Emily Hobhouse … it is time I set out a brief overview of this amazing woman, who worked for the displaced women and children in the 2nd Boer War (1899 – 1902), attempted to broker peace during World War One, and helped found the Save the Children Fund.
Emily’s great niece, Jennifer Hobhouse Balme, was left a trunkful of Emily’s papers, which she has been converting into three books, which let us have a better overview of Emily’s life’s work … which has been forgotten here, but not in South Africa where she is revered.
I shall follow the four periods of Emily’s life:
- her early life;
- her introduction to and involvement with South Africa;
- her wish for peace in World War One;
- her final years, where she still influenced and affected those who knew her, then and today.
|The Chantry garden -|
it was recently on sale
Emily was born in The Chantry, St Ive, outside Liskeard in Cornwall, to the Rector and his wife – both-well connected. The house was full of laughter and gaiety while her mother was alive, but she died when Emily was 20 and her father ‘closed down’ in Victorian fashion.
|Liskeard at the south end|
of Bodmin Moor
She assisted her father with his parish work (St Ive, pronounced Eve, was the centre of a thriving mining district) and looked after him until his death in 1895.
|The Rectory (Chantry) from the drive|
She longed for an education … and envied her brothers … though she picked up what she could from the family visits of relatives – many of whom were of high intellect – ecumenical members, peers, journalists, members of parliament …
… and it was during these early years she developed her social conscience, learnt as much as she could locally, on an international scale and about history, politics and empire.
|Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (1910)|
Her favourite brother – younger by four years – Leonard, was an atheist from an early age, despite his father being an Anglican Priest for over 50 years.
Leonard, after graduating, had a stint at the Manchester Guardian and as secretary of a trade union.
He was a peace activist and proponent of social liberalism, while their second cousin, Stephen Henry Hobhouse (1881 – 1961), was an important British peace activist who had been influenced by Emily’s findings on the ‘concentration camps’ for the Boer Women and Children in South Africa.
|Virginia, Minnesota ( the Iron Mine at Rouchleau)|
A short time after her father’s death, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife organised for Emily to take on some missionary work in a mining district in Virginia, Minnesota; she also started a Temperance Society and a Public Reading Room Service.
While there her naïve personal relations were exposed, she became engaged to a man of questionable character, persuaded to purchase a ranch in Mexico – and then waited … her fiancé never matched her expectations, funds were running low, and she felt forced to break off her engagement, returning to Britain broken in heart, as well as very dispirited.
|Leonard and Catherine Courtney 1916|
On her return in 1899 she worked with a small group who were speaking out against the Boer War … and joined the South African Conciliation Committee, which had been set up by Catherine Courtney, wife of Leonard Courtney – the Liberal Member of Parliament for Bodmin and Liskeard – where Emily learnt about the plight of hundreds of Boer women and children who had been left impoverished and ragged by our military operations.
Emily founded the Distress Fund for South African Women and children, raised some funds and sailed for the Cape Colony in 1900 to supervise the Fund’s distribution.
|Boer War 'concentration camp'|
outside Bloemfontein, 1902
When she left England she knew of one ‘concentration camp’ at Port Elizabeth … but on arrival found many others, 44 in total … eventually there would be 64 of these tented camps.
During the Boer War and her travels to South Africa Emily became a thorn in the flesh of the British Government at a time when women were asserting their rights at home.
|Boers at Spioenkop in 1900|
(it is now a National Wildlife Reserve - and includes
a memorial and information site on the battle fields)
The British had declared war on the Boer Republics, The Free State and the Transvaal, to convert them to British colonies, which would eventually become the Union of South Africa, but in the meantime would keep the benefit of the Witwatersrand gold mines within the British Empire.
The Boers were winning the skirmishes, so the British moved to take away their supply mechanism – i.e. their farmsteads, stock and importantly their women and children.
|An Afrikaaner woman with her children in a camp|
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 (a burgher is a farmer or citizen).
Emily found the conditions appalling – supplies and rations had to be ordered two weeks in advance ... but how many people would, by then, be in the camps … the distribution was via a single track railway with the military demands coming first … the request for fresh water, extra food, blankets, medicines came second.
|Spioen Kop on the edge of the eastern Free State|
On her return home Emily invested a great deal of time and energy lobbying, writing letters, detailing reports … exposing the conditions and inhumane treatment of women and children.
She was one of those quietly determined to expose the internment camps and to tell the British government and public about the “Scorched Earth” policy.
She was not a politician, but her instincts were right ... and she lobbied everywhere she was able to get her voice out.
|President Martinhuys Steyn of|
the Free State
The Boer generals had capitulated after realising how appallingly their women and children were being treated … Emily admired the Boers for taking this action.
Her sympathies were appreciated by many in Britain, but she had trouble getting acknowledgement from the Government … the picture of apathy and impatience displayed at home, contrasted sadly with scenes of misery in South Africa.
She often returned to South Africa during those early years of the 1900s … usually under her own auspices and was thwarted on occasions by both Governments … but once the War was over she returned to South Africa and … then saw that her mission was to assist in healing the wounds inflicted by the war and to support the efforts aimed at rehabilitation and reconciliation.
|Gandhi spinning - perhaps he learnt from|
Emily how to spin ... as they met on
occasion when he was still in South
Africa (though he's in India here)
She set up a home industry system teaching the Afrikaner women and girls – lace making, spinning and weaving … she raised funds to alleviate the outcome of the War.
She suffered from ill health for 20 years from those early years in the 1900s until her death … but she was indomitable in her spirit ... and she travelled far and wide.
|The sculpture on the Monument dedicated to Women|
and Children in Bloemfontein
As a result the Boers came to revere Hobhouse as an Angel of Mercy … a Monument dedicated to the Women and Children (the first of its kind to women and children) was built in Bloemfontein and for the unveiling in 1913 Emily was invited back to South Africa to unveil it and give a talk.
She travelled to South Africa, but could not complete the journey north from Beaufort West … Mrs Tibbie Steyn, the Free State President’s wife, read it for her.
|The populace gathered to hear Emily's address|
A hundred years later (2013) another Service of Remembrance was held at the monument to remember the suffering, but also to remember Emily’s contribution to South Africa. There will be a book coming out via the Afrikaner Media Group auspices of ‘Naspers’.
The First World also cast a dark shadow over her life. Wherever she could she raised her voice in protest against the War.
|The German Reich 1871 - 1918|
She travelled throughout Europe … lobbying and finding supporters on both sides of the affray – those in Britain, as well as those in Germany … Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and France … she had learnt much and could outwit most politicians and government officials by moving around or persuading others to help her with her approach.
She wrote at the end of 1914 an "Open Christmas Letter" as a public message for PEACE addressed to the “Women of Germany and Austria”, signed by a group of 101 British women suffragists.
|Jennifer Hobhouse Balme's book|
on Emily during the First World War:
this is an excellent read
The Christmas Letter was written in acknowledgement of the mounting horror of modern war and as a direct response to letters written to American feminist, Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, by a small group of German women’s rights activists.
She was in Germany in 1916 … lobbying to broker Peace – the Germans had agreed to a meeting, the British would not.
Her four objectives on her return to England in 1916 re the War were:
First get peace talks moving so as to avoid further bloodshed;
Second to obtain the release of civilian internees on foreign soil;
Third to get better food and supplies to the people of Belgium; and
Fourth to discuss the food position in Germany.
Her Boer War reputation had brought her many friends in high places, but also many enemies who (although she had been proved right) had not forgotten what they considered as slights against the integrity of their government.
|Mrs Tibbie Steyn|
When at the conclusion of the war, she again heard – this time from central Europe – the cry of distress coming from starving women and children, she once again devoted herself to bringing relief to the destitute.
Through her actions, tens of thousands of women and children were fed daily for more than a year. Mindful of their own past, South Africa also contributed liberally to this effort. Mrs President (Tibbie) Steyn sent over more than £17,000 to Emily for this purpose.
Emily’s fervent interest in humanity and the struggle for truth and justice continued unabated. The first meeting of "The Fight the Famine Council" - the precursor to Save the Children - was held at Catherine Courtney's home in 1919
Her own actions and motives had been misinterpreted by her own nation during the Anglo-Boer War … and were a bitter pill to her right to the end of her life …
|National Women's Monument - Bloemfontein|
… but she was held in high esteem and loved by the South African nation and this certainly helped her thoughts. Without her knowledge and on the initiative of Mrs Steyn a sum of £2,300 was collected and sent to her with the explicit mandate that she find herself a small home on the coast in Cornwall.
Her finances had been impoverished, so now at least she could buy herself a house, which she did in St Ives, west Cornwall, next to the Porthminster Hotel – it is incorporated into the hotel now.
She realised she was near her end … and in her last letter she wrote that her soul was full of the music of the Cornish songs she learnt in her youth.
She was recognised in death and her ashes found a final resting place in a niche at the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein.
|Mahatama Gandhi 1909|
She was loved by the people of South Africa and admired by those like Mahatma Gandhi, who asked for her help. As well as the lobbyist and welfare activist she had become, she wrote books, loved to paint, and was an entertainer …
David Nash, Professor of History, argued in 1999 that (Emily’s)opposition to the Second Boer War began the tradition of peace politics that has flourished through the twentieth century …
Jenny has written her books from Emily’s papers in order to offer the British public the information in the interests of truth.
|20,000 mourners lined the streets of Bloemfontein|
when Emily's ashes were interred in the monument
I know this post is not that short … but please read and appreciate the social history as well as history I set out here.
More can be found in Jenny’s books … particularly “Agent of Peace” ... where you will appreciate more about the First World War and those times in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium etc ...
PS - I'm stressed ... I can't seem to get rid of the white - so 'give up'! apologies .. it looks messy - and I don't like that. I've corrected it as far as you, as readers, can see.
This is the link to Amazon for the "Agent of Peace" book - as shown above ...
This is the link to Amazon for the "Agent of Peace" book - as shown above ...
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories