Arthur Tolkien was a Birmingham man, from a family of bankrupted piano manufacturers. He went to King Edward’s School, and when he left, he tried to make a career for himself in Lloyd’s Bank. However, he found the course of promotion too slow to support the wife and family he wished to have, and so he looked for jobs overseas. He quickly found a position with the Bank of Africa, and sailed for South Africa in 1899.

Arthur proposed to Mabel shortly after her 18th birthday, but they were not allowed to marry till three years later, on the wishes of her father. He was 13 years Mabel’s senior.


During his first year in Africa, Arthur travelled extensively around the area between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Then, at the end of 1890, he was asked to manage the Bank’s branch in Bloemfontein, a position with which came a house and an adequate income.

Mabel then sailed to South Africa, and they were married in Cape Town Cathedral on the 16th April 1891, when Arthur was 34, dashing, handsome and moustached. They honeymooned in a hotel in Sea Point, a seaside suburb of Cape Town, before moving back to Bloemfontein.

Arthur was happy at the Bank. He was at a crucial stage in his career, intensely busy, and the Bloemfontein climate seemed to suit his ever-present health worries. Arthur loved gardening, and he spent whatever spare time he had in his garden where he planted a small grove of cypresses, as well as firs, cedars and vines.

He was meant to return with his family to England in 1895, but he decided that he was too busy, and that as he would have to go on half-pay, the family couldn’t afford for him to leave. He intended to join them later, but in November 1895, he contracted rheumatic fever, and decided that he could not face an English winter.

On the 14th February 1896, Mabel received a telegram saying that Arthur had suffered a severe haemorrhage, and on the 15th, he died. He was buried in the Anglican graveyard in Bloemfontein. Even though he had worked hard and saved conscientiously, he left only a modest sum of capital chiefly invested in Bonanza Mines, which gave Mabel a sum of around 30 shillings a week.

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