A letter from Georgiana

I’ve escaped from the project that’s kept me busy for the last eighteen months and now it’s time to get back to the ‘to-do’ list from last year. It’s been months since I said I’d post some transcriptions so apologies for rather a long delay!

In 1831, Georgiana wrote to her good friend, the elderly Mrs Birkett. The letter didn’t reach its recipient (see p 173 in the Picador edition of The Mind That Shines) but it tells the story of the Molloys’ first year in the colony. It hasn’t been made widely available as a complete transcription before, as far as I know, and it wasn’t available to Alexandra Hasluck, Georgiana’s first biographer. William Lines did refer to it in his 1994 book (An All Consuming Passion Allen & Unwin) but he only quoted a a few words (p 124) from this very long letter that has proved very difficult to transcribe. I referred to it in my own biography of Georgiana but not at length. I’ve spent many, many hours on it so I hope that making my own work available here will be both interesting and useful to others.

I’ve left it as it is in the original and not broken it into paragraphs for easy reading. Please bear in mind that my own transcription is not necessarily exactly what another reader would discern from the tangle of cross-writing on those pages!

And, if you’re really interested in reading Georgiana’s letters and diaries in their original form, they are publicly available:

  • the full collection of her letters (including this one) is available to the public to view, and digital copies can be purchased by email if you aren’t in the UK: Cumbria Archive Centre D KEN 3/28/9.
  • her letters to Captain James Mangles are available to see on microfilm as copies in his letter book, at the JS Battye Library in Perth.
  • the Augusta/ Vasse journals, written by both John and Georgiana Molloy, first became available in 2007 when the Battye Library acquired them and they can be viewed online as digital images.

So here is Georgiana’s letter to her friend, written almost a year to the day after she landed in Augusta.


Augusta County Sussex

April 15th 1831


My very dear Friend,

I received your very kind and affectionate letter last week and according to your wish it was the first I received from England one accompanied it from the Dunlops of Keppoch and these are the only two I have got since I left Gosport.

I and Molloy feel very much obliged by the kind interest you take in us My dear Mrs Birkett, and many is the time I speak and think of you, nay when I am in any dilemma about my household which is at present my only care, I stop and say to myself how would Mrs Birkett act, your letter also on my marriage has frequently afforded me much solace and instruction and I often read it over to make me more forebearing I am indeed blest with one of the best of men, both as a person of judgement, sense and affection and he is not only thought so by me, but all under his dominion as he has the complete authority here being made Government Resident of Augusta. last July.  I must now hasten to tell you all our movements, and will only have space to give you and dear Burky the outline; but as I have written copiously to mamma and Mary Dunlop of all the minute circumstances I refer you to them, indeed I asked the latter to send you a copy of my letter of news as the Postage would be less to you, and my histoire although that should never be considered to so old and esteemed a friend, increased for other details. Our voyage was a very good one in point of weather, but the vessel was overcrowded and many of the Passengers very drunken so much so that I always dined in my own cabin, neither we nor the stock had sufficient to eat and nothing but bad water to drink except for those who could take wine, indeed we were obliged on account of mutiny to leave a cabin Passenger at Porto Praya, St Jago, Cape Verd Islands. The piano string was untrue, there being only one old one on board.  I suffered very much for many weeks was incapable of moving and even supine I was constantly sick, I had all my hair cut off from distructive (sic) head aches, and was so weak with constant sickness I was obliged to be supported when I walked, this I believe was the cause of my poor baby’s death.  I was constantly falling and bruising myself and she bore several marks of bruises on her arms, legs one on her breast bone just like black places of knocks, once I slipped my foot the deck being wet, and fell off the poop stairs, but only hurt my back slightly, my maid Mrs Dawson who was in the same way was also very ill and her child a boy died within 4 days of its birth, the Physicians call it Marusmus owing to the interior organs not being perfect from exhaustion.  I really was nearly starved and every day from the Cape to Swan River, had only Salt Pork and Rice, the mutton was diseased that Mr Semphill the Charterer bought at Cape Town.  The poor animals had scarcely enough to live on, and one of Molloy’s horses a beautiful huntress cast her foal.  The shearing sheep and lambs they had on board daily died and we lost all our pigs between Hythe and the Cape.

We had a very large Stern Cabin, 3 windows in it, two sleeping berths apart from each other.  I brought out a hive of bees in a wooden box perforated with holes and a little glass door that I could see them at work, but after leaving the Cape the Moths got at them and killed the whole hive. I had also a box of Raspberry, Gooseberry and Currant slips which flowered from the heat though only cuttings and some Chinese roses in bloom, these all died from the length of time and vicissitudes of climate, we were six months on the voyage, and only calculated on being 3.

At the Cape Capt. Molloy met with his old friend & brother officer Colonel Smith Commandant of the Forces, we staid (sic) at the castle and much and often did I think of Lady Grant who I remember was staying in that very house.  I could picture her to myself when walking through the rooms and long passage.  Everyone was kinder than a mother to us, and particularly the Governor and Lady Frances and her sister Lady Catherine Bell who wished me to remain till after my confinement, knowing the desolate state I should unavoidably be in on my arrival. She was like a mother to me and once being overcome with heat at her table when there was a large dinner party she left the room and bathed my temples and held my aching head till the carriage was ordered to convey us home.  I was determined however to follow Molloy under all circumstances, and in a Colony I think people ought to be more circumspect than at Home, for at the latter place you and yours are known, but in a new Settlement there are many strange characters.

On my arrival at Swan River, on the 12th March 1830 we felt some very strange sensations, the harbour of Fremantle the first Port contained 10 or a dozen ships, the waters edge was studded with tents and rude huts, flocks of sheep, parties of Pigs, 3 or 4 cows in groups wandering about attended by an urchin there being no place of shelter, here and there fires on the ground.  The Country itself an unlimited extent of dark green woods, the trees growing close to the shore. On the coast as usual there is much sand, but here it is fruitful and you can see immense timber growing from it, the finest crop of Rye has this year been produced on the bare sand.  We arrived on Friday and on Saturday we went up the famed Swan in a boat to Perth the town where the Governor resides, he and Mrs Stirling were absent but his nephew insisted on our staying all night and would only allow me to pack up my goods on board on Monday and return there in his yatch [sic] on the same night.

This I did, but was very unwilling to leave Molloy, however he wished it so I went and in a few days the Governor and Mrs Stirling arrived and although I would have given a good deal to be with Molloy in his tent at Fremantle seeing the goods from the Warrior, they would not hear of it, and seemed quite glad of my poor company.  Mrs Stirling now has 3 boys, fine children.  I suffered very much at Perth although much less than on board, but the heat is excessive and I was prevented from rest at night by mosquitoes and fleas with which the place is alive and every precaution taken to prevent them.  The water there is very bad, the River salt for many miles, and the Spring brown and very variable.  I was also from its effects much weakened by Dysentery the only complaint of this country; but in my case it was a very severe one.  Some very favourable accounts of the Southern Parts had just arrived and I earnestly persuaded Molloy to go at once thither. I really used to be quite delirious with heat and want of rest, for my voyage had much reduced my natural strength, and little else but salt meat and biscuit even on land could there be obtained. The thermometer in the shade has stood at 107° and 116° in the open air.


July 8th 1831.  We proceeded to Augusta where after being there a fortnight I was confined when thinking nothing of the kind.  I suffered 12 hours and had no medical man near me there being none within some hundred miles, when at a loss what to tell my female servant I referred to the Encyclopedia, & in this state poor Baby was born a beautiful little girl but very delicate from my constant sickness and the voyage etc.  She was very tall, had beautiful fingers & nails and was much like Molloy they said in features, I never can see such (torn page) miniature resemblances.  I never parted with her out of my arms but to have her washed and then reluctantly we being in a canvas tent at the commencement of the Rainy Season and nothing but a sofa to lay (torn page)    My arms were grazed at the elbows, but I was afraid to let her out of bed on account of cold.  I refer you my dear friend to an account I sent Mama & will not take up my paper with recapitulating, she was only permitted me to enjoy 12 days being carried off by violent convulsions on the 12th day.  I sat up with her from 2 that morning until all was over. She was obliged to be held during the struggles, out of my arms however I could not let her go, Molloy baptized her, there being no clergyman, with the names Elizabeth for Mama & Mary for my sister & Molloy’s own mother who is dead.  I with my own hands straitened her little limbs placed her in her coffin which was from there being no other place, at the foot of the Sofa and on the Saturday screwed it down with these destructed hands.  I thought my brain was going, in a desolate land, totally unconsolable [sic] unsure if I had done right or wrong, no one to ask, no medical man near exhausted in body and mind, having only one place I could not ask Molloy to stay in the room with our lovely Babe dead before him the poor man was much hurt, he was very fond of her when his work was done at night he would take her & sing to her when I was asleep in bed & aware of my want of rest for literally I had not got two hours sleep undisturbed after my confinement what with noise which came and the servants asking me about different things, for they were not fine for a Colony, soon found to my own loss, however, God’s will be done and cheerfully submitted to, you may think how well I was, although the middle of winter and she was born on 24th May the day after my birthday on Aunt Matty’s indeed & the day before Mamma’s, I was out planting bulbs that very day distraught to dispel the sad blank her death occasioned.  She is of course buried on the grounds there being no Church or yard yet, a young man acted as Clergyman, a friend of ours.

We soon found the benefit of leaving Swan River, our ground was established garden making and huts building for ourselves & servants.  Molloy lost all his stock, thirty Pigs, Poultry, Horses & Cows by the upsetting of a boat at Swan River. So with the loss of Baby we had a dismal beginning, our country promises to be like that of the Patriarch Job.  I cannot say too much for this delightful spot, the climate most temperate, never oppressive, our house on the side of a hill amidst huge timber trees on the banks of the Blackwood River in the middle of a Garden of nearly 2 acres beautifully laid out by an excellent gardener in our establishment, it is said to be the best garden in SW Australia excepting none, we supply our neighbours with vegetables continuously and have from every sort of British herb & root such as Cabbage carrot onion etc Pear Apple & Peach to the orange tree & vine, Tobacco, Tamarind & different Cape trees. this is our winter & the flower garden is redolent with Mignonette which I emulated you in cutting down, and all sorts of British flowers and shrubs. In return for your very kind promise of those profiles the originals of which are so justly dear to me from their ever undeviating friendship both to my poor father and his fatherless children, I will send you a sketch of Augusta and our residence near it, understand Augusta is the Town and ours a Villa grant. Molloy’s large grant of 20,000 acres is up the River in detached farms.  You may think how much I like it when I have not a single companion but my own Jack Molloy. I have not seen a lady now for nearly 17 months. I attend to my house duties, mend and make for Molloy and myself yes even to Molloys caps & hats of straw, cut out the mens indispensables as we find our servants clothing, and give them each £30, 20 acres of land and a house value £30 at the end of 5 years besides paying their passage money with all this they are discontented and want to leave your service when the men can get 7/6 per day, the women 4/ and 4/6 per Dozen for washing & a guinea a week for a charwoman so let those that are fools enough to give these prices stand by the consequences, for my part I’ll stand at the Wash Tub before I do it or even as Government Residents Wife set the example, they have also Government Rations like those for the Army & Navy & yet want to better themselves. In December I had a sad miscarriage, I had seen a woman belonging to a neighbour of ours a Mrs Turner in a state of intoxication and was obliged to pass her this frightened me, in case of her abusing me, well I felt a good deal shaken, but said nothing I was then 2 months gone and it was in the middle of summer and rather hot. Molloy and Dr. Simmons, the Colonial Physician, and an old friend of Jack’s, his brother being in the Rifles accompanied him, I had no body to consult & did not like speaking to one of the servants, a married woman with a family, I tried to think nothing of it and gardened as usual. My own dwelling is at some distance about 50 yards from the servants house as it is customary in the East not to have your servants under the same roof with yourself.  I went to bed about 1/2 past nine for we keep very early hours, and in the middle of the night was taken as if in labour, call I could not, I was as faint as death and in agony, the Lord was merciful to me, and without a soul near me all was over by I think 6 o’clock.  Mrs Dawson on entering the room found me quite exhausted, but thank God much better than any could have thought.  I did not know what was happening or perhaps should have been more afraid.  Molloy and Dr Simmons returned & very uncomfortable they were to find me so unprotected, since then I have been tolerably well until by over exertion I laid myself up in bed for three weeks and am now recovering from that and expect to be again confined in the latter end September.  I expect a friend Mrs Cheyne to be with me then and relieve me from my only annoyances looking after the servants.

Pray remember me most kindly to Lady Grant and James and Edward when you write.  My kind love to Mrs Pottinger. You never mentioned Essy or Mrs. Garner give them Georgiana Molloy’s best love it is as affectionate as Georgiana Kennedy’s.  I often talk of you and say to Molloy Are you sure you never saw Mr Birkett?  He says “No, I am quite sure, but I borrowed his Big Drum” Your letters as they always did contained more news than any of my other correspondents. We are rapidly getting our stock replaced by degrees as the Markets are very fluctuating, sometimes moderate but as regards stock high, we have plenty of Poultry from only 2 Hens and 1 Cock, last September. they feed themselves on the ants, Palm Nuts and different seeds the hens have generally four broods in the year and the worst is they lay in the Bush so we often lose their eggs, but are astonished to see when walk forth after being absent some weeks with 11 or 13 fine chicks, this is less trouble than hutch nursing them by sham. I have two beautiful Goats, Nanny a fawn colour streaked like a Donkey across the shoulders with white, Billy black & white, 2 cows & a Bull are on their way to us.  Our mare died and cast her foal after leaving the Cape.  Molloy’s horse Captain a descendant of Eclipse & Le Zeus he left at the Cape to recruit its strength, he was thorough bred and cost nearly 200 guineas in England, having won several plates, he also when not quite recovered won a  cup at a Plate at the Cape, and was highly thought of for his performances in grooms dressage he was coming rapidly round when seized with virulent spasms he suddenly died, he was opened and it was found to be inflammation of the heart and kidneys an hour was not passed when Welks a large breeder from the interior near the Cape came down with £400 in his hands to buy him and told Colonel Smith in whose care he was, he always intended to do so, but wished him to fatten him up before the purchase.  You may think this was another damper  you must not believe the reports you hear of Swan River Settlement, they are given from very insecure sources, one from idle and indolent persons, generally discontented spirits seeking a place where they prosecute  their natural drinking propensities the other a sort of monopolizers who wish everything their own way. Of the soil and climate of Swan River I say it is decidedly bad, besides the society at Fremantle the first Port is fit to corrupt any man without steady principles there is so much gambling, drinking and over-reaching each other, but even for a new Colony it is surprising, vessels coming in weekly from all parts, plenty of every thing even to luxuries such as Malt, Liquors, preserves, spices, stock, clothing of every description to be had but not always desirable as to quality, but of this Place I candidly confess we have nothing to wish for, Loads of the most delicate Fish which we obtain by hauling our seine, plenty of excellent spring & well water (which they cannot obtain at Swan River) no Mosquitoes or annoyances from insects, good soil, very little sand with which at Swan River they abound, moderate and heavenly climate, which at the Swan is daily committing ravages in mortality and in fact every necessary within our own reach, the Ships bring us salt provisions, malt Liquor, Porter, wine, Ale, spirits, Household furniture nay every luxury of Life we want  nothing but contented minds, excellent health but when impaired by excess. Dearest Molloy has never thank God had one hours illness, although even he has laid on the bare ground (torn page) indeed I had once the pleasure of laying on the ground when at Swan River being prevented by (torn page) winds & a thunder storm getting upon our boat to Perth, Molloy another gentleman & myself were (torn page) we were  obliged after tossing about the whole night to give it up and I and Molloy laid rolled up in his cloak on the ground and the skies as if every now & then opening with thunder & Lightening [sic] this was about 5 weeks before my confinement & we had had nothing to eat the whole day & only had water to drink. Dr Molloy said Oh my Georgy see what I have brought you to   I told him it was my own doing that I did not feel half so much in body as I did in mind when separated from him. We have never had a quarrel or anything approaching to it but have the most perfect confidence in each other.  I keep the Purse and have no means of spending it on idle occasions, his salary will increase every year he is more like Superintendent of the Colony than a Magistrate and nothing can be done without his authority. He has always either soldiers or Men Of War at his private command and is only responsible to the Governor for his words of government. I will write again in more minute detail of the country and the natives. They are quite savage, not cannibals but men & women quite naked They seem only to possess the art of imitation. See    Cooks lesson of Geography. There are no edible fruits to us but the natives can eat both them & roots. Barbadoes had neither fruit nor animals when first colonized. My paper warns me. We remembered you on New Years, No Devil of that kind has found its way to Augusta yet. God Bless you both. Molloy begs his affectionate regards to you my dear dear friends

Pray write soon.  Is Mrs Bowes alive?  You give Burky and let him give you a kiss for me, my good & kind Mrs Birkett, I wish I could just peep at you for a moment My kind remembrance to all your good servants.  Remember me to the Lowrys (seal obscures text) them & believe me your fondly attached I could  (seal obscures text) my feelings towards you, say daughter Georgiana Molloy (seal obscures text) very like Mamma and Mary. I remind myself of them.