"Position of half-caste, blood thicker than water" Read the full letter

A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|All

John Findlay

John Findlay (1839 - 1902) married Schreiner’s eldest sister Katie in 1860. He was the son of a Cape Town tobacconist and met Katie Schreiner when he took a position managing a shop owned by John Austen of Oranjefontein, which was in the town of Lady Grey, not far from Wittebergen where the Schreiner family was then living. According to Schoeman, Gottlob and Rebecca Schreiner were initially hostile to the “high-spirited” John Findlay, but after the marriage became reconciled to him (Schoeman 1991: 53, 81). John and Katie Findlay eventually settled at Fraserburg, where another Schreiner daughter, Alice, and her husband Robert Hemming also lived, and John Findlay ran a successful general dealership there. Indeed, such was his financial success that, as Buchanan-Gould comments, “John Findlay, who Gottlob had denounced as a most unwelcome suitor for his daughter, was generous to a degree to his wife’s distressed family, and made Rebecca a regular monthly allowance for many years” (Buchanan-Gould 1949: 30). However, in later years John Findlay lost much of his money and Rebecca’s upkeep was managed by her sons Fred and Will and also Olive Schreiner herself.

There are three extant letters from Schreiner to John Findlay. Two letters were written in 1896 in response to Findlay’s request for her help in trying to publish a manuscript he had written. It is not clear what the manuscript was about, but Schreiner offers some practical advice to Findlay about maximising its chances of publication. The third letter dates from 1897, and its context concerns the earlier admission of Katie Findlay to a mental asylum and responsibility for her upkeep. The letter is a response to a letter Schreiner had received from Findlay in which he evidently suggested that she was not meeting her family obligations by failing to contribute to her sister’s financial upkeep, and that she had accused him of beating Katie. In Schreiner’s excoriating reply, she details the family obligations that she and Cronwright-Schreiner have in supporting their extended families, berates Findlay about meeting his own duty as a husband in supporting his wife, and emphasizes that the idea he might ill-treat someone so obviously unwell would have never occurred to her. The letter clearly terminates relations with John Findlay and also with Katie Findlay, with whom Schreiner had long had a strained relationship, for it concludes, “I shall probably never mention her name again as long as I live.” Katie Findlay died not long after this, and John Findlay died in 1902.

For further information see:
Vera Buchanan-Gould (1949) Not Without Honour: The Life and Writings of Olive Schreiner London & Cape Town: Hutchinson & Co
Joan Findlay (1954) The Findlay Letters 1808 - 1870 Pretoria: Van Schaik
Karel Schoeman (1991) Olive Schreiner: A Woman in South Africa 1855-1881 Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball
Back to top


recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon Cullen Library, Historical Papers, University of Witwatersrand: Historical Papers in the Cullen Library is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many periods, organisation... Show/Hide Collection Letters
Back to top


mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon Cullen Library, Historical Papers, University of Witwatersrand: Historical Papers in the Cullen Library is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many periods, organisation... Show/Hide Collection Letters
Back to top