Apr 23

The Reformer who Changed his Name?

Dr John Philip reformer
MY COMPENDIUM OF FASCINATING HISTORICAL IRRELEVANCIES – 1 Robin Lamplough Anyone with some background in the 19th century history of the Cape Colony will remember the name of Dr John Philip, the superintendent of the London Missionary Society who was blamed for the 50th Ordinance of 1828, which extended rights of citizenship in the colony to “Hottentots and other free persons of colour”. Philip, after whom the Griqua town of Philppolis was named, retired in 1849 to Hankey, on the Gamtoos River, inland of Cape St Francis. During his lifetime Philip was accused of many things, including having too much influence over British government policy vis-a-vis the Cape. Some of his detractors claimed that he had bought his doctorates from American universities in order promote his career in the LMS. What would they have done with this little piece of family history, published in a British periodical not long ago? The August 2007 issue of The Scots Magazine carries an interesting article by Carol McNeill about an unmarried bailie, or municipal magistrate of Kirkcaldy, in Scotland’s county (still called the ‘Kingdom of’) Fife. The magistrate made his fortune in the textile industry and established a trust fund to promote education among the children of poor families. The bailie’s name was Robert Philp and, according to the article, his closest relative was “a first cousin once removed, Dr John Philip, who was a missionary in Africa”. The article continues: “Robert cut him [John Philip] out of his estate, famously (and perhaps allegedly) saying: ‘If ma name’s na guid enough for him, nor’s ma siller.’ Clearly the writer was not aware of the reputation John Philip acquired among colonists at the Cape but it is hard to argue with her comment on Bailie Philp’s action: “Surely this was a rather harsh decision against someone who was probably just tired of correcting the spelling of his original surname.” But we can be quite sure that the name ‘Philppolis’ would not have survived as Philippolis has!  

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