The story of Mildred Kitty Ludlow is a sad one but it’s not so different from that of many other female servants during the early colonial settlement of Western Australia. Georgiana Molloy’s diaries and letters tell us about the last years of Kitty’s life and reveal some of Georgiana’s own personal views and values. I mentioned Kitty in a post on my Facebook page and was asked for a bit more information about her story.
Mildred Kitty Ludlow and her husband Fredrick arrived in the Swan River Colony on board the Parmelia in May 1829 with Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling and the first group of European settlers in what is now Perth. The Ludlows were the servants of Commander Mark John Currie, first Harbour Master of Fremantle, and his wife, Jane. In 1832, the Currie family left the colony for good but, by 1831, Kitty and Frederick Ludlow had already moved south to the small settlement at Augusta.
In 1833, Georgiana wrote that Kitty was ‘a woman of thirty’. I haven’t pursued the research to find out more about Kitty’s early days but I wonder if she was the ‘Mildred Kitty North’ who was born on 22 May 1803 in Gillingham, Kent to Mary Cooper and John North.
Mildred preferred to be known by her middle name, especially after she separated from her husband who, like so many others at the time, was a heavy drinker. Georgiana tells us that Kitty had caught a cold ‘at the washtub’ while working for the Curries. Some ‘very bad consequences’ followed that Georgiana doesn’t wish to share (‘I leave you to guess’.) As a result, two or three ‘places of discharge’ broke out on Kitty’s lower body and legs and the doctor recommended that she should move to Augusta where it would be cooler, believing she had only about three months to live. Against the odds, Kitty survived, took up needlework to bring in some money and taught herself the ‘art of tailoring’. Her work was so good, and her charges so low, that she was overwhelmed with business but life did not treat her kindly. She had to deal with the increasingly ‘bad conduct of her husband who is so much addicted to drinking there is no bearing him’. And then, due to the long hours she spent sitting at her mending and sewing, her legs began swelling and she lost the use of them. She could only walk a short way with the help of crutches.
The Molloys employed Frederick Ludlow to take care of their sheep, goats and poultry on Molloy Island, known as Dalton Island at that time after Georgiana’s mother’s family. He lived there alone in a small hut built for him by John Molloy and was paid 20 pounds a year plus full rations and two glasses of rum a day. It was a useful arrangement and it also kept Ludlow out of the way.
Georgiana visited Kitty whenever she could and employed her to do mending and to make clothes for the family, a source of help with a domestic activity she herself disliked. When she wrote her ‘History of Kitty’ in a letter, she said that Frederick had often threatened to kill Kitty. One Saturday night in March 1833, he tried to kill them both by setting fire to the house while Kitty was in bed. At the end of a dry summer, the little house, made mainly of rushes, burned quickly and Kitty only just managed to escape to a neighbour before some gunpowder on a shelf exploded. They lost everything they owned.
The settlers and military offered help but Kitty was left terrified and became even more unwell. She did some sewing work for Mrs Turner but eventually, before the end of the year, Georgiana ‘offered her asylum’ and Kitty went to work for the Molloys permanently, paid 1 shilling and 3 pence a week plus her accommodation and food, a very low wage for someone so reliable. Frederick did not change his habits and Kitty decided never to live with him again.
The Molloys’ new servant was thought of very highly. ‘She is so nice mannered and respectable a person I need not fear Sabina being with her, she knows a good deal about children having been in service where they were, she can cook very well and clean to a great degree, particular in her person, gets up and when able washes clothes beautifully. I use her as a sort of sempstress and housekeeper.’ It seems the arrangement was very flexible and suited them both. ‘She comes to me, just to work whenever she feels inclined and will do anything to assist me. I clothe and wash for her, she is so delighted she said a little time after she came ‘Ma’am I am so happy it is what I have long been thinking of for I never could be well when he gave me such frights.’
In Georgiana’s opinion, Kitty was ‘so superior a person’ that she spent all her time around the house with the family and little Sabina was very fond of her. The output of her sewing and other work features often; she made a patchwork quilt, a scarlet dress and a blue one for Georgiana, a sofa cover and a striped dress for Sabina.
By the middle of December 1833, Kitty was experiencing ‘the most awful and alarming fits’ and was too ill to work. She was suffering terribly, her wounds so diseased that people could not bear to stand near her. She chose to go and live with Frederick in the seclusion on Molloy Island. When Kitty died, it was Georgiana and one of the Bussell brothers who rowed across to bury her near the hut and perform the service.
Memorial to Kitty Ludlow on Molloy Island
Frederick’s behaviour after the burial, according to Georgiana, did not improve. ‘The iniquitous wretch’, she wrote, went back down the river to Augusta ‘the instant life had fled’ and ‘publicly expressed his joy at her decease’.