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.

No comments: