Settlers’ writings brought to life

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Jeremiah Goldswain’s great-great grandson’s book a first-hand account

A TALE of the 1820 Settlers’ dramatic first few years is told in their own words in Ralph Goldswain’s latest book, Roughing It.

Goldswain, who was raised in East London and educated at Selborne College in the 1950s, said he developed an interest in the settlers because his father was the great grandson of chronicler Jeremiah Goldswain.

After publishing The Chronicle of Jeremiah Goldswain in 2014, which functions as a first-hand account of a young sawyer’s journey from England to Grahamstown, Goldswain became fascinated with the settlers and their story-telling ability.

WELL-KNOWN FAMILY: Selborne College Old Boy, Ralph Goldswain , this week published a book on the 1820 Settlers, based on their journals and letters Picture: SUPPLIED
WELL-KNOWN FAMILY: Selborne College Old Boy, Ralph Goldswain , this week published a book on the 1820 Settlers, based on their journals and letters Picture: SUPPLIED

He explained that Roughing It is not a history book, but rather a story, where the reader can understand the settlers’ journey, struggles and emotions by reading their own writing.

Goldswain has used copies of various journals, diaries and letters written by the settlers to source the narrative.

“It starts with the voyage, goes on to the arrival at Algoa Bay, then to the journey to the locations, and into the planting of colonists, and the struggle of the first three years, culminating in the great flood of 1823,” Goldswain said.

“My idea was I would tell the story with the help of the settlers themselves, in a way in which the reader would be able to hear their voices.

“My aim was to construct the whole thing in a way that would make the reader feel he or she was right in the experience, participating in the settlers’ emotions,” he said.

He understands that many people whose ancestors were oppressed and displaced by the settlers would find such a book objectionable and offensive, but emphasised his focus on the part of their life preceding the Frontier War.

“I am not a historian and I deliberately ended at that point to avoid dealing with the more problematic aspects of settler history,” he said.

East London was founded by 1820 Settler John Bailey in his quest for a good river harbour in the region.

Many settlers, including Goldswain’s ancestors, moved to our city to take advantage of the new opportunities offered by the fast- growing new town.

He believes many East Londoners with settler ancestors might find the book fascinating as they learn about the troubles and joys of the settlers.

Goldswain’s mother, Pauline, was a well-known East London citizen, who will be remembered for the founding of the Fairlands Retirement Home, being a friend of illustrious Daily Dispatch editor Donald Woods and writer of The Settler named Jeremiah Goldswain.

“I’m grateful for the sandy, sunny childhood I had, although, looking back, I realise that everything I had in my life was based on unjust privilege,” Goldswain said.

Goldswain completed an honours degree in English and an education diploma at Rhodes University before moving to Cape Town to begin his career as a school teacher.

In 1971, he emigrated to the United Kingdom and continued teaching.

Over the years, he has completed a further two MA degrees, one at London University and another at the University of East Anglia.

He has also produced a number of short stories that have been published in the UK and America.

Roughing It was published on Wednesday and will be available for R285 in a variety of book stores.

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