On “Victorian Woman in the Warfield: Harriet Ward’s Reportage of the Seventh Frontier War (1844-47)”, by Teja Varma Pusapati

“She paved the way for Victorian women to engage in field reporting.”
‘Victorian Woman in the Warfield’ was indeed an interesting and unique topic chosen by the
first speaker Dr. Teja Varma Pusapati for a panel discussing ‘The Victorian Other’.
Harriet Ward (1808 – 1873) was a Victorian predecessor of Barkha Dutt, reporting from the
ground zero of Seventh Frontier War at South Africa. Being a soldier’s wife, she wrote in the
periodicals about the happenings in the battle-field using the model of reportage. One gets
detailed perspectives of the war in her writings, often omitted by official news reports.
The Seventh Frontier War, was a part of the Xhosa Wars, fought between the South African
Xhosa tribes and the British troops sent from London. Harriet Ward covered this war
extensively when she stayed at the Eastern Cape in South Africa from 1842 to 1847.
Dr. Teja Varma Pusapati, formerly faculty at University of Oxford, and presently Assistant
Professor at Shiv Nadar University, highlighted the unique and unprecedented contribution of
Harriet Ward to war reporting, in her presentation. Ward was the ‘first ever female war
correspondent’. Ward wrote on the spot of battle and her writing is therefore filled with gory
details like ‘children trying to climb out of graves because they were buried alive’. Dr. Pusapati
narrated how Ward’s brothers were all in the army and being a woman she could not do the
same. She however had a strong affinity for the military profession. Therefore her reportage, as
Dr. Pusapati argued may be considered a manifestation of her desire. Ward had adopted a
‘soldierly’ tone for her accounts of the war, which granted more credibility to her articles. She
proved women’s ability to report from the war zone. She made her contemporary audience
‘relive the war vicariously’. Dr. Pasupati however that Ward’s writings are not free from the
colonial racism of the Victorian age but argued that it was put into the writings to make them
more ‘saleable’. Ward, according to Dr. Pasupati, was a populist writer.
The question of genre remains an important question to ponder upon when it comes to Harriet
Ward’s war reports. Although Dr. Pasupati tried to clarify that Ward’s writing was technically
different from travel accounts but closer to both the genres of news coverage and novels (as
per Benedict Anderson’s definition of a novel and newspaper, both requiring a mean time).

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