Monday, March 8, 2010

Hints for Emigrants' Wives

By a Lady    1859

Wives who are on the point of emigrating to Natal, cannot too soon be aware that in all young, hard-working colonial communities there is very little room for the display of drawing-room graces and accomplishments. The wife, in Natal, is either a "help-meet" in the fullest and strongest sense of the term, or a hindrance and a draw-back to her husband. The colonial wife commonly needs to be, as well as companion and adviser, the instructor of children, the cook, baker, laundress, gardener, farming bailiff and often tailor. For these duties, solid and sterling qualities are required rather than refinements and elegancies.

In the choice of articles of dress to bring out to Natal, regard should first be had in all cases to utility and strength. The heat of the climate makes it desirable that the quality of strength should be combined with that of lightness. Thus, dresses of cool, light material, such as print, gingham (1), muslin, barege (2) and llama cloth (3) are most suitable, the two latter not requiring washing must be considered the most serviceable of all.

A large stock of well-made substantial but again not over-stout, underclothing will be found invaluable, since needle-work is not only dear in the colony but difficult to get done. In addition to this, pieces of long-cloth (4), holland (5), print (6), and in short, of almost any kind of cotton fabric used for clothing, may be brought out, and will prove of great worth at the beginning, when colonial supplies and colonial prices are most likely to be felt disappointing and disheartening by the new colonist.

A good stock of boots and shoes should be included in the outfit and these, like other articles of dress, require to be well made but not too heavy. There is one particular in which the boots now in common use by ladies in England, are unfit for colonial wear. It is in having only the part that covers the toe made of leather, while the rest of the boot is of cloth or cashmere. In the rough paths and roads of Natal this is an insufficient defence for the foot, besides being ruinous to the pocket. It is desirable to have boots that are "galoshed", as the trade expression is, all round, that is, which have the leather carried on from the toe, in a strip all round the sides and heel.

The same rule should be observed in choosing furniture as has been recorded for clothing. Strength and not style is the great desideratum. A piece or two of chintz (7) is sure to prove a good store ... (for) neat covers and simple curtains made of this material. The iron bedstead is in most common use on account of the ease with which it can be taken to pieces or put together and also for lightness of carriage. Horse-hair or spring mattresses are most desirable during the 5 or 6 hot and the 3 or 4 warm months of the year ... Bolsters and pillows will be found no ill store, though after 2 or 3 years residence in the colony the colonist's wife may have a large stock of them at pleasure, from the pluckings of the innumerable fowls that are a staple commodity of a South African country table. A good supply of bed and house linen (the former of cotton), of blankets and light counterpanes, is desirable.

Any one of those useful and portable machines, lately invented to save manual labour (are a good addition): a meat-chopper, a washing machine, a small patent mangle. Here washing is performed principally by male (native servants) at the river's side, and these make up for their want of skill by a double exercise of brute force, and by the employment of boards and stones as aids in the work. The consequence is that any articles of clothing of tender nature barely survive their first ablution in the Natalian streams. Ironing is generally dispensed with, in the case of all but the garments which require to be starched, and its place will be supplied by a process of stamping, which is also accomplished by the native servants. The result is more satisfactory than might be expected; still an English housewife will be very glad to have her preferences for perfectly smooth linen indulged, as it can be, when she possesses a patent mangle.

Complete dinner and breakfast services of enamelled crockery will soon pay their price twice over, for everything of earthenware is so sure to suffer breakage, sooner or later, in the hands of the servants, that the replacing of losses thus experienced becomes a heavy item in household expenses.

The iron baking-pot or camp-oven is the article most commonly employed in the colony for cooking. In it meat is roasted, bread, cakes and pies are baked, and irons are heated. It is placed over the wood fire, on bars of iron provided for the purpose. It is an inconvenient article for the service it has to do, both on account of its size and weight, and of the difficulty of regulating the heat that is applied to it. Some sort of stove that will burn wood - and excellent ones are manufactured now - will be a very serviceable addition to the domestic outfit.

Soyer's Shilling Cookery Book is a useful manual to be provided with, because it gives directions for so many different ways of dressing the same articles of food, such as beef and fowls - which are the two chief, nay almost the only kinds of animal food to be had in many parts of Natal. The multiplicity of ingredients mentioned in some of these receipts need not discourage the colonial housekeeper. Carrots and turnips may be scarce, but pumpkins and sweet potatoes will fairly supply their place, particularly when seasoned with a few ounces of goodwill and when the eater brings with him the sauce of a good appetite. This seldom fails to accompany the colonial husband, who returns to his evening meal after a day's work in the field, at the arrow-root mill or in the sugar-house.

Seeds of cabbages, lettuces, endive, carrots, turnips, celery, beet-root, radishes and cress will be found valuable ... there being nowhere in the colony a regular market for the supply of vegetables. Provision for the kitchen-garden may seem to come rather within the husband's province than the wife's. But in reality the care of that useful portion of the homestead is very likely to fall to her share since the labour of the husband may be entirely required and more profitably engaged in the plantations or farming pursuits in which the seed of his future prosperity is, with God's blessing, to be sown. The garden may become a pleasant portion of the wife's daily work, in a country where the climate, especially in the morning and evening, is so agreeable for out-of-doors occupation, and where the plants that will grow, grow so rapidly.

The colonist's wife should know how to cook and bake, and how to iron and get up linen: she should be able upon a pinch to clean and place in order the sleeping and dwelling-rooms of the house; and she should be well-skilled in the use of her needle.

Besides all this, she should have the temperament and bodily strength which will enable her to find pleasure in these household engagements. The delicately-nurtured lady, who can do none of these things, should on no account be transplanted to what must necessarily prove to her a sadly ungenial soil. In Natal she can find, at present, nothing but vexations, hardships, sorrows and regrets.

[Originally in: The Colony of Natal: An Account of the Characteristics and Capabilities of this British dependency published under the authority of the Government Immigration Board, for the guidance and information of emigrants, by R J Mann, London, Jarrold & Sons 1859]

1 Cotton cloth, at first striped and later checked.

2 A thin silky material, similar to gauze.

3 Shirting material of wool or cotton made in plain twill and in stripes.

4 Close-woven plain cotton of fine combed yarns; so-named as it was one of the first fabrics woven in a long piece.

5 A fine linen first manufactured in Holland.

6 Printed calicoes, used in SA throughout the 19th century as suitable for climate.

7 By the 19th century a glazed calico printed with flowers and other designs in colours.

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