Royal Commonwealth Society : News of the Camp

Royal Commonwealth Society

<p>A volume containing albumen prints, most measuring approximately 190 x 140 mm., with captions either on the prints or written beneath in the hand of Charles Du Val. The 'News of the Camp' was published under the editorial partnership of Charles Du Val and Charles William Deeker during the siege, or blockade, of Pretoria, during the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-81). After the war Du Val had 200 copies of the complete issue bound up with a special title page. In some cases, photographs were bound in, and the Royal Commonwealth Society copy appears to have the greatest number of prints (other copies mentioned in the revised edition of Mendelssohn's 'South African Bibliography' have between fifteen and thirty-five prints inserted).</p> <p> Du Val's intention of making a souvenir edition is announced in the 12 March 1881 edition of 'News of the Camp':</p> <p> It is the intention of the proprietors of this journal to publish, immediately after the breaking up of the camp, a limited number of bound editions of the whole of the issues of 'News of the Camp' - the price will be one guinea, which will include in the frontispiece a photograph of the establishment in which the 'News of the Camp' has been produced. In order to render the book both useful and attractive, it is purposed, without extra charge, when binding up the files, to insert a number of leaves for the purpose of writing notes or pasting in photographs. The Proprietors have made a special arrangement with Mr. H.F. Gros, by which subscribers for their bound volumes can be supplied with photographs of the principle objects in the camp and its surroundings at the rate of 30s per dozen for the large, and 18s per dozen for the small pictures. A book of photographs to select from will be on view at the 'News of the Camp' office, and such of our subscribers as are desirous of making an interesting illustrated record of the book can make their selection therefrom. The photographs will be specially printed to avoid the warping so general, and instructions for pasting in will also be supplied.</p> <p> This volume seems to have been Du Val's own copy judging from much of the ephemera also pasted in. The full list of the contents is as follows:</p> <p> - Complete file of 'News of the Camp' (40 issues, December 25 1880 - April 9 1881: 'Transvaal Government Gazette Extraordinary' (5 issues – Vol. IV, No. 232, December 18 1880, Vol. V Nos. 236 (13 Jan 1881), 239 (25 Jan 1881), 243 (22 Feb 1881), 250 (29 March 1881); 'The Graphic', Vol. XXIIII, No. 600 28 May 1881; 'The Lantern', Vol. VIII No. 212, 23 July 1881.</p> <p>- Various odd cuttings</p> <p>- Letter from Emma N. Murray, 12 March 1881, asking unknown recipient to telegraph Mrs. Du Val that her husband is safe.</p> <p>- Pencilled sketch plan of Bronkhorst Spruit 'from description of Mr. Egerton'.</p> <p>- Temporary delivery voucher for a revolver issued to Du Val 12 January 1881.</p> <p>- Receipt for bay colt from Du Val for use by Pretoria Carabineers, 14 January 1881.</p> <p>- Pencilled sketch plan of action at Red House Barn 12 February 1881.</p> <p>- Receipt for various goods received from Du Val.</p> <p>- Memorandum of agreement between Du Val and Deeker terminating joint proprietorship of the 'News of the Camp' (Du Val receiving £90 for surrendering all further interests) April 1881.</p> <p>- Voucher for receipt into Pretoria Ordnance Stores of tents, etc. from Du Val 4 April 1881.</p> <p>- Du Val's pass into Pretoria, signed by Gildea, 23 December 1880, renewed 19 January 1881.</p> <p>- Letter from Du Val to Joubert, Feb 8 1881, asking for letter to be forwarded to his wife (returned with the following note: 'Mr. Du Val. Why do you bear arms against us? In this most ineqous (sic) war of Lanyon? Don't ask us for favors (sic) as long as your administrator acts as a fool.' The incident is described in Du Val's 'With a show through Southern Africa' (1882), Vol. II, pp. 128-9).</p> <p>- Voucher for issue of tents, etc. from Ordnance stores 21 March 1881.</p> <p> </p> <p> The siege, or rather loose blockade, of Pretoria may be said to have started on 18 December 1880, when the last mail-car arrived. Having received advice that the struggling town of Pretoria could not be securely protected, Colonel (later Sir) William Bellairs, the District Commandant of the Transvaal, organised the withdrawal from the town to the military camp outside. The overflow was housed in the civil or wagon laager to the west near the rifle range (Y3055A/8) and the tronk (gaol) laager (Y3055A/13) to the south-east near the Loretto Convent (Convent Redoubt, Y3055A/13). Additional blockhouses were built, and defences consisting of four small forts covered the approach to Pretoria from the hills above the town (Y3055A/9-11).</p> <p> The army strength garrisoned in the town at this time consisted of a detachment of Royal Engineers, four companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, two companies of the 94th Regiment and 'N' Battery of the 5th Brigade, Royal Artillery; in all totalling about 1000 men. In addition there were the volunteer bodies such as the Pretoria Carabineers (100 horses) and Nourse's Horse (60 horses) as well as the conscripts of the Pretoria Rifles (400 men under the command of Major F. Le Mesurier R.E.).</p> <p> Although the blockade circling Pretoria was securely held and few messages could be passed to the outside world, the position throughout the siege was really one of stalemate and evenly matched resources: the Boers could not take Pretoria until Potchefstroom had fallen and thus given them reinforcements, and the British did not have sufficient strength to break out and relieve Potchefstroom. Several forays were made against Boer positions (at Swartskopje Laager on 6 Jan. 1881, Elandsfontein on 16 Jan 1881, and at the Red House Laager on 12 Feb 1881) but with little success. Thus the siege continued, the first fervour of patriotic enthusiasm at length giving way to the despondency of inaction. The founding of 'News of the Camp', later described by 'The Daily News' (11 June 1881) as 'among the curiosities of journalism,' is described by Du Val himself:</p> <p> 'The plant, type, printing presses etc., of the Transvaal Argus have for security's sake been brought into camp when the evacuation of the town of Pretoria was decided upon, a roofless bungalow was set apart for their reception. The manager and former proprietor of this journal, Mr. C.W. Deeker [Y3055A/2] and myself, had some conversations on the subject of publishing a camp newspaper, which my connection with the staff of the Garrison Commandant suggested opportunities and facilities for editing. It was settled that I should bring the matter before the military authorities, and he would try and arrange with Mr. C.K. White, the then proprietor of the Argus, for the use of the plant, machinery, types, inks, printers, Kaffir steam-power, etc., that went to make up the constituent elements of the Transvaal thunderer.' C. Du Val, 'With a show through Southern Africa' (1882) Vol. II. P. 25.</p> <p> This application was successful and the 'Journal of fancies, notifications, gossip and general chit chat' forms a lively commentary on the life of 'the beleaguered inhabitants of Pretoria' as well as a valuable, if partisan, record of military actions in the area. Deeker presumably contributed the technical printing skill while Du Val wrote much of the text.</p> <p> After the cessation of hostilities on 28 March 1881, Du Val spent some further time in South Africa before sailing for England in September 1881. The following year his entertaining two-volume book of memoirs 'With a show through Southern Africa' was published, containing a detailed picture of his life in Pretoria. Du Val then returned to life on the stage, touring India and the Far East in 1885, and again setting sail for Cape Town on the start of a world tour in February 1888. At the end of that year the tour left Durban for Ceylon and it was in Colombo that Du Val apparently went insane. The tour was abandoned and it was while returning home that Du Val committed suicide by jumping overboard from the S.S. 'Oceana' in the Red Sea on 23 February 1889. His body was never recovered. </p> <p> H.F. Gros</p> <p>Of Swiss origin, Gros was one of the most important early photographers in the Transvaal. Arriving in South Africa about 1869, the earliest record of his photographic activities is an advertisement in the 'Burghersdorp Gazette' of 16 July 1870, stating that his photographic saloon will 'resume again.' In the following two years he appears to have been in partnership in the firm of Weber and Gros at Bloemfontein, of which he assumed full ownership in 1872 as well as opening his 'Superb Saloon' at New Rush ('Diamond News', 9 March 1872). During 1874 and 1875 he visited the Lydenburg gold fields photographing activities at Pilgrim's Rest and Mac Mac ('Diamond News', 9 May 1874 and 13 February 1875) and several of these prints can be found at Y3055B. The exact date of his removal to Pretoria is unknown, but he had certainly settled there by late 1876, his 'photographic gallery' being advertised in the first edition of 'Transvaal book almanac and directory for 1877' (Pietermaritzburg 1877, but like almost all directories and commercial handbooks, prepared in the autumn of the previous year for early release). Gros was at this time also a member of the Aurora Lodge of Masons in Pretoria. He built up a photographic practice from a studio at the corner of Church Street and Market Square, and took several group portraits of the officials who made up the annexation commission of 1877 (see Y3055H). During the siege of Pretoria he made this important record of life in the blockaded town, although he is only mentioned once in Du Val's memoirs: </p> <p>'A photographic artist of Pretoria, Swiss by birth, and Gros by name, who had taken numerous pictures of our camp life, kindly photographed the broad sheet of type into a microscopic three-inch square production.' This résumé of the state of affairs in Pretoria, intended for smuggling past the Boer blockade, was sent out three times, but none appears to have reached its destination. The despatch itself is almost certainly the cutting pasted into the RCS volume opposite Y3055A/9-10). (Du Val, Vol. II, p.145).</p> <p> After the lifting of the siege and the retrocession of the Transvaal back into Boer hands, Gros made photographic tours of the Transvaal, which resulted in the two album publication 'Picturesque aspects of the Transvaal' (1888, although some of the photographs included were certainly taken at a later date). He left South Africa for Europe in 1895, his Pretoria studio being taken over by J. Perrin. For further information, see N. Cowan, 'The photograficana of H.F. Gros', 'Africana Notes and News', Vol. 23, No. 3, Sept 1979, 99-104.</p> <p>Charles Henry Du Val (1854-1889) was born in Manchester and articled to a legal firm, but abandoned this career for the stage, making his professional debut in Dublin in 1870 as a monologue entertainer in a revue entitled 'Odds and ends.' After some success on the stage he went to South Africa in 1879 for health reasons, taking his touring show with him. After a successful opening in Cape Town he moved around the country, arriving in Pretoria on 18 November 1880. Boer feeling against the British Government was rising at this time and various volunteer corps were being raised in readiness for any hostilities, Du Val himself enlisting in the 'Pretoria Carabineers.'</p>


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