by Hazel Dakers
Benjamin Norden (1798 - 1876) was the longest living and,
arguably, the best known and most successful of this family of British 1820
settlers* at the Cape. He seems to have been an enterprising business man
transforming himself from London tailor to general dealer, merchant, auctioneer
and property speculator. In common with many members of his family, Benjamin
Norden was extremely litigious, many of the cases in which he was involved being
against his relations.
1820 Settler's Monument outside Grahamstown
click to enlarge
Benjamin took an active role in the local business community
and in local politics. He was a city commissioner in Cape Town (municipal
councillor). His trading ventures led him to stay as a guest of Dingane as
representative of Sir Benjamin D'Urban and into partnership with Aaron de Pass.
Another friend was Piet Retief. Benjamin moved from Grahams Town to Cape Town
but finally left South Africa in 1858 to retire to Ramsgate in Kent - no doubt
encouraged by his links with the Montifiore family who lived there - where he is
buried with his last wife Abigail** at the Jewish Cemetery whose land he
Benjamin Norden was one of the founding fathers of the South
African Jewish community. It is recorded that the first Jewish services were
held in his house in Hof Street, Cape Town. He was one of the contributors to
the building of the first synagogue in the colony - in Cape Town. Benjamin was
instrumental in the appointment of Rabbi Rabinowitz. At the time of his
retirement a silver urn was presented to him commemorating the contribution he
made to the Jewish community.
As a pillar of the local community as a whole - not merely a
leader of the Jewish community - Benjamin Norden is known to have contributed to
the building of one of the first churches in Durban and to St John's Anglican
Church in Grahams Town. St George's Church which was to become the Grahams Town
Cathedral contains a memorial plaque to his warrior brother Joshua Davis Norden.
It is within its registers that the rites of passage of various members of the
Norden family are recorded - births, baptisms and marriages. At first an active
opponent of the move to settle convicts at the Cape, Benjamin Norden later
voluntarily supplied the convict ship Neptune at his own expense in 1849.
Neither his health (he was injured when stoned) nor his public standing ever
fully recovered from this humanitarian action.
*According to MD Nash (The Settler Handbook. Chameleon Press:
Diep River, 1987) he was one of three men not listed as members of Willson's
Party but associated with that party, perhaps having travelled on the Belle
Alliance under another name. His intention had been to travel as a member of the
party formed by his father, Abraham Norden whose application to emigrate was
unsuccessful. Abraham's daughter, Sarah, and her husband John Norton are members
of the Willson list. Whether perhaps Benjamin and his brothers joined the
Nortons a little later is not clear.
** Benjamin is also recorded as married to: Mary Pierce,
Margaret and another Mary. His children included: Benjamin Joshua Norden
(1825-64), Louisa (b.1827), Abraham (d.1848),Daniel, Mark (b.1829),Abigail Ann
b.1839), Benjamin (b.1832), Raphael Daniel (1834-1906), John (b.1842), Julia