"Will Schreiner's death, first time in 50 years not writing to him on his birthday" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceT120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/31- pages 137-140
ArchiveNational Archives Depot, Pretoria
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date20 September 1896
Address FromThe Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToWilliam Thomas Stead
Other VersionsRive 1987: 290
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
The Project is grateful to the National Archives Repository, Pretoria, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Micofilm Collections.
1The Homestead
2Sep 20 / 96
3
4Dear Friend
5
6I enclose you some cuttings in case you should hear a wrong version of
7the matter. Before I make any assertion in any print whatso-ever, I
8must have all my facts not only distinct & marshalled, but all my
9witnesses ready! I believe (this is of course ^strictly^ private) that
10no other explanation is necessary of the war, than that Rhodes and the
11Chartered Company rule there!
12
13I am so sorry I have not yet heard from your son. I do hope he will
14come to Kimberley.
15
16Do I'm not fit. I've had two mis-carriages & am for the present
17stone-broke, but shall pull together soon no doubt & work again ^only
18it doesn't seem so now.^
19
20Yours ever with friendliest greetings & hoping you are fit.
21O. S.
22
23^P.S.^ It is curious how people seem to have misunderstood your remarks
24in the Review of Reviews. They seem to me not to bear the construction
25people have put on them at all. But many folk only half read a thing &
26then rush off & write. You will see that Mr Selous had never even read
27my articles p if ^at all.^
28
29The Homestead
30Sunday Morning

31
Notation
The struck-through ‘The Homestead’ and ‘Sunday Morning’ at the end of this letter are upside-down. The cuttings referred to are of some newspaper letters from Schreiner, and the ‘assertion in print’ she was being careful about concerned the massacres then occurring in the then Matabeleland and Mashonaland.

In 1896, the hunter and explorer Selous was writing a book on the Matabeleland and Mashonaland uprisings and was interviewed on this in September 1896 in the Diamond Field Advertiser, in which he made various claims about Schreiner's views. She sent Stead press cuttings about her response to these claims by Selous, as follows:

NB Please return these cutting
Olive Schreiner

Mr. Selous' statements.
To the Editor "D F Advertiser"

Sir - In your issue of this morning, in an interview with Mr Selous, the following passage occurs:-

"Mr Selous had much to say about Olive Schreiner's explanation of the rebellion. He flatly contradicted her statement that the rebellion was caused by the conduct of white men towards native girls."

As I have never, directly or indirectly, referred to the war in the north in any review or newspaper, I should be glad if through the medium of your columns Mr Selous would inform me where he believes me to have made the statement to which he refers.

In 1891 I wrote a series of articles on South Africa, in one of which, in dealing with the degrading results of illicit relationships between white men and native women I made this statement: "We have it on the most irrefragable evidence, that when, after a war a few years back, a regiment of English soldiers was stationed for many months in the heart of a subdued Bantu tribe, not only was the result of this contact between the soldiers and the native women nil as regarding illegitimate births, but it had been practically impossible for the soldiers to purchase women for purposes of degradation throughout the whole time."

When publishing this article this year, I appended to this statement the following foot-note:- "We are not referring to that which takes place when Englishmen untrammelled by any public opinion or by British rule are absolutely dominant over a crushed native race, as in the territories north of the Limpopo to-day. We shall deal with this, to an Englishman most sorrowful matter, at some future date."

This is the only statement I have ever published with regard to the relations between white men and native women north of the Limpopo, and Mr Selous' remarks later in the interview strongly bear me out.

Will he kindly state where I have asserted that the relations of the white man to the black woman was the cause of the war.

I am, &c,
Olive Schreiner
The Homestead,
September 12.

Selous replied in the following issue that he had confused what she wrote with what Stead had written that Schreiner had implied; by strong implication, he had never read the article in question but relied on Stead's comment. Schreiner then responded:

Whites in Rhodesia
To the Editor, "D F Advertiser"

Sir - I have read Mr Selous' courteous reply in your yesterday's issue; from which it appears that Mr Selous had never read the article which he criticised, and the misstatement is therefore fully accounted for.

The article is an attempt, however crude, from an impartial and scientific standpoint, to consider the gigantic evils which at the present day (whatever may be the case under future and happier conditions) halfcastism does inflict on both races in South Africa, and to study the conditions under which it most flourishes.

When republishing the articles in book form, I shall have much pleasure in appending as foot-notes extracts from Mr Selous' interview with you on the 12th, which powerfully confirm my own views on halfcastism.

With regard to the causes which have led to the present Mashona and Matabili war, I neither afirm nor deny anything. Any statement that I have asserted that the relations of white men with the Mashona or Matabili women to be the cause of this war is false. Any statement that I have asserted it not to be the cause, is equally false.

Olive Schreiner
The Homestead,
Sept 16.

The book is: Frederick Courtney Selous (1896) Sunshine & Storm in Rhodesia: Being a Narrative of Events in Matabeleland Both Before and During the Recent Native Insurrection Up to the Date of the Disbandment of the Bulawayo Field Force London: Roland Ward & Co.

The comments from Stead which had led Selous to comment as he did appeared in the August 1896 issue of the Review of Reviews (pp.153-4) in mis-describing the argument in one of Schreiner's 'A Returned South African' essays.


Schreiner's exchange with Selous clearly stirred up existing negative feelings about Selous on the part of other people too, as the following letter (a copy, and so unfortunately unsigned) in the NELM collections indicates:

Cape Town, Nov 16th 1896

copy
Mrs Cronwright Schreiner

Dear Madam,

Allow me to thank you most sincerely for having challenged Mr F.C. Selous' statement re the treatment of the poor, ignorant and much abused Natives of Rhodesia by the whites.

I much regret, and am surprised at Mr Selous having entered into this controversy for Mr Selous seemed to have forgotten that he, alas, has three illegitimate children yet living in the country (who, I believe, are now in Khama's country) born to him by a woman of Khama's country tribe, and with whom Mr Selous lived for several years, or, as the woman said, until she lost her youth and attractiveness, when Selous, like his equals, turned her adrift to become the prey of others.

I believe that the Rev. Hepburn, former missionary of Bamangwato, has or did have, one, if not two of his children.

If it would be of interest to you, I could mention several other names to prove that the poor native has much cause for complaint.

Any of the undermentioned names will or can give you further information respecting Mr F.C. Selous' children,-

The Rev. C.W. Helm, Bulawayo, Rhodesia
" " W Elliot " "
" " Hepburn, former missionary at Bamangwato, address unknown,
The Rev. W Sykes, " "

With many apologies, & many thanks to you for what you have done, I am Dear Madam
(Unknown to Olive Schreiner, NELM SMD30 33e)

Rive’s (1987) version omits part of the letter and is incorrect in minor respects.