Remarkable People

ID #5343

Emily Hobhouse 1 Welfare Campaigner, Anglo-Boer War, South Africa.

Emily Hobhouse (1860 – 1926) was a welfare campaigner remembered for bringing to British  attention the appalling conditions in concentration camps built for Boer women and children during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
Born in St Ives, near Liskeard in Cornwall, she was the daughter of an Anglican rector. When her father died in 1895 she went to Minnesota to perform welfare work amongst Cornish mineworkers living there.  The trip had been organized by the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There she met and became engaged to John Carr Jackson and the couple bought a ranch in Mexico.  However their relationship did not prosper and the engagement was broken off. Her wedding veil (that she never wore) hangs in the office of the "Oranje Vrouevereniging" (Orange Women's Society) in Bloemfontein, supposedly a symbol of her commitment to the upliftment of women.

When the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899, Leonard Courtney -- a Liberal MP -- invited Hobhouse to become secretary of the women's branch of the South African Conciliation Committee. Hobhouse wrote: “It was late in the summer of 1900 that I first learnt of the hundreds of Boer women that became impoverished and were left ragged by our military operations… the poor women who were being driven from pillar to post, needed protection and organized assistance”. She set up the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children and sailed for the Cape in December 1900 to supervise its distribution. She later wrote: ”I came quite naturally, in obedience to the feeling of unity or oneness of womanhood... it is when the community is shaken to its foundations, that abysmal depths of privation call to each other and that a deeper unity of humanity evinces itself”. When she left England, she knew about the concentration camp at Port Elizabeth. Only on arrival did she find out about the other 34 camps.

Hobhouse had a letter of introduction to the governor, Alfred Milner, from whom she obtained the use of two railway trucks, subject to approval of the army commander, Lord Kitchener. She received Kitchener's permission although it only allowed her to travel as far as Bloemfontein and take one truck of supplies for the camps (about 12 tons). She persuaded authorities to let her visit several camps and to deliver aid. Her report on conditions at the camps, entitled “Report of a Visit to the Camps of Women and Children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies”, was delivered to the British government in June 1901. As a result, a commission sent Millicent Fawcett to inspect the camps.

Overcrowding in unhygienic conditions due to neglect and lack of resources were the causes of a mortality rate that in the eighteen months during which the camps were in operation reached a total of 26,370, of which 24,000 were children under sixteen and infants …i.e. the rate at which the children died was some 50 a day.
Hobhouse was an avid opponent of the First World War and protested vigorously against it. She organized the writing, signing and publishing in January 1915 of the "Open Christmas Letter", addressed "To the Women of Germany and Austria" Through her offices, thousands of women and children were fed daily for more than a year in central Europe after this war. South Africa contributed liberally towards this effort, and more than £17,000 was collected by Mrs. President Steyn (a life-long friend) and sent to Hobhouse for this purpose.

She became an honorary citizen for her humanitarian work. Unbeknownst to her, on the initiative of Mrs. R. I. Steyn, a sum of £2,300 was collected by Afrikaners which she used to purchase a house in St Ives. It now forms part of The Porthminster Hotel, where a commemorative plaque was unveiled by the South African High Commissioner as a tribute to her humanitarianism and heroism. Hobhouse died in London in 1926 and her ashes were placed in a niche in the National Women's Monument at Bloemfontein. The southernmost town in Eastern Free State is named Hobhouse in her memory, as was the SAS Emily Hobhouse, one of the South African Navy’s three Daphné class submarines.

I believe that at the end of the war, the following statistics were reported:
Boer Soldiers Killed                               4000
British Soldiers Killed                        20000
Boer Women and Children who died    in Concentration Camps    26000
Of the latter figure, most were children. In other words, the British were only able to win by “ethnic cleansing” of the Boers.

Accordingly, a few awkward questions, as follows:
o    Has anyone been held accountable for waging “aggressive war” against the Boers?  Let me remind you that the above is an international war crime for which, for example, several Nazis were tried and executed during WW2
o    Has anyone ever formally apologized for atrocities perpetrated against women and children during the Second Anglo-Boer War?
Don’t you think it’s about time something was done about it? RSAEH1

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:49
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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