The Wills of Elizabeth Hockly and Dods Pringle

The Wills of Elizabeth Hockly and Dods Pringle

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2015) ‘The Wills of Elizabeth Hockly and Dods Pringle’ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. A Will is an interesting kind of document of life; we all know about Wills, but rarely see them, and even more rarely do most of us think about what kind of a ‘thing’ they are, what their defining features might be. Read on for some general thoughts, followed by exploring these ideas in relation to the details of the Wills of two people, Elizabeth Hockly and Dods Pringle.

2. A Will is addressed to other people but in an open-ended or removed way, being ‘to whom it may concern’ as a legally-binding statement of future actions which are secured now by its legal standing, or else with the paradox of a distanced address to specific people, as in ‘I give and bequeath to my daughters’. In both orientations, a Will has a highly performative character, albeit a performance that is necessarily expedited by others. It is usually written or drafted by a third party on behalf of its author and typically has formalised aspects, indeed is sometimes expressed in entirely formalised phrasing. Also while its signatories are centrally the author-not-writer, they also have (by force of law) to include at least two and sometimes more witnesses to this person’s authorship.

3. It would be fair to think, then, that a Will can be justifiably seen as ‘a sort of letter, but’, although the ‘buts’ usually outweigh the ‘sort of’. The strongest buts are two-fold.

4. Firstly, with a Will there is (usually? almost invariably? perhaps completely invariably?) no direct address to a named person or persons. However, the same is true of public letters of a ‘Dear Editor ‘ kind or those that, like the letters of St Paul in the New Testament, are addressed to a collective body. And so this aspect of a Will is not definitive of a lack of letterness.

5. Secondly, a Will is non-dialogical and no response is called for or possible, for it is a statement or testament read in the context of the final and absolute absence of its author. However, it is useful helpful here to consider open letters. These have all the features of letterness except dialogism, for they are statements of a view or position and with any response sought being of a non-epistolary kind. They are like Wills for beneficiaries in this regard, in fact. Think here also about picture postcards, which presume a way-way communication and typically do not give a specific address they are ‘from’, but nonetheless have other aspects of letterness. So non-response is not in and of itself indicative of the complete absence of letterness either.

6. These are of course comments made in abstract, in absentia of the thing itself and the many specific variations raised by actual Wills. How do these general points shape up, when brought as it were face to face with ‘the last will and testament’ of people where their Wills are just one trace among many other traces of their lives and deaths in the collections worked on for Whites Writing Whiteness research? To explore this, these and some additional points about the Will/letter relationship will be discussed in relation to two actual Wills, to see how the above comments shape up in practice. They are the draft Will of Mrs Elizabeth Hockly, made in November 1857, and the certified (by a notary) duplicate of the Will of (William) Dods Pringle, her son-in-law, made in March 1876. Jpegs of the first page of each and also detailed transcriptions of the Wills are provided.

Image 26-08-2015 at 16.237. The Will of Elizabeth Hockly (nee Moore), the first page of which is shown here (UnPr, 17K.7617), is in fact a draft. It is not in her writing but that of Dods Pringle, who often acted for family and close friends in a quasi-legal capacity (he was also of a litigious disposition). There is no signature and nor are witnesses named, and there are some significant amendments, in particular the excision of one of the Executors, Edward Hughes (also one of her son-in-laws), and so it is likely to be an early draft (and in fact another document in the collection mentions an ‘actual Will’ of 2 March 1858).


In the name of God amen

Be it known to all whom it doth shall or may concern that upon the first day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty seven I Elizabeth Hockly ^of Eildon^ Born Moore relict of the late Daniel Hockly being in the full possession [of] intellect and senses and of sound and disposing mind memory and understanding and fully capable of doing any act requiring thought and reflection I hereby make my last will and Testament and revoke and annual all previous wills and codicils and other Testamentary acts hereforth passed by this deed to be and contain my last Will and testament in manner and form following. That is to say that after my just debts and personal expenses are paid I give and bequeath to my seven children all my property in equal shares and proportions

Elizabeth Ann, Harriet, Frances Chapman, Alfred Moore, Daniel Thomas, Maria Isabella and William Henry, or the survivors of them the Estate and Effects of which I may be possessed at my death with a movable or unmovable and of whatever nature or kind how and wherever situated shall be equally divided among my seven children above named share and share alike. +

+ I hereby appoint W.D. Pringle and Edward Hughes to be my Executors of this my last Will and testament and administrators of my effects and Estate giving and granting unto the said W.D. Pringle and E. Hughes all such power as is required by law I also exclude from my estate or magistrates and every person or persons who otherwise might interfere with my Estate

It is my wish and desire that the Executors do not send an inventory of my Estate and effects to the Master of the Supreme Court.

8. Mrs Hockly’s draft Will has two clear letter-like features. The first and strongest is its ‘To whom it may concern’ mode of address near its start, and the second that the place she was resident – the farm Eildon – appears as an insertion, as where her Will was ‘from’. These are followed by an elaborate and repetitious statement about her mental competence. It is not clear why it takes this lengthy form (compare with the spare statement at the start of Pringle’s Will), but perhaps this shows the hand of an amateur rather than any doubts about this (and she did not die until 1862 so there was no in extremis circumstance at work). The actual disposition of Elizabeth Hockly’s Estate is brief – once any debts are paid, there are to be equal shares for all of her seven children or their heirs. They are named, with four being female and three male.

9. In most respects Mrs Hockly’s Will is impersonal and gives little sense of people and relationships beyond the formal, ‘my children’. This is because of its egalitarian approach and that there are no distinctions or specific bequests but rather equal shares. There are a few more personalised aspects, in the statement about no interference from magistrates, and the related stipulation that no inventory of possessions should be sent to the Master of the Supreme Court. However, given Pringle’s role in drafting the Will, it should be noted that in respect of the Will of Dods Pringle’s father and also the father of his first wife Ellen Hart there had been such legal ‘interference’, and it appears too in his own Will, so this might have been his bugbear rather than hers.

Image 26-08-2015 at 16.28


10. The Will of William Dods Pringle (UnPr, 6.6233), known to family, friends and associates as Dods, the first page of which is shown here,is actually an official duplicate, made and attested under the seal of the firm of Innes and Elliot, who were notaries (and James Innes snr was also Pringle’s nephew). That is, it is neither a draft nor a copy, but something different in kind because in effect ‘the thing itself’ and having binding legal force as such. It is signed and with the signing witnessed on all of its pages. Due to its considerable length, its first and last pages, briefly interspersed with some of the specifics, follow in transcription.


This is the Last Will and Testament of me William Dods Pringle of Lindoch in the Division of Bedford, Agriculturalist.

I hearby revoke all former Wills Codicils or other Testamentary acts by me heretofore made and executed and declare the following to be my Last Will and Testament that is to say.

I hereby give and bequeath to my two step-children name Sarah Elizabeth Townsend, Spouse of John Isaac Edwards; and William Blore Townsend their heirs and successors a sum of Five hundred pounds Sterling each to be paid to them respectively by my Executors hereinafter named within 12 months next after my decease: but I direct that from the amount so bequeathed to each of my said step-children shall be deducted whatever amount may be owing by either of them to my Estate.

To each of my sisters named… I give and bequeath the sum of one hundred pounds… and to each of my sisters named… a sum of Fifty Pounds Sterling… to each of my nephews… To my Son… with the exception of the Stone building known as “Robert Cottage”… any of my hereinafter mentioned unmarried daughters… I also direct… entitled to graze fifty sheep or goats, four cows and four horses… a horse and waggon to Mary Ann Pringle; and a cart and two horses with harnesses to my daughters… shall not be at liberty to sublet… shares in farms… all my stock… to my [younger] daughters named… a sum of Three Thousand pounds Sterling… my Banking or other shares in public companies…

I hereby nominate and appoint… Executors… and Administrators… they shall not be required to lodge with the Master of the Supreme Court of the Colony any inventory of my Estate and effects or account of the administration thereof.

I reserve to myself all the power at all times hereafter to make all such alterations in or additions to this Will as I shall think fit either by a separate act or at the foot hereof, and I desire that all such alterations or additions so made by me may have the like force and effect as if they had been originally inserted herein.

Lastly I declare that this writing contains my last Will and Testament desiring that it may have effect as such or as a codicil or otherwise in such manner as maybe most consistent with the law.

Dated at Glen Lyden on this ^twenty second^ day of March 1876.

W.D. Pringle

Signed by the said William Dods Pringle and by him declared to be his Last Will and Testament in the presence of us who in his presence and in presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as Witnesses

N.M. Nash

W. Hartmann

11. Rather than commencing along the lines of Hockly’s letter-like ‘letting it be known to whom it doth shall or may concern’, Pringle’s Will starts with place (Lyndock) and his relationship to it (Agriculturalist). Date comes at the end, unlike Hockly, together with the final signing by the Testator and his witnesses. It then, again unlike Hockly, succinctly states his competence and gets immediately down to the details of the Estate and bequests. It is long and extremely detailed – nine hand-written foolscap pages in the original. There is no mention of his second wife, Elizabeth Hockly’s daughter Harriet, as she had died two or three years before. There is much specificity in that there are many different kinds of bequests, and also some fine degrees of distinction are drawn between people having the same relationship to him (eg. some sisters are to receive £100 and others £50) but with no clues as to why. However, Lyndoch, its land, houses and cottages, stock, farm machinery and also other farms, are at the core of the bequests, although there is also mention of ‘Banking and other shares in public companies’.

12. Are there letter-like aspects to Pringle’s Will? Instead, what strikes is that it is replete with ‘I’ injunctions that tie up many ends, down to a horse to go with a cart and possible future uses of a cottage. Almost every paragraph starts with verbs indicative of agency and action from beyond the grave: I direct, I give and bequeath, I direct, I declare, I nominate and approve, I reserve. There is a strong sense of busyness directed towards staying in control of the things being enacted, of an intended after death agency.

13. Standing back from the details and thinking about these two Wills, are the differences a matter of gender and that women and men, at least back then, did it differently? Or that women like ELizabeth Hockly had less to leave than men like Dods Pringle and the differences between their Wills arose from this? Regarding this second possibility, Mrs Hockly owned and rented a number of properties in Cradock and was at least comfortably off, although her income tended to fluctuate. So while she was less wealthy than Mr Pringle, she certainly had an Estate to bequeath. And regarding the first possible explanation, while it is true that the Wills of Dods Pringle’s father and of Robert Hart, the father of his first wife Ellen Hart, were also complex and included distinctions and many specific bequests, the Will of the even wealthier John Moore, ELizabeth Hockly’s father, left a simple Will bequeathing equal shares to his surviving children and wife Sarah, eight shares in all.

14. John Moore was a property owner in Chelsea and Sloan Street in London, and he also had a shop specialising in high-end silverware and jewellery in which most if not all of his children worked, the daughters as well as the sons. Some future complications arising from his Will and its interconnections with that of his daughter Elizabeth Hockly resulted from this. The properties produced income, the income was used to secure annuities, the annuities in the 1840s were of £18.13.4 paid quarterly to eight people, around £74.5 per annum, a sizeable amount each in today’s terms. Widowed young and with seven children herself, Elizabeth Hockly used her annuity to raise Bills and Promissory Notes, run her household, and also to buy property, with the rental income paying off her Bills when due. The Moores expected their children to work their way when needed, to pay their way even when difficult, and in this made no distinction of sex. Mrs Hockly’s Will adopted a similar approach. The Thomas Moore annuities continued into the next generation, which was that of her widowed daughter Harriet Townsend who in 1848 had married the widower Dods Pringle. So when Elizabeth Hockly died, her children received equal shares of everything, including the annuity.

15. What might be some tentative conclusions to draw?

16. The letterlike aspects are stronger regarding some Wiils and weaker or largely absent regarding others. Wills have characteristics of their own, including because they exist as part of a legal framework with governing requirements. The disposition of an estate in Wills does not necessarily follow social hierarchies and inequalities and there are examples where a principle of strict equality in making bequests was followed. The size or magnitude of someone’s estate was not the key factor governing how their Will and its bequests was organised and so it is always a matter of looking at the relational context. Apart from the names of places and the location of properties, there are few easily discernible signs in the dozens of Wills encountered as part of WWW research of the specificity of South Africa and the local configurations of its unfolding racial order.

Last updated: 4 September 2015


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