Emily Hobhouse, South African Conciliation Committee

Emily Hobhouse, South Africa

Emily Hobhouse was a British welfare campaigner mainly remembered for fighting the dreadful conditions inside the British concentration camps built during the Second Boer War in South Africa.

Emily Hobhouse, the daughter of the Reginald Hobhouse and Caroline Trelawny, was born in Liskeard, Cornwall on 9th April, 1860. Her father was rector of the Anglican church for fifty-one years. Her grandfather was Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office under Sir Robert Peel.

Her mother was a daughter of Sir William Trelawny who represented East Cornwall in parliament for many years. She was a descendant of Bishop Trelawney.

Emily and her sisters shared a governess at home. In 1876 Emily was sent to a finishing school in London but as there was no money she did not complete her schooling. Emily lived with her parents until she was thirty-five. By the time Emily was twenty her mother died. She then nursed her father until his death in 1895.

After the death of her father, Emily became involved in social work and political reform. With her brother, Leonard Hobhouse, she was an active member of the Adult Suffrage Society.

She spent two years spent in Minnesota, campaigning against the drinking problems among the Cornish miners in the mining towns. she became engaged to John Carr Jackson. She moved to Mexico where she bought a ranch. However, her engagement was broken off and she had to return to England after her money was lost in speculation.

Emily was opposed to the Boer War and in late 1900 Emily was sent details of how women and children were being treated by the British Army. She later wrote: "poor women who were being driven from pillar to post, needed protection and organized assistance. And from that moment I was determined to go to South Africa in order to render assistance to them".

Emily Hobhouse formed the Relief Fund for South African Women and Children, and went to South Africa on 27th December, 1900. She got permission to visit the concentration camps that had been established by the British Army, leaving Cape Town on 22nd January, 1901, and arriving at Bloemfontein two days later. There were 1,800 Boers in the camp, and " there was a scarcity of essential provision and that the accommodation was wholly inadequate."

Emily visited many of these British concentration camps, including Norvalspont, Aliwal North, Springfontein, Kimberley and Orange River and Mafeking. There were 115 white concentration camps around the country, most of which were in the Transvaal.

Emily decided to return to England to persuade the government to stop the British Army's scorched earth and concentration camp policy. The Minister of War was unwilling to take action, the House of Commons were disinterested in the Boers fate.

Emily Hobhouse returned Cape Town on Sunday 27th October, 1901, but the authorities refused to allow her to leave her ship. Returning to Britain via France, she got the news that the Boer leaders had signed the Peace of Vereeniging.

She visited South Africa in 1903 and again in 1905 to set up schools to teach young women spinning and weaving. However ill health forced her to return to England in 1908.

Hobhouse was also an opponent of British involvement in the World War I.

In 1921 the people of South Africa raised £2,300 and sent it to her in gratitude for the work she had done for them during the Boer War. The money was sent in order that she could buy a small house for herself on the coast of Cornwall.

Hobhouse purchased a house at St. Ives on Christmas Day, 1921

Emily Hobhouse died in London on 8th June, 1926. Her ashes are interned in a niche in the Women’s Memorial at Bloemfontein. The southernmost town in Eastern Free State is named Hobhouse after her.

Books about Emily Hobhouse

Museum in South Africa

A South African perspective

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