Thomas was born the third of five children to Robert Pringle
and Katherine Heatlie who farmed at Blakelaw. As a baby
he was dropped and dislocated his hip, laming him for life.
Their church was the Anti-Burger (secession) congregation
in Morebattle. When Thomas was six, his mother died
and is buried in Linton kirkyard. His father re-married to
Thomas attended Kelso Grammar School and in 1803 went to Edinburgh University, attending lectures on chemistry, logic and metaphysics. He was particularly interested in the travels of Mungo Park. He started a weekly club for literary criticism and wrote poetry attracting the friendship of Sir Walter Scott. After he became employed as a clerk in the Records Office, he wrote articles for periodicals and became joint editor of the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. After quarrelling with John Blackwood, he became joint editor to the Edinburgh Star (now called Constable’s) and published Autumnal Excursion and other poems in 1818.
In February 1820 (under a government scheme to create settlements in South Africa) Thomas, his father, brothers, 3 farm servants, 6 women and 6 children, set sail in ‘The Brilliant’, anchoring in Simons Bay on 30th April. On 6th June, Thomas helped to lay the foundation stone of the first house of the new town of Port Elizabeth.
A large party of settlers, including the Pringles made their way to the upper valley of the Baviaans River to Glen Lynden. The Pringles called their farm ‘Eildon’. Everything had to be created from scratch for the settlers and Thomas’ carpentry skills were much in demand. The communal bread oven he created from a termite’s nest, was in use for several years and the Scotch plough they had brought from home only needed one man and two oxen, unlike the Dutch plough which needed up to four men and 12 oxen. He loathed all aspects of the slave trade and learned Dutch so that he could help the Hottentots.
In 1822, Thomas left his brother at the farm and was made sub-librarian in the Government Library in Cape Town, at a salary of £75 a year. He joined fellow-journalist and friend John Fairbairn and opened a school. He also started a literary society, a publication called the South African Journal and edited the South African Commercial Advertiser.
Thomas collected evidence of abuses in the administration led by Lord Charles Somerset and of the ill-treatment of the Hottentots. Lord Charles viewed a free press as a crime and liberal leanings an offence and closed the school, sealed the presses and ordered local men to quit the literary society. Pringle travelled around the Colony recording evidence of abuse which he passed to the Commissioners of Enquiry in London and in 1828 the Hottentots were given equal rights.
Thomas’ position became untenable. He visited the family in Glen Lynden and found the settlement prospering, numbers growing, flocks increasing and new houses built. In later years, the settlement would incorporate the township of Kelso. Before leaving the Cape, Thomas wrote an article on the slave question in the New Monthly Review which brought him to the notice of Wilberforce, Buxton and Zachary Macaulay and arrived back in London on 7th July 1826, with debts of £1,000 (thanks largely to the vindictiveness of Lord Charles Somerset).
From 1827 he worked as Secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society, wrote the memoirs of Dr Alexander Waugh and supplied material for Thompson’s Travels in South Africa and offered his services to the Government to return to South Africa in connection with measures for the protection of slaves.
In 1833, shortly before the death of Wilberforce, all slaves in British possessions were emancipated and the Act of Abolition was finally signed on 27th June 1834.
On 5th December 1834 Thomas Pringle died from tuberculosis and is buried in Bunhill Fields Cemetary in London. In 1951, the Scottish Settlers Memorial Church was built on the Eildon Farm (still farmed by the fifth generation of Pringles). In 1970 Thomas’ remains were re-interred in this Church.
Find out about the contribution people from Kelso have made through the ages. Biographies of characters with Kelso connections who have made their mark throughout the world.View Storyboard: Thomas Pringle