Tag Archives: history of marriage

An 1840 Wedding at Parramatta

On 9 September 1840, Patrick Leslie married Kate McArthur in the Anglican church in Parramatta. Kate was 22, Patrick would be 25 in a few weeks, and they had been engaged for over 3 years. Their marriage had been delayed again and again because Patrick and his uncle, my Walter Davidson had quarreled. Davidson sacked Patrick as manager of his property, leaving his nephew without a suitable home to which he could bring his bride.

The details of the quarrel are too complicated to go into here – you’ll have to read the book! – but Davidson sold the property – Collaroy station, in the Upper Hunter – to a cousin, Edward Hamilton, who arrived in New South Wales in early 1840. Meanwhile Patrick set out to find a new squatting run for his younger brothers on the Darling Downs. Leaving Walter Leslie and some servants on their new station on the Condamine, Patrick rushed back to Sydney to register their squatting run, which he did in August.

Then he finally married Kate.

I’ve spent most of the last week struggling to read the 13-page account of her wedding written by her sister Libby to send to Patrick’s mother in Scotland. I suspect I may be the first person who has read the letter since it did the rounds of the Leslie family during 1841. Libby’s handwriting is dreadful, and most pages are crossed, a method of squeezing as much as possible onto the page to save on the cost of postage. ‘Are you tired of this scrawl,’ Libby asks at one point – and I most definitely was.

But Patrick’s wedding is a key set piece in my book, the final scene in in the second-last chapter, the point at which the two families I have been following – the Macarthur family in New South Wales, and Walter Davidson’s extended family in Britain – were united in marriage.

Kate’s parents were Hannibal McArthur (nephew of John Macarthur) and Anna Maria King (daughter of Governor King), so she belonged to the colonial elite, but the wedding was a surprisingly low-key event, probably because they had very little time to plan ahead for the big day. The wedding was held in the morning, followed by a big celebration at the Macarthur’s estate, Vineyard, a few miles out of Parramatta.

The Vineyard, Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur's estate at Parramatta

The Vineyard, Parramatta, by Conrad Martens, 1840, from Wikipedia

The bride and groom soon left, but the party continued, with many of the guests staying overnight. Patrick and Kate spent their first few nights at Hannibal’s holiday home at Clovelly before going to Dunheved, Uncle King’s estate, which Patrick had rented while King was the resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens.

Phillip Parker King's estate, Dunheved

View of Dunheved, New South Wales, by Conrad Martens, 1837, from Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences between this wedding in 1840 and a wedding celebration these days. In some ways they are quick alike. The toasts and speeches haven’t changed much, nor has the sense that the groom, with one best man, was outcompeted by the bride with her host of bridesmaids. The fashionable clothes are much the same, even to the mother-of-the-bride’s outfit in – yurk – violet. Kate didn’t throw a bouquet, but the business with ‘Papa’s wedding ring’ seems to follow the same rules of pre-planned prediction – everyone knew that Mary was going to marry Patrick’s friend Hugh Gordon as soon as he returned from China.

I think in the days of My Kitchen Rules, we are more preoccupied with food than Libby seems to have been, although I suspect their ‘cold collation’ was pretty similar to our rubber chicken – and prepared without refrigeration, too. Less similar is the sheer size of Kate’s family – she had 5 sisters and 5 brothers, most of whom were present.

There’s something about family celebrations that brings out the best and worst in the human condition. That’s why suicide rates go up around Christmas, people fall in love at their friends’ weddings, and fights break out after funerals. Libby’s letter is full of the joy of the big event – but below the surface were a seething mass of tensions, only some of which were evident at the time.

The most obvious tension was between the two branches of the Macarthur family. The ‘Camden Macarthurs’ and the ‘Vineyard McArthurs’ took opposing positions in the quarrel between Patrick Leslie and Walter Davidson, and the families were becoming estranged. They even used different spellings of their name! But Hannibal was John Macarthur’s nephew, so John’s children should have been at their cousin’s wedding. John Macarthur’s widow, Elizabeth, was a friend of ‘Grandmama’ – Anna Josepha King – but she was also an old lady, and could be excused attendance, and her eldest daughter was always treated as an invalid. James’s absence was another matter, and his wife Emily could surely have got there too, though her baby was only born the previous May.

There were other tensions too. The Leslie brothers, the McArthur brothers and Robert McKenzie were all beneficiaries of the squatting boom, but the economic situation was about to go very bad indeed. Their friend Stuart Donaldson was a businessman in Sydney, supplying their stations and selling their wool on consignment. This made him their creditor – and it would be many years before he ever got his money back.

Finally there were the absent brothers. Walter Leslie missed the wedding because he was holding the fort on the Darling Downs – pretty much literally. The first building they put up there was made of stone, the better to resist attack by Aborigines, with windows just large enough to fire a gun. ‘It is a lovely place & there have been no blacks seen on our run for 18 months’, wrote Patrick ominously less than 2 years later. Meanwhile the oldest brother, William Leslie, was in Macao where he was a partner in Dent & Co, one of the biggest opium traders in the business. News from China was scarce in September 1840 because of the First Opium War. Libby clearly thought this war with China would be good for trade.

For those who may be interested, I’ve attached the whole of Libby’s letter below – there are still a few words that defeat me, and I’d be grateful for any clues/guesses as to what they may be. Libby’s punctuation is erratic. I’ve adjusted accordingly, and added paragraphs to make it easier to read.

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Gladstone in Love

Even Prime Ministers were young once – even Gladstone, the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Victorian politics.

In 1835, William Gladstone was 25 years old, and just starting his political career. That year he fell in love with Caroline Farquhar, the 19-year-old daughter of Sir Thomas Farquhar, 2nd Baronet (and a cousin of my Walter Davidson). I’ve recently been working my way through a collection of letters in the Gladstone Library that document Gladstone’s affair.

In mid-1835, Gladstone asked Caroline’s parents for permission to address her – that is, to propose marriage. He also let his father know his plans – he was a younger son, and would need his father’s financial support if he got married. Backbench MPs were not paid, and his career was unlikely to take off while the Tory Party (which he currently supported) was out of power.

His father, John Gladstone, was a wealthy businessman, who had been paid £106,769 in compensation when his slaves in the Caribbean were freed the previous year. (According to Wikipedia, this is equivalent to £83m.) So money was no object, and John Gladstone willingly agreed to support his son appropriately if he married.

Sir Thomas Farquhar talked over the matter with his wife Sybella, who in turn talked to Caroline. Lady Farquhar told Gladstone that

She expressed extreme surprise at the communication, not having the smallest idea you entertained any preference for her – She told me she considered the acquaintance of so short a duration, it was impossible to form any decision as to the future, or whether on more intimate acquaintance, a congeniality of tastes & opinions might lead to any warmer sentiment than at present exists. [Lady F to WEG, 27 August 1835]

At present, then, Caroline’s ‘affections at present are entirely free’, and she was happy to cultivate the acquaintance and see where it led, but Caroline’s relatives all seem to have been dubious about whether the two young ones were really all that compatible. Caroline’s brother Walter questioned how far your ideas on the subject of Religion might be of a stricter kind than she feels it right to embrace.’ [WRF to WEG, 31 August 1835]

It is impossible to know just what lies behind this implication. They shared a common religious background, for Walter Rockcliffe Farquhar and William Gladstone had been at Christ Church, Oxford together, where they were both deeply committed Christians who joined the Essay Club, the Oxford equivalent of the Cambridge Apostles. Another member of the group was Walter’s cousin, Walter Kerr Hamilton, who later became Bishop of Salisbury.

Caroline Farquhar was a lively girl, with a reputation as a beauty – tall, dark and with a fine figure, according to her cousin Patrick Leslie. She had enjoyed a very successful season, but she also was conventionally religious. Perhaps she and the family were hanging out for a title; perhaps Caroline found Gladstone’s intense religiosity a bit overwhelming – or perhaps she just found him a little dull.

Amongst the most fascinating letters in the Gladstone Library collection is the draft of a letter Gladstone sent to Sir Thomas Farquhar in August 1835. It’s fascinating, because all the changes, scratches, deletions and insertions, show Gladstone’s state of mind in all its raw intensity, even though all the re-workings make it almost impossible to transcribe accurately:

The blinding influence of self love is sufficiently known to me, to make me believe it quite possible that by this letter I may, unconsciously, but with [?], have rendered myself with justice liable to your displeasure: but it will be very painful to me if in forming such a conception as that which has now prompted me I shall seem to have abused a favour which I do not value the less highly from knowing that I had never any claim to it.

Although I have been led to write at so much length I am well aware that I much may have been left unexpressed stated much which ought to have been said: but I did do not feel that I have a right to indulge before you the strength of my feelings which it seems an imperative duty to restrain controul as long as it is possible or likely that their expression may give pain to those whom they refer who are the objects of them. [draft of WEG to Sir THF, 25 August 1835]

Some of Caroline’s relatives supported Gladstone’s suit, including her cousin Walter Kerr Hamilton, and her father’s cousin, my Walter Davidson, but the decision was up to Caroline – perhaps with a little nudging from her mother.

In any case, the romance – such as it was – soon fizzled out. Both parties were preoccupied by the death of parents – Gladstone’s mother died in late 1835, Caroline’s father the following January. Gladstone had another knockback, before he finally married Catherine Glynne in 1839. Meanwhile in July 1836, Caroline married Lord Charles Grey, another backbench MP and younger son, but a titled one, the son of the Whig Prime Minister Earl Grey. Both seem to have had successful marriages, so far as any outsider can judge.

To our eyes, Caroline Farquhar chose the titled nobody over one of the political giants of the Victorian age – but I suspect that from Caroline’s perspective, it was the right choice. Lord Charles Grey became an equerry to the new Queen, then Private Secretary to Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, and the couple joined the Royal Household. Caroline Grey became one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber. Queen Victoria’s court wasn’t a particularly lively affair, but it was a prestigious position, and a very different proposition from marriage to William Gladstone. There is absolutely no indication that at any stage, Charles Grey attempted to reform prostitutes.

Ref: The letters between William Gladstone and the Farquhar family appear in the Gladstone-Glynne Correspondence, GG/705-707, in the Gladstone Library. My thanks to the librarian Gary Butler for his help in finding and scanning them.
See also Anne Isba, Gladstone and Women (2006)
Gladstone in the 1830s, by William Henry Mote,

I think Jane Austen is stalking me

I haven’t been writing my blog lately because I’ve been busy writing my book.  At the moment I’m wrestling with chapters 6 and 7.  It’s 1822. Walter has arrived back in Britain, having made a fortune – over £100,000! – in China. I’m trying to set the scene for this transition point, and I keep tripping over Jane Austen.

In many ways, at this point in his life Walter Davidson was a quintessential ‘single man of good fortune…in want of a wife’. It’s a real phenomenon, and one that Jane Austen obviously knew: first, you make your fortune in some far off outpost of empire (or Yorkshire, in the case of the Bingleys), then you return to your local community, or a friend’s community, and shortly afterwards marry an appropriate girl within the extended family circle. Men like this are peppered throughout her novels. Continue reading

A Matter of Business: Stuart Donaldson and the Fallen Woman

New South Wales became a self-governing colony and elected its first Parliament in 1856. At that time, there was as yet no party structure.  There were some clear factional chiefs, some with a defined political agenda, others with only a good idea of whom they hated (Irish Catholics, mostly) but it was all a little vague and chaotic by current standards, which are still often chaotic, but seldom vague.

There were some famous names amongst that first Legislative Assembly, including the conservative James Macarthur and the radical Henry Parkes, but the man who emerged to become the first Premier of New South Wales was a comparative nonentity, Stuart Alexander Donaldson, who is today almost completely unheard of.

489px-Stuart_A._Donaldson

Despite the slight kudos that attaches to being first NSW Premier, Donaldson was really much more important as a merchant than as a politician, and his early life is much more interesting – well, I think so, anyway! – than his later respectable years. Continue reading

Marriage traditions, now and forever evolving

English: The front cover of William Blackstone...

Image via Wikipedia

Two very different but significant decisions were made in Australia last week, which have a bearing on the nature of marriage.  Firstly on 30 November the High Court overturned ‘spousal privilege’, the common law right of a spouse (in this and virtually every case, the wife) to refuse to give evidence against her husband.  Secondly the Australian Labor Party voted on 3 December to include same sex marriage in its federal platform (while reserving a conscience vote that will ensure nothing actually changes).  Throw in a third – Andrew Fraser’s private member’s bill to legalise civil unions for same sex couples in Queensland on 1 December – and something interesting seems to be going on.

Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but so far I haven’t seen any analysis that links the High Court decision to the issue of same sex marriage, and changing attitudes towards single sex unions in the general community, but taken together they seem to say something about the practice of marriage itself. Continue reading