Biography of Ernest William Bickford MISKIN (1869-1892)
Birth registered 4Q1869 Woolwich 1d 900: he was 7th of 11 siblings.
His father James Scammell MISKIN was a Master Bookbinder by trade and his mother Mary Charlotte (nee BICKFORD) a school teacher
His grandfather James Scammell MISKIN had been a shoe maker by trade and later the foreman of the clothing storehouse at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
His grandfather William BICKFORD was of Devon farming stock but had become a paper maker at Newton Abbot and later a Chemicals Manufacturer at Stepney, Middlesex.
At 1881 census Ernest was residing with his parents at 36 Thomas St Woolwich, then in the County of Kent, England but now in the Borough of Greenwich, Greater London.
In August 1887 he was 'Gazetted' as having passed examination for Clerkship in the Civil Service.
Having suffered for some years with poor health, he appears to have been advised to seek a more convivial climate.
What follows is taken from letters received by his elder brother James:
A letter dated 18 May 1890 written by Ernest indicates that he was then on board ship off the Spanish coast, having passed the Bay of Biscay and shortly to visit Lisbon. Then, in October 1890, he wrote from Senekal, Orange Free State (now Free State Province, South Africa). [The timing matches the Mr Miskin, adult, single, a cabin passenger from Southampton to Cape Town, recorded on the ship 'Mexican' - see image of passenger manifest in Ancestry collection].
By late 1890 Ernest is working as a clerk at Senakal in a general retail store owned and run by the Lange family. He seems to have remained in this situation until around the end of 1891.
In early 1892 he found work as a private tutor on a farm in the Bethlehem postal district (letters to be addressed to EWB Miskin, Schoonzicht c/o the Post office Bethlehem. his new employer was to be Mr Isaac du Preez (later also written Dupreez) and he would have a 6 months trial with six children aged 5-13. About this time he wrote that teachers in schools need to be Dutch speakers and writers, so private tutoring is his only teaching option until he becomes more fluent in that language.
It seems that he was retained in post beyond the 6 months trial period but on 6 Dec 1892 in a letter to his brother James he writes that he is giving up his tutoring job for reasons unspecified but probably including deteriorating health. Says he will leave Schoonzicht in a couple of weeks for Christmas with the Miskins, then a trip to Ladysmith, Natal to friends and next to Senekal for a while. In another 6 Dec 1892 letter, this one to his mother, he writes more frankly about his health and refers to 'going in' by which he may mean planned medical treatment as an in-patient.
He died on 27th December 1892 at Bethlehem OFS. He was not wealthy but his 'estate' took some time to resolve.
A fitting conclusion is provided by the Reverend W H Ball, Vicar at the parish of Bethlehem, who in 1897 wrote to Ernest's brother James, principally about a stone marking Ernest's grave but added "Your brother was well known to me. I saw him first in Senekal & he played our harmonium there. Then I saw him at Luring Krans. Afterwards he arrived here I don't think he ever visited town without calling on me. I was with him practically up to his death that is to say visited him within a day or so & you know how suddenly he passed away".
Mentions of the Miskins of Bethlehem OFS extracted from some surviving letters written in the 1890s by Ernest William Bickford MISKIN and others, to his brother James Bickford MISKIN
It seems that Ernest went to OFS because he thought it would be good for his health and possibly there was some official incentive to settle there.
I have not found any indication that Ernest knew of the Miskins in Bethlehem before he reached Orange Free State. How they came to know each other is a matter or conjecture but one possibility is that reports of a new Miskin at Lange's store in Senekal may have reached Bethlehem via the farming or church communication networks. If so then the Bethlehem Miskins may well have reached out to such a incomer; in any case they proved to be invaluable friends.
Some letters sent to Ernest's brother James were kept by him and passed on with other family memorabilia to James' son Frank and thence to Frank's eldest son. These letters, which may not be all of those sent from Orange Free State in the 1890s, are in the care of one of my cousins. I saw them in 2008 and, whilst they still exist, I do not have easy access to the originals so the following snippets are from my 2008 notes etc.
12 Oct 1890 - Ernest writes from Senekal, reporting that he is settling to work and comments on the climate. No indication of why Senekal or how he came by his employment.
14 Dec 1890 - passing mention of a planned Bethlehem trip that may now be delayed a little. Ernest does not give the purpose of the visit.
23 Oct 1891 - Writes that in his next letter he will report some news of his neighbours the Miskins of Bethlehem. [however, the next letter in the collection has no mention of the Miskins in Bethlehem].
24 Dec 1891 written from Luring Krans, reports plan to go on to the Miskins at Bethlehem from the last day of the year to stay "as long as they will have me - a month perhaps" Sets out some terms of employment for teachers, including need to speak Dutch. Alternative much less well paid jobs tutoring in English.
19 Feb 1892 Bethlehem, refers to great hospitality of Miskins at Bethlehem, to visiting the farm about 4 miles out of town, seeing grain winnowed by ox power, Mentions "two married Miskins, Mrs Masters and Mrs Roalfe? with her tribe of youngsters"; also "The old gentleman" [ J R Miskin maybe].
22 Mar 1892 Bethlehem, expects to be fetched about the 8th or 10th of next month for his tutoring job on a farm and gives a forwarding address: c/o Mr. Isaac du Preez [Naudesluct?] p/o Schoonzicht, Bethlehem, OFS. Ernie writes that Schoonzicht means ' Clear View' or 'Belle Vue'. The job is on 4 months trial with 6 children aged 5-13. Ernie refers to coming famine-like conditions following a plague of locusts. Says that Chris [ C J Miskin, maybe] is better placed than many with harvest still in store from last year.
1 Apr 1892 Bethlehem, refers to "leaving most of my letters to be answered when I take up my new residence" - expects to be out of the farm and at his new work in less than a fortnight, knows he has overstayed his welcome [with the Miskins] but [still] treated with great kindness; feeling much better now and the lovely winter weather coming on; mentions a plague of locusts doing damage; mentions that there are three Mr Miskins 'here' - JR, CJ, & AE. Arthur Miskin married a Miss Archbell of Scottish extraction whose father was a local farmer.
6 Dec 1892 Schoonzicht, Ernie writes of leaving here in a couple of weeks for Christmas with the Miskins then a trip to Ladysmith, Natal to friends and next to Senekal for a while. giving up his tutoring job because the place is dull and other things [unspecified]; not sleeping at night and can do nothing during the day, so life is at times miserable. Mrs Lloyd came over with her cart and took Ernie to her place for Saturday and Sunday. Good food but... "change from Boer to civilisation was too great" and Ernie should have been more moderate in his eating.
10 May 1893 from John R Miskin, Bethlehem, who refers to Gravesend Kent as his birthplace, which he visited last in Oct 1848.
8 Sept 1893 from John R Miskin, Bethlehem, re administration of Ernie's affairs.
undated [Dec 1893*] from John R Miskin. Refers to receipt by Mrs JR Miskin of a letter dated 15 Sept from Frances and news of J B Miskin's forthcoming marriage [23 Dec 1893]. John R Miskin writes "on 31st of this month I shall have been married for 48 years." John goes on to write that he hopes Jim will go to St Albans to see his brother & family. He knows all about you from us. Finally, John writes in a postscript "I [indistinct word, could perhaps be 'entered'] the allotted 3 score and 10 on the 9th last month".
*28 Jan 1895 from John R Miskin who says that the coming 31st December will be his Golden Wedding [SO when he wrote (in the previous reported letter) "on 31st this month I will have been married for 48 years", he was writing in December 1893; AND his birth was on 9th November 1823, or 1824 if he was entering his 70th year in December 1893 and had not then passed his 70th birthday]
Recently I have seen on-line some images of Bethlehem Parish Records which indicate that CJ Miskin (Christopher) followed his father into farming whilst AE (Arthur) went into the building trade (as did the Miskins of St Albans (see App.II).
Unsubstantiated potential earlier relationship between two known, and apparently disconnected, Miskin descents in England.
Ernest was a descendent of Leonard MISKIN of Higham, Kent (1721-1796) in the line through Edward (1749/50-1822) to his grandfather James Scammell (1783-1846). This family is reflected in Ancestry public trees.
John R Miskin, the patriarch of the Bethlehem family, seems from the letters (see App. I) to have been born 9 Nov 1823 or 1824 , in or near Gravesend Kent, and to have a brother in St Albans. This brother must surely have been Christopher Miskin (1830-1930) and these two are also reflected in Ancestry public trees, albeit there may have been two John R Miskin births at about the same time and some doubt (in some public trees but not in this text) as to which of them went to Bethlehem.