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Newnham-Davis, Trollope - and the Bishops!
Peter Ewart

Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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I dare say plenty here have already acquired and read Julian’s recent publication, with two meaty papers arising from his research. The third fascinating article, however, also had me intrigued, as I suddenly wondered whether I could add to the serendipitous circumstances of Julian’s & Patricia’s discovery.

Those experiences of Newnham-Davis and Anthony Trollope are mirrored in countless reports in S African sources containing the usual mishaps of travel in those parts at the time – torrential storms, swollen rivers, soaked travellers, sick oxen and horses, broken axles and disselbooms, consequential delays and all the rest. I have literally scores of works describing these journeys by missionaries and traders, so it was all too familiar reading about the 13th and 80th regiments sloshing along the road between Pretoria & Newcastle. What a coincidence that, of all those affected by that particular experience of Sept 1877, two completely separate men among them would later record and publish their respective accounts of their own journey.

But the reference to the “three bishops coming to dinner” on that muddy roadside made me wonder. They, too, were accustomed to roughing it on very long treks and often left accounts of their more memorable epics. Newnham-Davis, as Julian pointed out, was writing some years after the event, and made the odd error. He certainly confused the three dioceses, as that of Pretoria was founded only in the following year, the new bishop not sailing out until 1878. However, in Lewis & Edwards (Historical Records of the Church of the Province of S Africa, SPCK, London 1934) I did, indeed, find a brief account of the four months expedition by the Bishop of Cape Town (William West Jones) to most of the other five dioceses in his Province, a trip he began in August 1877. Travelling north, eventually into the Bloemfontein Diocese (roughly the OFS), he met up with Bishop Alan Becher Webb, the two then spending a day or so at each of Webb’s missions before striking north into the proposed Pretoria Diocese (in effect, the Transvaal) by way of Potchefstroom, Rustenburg and on to Pretoria. It was now September and they stayed at Government House in the absence of Shepstone, away on the borders of Zululand in connection with the boundary dispute.

They then planned a brisk journey down to Pietermaritzburg (in Bp Macrorie’s Maritzburg Dioc., the same area as Colenso’s Natal Dioc.), confidently expecting to cover 270 miles in six days. Here, though, they found themselves on the same road as Newnham-Davis and Trollope at the same time and in the same weather! Their experience was identical :

“...the journey was not quite so quick. Even before they reached Heidelberg one of the horses fell sick; the next day a wheel came off; and two days later the horses stuck in a drift crossing the Vaal. Then another horse fell sick, and it was a jaded party that reached Newcastle. Next day, before reaching Ladysmith two more horses had to be left, while the remaining four drew the waggon as far as Colenso ...”

So Newnham-Davis’ memory was not too bad, although there is no mention in the Lewis & Edwards account of the Bp of Grahamstown (Nathaniel James Merriman, father of the S African statesman). I suspect the third traveller was, therefore, one of West Jones’ colleagues. But how remarkable that three other educated men were also on that same road, struggling in the same weather (and at the same drift over the Vaal by the look of it!) as Newnham-Davis’ party and Trollope, that the three separate parties each left published accounts of that exact period in that place, especially as the storm and its results, however severe, were not at all unusual for those parts. Newnham-Davis mentioned Trollope and the bishops. Trollope mentioned Newnham-Davis’ men of the 13th, as well as the 80th. We can probably safely assume, however, that neither the bishops, Newnham-Davis nor Trollope knew that each other had recorded the experience for posterity.

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Julian whybra

Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 437
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Remarkable and serendipitous. But then so much in SA in 1878/9 seemed to involve serendipity. Well done. A nice post script.
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Newnham-Davis, Trollope - and the Bishops!
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