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