Women have played a far greater part in the modern history and development of South Africa than many people imagine, although one authority has asserted that the colony " has suffered from a plethora of influential bachelors."
This authority was referring particularly to the fact that Lord Milner, who was High Commissioner of South Africa from 1897 to 1905, and whose administration was made eventful by the outbreak of the Boer War, was and still remains a bachelor. Again, Cecil Rhodes was unmarried, and Dr. Jameson, the leader of the disastrous raid on the Transvaal in 1895, has not yet entered Hymen's realms. But if Mr. Cecil Rhodes was not married, he had a sister - Miss Edith Rhodes - whose influence was much felt. She entertained her brother's guests, dispensed hospitality on a most lavish scale, was businesslike, and had a better grasp of South African politics than some members of the Colonial Office. She lived with her brother at Groote Schuur, a few miles from Cape Town, and was very successful in furthering those interests of her brother which had for their object the developing of British interests in Africa.
And although Dr. Jameson and Lord Milner were unmarried, such ladies as Lady Gordon Sprigg, the wife of the doyen of Cape statesmen; Lady Sivewright, whose husband, Mr. James Sivewright, did such excellent work as Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public Works; Lady Juta, the wife of Sir Harry Juta, at one time Attorney-general of the Cape; Mrs. Merriman, wife of the Rt. Hon. John Xavier Merriman, Premier of Cape Colony since 1908; Lady
Carrington, whose husband, Sir Frederick Carrington, knows more about warfare in South Africa than probably any other man, and Lady Grey, wife of the present Governor-general of Canada, who, in 1896-97, was Administrator of Rhodesia, and a director of the British South Africa Company from 1898-1904, have all played a prominent part in South African life, and helped to lay the foundation to a better understanding between the people of the colonv and those of the Mother Country.
At the same time, however, it was no small task which confronted Lady Selborne when, in May, 1905, she landed at Cape Town with her husband, who had been appointed High Commissioner of South Africa in succession to Lord Milner. The previous lady who had reigned at the Government House, Cape Town, was Lady Rosmead, whose husband, better known, perhaps, as Sir Hercules Robinson, was successively Governor of Ceylon, New South Wales, New Zealand, and the Cape, there being added to the latter appointment that of High Commissioner of South Africa. Little entertaining, however, was done at the Government House during the time Lord Rosmead held the latter office, on account of his ill-health. Indeed, only very rarely was Lady Rosmead seen in society. Not that society in Cape Town in those days had any particular attractions, the real aristocracy being the old Dutch and Huguenot families, who were of a somewhat stiff and exclusive disposition.
Lady Selborne, however, brought about a great change, although her husband's position was an exceedingly difficult one. Lord Milner had performed what might be termed the "spade work," but much remained to be done to remove the bitterness caused by the Boer War, and restore to order the commercial chaos created by the campaign. But both Lord and Lady Sel-borne were optimistic. Said his lordship in a speech at the beginning of his administration : "I hope the day will come when the Boer will love England as I love the Orange River Colony; that he will glory in the British Empire as I glory in it; but whether he does or not, he will no more have lost his nationality than I have lost mine." And although people thought that many years would elapse before this ideal state of affairs would be realised, Lord Selborne, at the end of his five years' administration, was able to say that a new spirit prevailed in South Africa, and that there was every hope that all internal differences would be amicably adjusted. "It is and must strike everyone," he said, when he returned to this country last year, "as being a wonderful thing that two races, which only a few years ago were hostile and bitter enemies, should now be bound together by bonds of attachment and goodwill, and united in the bonds of brotherhood and common citizenship."
Lord and Lady Selborne did much to bring about the Union of South Africa in 1909, when the self-governing colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony became united under one Government, the first Governor-general, Lord Gladstone, being appointed in that year. Possessed of a genius for making friends, Lord Selborne quickly gained the confidence and affection of the Boers, and earned for himself the title "Peacemaker." A farmer and a country gentleman himself, he showed an interest in their pursuits which they greatly appreciated.
A Simple Peer
There is no affectation about Lord Sel-borne, a notable characteristic being his total lack of " side." In his early days he did a great deal of work amongst the East End poor. He was Lord Wolmer then, and one of his duties at a working-men's club was to receive subscriptions. His name was then not known to most of the men. However, one of them one night was struck by something in Lord Wolmer's appearance, and he asked the manager of the club for information. "I say, who's that tall chap wot takes the subscriptions ? " "That is Lord Wolmer." The man was amazed. "Is 'e a lord ? " he exclaimed, thunder-struck. " A real lord ? But he never said nothink about it."
"The first time I ever saw Lord Selborne," once said a very well-known personage, "I took him for a Radical East End curate in a billycock hat." As a matter of fact, Lord Selborne looks much more like a country squire, and he won the hearts of Boers by his frank declaration, " I am myself a farmer."