The Black Countess

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The Black Countess

Duchess-of-Stamford-430x283This incredible story chronicles the life of Martha a woman of colour from Wynberg and her husband the Harry, the 7th Earl of Stamford. Martha the daughter of freeharry-stamford-150x162d slave and well known Tavern owner”Queen Rebecca” queen-rebecca-140x170of Cape Town who married Harry Gray the rejected remittance man from an upper class family in England. It is a true story of two people from such widely different backgrounds whose compatibility, let alone affection, seemed impossible. There was difference of origin, she from the Cape, and he from the great colonial power that was England. They came from different classes, she from a background of slavery, and he from the privilege of the British aristocracy.

 

 

Martha Solomon There were differences of colour, where he was white, and she was the product of the creolisation of the people of the Cape. He came from a background of wealth, she from poverty. He spoke English, and she spoke Dutch. In the matter of religion, he was Anglican, and she was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Perhaps the greatest difference of all was that of education, where Harry was an Oxford graduate, and Martha was a near-illiterate. Nevertheless they lived together in Cape Town, in a relationship that worked.

Wynberg in the Southern Suburbs is where the family lived and where both Martha and her husband are buried.

black-countess-260x315Harry Stamford Then fate played one of those extraordinary hands that were to change everything. Harry’s uncle, the 7th Earl of Stamford,died and the title passed to Harry who unexpectedly became the new Earl, inheriting some £8 000 per year in 1883 and a family estate in England, and the wealth that went with them. Martha, the simple daughter of a slave, became the Countess of Stamford.
Queen Rebecca Together they faced the enormous changes and challenges that changed their lives, and the social and historical prejudices and difficulties that resulted. This story of Martha and Harry highlights, if nothing else, the fact of a common humanity, which over-rides all else, and which shows that people can co-exist if and when the desire for money and power does not rule their lives.

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