The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Special Correspondent Edith Dickenson

Edith Charlotte Musgrave Dickenson, was born in 1851, the only daughter of Augusta Sophia Musgrave and Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Frederick Bonham, 10th Hussars. Colonel Bonham died in 1856, and his widow became Countess of Stradbroke upon marrying John Edward Cornwallis Rous, 2nd Earl of Stradbroke, in 1857.

Edith Charlotte married the Reverend William Belcher in 1870, and had five children with him, one of whom died young.

In 1886, Edith Charlotte left England and travelled to Tasmania, where she later married Doctor Augustus Maximillian Dickenson, Medical Officer of Health at Deloraine.

She travelled through Australia, India and South Africa in the closing days of the ninetenth century, taking pictures and writing articles for the Adelaide Advertiser. She published a small volume entitled "What I Saw In India and the East" in 1900.

Edith Charlotte accompanied a contingent of Australian nurses to South Africa, and was reputedly present at the siege of Ladysmith. While travelling through the war zone, she filed reports with the Adelaide Advertiser describing conditions and her experiences.

Her critical reports dealing with the concentration camps were undoubtedly the cause of some controversy back home - and she was quoted extensively in Emily Hobhouse's book "The Brunt of the War and Where It Fell". But whereas Miss Hobhouse was refused re-entry to South Africa because of her political views and sympathy for the Boer women and children, Edith Charlotte had no such difficulty, likely due to influential relatives throughout the British military.

A number of her articles (but only those that appeared after 1900), relating her impressions of the South African conflict, are available online from the Australian Newspapers Archive at A sample can be found below.

Doctor Augustus Dickenson died in 1902 at Bethulie Camp, where he had been working as a camp doctor for only a short time. Edith Charlotte followed him the next year, passing away at the age of 52.

Steve Lipscombe (Edith's Great Grandson) - 2010


(By our Special Correspondent in South Africa, Mrs. Edith C. M. Dickenson.)

Your readers will be interested to hear that Bloemfontein. and nearly all the other towns in South Africa, now depend for their supplies on Australian meat. The butchers of Bloemfontein tried to make a ring to raise the price, but a spirited grocer, named Pearson, offered to buy up all the Australian frozen meat that carne up and retail it at a moderate price, and thus saved the inhabitants from exorbitant charges. While in the town I visited the market, held in the largo square on Saturdays, and it was a curious sight to see pieces of meat (not Australian this) held up and bid for by auction. There was a fairly good supply of fruit, but only two country waggons stood there, where before the war, a man told me he had often counted 50. When one sees the terrible state of the country, one wonders how long it will be ere the same sight can be seen again. All provisions were dear, and the two best hotels charge 12/6 a day. Store keepers complain that it is impossible to get things up. The health of the town, which last year was very bad is improved though the Military Hospital is still full of enteric cases, and the refugee camp is decimated by it.

Apropos of the latter, having seen so many concentration camps in Natal and the Transvaal, I thought I would like to see this one, but was told that no permission was given to visit it. This was the first time I have not been allowed to visit a camp, and I drew my own conclusion about the state of it. Incidentally I heard that one of the doctors who had recently I left Bethulie to go to it was laid up in the hospital very ill with enteric, and the death rate averaged 14 a day. An Australian I friend, whom I met, told me he wanted to I go over the camp, but was told it was so extremely unhealthy that he would not be allowed. I observe that nurses are being sent out from England for the various camps, and efforts are being now made by breaking them up and sending the people I to healthier situations to remedy an evil which foresight and management might have easily prevented. As I passed through the country, especially between Springfontein and Bloemfontein, the quantity of dead animals as far as the eye could reach was a very miserable sight Horses, cows with young calves dying near them, mules, goats, and sheep could be seen in different stages of death two or three times I saw dying animals, once a goat dragging itself along and staring beseechingly at the passing train, with its head through the wires. The work of butchering the cows and domestic animals on a farm is most distasteful to our soldiers, and several of them have told me how they disliked doing it. Another new thing is that if a horse gets a strain and is likely to recover he is shot, but if he, is severely I injured and of no future use he is allowed to linger in agony, it being considered a waste of .ammunition to shoot him, as the enemy cannot use the poor brute. The pigs have gone wild from the farms, and also the dogs. In many cases they have had to live on the dead animals.

Blockhouses of various shapes show in some cases little attempts it ornamentation and I noticed once or twice a tiny garden started by the soldiers On my return journey from Bethulie via Burghersdorp and Stormburgh I observed many blockhouses garrisoned by Kaffirs, armed and dressed like soldiers This is quite a new departure. They have proved so useful as scouts and in tracking out the Boer forces that they are being more and more employed by our army. The arming of natives is much resented by the Boers, and I they refuse to treat the aimed black scout as a prisoner of war. Hence the constant paragraph, "Murder of natives by the Boers". Politically I consider it a dangerous move The natives outnumber the whites in this country so enormously and are becoming so independent and insolent m their bearing that many thoughtful men aver that our next trouble will be with them.

Rudyard Kipplng is now staving at a little cottage in Mr Rhodes' park at Grnt Schoer. He launched his last poem at the British public and sailed immediately for South Africa, to avoid the vengeance of "the flannelled fools it the wicket," and "the muddied oafs at the goal". There is great controversy going on about the poem, but most people agree that it will stir up the "Englanders" to a sense of their shortcomings By the by the popular question "When will the war be over?" is now answered by "When an ox waggon can catch a horse.".

The Advertiser (Adelaide) - 26 April 1902