ELIZABETH RUSSELL CAMERON:
AN EIGHTY YEAR OLD
by Win de Vos
Mrs. Cameron Goes Farming.
After the war Mrs. Cameron lived at Volksrust. She hired a house at first but later on she sold a piece of ground in Natal which her father had given her on her thirteenth birthday, and with the money thus obtained together with some she had saved she had a house built. She stayed in this village until 1911.
Some of the Volksrust ladies, among whom she numbered, formed a comittee with the object of establishing a weaving school in order to give the poor families in the dorp a chance to augment their small and often precarious incomes by sending their big daughters to work. Chiefly on account of the indifference and laziness of the girl-workers, who seemed to have no ambition to better themselves, the school did not prosper and after a brief existence was closed down.
Some time after this, Mrs. Cameron bought a farm called Sebensa (Work) in the Standerton district, and, accompanied by her daughter, Annie, went farming. She set to work with her usual energy. Besides having the whole of her ground fenced in and a house built, a well was sunk near the homestead and a bore-hole put down in the lands, where a windmill was erected. She planted hundreds of trees. The chief crops she cultivated were mealies, teff, potatoes and beans. Her ground was on the border at the Heidelberg district, near the Heidelberg-Roodepoort gold mine, which was still worked when they went to Sebensa, but which was closed down later on as it did not pay.
During the seven years she farmed, the seasons on the whole were not too good owing chiefly to the lack of sufficient rain, consequently the crops were not a great success. Besides this she lost a number of cattle from gallamsiekte, so she did not find farming a very paying proposition.
One of her neighbours, an Englishman named Z----, who was a consumptive, had taken up farming for his health's sake. His household consisted of himself, his wife and their only child, a girl of twelve. On account of his poor health he was unable to walk after the plough so he rode up and down to see that the natives did the work properly.
One morning he went up to the lands and started the boys ploughing, but, not feeling fit to supervise the work as usual, he returned to the house. On his arrival there he had a very severe bout of coughing that brought on haemorrhage which resulted in his death.
The neighbours all attended the funeral which took place on the Prinsloos' farm. The Prinsloos had lost two of their children some time previously, so Mr. Z----'s remains were laid to rest near the graves of these little ones.
After the funeral was over, those who had attended it returned to the consumptive's house to see if they could help his wife and child in any way. The women from the neighbouring farms planned to sleep in turn at the widow's house to keep her company at night-time until she should leave for England.
The first woman who went there noticed that Mrs. Z---- acted rather queerly at times during the evening. On hearing about these strange doings, the woman who should have slept there the next night refused to do so. Mrs. Cameron took her turn on Thursday.
Nothing untoward happened except that, after they had retired, she heard the widow talking to her daughter in a continuous, monotonous murmur which she kept up for hours.
Annie had arranged to go over on Sunday to help Mrs. Z---- fumigate the house, but early that morning she received a note from the latter telling her not to come. Shortly after this another neighbour, Grierson, arrived in all haste at Sebensa and showed them a strange note he had received from Mrs. Z----. The tone of the note at once made Mrs. Cameron conclude that the widow was planning suicide, as it gave the recipient instructions with regard to the disposal ef her possessions as though she were going away immediately.
Annie and Mrs. Prinsloo set out post-haste for Mrs. Z----'s homestead, and, on arriving there, knocked loudly at the front door several times but there was no response. They tried the door but found it locked. They walked round the house and, peering through the bedroom window, saw the little girl lying on a bed with a pillow over her face and her mother kneeling beside her. All was strangely quiet, the woman and the child were so perfectly still that they appeared to be lifeless.
Mrs. Prinsloo hurried away to her husband and informed him what she and Annie had seen through the window. He immediately sent for a policeman. When the latter arrived, they all entered the house and found the dining-room table in disorder with the supper dishes of the previous evening still unwashed. A Bible was lying pen at the one end. They proceeded to the bedroom and found that the little girl and the kneeling mother were both dead. On examination of the child five gunshot wounds were revealed, one bullet having pierced her eye. The widow had evidently first shot her little daughter and had then committed suicide.
After this Annie and her mother spent an uneventful time at Sebensa, one day being much the same as the next as they carried on with the usual routine of farm-work.
In 1918, after selling the farm, the stock and the furniture at a good profit, Mrs. Cameron left for Swaziland on a visit to Lionel who still lives there.
Copyright Win de Vos.
Put onto the web by Joan Marsh(2002) a great-grand-daughter of ERCameron