Family History

I've been doing some genealogical research recently and have turned up some exotic characters. My great grandfather is particularly fascinating.  He lived one of those breathlessly active late Victorian/Edwardian lives, travelling all over the world at a time when that meant weeks, if not months, on a boat, and reinventing himself in every new country.

He was born in London in 1880 to moderately well-off parents and went on to have a remarkably varied life.  By the time he was my age he'd attended a rabbinical college in Germany; left the college and enlisted in the British army at 19 (which caused his family to disown him – I don't think he ever saw them again); fought as an intelligence officer in South Africa in the Boer War; been transferred to India; demobilised; converted to Christianity and become a Methodist missionary in India; met his wife and married at the Mukti Mission in India; left the Methodist mission to set up his own mission in the highlands of Southern India; had a daughter; nearly died of some kind of fever; learned and documented the language of the Mardi people; travelled backwards and forwards between India and Dunedin (his equally adventurous wife was originally from Dunedin) to recover from illness and raise money; had one son and one more daughter; moved to Dunedin permanently and started a rabble-rousing, Pentecostal mission; and had another two daughters. He also found time somewhere in there to learn seven or eight languages.

My recollections of him involve books and age.  When I knew him, he was in his late 80's and early 90's – which seemed incredibly old to a pre-school child.  He used to read the morning paper through his glasses and a magnifying glass, which fascinated my small self.  And I remember going into his library, a room lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves, and being indignant that so many of the books had funny writing on the spines.  I was looking for nice friendly books that I could read, but that's not what I found.  His library was full of scholarly tomes in Greek and Latin and various Indian languages.  Not a children's picture book to be seen.

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