Elizabeth (Eliza) Murray (Neethling)

(20 Nov 1855 – 5 Nov 1917)

Eliza was the youngest of the large Graaff Reinet Murray-family. Born twenty-nine years after the eldest John, most of her older brothers and sisters were already settled in homes their own. When the two youngest brothers, James and George, left home, followed by Ellie (Helen) leaving for school in Cape Town, Eliza was left an “only child” in the large parsonage with her parents Andrew and Maria (snr). Andrew died in 1866 when Eliza was only ten, leaving Eliza and Mama to stay on in the Graaff Reinet-parsonage, with Charles and his wife Amelia, who succeeded his father Andrew (snr) as minister.

As a young girl, Eliza studied at Miss Grubb’s school. At the age of fifteen was sent to Somerset East, where she attended Miss Steytler’s school. Here she also had lessons from Prof Brebner and Kidd. After the completion of her education, Eliza spend a year at home, sharing her mother’s room and spending treasured hours together, often reading aloud from books on travel, poetry, history or fiction.

In 1874 Eliza became engaged to Rev Hendrik Neethling, and she and Mama spend the next year sewing the trousseau. Once married, she became the mother of the parsonage in Utrecht. However, during the Zulu War they were in constant danger, having to leave their home in 1881. In 1882 their youngest daughter, Helen, died at the age of nine months. Despite her husband’s love and devotion to her, these stressful situations caused her health to fail and in 1890 her husband took her to Europe for medical treatment. She returned in good health, but her husband, by then the leader of the DRC in Transvaal, suffered severe indigestion, and passed away in 1893.

For the sake of education their two daughters, Maria (Minnie) en Engela (Ellie), Eliza moved first to Graaff Reinet and them to Germany. In 1897 she returned to her ‘heart land’ Utrecht, Natal, to established Neethling’s Hof, a boarding school for girls. During the Anglo Boer War (ABW) Neethling’s Hof first served as a hospital for the sick and wounded burgers, but then was almost demolished. Eliza and her two daughters were sent to the ‘Maritzburg’ women’s camp. She obtained special permission to visit other camps and distribute clothes and other goods (collected by the women in the Cape Colony) to the women in most need. She and her daughter Maria (Minnie) also wrote down these women’s stories and in 1903 Eliza published her book Should we Forget in Europe, so as to tell the story of the Boer women’s plight during the war.

After the year in Europe, Eliza once more returned to Neethling’s Hof, Utrecht and re-opened the day and boarding school. Apart from her lifelong interest in the education of girls, she had a passion for missions, taking a special interest in the work of the Sudan Mission. Her last years – struggling with her health – she lived in Cape Town where she was involved in various Christian endeavours and in her writing. It was her wish to move back to Utrecht, and, after her sudden death on Monday 5th October 1917, this is where her body was laid to rest.[1]

Eliza will be remembered for the truly remarkable way in which she retold the stories of the plight of women and children during and after the ABW. What is most valuable, is the fact that she, although being open and honest about the brutal behaviour and many atrocitie that were done to then, Eliza also highlighted how many British soldiers and officials, farm workers and others, in their own way often were instrumental in offering help or even saving the lives of Boer children’ and women.


[1] Sources: Unto Children’s Children, p 116-119; De Kerkbode, 15 November 1917, p1123; Should We Forget