The Diary of Anne Sophia Palk

Nicole Van Zyl

Copyright 2018 by Nicole Van Zyl
Photo of Anne Palk.

Anne Sophia Helmore (known throughout her life as Annie), was born on 12 January 1844 in Lekhatlong, a mission station in Griqualand, west of Kimberly. Her father, Holloway Helmore, was there working as a missionary from the London Missionary Society. Anne was the second oldest of seven children from the marriage of Holloway Helmore and Ann Garden.

In 1858, Holloway Helmore was appointed to establish a new mission station in Linyanti, west from the Victoria Falls. Anne and her two sister's, Olive and Emily, stayed behind in England to finish their schooling, while the rest of the children, Willie, Lizzie, Selina and little Henry went with their parents. The mission ended in a tragedy. Holloway and Ann, and two of their children, Selina and Henry, and most of their group died in Linyanti. It is still unclear how they died, but there is strong evidence that they were poisoned. The only survivors were Roger Price and two of the Helmore children, Lizzie and Willie. They were sent back to England, where the five Helmore orphans were looked after by family. The effects of the tragedy would remain with Willie throughout his life. His wife once wrote that many times she would sit up with him during the night after he woke up crying from having a nightmare. Annie was sixteen when her parents and brother and sister died.

After school, Anne worked as a private teacher and governess for several years, traveling around Europe and Switzerland. 

She married Dr. Robert Palk in August 1877 in London. They set sail on their wedding day to South Africa to start a new life. Robert was a medical doctor. His first wife, Jane Smerdon, died in Australia. It has recently been discovered that Robert went back to England and had an affair with Jane Hilton Syme, widow of Ebenezer Syme. He did not return to Australia after Jane Smerdon died. He married Jane Syme in 1866. He was still married to Jane when he married Anne, however, he divorced her a few years later. Anne and Robert lived for a while in Worcester, where their son, Whycom Robert Ambrook Palk (Bob) was born in November 1878.

In September 1880, just a few weeks before the First Anglo-Boer War broke out in Potchefstroom, Anne, Robert and little Bob began moving to Potchefstroom. In 1881, Anne drew a map of Potchefstroom showing the positions of the Boer and British forces. This map is in the Potchefstroom Museum and is the second oldest map that the museum has.

Unlike other British families, they stayed right through the war in Potchefstroom. Robert and Anne were
actively involved in the community of Potchefstroom and the residents had a high respect for them.

In May 1881, their second son, William Carrington Palk was born. Dr Robert Palk died on 11 November 1890, and Anne had to raise and care for her two sons alone. After her husband's death, she ran a small school to supplement her income.

In October 1899, the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out. Anne realised that her two sons, Robert, who was 21 years old, and Carrington, who was 18 years old, would very likely be involved in the war. She began to keep a diary over the course of the war.

Stella Kilby commented: "Bob may have put his name as a volunteer to fight with the Boer forces. Being South African born, although of British parentage, it would have been normal of him to have done so; many English-speaking South Africans did. Possibly he had misled his mother to avoid causing her distress. Annie's reaction reflects the torment in her own mind as to whether she had done the right thing in allowing him to go to war."

She wrote about the progress of the war and the activities on various fronts based on the news reports that were sent out.

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