The Compassionate Englishwoman

Middle Harbour Press – The Compassionate Englishwoman Book Cover

The Compassionate Englishwoman

By Robert Eales

Book description

The year 1900 was an era in which very few women made a mark on their time. Emily Hobhouse was one of those exceptional women. During a dark moment in British history, she stood alone for the values we all cherish.

In London, Hobhouse heard that women and children caught in the Boer War were having a difficult time. Concerned, she went to South Africa – by herself and at her own initiative – to investigate and assist.

She travelled thousands of kilometres through the war and what she found is disturbing.

This remarkable woman was on the wrong side of history. In this book, her courageous and inspirational work is once again brought to life.

The Compassionate Englishwoman has now also been published in South Africa by UCT Press (a division of Juta & Co)



“The Compassionate Englishwoman is an arresting work of historical scholarship that combines a shocking argument concerning British atrocities in the Boer War and a mesmerising account of Emily Hobhouse’s determination to end the cruelty and deaths associated with the notorious British concentration camps. At a time when the history of humanitarianism is receiving increased attention, Emily Hobhouse stands out as a passionate crusader, who was prepared to travel around the world, enter war zones and challenge authorities in both Britain and South Africa to bring the suffering of women and children to an end.

Well connected, but without formal power, Emily Hobhouse is a foremost example of all those courageous women who have agitated for the rights of humanity and thus paved the way for expanded conceptions of human rights.” Marilyn Lake, Professor in History at the University of Melbourne and Immediate Past-President of the Australian Historical Association.

“A well-researched and readable account of the humanitarian work of Emily Hobhouse, offering a too little aired perspective on the atrocities of the British forces in the Anglo-Boer War. The book is likely to attract a wide readership among those interested in military history, imperialism, colonial affairs, women’s lives, South African history, and humanitarian concerns.” Dorothy Driver, Professor in English at Adelaide University.

“In following the work of Emily Hobhouse in South Africa in the Anglo Boer War, Robert Eales provides a sensitive account of the sufferings of the Boer women and children who risked death rather than beg their husbands to surrender. On the part of Emily Hobhouse it is a story of determination and persistence and we see the human spirit at its best.” Jennifer Hobhouse Balme, Author of books on Emily Hobhouse and custodian of her papers.


“Emily Hobhouse in the Boer War: Worthy of a miniseries on Books Plus.”  Kate Evans, Host of Books Plus on ABC Radio National, 9 August 2015.

Hear Robert’s full interview with Kate Evans:

“As a child growing up in South Africa, Robert Eales would clamber over old Boer War fortifications at his grandmother’s farm. It was those same fortifications that 50 years earlier, Emily Hobhouse would have seen through her train window … ” Kate Crawford, Mosman Daily, 9 July 2015

Read the whole article here:

“His interest is in Emily as a quite remarkable woman, and in the humanitarian questions raised by war. He writes with care, with attention to detail and he presents the reader with a fine portrait of a woman who deserves to be better known than she is for her courage, her endurance, and the immense effort she put in to help all those women and children who became innocent victims of the war. …  It is an important and quietly provocative book.” Helen Barnes-Bulley, Varuna, 25 May 2015

Read the whole review here:

“Eales’s thoroughly researched book is beautifully written, with a grand sense of geography. In particular, it evokes powerfully and precisely what it was like for a courageous Eng­lishwoman to travel on her own in South Africa’s vast, sparsely populated veldt, often while warfare was raging.” Ross Fitzgerald, The Australian, 14 March 2015

Read the whole review here:


I have just finished reading your wonderful book and above all want to congratulate you on it. I found it very moving and enlightening and it certainly kept my interest, despite your clear efforts to ensure it was appropriately referenced and thereby more than just a nice yarn. It covered matters of which I should have had considerable knowledge (being a Rhodes Scholar) but where my knowledge was either superficial or long forgotten. I would like 5 more copies of it to give to a few relevant friends. Ian Pollard

I have almost finished reading the book and I am most impressed by it, and also very moved. Angry, I must say, as well as sad. I admire the restraint in your writing, the tone of the work which serves the subject extremely well. I found myself totally absorbed. Helen Barnes-Bulley (see Helen’s review in the REVIEW section above)

Your book has stayed on my mind.  It’s made me think more deeply about how such things happen in a democracy. James Coleman


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