Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, finds his research takes him to the Mekong River, Vietnam and Laos as he uncovers the life of merchant adventurer – and Brockley resident – Peter Hauff
Undertaking local cemetery research often provides some truly fascinating international connections.
Indeed one of the most memorable phone calls I had the pleasure of receiving related specifically to my locating the part hidden headstone of a much travelled Norwegian sea captain, Peter Michael Vosgraff Hauff (d.1916) who is buried in Brockley cemetery.
The caller introduced herself as Fleur Brofos Asmussen , an artist and illustrator, who was now living in Copenhagen (Denmark). She had written a book called, Lao Roots (1997), about her search for her grandfather’s lost family living in Laos and Vietnam.
He was the Norwegian born son of Peter Michael Vosgraff Hauff with the same name and was married to her grandmother, Sau Boun Mao (d.1943).
She mentioned in the course of our conversation an early upbringing in England, her time living under the German occupation of Denmark during the Second World War and her meeting whilst living in New York with a Pop artist called Andy Warhol!*
The family lived on Jerningham Road, Brockley known also as ‘Jaerningham Rad’ in Norwegian as several Norwegian seafarers’ families lived there and sent their children to nearby Aske’s school and also attended the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe.**
Fleur’s grandfather, Peter Hauff, died in 1951, and left a long account of his remarkable experiences as a trader in Indo-China(1890-1928).
But nowhere did he mention the Laotian mother of one of his daughters, and the Vietnamese mother of the other.
The adventurous trader Peter Hauff, experienced the loss of a young son drowned in the Mekong River and the premature death in Laos of his Swiss business partner, Hans Faesh (who was a friend of the novelist Samuel Butler)
In 1902 , he was the first sea captain to navigate by steamer the forbidding Khone Falls, the widest waterfall in the world.
Before he returned to Europe in 1905 with his two daughters, he proceeded to marry again and later returned to Vietnam to continue trading.
He eventually settled in the south of France, experiencing many of the privations of the German occupation during the war years of 1940-45 and died, never having seen again Sao Boun Mao whom he described in a note shortly before his death as “the honest and faithful”-
He now lies in an unmarked grave in the South of France not far from the home of his great, great, granddaughter, the former ballet dancer and artist, Suzette Gabriel-Schoebitz (personal communication)
Fleur’s book (left) offers a vivid, moving and intimate account of a personal odyssey to locate the lost relatives of the author whose grandfather lived for some years in South -East London before furthering his business interests in Indo-China at the turn of the last century.
*Fleur Brofos Asmussen lives in Denmark. She was married to the Danish Illustrator, Des Asmussen (d.2004) and her brother in law was the Danish jazz violinist, Svend Asmussen ( d.2017 ) who was known as the ‘Fiddling Viking’.
**Roald Kvernal (1921-2015 ) Pioneering Seafarers Pastor, Maritime Consultant and Historian of Seaman’s Missions spent his early years growing up on Jerningham road, Brockley, and readers who are interested in finding out more about his time there might like to read: On Land and Sea ( 2013 ) https://roaldkverndal.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/kverndal_onlandandsea.pdf One of Roald Kvernal’s books was a biography of George Charles Smith ‘Bosun Smith’ (d.1863) – recognised worldwide as the founder of the Maritime Mission Movement. George Smith’s wife Theodosia d.1867 and daughter ,Igoalia Thirza d.1880 are buried in Ladywell cemetery