Isabella Murray (Hofmeyr)

(24 December 1839 – 14 June 1927)

Isabella, the seventh child of Andrew and Maria Murray of Graaff Reinet, was “a beautiful girl, tall and slim, with blue eyes, dark wavy hair and a particularly good skin”.[1] She was an exquisite needlewoman, a voracious reader with an exceptionally good memory, and had an intense love of fun.  Fortunately for the man who married her, she was also trained in all the arts of home-making.

She was the only daughter not sent away to boarding school. Taught at home first by Miss Wentworth and later by Miss Grubb, she was very critical of the ‘parrot-like teaching’ she received and gave a most entertaining description of this during the 1922-family gathering in Graaff Reinet. She also received music and drawing lessons, the latter loved by her.

She married Rev Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, a student friend of Isabella’s brother Charles and then dominee in Murraysburg, on 7 February 1861, only months after meeting him. Isabella writes to her elder sister Maria of their brief courtship: “This [our engagement] may be unexpected to you, it was a great deal more so to me, indeed, I was taken by surprise.” He (Jan) often said that he had fallen more than half in love with her before he met her, simply from what he had gathered of her from her letters to her brother Charles.

Their marriage was to be a very big affair. However, a couple of months before her marriage, Isabella’s sister Catherine, to whom she was very close, died at the age of nineteen. Isabella opted for a quiet wedding wearing a simple muslin dress. The young couple went straight to Murraysburg where she started her career as minister’s wife and a mother to her children – in which she found supreme and complete satisfaction. Five of their sons became ministers in the DRC.

In 1867 they went to the beautiful large parsonage in Somerset East. Here they spent forty-one years, identifying themselves unreservedly with the life and interests of the people, building enduring personal friendships, always having a “happy, open house” for cousins and other visitors.

Isabella kept her beauty and apparently loved to dress beautifully – even when mostly surrounded by small children. Her thirteen children remembered her as always beautiful, unruffled, the perfect hostess, a mother and person one could count on to the uttermost.  She used to tell her children stories and sing her babies to sleep:

“I think when I read that sweet story of old,

When Jesus was here among men,

How He called little children like lambs to the His fold;

I should like to have been with Him then.”

Her husband involved himself in the founding of Gill College and Bellevue Girl’s High School and, when a third school (the Hofmeyr Institute) was needed for the children from poor families, Isabella made herself responsible for raising the salary of their teacher by her own personal efforts. She visited the sick, helped the poor, begged and worked for foreign missions. Though always ready to involve herself in the drab and monotonous duties, never lost her love for the beautiful, interesting and happy things of life. After the death of her husband, she retained the presidency of the ACVV (Afrikaanse Christelike Vroue Vereniging), a benevolent society of which she had been one of the founding members. 

When she died at the age of 88 she was quite deaf, but otherwise still strong. Even during her last days, she reached out instinctively and joyously in adoration to Him whom she loved without reserve by repeating her favourite passages from scripture of hymns. One niece wrote this: “Aunt Bella was great – because she lived in close fellowship with Him who ‘dwells in the high and holy place’.”


[1]Sources:  Isabella Hofmeyr, A Memoir compiled by her children for Christmas, 1927; In Memoriam De Kerkbode, 22 Junie 1927, p 898; Unto Children’s Children, 107-110