilsbury grandmother gathered them up and

raised them on the family farm. (Brink). At a date not known Theophilus settled

in Bloemfontein. The daughters [of the first marriage] went to him there,

attending school, probably as boarders, in a local Catholic convent school. When

their education was complete they returned to Harrismith, where their brother was

told to care for them by a relative who set them up in a house. (DI via EMG).

Theophilus resettled in Bloemfontein and when his two elder daughters were

older, Grandma Spilsbury arranged for them to be sent by post cart to him. He

sent them to the Bloemfontein Convent where they boarded and were educated.

On the completion of their schooling, ‘the two young golden-haired ladies

returned home to the Spilsburys’. Grandfather Spilsbury purchased, for Frank, a

small house on the market square in Harrismith and told him, ‘There is your

house, take care of your sisters and look after them. (Brink)

1881.01.18 Married Mary Ann Walsh. (SHI). Bloemfontein. (Brink)

1895.09.11 Died in Bloemfontein. (Ibid)

1994.12.07 The Revd S.H. Irons has in his possession the cavalry sword which possibly

belonged to Theophilus in his Harrismith days. (SHI)


First marriage

Frank Theophilus (Born 16 Nov.1865, Harrismith. Died 27 July 1943, Umfolozi, Zululand)

1865.11.16 The wife of Theophilus Irons, of Harrismith, a son. (NM 00.12.1865)

1891.11.16 m. Isobel [sic] Kaighen [sic]. (SHI). m. Isabella Margaret Kaighin in Harrismith,

1899.10.04 Will made in Winburg where they were living. (Ibid)

1943.07.27 d. aged 78yrs 8mths at Umfolozi, Zululand. Retired and living at Doonside. (Ibid)

1943.08.05 Death Notice of F.T. Irons signed at Winkelspruit by his widow. (Ibid)

1946.10.13 Isabella Margaret Irons, b. in Ramsey, Isle of Man – a Manx national – d. aged 82

no date given. (MSCE 37465/1943)

at Parklands Nursing Home, Overport, Dbn. Place of residence Alpha House, 184

Musgrave Road, Dbn. Death Notice signed by son H.S. [Henry Spilsbury] Irons

who was not present at time of death. (MSCE 1981/46)

Sarah (Born c.1867, Harrismith. Died 16 February 1911. Brandfort, OFS)

1867c. b. Date estimated. (BMS). Harrismith. (Brink)

18––––––– m.1.) David Martin. (Ibid)

18––––––– m.2.) James Sorrie. (SHI)

1911.02.16 d. Brandfort. (Brink)

Lucy (Born c.1869, Harrismith. Died –––––)

1869c. b. Date estimated. (BMS). Harrismith. Brink)

18––––––– m. Christopher Stantial Chatterton, son of Henry Chatterton*. (CH-T))

Ellen (Born July 1872, Harrismith. Died 16 October, 1904)

1872.07.00 b. Harrismith some two weeks before her mother d. (Brink)

1904.10.16 E.L.H. (Nellie) Irons d. aged 32 years (our granddaughter). (Tomb [Spilsbury

plot] HMC). Unmarried. (Brink)

Second marriage

Lionel (Born 10 December 1884, ?Bloemfontein. Died –––––)

1884.12.10 b. (SHI). ?Bloemfontein. (BMS)

1904.00.00 m. Mona O’Connell. (SHI)

Edmond (Born 13 May 1886, ?Bloemfontein. Died–––––)

1886.05.13 b. (SHI). ?Bloemfontein. (BMS)

19––––––– m. Winnifred–––––. (SHI)

Ada Frances (Born 28 August 1888, Bloemfontein. Died 15 May1969, Mtubatuba, Zululand)

1884.04.10 Future husband William Alexander Liddell b. Harrismith. (MSCE 3306/1971)

1888.08.28 Ada Frances b. Bloemfontein. (MSCE 2157/69)

1910.09.28 m. W. A. Liddell in Winburg, OFS. (MSCE 3306/1971)

1961.07.31 Signed will. Place of residence Harrismith. (MSCE 2157/69)

1969.05.15 d. in Matubatuba, lived in Amanzintoti (Ibid)

1971.08.21 W. Liddell d. in Nongoma, Zululand, was living at Inyalazi River, Zululand, at

time of death. Father was Robert Jesse Liddell and mother Anna Margaretha

Aletta b. Cadle. (MSCE 3306/1971). He was the 10th child of R.J. Liddell (1842-

1901) and A.M.A. Cadle (1850-1933). (F.M. Williams in Familia vol.8, no.3,

1971. pp.7-13. The descendants of Joseph Plaskett Liddell in South Africa)

Oswald Irons (Born 10 March 1890, ?Bloemfontein. Died–––––)

1890.03.10 b. (SHI). ?Bloemfontein. (BMS)

19––––––– m. Ethel–––––. (SHI)

Gertie (Born 28 July 1892, ?Bloemfontein. Died–––––)

1892.07.28 b. (SHI). ?Bloemfontein (BMS)

19–––––––– m. –––––Wheeler. (SHI)


* After a name indicates that person as the head of a family and therefore qualified for an entry

in Shelagh Spencer’s biographical register.

**IGI – International Genealogical Index. (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)


Books and Directories

Clark – Clark, Dr John. Natal Settler-Agent. The career of John Moreland agent for the Byrne-

emigration-scheme of 1849–51. Cape Town: Balkema, 1972.

Hatt. – Hattersley, A.F. The British settlement of Natal. A study in imperial migration.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950.

SO’BS – Spencer, Shelagh O’Byrne. British Settlers in Natal, 1824–1857 a biographical

register. vol. 1–. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1981–.

Steytler, F.A. Die geskiedenis van Harrismith. Bloemfontein: NPB, 1932.

Thompson, Leonard. A history of South Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2006.


HMC – Harrismith Municipal Cemetery.

Manuscript Sources

English – English, Dr B.D. The story of the Royal D’Urban Rangers. Typescript, 1954.

FTI – F.T.Irons to Cyril Eyre 23.03.1936 in Don Africana Library, Durban.

HD – Hathorn, Fergus Alexander. Diary in private ownership.

IP – Iron Papers in Natal Society Collections, Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives. UKZN,


MP – Moreland Papers in Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

Todd – Todd, William. Diary, 1849–1851 in Killie Campbell Library, Durban.


NM – Natal Mercury

NW – Natal Witness

Personal Communication

BMS – Spencer, Brian Mitchell

Brink – Brink, Gail (Spilsbury descendant)

CH-T – Hilton-Taylor, Craig

DI – Irons, Daavid (eldest grandson of Frank Theophilus)

EMG – Gilbert, Mrs E.M.

FTI – Irons, Frank Theophilus (son of Theophilus)

SHI – Irons, Stanley Harold (grandson of Frank Theophilus)

SO’BS – Spencer, Shelagh O’Byrne

v.d.B. – van den Bosch, L.W.P.


Park – Park, Margaret Grant. The history of early Verulam in Archives year book for South

African history, vol. 2. Elsies River: Government Printer, 1953.

Unpublished Official Sources

MSCE – Master of the Supreme Court. Estates

RSC – Registrar of the Supreme Court

SGO – Surveyor General’s Office

Compiled from Shelagh O’Byrne Spencer’s records of the British Settlers of Natal 1824–1857