Cornwall Council agree Museum plan for forgotten Cornish hero

It makes a lovely change from housing, commerce, and yes, even cycle tracks, to read that Cornwall Council has agreed planning permission for a new museum at St Ive, near Liskeard which is set to become the Emily Hobhouse Museum,  in celebration of one of Cornwall’s most famous women.

It will be situated around 5.5km southwest of Callington, and looks set to celebrate Cornish heritage but also provide a visitor attraction which will aid the economy. Only two comments were received, both supportive.

Emily was controversial. Born in St Ive in April 1860, her grandfather was Sir William Trelawney, MP for East Cornwall, but in her own right she was controversial and outspoken. The Hypatia Trust says:

She was branded “that bloody woman” by some, but Emily Hobhouse is a forgotten Cornish hero. She raised the travesty of human rights abuses in South Africa during the Boer Wars before such issues became headline news. While she was pilloried by her own townspeople in 1900 for highlighting the abuses in concentration camps, in South Africa there is a national monument to her campaigning work.

Her ashes are interred at the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein, that she helped design. The significance is that she is one of only 3 people to be honoured in this way; remembered alongside their first president and their greatest general. This gives a very stark contrast to her native Cornwall, where none of the local newspapers published an obituary upon her death.

Bodmin Keep wrote (edited but see link for full info):

Emily Hobhouse was a spirited Cornish woman, who made her name as a welfare campaigner during the Boer war and continued her campaigning throughout Word War One.

She was born close to Bodmin, just a few miles away in the rectory at St Ive, near Liskeard on the 9th April, 1860.

Her mother died young and Emily devoted her early adulthood to dutifully caring for her father. It was not until his death in 1895 that she was able to realise her life’s ambition as a Christian missionary.

CORNISH COPPER MINERS

At 38 years old, she travelled to Virginia, USA to improve the working conditions of Cornish copper miners who had emigrated there after the slump of the 1880’s. Her former rectory life had ill-prepared her for this, as a 3000 male strong community with saloons and brothels was quite the eye opener I’m sure. But nevertheless, with her immense courage and tenacity she gradually gained the friendship and respect of this male dominated and rather rough community!

When she came back to England 3 years later, she was interested in being involved in the Women’s suffragette movement. She later became chair of the People’s Suffrage Federation which passionately protested for women being able to vote.

SECOND BOER WAR

She is most known and revered however for her strong-minded determination to expose the appalling conditions of Boer families, who were herded into concentration camps ran by the British during the Second Boer War in South Africa.

When Hobhouse left England, she only knew about one concentration camp existing, but on arrival she discovered there were many more. She was horrified by the overcrowding, neglect and lack of resources of the camp, which were full of undernourished children and were rampant with diseases.

Emily Hobhouse was instrumental in bringing relief to the concentration camps, managing to increase the amount of soap, tents, beds and clean drinking water within the camps, as well as raising public awareness in Europe of the atrocities. Although when she returned to England she was largely criticised by the British government and referred to as “That bloody woman!” – they were completely unsympathetic about the camp conditions and she was banned from returning to South Africa!

But her tenacity and dogged personality came through again, as she refused to go away and sent a stream of letters to newspapers, so that the camps became an international scandal.

In 1903 she was able to go back to South Africa, where she led a rehabilitation project; a scheme where Boer women were taught valuable skills of lace-making, spinning and weaving, to enable them to rebuild their lives.

WORD WAR ONE

In later life Emily continued her activism by showing her strong opposition to WW1.

She was the only British civilian travel to Germany in the middle of the war to talk to the German Foreign Minister to find a way to negotiate peace and end the war. She also organised the writing, signing and publishing in January 1915 of the “Open Christmas Letter”, addressed “To the Women of Germany and Austria”.

The Open Christmas Letter was a public message for peace signed by a group of 101 British suffragists at the end of 1914 as the first Christmas of WW1 approached as a direct response to letters written to American feminist Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), by a small group of German women’s rights activists. Published in January 1915 in Jus Suffragii, the journal of the IWSA, the Open Christmas Letter was answered two months later by a group of 155 prominent German and Austrian women who were pacifists.

The exchange of letters between women of nations at war helped promote the aims of peace and helped prevent the fracturing of the unity which lay in the common goal they shared – suffrage for women.

HER LEGACY

Emily Hobhouse died on 8th June 1926. Her funeral went unreported, even by the local newspaper and her name in England was quickly forgotten. By contrast however, a ceremony took place in Bloemfontein on 27th October 1926, in which her ashes (which had been taken out to South Africa) were laid to rest at the imposing ‘National Woman’s Monument’ built to the commemorate the suffering of 26,000 Boer Women and children.

Tens of thousands of mourners both black and white attended the ceremony – the greatest farewell ever accorded to a non-south African.

In his oration, Jan Smuts said:

“We stood alone in the world, almost friendless among the peoples, the smallest nation ranged against the mightiest empire on earth. And then one small hand, the hand of a woman was stretched out to us. At that darkest hour, when our race almost seemed doomed to extinction, she appeared as an angel, as a heaven-sent messenger. Strangest of all she was an Englishwoman… During those eventful years she gave us all she had; she gave her health and she poured out her soul… It was her wish that her ashes should be buried in this land, should become part and parcel of the land where the best service of her life had been rendered. She now becomes one with us everlasting”.

 

Hopefully, the new Museum will be modern Cornwall’s way of celebrating the life of this great woman, better late than never.

 

 

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