An Autobiography by Catherine Helen Spence - HTML preview

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A Trip To England

I have gone on with the story of my three first novels consecutively, anticipating the current history of myself and South Australia. There were three great steps taken in the development of Australia. The first was when McArthur introduced the merino sheep; the second when Hargreaves and others discovered gold; and the latest when cold-storage was introduced to make perishable products available for the European markets. The second step created a sudden revolution; but the others were gradual, and the area of alluvial diggings in Victoria made thousands of men without capital or machinery rush to try their fortunes--first from the adjacent colonies, and afterwards from the ends of the earth. Law and order were kept on the goldfields of Mount Alexander, Bendigo, and Ballarat by means of a strong body of police, and the high licence fees for claims paid for their services, so that nothing like the scenes recorded of the Californian diggings could be permitted. But for the time ordinary industries were paralysed. Shepherds left their flocks, farmers their land, clerks their desks, and artisans their trades. Melbourne grew apace in spite of the highest wages known being exacted by masons and carpenters. Pastoralists thought ruin stared them in the face till they found what a market the goldfields offered for their surplus stock. Our South Australian farmers left their holdings in the hands of their wives and children too young to take with them, but almost all of them returned to grow grain and produce to send to Victoria. It was astonishing what the women had done during their absence. The fences were kept repaired and the stock attended to, the grapes gathered, and the wine made. In these days it was not so easy to get 80 acres or more in Victoria; so, with what the farmers brought from their labours on the goldfields, they extended their holdings and improved their homes. For many years the prices in Melbourne regulated prices in Adelaide, but when the land was unlocked and the Victorian soil and climate were found to be as good as ours it was Mark lane that fixed prices over all Australia for primary products. After the return of most of the diggers there was a great deal of marrying and giving in marriage. The miners who had left the Burra for goldseeking gradually came back, and the nine remarkable copper mines of Moonta and Wallaroo attracted the Cornishmen, who preferred steady wages and homes to the diminishing chances of Ballarat and Bendigo where machinery and deep sinking demanded capital, and the miners were paid by the week. These new copper mines were found in the Crown leases held by Capt. (afterwards Sir Walter) Hughes. He had been well dealt with by Elder, Smith, & Co., and gave them the opportunity of supporting him. At that time my friends Edward Stirling and John Taylor were partners in that firm, and they shared in the success. Mr. Bakewell belonged to the legal firm which did their business, so that my greatest friends seemed to be in it. I think my brother John profited less by the great advance of South Australia than he deserved for sticking to the Bank of South Australia. He got small rises in his salary, but the cost of living was so enhanced that at the end of seven years it did not buy much more than the 100 pounds he had begun with. My eldest maiden aunt died, and left to her brother and sister in South Australia all she had in her power. My mother bought a brick cottage in Pulteney street and a Burra share with her legacy--both excellent investments--and my brother left the bank and went into the aerated water business with James Hamilton Parr. We made the acquaintance of the family of Mrs. Francis Clark, of Hazelwood, Burnside. She was the only sister of five clever brothers-- Matthew Davenport, Rowland, Edwin, Arthur, and Frederick Hill. Rowland is best known, but all were remarkable men. She was so like my mother in her sound judgment, accurate observation, and kind heart, that I was drawn to her at once. But it was Miss Clark who sought an introduction to me at a ball, because her uncle Rowland had written to her that "Clara Morison," the new novel, was a capital story of South Australian life. She was the first person to seek me out on account of literary work, and I was grateful to her. I think all the brothers Hill wrote books, and Rosamond and Florence Davenport Hill had just published "Our Exemplars." My friendship with Miss Clark led to much work together, and the introduction was a great widening of interests for me. There were four sons and three daughters--Miss Clark and Howard were the most literary, but all had great ability and intelligence. They were Unitarians, and W. J. Wren, my brother-in-law, was also a Unitarian, and had been one of the 12 Adelaide citizens who invited out a minister and guaranteed his salary. I was led to hear what the Rev. J. Crawford Woods had to say for that faith, and told my old minister (Rev. Robert Haining) that for three months I would hear him in the morning and Mr. Woods in the evening, and read nothing but the Bible as my guide; and by that time I would decide. I had been induced to go to the Sacrament at 17, with much heart searching, but when I was 25 I said I could not continue a communicant, as I was not a converted Christian. This step greatly surprised both Mr. and Mrs. Haining, as I did not propose to leave the church. The result of my three months' enquiry was that I became a convinced Unitarian, and the cloud was lifted from the universe. I think I have been a most cheerful person ever since. My mother was not in any way distressed, though she never separated from the church of her fathers. My brother was as completely converted as I was, and he was happy in finding a wife like minded. My sister, Mrs. Wren, also was satisfied with the new faith; so that she and her husband saw eye to eye. It was a very live congregation in those early days. We liked our pastor, and we admired his wife, and there were a number of interesting and clever people who went to the Wakefield Street Church.

It was rather remarkable that my sister's husband and my brother's wife arrived on the same day in two different ships--one in the Anglier from England, and the other in the Three Bells from Glasgow--in 1851; but I did not make the acquaintance of either till 1854 and 1855. Jessie Cumming and Mary Spence shook hands and formed a friendship over Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus." My brother-in-law (W. J. Wren) had fine literary tastes, especially for poetry. The first gift to his wife after marriage was Elizabeth Browning's poems in two volumes and Robert Browning's "Plays and Dramatic Lyrics" in two volumes, and Mary and I delighted in them all. In those days I considered my sister Mary and my sister-in-law the most brilliant conversationalists I knew. My elder sister, Mrs. Murray, also talked very well--so much so that her husband's friends and visitors fancied she must write a lot of his articles; but none of the three ladies went beyond writing good letters. I think all of them were keener of sight than I was--more observant of features, dress, and manners; but I took in more by the ear. As Sir Walter Scott says, "Speak that I may know thee." To my mind, dialogue is more important for a novel than description; and, if you have a firm grasp of your characters, the dialogue will be true. With me the main difficulty was the plot; and I was careful that this should not be merely possible, but probable. I have heard scores of people say that they have got good plots in their heads, and when pressed to tell them they proved to be only incidents. You need much more than an incident, or even two or three, with which to make a book. But when I found my plot the story seemed to write itself, and the actors to fit in.

When the development of the Moonta Mine made some of my friends rich they were also liberal. Edward Stirling said that if I wanted a trip to England I should have it at his cost, but it seemed impossible. After the death of Mr. Wren my mother and I went to live with my sister, and put two small incomes together, so as to be able to bring up and educate her two children, a boy and a girl. My brother John had left the railway, and for nine years had been Official Assignee and Curator of Intestate Estates; and in 1863 he had been appointed manager of the new Adelaide branch of the English, Scottish, and Australian Bank. My friend, Mr. Taylor, had helped well to get the position for one he thought the fittest man in the city. He had lost his wife, Miss Mary Ann Dutton when on a visit to England, and at this time was engaged to Miss Harriet McDermott. His sisters both were very cold about the engagement. They did not like second marriages at all, and considered it a disrespect to the first wife's memory, even though a decent interval had elapsed. When he wrote to me about it I took quite a different view. He said it was the kindest and the wisest letter I had ever written in my life, and he knew I had loved his late wife very much. He came to thank me, and to tell me that he had always wished that I should be in England at the time he was there, and that he was going in a P. & 0. boat immediately after his marriage. Although Mr. Stirling had promised to pay my passage, I hesitated about going. There were my mother, who was 72, and my guardianship of the Duvals to think about. I had also undertaken the oversight of old Mrs. Stephens, the widow of one of the early proprietors of The Register. These objections were all overruled. I still hesitated. "I cannot go unless I have money to spend," I urged. "Let me do that," was the generous reply.--"I have left you 500 pounds in my will. Let me have the pleasure of giving you something while I live." I was not too proud to owe that memorable visit to England to my two good friends. John Taylor had put into my hands on board the Goolwa, in which I sailed, a draft for 200 pounds for my spending money, and in the new will he made after his marriage he bequeathed me 300 pounds. I said "Goodby" to him, with good wishes for his health and happiness. I never saw him again. He took a sickly looking child on his knee when crossing the Isthmus of Suez--there was no canal in 1864--to relieve a weary mother. The child had smallpox, and my friend took it and died of it. He was being buried beside his first wife at Brighton when the Goolwa sailed up the Channel after a passage of 14 weeks--as long as that of the Palmyra 25 years before--and the first news we heard was that Miss Taylor had lost a brother, the children a favourite uncle, and I, a friend. It was a sad household, but the Bakewells were in London on business connected with some claims of discovery of the Moonta Mines, and they took me to their house in Palace Gardens. Kensington, till I could arrange to go to my aunt's in Scotland. All our plans about seeing people and places together were, of course, at an end. I was to go "a lone hand." Mrs. Taylor had a posthumous son, who never has set foot in Australia. She married a second time, an English clergyman named Knight, and had several sons, but she has never revisited Adelaide, although she has many relatives here. So the friend who loved Australia, and was eager to do his duty by it--who thoroughly approved of the Hare system of representation, and thought I did well to take it up, was snatched away in the prime of life. I wonder if there is any one alive now to whom his memory is as precious. The Register files may preserve some of his work.

At Palace Gardens the Bakewell family were settled in a furnished house belonging to Col. Palmer, one of the founders of South Australia, though never a resident. Palmer place, North Adelaide, bears his name. Thackeray's house we had to pass when we went out of the street in the direction of the city. His death had occurred in the previous year. I had an engagement with Miss Julia Wedgwood, through an introduction given by Miss Sophia Sinnett, an artist sister of Frederick Sinnett's. I was called for and sent home. I was not introduced to the family. It was a fine large house with men servants and much style. Miss Wedgwood, who was deaf, used an ear trumpet very cleverly. I found her as delightful as Miss Sinnett had represented her to be, and I discovered that Miss Sinnett had been governess to her younger sisters, but that there was real regard for her. I don't know that I ever spent a more delightful evening. She had just had Browning's "Dramatis Personae," and we read together "Rabbi Ben Ezira" and "Prospice." She knew about the Hare scheme of representation, supported by Mill and Fawcett and Craik. She was a good writer, with a fine critical faculty. Everything signed by her name in magazines or reviews was thenceforward interesting to me. I promised her a copy of my "Plea for Pure Democracy," which she accepted and appreciated. By the father's side she was a granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of British pottery as a fine art. Her mother was a daughter of Sir James Mackintosh. Mrs. Wedgwood was so much pleased with my pamphlet that she wanted to be introduced to me, and when I returned to London I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance. Miss Wedgwood gave me a beautifully bound copy of "Men and Women," of which she had a duplicate, which I cherish in remembrance of her.

During my stay I was visited by Mr. Hare. I had to face up to the people I had written to with no idea of any personal communication, and I must confess that I felt I must talk well to retain their good opinion. I promised to pay a visit to the Hares when I came to London for the season. He was a widower with eight children, whom he had educated with the help of a governess, but he was the main factor in their training. The two eldest daughters were married--Mrs. Andrews, the eldest, had helped him in his calculations for his great book on "Representation." His second daughter was artistic, and was married to John Westlake, an eminent lawyer, great in international law, a pupil of Colenso, who was then in London, and who was the best-abused man in the church. Another visitor was George Cowan, a great friend of my late brother-in-law, Mr. W. J. Wren, who wrote to him till his death, when the pen was taken up by my sister Mary till her death, and then I corresponded with him till his death. He came to London a raw Scotch lad. and met Mr. Wren at the Whittington Club. Both loved books and poetry, and both were struggling to improve themselves on small salaries. George Cowan had been entrusted with the printed slips of "Uphill Work," and had tried it at two publishers without success. I had to delay any operations till I returned to London, and promised to visit the Cowans there.