Strauss & co - 18 November 2019, Cape Town

Introduction Lot 47 A Chinese ivory figure of a female warrior, Qing Dynasty, 19th/20th century (part lot) (see item in image on opposite page - bottom left) The history of Harcroft is bound up in an extraordinary love story which began in 1936, when British born Charles Louis Rycroft flouted the conventions of the time to marry a divorcee, Muriel Susan Elizabeth Parsons. Harcroft Estate, situated on the banks of the Ayer Tawar river in Perak, Malaysia, was a rubber plantation comprising the estate and the factory which Charles’s father, George Henry Rycroft, and his business partner, John Hartley, had purchased in 1919. Merging their two surnames, it was registered as Harcroft Rubber Estates Ltd. In 1924 Charles was called into the business and the company began manufacturing and exporting crepe rubber, used mainly to sole shoes, to countries as far afield as Egypt, Palestine, Spain, France and America. The plantation flourished and developed a substantial workforce. Not only was Charles clearly a tour de force; he enjoyed the mutual appreciation and respect of his staff, some of whom referred to him as “Uncle Charles” The building of Harcroft, the residence, was a labour of love. It included every comfort and reflected the Rycrofts’superb taste – evident in the wonderful antiques that they acquired in Perak and during their extensive travels to China, Japan and America. However, in December 1941 everything changed with the Japanese invasion of Malaysia and the bombing of Singapore. Despite the chaos, the regular bombing of neighbouring Penang and the resultant blackouts, normal life at Harcroft was maintained. In anticipation of what was to come, Charles deployed some of his workforce to help local volunteers to receive bombers at the aerodrome situated fifteen miles from Harcroft, which was to be a refuge for evacuees should the need arise. The factory’s drying sheds were to house 3 000 soldiers. As the invasion began, however, the aerodrome had to be destroyed and flight seemed the only option. Although they helped many of their friends leave Malaysia, the Rycroft’s delayed their own departure for as long as possible. Ultimately, the time came when they had no choice but to leave. They bade a quick farewell and left for Kuala Lumpur by car, intending to return when it seemed safe. Sadly, this was not to be. Air raids increased and bridges were blown up as the Japanese advanced, making it impossible for them to go home. Their only remaining option was to travel to Singapore. Never one to be idle, upon arrival Charles became involved in the Auxiliary Fire Service, taking over command and repeatedly putting himself in danger. Muriel became a constant source of inspiration and strength to women who had lost husbands and partners and were now travelling on their own. Eventually it became necessary to leave war-torn Singapore, so in February 1942 Muriel boarded the last ship loaded with women and children bound for India. In her diary she recounted the harrowing trials and tribulations of being one of 1 300 refugees on a luxury liner with capacity for only 200 passengers. Due to unrest and on the advice of the military, Muriel left Bombay that same year and made safe passage to Cape Town where she took up residence at the Mount Nelson Hotel. She filled multiple diaries in order to keep Charles’s memory alive and joined the Empire Club, which was rooted in British traditions and had become a meeting place for evacuees, Malayan and other, where news was exchanged and posted. Charles Rycroft at Harcroft House, Constantia 6