Friday, 15 September 2017

Glimpses of Queer Heritage : South

Following on from the three lgbt heritage sites north of the Equator a few days ago here are three more from the south. As before, I can’t guarantee you will have free entry or access to all of them.
Note of illustrations
Palacio Selva Alegre – as depicted on a map of 1826.
Robben Island – modern aerial photo.
Mrs. Swainson’s School – photo of the school in 1926.

Palacio Selva Alegre, Quito, Ecuador
In the heart of old colonial Quito, one block south of Independence Square, is Plaza Chica. On the wall behind a statue are three plaques which depict the scientists and explorers Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858), and Humboldt’s handsome young lover Don Carlos de Montúfar (1780-1816). They are there because this square is the site of the Montúfar’s palatial residence, the Palacio Selva Alegre, and it was where all three met in 1802. It was also known previously as the Casa de las Cuatro Esquinas, the House of the Four Corners, referring to the junction of four streets at which it was situated.

Carlos de Montúfar was a younger son of the Marquess of Selva Alegre who was a leader in the independence movement in colonial South America against the Spanish Empire. He briefly became the effective head of state of this particular province as President of the Autonomous Government of Quito in 1802. This autonomy didn’t last long, however, and his son Carlos was a major revolutionary leader in the independence movement that followed, becoming a close friend and ally of the great Simon Bolivar. The Spanish fought back and Carlos was arrested for treason and executed at the age of 35.

Before taking up arms against Spanish rule Carlos de Montúfar accompanied Humboldt in his American expeditions and to France.

The Palacio Selve Alegre was remodelled in the 1920s as a bank and was eventually demolished in 1962.

Robben Island, South Africa
Robben Island is most well-known today as being the prison of Nelson Mandela. It is the only one of the six lgbt heritage sites I’ve featured this week which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been the site of a prison since the Dutch settled in South Africa in the 17th century.

One record of homosexuality among the prisoners formed the basis of a 2003 film called “Proteus”. In 1735 Rijkhaart Jacobsz, a native of Rotterdam, was reported to the prison authorities for exposing himself to a male slave and making sexual remarks. After Jacobsz was brutally beaten as punishment another prisoner came forward and claimed Jacobsz had been seen in the past exhibiting homosexual behaviour. It was revealed that he had been seen having sex with an African prisoner called Claas Blank on several occasions over a period of 8 years. Both Jacobsz and Blank were sentenced to death by drowning.

These days there are regular visits to Robben Island from Cape Town.

Mrs. Swainson’s School, Wellington, New Zealand
In Victorian Wellington on Fitzherbert Street was Mrs. Swainson’s girl’s school. Mrs. Mary Ann Swainson was a widow who had established a small school in her home. When more parents began sending their girls to Mrs. Swainson she moved to the site on Fitzherbert Street in 1878.

One of the most famous girls who attended Mrs. Swainson’s school was the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923). It was there that she met another pupil, Maata Mahupuku (1890-1952). They formed a friendship that lasted for the rest of Katherine’s life.

In 1916 Katherine based her story “Kezia and Tai” on their friendship, and at the time of her death Katherine was in the process of writing a novel called “Maata”.

Mrs. Swainson’s school was sold to the Diocese of Wellington in 1920 and was renamed the Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. In 1926 the school moved to the suburb of Karoi. Although both the original site and the present Collegiate School are not accessible to the general public the Old St. Paul’s church, where pupils like Katherine and Maata would have walked and attended services is still open to worshippers.

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