A response to Jane

Hi Jane, here’s a quick response to your Map Monday: indigenous history around the world, pre- and post-colonization with me sharing a little more detail from my comment, as you know I always enjoy your thoughtful and fascinating Map postings.

Generally when someone reaches their fifties they begin to wonder about generations past, a time when they begin to research their family’s history which I did several years ago prompted by anecdotes handed down from my Grandmother.

As I said my Great Grandfather Matthew with wife Jane and two young children (more were to follow when they resituated to the UK) lived in South Africa at the turn of the nineteenth century, though we’re unsure if he travelled to fight for the British army in the 1898-1902 Boer War, or whether they were already living in SA having emigrated earlier. We’re unsure but we do know Matthew served as a military Trooper having been later awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal pictured above, and you’ll see one bar attached to the braid reads Orange Free State however the Bethulie home Town photo reads Bethulie Orange River Colony which suggests they were already living in Bethulie, all treasured items given to me probably because I was the Grandchild who always asked to see them when I visited.

The point to my reply is Matthew served in the South African Constabulary in Bethulie a small Mission Town situated in the Orange River Colony, Bethulie has a shameful history being the site of the world’s first concentration camp used to imprison Boer women and children living in truly appalling conditions. Little is known about the black inmates of the camp but they were certainly there, A.G.H. Daller the first travelling inspector in the ORC observed the presence of black children as,

‘A peculiar feature is the presence of the families of “adopted” or “apprenticed” little coloured children – virtually slaves’, he noted. Their lives must have been hard for they received no rations, depending on their employers for food. As the black townspeople were virtually destitute, blacks in the camp could get little help from that quarter either.’

An appalling and shameful episode in Britain’s colonial past of which there are many, whether Church of England missionaries converting brown skinned girls and boys into Christian English speaking ‘subjects’, or transporting slaves to the America’s I’m afraid we have little to be proud of when talking Empire and her Colonies, the current troubles in Israel are a direct consequence of Britain’s meddling in Palestine.

So a question remains as to my Great Grandfather’s place in just one shameful colonial War, South Africa was quite literally a diamond jewel in Queen Victoria’s crown, our Matthew was a military policeman in a Concentration Camp Town fighting in a Colonial War, so as a family we’re left asking ourselves as a policeman what atrocities did he witness? He would have been aware of the camp housing 1700 prisoners but is there a darker side to my family’s history, might Matthew have visited or worked in the Camp? Questions we’ll never know the answer to and after all these years perhaps it’s best we don’t know.

A. Shepherdson 2021

3 thoughts on “A response to Jane

  1. Truly fascinating, Andrew. We have so much to learn from history, if only we could go back in time and ask the questions we didn’t think to ask when we might have. On the other hand, as we’re seeing unfolding right across the globe now, we don’t do a very good job of learning from the “mistakes” of the past. Thanks for sharing some important history through the lens of your family’s experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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