Hear the trace! The Forbes Diary, 15 December 1915

Hear the trace! The Forbes Diary, 15 December 1915

On 15 December 1915 Jim Forbes, the youngest surviving son of David and Kate Forbes, then aged 49, married Olive Mathews. Theirs was a small wedding, in Johannesburg, with neither Kate nor her three daughters involved in any of the arrangements. The bride’s mother was ill so could not attend, and she was “given away by her brother”. A diary entry by Kate Forbes states that after the bride and groom left, a select gathering went to the theatre.

Wednesday 15 December 1915

James Forbes was married to Miss Olive Mathews in Johannesburg Maggie Dave & I (his mother) were at the Ceremony so was Mr & Mrs Sam Evans that were all representing his side Mrs Bristowe was also there

Mrs Mathews the brides mother was ill with pluerisy so could not be there she was given away by her brother & her Sister Daisy was bridesmaid there were very few there owing to Mrs Mathews illness they the bride & bridegroom went to Pretoria for the honeymoon
Dave was best man

Judge & Mrs Bristowe Maggie Dave & I went to the theatre in the evening to see “Peg of my heart” there was a storm of rain & hail during the performance it was fine when the time to leave came

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[Forbes Diaries / Box27-Diaries / 1915LettsSouthAfrican / IMG_4138.jpg]

The ‘I (his mother)’ in the first sentence is one of many indications in Forbes diary entries that it was written for use as a public document. At basis it is a particularly detailed and extended version of a ‘farm diary’, something that was required of major farmers as part of controlling stock diseases and dealing with drought, so including temperatures and rainfall. In this instance it concerns events occurring elsewhere than the Forbes’s farm-estate at Athole, which was near Ermelo, although it was probably written there on returning from the event that the entry writes about.

Who Jim Forbes is, in the world of the extensive Forbes diaries and letters, is known and well-documented although there are still many aspects of his life and activities that remain in the shadows. And similarly so with his older brother Dave and youngest sister Madge aka Maggie, together with two sisters not mentioned – Kitty and Nelly or Nellie – as well as his mother Kate and his father David senior (who had died in 1905). However, ‘placing’ Olive Mathews and her family is difficult as they were largely peripheral to the everyday concerns that Kate (as the owner of Athole and so the farm diary-writer) recorded, along with who Sam Evans and his wife and also Mrs Bristowe were in relation to the Forbes.

Jim’s wedding was a small one, with not more than half a dozen people present “representing his side”. Kitty stayed with Nellie at Athole to oversee its running. There were even fewer on the bride’s ‘side’. This is put down to her mother’s pleurisy preventing her from attending Olive’s wedding. However, why this should have prevented other people from attending what was after all the wedding of Olive and not her (implicitly widowed) mother is left hanging. Why might this have been? Also, Athole was in the eastern Transvaal, and Johannesburg to the north and west, a long distance apart; so perhaps the Matthews were a Johannesburg family and this was why the wedding was there, although this is not commented on so remains speculation.

Why was Pretoria chosen for their honeymoon by Jim Forbes and Olive Mathews? Nothing is known about this either. The Bristowes lived there, and after leaving Johannesburg, Kate and daughter Maggie stayed with them for some days.

What was the performance seen on the evening of 15 December by the wedding group? The play they saw was ‘Peg o’my heart’, which ran on Broadway in New York from 1912 to 1914 and was an enormous success. A musical romantic comedy, it was written by J. Hartley Manners and starred Laurette Taylor. The play was licensed for performance by amateurs for a small payment. The film version had not been made in 1915: it was released in 1922, well after the wedding, and was also a roaring success. However, it was not an amateur company that the wedding group saw, but one of the professional companies licensed to perform the play and which toured in South Africa (up to 1918, there were 229 performances there, over 700 by 1922). Around the time of the wedding, Johannesburg had four main theatres: the Standard, the Empire, the Royalty and the Gaiety. The Globe, built in 1889, was the first permanent entertainment venue but was destroyed in a fire soon after opening. The Empire Palace of Varieties (Empire for short) was built on the same site (the corner of Fox and Ferreira streets). But which of these theatres the play was on at has not been traced.

A song, written in 1913 and also titled ‘Peg o’my heart’, was inspired by the main character in this very successful musical comedy, with Laurette Taylor herself appearing on the cover of the early sheet music for it. The first recording was made by Charles W. Harrison (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_W._Harrison ) on 24 July 1913, on the Victor label.
The song was incorporated in many performances as well as being on phonograph, and the three Forbes and the Bristowes may well have heard it on the evening of 15 December 1915. If they did, it sounded like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWODupYEMDI

Last updated:  24 May 2018


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