Topic-icon Professor Charlotte Searle

2 years 1 month ago #64 by Joan
Replied by Joan on topic Professor Charlotte Searle
A daughter's (Mrs Lilian Hayes) recollection of her mother (Prof Charlotte Searle):
from: Lilian
to: Herman Willemse ,Joan Esterhuizen
date: Mon, May 30, 2016 at 5:55 PM
subject: Stories about Charlotte Searle

I thought I would write about some little known stories about my mother in order to give some indication of the influences on her, particulary by her mother.


Charlotte was born in 1910, on the farm “Helpmekaar” in the Uitenhage district of the Eastern Cape . She was a premature baby and for the first month of her life was in a shoebox next to the kitchen stove. As the youngest of four children, and the only girl, she was petted and spoilt by everyone, always the centre of attention.

(In those days, she said, the grass was waist high and the river on the farm never stopped flowing. I believe it looks very different today.)

The name “Helpmekaar” reflected the life philosophy of Charlotte's parents. Her mother Magriet Pietersen (nee Marais) was the voluntary social worker and midwife to all, both black and white, and was appointed Justice of the Peace in that area. (She was written about in the book “Heroes of South Africa” by Ken Anderson.*)

As a Justice of the Peace Magriet Pietersen distributed welfare cheques to the poor. She used to threaten to withold these cheques if the children did not attend school. Years later when my mother was awarded the "Kanseliers Medalje" at Pretoria University, a man in flowing doctoral robes came up to her and said “You don't know me but I am here today receiving my doctorate because your mother forced me to go to school.”

Charlotte's grandmother was instrumental in offering help and succour to the starving Xhosas who crossed the Fish River after the Great Cattle Killing of the 19th century. As a result she was given a Xhosa name, which unfortunately I have forgotten, but which means “here she comes”. Magriet was also given the Xhosa name of her mother.

As a result of the link to the Xhosa, and the history she had uncovered writing her book on the history of nursing in SA, my mother was asked by the Ciskei government to do some research into the graves at Robben Island in order to establish the site of Maqomo's grave.

She duly identified an area where the graves of prisoners was likely to be. The Xhosa dispatched a delegation to Britain to request a warship to convey Maqomo's bones back to the Ciskei. But the British Foreign Secretary at the time, Dr Owen, refused to see them, so when they got back the South African government offered them a South African warship for that purpose.

A large party of Xhosa and South African officials set forth for Robben Island together with a sangoma. ( My mother was overseas at the time so was unable to be there herself.) She told me that her mother had always said that there was a rumour in the Eastern Cape at the time, that the British had shot Maqomo in the back, and that he had not died of natural causes as the British claimed.

The sangoma, who was old and frail, said that when she came to the right grave a “mot reentjie” would come over. This is what happened, and the sangoma threw herself on the spot and declared it was the right one. (My mother's cousin Charl Marais, who was there, said that the hairs on the back of his neck stood up!) When the bones were dug up they found a bullet hole in a scapula and manacles on the wrists proving that Maqomo had not died of natural causes.

Satisfied, the assembly took the bones back to the Ciskei. My mother, father and her eldest brother Nic Pietersen were invited to the impressive ceremony of the re-interring of Maqomo's bones.

Another example of the Pietersens' “helpmekaar” philosophy took place during the Boer War. The workers on the farm came running to my grandfather to tell him that they had found a white man in uniform wandering around in the bush and that he appeared to be “van lotjie getik”. This man turned out to be a “tommie” or British soldier. They could get no information from him as to how he got there but found his name, William Barker, on his uniform. They did not report him because they thought he might be a deserter and in those days deserters were shot by the military. So they took him in and nursed him back to health. He never regained his sanity, but was quite harmless and lived in a room off the back stoep for 60 years and never did a days work in his life! He was known as “Old Man Barker”. I can remember the old man when I visited the farm as a child. There he was on the back stoep smoking a very smelly pipe and gazing into space! He died in the sixties and is buried in the family grave yard. The point is that although Barker was the "enemy" the Pietersens still took him in and gave him shelter. (However I have wondered whether Old Barker was really so daft after all???)

My mother did not aspire to be a nurse. Her first choice, while still at school, was acting!

The travelling acting troupe of Hugo de Groot was visiting Uitenhage and she fell in love with the stage, but her father was horrified and put a stop to those ambitions. She trained to be a teacher and taught in Zambia for two years. She became a nurse quite by accident when visiting friends on a farm near Noupoort. There was a TB sanatorium there, which was very short of staff. She was asked to help out for a while and while there she met my father. He had contracted TB in the navy. So she made two significant decisions in Noupoort. One was to train as a nurse and the other was to marry my father.

She trained at Kimberley Hospital, the hospital founded by Sr. Henrietta Stockdale.

When I was a baby during the war she did her midwifery training and soon after became matron of Mountain Rise Zulu Hospital in Pietermaritizburg before the age of 30. This was a meteoric rise up the ladder for those times....she became a matron within 4 years of qualifying as a nurse, and soon after completing her midwifery course. She was the youngest matron in the country.

( In 1943 or 1944 she was appointed matron of Klerksdorp Hospital, and in 1946 she studied at Wits for a diploma (not sure which) after which she was appointed Directress Of Nursing of the Transvaal while still in her thirties.

At the same time she was studying for her BA degree which she obtained in 1947/1948.

In 1952 she obtained her MA degree at Pretoria University

And in 1965 she was the first nurse in Africa to obtain a doctorate. and was appointed Professor of Nursing at Pretoria.

This latter bit is just a potted history. I will send more detail later.)

Regards Lilian

* Maqoma

* Heroes of South Africa by Ken Anderson, Purnell 1964
2 years 6 months ago - 2 years 6 months ago #39 by Joan
Replied by Joan on topic Professor Charlotte Searle
Mrs Lilian Hayes (Prof. Searle's daughter) kindly provided us with this scanned copy of the Nursing RSA Verpleging edition that announces prof Searle's retirement and pays tribute to this dynamic nurse leader.

Nursing RSA Verpleging, Nov/Dec 1988, volume 3 no 11/12, pages 4-7

The photos evident in this article can also be viewed in the SANHF gallery (courtesy of Mrs. Hayes).
Last edit: 2 years 6 months ago by Joan. Reason: Add reference to gallery
2 years 6 months ago #36 by Joan
Replied by Joan on topic Professor Charlotte Searle
Here is a copy of the Charlotte Searle commemorative lecture presented by prof. Wilma Kotze at the 2014 FPNL, NEA and FUNDISA Conference.

The lecture was first published in the Professional Nursing Today volume 19 no 2, pages 8-12 and

The Forum of Professional Nurse Leaders (FPNL) also made it available online:
2 years 6 months ago #34 by Joan
Replied by Joan on topic Professor Charlotte Searle
Professor Searle receives the Chancellor's Medal from the University of Pretoria on 5 September 1986.
Nursing RSA Verpleging, February 1986, volume 1 no 1, page 27 (ISSN 0258 1647)
2 years 6 months ago #33 by Joan
Replied by Joan on topic Professor Charlotte Searle
On a more personal note: a beautiful photo announcing Prof. Searle's 60th (diamond) wedding anniversary.
Verpleegnuus / Nursing News Volume 19 no 6, June 1995, page 6.
2 years 6 months ago - 2 years 6 months ago #32 by Joan
Professor Charlotte Searle was created by Joan
I found the attached article that summarizes the first 30 years of Nursing Degree Training at the University of Pretoria (UP), South Africa. The article states that:
  • SATNA commenced efforts to have nurses qualified in 1914, but financial constraints delayed such training until 1955.
  • In April 1956 (the then) Mrs. Searle published an article in the SANA magazine, discussing university level training for nurses.
  • The first 32 nursing degree students commenced their training on 1 February 1956 at UP. Mrs. Elma Grobbelaar was the head of the new department.
  • Ten years later, (in 1966) in the 75th year of commemorating the (1891) state registration for SA nurses, it was announced that UP approved the establishment of an academic Nursing Department with the first Professor in Nursing in South Africa.
  • Appointed on 1 March 1967:
  • First Professor of Nursing in South Africa: Charlotte Searle and Senior lector: Miss Idalia Loots
  • On 1 February 1967 the first group of students (36 of them) registered for the Baccalaureus Curationis (B Cur.) degree.
  • The first masters degree in nursing was awarded in 1969
  • The first doctoral degree in nursing was awarded in 1976

  • Van Niekerk, P. February 1986. 30 jaar van Graadopleiding in S.A.
Nursing RSA Verpleging Volume 1 no 1 pages 28-29.
Last edit: 2 years 6 months ago by Joan. Reason: spelling
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