I have a collection of letters my mother and I wrote to each other and I don’t know what to do with this correspondence. Shredding it makes me wince because I have family letters from the 1800’s which I treasure. Maybe some great-grandchild of mine might find my letters fascinating. Then again, maybe not.
I went to boarding school at 13 years old. We were required to write home on Wednesdays and Sundays. We objected to leaving these unsealed. Looking back, I can’t imagine the headmistress having the time or the inclination to read 150 letters twice a week. Mail call each day was a big deal. My mother wrote every Sunday with Dad adding a single page. He was the exception as usually men left this task to their wives. After Mum died, I was amused to discover the very first letter I wrote home.
About the family letters. Most belong to the Wilsons of Glasgow. The first to Immigrate to New Zealand was Catherine. She, her husband John Gray and daughter Maggie came to Auckland in the late 1850’s. According to my aunt, he died of TB shortly after their arrival and Maggie also had TB which left her with a curved spine. To survive, Catherine ran a small shop as her requests for financial help from the Grays were ignored. I don’t think she was illiterate but she asked other people to write her letters. One added ‘h’s to words that didn’t need them and left ‘h’s’ off words that did. The spelling was often very creative. Catherine did find security and I hope, happiness. She married a man who was meant to be Italian. Apparently, his name was too difficult for the gum diggers of North Auckland to pronounce so he became George Gozar. More about these two in a later blog about my grandmother.
The next Wilsons to leave Scotland were Margaret and Robert. They sailed on The Percy in 1865 and joined sister Catherine in Auckland. Margaret or Maggie as she was known met an Irish immigrant called Patrick McGrath and they married. Robert never married and would turn up at his sister’s house, shabby, broke, and hungry. Maggie wrote to her parents, relatives and friends and her . most reliable correspondent was Archie Dougall, husband of sister Elizabeth.
I have one letter from a friend Maggie used to work with at the silk factory in Glasgow. She didn’t mean it to be humorous but the whole letter refers to people who have died since Maggie left: Florfa McIntire died of typhus; Dirty Rosie poisoned herself and Miss Mills drowned in the canal. I can imagine being very depressed after reading this. I also have the black-edged envelope and pages that Archie wrote when his sister-in-law died after an illness of six weeks. He went into great detail about Mary’s last hours, even including the names of the women in the bedroom ‘when she departed.’
The other family letters are connected with my grandmother Honora McGath, the daughter of Patrick and Maggie. Because I also have her diaries, I’ll devote next week’s blog to her writing. Of course, scribbling this hasn’t helped me to solve the problem of my own letters. What will I do with them?