by Esther Esmyol, Curator of the Social History Collections,
William Fehr Collection and Research and Exhibitions, Iziko Museums of South Africa
Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) was born as Lady Anne Lindsay into an aristocratic family at Balcarres in Fife, Scotland. In 1793 she married Andrew Barnard (1757-1807), and in 1797 they travelled to the Cape, where Andrew had been appointed Colonial Secretary to the first British Governor, Lord George Macartney. Lady Anne fulfilled the role of official hostess at dinners, dances and concerts held at the Castle. She spent just over four years at the Cape, from May 1797 to January 1802, which she later described as the happiest years of her life.
Lady Anne’s life and experiences became known when some of her writings were published. Through diaries, letters, journals, drawings and watercolour paintings, she created a rich archive of her personal impressions of the Cape and its people. She aimed to ‘describe every thing I see with my own eyes’.
Often regarded as a socialite, scholars such as Professor Greg Clingham, USA, find that Lady Anne’s wit, intellect, and the qualities of her writing and art have not been acknowledged enough. Her artworks are not merely illustrations which support written texts, but require serious re-evaluation as artworks in their own right. Clingham believes that Lady Anne’s artworks were ‘integral to her life’, and ‘deeply expressive of her thoughts and feeling as she grappled with her experience of a culturally and geographically strange but compelling and beautiful world’.
Lady Anne’s usage of names and terminologies reflect colonial sentiments and expressions of the time, yet she was interested in and had great empathy with people from all walks of life. She most loved doing portraits of ordinary people, including enslaved and indigenous people, women and children. She represented Black people in a dignified manner; not abstracted or fetishized. Her paintings of a wetnurse, Teresa, who is suckling Jacob van Reenen’s child, are gentle, tender renditions of an enslaved woman – such women did not make it into official records, unless they were listed as ‘possessions’. South African historian Tracey Randle believes that Lady Anne gave the unknown people at the Cape ‘a face’.
After her husband’s death, Lady Anne learned that Andrew had fathered a child with Rachel van de Caap, who was presumably a Cape-born enslaved woman. She arranged for the daughter, Christina – full name Meyndrina Christina Douglas (1802-1842) – to travel to England, attend school and live with her as her adopted daughter. Such actions were unconventional at the time. Lady Anne’s treatment of Christina shows her humanity, love of family and striking independence in a world where such deeds were rare.
Late last year, during a visit to Cape Town, US based Prof. Greg Clingham delivered a lecture titled The Unknown Lady Anne Lindsay Barnard at an event hosted by the Cape Town Heritage Foundation on 22 November 2022 in the Lady Anne Banqueting Hall at the Castle of Good Hope.
Prof. Clingham (BA hons, MA, PhD, Cambridge) is Visiting Research Professor at the Humanities Institute of The Pennsylvania State University. For more than twenty years he was Professor of English at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, and also Director and Chief Editor of the Bucknell University Press.
Clingham summarized The Unknown Lady Anne Lindsay Barnard lecture as follows: ‘Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) has long been a figure of historical romance at the Cape. Everyone knows of her ‘bath’ at Kirstenbosch and has heard stories about the great parties she threw at the Castle during her years with the first British colonial government (1797-1802). Recently, Lady Anne has been seen as the embodiment of colonial privilege, against which post-Apartheid society has strongly pushed, and her Cape watercolours have become scandalous because they feature indigenous people, who have themselves become the subjects of passionate interest and research. But how much do we really know about Anne Lindsay? How carefully have we read her Cape Diaries? How seriously have we taken her watercolours? My work on Lady Anne recognises how much more complex and intelligent she is as a writer and artist than is assumed in the popular caricatures, her work being more penetrating, engaged, and nuanced than is suggested by the image of aloof colonial privilege. His talk uncovered some aspects of this unknown Lady Anne, starting with the fact that she was always a Lindsay, notwithstanding her marriage to Andrew Barnard, as she applied her distinctively independent, sceptical Scottish intelligence to all aspects of life.’
Clingham’s lecture encouraged visitors to look at Lady Anne’s paintings with new eyes, to see beyond their commonplace features, and to appreciate not only their formal, aesthetic beauties, or the stark realities of servitude, but also to consider what they tell us about Lady Anne’s emotional and moral response to the people and the human situations she depicted.
A small selection of original artworks by Lady Anne Barnard can be seen in the Iziko William Fehr Collection rooms at the Castle of Good Hope.
Watch the full version of Prof. Clingham’s talk here.