Doing the business in starting to write

Doing the business in starting to write

The Pringle collection has come back into sharp focus over the last week or two. It is time to write a new journal article, which I want to appear to coincide with the 200 year anniversary of the arrival of the 1820 Settlers in the Eastern Cape. Settler women are often either ignored and invisibilised in research or else portrayed as fearful, farm-based, housebound women who were economically dependent first on their fathers and then on their husbands. As readers of these blogs and other pages on the WWW website will know, there are many exceptions to this rule, which is actually less a rule in life and more an assumption imposed by researchers blinkered by separate spheres thinking.

A working paper has already appeared on the WWW website, concerned with the remaining papers of the widowed town-based business woman, Harriet Townsend, whose progenitors were her mother and her mother’s family and also women in her husband’s family as well. In such circles, businesswomen were certainly not rare.

But what aspects of these archive materials to write about, when much ground has been covered in a descriptive way in the working paper? This has been niggling away at the edges of my mind while been doing other things. I may have settled on organising the structure of the article around particular dates when important matters regarding her business took place. These are likely to be an audit of all her stock in c1846, a cashbook recording sales from c1842, and a settlement statement from one of her business contacts in c1848. The latter occurred at a point when Harriet Townsend was about to re-marry (to Dods Pringle), when her business contracted but did not cease. The first took place when, after being widowed, she relocated from Grahamstown to Cradock, in part to pool resources with her equally entrepreneurially-minded mother, Elizabeth Hockly, and in larger part to run her business from there. She was also not alone in her business activities. Her mother bought and rented commercial as well as residential property. Her close friends acted as out-workers who also collected and delivered orders in the countryside. Other women in both town and country supplied skilled labour in finishing or making high-end consumer goods like hats, shirts, dresses and suits. And Mrs Townsend was connected with merchants in Cape Town and Algoa Bay (now Port Elizabeth) who imported jewellery, cutlery and other expensive items and dispatched them to her.

As these comments may convey, my mind is buzzing and filled with these whispers of the past. But I wish it would settle on something clear and certain that would support me actually starting to write, in drawing together all these materials and producing a coherent argument. More on this in the coming weeks.


Last updated:  30 May 2019