My great great grandfather’s politics

I’ve been reading some letters my great-great grandfather (mother’s father’s mother’s father), Alexander Millar, wrote from Clapham Common in London to his grandson Brian (my grandfather), when Brian was just four or five, and living on a farm near Alexander MillarHarrismith, in the Free State, South Africa. The letters are mostly typed but in caps so that young Brian, who’d obviously not yet learned small letters, could read them. Alexander makes more than one reference to suffragettes.

May 3, 1913

My dear Brian

I wish you had been here yesterday. I took Hilda and Nora to Hampton Court. It is a great big palace where the king of England used to live long ago. Now it is full of pictures, and people are allowed to walk through and see them but yesterday it was closed for fear a lot of wicked women called suffragettes who go about burning houses should set fire to it.

It’s not clear how Alexander felt about the suffragette’s cause, but it’s quite clear he abhorred their tactics. He was not, however, a complete social conservative.

May 9, 1912

(To Brian’s elder brother, Patrick)

All the men who work in the mines to get coal to burn in the fires have left off working and if they don’t soon begin again there will be no coal for the fires or anything. I hope they will begin again soon, for if they don’t perhaps the steamers will have to stop running for want of coal, and then we could not send you any letters. But I don’t think it will come to that. The miners want more money for their work, and they have such a hard life, working in dark holes under-ground I think they ought to be well paid.

I went to see a lot of pictures the other day painted by grown-up men and some of them were not as well done as yours and Brian’s. A lot of ladies who ought to know better have been going about London breaking windows with hammers. They have been put in prison for it and now they won’t eat any food and hope they will be let out lest they should starve to death. So things are going on very queerly.

Alexander wrote letters every week to his grandchildren. Whatever his politics were, his love for his family was obviously great.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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