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Letter ReferenceSchreiner-Hemming Family BC 1080 A1.7/149
ArchiveUniversity of Cape Town, Manuscripts & Archives, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date After Start: Friday June 1898 ; Before End: December 1898
Address FromKimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToHenrietta ('Ettie') Schreiner m. Stakesby Lewis (1891)
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to Manuscripts and Archives, University of Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscripts and Archives Collections. This letter refers to Katie Findlay being moved into an asylum in Pietermaritzburg, which occurred in late 1897 or early 1898. Schreiner was resident in Kimberley from early August 1894 to November 1898, with visits, sometimes extended, elsewhere over this period. Content of the letter suggests information had been received about Katie Findlay.
1 My darling Ettie
3 Isn’t sad about poor old Katie. I always felt perfectly sure it was
4some physical disease which gave her the sensations of pregnancy, &
5her poor old head not being very strong, she couldn’t reason the
6matter out. I am so thankful to hear you have not gone up. You have
7gone though too much lately dear. You can’t stand any more.
9 Your little sister
10 Olive
11 Friday night
In June 1898, following a visit to Katie Findlay in a Pietermaritzburg asylum, Katie Stuart (a niece of Olive Schreiner's and Katie Findlay's eldest daughter) send the following 'round robin' letter to family members:

June 20th 98

Dear Ones!

You will have learnt from our postcards a good deal about our dear one at Maritzburg, but we would like to share with you many other interesting items regarding her & her surroundings, & as we cannot write to each one we are drawing up this general letter to be sent to each one in turn.

Though we should of course not have undertaken the long journey to Maritzburg had the doctor not answered ^informed^ us that death was imminent, we are very thankful that we did so, & think the expense & trouble more than repaid by the accurate knowledge we have gained by our 12 days stay there of dear Mother's physical & mental condition, & of the character methods of the Institution of which she is an inmate.

We had the free run of the Asylum during our stay, & spent the greater part of each day with Mother, without the presence of anyone else, & had as free intercourse with her as if she were in her own home. In addition we were with her 3 or 4 times when the doctor called & examined her pulse etc, & when the matron & nurses attended to address the surface excoriation caused by the tapping, or to attend to her needs of one kind or another, or just to say a kindly loving word to her. Also at Mother's desire quite a number of the other lady & women inmates came in at different times to be introduced to us by her.

During the first days we sat with her in her room, but after she was up & dressed we walked about with her, & sat & chatted in the beautiful sittingroom which so as free to her ^she & two or three other of the other inmates use as freely^ as if it was their own, in which we also had dinner twice with her, or walked out, or sat for two hours amongst the beautiful trees in the grounds.

We thus had every opportunity of becoming acquainted with all the minutiae of her daily life & surroundings & its effects on her; & the result has been to make us deeply grateful & restful about her.

As to her physical condition: according to the Acting Medical Superintendent Dr. R. Brown who we are informed is a man with the highest credentials & Dr. Ward a surgeon of the hospital ^who together examined her^, she is suffering from dropy dropsy consequent on kidney disease, which they think is in its turn partly caused by the pressure of a large internal tumour, which her present state of general health does not warrant operating upon. This tumour must be about 10 years growth.

Dr. Brown termed it a malignant tumour at first but moderated the expression ^afterwards^ partially malignant; the dropsy had ^if it exists she feels^ no pain directly from its presence.

^The dropsy^ increased to such an extent about a month ago that the action of both heart & lungs was seriously impeded, & her sufferings were great & life was in immediate danger. The weight then was 17 stone 6 lbs, & she was increasing in weight a lb per day. Two gallons of fluid was taken away from her immediately by tapping on May 19th, which together with the slow drainage of the following days reduced her weight amazingly, so that on June the 12th ^although she had already begun to increase in weight again,^ she weighed only 15 stone, having lost ^a difference^ of 34 lbs in the interest. The relief has of course been great, heart oppression has ceased & cough well nigh gone. Of pains in the region of the seat of the mischief she has never complained, except of a great pulling down weight when walking

The doctor thinks the dropsy will certainly increase again as the tapping was merely palliative not curative but her present wonderfully improved condition gives every hope that it will be a long period before her weight approaches 17 stone again, & a further tapping becomes necessary. On the length of this first period which cannot at present be foretold, & of the subsequent periods between each tapping, which will ^likely^ become gradually shorter, depends the length of her life.

Dr. Ward says it may be a year or more as he has tapped some patients 35 times, but Dr. Brown is not so hopeful, he says that at present her system is yielding beautifully to the beneficial influences of digitalis which is keeping the dropsy down, but he fears that later on it may cease to act

We incline to think that owing to her splendid recuperative powers, good digestion & good appetite, sound sleeping faculties, quiet, ^comfortable,^ restful, life, good hygienic treatment & surroundings, & fresh air she may live even much longer than Dr. Ward surmises. She has certainly astonished Dr. Brown by her wonderful vitality. She herself loves ^her^ physical life more than anything else, & says she will never die if she can help it. It is very pathetic, this clinging of hers to the mere condition of living, & her utter shrinking from the idea of death, & oblivion as to its possible nearness.

Dr. Brown says while tapping is the only way of prolonging her life there are certain dangers connected with the operation such as a possible exhaustion of the heart or a possible peritonitis either of which if occurring might prove fatal. Should such a thing take place we know that it will not be for want of the best medical skill & attention obtainable. Doctor Brown is very attentive & kind to Mother, & she likes him immensely, & trusts him as much as she can trust anyone, & is very obedient to his commands. She seems also to like Dr. Hyslop the Medical Superintendent of the Asylum very much. We regret that he & Mrs. Hyslop were absent on furlough in Europe for a few months, so we did not see them, but everyone in Maritzburg testifies to their wholehearted devotion to their life's work at the Asylum, & the same spirit of loving devotion to the needs of humanity in its weakest & most trying condition, seems to permeate all the staff from highest to lowest.

Exercise in the fresh air is of course good for Mother & she is fond of it, walking as much as possible considering her weight. Our carriage drive with her for 2 or 3 hours turned out a successful experiment physically, & the doctor was so satisfied with it, that he says that he will be glad at any time to allow her to go out in the same way, should any friend of hers send him the necessary money, which is one guinea for an afternoon. The Asylum has no carriage or horses at present, & they have to hire some from the Town.

We were under some hopes before arrival at Maritzburg & during our first days there that the physical betterment caused by the tapping might be found to have the effect of somewhat restoring her mind to a more normal condition, but alas! we have regretfully & sorrowfully to say that such is not the case.

When we arrived Dr. Brown said 'You will find Mrs. Findlay at her very best ^physically &^ mentally because of the relief which the tapping has given ^the action of the digitalis on her system'^ & we certainly found his statement correct for the first day or two, & were led to hope that there might be permanent improvement, but alas! it seemed that in proportion as physical health & strength returned in that proportion mental quiet & reasonableness diminished. We hoped for instance that when she knew that 34 lbs of water had been taken from her by tapping, we should be able to prove conclusively to her poor mind that her constant idea of the past 20 years that she is enceinte has been nothing but a delusion. For a day or two she almost seemed willing to accept this as a fact, but then plunged back again into the old delusion, & said that even if they did take so much water away they had only killed the child within her etc. etc. During the operation of tapping she nearly upset the gravity of the doctors by saying 'Doctor don't be surprised to see my ten year old boy', 'Nurse please take care of the little darling' etc. etc. She said to us the very first day that the doctors took something from her but whether it was water or a baby she could not say etc.

She was glad to see us, but with that absence of depth of feeling which is a marked feature of all her mental sensation whether of like or dislike, joy or sorrow, ease or pain, meeting or parting. We want you dear ones to realize, that the expressions she uses universally in her letters to everybody of 'save me, save me', 'have mercy on me', 'give me a home with you' & the like do not spring from nor indicate any agony of mind whatsoever. She uses these same expressions constantly in conversation with a nonchalant, careless, even smiling face, with so much unreality that they give ^carry^ no weight at all to the listener, whereas when read in her letter the reiteration of them becomes a painful, haunting burden to the reader. I wish you could all have heard her read one of her letters to Maggie to us, & how she laughed that giggling laugh which she always laughs when she is saying or doing something wrong, foolish, or unreadable ^unreal^, as she read her own appeals to Maggie to give her a home ^with her.^ We said to her in that instance 'Why do you write what you don't mean?' 'Would you go if Maggie fetched you?' When she answered 'Perhaps not hey' I might go further & fare worse. I think I'd better stop here'. She ^does^ grumble ^every now & then^ about having been put at the Asylum, & wants to know when she may go to her own home; but when we say to her, you know if you went back to Leeuw River you would want to be back here almost at once, she ^would^ says, 'Yes, perhaps I would ^hey'^ & three or four times she said even if she got quite well she doesn't know that she wouldn't prefer staying at the Asylum to going anywhere else. - There is already stated no depth, no absolute reality in any of the expressions she uses in speaking or writing. For instance the expressions 'if they only wont kill me', 'if they only will be kind to me? don't indicate that the 'they' be the doctor or matron or nurses are not kind ^or that she thinks them not kind^: On the contrary she always in their presence & in their absence says how very kind & loving they are, but generally winds up with 'if only they will continue to be kind & not kill me'. This haunting distrust of everyone, especially of those who are kindest & most loving to her has long been a marked feature of her poor disordered mind. One of the kind nurses said quite sorrowfully 'She never trusts us Mrs. Stuart.' But even this fear least people may become unkind to her in the future in an unreal fear without any depth. She would say to us all of a sudden in quite a careless self assuring way 'You & Theo wouldn't kill me, you wouldn't hurt me hey?' I mention these matter so that you dear ones need not be ^over^ weighed & pained by her written talk, as we, or at least Theo, used to be before we went to Martizburg. The real danger to which she is subject from the dropsy she does not believe in saying she is quite well; &, if you can get her to think & talk of other subjects than her self & her fancied ills & woes, she can talk quite sensibly. She took great interest in an article on Kruger in the Westminster Budget & read it to us, commenting on it en passant quite sensibly.

The doctors says that her mental derangement belongs to the peculiar type called the sane insane, which is particularly trying to those who have the care of such patients, far more so than in the care of those who are violent, maniacal, or idiotic, that one nurse would inevitably break down under the strain.

We asked him whether he thought it possible that one of her daughters could take charge of her outside of the Asylum. His answer was that it would be a cruel & impossible attempt ? not even one trained nurse could stand it, he did not think any two nurses could be found to undertake the charge even at a hundred a year each. Even at the Asylum with all its manifold helps he does not allow any one nurse to be exposed to the strain of bearing with the vagaries of such cases for even one day at a time but they are always being changed about ^The Dr. said further 'If I had to look after Mrs. Findlay myself for a year I should be a fit subject for an Asylum myself.'^

This opinion of the Medical Superintendent corroborates what Theo & I have felt through all these years, viz, that no one of Mamma's daughters should ever have been exposed to the torture & strain of taking care of her as they have attempted to do single handed in the past. What is hard to bear up under for a trained nurse is infinitely harder for a daughter.

Even we found the strain of our daily visits for twelve days very heavy to bear, although although dear Mother was loving to us throughout, & we of course laid ourselves out to make her happy, & humoured her wishes in every possible way. She is more like a wilful, obstinate, selfish, spoilt child suffering from delusions with which she will not part, than anything else. She has never been really violent at the Asylum, but now & then gets into a passion & has fits of bad temper.

On the whole her life at the Asylum with its medical regularity, & ^the^ loving, restful yet firm influences to which she has been subjected, together with the material comfort & attendance she has enjoyed have made her mind more quiet & peaceful, & therefore her whole life happier & brighter than she has been anywhere else: just as a wilful child is happiest under kind, wise, judicious control. Another thing which has helped her to be somewhat less self centred & selfish, & therefore more happy than she used to be is her seeing & getting to know & sympathize wh with so many other lives who are really so much more unfortunate than herself. She knows the names & the history (according to their own account of it) of all the inmates in the women's department, & it was one of her greatest pleasures to tell us all about them, & in order to please her we went round with her to be introduced to all of them. There are three or four whose cases are somewhat similar to hers i.e. they are sane insane people, & they are friends, & dine together in the parlour, & you might be an hour with them & not find out that there is anything wrong with their minds, nor do they know or allow that they are anything but sane. But there are others whose derangement of mind is always apparent, & these are the objects of great pity on the part of the first mentioned class. Then there are two or three children & young people who make a deal of brightness in the lives of ^the^ others. It is wonderful to see how God can use the influence of poor people with weak or deranged minds to be a real blessing to one another. Mother has of course no idea that anything is the matter with her mind ^the Rev. Grey of Pretoria said however that when he visited her she said 'It is sad not to have the full powers of one's mind.'^ & she combats the others delusions, such as that of one lady who says she has to be hung in two years time. Dear Mother is a general favourite among the inmates, who look up to her & treat her with respect, & will do so even more after our visit. * She exercises a really good influence in several ways among them, for she is a Christian, & holds fast to her belief in God & Christ & the Holy Spirit, & God's Word & the power of prayer, though even here the want of depth or reality already spoken of manifests itself; & while we were singing together a sweet hymn she would sometimes break in with incongruous words. There is an inmate there whose delusion is chiefly that there is no God, no Christ, no heaven or hell etc. & Mother has to defend the truths of Christianity against her. Mother spends her time in writing, reading, doing needlework for herself, mixing with the inmates, & chatting with them, or with the nurses. She takes a great deal of interest in her dress & dressmaking & as the Doctor said in her presence leads the fashion at the Asylum. She showed us the body of a dress she is just making & also her green velvet dress shot with gilt thread, in which she goes to the concerts & dances, which are held weekly & which the inmates enjoy amazingly.^ As an instance of her influence I may relate that she reproved one lady for snatching a newspaper out of the hands of another who was reading it, & the lady instead of resenting it said 'well I apologize' with a curtsey, whereupon my mother rose from her seat & said with queenly grace & gesture 'I accept the apology.'

There are several girls of the working class who are always ready & pleased to do little things for Mother, & a Zulu girl named Gracie admires her greatly & declares she will accompany Mother if she ^should^ leaves the Asylum. Mother need not mix with the other inmates but she enjoys doing so.

At first some of them used to tease her calling her 'Tant Sannie' & 'Big Dutch Woman' but her illness touched them & our advent completed the change.

We became general favourites with nurses & inmates & many were the promises even volunteered ^by some of the latter^ to be loving & tender to her for our sakes. The Doctor delighted some ^a few^ of them one day by asking Mother whether she would not like to retain us there & not allow us to get out again. The idea tickled them all immensely. I wish you could all have seen her bright face when speaking to the Doctor about the ^prospective^ drive she said 'Must I come back to my prison Doctor?' The remembrance of it cheers our hearts even now. Another brighter picture was when the doctor, & some of the nurses & inmates gathered in a picturesque group around the side door to see us start for our drive, & also inspect an ^Indian^ pedlar's wares, & the Baby of the establishment, a boy of about 9 years of age, who delights in boot blacking, & had managed to smear his face & hands black tumbled into their midst causing dismay & cries of 'Bootles Baby.'

Mother has almost perfect freedom in the Asylum, the one exception being that the outer door is locked & if she wants to go outside to walk or sit among the trees in the beautiful grounds she has only to ask, & if the weather, & time of day & her health does not hinder she can stay outside for hours, & does so without an attendant. In the women's quarters of the Asylum she is free to walk at anytime, & also without an attendant. She writes & receives letters without inspection. Of course the authorities do not like articles being sent to her at the Asylum which are not needed & which they provide if needed.

As to the Institution itself, it is a perfectly ideal Asylum, as to situation (The Governor declares that it occupies the position that Government House ought to have had), outlook, surroundings, internal arrangements, methods of treatment etc. By keeping a large staff of nurses & attendants a wonderful amount of liberty is granted to ^available for^ the inmates. Everything about the Asylum is spotlessly clean, cheery & bright. The windows of which there are any amount are ordinary windows with no iron bars, only a small wooden arrangement which prevents them from being opened more than about a foot, top & bottom.

Mother now occupies a nice room next to the parlour with lofty walls, & a beautiful large window looking out on the grounds. Her old room was nice enough but faced the yard & there was no view, but Mother says she liked it because it was nearer the other inmates. She likes this one better however. In her bedroom is a nice, wide single bedstead (good linen & 2 beautiful white blankets) a chest of drawers, a marble topped washstand, a neat toilet table, an easy chair, & other chairs & a commode. She has her meals in the parlour, either by herself or with one or two of the others, & is served by one of the sweet, bright, lady nurses. Table linen, silver, crockery, cruet stand all good, & even a vase of flowers to grace the whole. She says they give her very good food, & plenty of it, & certainly what we saw bears out the statement. Good soup every day, (equal to any of my own making), fowls once a week & almost a superabundance of vegetables - one day we had spinach, cauliflower peas & potatoes & the other time turnips, carrots, cabbage & mashed potatoes - & always two kinds of puddings. Mother ^who^ is somewhat of a connoisseur & she says the puddings are always good - genuine articles without stint of butter, milk & eggs. Dinner lasts from 12 to 2 o'clock, Mother?s turn coming at about 1 o'clock. For breakfast she has a chop, toast & butter, & tea ? since her illness she gets a cup of Bovril also at 11 o'clock. After dinner they have coffee or tea. The evening meal is at 6 o'clock, besides ^when in addition to^ bread & butter, radishes & watercress, they then have either fish, an egg, or a little cold meat. Before going to bed Mother & a few others get a cup of cocoa.

Every Monday evening the inmates have a dance which they look forward to much. Both male & female inmates take part. On Sunday afternoons a minister comes up from Town & has service, which Mother enjoys. The authorities know from us that Mr. Rousseau the Dutch Reformed Minister is her minister, & he will see her once a week & visit her if she gets very ill. Doctor Brown is a very kindly able man, & mother is very fond of him, 'too fond perhaps' she says in her old foolish giggling way. The matron Miss Stewart is a ^as^ sweet & yet kindly firm & capable ^a^ gentle ^o^ woman as you could find anywhere in the world.

We really love her & Mother is as fond of her as she can be of anyone whom she has to obey. Miss Stewart has promised me that should dear Mother be dying without one of us there she will lovingly hold her hand & kiss her for us. The nurses are I think exceptionally nice, & kind, & bright, & capable. They are mostly from England. The whole idea of the treatment there seems to be to give as much liberty as possible to the inmates & to make them as happy as possible.

The Institution seems to us just a living exemplification of one of the topmost & most beautiful fruits of Christianity, only possible in this sin & sorrow stricken world because Jesus has lived & taught & died here. People who have never visited such an Asylum as the one at Maritzburg & ascertained the facts in connection with it, have all kinds of terrible & gloomy ideas about the lot of those who dwell as inmates within their walls, as if the Asylums were prisons where harsh restraint is the order of the day; instead of being the bright, cheery, soothing, restful places they are. If any deranged & disordered minds can be led back to sanity it will be in such places.

The Asylum is situated on a rising spur of one of the beautiful hills surrounding Maritzburg & is about a mile & a half from the town. The outlook is beautiful & scarcely to be beaten in South Africa. An amphitheatre of grassy & wooded hills & vales stretches more than half way round, while on the open side lies the town of Maritzburg with its public buildings & hum of active life, & away in the distance Natal's Table Mountain in the direction of the sea. The grounds are large & the men inmates work principally in the Gardens, while the women do needlework etc. Of course paying patients like Mother are not forced to work at all, & those who do work are not driven.

Every day if the weather permits the women inmates go out for a walk in the grounds, like school girls do. It is a matter of constant regret to Mother that ^owing to her weight^ she cannot participate in these walks. On Saturday afternoon there is cricket etc, & the inmates have so strong a team that they play regular matches against elevens from the Town.

Now I think I have told you almost enough about our poor darling, & her surroundings etc. The matron is going to send us a photo of the Asylum, & of a group of herself & the nurses, & when we get them we shall send them the rounds of the family. I trust that what we have written will be comforting as well as interesting to the hearts of all who love Mother.

In conclusion let me say that we think that it would be very nice & a thing which would give our dear one a great deal of pleasure if one or other of those who love her would visit her for a few days, putting up say at the Barrow Green Tea Rooms Hotel where we put up (^price^ 8/6 a day) & going over to the Asylum in a risksha (1/- fare) for a few hours each day & perhaps taking her a drive in a Landau (price one guinea at Birchells)

While there would be no depth of joy at meeting, nor depth of grief at parting on her part (the day we left she chatted brightly up to the last & waved her handkerchief at the window of the sittingroom as long as we were in sight), such a visit would certainly do her good, & be a pleasant remembrance for after days when she has gone home. We would urge any who purpose doing so not to delay too long as her tenure of life is so uncertain.

When death does come to her we have no doubt she will awake to find herself in the Saviour's arms, for even in her weak disordered minds she believes in & clings to Him, & we shall meet her in the resurrection morning with all the clouds & darkness for ever removed from her poor mind & heart.

We had her likeness taken on the afternoon that we took her out for a drive. It was done on a sudden inspiration or thought & therefore she was not as well dressed as she would have liked to have been for likeness taking, & yet she would throw off Maggie's fur cloak which she was wearing on the drive & which would have been swell enough. Theo & I sat with her to ensure a good portrait if possible, & it has not I think turned out badly, though she doesn?t care for it much. She didn't want the full face taken when photographed, now she says she wishes the picture had been full face, & that she had had her jaunty little hat instead of a bonnet & a white blouse instead of a dark one. We shall send you each a copy in the course of a few weeks.

We feel that in going to Maritzburg we have been going on behalf of all the members of the family & we are thankful to dear Hudson's liberality which made it possible. We think it was worth the trouble & expenditure & when you have received this letter we hope you will feel so too. Our special duty ends with the writing & sending off of this account of how things are at Maritzburg but we trust that we shall all remember that one of the great pleasures of our dear one's life which will perhaps now be of but short duration is the receiving of kindly friendly letters, & if we cannot go personally to Maritzburg we can at any rate each manage to write her a loving, cheering letter every fortnight or so, telling her news that will interest her. I am dear ones

Yours lovingly
Katie Stuart

(Copy of letter received from Miss Stewart since this was written)
N.G.A June 20th 98

My dear Mrs Stuart

Thank you so much for your kind letter received this morning.

Mrs Findlay I am glad to say keeps bright & cheerful, out under the trees most of the day, sewing or reading as she feels inclined.

She has been weighed today (Mon) & is 15 st 4 lbs an increase of 4 lbs for the week, which I don't at all like.

I will try & write as often as I can, should Mrs F. get worse you will hear at once, if I possibly can I will write every week.

Will now close with kindest regards to Mr Schreiner & yourself

Very sincerely yours
K. Stewart

Since dinner Mrs F. has been tidying her boxes, & thinks it will be best for her to go to her old room where all her boxes are - if she can have breakfast in bed! - which she can, but she may change her mind again.
Findlay Family A1199/3775)