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Reminiscences of a South African Pioneer
W. C. Scully
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Pages (PDF): 156
Publication Date: 1913
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Written by one of South Africa's best known writers, this is an account of his life in that country.
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I was born on the 29th of October, 1855; at least I have been told so, but the register of my baptism cannot be traced. This circumstance placed me in a somewhat awkward position a few years since, when proof of my age was urgently required. The place of my birth is a house in Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin then the home of my maternal uncle-by-marriage, Richard Scott. Evil days have since fallen upon that part of Ireland's metropolis; the locality is now inhabited by a class of people to whom we should in this country apply the term "poor whites." When I recently visited the spot I found that the house had, like most of those in the vicinity, been divided into tenements. The upper portion of what had once been a frosted-glass partition was still in the hall, and on this my uncle's crest was visible. The premises were in a filthy condition, and the inhabitants looked more than ordinarily villainous. On the steps a red-faced crone sat pulling at a clay pipe, and a reek of stale porter came through the hall doorway.
My father's family, I am told, have been located in the County Tipperary for many generations. I believe they made a great deal of money as contractors to the army of King William in the campaign of which the Battle of the Boyne was the decisive event, but the greater part of this they dissipated about a century ago in lawsuits. I have heard that the costs in one case they lost amounted to over 100,000. The little I know of the family, has been told me by dear old Sir William Butler, with whom I became very intimate when he was in South Africa. He always said we were related that we were "Irish cousins" but we never were quite able to define what the relationship was. Sir William and Ray, father had been great friends in the old days.
I have been told by, a relative that the many, Scullys who are scattered over the south of Ireland fall into two categories the round-headed and the long-headed; that the former are, as a rule, fairly well off, but that the latter are usually poor. I regret to say that I belong to the long-headed branch.
My paternal grandfather was a soldier, and my father was brought up by Rodolph Scully, of Dualla. "Old Rody," who kept a pack of harriers which my father hunted, was a well-known character in South Tipperary. He departed this life when I was about six years old yet I seem to remember him very clearly. A small, wiry, dapper man with a clean-shaven red face, a cold, light-blue eye and fiercely beetling brows, he occasionally filled my early childhood with terror. He usually wore knee-breeches, buckled shoes, a frieze coat, and a white choker. He had a most furious temper, and was consequently dreaded by his relations and his domestics. I remember once seeing him administer a terrible thrashing with a hunting-crop to a stable-boy for some trivial fault.
My recollections of Dualla are very, faint; such fragmentary, ones as survive are almost solely connected with its kennels and stables. There was, I know, a turret at one end of the house. I believe the original idea was to build a castle, but on account of scarcity of funds the construction was continued on less ambitious architectural lines. An unpleasant story used to be told in connection with this turret, which was of considerable height. Old Rody, one night when in his cups, made a bet that a goat, thrown from the top, would land uninjured on its feet. The cruel experiment was tried. It may be some satisfaction to know that Old Rody had to pay the bet, but it would be more if we knew that he had been made to follow the poor animal. Once my people were on a visit to Dualla. Old Rody, who was much addicted to the pleasures of the table, was especially fond of roast goose. This, to satisfy him, had to be done to a particular turn. On the occasion in question the bird was brought to table slightly overdone, so Old Rody told the butler to retire and send up the cook. No sooner had the butler left the room than Old Rody picked up the goose by, its shanks and took his stand behind the door. A dreadful silence reigned; the guests were as though stiffened into stone. The cook, a stout, red-faced woman, entered the room in evident trepidation, wiping her face with her apron. As she passed her master, he lifted the goose and hit her over the head with it as hard as he could. The bird smashed to pieces, and the woman, covered with gravy and seasoning, fled back, wailing, to the kitchen.
On another occasion a neighbor, whose name happened to be Cook, came to spend the day at Dualla. He brought with him his two children, a boy and a girl, of whom he was inordinately proud. Old Rody and Cook were sitting on the terrace, drinking punch; the children were playing on the lawn.
"Now, Scully," said the proud parent, pointing to his boy, "isn't he a regular Cook?"
"Oh! begor' he is," replied Old Rody, "and the other's a regular kitchen-maid."
Near the close of a not at all reputable career Old Rody "found it most convenient" to marry his housemaid. He survived the ceremony only a few months. His widow, disappointed in her expectations of wealth for the estate cut up very badly, indeed emigrated to Australia, where, I believe, she soon married again.
There is a story told of Vincent Scully (father of the present owner of Mantlehill House, near Cashel), who was a Member of Parliament for, I think, North Cork, which I do not remember to have seen in print. Another M.P., whose name was Monk, had a habit of clipping, where possible, the last syllable from the surnames of his intimate friends. One day, he met Vincent Scully in the House of Commons, and addressed him.
"Well, Scull, how are you today?"
"Quite well, thank you, Monk," replied Scully; "but I cannot conceive why you should snip a syllable from my name, unless you wish to add it to your own."
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