Apart from his name and a few other biographical details, there is a paucity of information regarding Howard Mapplebeck (1847-1909). Despite appearances that he was a prosperous individual, I am unable to establish much apart from the fact that he lived in a plush house on Emerald Hill. Having uncovered these photos on Flickr, I was intrigued. They cast a light on an elegant milieu and a graceful lifestyle.
Main picture: Howard Mapplebeck (1847-1909) with family and friends, Emerald Hill, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1886. Howard is in white with pith helmet. Seated in front of him are his children Sybil Mapplebeck (1875-1955) and Sydney Mapplebeck (1877-1904). Nanny Marie stands to the side. Photo taken in 1886 at the age of 39.
Apart from those threadbare facts, the one of the two other mentions that I can uncover about the mystery man is an entry in Margaret Harradine excellent tome: Port Elizabeth-a Social Chronicle to the end of 1945.
The entry is dated January 1883 in which Margaret recounts that “The South African Kennel Club was formed. For many years dog shows were held at the Show Ground as part of the annual Agricultural Show. The first do show was held on 14 and 16 March 1883 with about 200 entries. The judge was H Mapplebeck. Breeds represented were pointers, setters, retrievers, greyhounds, foxhounds, harriers, beagles, spaniels, sheepdogs, newfoundlands, bull dogs, bull terriers, rough-haired terriers, pugs, toy terriers, Pomeranians, mastiffs and boar hounds.
In the early years of the town, dogs which possessed some utilitarian value were favoured. In this regard, the most prominent role that they played was as hunting dogs with the most prominent such event being the almost week long hunt at Wycome Vale by the Easter Hunt Club. This was no more than a carnival of slaughter in which hundred of animals were killed in an orgy of death.
As dogs were increasing acquired for their aesthetic of breeding rather their utilitarian value, members of the Easter Hunt Club founded the South African Kennel Club [SAKC] in Port Elizabeth in February 1883 imitating the British model. The club defined its intended audience through an annual subscription of £1 1s and garnered no fewer than 158 members among Port Elizabeth’s middle class within just a few months. This cash infusion and fraternal ties with the PEAS enabled the SAKC to mount the colony’s first dog show as part of the town’s annual agricultural show in March 1883 in a purpose-built shed in the show yard. The response exceeded all expectations, attracting more than 200 entries and 900 visitors in the two weekdays that it was open and the more than £300 invested by the Club in buildings and prizes was amply recouped by the windfall from entrance fees, gate money and catalogue, ensuring that the dog show became a permanent imperium in imperio in the town’s annual agricultural show.
A founding member of the SAKC, William Armstrong, put up a £5 5s prize for the best “bush dog”, which was awarded to a “half-breed Foxhound” in accordance with the prevailing consensus among the town’s hunting squirearchy. The decision was rudely and publicly rejected by another competitor
At the risk of being hoist by their own petard, the SAKC quietly dropped the “bush dog” category from future shows and relied upon committeeman Howard Mappleback who had “considerable experience in such Shows in England” to save them from any future embarrassment caused by unwittingly putting their backveld mongrel preferences on public display.
What this does indicate to me is that life in Port Elizabeth in 1883 was no longer in survival mode. Instead there was time to embrace the finer, more cultured things in life.
In all of the photos in this collection, all taken in 1886, Howard is dressed in white with a pith helmet. Furthermore his children are also often included being his son Sydney Mapplebeck (1877-1904) and his daughter Sybil Mapplebeck (1875-1955). Their nanny Marie is also often shown.
As far as I can ascertain, Howard Mapplebeck was born in Birmingham in 1847. One of the photos of Howard as a young man is taken in 1865 at 18 years of age in Birmingham.
Whilst still residing in Birmingham, Howard had developed a passion for dog breeding. Howard had many of his prize breeds painted in water colour and these paintings are still extant. In fact he was extremely well known as a breeder of note even today.
Presumably it was only after becoming famous as a breeder that Howard settled in Port Elizabeth. What is surprising is whilst many of his photos include his children and even the nanny, none show a Mrs Mapplebeck.
This detail is congruent with the picture of Howard as he is recorded as having judged a dog show in Port Elizabeth. From a notice in the Evening Post in New Zealand, the fact that a Howard Mapplebeck was a supplier of imported saddlery is also congruent with business dealings recorded in the London Gazette.
Without any additional information, it is possible that Howard only resided in Port Elizabeth for a short period and, as a minimum it must have been from March 1883 when he was a judge in a dog show until sometime in 1886 when all the other photos of Howard in Port Elizabeth were taken.
In his excellent book Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days, Redgrave makes mention of a Mr Mapleback [sic] who occupied a famous farm on Emerald Hill. Presumably, Mapleback and Mapplebeck are one & the same person. Redgrave records that a hotel licence was granted to Mr Mapplebeck. In his article on Emerald Hill in the 2007 edition of Looking Back, Richard Tomlinson refers to the Emerald Hill Hotel which a Mr Eduard Steinmann opened in April 1883. He then goes on to state that Mr Steinmann was succeeded by a Mr Howard Mapplebeck as proprietor. Apparently eventually Mr Mapplebeck’s extensive house became the property of the Dominican Sisters who rebuilt it in order to run it as the St. Dominic’s Priory. The photo used in the blog from the Bunstead Collection showing this house, confirms it size.
From the Emerald hill homestead, one is afforded a panoramic view of the entire coast line around Cape Recife and the Bushy Park Estate which stretches for miles along the coast towards Cape St. Francis. Whether Howard ever experienced the warm-hearted hospitality of Bushy Park’s first owner, Charles Lovemore, one can only speculate. The chances are good that these two neighbours did indeed socialise. Maybe Howard did not share Charles’ passion for game hunting.
The final piece of information that I can uncover relates to a George Howard Mapplebeck who was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium Hospital for the Insane, Virginia Water, Surrey for the period March 1901 – June 1902. That would have made Howard 54 years old. All in all, it is not outside the bounds of possibility that this is one and same person.
Whoever Howard Mapplebeck was, he was certainly affluent and enjoyed the finer things in life.
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the End of 1945 by Margaret Harradine
Port Elizabeth of Bygone Days by JJ Redgrave
Photos from the Bunstead Collection on Flickr
Emerald Hill: The Farm, the Hotel and St. Dominic’s Priory by Richard Tomlinson in Looking Back 2007
Class and Canicide in Little Bess: The 1893 Port Elizabeth Rabies Epidemic by Lance van Sittert