In December 1829 Sir Edward Parry arrived in Sydney to become the new manager of the Australian Agricultural Company, formed 5 years earlier. Sir Edward was a distinguished Arctic explorer, recently knighted for his efforts. His wife Isabella was the daughter of John Stanley, first Baron Stanley of Alderley. Naturally, when they arrived in Sydney, they stayed at Government House with Governor Darling and his wife, Eliza.
Parry soon left for the AAC headquarters at Port Stephens, but Isabella was heavily pregnant and stayed on with Sir Ralph and Eliza Darling. Eight days later, on 14 January 1830, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Estimating the time of arrival of babies was not – is not – an exact science, but these babies were probably very premature.
Eliza Darling had had a baby – her fifth – in July 1829, so now she came to the rescue, as Isabella reported to Edward:
The boy is smallest and has required great care…and indeed we owe its life, under Providence, to Mrs Darling suckling him herself for two days and nights, tho’ herself in bad health. I cannot express to you the affectionate attention we had received from these dear people.
I love discovering intimate nuggets like this! They raise such interesting questions.
How common were wet nurses in New South Wales? The colony was still disproportionately male, so the needs of women and their babies were not to the forefront. No doubt Isabella could have found a suitable convict woman in the Female Factory, but not necessarily at a moment’s notice, and the situation sounds urgent.
How unusual was it for a lady – the Governor’s wife, no less – to suckle a friend’s or a stranger’s baby? Eliza Darling has the reputation of being deeply religious, which may be a factor. If so, perhaps she would have been pleased to know that the boy she suckled survived to eventually become Suffragan Bishop of Dover.
Reference: This anecdote appears, virtually without comment, in Brian H. Fletcher, Ralph Darling: A Governor Maligned (Melbourne, 1984), p. 161.
Note: Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been silent for a couple of months. Apologies, it’s a long story.
In May I went overseas on holiday. Groggy with jetlag, on Day 2 I lost my iPad, together with my password. Note to WordPress: that clever security idea of sending a reference number to a mobile phone doesn’t work when the recipient is in Portugal with a different SIM card.
I came back in June to a series of domestic crises, followed by whatever this season’s viral illness is called. This has put a lot of deadlines in doubt. Normal transmission will be resumed shortly.