Pringle Family Collection, Cory Library, Grahamstown

Pringle Family Collection, Cory Library, Grahamstown

The uncatalogued Pringle Collection in the Cory Library, Grahamstown, contains the family letters and business papers of some members of a well-to-do Eastern Cape family. There are circa 1400 letters and papers and main components of the collection, which is uncatalogued, are:

  • the farming and family papers and some letters of William Dods Pringle
  • the business papers and business letters of his second wife Harriet Townsend nee Hockly
  • the remaining papers of, Elizabeth Hockly nee Moore, the mother of Harriet Townsend

The bulk of papers in the collection fall in the period of the 1820s to the 1860s, although there is a small tail before 1820 and a large one after 1860. The collection includes:

  • Dods Pringle’s papers, with particular components concerning leases, employment contracts, title deeds to land, boundaries and diagrams of land, and regarding the estate of Pringle’s father and his father-in-law Robert Hart, as well as concerning a number of court cases in respect of wills and the valuation of property.
  • A range of business and legal letters and other documents where WDP was an executor or litigant, including his mother Beatrix Scott and an annuity she received.
  • Papers relating to Gill College, to be established in the Eastern Cape under the conditions of the Robert Hart will.
  • War and fighting in the Eastern Cape frontier area, both in 1848 and especially in 1851, including concerning claims about a massacre prevented by Somerset, the role of WDP as a military leader in the 1851 fighting, and also the aftermath of the war.
  • Regarding the estate of Mrs Elizabeth Hockly, including various property owned by her such as a house in Cradock and another in Grahamstown.
  • Employment contracts and other documents regarding the Vagrancy Acts and also the Pass Act 1857.
  • Invoices, receipts et cetera including those of Elizabeth Hockly and her widowed daughter Maria Brownlee.
  • Various matters concerning the death of James Brownlee, a pension for his widow Maria, and the settlement of his estate.
  • Plans for a church and school in Glen Lyden in Baviaans River, the appointment of Mr Welsh and controversies that arose from this.
  • Regarding the 1840 death of Edward Townsend and various business matters stemming from this, including how to best for Harriet Townsend to provide for herself and their children.
  • Harriet Townsend’s business activities from 1840 to her marriage to Dods Pringle – regarding receipts, promissory notes, insurance, orders of goods or ‘favours’ and deliveries of these, and many business letters from a range of suppliers, merchants and other agents, principally WJ Smith in Cape Town.
  • Family letters, largely of a kind that mix business with family events and occurrences, including wills, annuities and so forth.
  • Wills in cases where WDP acted as an executor, including his first wife Ellen Hart, his brother-in-law John Rennie and others, and also a court case regarding a dispute over a family will, Pringle versus Pringle.
  • A smaller set of later papers concerns Harriet and Dod’s son Edward Joseph Townsend Pringle, known as Joe, in particular regarding the finances and estate of his mother-in-law EB Quirk.

There are a number of interesting aspects of the Pringle Collection, with three of particular note as follows:

  1. Generally, race is not mentioned nor is the presence of black or coloured people in the environs of Grahamstown, Cradock and elsewhere a topic that is noted or discussed. This is perhaps in part because the focus is generally either matters of land or matters of buying and selling, so that the presence of black people in making things ‘work’ could be bracketed. Matters of race and ethnicity are, however, to the fore during the frontier wars of 1848 and especially 1851, and in negative ways. Over the period of the wars, such mentions include use of terms including Kaffir, Coloured, Hottentot, often coupled with the word rebel or more negative comments, and with occasional observation that the rebels and people genuinely looking for work cannot be told apart. Such mentions are primarily located in the remaining papers of Dods Pringle, although occasionally they occur in letters to Harriet Townsend from her missionary uncle Thomas Hood and her merchant associate WJ Smith.
  2. A significant component of the Pringle collection is composed by the remaining traces of the jewelry, haberdashery, millinery and other business activities of Harriet Townsend between 1840, when she was widowed, and 1848, when she remarried to Dods Pringle. These papers include orders, invoices and accounts regarding her dealings with a number of merchants and tradesmen. These indicate that, in spite of the difficult circumstances of the frontier wars and the economic depression prevailing in particular in the Eastern Cape, she achieved some business successes although also accumulating a growing debt. This part of the collection also demonstrates the existence of a network of economically active women associated with Harriet Townsend, and also contain information about the working lives of her wider family and indicate the high-profile economic roles of women within this. They point up that ‘frontier women’ could be involved in a range of economic activities and were not just farm women.
  3. Although not as comprehensively covered, there is nonetheless a significant amount of interesting material in the collection concerning farming, land sales and purchases, and the changing circumstances of the employment of African and coloured workers. The latter is important source of commentary in respect of the abolition of slavery, the period of indentured labour, the impact of the Vagrancy Acts and also the Pass Act 1857, with regards to employment matters.

 

Last updated: 8 February 2017


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