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Sarah Maud Goff Heckford (30 June 1839 – 17 April 1903) was an Anglo-Irish philanthropist, writer, and traveller. She was co-founder of an East London hospital for women and children, and author of A Lady Trader in the Transvaal (1882).

Sarah Maud Heckford
Outside the children's hospital, Shadwell.jpg
"Outside the Children's Hospital - Sarah Maud Heckford and her husband founded the East London Children's Hospital
Sarah Maud Goff

(1839-06-30)30 June 1839
Died17 April 1903(1903-04-17) (aged 63)

Early lifeEdit

Sarah Maud Goff was born in Blackrock, Dublin, the daughter of William Goff and Mary Clibborn. Her father was a banker. Sarah Goff survived tuberculosis as a child, with lasting effects on her posture and gait. By the time she was ten years old, both her parents and her eldest sister had died, and she was living in the care of an aunt and under the guardianship of an uncle, first in Switzerland, then in Paris, and finally in London.[1]


Sarah Maud Goff inherited enough money to live fairly independently in Belgravia, with her older sister Anne. Sarah and Anne both volunteered as nurses during the cholera epidemic in 1866. Soon after, she co-founded the East London Hospital for Children and Dispensary for Women with her new husband. Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a visiting physician there[2] and Charles Dickens publicized the Heckfords' work in two chapters titled "A Small Star in the East".[3][4] and "On An Amateur Beat" in his "Uncommercial Traveller".

After she was widowed, she continued working on expanding the hospital's offerings, and wrote her first book, The Life of Christ and its Bearing on the Doctrines of Communism (1873).[1]

She set off to travel after hospital business was settled, first to Naples (where her daughter married), then to India, where she worked as an informal medical missionary treating women. She moved to South Africa in 1878, hoping to become a farmer, but she discovered that she had been cheated in her arrangements, and took a position as a governess for two years instead.[5] With her earnings she bought a cart and oxen, and had some success as an itinerant trader, which she wrote about in another book, A Lady Trader in the Transvaal (1882).[6][7] She went back to London to publish her first novel, Excelsior (1884), and another book, The Story of the East London Hospital (1887).[1]

She spent her later years in South Africa, starting a new farm in Soutpansberg, and trying her hand at gold mining (the subject of her next book, True Transvaal Tales). She went back to governess work in the late 1890s, and as a harmless-seeming sixty-year-old lady, carried messages for the English during the South African War. In Pretoria she wrote a study, Report on the educational needs of the Transvaal Colony from the Transvaal Women's Educational Union to the education department of the colony (1901). She gave lectures on a trip to London on South Africa, particularly encouraging teachers to emigrate there.[8]

Personal lifeEdit

Sarah Maud Goff married Nathaniel Heckford, a doctor she met while nursing during the 1866 cholera outbreak, in 1867. She was widowed when he died in 1870, from tuberculosis. She raised an adopted daughter, Marian. Sarah Maud Heckford died in 1903, aged 63 years, in Pretoria.[1]

A full-length biography of Sarah Maud Heckford was published in 1971.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d Vivien Allen, "Sarah Maud Heckford" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004).
  2. ^ Jo Manton, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: England's First Woman Physician (Methuen, London 1965): 193-195.
  3. ^ Beryl Gray, The Dog in the Dickensian Imagination (Routledge 2016): 75-77. ISBN 9781317035374
  4. ^ "Dickens and the East London Hospital" Port Cities London.
  5. ^ Michelle Adler, "'Skirting the Edges of Civilization': Two Victorian Women Travellers and 'Colonial Spaces' in South Africa" in Kate Darian-Smith, Liz Gunner, and Sarah Nutall, eds., Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia (Routledge 2005): 83-90. ISBN 9781134804542
  6. ^ Carole G. Silver, ed., Sarah Heckford: A Lady Trader in the Transvaal (Parlor Press 2008). ISBN 9781602350823
  7. ^ Mrs. Heckford, A Lady Trader in the Transvaal (Sampson Low 1882).
  8. ^ Jill Jepson, "Solitude and the Politics of Otherness: Elizabeth Allston Pringle and Sarah Goff Heckford" in Women's Concerns: Twelve Women Entrepreneurs of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Peter Lang 2009): 85-114. ISBN 9781433104237
  9. ^ Vivien Allen, Lady Trader: A Biography of Mrs. Sarah Heckford (Collins 1979); 2nd ed (Protea Book House 2010). ISBN 978-1869193577

External linksEdit