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- AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 1/32 -


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Spence, Catherine Helen (1825-1910) An Autobiography

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. EARLY LIFE IN SCOTLAND. CHAPTER II. TOWARDS AUSTRALIA. CHAPTER III. A BEGINNING AT SEVENTEEN CHAPTER IV. LOVERS AND FRIENDS. CHAPTER V. NOVELS AND A POLITICAL INSPIRATION. CHAPTER VI. A TRIP TO ENGLAND. CHAPTER VII. MELROSE REVISITED. CHAPTER VIII. I VISIT EDINBURGH AND LONDON. CHAPTER IX. MEETING WITH J. S. MILL AND GEORGE ELIOT. CHAPTER X. RETURN FROM THE OLD COUNTRY. CHAPTER XI WARDS OF THE STATE. CHAPTER XII. PREACHING, FRIENDS, AND WRITING. CHAPTER XIII. MY WORK FOR EDUCATION. CHAPTER XIV. SPECULATION, CHARITY, AND A BOOK. CHAPTER XV. JOURNALISM AND POLITICS. CHAPTER XVI. SORROW AND CHANGE. CHAPTER XVII. IMPRESSIONS OF AMERICA. CHAPTER XVIII. BRITAIN, THE CONTINENT, AND HOME AGAIN. CHAPTER XIX. PROGRESS OF EFFECTIVE VOTING. CHAPTER XX. WIDENING INTERESTS. CHAPTER XXI PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION AND FEDERATION. CHAPTER XXII. A VISIT TO NEW SOUTH WALES. CHAPTER XXIII. MORE PUBLIC WORK. CHAPTER XXIV. THE EIGHTIETH MILESTONE AND THE END.

CHAPTER I.

EARLY LIFE IN SCOTLAND.

Sitting down at the age of eighty-four to give an account of my life, I feel that it connects itself naturally with the growth and development of the province of South Australia, to which I came with my family in the year 1839, before it was quite three years old. But there is much truth in Wordsworth's line, "the child is father of the man," and no less is the mother of the woman; and I must go back to Scotland for the roots of my character and Ideals. I account myself well-born, for My father and my mother loved each other. I consider myself well descended, going back for many generations on both sides of intelligent and respectable people. I think I was well brought up, for my father and mother were of one mind regarding the care of the family. I count myself well educated, for the admirable woman at the head of the school which I attended from the age of four and a half till I was thirteen and a half, was a born teacher in advance of her own times. In fact. like my own dear mother, Sarah Phin was a New Woman without knowing it. The phrase was not known in the thirties.

I was born on October 31, 1825, the fifth of a family of eight born to David Spence and Helen Brodie, in the romantic village of Melrose, on the silvery Tweed, close to the three picturesque peaks of the Eildon Hills. which Michael Scott's familiar spirit split up from one mountain mass in a single night, according to the legend. It was indeed poetic ground. It was Sir Walter Scott's ground. Abbotsford was within two miles of Melrose, and one of my earliest recollections was seeing the long procession which followed his body to the family vault at Dryburgh Abbey. There was not a local note in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" or in the novels. "The Monastery" and "The Abbot," with which I was not familiar before I entered my teens. There was not a hill or a burn or a glen that had not a song or a proverb, or a legend about it. Yarrow braes were not far off. The broom of the Cowdenknowes was still nearer, and my mother knew the words as well as the tunes of the minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. But as all readers of the life of Scott know, he was a Tory, loving the past with loyal affection, and shrinking from any change. My father, who was a lawyer (a writer as it was called), and his father who was a country practitioner, were reformers, and so it happened that they never came into personal relations with the man they admired above all men in Scotland. It was the Tory doctor who attended to his health, and the Tory writer who was consulted about his affairs.

I look back to a happy childhood. The many anxieties which reached both my parents were quite unknown to the children till the crisis in 1839. I do not know that I appreciated the beauty of the village I lived in so much with my own bodily eyes as through the songs and the literature, which were current talk. The old Abbey, with its 'prentice window, and its wonders in stonecarving, that Scott had written about and Washington Irving marvelled at--"Here lies the race of the House of Yair" as a tombstone--had a grand roll in it. In the churchyard of the old Abbey my people on the Spence side lay buried. In the square or market place there no longer stood the great tree described in The Monastery as standing just after Flodden Field, where the flowers of the forest had been cut down by the English; but in the centre stood the cross with steps up to it, and close to the cross was the well, to which twice a day the maids went to draw water for the house until I was nine years old, when we had pipes and taps laid on. The cross was the place for any public speaking, and I recalled, when I was recovering from the measles, the maid in whose charge I was, wrapped me in a shawl and took me with her to hear a gentleman from Edinburgh speak in favour of reform to a crowd gathered round. He said that the Tories had found a new name--they called themselves Conservatives because it sounded better. For his part he thought conserves were pickles, and he hoped all the Tories would soon find themselves in a pretty pickle. There were such shouts of laughter that I saw this was a great joke.

We had gasworks in Melrose when I was 10 or 11, and a great joy to us children the wonderful light was. I recollect the first lucifer matches, and the wonder of them. My brother John had got 6d. from a visiting, uncle as a reward for buying him snuff to fill his cousin's silver snuffbox, and he spent the money in buying a box of lucifers, with the piece of sandpaper doubled, through which each match was to be smartly drawn, and he took all of us and some of his friends to the orchard, we called the wilderness, at the back of my grandfather Spence's house. and lighted each of the 50 matches, and we considered it a great exhibition. 'MY grandfather (old Dr. Spence) died before the era of lucifer matches. He used to get up early and strike a fire with flint and steel to boil the kettle and make a cup of tea to give to his wife in bed. He did it for his first wife (Janet Park), who was delicate, and he did the same for his second wife until her last fatal illness. It was a wonderful thing for a man to do in those days. He would not call the maid; he said young things wanted plenty of sleep. He had been a navy doctor, and was very intelligent. He trusted much to Nature and not too much to drugs. On the Sunday of the great annular eclipse of the sun in 1835, which was my brother John's eleventh birthday, he had a large double tooth extracted--not by a dentist, and gas was then unknown or any other anaesthetic, so he did not enjoy the eclipse as other people did. It took place in the afternoon, and there was no afternoon church.

In summer we had two services--one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon. In winter we had two services at one sitting, which was a thing astonishing to English visitors. The first was generally called a lecture--a reading with comments, of a passage of Scriture--a dozen verses or more--and the second a regularly built sermon, with three or four heads, and some particulars, and a practical summing up.

Prices and cost of living had fallen since my mother had married in 1815, three months after the battle of Waterloo. At that time tea cost 8/0 a lb., loaf sugar, 1/4, and brown sugar 11 1/2d. Bread and meat were then still at war prices, and calico was no cheaper than linen. and that was dear. She paid 3/6 a yard for fine calico to make petticoats. Other garments were of what was called home made linen. White cotton stockings at 4/9, and thinner at 3/9 each; silk stockings at 11/6. I know she paid 36/ for a yard of Brussels net to make caps of. It was a new thing to have net made in the loom. When a woman married she must wear caps at least in the morning. In 1838 my mother bought a chest of tea (84 lb.) for 20 pounds, a trifle under 5/0 a lb.; the retail price was 6/0--it was a great saving; and up to the time of our departure brown sugar cost 7 1/2d., and loaf sugar 10d. It is no wonder that these things were accounted luxuries. When a decent Scotch couple in South Australia went out to a station in the country in the forties and received their stores, the wife sat down at her quarter-chest of tea and gazed at her bag of sugar, and fairly wept to think of her old mother across the ocean, who had such difficulty in buying an ounce of tea and a pound of sugar. My mother even saw an old woman buy 1/4oz. of tea and pay 11/2d. for it, and another woman buy 1/4lb. of meat.

We kept three maids. The cook got 8 pounds a year, the housemaid 7 pounds, and the nursemaid 6 pounds, paid half-yearly, but the summer half-year was much better paid than the winter, because there was the outwork in the fields, weeding and hoeing turnips and potatoes, and haymaking. The winter work in the house was heavier on account of the fires and the grate cleaning, but the wages were less. My mother gave the top wages in the district, and was considerate to her maids, but I blush yet to think how poorly those good women who made the comfort of my early home were paid for their labours. You could get a washerwoman for a shilling or 1/6 a day, but you must give her a glass of whisky as well as her food. You could get a sewing girl for a shilling or less, without the whisky. And yet cheap as sewing was it was the pride of the middle-elms women of those days that they did it all themselves at home. Half of the time of girls' schools was given to sewing when mother was taught. Nearly two hours a day was devoted to it in my time.

A glass of whisky in Scotland in the thirties cost less than a cup of tea. I recollect my father getting a large cask of whisky direct from the distillery which cost 6/6 a gallon, duty paid. A bottle of inferior whisky could be bought at the grocer's for a shilling. It is surprising how much alcoholic beverages entered into the daily life, the business, and the pleasures of the people in those days. No bargain could be made without them. Christenings, weddings, funerals--all called for the pouring out of strong drink. If a lady called, the port and sherry decanters were produced, and the cake basket. If a gentleman, probably it was the spirit decanter. After the 3 o'clock dinner there was whisky and hot water and sugar, and generally the came after the 10 o'clock supper. Drinking habits were very prevalent among men, and were not in any way disgraceful, unless excessive. But there was less drinking among women than there is now, because public opinion was strongly against it. Without being abstainers, they were temperate. With the same heredity and the same environment, you would see all the brothers pretty hard drinkers and all the sisters quite straight. Such is the effect of public opinion. Nothing else has been so powerful in changing these customs as the cheapening of tea and coffee and cocca, but especially tea.


AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 1/32

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