"What a long name!". So many people say when they hear our name that one comes to expect comments to be passed. Well it is a long name and an usual one at that, so it would be expected that sometime a genealogist would have investigated its origin. Unfortunately it does not appear so, for there is no official genealogical record of our name as we know it and so far no unofficial record has come to light.
For various reasons I decided to investigate the origin of the name and I worked on the lines suggested by G. Hamilton-Edwards in his informative book "In Search of Ancestry". As suggested in the book research for information was made at the British Museum, Somerset House, and record offices. A duplicated Questionnaire was sent to Bassingthwaighte's living in England so that a sound foundation for research could be made.
Despite much searching it is not possible to record a direct link with Norman times. It appears that to trace back a direct line of descent to men of William the Conquerors army is almost certainly impossible. In fact no living person is able to do so although people have to prove a direct link with holders of land mentioned in the Domesday Book. A chronological list of traces of the name are given in Appendix `A'.
So far as the Bassenthwaite's of Cumberlandare concerned we can accept, perhaps with some reservation that we are their descendants. I have not found any reference book which actually states that there is a direct connection. The "Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names" gives Ernaldus Bastun as the Norfolk origin stating: "Bastun no doubt a Norman nick name Bastum `stick'. The name occurs as a byname in England". "A Dictionary of British Surnames" by P.H. Reaney states the name is derived from Bassenthwaite (Cumberland) and the English Place names Society in "Place Names of Cumberland" (Part 1 p.32) under Bassenthwaite Lake states that the name is probably of post-conquest origin. The first element appears to be Anglo-French nickname or surname Bastum, literally baton or stick. The second element is Medieval English for water. A short note on the Bastenthwaites of Cumberland is given on page 11.
From the information available it can be seen that the family as we know it originates from the County of Norfolk, more than likely from the city of Norwich for there are many members of the family recorded as Freemen of Norwich in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Members of the family have, at various times emigrated to Australia, Canada, South West Africa and the United States of America. In connection with S.W. Africa an article was published in South African Newspapers in 1948 and this interesting story about the family there can be found in a book called "lords of the Last Frontier" by L.G. Green. The book is available from public libraries.
In 1840, whilst on his way to Australia, Frank Bassingthwaighte landed at Walvis Bay. He stayed on and raised a family which has become the oldest living white white family in S.W. Africa.
Edward Bassingthwaighte, with his four sons Edward, William, John and George, landed in Australia in the early 1830's and moved inland to settle and become farmers at Braidwood, New South Wales.
Another man, Edward Merrill Bassingthwaighte, a coachsmith, brought his wife to London about 1820 and raised a family in the Shoreditch area. So far it has not been possible to establish from which parts of Norfolk these men were from because records are sparse and the family name is recorded in various parts of the county.
Details are included here with parts of the family tree which are reasonably clear but probably not one hundred per cent correct. The name of the village from which each particular family originates is shown where known.
You will appreciate that this has been a quick survey and therefore many loose ends have to be tied up. I intend to continue my research as a hobby and if you have any additional information of corrections to the information herewith I would be pleased to hear from you.
Ian Bassingthwaighte, England, September, 1969.
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