Wednesday, June 30, 2010

19th c Missionary letters from Natal: childbirth, journeys and daguerrotypes

There’s a gap in Charlotte Grout’s letters due to the birth of her daughter, Eliza, as is explained in a letter from Umvoti dated 28 July 1851:
Now my dear little Eliza is seldom willing to allow me time though my strength is increasing. She is at this moment lying on the bed beside me talking, laughing and tossing up her little feet. She is a very sweet child when she is well as she seems to be this evening. She is now 13 weeks old. She has been rather a crying child thus far …
My dear husband never seemed so precious to me as when at my bedside he besought the Lord to have mercy in that time of need. I have very slowly regained my strength, indeed I am not yet strong, but am comfortable. Two weeks ago we had company for a whole week of five or six persons, but Mr. G assisted me, & our girls were very faithful.
Last week we took a journey to Port Natal to obtain supplies, and I think neither myself or baby are any the worse for it. It occupied us the entire week. O!, you cannot fancy what a time we had each night in getting ready to retire, and each morning in dressing and packing up things in riding order. A. & N. had their bed made up on the bottom of the wagon in front, while we & baby slept on our mattresses elevated on a frame about a foot & a half from the bottom. Shawls, blankets & rugs all came in use in hanging up in the wagon to keep out wind and cold. You will probably be surprised to learn that each morning we were up, dressed, and riding often before sunrise, & that too in our winter mornings, when it is sometimes bitter cold. I often thought, & indeed said, that I would not think of taking the journey to Gen. Meeting in Sept. next … distant from us about 80 miles. But I have got home & rested & feel none the worse, so perhaps I shall start again in about five weeks. It is all hard work with children. The traveling & then living in the wagon after we arrive is quite trying, but we need the change. We need to meet the brethren & sisters of the Mission …
Can you believe that your daughter C(harlotte). is 40 years old?! I cannot realize it, and today I was thinking that James is 30. I was surprised to receive his Daguerreotype (sic) & see how old he looks. … Last week we received Oriana’s. How she has grown!
We hear that a man has arrived here from England who has knowledge of this art (daguerrotype) & I hope the time is not far distant when we shall be able to send you ours.

Above left: Charlotte Grout as an older woman.

The photographer to whom Charlotte refers is probably William Waller, who arrived in Natal in May 1851 and advertised in the Natal Witness in August of that year, indicating that he would be taking daguerrotype portraits. (Louis Daguerre had perfected the art, later named after him, in 1839.)

The Oriana mentioned is Oriana Grout (she never used her other forename, Relief) Aldin's daughter by his first wife.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rev Aldin Grout and family in Natal mid 19th c.

Charlotte Grout wasn’t the only correspondent in the family: despite his busy schedule, Aldin Grout also managed to write home occasionally – even to the Baileys, his parents’ in-law.

In a letter from Umvoti, July 1850, to Mrs James Bailey, Rev Grout gives a clear picture of the isolation endured by the American missionaries on their rural stations:
Having written thus far, I went to Mr. L. Grant’s station to attend a meeting of the contiguous missionaries to see if we might not form ourselves into a sort of association for mutual improvement but as it happened instead of six or seven members present as we had hoped, we had but three. The distance is such that starting at about nine in the morning, I arrived only at about four in the afternoon riding on horseback, and this perhaps my nearest missionary neighbor, though two others, Mr. Tyler and Abraham will be about the same distance from me.
Agricultural skills or a knowledge of crafts such as building and carpentry were often of more value in the mission field than an academic education. Aldin Grout, like most missionaries, was able to undertake a variety of practical tasks. In 1848 he describes his building operations at Umvoti:

If my house when done is not as well finished as a workman would do it yet I swear that every part of it shall be strong, durable, and comfortable. The walls are of brick made of ant hill dried in the sun. My boys [i.e. Africans living at the mission] have made them all. I have an L to the house, but that was built first by itself. Then a little more than half of the main house was commenced, joining upon the kitchen. The walls of that part are now up, the roof timbers on ... Thus far have I progressed my work. When the totality is done, then comes plastering and laying floors. That done I design to move into that part and put up the other part. I submit to this slow and tedious way of building for two reasons. 1st I cannot hire workmen to build me a comfortable house for the amount allowed me for that purpose and 2nd I am in the mean time going on with my missionary work …
Parental anxieties were compounded by the family’s isolated situation:

Our children have both colds & coughs. Humphrey was so poorly last Sabbath that Charlotte stopped at home with him all day and in the afternoon I stopped with her giving him medicine and witnessing its duration. We were quite alarmed about him, but as no doctor was nearer than forty-five miles it was of no use to think of calling one, and our only alternative was to do our best and commend our case to the great [God?]. We now think them both better and hope in a few days to see them about again.
As the year 1850 approached, Natal became the focus of British emigration schemes, notably that of Joseph Byrne: 20 ships carrying about 2 700 settlers arrived at the port between May 1849 and April 1850. Other smaller private schemes followed in their wake. No doubt missionary families like the Grouts read in the local press about these interesting developments, and pondered over the inevitable changes such an influx of emigrants would bring to Natal.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

American missionary letters from Natal continued.

Although Umpande had allowed Aldin Grout to found the Inkanyezi Mission Station, two years later the King gave his army orders to kill any of his subjects connected with the mission, though Grout and his family were to be spared.

At this point the American Board of Commissioners withdrew from the field. Not wishing to abandon his work, Grout went to Cape Town, returning as a Government missionary unconnected with the ABCFM, a position he held for a year in Natal. Meanwhile, Newton Adams had also decided to stay on, setting up his station at Amanzimtoti. Lindley became a minister to the Voortrekkers for five years (during which time he baptised a boy named Paul Kruger). Later, Lindley founded the Mission Station at Inanda.

Aldin Grout resumed his ties with the ABCFM in 1845 and the following year founded the Umvoti Mission Station. By this time Umpande’s power and popularity were in decline and large numbers – possibly as many as 100 000 - of his people had crossed the Tugela and moved into Natal.

Charlotte Grout soldiered on, coping with the daily vicissitudes of a frontierswoman. She writes in housewifely mode to her father from Umvoti on 16 August 1848:

I have often thought that you may at times feel anxious about us lest we suffer for the necessaries and comforts of life. True we are deprived of many of the good things we enjoyed at home, but we seldom suffer. There is no season of the year but we have something from our garden. It is now winter, and we have sweet potatoes, beets, tomatoes, lettuce, sugar cane and gooseberries. For the last eight months we have had daily green corn … and we often have peas, beans, onions, cabbage, and cauliflower. We do not have a good variety of meats, though we have fowls in abundance and pigs. We seldom have a piece of beef unless we slaughter. We have some sheep and goats, but not enough to slaughter very often. We usually have milk enough for family use and generally make our own butter, though sometimes purchase of a Dutch farmer who lives a few miles from us. Cows are becoming far more expensive than they have been owing to the number of white inhabitants which is constantly increasing. We can generally purchase wheat meal and fine flour, though we have sometimes been reduced to Indian meal for a short time … For dinner today we had fried ham and eggs and sweet potatoes, with a dessert of gooseberry and custard pies. These Cape gooseberries are delicious. I may sometime send you a bottle preserved. We can purchase very common clothing here, though it is expensive. We frequently send to Cape Town. Shoes are very poor here and are a great bill of expense to us, as our children wear them constantly on account of poisonous reptiles …
Our postboy … takes his mail bag on his back & starts on foot early Mon. morning, arrives at D’Urban Tues. evening, and returns here on Thursday evening. The distance is 45 miles. We always receive the Natal Witness and letters from some or all of the brethren and sisters. But our letters from home are worth all the rest.

If only we all had a Charlotte among our own ancestors, someone who maintained a regular flow of correspondence, allowing us illuminating glimpses into their daily lives. Letters remained the most important means of communication for the Natal missionaries, though the inevitable delays (waiting for ships to arrive, weather to improve or for rivers to subside) must have been frustrating. If there was one quality essential to a missionary it was patience.

Engraving of the Entrance to the Bay of Natal, a sailing ship entering the channel, with the Bluff
and Signal Station at right and the sandy spit known as the Point at left. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

American missionaries writing from Natal in the 1840s

Rev Aldin Grout's meeting with Umpande of the Zulus in 1840, established amity with the King. The following year Grout founded a Mission Station at Inkanyezi (near Empangeni in ‘the Zulu Country’) where he opened a school.

From Inkanyezi, Charlotte writes in March 1842 to her brother James Bailey in Holden, Massachusetts, telling him that her husband made a further, more recent, visit to Umpande, ‘in order to secure a continuance of the friendly feelings already existing between us’ (i.e. between the King and Aldin Grout). Charlotte, rising to the challenge, makes plans of her own:

I thought it necessary to have a short vacation in my school, and not deeming it pleasant to remain here alone concluded to accompany him. We were therefore obliged to fit our wagon with every thing necessary for ‘housekeeping’ in the open field during about two weeks. Our company consisted of our interpreter and six native children, members of our family, besides Mr. G. and myself. We left one at home to take charge of things … After riding 8 ½ hours since we started we outspanned for the night on the banks of the Insileni river.
Their journey took about four days of hard travelling, much of it in rain and cold. Despite this, Charlotte was eager to meet the King and get sight of what she calls his 'Capitol':
As we approached [the King’s kraal] we saw no rising dome to mark it - no spire of churches or other public buildings - heard no sound of the bell to remind us that time was passing - but merely saw on a small elevation from the Umfolozi river a brush fence enclosing a circle of perhaps four acres. Just within the fence were huts extending around the entire circle, amounting to two or three hundred. The fence is higher than the tops of the huts. There was one entrance perhaps four ft. wide where the cattle passed morning and evening, besides one or two smaller ones. We outspanned outside the kraal …
Most of the inhabitants had never before seen a white woman. Some were amazed at Charlotte's walking alongside her husband, since in Zulu custom wives follow at a discreet and respectful distance. The visitors were conducted past the outer enclosure into the presence of Umpande in the royal hut.
We stopped before the door which was a foot & a half high, supposing he would see us outside, but he insisted upon our coming in. We therefore dropped down, and crawled in as well as we could … As we approached him he smiled and shook hands. We then sat down in front of him. My first object was to view his appearance. The mat was spread on the earth floor & he sat upon it a little elevated from the floor by his pillow which is a block of wood. He had a band of black & pink beads … tastefully bound around his forehead, and his body was comfortably enveloped in a blanket. He appeared to be 35 years of age. He had a native basket by his side containing his snuff box, which was a little squash shell and which he was almost constantly opening to partake of its contents. He had a few earthen dishes standing one side of the room … That was all the furniture in the room … except a pot of burning coals standing at the centre. He conversed on various topics – said he was sorry we came at this season of the year, when he had nothing to give us to eat.
The remainder of the Grouts’ visit passed peacefully enough that weekend, the King presenting them with a large ox before they left on the return trip to Inkanyezi. However, the missionaries’ future remained insecure, as they were well aware. But trouble was to come from an unexpected quarter a few months later.

Charlotte’s letter to her brother remained unposted until mid-June 1842, when she added a postscript in tiny handwriting:
We learn from natives the Eng. have arrived at Natal & taken the Port, with a loss of several killed both on the part of Eng. & Dutch. We feel anxious to hear from our brethren Adams & Lindlay [sic]; it has now been four months since we heard from them.
For more about the conflict at Port Natal to which Charlotte refers above, see:

Engraving of Port Natal with ox-wagon in foreground.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grout missionary family letters from Natal.

Charlotte Grout (nee Bailey), wife of missionary Rev. Aldin Grout, writes to her father in Massachusetts from Umlazi, Port Natal, giving details of their new South African life:

Sep. 29, 1840
You perceive by the date of my letter that we are still at P. Natal ... We are both enjoying uninterrupted health for which we cannot be sufficiently grateful. We arise in the morning before the sun and while I am dressing Ira [one of the people on the mission station] has made a fire in the kitchen and boiled the kettle. He boils the coffee and toasts the bread which with a little butter is always, uniformly, our breakfast. Immediately after breakfast, family devotion. Then I attend to my domestic concerns a part of which are every day to make a loaf of bread. I spend no time on making pies or cake. The remainder of the A.M. we devote to study. At twelve we eat a lunch, and at three have dinner and tea at the same time. (I take neither tea or coffee.) So you see how our time is divided. But here let me say, it is not so easy performing domestic labor here as at home. We are exceedingly annoyed by a multiplicity of red ants. If a piece of bread or meat is laid down, it is entirely covered in a few minutes. All the way we can preserve food on dishes is to set everything in a cupboard and set the bottom of the cupboard in a trough of water. Our floors are of earth which we cover with rush mats, like what Mr. G. brought home. It is necessary that they be smeared once a week, which is done with cow dung and water. Everything must be lifted from the floor, for we have chests standing about. Mats must be taken up and carried out to dry, and then it takes all of a pleasant day to dry the floor, which when done, all things must be replaced …
These dung floors, well-rubbed when dry, could attain a glossy, polished appearance; best of all - and this may be more difficult to believe - they discouraged flies. This type of floor was traditional among the Zulu and other tribes and is still seen today in rural areas.

Charlotte, like other female pioneers, missed her garden 'back home', and requested family members to send seeds of favourite flowers, which unfortunately did not always thrive in the sub-tropics:
Tell sister A. that I have sown the flower seeds she gave me, but nothing came up except one marigold and two or three china asters, and the ants have destroyed those today. I think there are two or three pinks which Mr. G. sowed, if so I shall value them. He has some cotton, flax, broom corn, buck wheat … all of which grew well. This is a beautiful country. It is indeed a garden.
But Charlotte Grout's letters are not taken up solely with domestic detail; she is fully aware of the tenuous position in which missionaries found themselves in Natal and makes comment upon political and economic developments as well as religious matters. At the time Charlotte Grout was writing, Umpande was the Zulu King (successor to Dingane).
What is in reserve for us I know not. One thing we have confidence in. The Lord reigns and will do his pleasure notwithstanding the devices of men. The Dutch have not yet settled the affair mentioned in my last letter with Umpandi [sic]. They have sent for U. to be present at the Raad [Dutch Council] which is now in session. We think it doubtful whether he comes, but if he does it may throw some light on our future course.
In the end, Umpande refused to attend the Raad so it was necessary for members of the Raad to go to him instead. Rev Grout, with his interpreter, was to accompany this expedition. Charlotte would be left alone at Umlazi Mission: 'I expect a lonely time, but the Lord will take care of me. I shall have more anxiety on Mr. G's account.' 

In 1840 Umlazi Mission Station (seen in the drawing at left)  was a small collection of primitive buildings: if he believed Charlotte would be safe there, Aldin Grout's faith must have equalled hers as he left on his journey across the Tugela River into the land of the Zulu.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Treasure trove of American missionary letters discovered.

The recent discovery in the US of a previously unknown collection of letters written by members of the GROUT missionary family will lead to this correspondence being published in book form. In the interim, I have permission to quote extracts from the letters. Some necessary background first:

Mission work was frequently a family affair, and the GROUT and IRELAND families are a good example of the inter-connections found in the missionary world.

Aldin Grout (1803-1894) was a veteran missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). He was the father of Oriana Grout, who married William Ireland, another ABCFM missionary. Grout was born in Massachusetts, US. He married Hannah Davis 1834 and together with other ABCFM missionaries they sailed to South Africa, landing at Cape Town on 5 February 1835. Hannah Grout died in Bethelsdorp on 24 February 1836 and Grout took his daughter Oriana back to America the following year. While there he married Charlotte BAILEY (the writer of most of the newly-found letters and like Oriana a graduate of the Mount Holyoke Seminary) and the couple returned to SA in June 1840. The Mission Station at Ginani, originally founded by Champion and where Grout had worked for a time, had been destroyed in his absence. In April 1841 Grout established a Station at Inkanyezi, Empangeni, and opened a school. (Inkanyezi is Zulu for 'star'.) From 1842 he spent a short while at Umlazi Mission and then to Umgeni station 6 miles north of the Bay of Natal. In 1843 the ABCFM instructed missionaries to discontinue their work in the area. There was a hiatus in his association with the ABCFM in 1844, and he worked in Natal as a Government Missionary for about a year (at 150 pounds per annum) before resuming his position with the American Board in 1845. He founded Umvoti Mission Station in 1846, about 40 miles north-east of the Port and 6 miles inland from the sea; a church was completed in 1863. This Mission was renamed the Groutville Mission Station after its founder in 1878. In failing health, Grout returned to the US in February 1870 after 35 years in Natal. [Note: Aldin Grout was not related in any way to another ABCFM missionary, Lewis Grout, who worked in Natal and Zululand.]

William Ireland (1821-1888) of the ABCFM arrived in South Africa in 1849 and succeeded James C Bryant at Ifumi, 35 miles south of Durban. When Ireland’s first wife Jane nee Wilson died in 1862, he took leave of absence in America and while there married Oriana, daughter of Aldin Grout. She had been born in Bethelsdorp, Cape Colony, but her mother, Hannah Grout, had died of consumption when Oriana was a few weeks old. The child subsequently grew up with relatives in America and later attended the Mount Holyoke Serminary, one of the first institutions in the US for the higher education of women. South Africa was Oriana’s inescapable destiny and she was to return there with her husband. From 1865 to 1881, William Ireland was principal of Adams College at Amanzimtoti: Oriana worked alongside him at the station as well as presenting him with seven children, five of whom survived. In 1894 Oriana became principal of the Ireland Home for Zulu girls. Lilla Lacon Ireland their eldest daughter later worked at Adams and at Inanda. Their eldest son, William Fleetwood Ireland, was ordained in the Congregational ministry in 1895.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had its roots in the historic ‘haystack meeting’ of 1806, when four students of Williams College took shelter under a haystack during a storm and while there vowed to work in the overseas mission field. The ABCFM turned its attention to South Africa in 1834 and the following year the first party of missionaries sailed to the Cape in the ship Burlington. They were Daniel Lindley, Alexander Wilson, Henry Venable, George Champion, Aldin Grout and Newton Adams. Wilson and Adams were both physicians. Lindley, Wilson and Venable attempted to establish themselves in King Mzilikazi’s territory but later journeyed to Natal to join their companions. Adams, Grout and Champion arrived in Natal at the end of 1835 having traveled from the Cape by ship due to the frontier war raging at the time. They received a fair reception from Dingane, the Zulu king, and by the beginning of 1838 four stations had been established, but work ground to a halt with the massacre of Piet Retief, the trekker leader.
The American Board suspended their efforts in this area because of the unsettled state of the country, but Adams continued at his own expense, taking up his post at Umlazi again in 1839 and later transferring his operations to Amanzimtoti on the Natal south coast – this was the birth of the renowned Adams Mission.

Lindley became pastor to the Voortrekkers but resumed ties with the ABCFM in 1847 when he founded Inanda mission station north west of Port Natal. Both Adams Mission and Inanda Mission hold an honoured place in the annals of Natal education. By 1850, 15 ABCFM mission stations had been founded and further missionaries had supplemented the ranks of those already in the field e.g. McKinney, Abraham, Rood, Marsh, Wilder and Tyler.

To be continued …

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shipwreck reports for genealogy: wreck of the Jane Davies 1872

The Jane Davies (given in some sources as Davie), was wrecked off East London, South Africa, on 26 May 1872. The Captain, Le Gallais, who had suffered an unknown accident previously during the voyage which resulted in paralysis of his arms, had his pregnant wife and child roped together and tied to a stanchion to keep them from being washed overboard, and they remained like that for three nights.

The report on the wreck, originally published in the E P Herald, was relayed in The Natal Mercury June 11 1872. The Capt Walker referred to was George Walker harbour-master of East London. The Bismarck, mentioned in the extract below was herself wrecked south of East London in 1873.

WRECK OF THE JANE DAVIES Natal Mercury June 11 1872

By the German screw-steamer Bismarck, Captain Staats, we are in receipt of the intelligence of the total wreck of the ship Jane Davies, Capt P Le Gallais. From the report made by Capt Staats, and an account furnished by one of the passengers by the Bismarck, we glean the following particulars:

The Bismarck left Port Natal about half-past 6 on Sunday morning, the weather being fine, and the bar extraordinarily clear. Three vessels were at the outer anchorage, one of them being the Durban.

About three hours after leaving port, the vessel got into the tail end of a cyclone, the wind being light, but a tremendous and confused sea. In the afternoon the wind shifted from south-west to north-east, blowing a heavy gale. During the night, it gradually wore round to the north-west again, blowing a heavy gale. About 8 o'clock on Monday morning, when about three miles off Cape Morgan, the starboard quarter-boat was washed away, and Capt Staats deemed it prudent to stand off out to sea, which he did until 7 in the evening, when he stood in again and arrived at East London at 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning, where he found all the shipping - six sailing vessels and one steamer - had gone ashore. We are informed that the crews of all the vessels were landed in safety with two exceptions - a man on board the Sharp was killed by a block falling on his head, and a boy was drowned from the Queen of the May. A signal was hoisted from the shore, 'Can you assist vessel in distress to the eastward?' It was then discovered that a large ship was in the breakers to the eastward of the port apparently in a disabled condition.
The Bismarck immediately steamed to the scene of disaster, and when abreast of the ship saw the crew clinging to the rigging. The vessel was lying with her bow inshore, her mainmast gone by the board, and evidently breaking up. Mr Buchardt, the second officer, and a volunteer crew took the starboard lifeboat, and proceeded to the wreck, but found it impossible on account of the heavy sea running, to render any assistance, and returned to the steamer. The crew of the Jane Davies say that when they saw the life boat going away their hearts sank within then, as they feared no further attempt would be made to rescue them from their perilous position.

However, Capt Staats was not the man to desert his brother seaman in their hour of need, and returned to East London at two p.m. where he signalled, 'Send the life-boat and I will tow her down to the wreck.' The bar being impassable, it was impossible to bring the life-boat out, but early on Wednesday morning it came, commanded by Capt Walker, and was towed out opposite the wreck. Another and more successful attempt was made to rescue the ship's company and the life-boat returned to the Bismarck with Capt P Le Gallais and child, and seventeen of the crew. Mrs Le Gallais (who is within a month of her confinement) was completely overcome, and sank fainting on deck, but was quickly conveyed to the cabin, and carefully attended to. The child, a bright little fellow of two years, beyond complaining bitterly of cold, seemed none the worse for the disaster, and was soon running up and down the deck as cheerful as could be. Capt le Gallais had the misfortune to get his arms paralysed about a month after leaving Liverpool, and was completely helpless. All the ship's company were treated with the greatest kindness by the officers and crew of the Bismarck who gave them their clothes and everything requisite. The crew had been on the wreck from Sunday evening at seven p.m., until Wednesday morning at half-past eight a.m., with the sea constantly washing over them. They were able to get a little wine and spirits from the cabin, but could not obtain water, which was the first thing they asked for when they arrived on board the Bismarck.

When the steamer left, the vessel had parted amidships, her mainmast was gone, and the cotton was washing out of her. The chief officer, second officer, and three seamen left the vessel on Monday morning, and struck out for the shore, but one of the sailors - the best swimmer in the ship - was drowned.

The Jane Davies was an iron ship of 806 tons built at Glasgow in 1868 for Mr James Galbraith of Glasgow. She was bound from Rangoon to Liverpool, with a cargo of rice and cotton, when the disaster occurred. Too much praise cannot be awarded to Capt Staats and his officers for their exertions to save the crew of the wrecked vessel, and also to Captain Walker of East London, whom Capt Staats in his report describes as 'always the same plucky old man'.