Thoughts on the season’s turning

Every now and then I post one of the texts I’ve transcribed as part of my continuing research into the life and work of Georgiana Molloy. Some of the things on my mind lately have been the connections between us all – Georgiana and me and you – that transcend time and place. A conversation with an old friend last night reminded me of the importance of holding on to the very personal stories that forge those links between women, the stories that aren’t limited by when we live, or where, or even how.

Today, as the ancient festival of Samhain approaches once again, I think about this time of year when, in the old religion, the beautiful young earth-girl Bride curls back into herself and the time comes for the Cailleach, the wise woman, the old woman who brings long dark days to the land, stillness and death. She’s the beginning of rebirth and the only way that Spring can come back to us.

Women they call ‘older women’ are the biggest demographic on planet Earth — and that’s not the only reason we matter!  We share histories and understandings and strengths and often go about our days quietly, like winter, like the Cailleach.

Here’s something for all of us, those who’ve ever had a child, lost a child or wanted a child. Georgiana Molloy wrote this in 1830 soon after her first daughter died in a tent on the beach in Augusta WA. It was sent to her mother along with the letter that told the full story of her first few weeks in the new colony. Evidence within the text suggests that she copied it from her own notes and the fact that she sent it as a separate document shows how important she thought it was to record every detail of little Elizabeth’s short life. I think it’s a reminder of the deep-rooted ways that women are connected through time and across cultures and spaces. We share and understand.

 

On Monday the 24th May 1830 Elizabeth Mary the only child of John and Georgiana Molloy was born. She laid for some time about ¾ of an hour without a single thing being done to her and sneezed 6 times but owing to circumstances which I had not power to obviate no remedy could be obtained. She was quiet and appeared to sleep all that day but at eleven or twelve at night I found her lying with her eyes wide open and looking quite awake. All said the moment she was born she was a fat child and her limbs well formed and very long, especially her legs and fingers. I never thought her in the least fat. Every symptom that day highly favourable.

On Tuesday 25th about 5 in the morning I called Mrs Heppingstone to attend her on seeing some marks on her cloaths [sic] & she was much alarmed in finding her dress and blanket soaked in blood owing to the navel string being so imperfectly tied as to be quite loose when the roller was unpinned, she said she thought poor Baby must have lost half a pint of blood. She with difficulty arranged it and Baby slept all that day, but towards evening the favourable symptoms began to change and her bowels assumed a palish green colour. She had only taken about a teaspoonful altogether of oatmeal gruel independent of what I gave her and she appeared to take her natural food with great avidity.

Wednesday 26 [sic] I gave her a little Magnesia and she did not seem affected by it in the least. Her feet and legs were icy cold and never any heat but when I either rubbed or held them. She seemed incapable of retaining warmth but still laid quiet and never cryed [sic] but when much disturbed such as being washed etc. I all along thought her a her fingers weakly child, her fingers and nails were so very long and she had much hair for so young an infant & her cry though very seldom was short & weak.

Thursday the 27th She continued much the same. I fed her occasionally as she used frequently to suck her beautiful fingers. She slept all day and I found her at night with her eyes fixed on the top of the tent. She had a very old expression in her eyes, sometimes making me laugh. I thought she frequently laughed but found afterwards her features twisted the same in her convulsions. The greeness [sic] still encreased. [sic]

Friday 28th We both took some Castor Oil, she a tea-spoonful which appeared to do her a little good but not immediately She could take more than I could give her but refused gruel.

Saturday 29th I observed some little white spots like blisters on her mouth and rubbed the inside of her lips with a little Borax which my beloved mother had provided for me. She was much better and her eyes were open nearly all day. The weather which before had been damp and cold was now very warm and she seemed benefitted by the change. I sat up doing many things, among the rest unpacking a little box with the seeds dear & kind Mr Butlin gave me little did I expect to open it at such a time. I pounded some Borax in the mortar. After 5 we both had a long & refreshing sleep till 8.

Sunday 30th She was quiet and slept much throughout the day, and seemed much the same.

Monday 31 [sic] She was not so well and much of an unwholesome colour evacuated. I thought the weather affected her from its again being damp. I observed some spots on her nose and forehead they called “the Gum” Mrs Dawson says, she perceived the poor child becoming thinner every day.

Tuesday June 1st I gave her more Magnesia. I thought she had taken cold and there was inflammation on her lungs, as her breathing was so short, and whenever she laid either on her side or stomach she cried, she seemed indifferent to food and sighed and caught her breath like myself frequently, she also cried more than she had previously done. Mrs Turner thought it was cold, but I think she had a cold from the time of her birth as she then sneezed 6 times before being dressed.

Wednesday 2nd I would not let her remain out of bed to be dressed, for fear of more cold but about eleven gave her a little Castor Oil which did not improve her malady. Her evacuations throughout were regular and the Meconium at her birth very profuse, which they said was a very favourable sign. This day she seemed much worse and cried and started when moved in her sleep even when well as I imagine she started often. At night she seemed much easier, but no variation in the colour still of a paler hue. She seemed very thirsty and I fed her as much as I possibly could.

Thursday the 3rd I had a very little sleep with her and she began to be very uneasy and cry much, about two in the morning she seemed to be instantly in the extremes of heat or cold so I gave her into Molloy’s arms where she laid more still and quiet but uneasily until about 6. She cried very much and seemed to twist her features & then cry! Her countenance was changed since the preceeding [sic] night her eyes much fuller and her mouth more projecting She shrieked when she cried and refused any food. I began to fear the worst – – – –

For the remainder see your letter which closes the scene of her few and evil days on earth. Some time after her burial Dear Molloy went unknown to me and sowed Rye Grass and Clover over it and has recently put some twigs across it to form a sort of trellice [sic] work with the surrounding creepers which in this country are very numerous. I have also sowed Clover & Mynionette [sic] which are up and planted Pumpkins which will rapidly creep on the twigs over it & form a sort of Dome. Was it not curious that on February the ninth I was very sick being at sea, and nearly all day in bed, & in mistake I had written in my Pocket Book (for the 23rd of May as I suppose) on the 24th) where shall we be this day.  & that was the very day of our poor childs birth.

Cumbria Archive Centre DKEN 28/3

 

Image credit: Daria Tumanova

Living history

Each time I visit Fairlawn, the home where Georgiana Molloy spent the last few years of her short life, I’m drawn to the garden, for obvious reasons. One tree in particular, a Black mulberry, always pulls me to gaze up at the sky through its lichen-laced branches or to touch its gnarly trunk. Although the tree fell and split at some stage in its long history, it still stands like an ancient, stooping sentinel between the house and the Vasse River, and a few months ago I enjoyed the taste of its ripe fruits. The video I posted on my Facebook page a couple of days ago was taken when Mike and I visited Fairlawn this week to see the Morus nigra once again –  for a very special reason!

It doesn’t take an expert to see that the tree’s very old. Fairlawn existed as a cottage for a few years before Georgiana moved there in May 1839 but she began work on planting the first garden herself, so I’ve often wondered whether she planted the Mulberry tree then, before she died in 1843. Soft fruits were an important food crop for the settlers at that time, used fresh in season, for puddings and as jams, wines or preserves during winter.

A few weeks ago, I came across some evidence that made my heart skip a beat. I’d read the words many times before but never made the connection. In a letter Georgiana wrote to James Mangles RN, started in June 1840, she thanked him for the ‘Box of Plants’ he had sent her. She’d just opened it and told him all the fruit trees were ‘gratifying to behold’, some with long shoots and all ‘white, of course, from the exclusion of light’ during their long sea voyage. She went on to describe ‘the Black mulberries, literally with green shoots’.

 

Given her excitement, and the difficulty of acquiring healthy fruit trees in the colony at that time, it doesn’t seem like a leap of assumption to believe that she planted in her own garden the Morus nigra that Mangles sent her. Mulberry trees usually take well and tend to grow vigorously without too much care and attention. In the mild climate at the Vasse and so close to the water table in the flood plain of the river, the young tree was unlikely to fail, especially given her horticultural knowledge and its position near the house, handy for any additional watering needed in summer.

Of course, I had to consider the possibility that the tree could’ve been planted after Georgiana’s death in 1843, perhaps by a later inhabitant of Fairlawn. It would be impossible to assess the exact age of the tree without investigating its growth rings but I wondered if a real expert might be able to shed some light. Through the kindness of a botanical-world friend in the UK, I was put in touch with just the ‘tree expert’ I needed and gave him the information he asked for about the tree’s position, climate and soil.  I also sent photographs to show its size and dimensions. I asked if he thought it could have been planted in 1840.

He told me the tree certainly looks ‘all of that age’. There’s one at Kew Gardens planted in 1846 and the Fairlawn tree is larger.  His last comment, ‘I think you can safely say that it is from 1840 or earlier’, was exactly what I was hoping to hear.

Of course, the Black mulberry at Fairlawn can’t be linked without any doubt at all to the trees Georgiana received from Mangles in 1840, but given the age of the tree we can see today, her comment in the letter, and knowing that it could not have been planted before that time, the provenance is very, very strong.

And if it is the same one, then it’s the only living specimen, still alive and growing, that was planted by her.

Have you guessed yet why I was wearing my gardening gloves in the video?

We were taking cuttings, in the hope that the buds already showing will become green leaves in the next few weeks and the roots will take. If the cuttings make it, they too will be genetically identical to the original tree. They will be clones of the tree Georgiana planted not seedlings.  I’ll be watching them carefully, protecting them if necessary. And I’ll keep you posted!

    

 

Over the hills and far away

It was just an evening walk along the beach so I was a bit surprised to see myself caught on camera trying to get a signal on my iPad. I’ve been a bit obsessed lately with research for a new book and it turns out that when I’m doing one thing I’m often (usually?) still thinking about that story. It won’t let me go. The fierce hold it has on me is what gives me the momentum and energy to make myself sit down again at my desk, day after day, even when the sun shines and the world outside is beautiful.

But I think I’ve come to the end of the road with research I can do from so far away. The story, a true tale, takes place in London in the eighteenth century. It’s amazing how much can be discovered using online searches and digital images of records available in the public domain. I’ve pieced together the bare facts of the protagonist’s life and found some wonderful detail about the settings. I’ve used my imagination to take me there, back through time and across oceans. I’ve drafted scenes and written dialogue using transcripts of documents from websites. But this is as far as I can go without travelling in real time and space. There’s so much more. But it’s all in London – in archives and museums and libraries – and I’m on a beach in Western Australia. Far, far away.

This morning, something new appeared in my online rummaging and it’s so exciting that it made my heart pound but it will be impossible to find out more without going on a very expensive journey. So, for now, I’ll keep doing what I tell everyone else to do!

Search. Imagine. Write. And never give up.

Research for writing 2: THE TEXTURE OF LIVED EXPERIENCE

The writing has been going slowly during the last couple of weeks, not because I’ve been slacking but because I’ve been researching more than usual as I write. It’s a reminder that research, for a writer, is so much more than checking names and dates and background events when drafting the plot.

I’ve been reading more than usual as well. I’m writing in a genre that’s new to me and I learn from the books I really enjoy as a reader. It’s all there on the pages, how to do it well. Sometimes, how to get it wrong (for me, anyway) is there too, and I learn from that. I’ve realised that the way a writer uses their research, the way it lives and breathes in the story, very often makes the difference between a book I can’t put down and one I struggle to stick with past the first chapter.

When a show house is ready for viewing, the designers ‘dress’ the rooms for the public, to make them look lived-in and attractive: scatter cushions, vases, books on the coffee table, magazines by the bed and pictures on the walls. And yet, somehow, nothing looks real. The appearance of human habitation has been dropped in and it doesn’t fool anyone. Nobody’s home. The same thing happens when the outcomes of a writer’s research are scattered like those cushions, placed deliberately to add the sounds and smells and sights of a particular historic period. The name of a song popular at that time, the title of a book that was being read, the name of someone who was in the news, an apparently casual reference to something topical, dressing the spaces. It all adds up to an effect that’s attractive, just like the ornamentation in a show house, but it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t take you into the minds and bodies of the characters living there.

Hilary Mantel has said that the job of a novelist is to ‘recreate the texture of lived experience’ and, from my own reading, that doesn’t happen when historical authenticity has been injected into the story in the redrafting. I can only say what I know about my own writing but for me, research is as much a part of the writing process as it is part of the preparation for writing. It takes a long time to understand the world picture of the lives lived by my characters from the past. When I write about them, or find the words to let them think or speak, I need to know what they care about, what they fear, what makes them laugh. I agree with Hilary Mantel when she says it’s time to write when you ‘not only know what your characters wore, but you can feel their clothes on your back’.

Sometimes I feel that slipping away from me and that’s when I have to step back and re-immerse myself in the world my characters inhabit. What’s available from a free Internet download is varied and surprising. My protagonist is nineteen years old in the chapter I’m writing at the moment, and the year is 1798. I’m reading the same stories she read in women’s magazines that year, studying the newspaper cartoons she saw that caricatured politicians and well-known people. I’ve spent several hours reading a cookery book published that same year, which helpfully includes advice about how to maintain a household, including how to remove bed bugs from a headboard and how to use wet sand to clean a kitchen floor. I’m reading poetry published in monthly magazines, newspaper reports and, more than anything else, the advertisements, those self-contained little stories that reveal so much about what mattered to men and to women. It’s not a fact-gathering activity. It’s a method of transportation through time and I can feel myself shifting back into her world. The cotton cambric on her back feels light, flimsy, too cold on a day like this. Discomfort.

‘Research is not a separate phase from writing. There is no point where the writer can say, “I know enough.” Writing a novel is not like building a wall.’

The quotations are all from the fourth of Hilary Mantel’s 2017 BBC Reith lectures, ‘Can these bones live?’ broadcast by BBC Radio 4 and available as Podcasts

Research for writing 1: DISTANCE NO OBJECT

I’ve been thinking lately about the many different ways that research contributes to my own writing. There’s been a lot on the social media landscape about the ways other writers use research. In reality, it can be a very expensive process and can seem problematic or impossible if it involves travel.

I gave a talk this week about the research behind my last book, a biography of 19th century botanist, Georgiana Molloy, and just yesterday I had a completely new kind of research experience so I think the time has come to say a bit about what all this means to me. Research is so much a part of the work I do, so embedded in my writing and thinking, that this blog will probably have to be a two-parter!

In the early days of the research for ‘The Mind That Shines’ I occasionally had to travel to the UK for work and it was a chance to do first-hand research in the archives at weekends while I was there. I even travelled to the places where Georgiana had lived in London and Scotland, though time was seriously limited by my budget. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know I emptied my bank account for a train ticket and the cheapest hotel in town to see a diary in the north of England the day before I came home to WA. I realise now that I might have been able to apply for a grant to support some of that decade of research but I was happy just to follow in Georgiana’s footsteps while I was on that side of the world. My husband spent his weeks off – for years – in graveyards and museums in lieu of holidays and I’ll always be grateful to him for his forbearance.

Time has moved on. The research question comes up again and again. I’ve finished work on another story set partly in Jamaica in the late 18th century. I’ve never been there. I’m retired so now I have all the free time I ever dreamt of but a research trip for that book was financially out of the question. So, I used first-hand contemporary accounts, available free online, and immersed myself in descriptions, diaries, letters. I read for hours and hours until I felt as if I knew the place. I could feel it and smell it. Perhaps not the same as a visit but perhaps even better – I needed to know what it was like to be there in 1790.

Today, I’m in the early stages of a novel set in London in the early 19th century and it involves a true crime. With a list of vital documents in the archives there, papers I need to see, I felt blocked in moving any further with my writing. A long-distance trip to the UK is out of the question. How many of us can choose to travel interstate, or even further afield, just to do research for a book?

But there are ways! A generous friend who lives near London agreed to visit one of the archives on a sunny London morning. I spent the evening here in Western Australia  and she sent me some photographs of a document, just as if I was there with her. It was a thrilling experience to see somethingI longed to see for myself, popping up on my computer screen – perhaps even more exciting than it would have been to be there myself.

It was Miranda’s first go at archival research and I’m happy to say she enjoyed it very much. Actually, I think that’s an understatement. She was moved by the closeness such an old document can give us to people who lived in the past “I must say it is VERY exciting to hold something that may not have been read for 200 years. You do rather feel the ghosts.” She was in awe of the amazing knowledge the archivists have. “They were so incredibly knowledgeable and good at their job.” I saw her connection to the story growing as her emails came through. “It’s been really enjoyable so far! And very different. It’s everything you expect it to be but 100% more.”

So, if you really want to write about a place you don’t know from personal experience… If you want to see a document that’s hidden away in a library somewhere… If you want to just know what it’s like to stand in a particular place, far away, and your finances don’t smile back at you…. Don’t give up, at least not until you’ve explored all the research pathways that could take you there in other ways. It’s obvious that the first choice for all of us would be to make the trip, feel the paper, see the landscape, touch the bricks. But if that isn’t an option we can travel in other ways. We have imagination and when that merges with careful research, distance does not have to be a barrier. Other writers may feel differently, and I can only pass on my own experience, but I hope these thoughts might be helpful.

 

Never say ‘Never!’

Earlier this year I was at the Margaret River Library, talking about the latest research I’ve been doing since publication of my book about Georgiana Molloy. I closed the presentation by making the point that some things simply have to remain a mystery forever.

I showed the audience a photograph taken at the JS Battye Library a few weeks earlier, an image of a document found among the papers of John Molloy, Georgiana’s husband.

Bernice Barry 11

I said, “I’ve always believed that John Molloy drew this little sketch of Napoleon for his children, telling them about his adventures in the Napoleonic wars and perhaps even saying that he had caught a glimpse of the emperor himself during the Battle of Waterloo. But the provenance of this sketch this will probably be something I’ll never be able to find out.”

That same afternoon I sat down at the computer and decided to have one more go at discovering some pathways, clues that might just lead me to the truth. What came to the surface that day is a remarkable, twisting tale.

Ten years ago I said, “I’ll never find out how and when John and Georgiana first met. It was nearly 200 years ago and nothing’s recorded about that small event.” Then, in 2011, a list of old apple trees on my computer screen opened the door to discovering the wonderful story of their first meeting.

I’ve learned an important lesson: when it comes to research, never say ‘Never’.

To read the next instalment of this story, ‘John Molloy and the emperor’ look  here:

 

© Photograph by Mike Rumble

JS Battye Library WA (SLWA) ACC 4730A Pencil drawing presumed to be of Napoleon with tree and cottage to the right. Anon.

From fact to fiction

The last few weeks have been full of new experiences and much new learning. When things slow down a bit I’ll try to collect my thoughts about all of that, especially what I’ve learned about being interviewed and how to stay calm when you’re on the phone, live, to a lot of people listening in other states. I’m still a real beginner but the best things so far (for me, anyway) have been the encouragement and feedback. Readers tell me their thoughts about my book and their own reasons for a personal connection with the story. Messages from reviewers and writers have also meant a lot to me.

It’s also been a busy time of moving on with writing something new and that feels strange, with so much interest now in John and Georgiana Molloy, having so many conversations about them and answering questions about researching their lives, at the same time as I’m travelling  further into the new manuscript I’ve been working on for the last six months. It’s fiction so it’s another challenge but I deliberately set out to find out what would happen for me as a writer if I stepped way beyond my comfort zone.

The extended pathways of research over the last decade meant that I collected a huge amount of interesting material that ended up being filed away and was never used.  But there were a few things – tiny, colourful pieces from hidden lives – that lodged in my memory and kept burrowing away into my imagination. I couldn’t let them go and last year I decided to find a way of bringing those parts together and adding new elements to make a complete story. I thought fiction would be so easy in comparison with writing a historical biography… After all, you can just make it up! But it’s not easy. It’s difficult. Yet it’s difficult in the same delicious, mind-stretching way because it still involves choosing words and putting them next to one another in the very best way you can.

Family anecdotes and old, old documents like this one from Georgiana’s history started me off on an exploration of someone else’s world, one that I had to create rather than find. But it still feels like ‘finding’ and the people in this narrative have already become real to me in a way I’d never, ever anticipated. The strangest thing of all, so far, has been the way a new character appears in front of me in the scene I’m writing. The whole book is planned and researched and plotted and yet someone I wasn’t expecting suddenly walks onto the stage and I realise they were part of the story all along. I just hadn’t met them yet.

Tiny details

Minutiae…  Small pieces of information can fascinate.  They don’t usually answer the big questions but they work together in magical ways to bring the past to life.  An individual is placed in a more detailed setting and their world is populated with real objects, against a background of colours and sounds. Even now, for most of us, each day is usually an accumulation of small experiences.  Finding details in the lives of the Molloys and the people whose lives touched theirs in some way (as family, friends, ancestors or descendants) was an important part of learning to understand their world but most of the information that I found so absorbing couldn’t be included in the book; long lists of facts aren’t always welcome as part of storytelling! But the small things that intrigued me continue to do so because they make people I’ll never meet seem just a little more real. Here’s a small and very random selection of information that came my way. I hope it gives you a sense of the enjoyment I find in history.

*When Georgiana was at school in London in the 1820s, she had her hair cut about every five weeks. Her mother had to pay additional costs for almost everything apart from the food she ate: washing for each year, the sheet music provided for her music lessons, visits to the opera, the cleaning of bonnet ribbons, the fees of her ‘Dancing’ teacher and any hairdressing required. She attended a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and for some reason I can’t imagine, she needed purple net and a black silk apron.

*The Adult Orphan Institution where two of the Bussell sisters were educated in London after their father’s death was started by Sophia Williams. Sophia was an illegitimate daughter of (Giacomo) Casanova, the Italian writer known today for his amorous affairs.

*When Georgiana’s mother married David Kennedy in Carlisle in 1800, it was an unusually warm autumn. In the English countryside, Michaelmas daisies flowered and walkers who were out in the early evening air saw gossamer floating on the breeze.

*Captain Duncan Darroch of Drums near Dumbarton, a friend of Georgiana when she was living in Scotland, was even more dashing and eligible than I had space to detail in the book. This future Baron of Gourock was part of the military guard for the exiled French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on the small, barren island of St Helena. He was present when Napoleon died, an event that caused even the most patriotic English soldiers to collect souvenirs – a lock of hair or a piece of lint dipped in Napoleon’s blood.

*The research of Georgiana’s granddaughter, Georgie Bisdee née Hale, helped me find the right pathways to explore. There wasn’t room in the book to include the beautiful details of her wedding, an occasion that showed how John and Georgiana’s descendants had thrived.

‘Her dress was white crepe de Chine over white silk, trimmed with some beautiful old lace and chiffon. The bridal veil, arranged to shade the face and to fall in graceful folds past the waist at the back, was a piece of lovely old Brussels lace, and had been worn by the mother of the bridegroom on her wedding day more than sixty years ago. It was caught at the back with a diamond fillet. A shower bouquet of white roses and bouvardia completed the costume. The two bridesmaids were Miss Dorothy Bisdee, niece, and Miss Joan Cox, cousin of the bridegroom, who both looked very pretty in gowns of cream-embroidered mousseline de soto over silk, with cream straw hats, trimmed with champagne coloured ribbon, and carried bouquets of fortune’s yellow roses and autumn leaves, with trails of Virginia creeper.’

Western Mail Perth WA 7 May 1904 (trove.nla.gov)

*Listening to music from the past, recent or distant, can seem to make the years disappear. On 17 March 1812, as John Molloy’s regiment took up their battle position outside the town wall of Badajoz in Spain, their band was playing the very appropriate tune,  ‘St. Patrick’s Day’. On 15 June, after weeks of marching, hunger and hardship, the regiment arrived at Puente Arenas, a town where they could rest and re-supply. The band of the 1st Battalion played, ‘The Downfall of Paris’ (another traditional dance tune) as they marched over the bridge and camped nearby. There are many versions available to listen to but this one transported me to a place side by side with the marching men of the Rifle Brigade.

And on this clip the wonderful Martin Carthy tells the full story of how this tune came to be a favourite during the Napoleonic War.

*By the time Georgiana’s mother was forced to move out of Crosby Lodge, she had reduced her household to just two servants, a man to do the heavy work/odd jobs and a woman. This meant that Mrs Kennedy had to take on some domestic duties herself, probably for the first time in her life.

*The city of Ladysmith in South Africa was named in 1850 for Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith, the wife of Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith. This Harry Smith was John Molloy’s old friend from his days in the Rifle Brigade and Molloy was with him when he first met Juana in Spain during the Peninsular War in 1812.  Georgiana met her too during their stay at the Cape of Good Hope. Juana taught the newlywed Mrs Molloy the Spanish folk songs that she and John later sang to their children.

*In her letters, Georgiana often made reference to poems and stories from her childhood, or mentioned the fact that her children knew them too. Most of these can still be traced through Internet searches. The nursery song, ‘Dame Durdan’ tells a story of farm life much like Georgiana’s in Augusta:

‘Dame Durdan kept five servant maids to carry the milking pail,
She also kept five labouring men to use the spade and flail.’

Another example: in 1833 she asked her sister to send her some books for little Sabina, ‘The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s feast’. A poem written by the Princess Mary tells this simple story (Bell 1808) and other versions (William Roscoe) were designed for children. New editions and adaptations of both are still in publication today.

‘And there came the Beetle, so blind and so black

Who carried the Emmet, his friend, on his back;

And there came the Gnat and the Dragon-fly too,

And all their relations, green, orange and blue.’

 

‘Emmet’ is an old English word for an ant. You can see the rest of this 1808 text here.

*Captain Francis Byrne was an army colleague and friend of John Molloy but when the two couples travelled together to Perth, Georgiana found that she disliked Mrs Byrne. Anne-Matilda was the daughter of Sir Amos Norcott, a commander in the Rifle Brigade. Her brother Charles sailed to WA with her and became Superintendent of Police. The area known as Norcott Plains was named after him and so was a street in Perth, but ‘Noreatt Place’ was the result of someone misreading the spelling of his name!

Choices, choices…

One of the most difficult aspects of writing the book was deciding what information to include and what to leave out. Small facts about someone’s life, the minutiae of their world, can seem fascinating to one person and read like boring detail to another. Many of the gaps in Georgiana’s life were found by locking on to these apparently insignificant things and following their paths back in time. Some of the research stories were included in the book, some got a mention but no detail, but many didn’t make the cuts. This one was reduced to a single sentence in the book and on the Facebook page.

‘Another treasure was her brother George’s ticket for the opening ceremony of the Carlisle Canal in March 1823, just before his tenth birthday.’ (Page 321)

There was more I wanted to tell about this object, saved in her sewing box and handed down through the family. The first few times I saw the ticket I assumed that it was Georgiana’s. I was looking at the photograph more carefully last year and realised that the name is ‘Mr’ and not ‘Miss’. The abbreviation is the common one for ‘George’. The ticket actually belonged to Master George Kennedy. It’s one more clue to the warm affection Georgiana felt for her youngest brother.

The Carlisle Canal was a grand venture intended to boost the economy of Georgiana’s home town by connecting it for the first time to the coast via the Solway Firth. Carlisle was a manufacturing ‘boom town’ and was known for its wool and cotton cambric fabric but the world was changing and industry required faster, much cheaper transport. The canal was quite successful but short lived because it was replaced in the 1850s by an even faster and more efficient way to transport goods: a railway.

I wondered why a journey on the canal was necessary for young George. Why did a child need access to the warehouse? Why was it a day worth remembering with this ticket as a keepsake? In June 2015 I checked the date to see if that was significant in some way.

12 March 1823 was the much-awaited opening day of the canal. George (and possibly Georgiana and the rest of the Kennedy family) joined the huge crowds who attended the magnificent ceremony at the ‘basin’ and the warehouse. This explains why the ticket informs visitors about the best time to arrive if they want to watch the first ships arriving. It must have been the last family outing before Mrs Kennedy removed the whole family to Rugby in Warwickshire, where Georgiana was so unhappy. Perhaps that’s why she treasured this small item enough to keep it safe for the rest of her life.

Erased by the passing of time

On the subject of the highs and lows of research… It’s exciting when you find the grave you’ve been looking for after a five year search. Not so exciting when you see that the family chose sandstone for the headstone, a very common choice in the Carlisle area during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s soft and it weathers quickly. Here, the inscription (that might have revealed all) has worn down to a blurred smudge on the surface. All part of the historical fun.