Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Raking up the Past - the truth about Harry

The truth about Harry!

Thanks to everyone who took part in this month’s ‘Raking up the Past’ feature. We had some great suggestions about where in the world Harry travelled to including going to South Asia to work for the Dunlop rubber foundation and opening a rubber plantation and going in the opposite direction, travelling to Iceland to become an ice carver and instead opening a day spa at the hot springs! Very inventive.

The real truth was that Harry went to Nigeria (Old Calabar) to work as a contractor, a Foreman of Works – he is said to have worked on the roads, railways and a cathedral. I discovered from the outgoing and incoming ship’s passenger lists that he came back to England every 18months to 2 years until 1915 when he retired with the rank of Chief Inspector. He actually died a few years later aged only 56, from heart problems possibly from illnesses he got whilst in West Africa.

During that time he kept diaries – I have read three of them and these extracts are taken from the very first one.

One of the diary extracts which I adore gives a great indication of his personality (the ‘six’ he refers to are himself and the other passengers in the train). I love how he refers to Jesus as the 'greatest socialist of his or any other age'!

And the other one I love is the very end of the diary where he is talking about a mountain in the far distance – I love his turn of phrase. Maybe I got my writing ability from him (although not my handwriting ability as mine is appalling!)

One of the things that I found quite shocking (and it sounds like he did as well since he remarked on it) was that on arrival he was only allowed to call the natives who were his workforce by the name of ‘boy’. To distinguish them he could call them ‘old boy’, ‘new boy’, ‘big boy’ and so on!

The other thing that was quite sad was that on reading this diary through from his departure just before Christmas, up to the end the following Easter, is that I knew something he didn’t for he left behind a heavily pregnant wife, Lucy. She gave birth in about February to Ethel who died within weeks. There is no mention in his diary that he knows he became a father again, let alone that his youngest child had died before he even saw her.

His obituary tells us he was in Zarid when it was raided and burnt during an uprising by natives, but that he spoke fluent Housa and was held in high esteem by the natives who had a nickname for him which meant ‘Great White Man’.

1 comment:

  1. It's no ice sculpture or spa.. but this is really fascinating!