Sailing to the 1948 Lambeth Conference from South Africa – memories of a nine year’s old journey

  • November 14, 2019

In 1948, nine-year-old Sally Gainsborough sailed with her parents from South Africa, who were attending the Lambeth Conference. Now eighty, she shares her story about her memories of travelling to the eighth Lambeth Conference and what life was like for her parents in the Anglican Communion during the post war era.

Moving to South Africa – 1927

My parents, John and Philippa Hunter, left for South Africa in 1927, very shortly after their wedding, in order that my father could take up a curacy at St Paul’s Church, Rondebosch, in Cape Town. I don’t know how long they intended to stay in South Africa, as they had left all their family behind in England. But in fact they spent the rest of their lives there as one post led to another and with it my father’s commitment to the Church of the Province of South Africa.

Childhood in South Africa

My brother, sister and I were all born in South Africa and grew up there. Like all clergy children, we moved fairly regularly as my father’s jobs changed. Before I was born, my father had a particularly tough job as Rector of Namaqualand, where the climate and conditions were such that when my sister became ill, she had to be left in a children’s home in Cape Town. I was born after this period when my father was Rector of Stellenbosch and know that this time was particularly happy for my parents.

In the early 1940s my father became Dean of Bloemfontein and later Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman. I’d always understood that his diocese was the size of France and Spain and although I can’t verify this, it was vast and included part of the Kalahari desert! My older brother attended his consecration at St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, although I do remember his enthronement in St Cyprian’s Cathedral, Kimberley, and wearing a yellow sun bonnet!

My father – life as a bishop

Growing up I was very conscious of the strains on my father due to his job as a bishop. He necessarily travelled great distances to visit the various parishes. At that time most of the Anglican clergy came out from England (this changed later) and when my father accompanied each new priest to his parish, it would take them some days to even get round it. My brother reminded me some time ago of the regular visits our father made to a church community at Waldex Plant, a community on the alluvial diamond diggings on the banks of the Vaal River.

Travelling to the Lambeth Conference – 1948

We travelled to the Lambeth Conference in 1948 by sea, which took two weeks on a Union Castle Line ship. I was 9 and it was a hugely exciting experience to travel ‘overseas’ and miss a big chunk of schooling in South Africa! I also remember having to acquire warmer clothing for the trip and my mother setting to and making them. We would also be meeting many relatives I had never seen and of course the sea voyage itself was a great experience. I remember bathing in sea water with just a bowl of fresh water to use with soap. There was a great deal going on throughout the voyage, with games on deck, competitions, lots of entertainment and of course a ceremony to mark our crossing of the Equator.

The Lambeth Conference itself was obviously not for me and I was sent off to stay with my father’s sister and attend the Perse School in Cambridge where my aunt taught. I remember missing my parents but I was given a wonderful time, with my own bicycle to ride to school complete with basket on the front, and even a pet rabbit!

Taking part in the Lambeth Conference – the experiences of my parents

I am afraid at the age of nine, much of the Lambeth Conference went over my head. However, it was clearly a very important event for my parents (and again in 1958 when my father was Bishop of George). And on both occasions it was personally a time for them to reconnect with our family as we would never have afforded to travel to England otherwise. I do recollect however, that our Archbishop of Cape Town (Archbishop Russell Darbyshire) had died, either before or during the Lambeth Conference, and it was perhaps because of this sad event that my parents were involved in more than they had expected.

My mother was unexpectedly invited to go on a visit to Germany along with other Bishops’ wives and in 1948 this was clearly a very memorable visit. I have an article she wrote afterwards about it for a South African paper. I also know that they made some very good friends at Lambeth, in particular the late Bishop of Edinburgh, Kenneth Warner and his wife, and kept in touch for long afterwards.

Issues facing my parents as Anglican minsters in the post war era

In terms of the issues my family faced, obviously apartheid in South Africa was the overriding one and the background to much of my father’s work. I particularly recollect the issues surrounding the South African government’s endeavours to force apartheid on church congregations and the courageous stand Archbishop Geoffrey Clayton took refusing publicly to comply with this. It was apparently Ash Wednesday 1957 and the day before he died, that he signed a letter to the Prime Minister refusing to obey and refusing to counsel the people of the Anglican church in South Africa to obey the section of the Native Laws Amendment Act that sought to force apartheid in all Christian congregations. It was a very brave deed, among many stands taken by other clergy who were imprisoned for them, and as far as I know this act was never actually enforced.

My own school chaplain, the Rev Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, who prepared me for confirmation at school in Johannesburg, was amongst others imprisoned when he was Dean of Johannesburg for his stand against apartheid.

Thanks and acknowledgements

This article is published with the kind permission of Sally Gainsborough. Sally is mother to Martin Gainsborough, Chaplain to the Bishop of Bristol. The family links to the Church in South Africa continue with martin’s cousin Andrew Hunter, who is the Dean of Grahamstown. It is their shared Grandfather who was Bishop. Our thanks to Sally and family for sharing this story.