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November 22, 2017

Eleanor Louisa Breen

Eleanor Louisa Breen – a Woman Pioneer

Eleanor Louisa Breen nee Allison lived a long, hard & highly rewarding life quite typical of many of the Pioneer women who set up home in the continent of Africa & others in the Empire.

The narrative of recent colonial history has meant that the realities of life for early settlers from Europe who made a home for their families in Africa risks being lost.  Most were anything but rich, & left their homelands to try to build a better life abroad.  Soldiers, railroad workers, builders, transporters, traders & artisans made up the bulk of the population.  Eleanor’s story is just one of many.

Early Life in South Africa

Eleanor Allison was born around 1854 in the Cape Province.  Her father, Joseph, was an 1820 settler.

Eleanor married John Breen in 1870.  Their union gave life to 15 children, with only 3 surviving her at the time of her death in 1941.

John Breen left his wife & younger children at his farm in Zeerust, South Africa & moved to the then Southern Rhodesia in 1895.  He had found employment in the transport sector & moved goods by wagon to Bulawayo.

Boer War & 100 mile walk

As a consequence of the outbreak of the Boer War, Mrs Breen was left stranded in Zeerust, alone with her 3 daughters.  They had no option but to set out walking the distance from their home to Gaborone – A gruelling distance of about 100 miles as main roads were avoided.  The route was dangerous in peacetime, & it is impossible to imagine the fear, hunger & fatigue the little group must have faced tackling journey during the war-time.

Gaborone, according to a paper by Will & Dent (1) was strategic during the Boer War because of the railway completed just a few years before being in close proximity to the South African border. Gaborone itself was little more than a camp consisting of a few government & residential buildings with a basic water supply. 

1899railroad

Rail Pic is listed as Public Domain

Against all odds, the small group managed to get through to Gaborone, where they secured transport that took them to Southern Rhodesia, thus reuniting the family.

Life in Southern Rhodesia

The Breen family were settled in Selukwe, Southern Rhodesia by 1900.  Mr Breen worked as a contractor on the Bonsor Mine & later as Compound Manager at Surprise Mine.  Eleanor Breen nursed for many years under rudimentary & harsh conditions that often required travel, sometimes as far away as Gwanda.

Mount Bougai Farm became the family home in 1910.  Mrs Breen kept the homestead going after being widowed in 1920, & she lived there until just before her own death in 1941.

My husband’s mother, also Eleanor Breen, is a direct descendant from this gutsy lady.  He inherited her ability to walk, & leaves the rest of us in his shadow when we go out exploring 🙂

Eleanor Louisa Breen’s  OBITUARY  

Pictures of historic SELUKWE ,    SELUKWE MAIN STREET 1912

Cit 1: Will, Denzil, and Tommy Dent. “The Boer War as Seen from Gaborone”. Botswana Notes and Records 4 (1972): 195–209. Web…

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