“…so I go with them to day…”

“…so I go with them to day…”

Recently I have reviewed hundreds Forbes letters and related documents per day and have done so over quite a lengthy period, working through all the thousands of them several times. This is as part of the ‘finishing’ often mentioned in weekly Blogs. Usually – because there are so many, and because what is being looked for are any inaccuracies in the meta-data that is recorded for each – the letters themselves barely register. But some do, some catch the eye in a powerful way, so that the routine of checking is suspended and the content is engaged with.

One example which caught the eye is a note dated 15 July 1868, written by David Forbes to his wife Kate Forbes while he was away with Kate’s uncle Alexander McCorkindale, setting up a new farming community in the area of the Eastern Transvaal known at the time as New Scotland. It is transcribed below. It caught the eye because it was on blue paper, because it was a note on a sheet of paper and had been torn off, because it was written so neatly although it had no punctuation, and because its content was seemingly completely mundane.

15 July 1868

The Kafir would not go with me but a Kafir came from the party last night to bring their horses so I go with them to day I don’t know whether they have finished all the other plans or not but I go in case they have and might object to go back I will meet them on the ground so they can have no excuse I was out yesterday in the borders of the plan The grass was over heads on the top of the ridges

Your affectionate husband David

This is definitely a note and not a letter, while other missives written by David Forbes while he was away are very long and provide great detail on his daily activities, so why was this written, and written in the way it was? For a reader now, at first sight its content is simply that he was not with the rest of his group and wanted something about a plan to be confirmed by them. But its content must have been thought important in providing information he wanted to convey to Kate Forbes as soon as possible. What clues are there about this? And also about the significance of the horses and the man refusing to go with him?

There is no personal address at the start or indeed anywhere else in this note, but there is a sign-off and it is this that tells the reader that the addressee was Kate Forbes. The sign-off is also an unusual one for him, as he usually writes ‘Your affectionate husband David Forbes’, and not just David. Had he perhaps run out paper, for the David is written at the right-hand edge of the sheet? Was it that, because he was in haste, he finished in a less formalised way? Was it perhaps that the note was written to be enclosed with a letter that was about to be posted, so it was in the way of an addendum, a kind of PS to his main letter?

More questions than answers! Some of them could in fact be answered. And also, there is quite a lot more content that could be picked up on and interrogated in more detail than has been provided. David’s note will be returned to as the topic of a Trace which will appear in the next couple of weeks – watch this space!


Last updated: 23 March 2017


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