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An envelope sent from occupied Aiwal North 2 weeks 5 days ago #83089

  • Smethwick
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A envelope posted in Aiwal North when it was occupied by the Boers. The present day owner of the letter, Jonathan Talbot, reports the pink label when intact read “OPENED UNDER MARTIAL LAW” and it went via Bloemfonteain, Pretoria, Delagoa Bay & Durban on its way to England.



The letter was posted by the Rev Edwin William Smith D.D. (1876-1957) who was born in Aiwal North where his parents were Primitive Methodist missionaries. He was educated in England and then trained to be a Primitive Methodist Minister. He returned to Africa where he spent 16 years, the first 4 at Aiwal North and then in others parts of Africa as a missionary. His aim as a missionary was put on record. “Whether one is to teach or govern, one’s first duty is to understand the people.”

In 1902 Edwin led the pioneer mission to the Ba-Ila, in Northern Rhodesia and in 1907 he published a handbook on the Ila language.

He returned to Europe in 1915 and served on the Western Front as a Chaplain during WW1. He was then offered and accepted the position of Secretary for Italy of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Subsequently he was Secretary for Western Europe and then Literary Superintendent.

On retirement, Edwin gave four fruitful years to a College in the United States, fostering African studies.

Edwin won international recognition as an anthropologist. He was for two years President of the Royal Anthropological Institute, was Myers Lecturer, and was awarded the Pitt Rivers Memorial Medal. It was a particular satisfaction to him that he was the first missionary to receive these distinctions. He was also honoured by the Royal Africa Society, with its silver medal. Edwin was one of the founders of the International African Institute. His degree of Doctor of Divinity was awarded by Toronto University.

During his lifetime Edwin wrote about a dozen books mainly on Africa and its people and customs. The photograph below was taken in 1917.

I am indebted to Geoff Dickinson, Curator of the Englesea Brook Museum and the "My Primitive Methodists" website for the info about Edwin.

Personal footnote: part of Edwin’s education was at Elmfield College, York – a boarding school for the sons of Primitive Methodist Ministers. A few years after Edwin left one of my great-uncles, John Fletcher “Jack” Redhead started. Jack was killed in action on 4th June 1915 but in Gallipoli rather than the Western Front.

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