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Fascinating conversation about the life of Emily Hobhouse at the launch of Robert Eales’s The Compassionate Englishwoman

Robert Eales

The Kalk Bay Books launch of The Compassionate Englishwoman: Emily Hobhouse in the Boer War by Robert Eales was a well-attended event, with local history buffs enjoying listening to and engaging with the author.

Eales is South African, and visited from Australia to launch this inspiring and comprehensive account on a country-wide tour.

On his retirement in 2005 from a career in business, Eales pursued his passion for research, writing about the Anglo-Boer War. He focused on the Free State, surrounding the city of Bloemfontein, where he went to school and from where his own ancestors hailed. Eales’s presentation to the Australian Boer War Study Group’s 20th Anniversary Conference in Melbourne in 2013 led to the publication of this book.

Robert Eales and Elizabeth van HeyningenThe Compassionate EnglishwomanEales was joined by the historian Elizabeth van Heyningen, with whom he had been in correspondence for many years. Her research and book The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War had richly informed Eales’s own, though he asserted his was a popular writing of the narrative and not an academic one.

Eales and Van Heyningen met for the first time, face to face, and enjoyed a fascinating conversation about the life of Emily Hobhouse. Van Heyningen reflected on the humanitarian and political role Hobhouse had played. She asked Eales what personal dynamics had driven Hobhouse to get involved in consciousness raising and protest against Roberts, Kitchener, Brodrick and Milner.

At the age of 39, Hobhouse’s father had passed away and she was free to reinvent herself. She had lived a sheltered life as the daughter of an Anglican priest but, without hesitation, she took up the cause of the Boer women and children who were suffering atrocious conditions in the camps.

Van Heyningen praised the accessible and readable text of the The Compassionate Englishwoman, expressing the hope that this powerful narrative will be rediscovered. For Eales, the significance of telling this story beyond the borders of South Africa remains utterly relevant when the global humanitarian crisis of refugees faces us. “It behoves us as a species to hold powerful individuals accountable for human suffering,” he said.

Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event:


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