1907 Receipt for £5 to JHL Findlay per EB Quirk

1907 Receipt for £5 to JHL Findlay per EB Quirk

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2016) ‘1907 Receipt for £5 to JHL Findlay per EB Quirk’ http://www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Traces/Findlay-Receipt-1907/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. This Trace is concerned with two of the routine underpinnings of race and racism in the
findlaytrace10octSouth African context. One is land. The other concerns white figurations linked to state formation. Both are signalled by the document shown here. Two of its other routinised underpinnings, discussed elsewhere in Traces Remaining though not here, are labour and force and violence.The focus here is on the routine, ordinary and rather bureaucratic forms that these underpinnings can take, in establishing and maintaining possession and ownership, and in professional and other connections existing between otherwise contending groups of white people.

2. Olive Schreiner’s nephew John Hudson Lamb [JHL] Findlay (1876-1942), known as Hudson, was a lawyer who lived and practised in Pretoria, in the old Transvaal. The law firm he established, Findlay & Niemeyer, is still in existence, and its offices are still in the same place, in Hatfield. Many of the letters he wrote to family members, as well as letters to him by Olive Schreiner and a large number of other people, are in the Findlay Family collection. They span his life-time, from comments on his birth through to him becoming a grandfather and then the years just before he died. They encompass many aspects of his working life, including because a number of family connections were also involved in legal practice. A fairly three-dimensional picture emerges, in fact four-dimensional, as these many letters taken together have a decided longitudinal character.

3. This is to remain within the confines of what appears in the Findlay Family collection, and it shows how seductive a large collection can be in implying completion and totality. But life is not lived within the boundaries of particular archive collections (and see here the blog on Familiar names…). In the thousands of letters reviewed as part of WWW research, on a number of occasions, elsewhere than in Pretoria, and involving very different networks of people from those the Findlay collection encompasses, Hudson Findlay in his lawyerly capacity comes unexpectedly into frame. What’s he doing there? and there? His presence in these other contexts indicates in a small way something of the complex connections that can exist between people, who become in fairly transitory but still meaningful ways joined across boundaries of time and place and network links. And also the figuration involved – something considerably beyond the network and that is perpetuated over time – can be composed by opposing but still linked groups or networks.

4. One such instance involves members of the interconnected Du Toit and Voss families, with the original base of the Du Toits in the southern part of the Cape and the Vosses being British migrants to the Northern Cape; they both were however located in Hopetown  in the 1870s and 80s. A Du Toit daughter, Jacoba Helena, and a Voss son, Thomas, married in 1882; then in the 1890s they moved to Pretoria, he entering government service there. The daughter’s Will and related papers, and also those of various other members of the family, were drawn up by a certain JHL Findlay in 1897 and are now part of the Voss collection, in another archive in another place from the Findlay one.

5. No known point of connection exists between Findlay and the Vosses other than what is indicated by these documents: a lawyer drew up Will and related papers for members of a family after it moved to the Transvaal, as it had a different basis (Roman-Dutch law) to its legal system from that in the Cape. There seems nothing particularly significant about the Wills or the property mentioned in them, and at this point in time the still fairly young Findlay had not achieved the lawyerly seniority he later had, so it is not surprisingly that he was hands-on involved in expediting these routine legal matters.

6. THe Vosses arrived to the Transvaal and Pretoria in the wake of the Jameson Raid, a failed attempted coup on the Transvaal government led by one of Cecil Rhodes’ henchmen and which contributed to the causes of the South African War 1899 to 1902. Later through the 1910s and 20s, the Cotie Voss  and others of her family were supporters of Nationalism and by implication its racial platform. The extant letters indicate, by contrast, that Hudson Findlay had sympathy for Transvaal exceptionalism but that he rejected Nationalism, perhaps influenced by the liberal views particularly on race matters of the Schreiner part of his extended family.

7. The Vosses had a son, Vivian. In 1920 he became a lecturer in the University of Pretoria’s Physics Department, and his papers are now in the Voss collection. As a family, the Vosses seem not to have felt reservations about political developments. On moving to the Transvaal, they had set out to learn Dutch and then Afrikaans and thereafter they supported the increasingly powerful Nationalist parties as these developed. But this collection is much smaller and scrappier than the Findlay Papers. Most of its letters are of the period up to the 1910s, while the engagement-diaries and notebooks of Vivian Voss provide coverage of the later period. This makes it harder to discern whether the silences on political matters in these latter indicate acquiescence or disinterest. What comments there are suggest the former. Voss and colleagues spearheaded the Afrikanerisation of physics teaching and textbooks, while his notebooks suggest a concern with ‘getting on’ in the university context, which was a hotbed of Nationalism in the 1920s though to the mid-1950s when he retired.

8. The development of increasingly sharp political differences within the white population more generally can be traced across letters in the Findlay collection, in particular in Pretoria itself and what were many fierce contests for powerful positions in the kerk, legal profession, education, civil service and the local state. The letters in this collection contain many hints about how such matters played out in the details of people’s lives, thereby providing an index of wider changes occurring among the white population of South Africa.

9. The Wills of the Vosses, like all Wills, concern the ownership and disposal of someone’s property. In the case of Jacoba Helena Voss nee Du Toit, it is also about land as part of property. When she and her husband moved from the Cape, Mev Voss retained her ownership of parcels of land there and continued receiving income from these. Her new Will in January 1897 ensured ownership would be passed on after her death to her heirs, by making a new Will within the Roman-Dutch legal framework prevailing in the Transvaal. And so enter Hudson Finlay.

10. Ten years later in April 1907, enter Hudson Finlay again. This time it concerns the 1907 receipt shown at the start of this Trace.

11. The receipt was issued by the Civil Commissioner’s Office in Pretoria for a sum of money paid by JHL Findlay to the Civil Commission on behalf of EB Quirk. In this context ‘per’ is on behalf of. It is for £5, and was paid as groundrent for 1904-1907 for a number of lots or ‘stands’, parcels of land in Johannesburg which were owned by EB Quirk, with the legal work of conveyancing carried out by Hudson Findlay. By 1907 when the receipt was issued, he was the senior member of his firm and had also become a fairly senior member of the Pretorian legal fraternity. So it is a mild surprise to see his name on the receipt, rather than that of the firm, Findlay & Niemeyer, or one of its more junior members.

12. This receipt issued in Johannesburg is one of many documents archived in the Pringle Collection, the papers of an Eastern Cape family, with most of its contents focused on people and events in the Eastern Cape over the period of the 1830s through to the 1870s. The archive collection is in the Cory Library. Pringle? The Eastern Cape? Why did a receipt dated April 1907 issued in Pretoria and concerning land in Johannesburg end up therein? How?

13. The presence in the Pringle collection of the receipt to EB Quirk is in fact due to happenstance: the marriage of a Quirk daughter to a grandson of the Pringle originator of the collection, with her mother – the widowed EB Quirk of the receipt – coming to live with them in the Eastern Cape. A small bunch of business papers came with her. However, there is no information concerning what brought about the connection between Hudson Findlay and Mrs Quirk, for the Quirks originated from Ireland and after immigration to South Africa had lived in Johannesburg, where there would have been many lawyers specialising in land conveyancing of no matter how intricate a kind. So why pick a Pretorian one?

14. Although this is a small mystery, nonetheless the existence of the receipt and that Hudson Findlay was directly involved in carrying out conveyancing services for Mrs Quirk certainly indicates professional expertise in respect of conveyancing. Other documents in this sub-set of the collection show that Major P. Quirk, who died in the early 1900s, had amassed a large portfolio of investments, including but not exclusively in land, and his widow Mrs Evelyn Brown Quirk thereafter would most likely also have been seen as an important client by any firm of lawyers she employed.

15. By 1907 the Major seems to be dead and Mrs Quirk appears to be living mostly in the Eastern Cape, while there would have been many lawyers in Johannesburg with relevant expertise. The basis of the Quirk connection with Hudson Findlay in the last resort remains unknown, for there is no direct evidence stating how and why it came about. However, it is likely to have dated from when Major Quirk was accumulating his investments and to have been connected with the fact that Findlay carried out a considerable amount of work linked with the Civil Commissioner’s Office, where legal rights and claims of various kinds were registered and which was located in Pretoria.

16. A PS here regarding the Pringles of the Eastern Cape is in order, as part of considering what is going on in these documents regarding land and its possession and disposition.

17. The Pringles were reputedly the wealthiest family in the Eastern Cape, with their economic base lying in a number of profitable farms in the Baviaans River area and sheep and stock farming as well as investments of a wide variety of kinds including in mining and extraction and other developing industries. In a sense, the marriage of Annie Quirk, the daughter of Evelyn and Major P Quirk, and Edward Joseph Townsend Pringle, son of the wealthy Robert Hart Pringle (who was the son from his first marriage of Dods Pringle), joined together the landed gentry of 1820s Settlers and old land and wealth, with the new land and wealth of purchases and investments by the recently arrived nouveaux riche.

18. That the land in question here had been dispossessed from African use and guardianship is particularly clear in the Eastern Cape example, for the Pringle farms were on the old frontier separating Xhosa and white settlers, but it is also true concerning the properties purchased by Major Quirk. A truism is that possession is nine-tenths of the law. But this was not actually true in South Africa, where possession and ownership inhered in the activities the law and the lawyers serving it in alienating what had previously been seen as inalienable. Succinctly, the inalienable was made to become a possession under ownership. Enter Hudson Finlay and all others of his profession.

19. Both of the examples that have been discussed are concerned with land, property, ownership, possession. The work of producing ownership and possession is the work of that most exemplary of professions, the law, through its routine and ordinary workings. Drawing up Wills. Paying groundrent on behalf of clients. And so on and so forth through the activities of solicitors and advocates and lawyers and land agents and surveyors et cetera. All the stuff of marking territory, certifying ownership, the possession and then the inheritance of these by members of those social groups that had recourse to, and the funds to pay for, the law. These activities and those who carried them out seem placid, mild-mannered and ethically neutral; they are in fact the stuff of organised and systematic pillage, the alienation of the land in colonial settler contexts.

20. The example of the Wills drawn up by Hudson Findlay for the Voss family says something interesting about networks and the sometimes nebulous or transitory connections that can link people. He and they coincided for a particular purpose, to carry out what was for him some routine legal work, and something more consequential for them because contemplating an ‘after’ when their own lives would have ended. There is no reason and certainly no evidence to suppose that the connection had any longevity. There are many reasons to suppose that in the number of respects Findlay and the Vosses might have disagreed about many matters. And there is considerable evidence to show that Hudson Findlay was a honourable, hard-working and kindly person. And there is the rub, of course.

21. This example also says something interesting about figurations over time, those long-term associational ties which led to the intertwining of different groups of whites around the common interests they shared in spite of their differences and disagreements. These interests centred on the valorisation of a way of life with its land, labour and monopolisation of legitimate force. And in turn these required state formation and the presence and activities of many professional groups and people enabling this, such as lawyers.

22. These matters were uber-topical at the point the receipt was issued in April 1907. There was what was called an ‘uprising’ in Natal, one of the most serious rebuttals of white control that South Africa has witnessed. A National Convention had been called in which (white) political delegates from the four composing provinces met to discuss the form of Union between them, with the spectre of the Natal matter at its back. And at the end of 1907, Hudson Findlay’s favourite aunt, Olive Schreiner, published a widely syndicated lengthy newspaper article on ‘Closer Union’, which was also published as a short book. In both forms it became a cause celebre because of its analysis of racism and white interests as underpinning polity and economy, fuelled by the desire to permanently subjugate the black majority. And this latter was the common glue that bound together groups which otherwise disagreed on many matters.

23. The Trace document that has been discussed has similar connotations with regards to networks and the deeper-seated matter of figurational connections. It also represents another kind of figurational effect as well, concerning the links between heritage and lineage, land, capital, economy, and the vagaries of how these might play out over time.

24. At a somewhat later time, the administration of the Quirk investments was being dealt with by another law firm, Friel of Johannesburg. Mrs Quirk’s son-in-law, known as Joe, contacted a friend working for Friel’s in 1911. An attempt had been made to sell the stands for which groundrent had been paid as certified by the 1907 receipt. They did not sell; and the friend wrote back saying that the whole portfolio of investments was in fact more or less worthless. But there is a considerable irony here.

25. What precisely happened to the Quirk stands after this is not known. What is startlingly clear is that these stands, these fairly large areas of land, are a significant part of the suburbs of Johannesburg known as Fairview and Melrose. From being seen as worthless by an office junior before building work there got off the ground, for many years they have been worth multi-millions, indeed now many multi-millions. Prime land in one of the world’s prime cities that is also at the heart of the South African economy. Prime land that Major Quirk left to his wife and his wife through her legal agents was unable to sell.

26. What has been discussed in this Trace is routine, ordinary, dull even. Some Wills are made, a receipt is issued for groundrent paid. It is also in a way what nightmares are made of. The minuteness of these activities is what catches the breath, that something so huge and momentous as land and its possession translates down the line to a humdrum receipt for £5, along with all the other equally minute transactions carried out by often well-meaning professionals and their perhaps not quite so well-meaning clients.

27. But it is the figurational aspect that should remain in the mind. An eye on this shows those small seemingly insignificant workings that compose the complex intertwinings of mutually disagreeing groups bound together through their common interests that for Norbert Elias mark and define the figuration. In this case, the figuration is of whites combining across differences and the propellant or dynamis (to use Derrida’s term) for this concerned land, inheritance and the law governing such.

Last updated: 31 December 2016


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