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The Diary of Iris Vaughan

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Iris Vaughan is the author of the South African classic 'Diary of Iris Vaughan' , written when she was between 7 & 16 years old (1897 -1906).

"Every one should have a diery. Becos life is too hard with the things one must say to be perlite and the things one must not say to lie".

Aim of the Project:

To create, for posterity, an accurate genealogical record of her family and her life events.

All welcome and encouraged to join and contribute.


Key Profiles








Iris's father, Cecil Roger Vaughan, SV/PROG, was in the Cape Civil Service first in the Customs Department (1880-1882); then as Magistrate's Clerk 2nd Class in Tulbagh (1883-1885) and Springbok (1885-1887). In June 1887 he wrote the Civil Service Law Examination and came top out of thirteen candidates. This allowed him to progress to Magistrate's Clerk 1st Class at Lady Frere (1887), Hanover (1888-1889), Kenhardt (1889-1892), East London (1892-1893) and Cradock (1893-1897). While at Cradock, he did a stint as Acting Magistrate at Pearston for a few months (1895). In July 1897 he was promoted to Assistant Magistrate Cradock at Maraisburg, which fell under the magisterial district of Cradock and which is now called Hofmeyr (1897-1901), and Adelaide (1902-1914) where he retired and later died. In 1903 he was the Acting Resident Magistrate in Fort Beaufort for six months) and in 1905, when Adelaide was declared a separate magisterial district, he was appointed as Resident Magistrate. He is therefore seen as Adelaide's first proper Magistrate. It was while he was serving in Hanover that he met his wife, Patty. She was Martha Margaretha Ackermann, the daughter of a wealthy sheep farmer. In the second part of 1889 he took a break from the Civil Service and went to Johannesburg to prospect for gold. Patty joined him there and on 7 August 1889 they were married at St Mary's Anglican Church. Shortly after they left for Kenhardt, where Iris was born on 16 October 1890. She was baptised Henrietta (after her maternal grandmother) Emily (for her paternal grandmother) Iris Vaughan, but was always called Iris. She started writing her diary at the age of 7 while at Maraisburg. In it she accurately described early twentieth century historical events unfolding around her; the hilarious pearls of wisdom that fell from her energetic and unconventional father's lips; as well as her interaction with over 200 individual Eastern Cape persons. Seen through the eyes of a precocious young girl, grappling with the existentials of morality, and the everyday practicalities of living as a girl child in the small-town world of the Cape Colony, her Diary made for an amusing account. Extracts of her Diary were first published in the Adelaide Free Press in 1949 and then in the Outspan (1955-1956), where they were instant hits. The CNA published it in book form in 1958. She was 68 years old at the time, and the royalties of what proved to be a best-seller helped to make money for her pension. Two books of reminiscences: 'These Were My Yesterdays' and 'Last of the Sunlit Years' followed in 1966 and 1969 respectively. Her other books include an account of her sister Boyne's experiences as a nurse, Saku Bona Staffie Nurse: My experiences in an African hospital: Written from Boyne's case book by Iris Vaughan' (1964); a school history book; and a historical novel, 'O Valiant Hearts' (1984). Although published posthumously, latter was written much earlier. In 1954 she entered it in Juta's Centenary Literary Competition and won second prize.

Diary Excerpts:

  • OGILVIE'S FARM; SALT PANS; BULL FROGS: RUDE SONGS & THE GREAT SPRINGBOK HUNT INCIDENT: ' Here [in Mariaisburg – now Hofmeyer] are also salt pans on Ogilvie’s farm. It is wonderful to see salt scratched out of the ground. They have big dams full of water. Then after a long time it gets hard on top and it is salt, and the boys go with long planks, and scrape the salt and makes heeps of it. We put sticks and things in and when we watch them they are hard and pretty with salt. Also on Mr O’s farm are many springboks. Pop will take us to see a Springbok hunt. Here is also a big hole where they make the bricks to build houses. In this big hole live many great frogs called bull frogs. Becos they bellow like a bull. Once we were bringing a buul frog home but Mom was in the yard and saw us and said No this I cannot bear and we had to take bull frog back. Ogilvie has a boy who comes on a horse to get the post in a bag. His name is Tonio. Pop says from Italy. He tells us many funny poems and once Charles said this funny poem about the old lady who rides on the tiger to Pop and he got savage and said this is not the poems you must say. Now Tonio tells us no more funny poems. We went to the spring bok hunt. We will not go again becos of being in the line of fire. Many shooters went to and spanned out their carts and we too and Pop put us with Willem away to wait and all the shooters rode away and when the boys drove the springboks for them to shoot at and the springboks turned and came by us and the shooters forgot about us and were shooting the boks and Willem pushed us flat on the ground and said le stil nou and we heard the bullets and then the spring boks were past and many were lying on the ground shot and Pop came fast on his horse and said My God you are alive. Then we made a fire and had a picnic but Mom was savige with Pop and said never again Cecil. ' [Vaughan, Iris. 'The diary of Iris Vaughan'. Cape Town:Stormberg. >1958. Print. p14-15 ]

  • THE ANGLO-BOER WAR INCIDENT: ' Yesterday the first Boers came. We looked at the milk bushes near the brick fields and saw the men on horses bobing and riding from one side to the great sloot on the other. Charles said Pop lots of farmers are riding near the bricks. Pop was reading his new book about Minie haha Hiawatha laughing water and would not listen. Then the next thing lots of men were riding in the street and Willem ran and said "seer dit is de Boers and Pop said My God so they are and then the Boers were opening the gate. They nearly all had beards like men in the bible. They took Pop away in his slippers and no hat. Mom ran after him and heres your cap can I bring your boots He said to hell with boots look after the safe keys.... Pop said today that what he did not see well was a man called Smuts and his 59 Boers going over the dam wall to Cradock. Pop says it is all this silly pass friend and sentry go business taking up so much time. Boers don't have that and they never get caught. They always see the columns miles away and then come after and pick up all the bullets and guns and tired horses the columns leave behind. What a disgrace Pop says. I think so too. Now the boys have taken Naughty and my horse with the mange which military left and Charles also.' ' [Vaughan, Iris. 'The diary of Iris Vaughan'. Cape Town:Stormberg. >1958. Print. pp 19; 23]

  • THE SINGING INCIDENT. ' 'He called out Benny and Charles first. They must stand in front and he said now you two the long and the short you will sing for us. But they didnt know one single song. Mr. R. was pointing with a stick on the modelater. Not even the Blue bells of scodand or minstrel Boy. He got angry and said in a roaring voice what can you sing, sing anything and Charles said in a weak kind of voice we can sing pretty Polly. Then sing it mr. R. shouted and looked just like the picture of the Bull of bashan. And they began to sing. It was terribel singing. Charles sang Pretty Polly pretty poly whats whats oclock whats oclock in a low sort of voice and Benny who is very long sang pretty poly pretty poly in a high kind of squeaking voice becos of being afraid and all wanted to laugh but being too frightend and then in the middle of the verse they both stopped just as if they no more breath and Mr. R. shouted waste of time waste of time two voiceles idiots in a singing class. Send them out. [Vaughan, Iris. 'The diary of Iris Vaughan'. Cape Town:Stormberg. >1958. Print. p 47 ]

  • THE PHOTO INCIDENT:' We have had a photo taken. A man came and sat us on a bench in a row under the peper tree except Charles who had to stand behind Coot . We all dressed in our best sailor clothes and tied our hair with ribbons. The man said when I count 3 look all in this box. When he sais 3 Charles quickly pulled Coot s hair and she opened her mouth very wide. The photo had to be done all over again. It is for Pop’s sister who is in England becos she thinks we are black. Mom was very savige about black and Pop said if they had listened long ago to his godfather Bartle freer who brought me to this country to fight the Zulus they would know better becos Governors don't let their godchild marry with Kafers. ' [Vaughan, Iris. 'The diary of Iris Vaughan'. Cape Town:Stormberg. >1958. Print. p 49 ]

  • THE GHOST INCIDENT: A dredful thing came to us this week all becos of Richard telling us ghosts storeys and one that lives in this house since it was a horspital. It is a poor redcoat whose feet were shot off my mistake and he walks round the gravel walk by the big tank making a strange moaning. Richard made the noise. We all got the cold shivers. When it is light we never think of ghosts but at night when the candles blow in the big rooms and everything is so dark and there are strange noises, Mr. Nailhard's furnitcher makes cracking loud noises like guns shooting, then we all think of ghost. On Friday we were writing the newspaper in the dining room table, when the furnitcher made a great louder crack and then all was very quiet then we heard the ghost walking on the gravel outside and making the strange noise Richard made and Florence said I hear the ghost. And Charles said dont be silly there is no ghost and then we heard it again and the wind making a funny noise in the loop holes. Cootie was asleep in the faraway bedroom and we said softly if the ghosts went there what would she do. Then we all got up together and ran to the bedroom and we were all afraid not knowing what to do. Then Violet said. Leave Cootie sleeping on the bed and Charles and Florence will get underneath the other bed and you and I will go under Coot ie's bed to look after her. If the ghost comes it will not see any of us Charles put the matches in his pocket and blew out the candle. We all staid still for a long time. Then Charles said what is Florence chewing. She said only the paper I found in the hole in the wall it has a bitter taste. Charles said that is the paper with the rough on rats poison Pop put to kill rats and Violet said she will die in agony what will we do and I said give her lots of milk to drink like when we gave our cat to throw up the poison. And I forgot of the ghost and ran away to the kitchen to get milk. She drank the whole jug and could not throw up. Vi said we must act we must go at once to fetch a doctor. She will die. And Florence cried loudly I do not want to die. Coot ie woke up and cried loudly too. Charles rolled her in the tablecloth and put her on his back. Vi and I held Florence by the hand and we came to the front door. When we opened it was very dark and then we heard the ghost walking again and Vi said I am afraid to go up that long drive But Florence cried I dont want to die. So we held hands and shut our eyes and ran hard. Charles had it hard with Coot on his back. Then we came to Bank House where the party was and Mr. Browner opened the door and said who are these dredful children like tramps and Florence howled I have eaten the rough on rats and Pop came out and said God they are mine. Then we went inside and every one came round and we told about the ghost. They said poor children and Pop said I never put poison anywhere I am not such a fool with children like you. So we sat under the stairs and ate cake. ' [Vaughan, Iris. 'The diary of Iris Vaughan'. Cape Town:Stormberg. >1958. Print. pp 83-4]


Helen Fairbridge Zilio of Bulawayo wrote to Outspan Magazine (24 Feb 1956) to confirm that that her grandfather was "Mr O" (Ogilvie) in the diary.

Iris Vaughan’s sister Gwyneth Lambert wrote to Outspan Magazine ( 2 Dec 1955): "Having seen the original diary written by her makes it more vivid to me... All the incidents come back to me very clearly and are so descriptive of our family, which indeed was a very colourful one."


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