The Lister List

Robert Harbin and Margaret Campbell

A few days ago, in an account of the evolution of our standard diagraming procedures and symbols I mentioned that Robert Harbin's interest in paperfolding was inflamed when he came across the book "Folding Paper Toys", written by by his fellow South African, Mrs. Margaret Campbell.

Paul Jackson wrote to me to tell me that he remembered it being said somewhere that Robert Harbin and Margaret Campbell were in fact remotely related. He subsequently traced the refrence to "Eric Kenneway's Comment" (that long lamented column, always full of fascinating news and items of interest) which appeared in British Origami, no. 62 for February 1977.

I immediately turned up the article, which I immediately remembered haveing read. But because of possible copyright implications I deferred publishing it further. However, after discussing it with David Brill at the weekend, I have decided to share this fascinating snippet of origami history with subscribers to Origami-L.

Our thanks must be given to Paul Jackson for reminding us about it.

Pehaps I may add a few comments:

It would appear that Robert Harbin's relationship was by marriage, through Margaret Campbell's husband. Otherwise Robert Harbin's great aunt would have been a cousin of Margaret Campbell herself. It should be remembered that Robert Harbin's real name was Edward Williams, and he cotinued to be known to his family and intimate acquaintances as "Ned".

>From other sources, I understand that before selttling in South Aftica, Margaret Campbell travelled in the east and this is where she picked up some of her paperfolding. However, I need to do more research into this.

Roy Campbell was not only a poet, but also something of an adventurer. He fought in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939 and I understand it was on the Falangist side. Apparently because of this, Gershon Legman (also a figure in paperfolding history), although he never met Roy Campbell, conceived an intense dislike of him and hadn't got a good word for him.

Margaret Campbell's book, "Paper Toy Making" was published by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd. of London, the educational publishers, in 1937 (although the book does not carry a date of publication). It contains a Preface written by Roy Cambell, then living in Spain and dated 1936, just before the start of the Spanish Civil War. "Paper Toy Making" ws still in print when I bought my copy of the original hard-bound edition in the mid 1960s. It was reprinted in a paperbacked edition, in slightly smaller size and without the coloured plates, by Dover Books Inc. of New York in 1975 and remains in print.

Robert Harbin's "Paper magic" was pubished by the Oldbourne Press, an imprint of Daily Express Newspapers of London, in 1956. A paperbacked edition was issued by John Maxfield Ltd. of Mill Hill, London in 1971 and remained available until quite recently. It had the rare distinction of being translated into Japanese under Robert Harbin's real name of "Ned Williams", but I have never found any hint of the reason for this. As with all of Robert Harbin's books, the British Origami Society, (to whom Robert Harbin bequeathed the copyrights) would like to see the republication of "Paper Magic" and are exploring ways of achieving this.


David Lister.






I have recently spoken to a man whose mother had an aunt who was in turn a cousin of Margaret Campbell's mother-in-law. This man told me that he read "Folding Paper Toys" many years ago at a time when he ws unaware of being related to its author. Through reading Mrs. Campbell's book, he went on to achieve no little distinction himself in the world of paper-folding. His name: Robert Harbin.

Believe it or not, pioneer-folder Margaret Campbell and BOS president Robert Harbin were cousins of sorts. Bob only learnt of the relationship subsequently through correspondence with Roy Campbell.

Bob told me that there is a relationship between them both and the celebrated actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell, friend of George Bernard Shaw.

To return to Margaret Campbell - my recent researches reveal that she was born Margaret Dunnachie, daughter of James Dunnachie of Glenboig, Scotland. Her father was an enthusiastic connoisseur and collector of paintings, a friend of Rosetti and other Pre-Raphaelite painters. Her mother came from Gascony in South West France. Margaret later married Dr. Samuel Campbell who became an important figure in the history of medicine in South Africa.

In his biography, "Light on a Dark Horse" (Hollis and Carter, London, 1951, reprinted 1969) Roy Campbell recalls part of his childhood spent in South Africa; his mother would play the piano and sing old Scottish songs she had learnt from her grandparents. Roy Campbell writes: "My mother knew a thousand ways of amusing us on these long evenings, by making all sorts of toys, mostly out of paper. She was a magician with her hands....." He recalls, rather ruefully, that the book on paper-folding which his mother wrote sold for more editions than all the books he ever published.

Campbell's autobiography (he also wrote an earlier volume of memoirs which I have not yet seen) does not contain a great deal more about his mother, but the "South African Dictionary of National Biography", which mentions several member of the family, although not Margaret (there is a reference to a Margaret Campbell but she's not ours), records that the historian Ethel Campbell, who was her daughter, has produced an elaborate, hand-lettered history of the family. It does not record where this family history is to be found, but surely it would be a useful source of material about Margaret Campbell's life and travels.

This article appeared as part of "Eric Kenneway's Ori-Comment" in "British Origami", the magazine of the British Origami Society, No.62, for February, 1977. Page 3.

David Lister,

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