"Downward movement of England, of South Africa, downtrodden millions" Read the full letter

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John Brown

Dr John Brown (1842 - 1929) was a medical doctor, originally from Scotland, but who with his wife Mary spent much of his life living and working in South Africa. In 1869 he married Mary Solomon and they went to live in Fraserburg, South Africa, where Schreiner’s older sister Alice Hemming and her husband Robert were then resident. Schreiner first met John and Mary Brown in Fraserburg in 1873 when she was visiting Alice, with John Brown at the time serving as its district surgeon. In 1896 the Browns moved to Edinburgh for John Brown to obtain further medical training, and by the early 1880s they had moved to Burnley in Lancashire where he set up medical practice with James Mackenzie. Schreiner visited them there in April 1881.

It was John Brown who first encouraged Schreiner to pursue a medical or nursing career, and it was with this goal in mind that Schreiner travelled to Britain in 1881, although a series of health and other problems ultimately prevented this. The Browns were also instrumental in initially encouraging Schreiner to publish The Story of an African Farm. Later, after she had abandoned her own prospects of a nursing career, Schreiner took upon herself the role of mentor Alice Corthorn and also financially sponsoring her medical training. John Brown then taking on providing the financial assistance for this. However, when the Bank of the Cape of Good Hope crashed in 1890, the Browns lost a considerable amount of money and Schreiner then resumed financial responsibility for Corthorn’s studies. After the Browns settled in Rondebosch in Cape Town in 1904, they became involved in the women’s suffrage movement there. However, as Schreiner’s letters from this period indicate, John Brown’s interference in the workings of the WEL was at times unwelcome and unhelpful, while Mary Brown’s involvement was problematic in other ways. John Brown died of a stroke on 8 May 1929.

Schreiner wrote a number of letters to John and Mary Brown as a couple, but there are relatively few extant letters to John Brown only. Schreiner’s early letters to ‘Dr Brown’ are fairly formal, but later on she often omits an opening salutation, or simply addresses him as ‘J.B.’ In many of her letters to the Browns, Schreiner refers to him and Mary Brown as her ‘old friends’ and there is a sense in her earlier letters to them that both of the Browns has become part of her extended family, and later were important to her because they had known her when she was a young woman. Many of her letters to John Brown also describe or refer to nature and outdoor life, with Schreiner for example commenting to him towards the very end of the South African War in1902, “All one’s cares seem so small out in the veld”.
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recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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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
collection icon Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin: The HRC, Austin, is one of the world leading locations for archival papers pertaining to literary life and manuscripts across... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Sheffield City Libraries, Archives & Local Studies: Edward Carpenter Collection, Archives & Local Studies, Sheffield City Libraries: The Edward Carpenter Collection is held ... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University College London: Special Collections at UCL is one of the leading university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. It... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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