|Oxford City Centre - City of Dreaming Spires|
I had a reason to visit Oxford University that bastion of education – where town meets gown – and where I finally got to peer inside the brain of a University. I was at school in Oxford for nine years and we sallied forth occasionally down the hill – perhaps for Evensong at the Cathedral, or to the ballet or a theatre ... in those days there was not much other interaction.
Some years later! the school joins in so many activities and educational opportunities that are on offer by a university town, from which the students can benefit before they go out into the world of further learning or earning a living – I’d quite like to go back to school now! Our visit gave me flashbacks to those days.
|Headington School, on hill above Oxford|
Jenny, a cousin of my mother’s had come over from Vancouver Island, to give two talks at Oxford – to the Friends of the Swaziland Society, and to the Friends of the International Gender Studies. Jenny’s great aunt, Emily Hobhouse (1860 – 1926) had been an advocate for improvement of the Boer war camps (mainly) for women and children.
Emily had campaigned in London and South Africa that these camps be improved and was the first civilian to visit them and report back. I found the whole thing fascinating – but my brain was stretched to the limit – and I learnt to look at historical life in a new light.
We just don’t think ... and find it so difficult to relate to times gone by – as our reference point seems to be the way we would do things ourselves: no wonder so many of us don’t understand or appreciate history!
Emily Hobhouse had looked after her parents until she was 35, when her father finally died. They had lived in Cornwall and Emily had been endowed with a ‘big knowledge seeking brain’ (not a Pooh Bear brain: “I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me”) ... and faced many discouragements at home to foster her incredible intelligence and intellect.
Jenny inherited a trunk full of Emily’s papers which she painstakingly published into a book in 1994 – she self-published ... and I hope will have the book re-printed in due course. My uncle commenting in a letter to me ... “Jenny is far too self-effacing when she describes herself as ‘the compiler’. Without intruding her own personality and thoughts she has preserved so much that is meaningful about Emily, while providing some marvellous linking passages in her own beautifully written prose”.
This same uncle on the other side of the family, who was high up in Government and knew about these matters having worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – when he read Jenny’s book remarked that she had done an incredible job – describing the book ‘as several Christmas dinners in one – and beautifully done’. Lovely description I think.
|Bloemfontein circa 1900|
It appears that many people have not appreciated the work that Emily did – where she went, how large her sphere of influence had become ... and how during her years with her parents ... she had had to master the art of organisation, knowing who would help her and why ...
... as well as helping her to expand her knowledge of history, politics and empire at home. Her elderly aunts, on behalf of their brother, ‘decided’ that a woman did not need an education: Emily’s ability to find her way through the morass of administrative and bureaucratic society served her in great stead.
Jenny has been anxious to correct the ‘political and media portrayal’ of Emily, which had been distorted over the years in Britain and Europe, while the complete opposite was acknowledged in South Africa.
Emily became a thorn in the flesh of the British Government at a time when women were asserting their rights at home anyway ... I won’t go into much more detail except to let you know one or two of the things that stood out for me.
A used £1 1903 Orange
River Colony revenue stamp
The British declared war on the Boer republics in order to convert them into British colonies, which would eventually become part of the Union of South Africa. This became known as the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1901).
The accepted practice for defeating a guerrilla campaign was to take away their supply mechanism ... ie their farmsteads, stock and importantly their women and children. Unfortunately the policies of “scorched earth” and civilian internment in concentration camps were the order of the day: the camps were originally called "burgher" or "refugee" camps (burgher = farmer/citizen).
To my mind there are in extremely simple terms two types of concentration camps – those where the civilians were held theoretically for their own good, while a war was fought ... or later on when the term became barbaric as under Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.
|One of the internment camps|
The military manual where the ‘rules and regulations’ were set out – did not take cognisance of the fact that South Africa is in the southern hemisphere ... so placement suggestions were always the wrong way round ... facing south, not north.
The conditions were terrible but life for anyone in war is not easy ... the supplies and rations had to be ordered two weeks in advance – how many people would be in camp at that time? The distribution was via a single track railway with the military demands being first in line ...
Emily invested a great deal of time and energy lobbying, writing letters, detailing reports, visiting camps and travelling back and forth in South Africa, and to London and Europe – she worked tirelessly for the disadvantaged women and children in these camps.
She was loved by the people of South Africa and admired by those like Mahatma Gandhi who asked for her help. She was a bit of a painter, a writer and an entertainer, and in spite of ill-health travelled easily between countries – even as World War One took its grip.
|National Women's Monument|
The South Africans so admired her that they clubbed together to buy her a house in St Ives, the picturesque fishing village in Cornwall beloved of many artists. After she died her ashes were buried at the foot of the 1913 memorial in Bloemfontein for the women and children, who died in the Anglo-Boer War for whom she had worked so hard.
Jenny when she wrote the book from Emily’s papers presented it ‘as being offered to the public in the interests of truth – Emily having been portrayed unfairly and unkindly in the intervening years.
Jenny continues to research Emily’s work during her lifetime, but particularly the period leading up to, and during the First World War – and has recently been across to Germany and Switzerland to further this research.
Dr Birgit Seibold has been collating and publishing Emily’s German and European correspondence, with its attendant papers – so there now is an even fuller picture. These are published in German, but Birgit has translated a short (166 pages) book entitled “Emily Hobhouse and the Reports on the Concentration Camps during the Boer War 1899 – 1902: Two Different perspectives.”
|The walled Botanic Garden on a|
lovely October weekend
I had a glorious brain-filled weekend and really need this to spill over into a second lighter post .. so Part 2 to follow!
Dear Mr Postman – my mother is still enjoying her cards, letters, flowers and bulbs ... we are lucky to have such wonderful family and friends. Today I gather ... she has looked at Perla’s 6oth birthday pictures and had my post read to her! Wonderful she can still take an interest ...
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