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.

Unravelling mysteries

Ten years ago I had no idea what the note on this envelope might have meant but when I saw it again recently I had learned enough about Georgiana’s mother to understand the abbreviations she used. It’s the same with handwriting. Documents can be difficult to transcribe until you become familiar with an individual hand. After a while it even becomes possible to decipher tricky words because you can predict the particular vocabulary a writer might use.

Cumbria Archive Centre D KEN 3 / 26

A 19th century mind at work

Sometimes an old document can give a strong feeling of connection with the original writer. Thinking not just about the factual evidence in the words on the paper, but also about the person who wrote those words, can create vivid pictures of an individual who lived long ago.

It’s hard to believe now, but in the 18th and early 19th centuries, knowing your exact age wasn’t essential for most people in a world where few legal things were connected to date of birth and form-filling wasn’t part of daily life. When Georgiana’s father wrote a personal note recording the date/place details of his own birth, he wanted to know exactly how old he was at the time of writing and he worked out the subtraction not in his head, but by writing it down. A few years later, he must have found the note and he did the same thing again, working out his age once again by writing a simple calculation on the back of the folded paper.

Georgiana Molloy Bernice Barry 19th century mind 2

Cumbria Archive Centre Carlisle D KEN 3/ 8

The oldest documents in Georgiana’s story

Research can be an exciting experience especially when working with primary sources. You sometimes feel as if you’re touching fingertips with the original writers of the documents in your hands. But it can also be a long, frustrating process. These are some of the precious documents in Georgiana’s family archive, dating back to 1567. Many are written on vellum (calf skin) and in Latin, with heavy wax seals. They hold the stories of a family’s past but they are so very difficult to read.

It’s interesting that, so far, this photograph has been viewed by more readers than any other on the ‘Georgiana Molloy 1805-1843’ Facebook page.

Coast Australia, Series 2, 2015

Filming in Augusta with the wonderful Brendan Moar for the second series of Coast Australia, May 2014.

Georgiana Molloy Bernice Barry Coast Australia 1

The documentary included a section on Georgiana Molloy in Episode 4.

‘Tis the mind that shines

When Georgiana packed in 1829 for the sea voyage to her new home in Australia, she included some reading choices that wouldn’t usually be on the list of a person described as strictly pious, including this copy of the songs of Robert Burns. This beautiful little book was given to ‘GM’ as a wedding gift and includes Burns’ reworking of old verses that leave no doubt at all about the bawdy subject matter – even when written in Scots dialect! It told me right away that there was much more to the story of Georgiana Molloy than had been told before. It was also the place where I found the subtitle I’d been looking for, in a poem called ‘On Cessnock Banks’ in this edition of the collection.