Friday, September 4, 2009

An early war reporter

As an avid scrounger of secondhand bookshops, I love to find books that lead me to new discoveries. Some years ago, I picked up a first edition (1909) copy of "South African Memories" by Lady Sarah Wilson, who turned out to be the aunt of Winston Churchill.
From the frontispiece portrait, it can be seen what a dashing figure she was, and the book makes for lively reading in which, like her nephew, she reported on her adventures during the Boer War, including also being captured and surviving the Siege at Mafeking, albeit from an aristocratic viewpoint that may not give a real picture of the terrible conditions endured by lesser mortals.
However, there is no doubt that Lady Sarah must be one of the first female war reporters. While she had a popular readership at the time, unlike Winston, she drifted into obscurity and her name is little-known today. A brief summary of her wartime activities can be found in her Wikipedia entry here
Also of interest - particularly to Australians - is that this copy of her book is inscribed as follows "Presented to Sir Samuel McCaughey by the author. Ercildoune, Dec. 1909".
Sir Samuel was a pastoralist, politician and philanthropist who had a partnership with Sir Samuel Wilson, presumably a relative of Lady Sarah's. Ercildoune is still privately owned and has recently been restored to its former glory and its gardens are occasionally open to the public.