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Magaret MacDonald Letter

This letter to Margaret MacDonald is part of the Ramsay MacDonald Collection, formerly in the Public Records Office and now part of the National Archives UK, Kew, London. It appears here with the kind permission of the National Archives under its Open Government License copyright arrangements and this is gratefully acknowledged. The OSLO Project is indebted to Dr Martin Plaut for drawing the letter to attention.



Letter date         [16 October 1902]

Address From     [Hanover]

Address To         [Cape Town]

Who to              [Margaret MacDonald]



Editor               [ ]



Archive name      [National Archives, Kew, London (former Public Records Office)]

Archive Ref 1      [Ramsay MacDonald Collection, PRO 30/69/1203 I. 1897-1909 South Africa: Correspondence, JRM & MEM; Ramsay MacDonald Correspondence]


[LEGEND: There is no attached envelope, and so where Margaret MacDonald was staying in Cape Town cannot be established.]



Oct 16th 1902


Dear Mrs MacDonald

I was very sorry to get the news which your letter of yesterday brought me, that you were sailing about the 21st as I had much hoped to find you in Cape Town when I went down. I cannot leave this till the 24th at the earliest & then I fear you will be gone certainly before I get there.


When I go down there I want to see General Settle & also the Governor to try & get the release of our two Hanover men concerned in that de Aar shooting when three of our men were executed ^& these sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour.^ They were all perfectly unreadable ^innocent^, none of the 5 having been there when the train was wrecked as I can prove. No doubt we shall get them out when Van der Berg who turned Queens evidence against them has been tried; but that will not be for another six months at least, & I had hoped that if you were in Cape Town perhaps you would have gone with me to see General Settle & the Governor. There are several reasons which would take too long to explain why it would have been good that you should be with me.

I am also so very sorry to miss seeing you for my own sake; & was much disappointed when I found you had been to & left Hanover while I was at Pretoria.

No friend from the outer world has been to see me since I came to Hanover more than two years ago, & it would have been one pleasant association with Hanover which now is connected in my mind with nothing which is not ghastly & terrible.

I should much like to know what all your impressions are of South African problems after your travels through the country. If by any possibility you should still be in Cape Town when I come please let me know at once I shall be staying at Dr. Purcell.

With hearty greetings to you both yours very sincerely

Olive Schreiner

My husband has just been elected as their representative in parliament by the South African Party in this district, & if he is returned with out opposition it is possible he may ^come down to Cape Town with me.^

^I daresay you & your husband know many of my old friends in England & I should have enjoyed hearing of them^

[NOTATION: Many thanks to Dr Martin Plaut for drawing this letter to attention. Margaret MacDonald was a prominent labour organiser and feminist and married to Labour Party politician and later Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. The key matter referred to concerns events during the South African War leading to the execution of a number of Hanover men and the imprisonment of others for the claimed wrecking of a train, convicted by another local man providing evidence against them. Schreiner wanted the executed men reinterred in their home village, the imprisoned men released, and Van der Berg tried for his own culpability. She achieved the first and the last. Cronwright Schreiner led the case against Van der Berg and she took verbatim notes; Van der Berg was however found not guilty, the verdict being certainly a put up job. Schreiner also organised financial and other relief for the very poor families of the men concerned. She probably thought that General Settle and the Governor (Milner) would be more willing to see her and also more amendable to persuasion if she was accompanied by such a well-known – and well-connected – figure as Margaret MacDonald. The ‘travels through South Africa’ referred to occurred in the wake of the War, which had ended in June 1902. Ramsay MacDonald published a book about this, What I Saw in South Africa (1902).]