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.

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