by Charles Sherlock1
The letter transliterated below was written in 1848 by Annie Hungerford, Septimus’ sister. It is signed by both Annie and Mrs Catherine Hungerford, their mother, so it is possible that either wrote it, but the references to Mama must mean it is Annie’s work, since Catherine’s mother was long dead in 1848. The transliteration, done some years ago, has been re-read and checked by me: some minor corrections have resulted, and the pages re-ordered (see below).
Apart from the actual contents, the form of the letter is of great interest. The first three pages are written normally, left to right ‘horizontally’ across the paper in ‘portrait’ orientation. The next three pages are then written ‘vertically’ across the ‘horizontal’ pages, in ‘landscape’ orientation, to save both bulk and writing paper. Hard to read as it looks at first, the eyes soon become
The original transcription assumed that Annie wrote the first page, then across it ‘vertically’, then the second page and so on. This seems reasonable, if the writer was thought to use one page at a time. However a closer reading of sentence continuity makes it much more likely that she wrote three pages ‘horizontally’, then filled these up ‘vertically’. There is a sentence break at the bottom of the first written page, and both the third ‘horizontal’ and ’vertical’ pages. This makes it hard to decide whether the text after the initial page continues on the first ‘vertical’ or second ‘horizontal’ page, and whether the letter finishes on a ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’ page! All the other pages follow on with continuous sentences. Which order is selected may affect the chronological order of events described: do ‘horizontal’ pages 2 and 3 refer to September 27th or October 1st? So that readers can make up their own minds, the page divisions are clearly delineated in what follows.
The three double-sided pages were written, then folded to form a packet with the address on the outside. The rear of the folded paper was used for the final address; on the one side it is penned by Annie; on the other it is by Mrs. Catherine Hungerford, and seems to be written in a different hand, presumably hers. Both greetings are transliterated, with more changes than elsewhere in the letter, however.
[Writing across the first page ‘horizontally’]
My own dear old Sep,
You may imagine our ecstasy of delight at receiving your letter from Auckland. It was so unexpected and on that account more gratifying. Tom was in Sydney making sale of his cheese and butter at the time and saw one of the gentlemen that returned. He told him “that the vessel had been caught in a storm and dismantled (dismasted?)” on account of which you put into New Zealand. We immediately conjectured you did not like to frighten us by not mentioning it but it will be a pleasant break to you and has been a charming one to me as we did not expect letters for eight months, it is now eight weeks since you left Sydney we watch the time closely and each week follow you so close as imagination well could, going round the horn and then at Rio. Jim has left us some time of the Barwin, Newman returns from his unfortunate trip in as good spirits as ever he has given bills to his friends at home to cover some part of the expenses. He returned here two hundred pounds in debt, poor fellow, does he not seem always accompanied by misfortune.
John and Robert seem in as great difficulties as ever – I fear it will never be otherwise with them and Mr Winder is fighting with Wentworth, and can get nothing from him much to poor William’s disadvantage. He is still in Maitland doing nothing. Agnes and her young son are very well. The summer has quite set in and flies, like the butterfly, coming out.
[Writing ‘horizontally’ across second page.-]
—- has been anything but well with pain in his side which is now quite removed from the discomfort of a horse blister which he prescribed for himself. Mama is as usual well and active thank God and full of expectation. We laughed a great deal of your directions to Percy about your horse and trip to the Barwin. I do not look forward to seeing you in eighteen months that would be too good altogether and we have heard sad accounts of poor Ireland that I expect you will do but little good for some time and will have much to occupy your mind and attention. I trust the time will not hang heavy on your hands and we feel satisfied your being “alone when most alone” so good and bountiful is God and so loving is his son. I trust He may unite us in his spirit at his “throne” morning and evening and may he grant our requests. I am so glad you have Mr. Stewart on hand with you for tho’ you may not be quite congenial in minds you will be companions and perhaps useful to each other. Often say what would I give to be with you. Your description of New Zealand was delightful; and more information than we got from Newman and John all the time they were there. Tomorrow will be Mrs Woods’ day for coming over. Tuesdays we always read and pray for our darling Sep that he may grow in Grace and be safely conducted through all his trials and fatigues. For want of exercise, have commenced a garden down at the fence in front of the house and have it well stocked with flowers, and have also made a bower, the saucy ones say “for Walter!”
[Writing now horizontally across third page]
to sit in. I hope you will have received our first letters from Mr. Week or this will be a mystery to you. I am daily expecting the said Gent down and should no vessel sail for England I will not close this until I have further news for you. You will be pleased to hear that I had an understanding with HMM at his own request and expect to being good friends. He intends going to freelance in two years if he can manage it. He wrote to his brother about you going there and he will expect you. Our choir gets on very well. Tom is a promising pupil and pleases Mr Carter much with his perseverance. The Miss Stocks and myself will have it all to ourselves this summer as Dr Stone has taken a house in Newcastle for Mrs Wood and all the family will go with Dr S and his three children. I reckon on your eating your Christmas dinner with the Hatches, I should hope you would be in England then. I have heard of the death of Mr Dillon in Sydney from apoplexy but do not know how true it may be. Tom went to see the Gregories and returned them thanks very warmly for their kindness to you. They were most kind to him also and made him dinner there everyday while in Sydney. He made a very bad sale with his butter and cheese having [unclear] for the latter and [scrawled out] for the former. Tom called on the Bishop and had a long consultation with him about the ministry. The Bishop gave him three weeks to consider and give him a decisive answer. He does not feel called and intends returning a negative answer. I will say goodbye now for a while. Mind you send us regular little journals every post.
[Writing at right angles, “vertically” across the first page]
Wednesday 27th. Well my dear Sep I have left you for a long time and must try and make up. Mr Selwin from the Barwin is now staying here. I find him like Tom in disposition. Tom took him yesterday to see the young ladies Stocks, Pilcher, Woods etc and we are tomorrow night to have a musical party for his edification; Johnson the organist is up and Mrs Maud, the organ and Mr Johnson very well. Thought he tuned Mrs W.’s piano. Percy and I walked over and we were much amused with the little man. He has made Mrs Woods’ piano in beautiful tune so I persuaded Papa to have ours done, although a guinea. Percy is gone for him. Kate practicing very steadily now. I think she will be a fine player. Mr Simpson thinks her playing better than Mrs [Miss?] Stocks now.
Monday October 1st. Well my dear old Sep, here I am again. Mr Johnsons’s coming to tune the piano interrupted me and I have never found time to finish this letter since; the instrument is in very fine order and our little party went off very well. The next morning Willie came for me to go and stay with Agnes while he attended the sale of the Windermere property. Mr Winder gave him a commission to buy in everything necessary for commencing business, he does not yet know
[Writing “vertically” across second page]
his destination but I daresay will write you the full particulars of his proceedings. I stayed with Agnes till Sunday morning and she is the same as usual sometimes well and sometimes ill. The boy is a little beauty. I returned from Church with Eliza Pilcher and spent a nice Sabbath reading Walter Henry’s Communion with God; next Sunday will be our sacrament and you I trust will be with us in heart and desire but my spiritual frame dear Sep is very weak, I made but slow progress. Sometimes I fear I am fast declining but the Lord permits me to see these failings and I pray forthwith. Eliza seems in a very spiritual mind. She has had many trials lately by engaging herself to young Middleton, you may remember her going down to help the family when their Father died about a month afterwards asked her to become his wife and without consulting her affections, she accepted him thinking he was religiously inclined but she soon discovered it would never do to marry where her whole heart was not. Poor thing she was very unhappy for some time but now that it is all off she seems quite right and happy again. I walked to church with her in the evening and returned to St Peter’s after with the Woods, Tom and Percy. Isabel
[Writing now “vertically” across third page]
looks dreadfully ill. I think she will not live long. Judy [Lucy?] is delicate too Emma just the same, and her old Mother better with her head aches. She is working hard in the vineyard every day. John is gathering the cattle at Woods to take to Goulburn next week. They expect Chrissy home and I suppose we shall commence our meeting twice a week again. They have so much to do that they cannot devote any time to improvement. Mrs W intends writing to you very shortly. Tom will do the same. I have just been talking to Mary who has got a bad crick in her neck that if Armstrong was to come she would soon get over it. I expect she will be married before you come home and Catherine’s forty horsepower [inserted word] is as great as ever. Mama will really have a great loss in those two girls if she does lose them. You ought to bring an importation of servants as well as wives to all your old friends. I have no news to tell you about Mr Walker – he has been obliged to return to the Barwin direct from Bathurst as Christopher has been lazily neglectful in his absence. I expect it will be some time before he comes down. I must close now. All your friends and relations make enquiries after you when we meet them and I am sure would send you every expression did they know I was now writing [rest of line obscure].
PASS SHIP LETTER
[receipt stamps ?:]
To Septimus Hungerford Esq
Care of Stewart (?) Webb Esq
4 Hildace Street
[On reverse fold, one side of address]
PS I heard of Danny’s safe arrival in Norfolk Island. I will write you very shortly. I hope you are progressing on the Lord’s highway. I will answer your letter fully which came from Auckland.
Your affectionate old Mother.
[On reverse fold, other side of address, different handwriting]
PS… is playing with his wife the fiddle, writes with me in warmest love to our dear Sep. Tom and Percy are about to try your horse in the cart ready for the carriage also send their love believe me my darling Sep.
Your ever attached sister Annie.
- This article was originally published in HAFS Journal Vol 1 No 2, p 23