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HURSTHOUSE INDEXWilliam Hursthouse

William Hursthouse, son of Charles and Mary (nee Jecks) Hursthouse, was born on 8th May 1821 in Tydd St Mary's, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. He was brother of Sarah Hursthouse who became the wife of Dr William Stanger (1811–1854), Natal’s Surveyor-General who previously in the Cape Roads Department, had secured the Natal post through application. Although Natal had been proclaimed a British colony in May 1843, only in December 1845 was it annexed as a district of the Cape Colony, and a formal administration set up. Most of the senior officials, including the lieutenant-governor, arrived later in December and Natal became a colony in its own right in 1856.

William and his sister Anne, left England in June 1845 to join the Stangers, who themselves had come to Natal only in March of that year.With his education and connections Hursthouse obtained a government post. and from about July 1846 he became the clerk responsible for the minutes of the Executive Council,and in about March 1848 was appointed Chief Clerk in the Colonial Office. In July he was also given the post of Acting Clerk, and later Clerk to the newly-established Legislative Council. (This was not an elected body. Initially it consisted of the Secretary to Government, the Surveyor-General and the Public Prosecutor, and its brief was to draft ordinances and to ensure that the officer administering the Government was adhering to Her Majesty’s instructions.

Hursthouse was on the committee of the Natal Reading Society (until June 1846 known as the Pietermaritzburg Reading Room), the forerunner of the Natal Society, which was established in 1851. It appears that some time in 1847 Hursthouse became secretary, and was still in this position when he left Natal. At the 1849 AGM, held in September, tribute was paid to his contribution to the society – he had been "unwearied in his exertions for its welfare, and but for his zealous advocacy, it is possible that your Committee would have been induced, from the insufficient funds at their disposal, to resign their responsibilities and propose the dissolution of the Society. Mr Hursthouse, however, always pointed to the cheering side; and the institution still exists to lament the loss of one of its warmest and most efficient supporters".

It is possible Hursthouse came to Natal because of ill-health. Twice in letters he records short periods of illness. Reading between the lines, it would seem that he did not give himself time to recover fully, in order not to miss interesting expeditions. By February 1849 he was so unwell that he requested three months leave to visit Cape Town, and sailed three days later. He sadly died of consumption on 21st May 1849 at Cape Town.

The journal takes the form of a letter to his sister, and is obviously a synopsis of a fuller work. It has kindly been made available by Mr John Barrett of 11 Newgate Road, Southgate, London, a Stanger descendant. It is an important document because, as far as this editor knows, it is the earliest journal of daily life in Pietermaritzburg in existence.
Many years later, however, two of Hursthouse’s friends, John Bird and J.W. Shepstone, left accounts of Pietermaritzburg in the second half of the 1840s.
From the letter one has an insight into the social life of Natal’s official élite. With the exception of the Dunns and the Ottos, all the Stanger/Hursthouse associates were either government servants or officers of the garrison. However, at this time, there were few English people in Pietermaritzburg of similar social standing. Only in 1849, with the commencement of organised emigration from the United Kingdom, did the situation change. It appears that even their dining habits differed from the general pattern, which was then for the main meal to be taken in the middle of the day. In William and Anne’s  circle, ‘dinner’ was the evening meal, as opposed to ‘early dinner’, a rarely-taken midday repast. Also, ‘tea’ was normally an evening event, obviously much in favour at
the time. Frequently William and Anne and friends were ‘taking tea’ at one another’s
houses, often with games and/or music as entertainment.

Unfortunately there are few references sent back home as to Hursthouse’s work – possibly because he thought his family would not find this part of his life interesting.