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Letter to Mother, 27th February 1900



My dearest Mother

I think it is your turn for a letter this week. I don’t seem to have written to you for some time. I have just been writing to Katie, and I have also got through a very lengthy epistle to Gwen. She wrote to me for my birthday so I thought I would send her an account of everything as I have not written to her before. When my photos come I will send you off some at once and I want you to send off one to Gwen for me. I know she will like it and I don’t think I have ever given her anything except a midget.

I wish you could see my sitting room. It really does not look at all bad now we have got the curtains up to hide the bedroom part of it. The curtain is cretonne, a soft blue with little bunches of cornflowers, poppies and daisies all over it. Then we have a square carpet in shades of brown rather like the sort we used to have in Dad’s little room, only without the fringe.

I am thankful to say we have got our Tats at last. Tats are sort of sun blinds made of thin strips of bamboo threaded together. You always have them on verandahs to keep the sun out and also people seeing in. It has been rather horrid here because of the mill people passing. Of course they are a good way off and being upstairs they can’t see very much, but you sort of feel you are being watched, which would not suit you at all, would it? To have a row of nearly naked savages gaping at you having early tea would make my mother unhappy, I’m quite sure. I often pine to make a long nose at them but I think the sarcasm would be wasted.

George is inclined to be anxious about Lottie. He says if they don’t look out, she will get into a bad way. Tell Amy I showed him her letter and he quite agrees with all her remarks. He wrote to his mother last week what he calls a ‘stinker’. I only hope she will show it to Ethel and Jessie. He is tremendously down on both of them, says Ethel ought to be ashamed of herself to sponge on her mater as she does. He says she has refused one or two good offers of places simply because she did not care for them, did not like the neighbourhood or some rot like that. And he is very down on Jessie’s missionary idea too. He says the Salter’s money is given with the chief idea of helping the Mother. Jessie has had a good education given her so that she can earn her own living and in that way helping her mother by making herself independent of her.

As for Lottie, George says she has been shoved on too fast, her bodily strength is not equal to her brain. He says they ought not to think of letting her go in for that exam for another two if not three years. She can earn quite sufficient with her present certificates and even if she did pass, she is not fit to take a responsible post. It would only mean her breaking down after a little while. He says that being in that place in Scotland is what has made Lottie so delicate. She went when she was 17 first, when she wanted feeding up, and instead of that had to work very hard and did not get enough to eat. He wanted her to come away long before she did and considers his mother very much to blame for not making her. Now the effect of it is coming out and she ought to take things very easily for some time. I think it is a shame; there is Ethel as strong as a horse doing nothing while Lottie has been slaving.

It is a little cooler here today. It was dreadfully hot on Sunday. It rained a little in the night but not enough and all day it was a sort of damp heat which was not nice. However, it rained hard and thundered in the evening and that made it much cooler. My bites are not much better. I have started putting carbonate of soda on instead of ammonia. I think it is a little better. I think the little ants bite as well as I get bitten in the day and the mosquitos only come out at night.

Last night I did have a fright as I was going to bed. George had just gone downstairs as he was going to the mill. I happened to look on the bed and I saw a big thing with legs in the middle of the sheet. I could not see very well because of the curtains but it was about two inches long and I thought it looked just like a scorpion. I yelled to George and he came tearing back and we called the boy. But it was only a very large grasshopper, a dark brown colour. It made me feel quite creepy. And then when I was drying myself after my bath, a frog fell down from the top of the wall onto my sponge and I do hate frogs. I seemed doomed to be frightened last night. It is not all beer and skittles having a space in between the top of the wall and the roof. It lets in many things besides air.

Well, I must shut up as it is post time and I must send my letters down to the office.

Shrove Tuesday! How quickly Lent has come round. The ‘boy’ makes most delicious pancakes.

Lots of love and kisses

From Mab.

Letter to Amy, 19th February 1900

February 19th

Dearest Tommie

I hope you won’t mind a short letter this week, but I have sent a long one to Arthur which he will bring down. I did not find out till last night that my mail must go at 3 today, and this morning I had to write to the Captain and the doctor and finish my letter to Arthur. And then in the midst of it George came up to say that a photographer from Colombo had come to take views of the mills and that he must ask him to breakfast. He was a very nice man, but of course he came up and talked and we have taken longer over breakfast and now the morning has gone before I can look round.

I have been writing to the Captain and doing up my photo for him. I have had to send it to London as the tiresome people did not send it in time for me to send it on board the Rome here. I have had a very nice letter from him. I had sent him some cake to the ship. Poor man, he seems very cut up at his son’s death.

The little doctor has sent me a copy of the photo he took of Admiral Keppel. He took it on my last day, and the old man is smiling at me. It is very good of him. I am so glad it turned out all right. He was rather doubtful as the light was bad. I will send you some of my photos next mail.

My mosquito bites are getting better, but my feet and legs are still quite a mass of wounds. It makes George’s flesh creep to look at them. However, I suppose I ought not to grumble if I don’t suffer from anything worse than that.

I am so glad you have got a servant at last. However small, she is better than none, and what I can remember of her, rather a nice child. I hope Mother won’t ‘cope’ with her too much. I wish I could have the mater out here for a month of two. How she would suffer at not being able to go into the kitchen (I have never been in mine yet, I’m afraid) and at having to eat curries most of which you can’t help having misgivings about. My tummy has been very good so far, I am thankful to say. I was only ill one night at Veyangoda when I had a mango for dinner which George was rather afraid was not ripe enough. I eat a lot of plantains (bananas). We don’t get much else in the way of fruit here. How I wish I could send you on some. They are about 4 or 5 a penny, beautiful fat ones.

I must finish up now as the ‘Tappel’ (post) boy will be waiting.

Please thank Mother ever so much for her letter. I am so glad she is better. George weighed me at the mill on Sat, and he and I are exactly the same, 9 stone 9. Not much for him, is it?

Love and kisses to all

From Mab

Letter to Mother, 5/2/00


c/o Orient Co.
Horekelly Mills


My dearest Mother

Here we are in our new abode and at present we feel strange and forlorn. We had a long day on Friday and I was very tired, but still not so bad as I thought I should be. We were nearly an hour late in getting to Negombo as about 4 or 5 miles away one of the springs of the coach suddenly broke. Luckily we had just got into a village and the blacksmith was able to tinker it up, but it took 45 minutes and it was very hot waiting about. There was not a vehicle of any description to be had or we should have gone on to Negombo. The coach landed us about 1 1/2 miles away and Mr Van Dort (the manager) was waiting with a bullock cart that he had borrowed, a sort of a low wagonette drawn by two bulls. It was not extra comfortable, but it was heavenly after the coach, my back was nearly broke and the thing jolted in the most awful manner.

They do have such miserable horses, you never saw such pairs. One would be a great enormous thing and the other almost a pony. Coming along in the cart, one of the bulls had an obstinate fit and would take its head from under the yoke, and keep turning round, the man had quite a job with it. I can imagine Lin saying ‘Oh, the brute!’. I have got quite used to seeing everything drawn by bulls. You scarcely ever see horses, only in small dog carts and things like Victorias with a cover that are called Hacknies, that go to and fro from the stations and that sort of thing in Colombo. What are called Trotting Bulls go along very fast, the natives tear about in these. They are little black ones and are bred in Ceylon, but the ones that pull carts and wagons are big white ones and come from India. They all have humps of course and are driven in a yoke which is a round piece of wood that goes across between their head and hump.

Our boxes and cases that we sent off by boat won’t come before next Wednesday. We just missed one boat or they would have come last night. So at present we have got only just the bare furniture, but we should not have unpacked anyhow as all the walls have got to be whitewashed. It is so tiresome it having to be done after we are in. The walls are always whitewashed out here and these have just been left the bare cement, a sort of yellowy white which is far from pretty. It is only the walls that are done, the ceiling is the bare corrugated iron roof and then thatch on top of that, made of dried cocoa-nut leaves. There is a space of about a foot between the top of the wall and the roof for the wind to blow through. The rooms are always very lofty here, about twice as high as at home, and the ceiling goes up to a point in the middle. It is so funny to see the bare roof. Sometimes the rain comes through but not often. Of course you very often have ceiling cloth stretched across, we had in some of the rooms at Veyangoda.

We are not in the bedroom we want, so the men are going to whitewash that tomorrow, then we can move straight in and settle down. They are both nice large bedrooms with two big windows in each and they are divided into three, two wooden divisions and one glass and they move round and round on pivots in the middle, to let in as much air as possible. There has been a lovely breeze here every day. It is the north-east monsoon and as the bedrooms face the north, they are delightfully cool. The verandah faces south so is very hot. It is quite unbearable between 12 and 4 as the temperature is about 94 and I expect it will be even more soon as this month and the next one are the hottest.

This is a very simple little house, just four rooms, two above and two below, like a doll’s house. On the ground floor there is the dining room and another room which at present is used as the office, but George is going to see about building an office as soon as possible. We shall want it as a sitting room as it is nice and cool. The stairs go straight up between the two rooms. The bathroom is at the bottom of the stairs, such a funny bath, made of cement, like our ordinary one at home only very shallow and narrow. George says it is like a coffin and it is rather an uncanny shape. I never have my bath quite cold, but have a pail of boiling water brought in, so can have it quite hot if I like. The upper verandah is a very jolly one, and I am going to make one end a little drawing room. I shall always have to be up here until we get the other sitting room and even then, except in the hot part of the day, it is nicer as there is more wind. We can’t sit in the lower verandah. It is too bare and open, but we have all our pots put along the edge. Some of the plants have suffered rather in travelling, but I think they will soon recover. We have lots of ferns, big leafed maiden hairs, and ordinary rather fine leafed ones, and some like harts tongues. Then there are some things of the Arum lily tribe, with big dark green leaves, some of them variegated. The flower is very insignificant. Arum lilies grow quite wild, like weeds.

Monday 4pm

The temperature has gone down to 90, so I have ventured out onto the verandah. We have had tea in our bedroom as it is the coolest place, and while we were having it, we interviewed the Tambi at the same time. The Tambi is a sort of pedlar who goes about with goods in a bullock wagon, and he tells us he will come once a month, so I may find him useful. He has been trying to make me buy some very pretty figured muslins but we only wanted curtain muslin and stuff for making cushions. George had a huge cane chair made for me, as he knew I liked big ones, but if anything it is too roomy so I am going to make some thick cushions for it.

The men are whitewashing the bedroom but they are like English workmen and get on very slowly.

It is rather jolly – the company have got a steam launch which is hardly ever used and the boiler is out of order so they have sent it up here for George to repair. He has been overhauling it today (and getting black from head to foot in consequence) and he says there is very little wants doing to it and it will soon be all right. So we are going to to keep it up here and go about in it and it will be very jolly. Of course it is only a tiny thing, like a big rowing boat and George will look after it with a man to stoke. It will take us just as much time as the coach to get to Colombo but be decidedly more comfortable, even if we did it in a day. We shall be able to make some jolly excursions, especially when there is a moon. It is very pretty a little higher up than here, as the canal ends and we get into the natural water. It is really a long lagoon inside a big sand bank which goes up the west side of the island, joined together by canals here and there and a lot of work is done by barges, called “Padda” boats, which go up and down with goods. All the cocoa-nut cases go from here to Colombo in them as there is no railway.

I am glad such a nice lot of Addiscombe boys are going to the war. We saw ours off on Thursday. They marched past the G.O.H. to the jetty which is quite close. It made us feel very choky when they went by, they looked so sweet in their khaki uniforms with the band of the Highland regiment that belongs here playing before them. (That must be Capt Leigh’s son that died at Canary. He showed me his photo once and told me he was dying of consumption. He was very miserable about it, poor man, and I think from what he said, he was his only child, but I did not like to ask.)

The Rome will be in Colombo on the 15th. I am so sorry not to be able to go on board, but I am going to write to the Captain and send him my photograph.

It is much nicer having George so close. At Veyangoda the mill was half a mile away but here it is only a few yards and I can see him and Mr Van Dort walking about and it is much less lonely. And of course the office being in the house at present they are often in there and George can pop upstairs now and then to have a little gossip.

There is no attempt at a garden. Mr Harbor did not care about anything and the soil is all loose sand, so we shall have to get some mould before we can do anything. Exactly in front of the house is a square place that I think we shall turn into a tennis court. Then down a steep bank is the canal and on the other side a road and behind that a huge cocoa-nut estate called the Horekelly estate. This mill and house is built on a bit of ground belonging to it. We have nothing but cocoa-nuts all round us. They are very pretty, like huge Prince of Wales’ plumes against the blue sky.

I am suffering so from the mosquitos. They get at me everywhere, especially my feet. My ankles are a mask of bites ad I could tear them to pieces. Last night I sat with bandages soaked in ammonia and water tied round my ankles so as to get a little peace. George tears at his legs and cusses occasionally.

I hope you will understand the plans. I have put a cross on our bedroom in both houses. ‘Godown’ means where the servants sleep.

Plans for Horekelly bungalow

Veyangoda bungalow

I must shut up as the post cooly is waiting.

I do hope you are all better and that you’ve got a servant. That seems a hopeless case though.

With much love and kisses to all

Your loving daughter, Mab

(This letter included the two plans plus a sprig of rosemary which still survives over a hundred years later and all those miles.)

Letter to her sister, Amy, from Mab.

Saturday, January 27th, 1900

Dearest Tommie

I am going to begin my letter today, as I expect with our moving next week I shan’t have much time to spare. George is coming back from the mill at 3.30, and then after tea we are going to start repacking the big case, and we hope to be able to squeeze a few more things in as I have taken away some of the clothes that were in it before. We are going to send all the cases that we can, and my big trunk, off on Monday to go up to Horekelly by paddle boat, as it is cheaper than by bullock cart. They will take 4 or 5 days to get there but that won’t matter. The ‘boy’ is rather like Barnes was when we moved, he is going to clutch every mortal thing he can lay his hands on. I don’t believe he will leave a single plant or flower behind, and he is always bringing in curious things when we are at dinner and saying ‘Master going to take this? Might be useful’. He also likes to take time by the forelock and is longing to begin to pack, in fact, I think he has privately in the background.

George will be in soon so I think I must attire myself. I am in a state of negligé at present, consisting of combies and dressing gown, unbuttoned, so I’m hardly decent.

Grand Oriental Hotel
January 31st

We got off all right yesterday and came here by the 2.20. Our belongings went in four bullock wagons, such quaint things but they hold a fairish amount. I expect they will arrive on Friday morning and I hope the boy will have got fairly straight by the time we get there in the evening.

The volunteer contingent go off some time today, we don’t quite know when yet. They are all over the place, you see nothing but khaki uniforms, some of them look such jolly fellows. There was a dance here last night. Wednesday is always Guest Night and they did kick up such a row. They did not leave off singing ‘Soldiers of the Gunnery’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ till about 2 0’clock. The Hotel is perfectly crammed. George and I could not get our proper room as the people in it had decided to stay, so we had a single room, and G. had to repose on a sofa, but it was such a jolly big one, quite as comfortable as a bed. We have got another room for tonight, I am glad to say. We found the other one rather crampy.

I am afraid this is a very meagre letter but I have not really had any time to spare. There have been a good many odd things to do that I did not care to leave to the boy.

How jolly you getting a prize at badminton! I can play quite nicely now and beat G. sometimes, much to his disgust. We shall have to make a court at Horekelly as there is nothing of the kind there at present.

I am so glad Mother is getting better and do hope she will soon lose her cough. If only you could get a servant. I can’t make out about that sov, but what a lucky find. I have a faint idea that my drawer was open when I went to the cashbox that time, so it may very likely have slipped in. I told G. about it and he said, ‘Of course, Amy is to keep it all. Tell her I say so most decidedly’. But there is one thing you might send me if you don’t mind, and that can be my share of it. And that is 3 setting boards for butterflies, one quite big, one the next size, and one small, and a box of pins. I thought if I were to get some butterflies, Eric might like them for his collection. There are some huge ones that are very pretty if I can only catch them.

Well, I must finish up now, as I want to go out. George has gone over to Veyangoda and will be back to lunch. We are going shopping this afternoon and then to a hockey match. I had to have breakfast all by myself this afternoon and felt very grand and important. You have meals at ordinary times in Colombo.

Goodbye. Please give my love to everybody and thank Maud for her letter, and Kate.

Much love
From Mab

Letter to Mother, 24.01.00



My dearest Mother

I was so glad to hear from Amy that you were just a tiny, scrap better but it does not sound much all the same. You are a wicked old woman to go and get ill, and I only hope you are better by now. And the Aunts too, I hope they have got over their manifold afflictions.

I also most sincerely hope you have got a servant, it must be awful for you with the weather so cold. It makes me feel piggish to be luxuriating here.

We are going to move next week if all goes well. Monday and Tuesday we shall pack up, and on Wednesday the things will go off in bullock wagons under charge of the ‘boy’ and his satellites. They ought to arrive at Horekelly on Friday morning and I expect we shall get there that same evening. We shall go to Colombo on Wednesday and come on by coach on Friday, leaving at 7 am and arriving at Horekelly at 5 o’clock. I expect I shall be pretty well tired out as the coaches are not very comfortable. We stop halfway for breakfast, so that will make a little rest. George is very anxious and keeps on saying ‘I know you will be dreadfully tired’ in a doleful voice. He treats me as a very frail reed, and spoils me almost as much as you and Amy do, waiting on me hand and foot. In those ways, he has improved tremendously since he came out, he is much better in doing little things than he used to be.

I had to leave off then as first George came home and then the little black clergyman arrived to call. He is a very nice little man and can talk English quite well. He is only a deacon and the Vicar, who also has a living in Colombo, comes over once a month for communion. He came to see me on Saturday and I liked him very much. He is a native but white, what they call a burgher, a mixture of black and white.

Interval for dinner

There is a tremendous thunder storm going on. We had one tremendous crash while we were at dinner and then I thought it had left off and just now I wandered into the verandah to look at the rain and there came an enormous flash of lightning and the thunder exactly with it right over head. I have never heard a clap quite so loud before. I was quite paralysed for a second, and then simply flung myself onto George for protection. He says he does not remember ever hearing such a loud clap before. It is still thundering but only ordinary so to speak and I don’t mind it, but I hope it does not go on all night.

I don’t believe I have ever told you what wedding presents George has had. Of course, Maggie’s and Percy’s you know about, it is awfully nice but I only just had one peep the night we arrived and somehow could not take it in much, but there are knives in it, large and small I think. Then the boy who was going to be his best man and then got ill, Walter, gave him a picture, a very pretty girl’s head, but I have forgotten what it is called. Mr and Mrs Waldrock (the manager at Colombo) gave him a lamp, and Mr Masefield (the man here) a butter dish, oak and silver, a fern pot, and a photo of himself and bungalow. Another man, Mr Bolton gave him a set of silver afternoon tea spoons and tongs, such jolly ones. We are well off for teaspoons as that makes eighteen silver ones, besides a dozen in Maggie’s chest. Then the day before we were married, there came a little silver pepper pot from Vi and Reggie Saunders, and a few days afterward, a dozen Indian sort of d’oyleys from Colonel and Mrs Fanshawe, the married Miss Saunders.

My two boys on the ‘Rome’ have also sent me presents. Mr Wren some Maltese lace d’oyleys and Mr Renny a lovely table centre, white satin all worked in silver wire sort of stuff and an Indian tea cosy, worked in thick gold. Wasn’t it nice of them? I am going to send them my photograph as soon as I get it. The proofs came today and also our wedding ones. The big group is very good, but the one of George and I alone is too awful for words. We are going to have the negative and everything destroyed. I simply tower over George in that beastly hat. The ones of me are not at all bad, one is rather good, better than usual. We shall send you some of both as soon as we get them, but they are very slow here and we can’t see about them until we go in the shop next Thursday.

I am so glad our ‘boy’ will come with us to Horekelly. George was rather afraid he wouldn’t and I was dreading having to cope with a new one. This one looks after everything so well and is strictly honest. He takes great interest in me and likes giving me new things to eat. George was afraid he might not like him getting married but he seems rather proud of it and told George he was used to looking after ladies. They all call George ‘Master’ and me ‘Lady’. It sounded so funny at first. The boy has got a nice little ‘House coolie’ who can talk English and will come to Horekelly but I don’t think he has got any others yet, but I expect he will manage it all right. A ‘House coolie’ helps wait at table and cleans silver etc and is like a parlour maid, and is supposed to be ready to come whenever I call him. The ‘kitchen coolie’ washes up, and sweeps the rooms, does washstands and baths.

Thursday 8.30 am.

The ‘boy’ is gong to Colombo for a holiday today and coming back tomorrow morning. His wife and family live there but I don’t think he sees them very often. He is quite a middle-aged man and has grown up children. This evening we are going to dine with Mr Masefield. He has his sister staying with him. They are not bad sort of people in their way, although I should not exactly care to get intimate with them. I am hoping I shall like the manager at Horekelly. He is a burgher too, his name is Van Dort, of Dutch extraction as so many are here. He is quite young and George likes him very well, so I expect I shall too. It would be awkward if I didn’t, as he lives quite close so we are bound to see a certain amount of him and if we play games or anything it would be so mean not to ask him in. I expect he is very glad to have us as Mr Harbro is the sort of person who never does anything at all, but just sits in a long chair in the verandah and won’t take any kind of exercise. They all hate him and Mr Masefield is awfully sad at the prospect of having him here.

I wonder how Eddie Goddard will get on at the war? It is nice and plucky of him to go but aren’t Mr and Mrs Goddard dreadfully cut up abut it? Why doesn’t that cowardly little Ronald go and try to be of some use in the world? I think all loafers ought to be compelled to go. It would be a case of kill or cure and would prove if they have any pluck at all. Our Ceylon contingent leaves next Thursday and as we are in Colombo that day we hope we may see them off. They are sending 120 and they had no end of applications, ever so many more than they wanted. They are cavalry, so were obliged to ride well.

We had cocoa for ‘early tea’ this morning and used Walter Lovett’s silver jug. It looks awfully nice on the table. The ‘boy’ likes to have everything nice, and is very pleased when I give him out new things, but I have not got out much at present. He always makes the table look very pretty for breakfast and dinner, with lots of flowers. We’re using Miss Willis’ table centre for breakfast and Lucy Greenwood’s for dinner at present. Well, I must finish this up as the ‘boy’ is going to take it when he goes. Will you ask Amy to tell Florence that her photo came on Monday and thank her very much for it and the frame. I have not time to write to her this week, if she won’t mind only having a message.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody from Mab.

Mabel Gillespy!! It sounds so funny, doesn’t it?

Letter from George


Jan 24/00

My dear Amy

I have owed you a letter for a long time past, and now I have left it so late that I have only time for a few lines. I have received my marching orders to proceed to a mud hut in the jungle abut 240 miles from Colombo. Fortunately the place we are going to is a healthy one on the whole and we shall have the additional arrangement of a two storied bungalow which is a great thing in any tropical place healthy or otherwise. The journey is by coach or water but our launch is just now out of order so we can’t go by the latter this time, so Mab will have the new sensation of an 8 or 9 hour journey by coach broken by an hour and a half at a place for breakfast. I am afraid she will find it more tiring than a train but it will be quite new to her and more exciting. She had her first experience of a tropical thunderstorm tonight. There was one quite startling clap which made us jump out of our skins. It is unusual this time of year but the rain was welcome as we were getting dried up.

Mab doesn’t seem to feel the heat very much though the days have been somewhat close of late. We have games of tennis and badminton nearly every evening. There is no court at Horekelly but I must set to work and make one when we get there. The house there as I said is a two storied one, two rooms below with a verandah in front and two rooms above with a verandah also. The verandahs are of course wide ones and the upper one will be a useful sitting ‘room’ if I may so call it. One of the lower rooms is now used as an office but I hope to build another office and then we can use both rooms. The house faces the canal which runs past the mill. It is a fairly deep cutting and the banks are lined with trees and other vegetation. It is rather pretty.

The soil is all sand and opposite the house on the other side of the canal – and the road which runs by the side of the canal – is a large coconut estate, one of the oldest in the district with tall trees, so tall that you can’t see the trunks unless you look up and that has a monotonous effect as there is no colour of course on the coconut palms except at the top. There are coconuts near the house but they are all young ones. Then there is a bridge built of iron. There is a waterway all the way to Colombo partly canal and partly natural streams or lagoons and the same beyond Horekelly for miles up the coast.

The mail goes out this morning. It is settled that we leave Veyangoda next Wednesday, stay in Colombo probably at the Grand Oriental Hotel for two days and go down to Horekelly on Friday. I believe Mab gave you our future address.

℅ Orient Co Ltd
Horekelly Mills

We shall not be very badly off there as we shall see one or two Europeans now and then which is more than we do here and of course a member of the Colombo staff will be up once a month and stay at the bungalow. There is also a doctor fairly close, in fact very close as distance goes in Ceylon, only about 1 1/2 or 2 miles I think.

Goodbye now. Many thanks for your letters which are always welcome.

With best love

Yours affectionately

G. T. Gillespy

Letters from Mab


January 16th 1900

Dearest Tommie

George is going to write to Mother so I may as well to you. He is telling her all about our going to Horekelly (Hor-re-kelly it is pronounced). It is rather exciting, isn’t it? I am very glad we are going at once rather than settling down here for a few months and then having to move. The packing cases finally arrived yesterday. They have been at the Bois’ bungalow till we came back from honeymoon. We have unpacked the big case, but are only going to open the things we actually want as there is no place to keep them here properly. We should have to get a cupboard made if we were going to stay here so as to keep some things under lock and key. But George says the natives around here are really very honest, and the ‘boy’ is perfectly to be trusted and so I think are the others.

Our household consists of the ‘boy’, he is head factotum and a most important personage, but I am not so frightened of him as I was and I think he is rather scared of me. He speaks and understands English very well, I am thankful to say. Then there is a kitchen coolie, who washes up and sweeps etc, and a small youth whom the boy is training for house-work. He does all odd jobs. There may be another coolie or two – I fancy there is a bath coolie – but I don’t see them and I expect their wages are under a rupee a week. I don’t have any ordering or anything of that sort to do, unless I want things attuned. The boy keeps his weekly bills very well and things are wonderfully cheap. Beef is about 6d a lb and mutton 3d. Fish and poultry are also very cheap but I have not learnt their prices yet.

I had almost forgotten my birthday. Thank you and Mother very much indeed for the book. I have read it already and like it immensely. Also please thank Jack for the diary, I mean to keep it most religiously and thank the aunts very much for their card, it was so jolly getting them all. They came on the 10th or at least we found them when we came home that day from Colombo, so it was just right. George gave me a most sweet moonstone brooch set in silver. My mail has just been sent up from the mill so I must leave this off to read the letters. There are eight. Isn’t it lovely?

I have been enjoying myself wading through my correspondence. Yours is a most lovely long one but, oh, my dear, I don’t like it at all. It is wretched for you and every one, how did they all manage to get ill at once? Poor old Mater, I do feel sad when I think of her. I wonder what has made her rheumatism so bad, it does seem a shame. If only that beast of an Edith had not been such a fool, it would not have taken so much out of her. I do hope she will soon be better and the aunts, poor old things! I wish I could waft you a little of our heat. But it is really not so very bad here. I don’t suffer at all, but of course this is not the hottest time. It will be worse in Feb and March. The worst part of the day is between 1 and 3, then I generally retire to my bedroom, and shed most of my clothes and lie on the sofa and read. It is best not to sleep as you wake up so frightfully hot. At 5 o’clock George and I play tennis or badminton. I am getting quite a dab at the latter. We don’t play for very long, only about three quarters of an hour. I get in an awful state of heat but I always have my bath as soon as I have cooled down which makes me feel considerably better. It is the only exercise I get and it does me a lot of good. Mr Masefield comes over to play too. He is not at all a bad little man. Very fat and very energetic. He is awfully sorry we are going as he can’t bear Mr Harbor who is coming from Horkelly.

One good thing there is that the bungalow is better. It is a two storied one and that is a great preventive of fever. I shall describe it to you when we get there as I don’t know much what is is like now.

Such a dreadful thing happened here yesterday. The Superintendent Mr Poulier, a man about 56, hanged himself in his bungalow quite close to the mill. Mr Masefield found him about 4 o’clock. He went to see where he was as he had not been back since breakfast. George had come home at 4 to have tea with me for a treat and we had just finished when an excited native came to fetch him. Of course he took off at once. They had sent for a doctor but he could do nothing as he had been dead half an hour or more. It was so extraordinary, as I had been over the mill in the morning, and Mr Poulier was so pleased to see me and came all round with George and I, talking and explaining things, and I liked him very much. George and Mr Masefield had to have a row with him a little while ago as he had been getting very slack in his work, and the head office had been complaining. They think this must have preyed on his mind and they also have found out he has been drinking a great deal. His ‘boy’ said he drank a bottle and a half of whiskey yesterday, if so, it must have made him quite mad, I should think. But he was all right when we left him at 11. The mill is not working today and a man from the office in Colombo has come over. George is going to bring him (Mr Norman) back for breakfast. I hope he will be nice. It has rather upset George, as he was fond of the old man and of course it was a shock. We are both glad we are going away.

George has had a holiday today as Mr Poulier was buried this morning. It is very hot this afternoon so we have been reading in our bedroom in a state of ‘dishabille’ and now are going to have tea and wedding cake. It is most delicious. We cut it on Monday night at dinner. I am sending some to a few people, George’s friends and some of the ‘Rome’ boys and girls.

Just had tea and we feel much better. We are going into Colombo tomorrow by the 10.20. We shall have breakfast at the G.O.H, do some shopping, and then go to the Bois to say ‘good-bye’ to Maggie etc.

With much love to all, hoping to hear next mail that all the invalids are better.

Kisses from Mab


Mabel is Married.


Tuesday 2.30 (late December 1899)

My dearest Tommie*

I thought you would like to know how I am getting on as a “married woman”. It is a bit weird, as Hubert would say, but it is wonderful how soon one gets used to it. George is awfully good, in fact, I think too good to last. He is most tremendously shy. It is a good thing though as it makes it much nicer for me. I was so relieved when I found he had a dressing room. He bunks straight into it for dressing and undressing and shuts the door tight, which is decidedly convenient of him.

I sometimes try to think that he is you, when he is fast asleep with his arm round me just as you used to put yours, then I get hold of a pyjama sleeve and remember where I am. He is such a dear boy and has certainly improved in a great many ways. He spoils me tremendously, but apart from that he is much more thoughtful and considerate, especially in little things, and I intend to keep him up to it.

I am most awfully well and have a huge appetite now. I am always hungry for my meals and thoroughly enjoy them. I am very glad I brought that warm velvet blouse as it is most useful for putting on in the evenings. It is warm enough for a print blouse in the daytime, but the velvet is quite cosy after 6 o’clock.

7 o’clock
We have just been for a long walk and now George is having a bath before dinner. It is quite cold and I am writing this sitting in front of the fire, a wood one which makes me think of Fairbank. I am so longing for letters but of course the mail is late this week. I do so wonder how you are getting on and if you have got a decent servant – how I do hope you have. I keep picturing you all slaving away and having such bad times.

Be sure to tell me everything when you write and if anybody has colds or anything.

Goodbye dear. I must leave off as it is dinner time.

Much love from Mab.

*Tommie is Mabel’s sister, Amy

Letter from Mabel, 21st December 1899


SS Rome
Thursday, December 21st

My dearest Mother

Not much longer to wait now, but the days do crawl. I can’t a bit realise that I am going to see George in three days. I suppose it will dawn on me soon and I shall be wildly excited by the time Sunday comes. I had a letter from George at Aden and also one from Maggie. She is coming to Colombo on the Friday to do some shopping and then she and Mr Bois and George and I will all go up by the 7 o’clock train on Xmas morning and we shall arrive at their house in nice time for dinner. It seems rather a shame to cut up their Xmas day, but she is awfully kind and does not seem to mind.

Mr Haines bought me such lovely feathers at Aden with his share of the prize money. Wasn’t it nice of him? There are four bunches, one of white, three of natural. The only drawback is that they are all quite straight and flat. I don’t know whether I shall be able to get them curled at Colombo. The Captain says they are worth the money he gave for them. I am going to send some home to Amy when I am sending a parcel. They might come in for something or other.

We all felt very sad on Monday when all our various soldier boys left us. We had quite an affecting parting. Mr Renny got quite chokey. He and I have been such chums. There is hardly anybody nice of the male sex left except Mr Haines. The first officer Mr Bruce is an awfully nice man, and the doctor and purser are both jolly fellows, quite youthful specimens. I don’t know any of the other officers except the fifth. He looks after the library and we have great fun with him.

There are two very nice Australian girls, Miss Way and Miss Stirling. The latter is most comic and we never know what she is going to say next. We played cricket yesterday and the day before, mixed teams, and it is rather good fun. I have proved the champion bat, much to my amazement. I made 24 on Monday and got too excited for words.

Maggie said in her letter that she thought we should be married on Wednesday the 27th. It does seem close now and I can’t quite believe it. I have a dreadful sinking sort of feeling every now and then when I begin to think how far I am away although generally I only feel as if I were just staying away for a time. I think when I get on shore I shall begin to take it in more. Life on board is so messed up somehow that one’s thoughts won’t flow properly. And we are all so terribly lazy, it is quite dreadful.

I shall be very glad to get on shore and have a more comfortable bed. Mine is like lying on wood, it is so hard ad lumpy. My bones quite ached at first. Both the bed and the pillows are stuffed with horse hair, so you can imagine what it is like.


Tuesday, December 26th

Well, Mother dear, here I am safe and sound and in a state of excitement too great for words. It is so lovely seeing George again and he has not altered a bit, just a scrap thinner, that is all. We had a most awful time landing on Monday night. We did not get in till past nine and it was simply pouring with rain, thundering and lightening as well. George and Mr Bois came to fetch me. It was too wet for Maggie especially as it was so late. We managed to get my big trunk all right but I had to go down in the pelting rain to pick it out. We finally got on shore about eleven o’clock and got to the Bois house at 11.30. I had put on my clean blue print and it was absolutely filthy when I arrived. We came up here by the seven o’clock yesterday morning and got here about 5 o’clock. It is three quarters of an hour’s drive from the station. This is a jolly house and all the furniture and everything is perfect.

We are going to be married tomorrow at one o’clock, quite quietly I am thankful to say. Then we are going to stay up here for about a fortnight. George has taken a little house a few miles away. It is called ‘Elephant’s Nook’, why I can’t imagine. We went over to see it this morning and it is a dear little place, quite hidden away. George’s ‘boy’ has come up to this house and will take charge and look after everything, so I shall not have anything at all to do with the housekeeping, unless he suggests anything I don’t like. He was there this morning and filled me with awe and admiration. I know I shall be dreadfully frightened of him.

I have just been unpacking and looking at my clothes and they all look satisfactory, so be sure you let Kate know as it will ease her mind. My hats are also all right, the feathers hardly a scrap out of curl. I am wearing my check coat and skirt here as it is quite cool enough for it. I am going off in my white alpaca tomorrow.

It was quite affecting saying goodbye to the Captain and everybody on Monday. I had the chief and fourth officers and Purser to see me off, nearly all the passengers had gone. Mr Bois had a special launch so we did not go with the others, and we were so late because of my box. I was the only one who got any heavy luggage. It was so delicious! Mr Bois passed the box with the silver teapot inside it through customs as a Christmas pudding, wasn’t it cute? He did not know what was in it so said the first thing that came into his head.

Well, I must say goodbye now. Thank you and everybody for the calendars and cards. We were very delighted to have them. We drank to ‘absent friends’ last night at dinner. All the children sat up for it. Gwinnie is such a duck, tell Lottie she is simply sweet. I will write next mail and tell you everything. I feel too topsy turvy today to think much. Maggie has got another wedding cake. We could not possibly get more.

Goodbye, kisses and love to everybody, from Mab.

Letter from George Gillespy


This is a letter I have found from my great grandfather in Colombo to his prospective mother-in-law, Amy Gibson (my great great grandmother), in Croydon, October 18th, 1899.

My dear Mrs Gibson

After leaving it till the very last moment, I have at last made up my mind (after talking it over thoroughly with my sister and Mr Bois*) to ask you to let Mab come out to me at the end of next month, so that we can be married from my sister’s house before she leaves for England which will be on the 18th January. As she will have all her preparations to make before leaving, it will of course be most convenient for her to have Mab before Christmas, necessitating her to leave at the end of November.

I am afraid I have not given you much time in which to finally make up your mind to entrust Mabel to me, and I know what a trial it will be to you to part with her, but I am sure you will be glad that the uncertainty in which I have kept her and all of you for so long is at last at an end. Any slight hitch there may be to Mab’s comfort in our being married now instead of a year or so later when I might have offered her a home in Colombo instead of a dull pit-station, will be counter-balanced I am sure by her being able to be married from my sister’s house, and I know you will be glad to hear from the latter all about our wedding when she comes home in February (Maggie).

And now dear Mrs Gibson, please be quite sure that I shall do my utmost to make Mab’s life out here as happy a one as it is in my power. Things unforeseen may arise which will make our stay in Ceylon longer or shorter but I expect we shall be able to return to England either for a long holiday or for good in three years time.

You know that my indecision has been due to the company proposing to place me in Colombo, but I have since had another letter in which the matter is not again referred to and therefore have concluded that it has been abandoned or is in abeyance and I have written to the managing director of the company announcing my intention of settling at Veyangoda anyhow for a time at the end of the year. I have the assurance of Mr Waldoch, the manager in Ceylon, that I am not likely to be required to live in Colombo on my modest income, and therefore I think the risks of the course I am taking are not of any significance and Mr Bois, with whom I have discussed it, is of the same opinion.

Goodbye now. I have not said anything about the best way for Mab to come out as you will be able to get the necessary information from the different lines better than I can give them to you. Although the time will be short, I don’t think there will be any difficulty in getting a berth for Mab at the end of November.

With love to everyone

Yours affectionately, George Gillespy.

*George’s sister, Maggie, is married to Mr Bois and they also live in Ceylon.

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