"Meeting, you are large enough to take me impersonally" Read the full letter
Gottlob Schreiner (1814-1876) was born in fairly humble circumstances in Germany; he received theological training and was ordained in London, intending to work as a missionary for the London Missionary Society. He and Rebecca Lyndall were married in November 1837 and they left for South Africa at the end of that month. A man of simple beliefs and great physical strength, Gottlob Schreiner seems also to have been an inefficient organizer and stubborn in pursuing personal vendettas and courses of action that his missionary society disapproved of. A change of missionary society did not lead to a long-term solution and eventually he was sacked as a missionary because he had engaged in trading as a side activity, something which was forbidden. He also had little success subsequently as a trader and was bailed out by his daughter Katie?s husband John Findlay, slipping further down the social scale to become a smouser or kind of travelling salesman. He died suddenly from the heart disease that all his children inherited.
Gottlob Schreiner's kindness in particular to the black people he lived and worked among led to later comparisons with Will Schreiner and his son Oliver, and with Olive Schreiner's frequent comments about Will being his 'father's son' indicating for her that eventually he would see the light about 'race' matters - which in fact he did. However, Schreiner's approbation for this aspect of her father's character did not blinker her from the less praiseworthy aspects. If literary commentators are correct in suggesting that the character of 'old Otto' in The African Farm is based on Gottlob, then this is a fairly savage indictment, for his naivety leads him to fail to protect the vulnerable children in his charge.
For more information see:
Karel Schoeman (1989) Olive Schreiner: A Woman in South Africa 1855-1881 Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball
Karel Schoeman (1991) The Missionary Letters of Gottlob Schreiner 1837 - 1846 Cape Town: Human and Rousseau