Robert White Letters, Cory Library, Grahamstown

Robert White Letters, Cory Library, Grahamstown

There are 39 letters from Robert White to his uncle and business partner Robert Godlonton in the Cory Library. They complement the larger number – 79 – of letters from White to Godlonton in the Bodleian Library’s Cape Colony Letters collection. This commentary should therefore be read in conjunction with that on the Cape Colony Letters.

As usual with the Cory Library, these letters are not ‘a collection’ in the usual sense, for each has a separate unique archive reference number and appears separately in the Cory catalogue. They are part of the general pattern of White’s letters to Godlonton; there is nothing in the Cory letters to Godlonton that is markedly different or surprising compared with those in the Bodleian. Consequently both sets of letters are overviewed here together.

Robert White and Robert Godlonton were often far apart – Grahamstown (RW) and Cape Town (RG), London (RG) and Grahamstown (RW), London (RW) and Cape Town (RG) – with this mapping onto letter dates. The distribution is as follows:

Robert White to Robert Godlonton; left-aligned  = CCL Bodleian; indented * = Cory

*20 April 1850
*25 April 1850

9 May 1850

*18 May 1850
*27 May 1850
*3 June 1850

10 Feb 1852
14 Feb 1852
17 Feb 1852
22 Feb 1852
29 Feb 1852
29 Feb 1852
2 March 1852
5 March 1852
7 March 1852
9 March 1852

*13 March 1852
*18 March 1852
*25 March 1852

20 May 1852
14 June 1852

*23 April 1855
*31 August 1855

25 Oct 1855
12 May 1857
16 May 1857
19 May 1857
23 May 1857
28 May 1857
1 June 1857
6 June 1857
11 June 1857
13 June 1857
16 June 1857
17 June 1857
5 Jan 1858
5 Jan 1858
16 May 1858
14 June 1858
14 Aug 1858
14 Sept 1858
16 Oct 1858
14 Nov 1858
14 Dec 1858
14 Jan 1859
15 Feb 1859
15 Feb 1859
17 Feb 1859
15 March 1859
20 April 1859
14 May 1859
12 June 1859
16 July 1859
19 July 1859
16 Aug 1859
15 Sept 1859
16 Oct 1859
14 Nov 1859
15 Dec 1859
16 Feb 1860
17 March 1860
14 April 1860
15 May 1860
16 May 1860
15 June 1860
16 June 1860
16 July 1860
15 Aug 1860
15 Sept 1860
16 Oct 1860
17 Nov 1860
17 Nov 1860
12 Dec 1860
15 Jan 1861
15 Feb 1861 (with enclosure)
14 March 1861
1 April 1861
6 Dec 1861
6 Jan 1862

*9 March 1867
*30 May 1867
*3 August 1867
*9 May 1868
*9 July 1868
*10 August 1868
*24 September 1868
*4 June 1869
*3 September 1869
*4 November 1869

24 Nov 1869

*10 March 1870
*9 August 1870
*30 November 1870
*5 August 1871
*7 September 1871
*7 November 1871

22 Jan 1872
6 Feb 1872
9 March 1872
9 March 1872
12 April 1872
20 April 1872

*6 December 1872
*22 July 1873
*22 January 1874
*22 April 1874

22 May 1874

*1 October 1874
*6 October 1874
*22 October 1874
*10 November 1874

22 June 1875

*22 October 1875
*22 December 1875
*21 December 1876
*18 January 1877
*31 October 1878

Taken together, their interesting features include:

  • They are filled with detail of people and events in Grahamstown business (and to an extent political) circles, spreading out to other towns, such as King William’s Town and also Bloemfontein in the earlier Cory letters, places where White and Godlonton had business interests, as partners in a number of printing and publishing ventures.
  • They come across as a cross-genre kind of writing, combining a letter and also a kind of report of intelligence-gathering which is being passed on. The effect is that they provide Godlonton with immense regular detail about quotidian political and business happenings in the places White writes from, as he goes about expediting their shared business concerns.
  • In this, the White/Godlonton letters share some features of the ‘intelligence-gathering and reporting’ aspect with the letters by Thomas Phillips to Godlonton that are in Cape Colony Letters [S1]. This raises the possibility that Godlonton had a number of these ‘client correspondences’ with people who fed him intelligence of things going down, perhaps also encompassing Richard Southey and others.
  • While the White letters have wider contents, they more than just touch on the political matters that Godlonton was involved in and stood for, like separation/federalism, and also indicate that many people detested Godlonton.
  • There is a general prevailing silence in the Robert White letters about ‘race’ and the everyday presence of black and coloured people, apart from in the specific context of the war, leading to conjectures of a ‘were there no black folks in Grahamstown or is this a resounding kind of silence?’ kind.
  • The contents of the White letters that do mention ‘race’ do so specifically regarding ‘the war’; and such mentions are focused in the period 1852 to mid 1853. There is only one letter dated before this (1850) that deals in any way with race matters.
  • The 1852/3 letters mentioning ‘race’ matters do so in terms of war and opposing forces and invasion, with this happening off-stage as it were, not close to or involving Grahamstown and its quotidian everyday life in a direct way. It portrays the troops, and then later a commando and volunteers, being away fighting; and the enemy as being duplicitous, breaking truces and cease-fires and agreeing to peace while continuing fighting, and also members of the Cape Corps deserting even after the proclamation of peace in 1853. [nb. this is very different from the war of c1848 as it appears in Pringle Collection letters]
  • These letters also show that the business interests of White and Godlonton were not solely in printing and publishing. There is much detailed about banks, insurance companies and share-prices, and rise and falls concerning these. Also, on occasion White acted as an agent for Gonlonton in other business matters especially concerning the purchase of farms, although overall their finances seem to have been separate.
  • There is the emergence in Robert White’s letters in around 1859/1860 of the notion of ‘home’, the ‘Old Country’ and ‘going home’, with signs of an awareness that this is a new thing, a new possibility. Interestingly, other Eastern Cape/Grahamstown letter-writers also start visiting ‘Home’ at the time.
  • The Robert White letters in Cory cannot be told aparts from the Bodleian ones. In both sets, family members and happenings are mentioned (promising young Durban, White’s wife in the asylum, his daughters, give regards to Mrs G, etc), but it is their quotidian detail with regard to business and political life that stands out.

 

Last updated: 8 February 2017


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