One Year on…Party, Party.

The Grand Oriental Hotel


Nov 27th 1900

Dearest Tommie

A year on Friday since I left England. It seems longer than that, don’t you think? Sometimes it seems ages and ages since I saw you all, and yet the fact of not having had any winter makes it seem wrong somehow.

We came down from N. Eliya yesterday, very sorry to leave although we ought not to grumble as we have been there a month all but three days, at least, I have. George, of course, missed four days when he went down to Marawila.

We are going to Horekelly on Thursday and we really don’t know yet how long we are to stay there. George heard from Mr Martin that the decision has not been given out at Marawila yet. It is to be done on the 3rd so George will be there all right. Mr Martin had heard that it is to be retried but not officially yet and he said he supposed it would come off about the 19th or 20th. That will be running very close to Christmas so we might stay on at Horekelly till after as it would be rather horrid to be in the throes of a move on Xmas day. Mr Harbor leaves Veyangoda on the 12th and as we hear that the house will want a lot of doing up and whitewashing, it would hardly be ready for us before the end of the month.

Poor little Nancy. I am so sorry to hear of her being so ill and do hope she is quite well by now. However did she get it? I suppose she began by having a cold? Barbara has had German measles, hasn’t she? Joyce has not had anything? Good little Joyce*.

George thanks you very much for the instalment of ‘Hockeys’. He was very glad to get them.

I am sorry to hear that Alice is going. Nasty little beast to give notice just before the winter. I do hope you will get another all right and at any rate be able to make her stay on through December, but it is horrible to think of you again spending your holidays slaving over house-work.

I’ve forgotten when the Addiscombe dance is. I do hope you will sell all your tickets. Is Dorry going or not? Fancy Mrs D. sending us a cake. It is jolly of her. I hope your cold soon went; it is early to start one in October.

It is thundering something terrific. I must leave off as I am too near the window to be pleasant. Of course George is out. I wish he would come home soon. It is nearly five and I want my tea.


I am cross, cross. Yesterday George saw Mr Maldook and he asked us to go to dinner with them tonight where at I rejoiced at so much dissipation. This morning I had a note from Mrs Stanley Bois asking us to go to dinner this evening and on to a performance of ‘San Joy’ at the Public Hall, whereat I ‘cussed’. It is too bad after such an age of dullness to get two invitations in the same evening and I want to see the Bois so much although at the same time I want to see the Waldocks too as I believe Mrs is very nice. I seem doomed never to see Mrs Stanley Bois as when we called before she was upcountry. Now to make me even crosser we have just had an invitation to a dance given by the Hockey and Football Club, of course George used to belong to it when he lived in Veyangoda. It is on Dec 14th and I don’t see how we can possibly come down for it, as in the first place we can’t afford it and I don’t expect George could get away again so soon. If only we knew someone who could put us up, it would be all right.

Of course we would much rather live in Colombo than Veyangoda which is a beastly dull hole, its only advantage over Horekelly being that it is on a railway and only an hour’s journey from Colombo but of course unless the mean skunks raise George’s salary we shouldn’t care to live here. Of course he has a raise every year but it is only abut R.40 a month which wouldn’t mean much in Colombo. George will have a good deal more to do now but he is not to get more in consequence. Oh, dear, no. That is their artfulness. He is to do the work of two men on the salary of one. You see, they had a bad year last year and are on the economical tack. However they have got to pay both Mr Waldock and Mr Harbor six months salary in lieu of notice so perhaps when they have worked that off we may have a look in. One thing, it is rather a good thing to live at Veyangoda and that is it doesn’t matter much how we dress, while of course in Colombo we should both have to get a lot of new things. I am not likely to have more than about two people to call on and if I want to come into Colombo for anything, my muslins are always with me. I have worn the creamy one a few times but have never worn my wedding dress.

I do hope you have not been and gone and spent a whole heap on Xmas presents for us, when I think of ours to you and what they cost us, really nothing at all, it makes me feel very mean. Of course George and I expect a present between us, at least you have given George one already, so tell Mother not to be so foolish. I know what an old nuisance she is with regard to presents for people. I don’t know what she thinks we expect, but I am quite sure it won’t be anything like what we shall get, but all the same I shall be very cross if you have spent a lot between you. I am so glad to hear you are sending us a Xmas pudding. We were so hoping you would but I did not like to ask for it, especially after demanding the cake and I thought perhaps it would be rather a bother and Mother especially as currants etc are very dear this year, aren’t they. Of course I like almonds quite as well only did not think of them as we have always used walnuts, and besides I knew they were much dearer. I hope you have not been extravagant over that cake. I am very glad you iced it, even if it does get smashed, it wouldn’t seem at all Christmassy if you hadn’t. Oh dear, I shall hate Xmas in this beastly climate. Fancy eating Xmas pudding with the thermometer nearly 90 degrees.


We were not entirely done yesterday, as when Mrs Bois got my note saying we couldn’t dine with them, she wrote again asking us to go to tea instead. She sent the Victoria to meet us and after tea took me for a jolly drive in a dog cart. She drove and we had a very nice time. George stayed with Stanley and went to the Club with him. She brought me back to the hotel and took him back with her. We were rather late. It was past six and we had to start off for the Waldocks again at quarter past seven as they live a good way off, quite half an hour in a rickshaw.

We had a very nice evening, only just ourselves. Mrs Waldock is a very pleasant little woman, quite young, only 24 or 25. He is exactly like Charlie Davis both in face and build, only fairer and not at all shy. They have two boys, one two and a half and the other eighteen months, such jolly little chaps, she took me to see them in bed, in very spread eagle attitudes, the baby with his little nightgown well up under his armpits. I like the Bois too. Stanley is awfully nice, not a bit like Percy, taller and good looking with blue eyes and a very beautiful moustache. But he talks exactly like Percy, it is quite ridiculous. She is very pleasant and chatty. I don’t think she is an ideal wife exactly as she is very selfish and shallow but she is very nice on the surface. We did not get back from the Waldocks till past eleven and we simply couldn’t do our packing and be up again by six this morning so we are going by the afternoon boat to Negombo and then on by the coach on Friday. It won’t make any difference to our bill here and will be so much less tiring. I have never been in the boat before. It is a fussy, flat-bottomed steamer, and of course can’t go very fast in the canal, but it will be a change from that beastly coach.

I do hope to hear a good account of Mother next week. If only you can get hold of a decent servant soon. What a trial they are!

Much love and kisses to everybody

from Mab

*I remember meeting Joyce and her sister, Nancy, in a nursing home in Worthing in the 1970s. Can’t quite work out their relationship to me. I think they must have been Mab’s nieces so I suppose that makes them my first cousins twice removed?

Mab and George: Will They Stay or Will They Go?

Elephant Nook

Newara Eliya

Nov 13th 1900

Dearest Tommie

We are really having very jolly weather here in spite of the monsoon. It is fine all day and comes on to rain about six, when it is nearly dark, so it does not affect us at all. I think the change is doing us both good, although things are so muddley just now, that we never know what we may have to do next. It is pretty well certain though that we shall not go back to Horekelly but to Veyangoda. Mr Hartor has had notice given him and is to go at the end of the month so we shall go there as soon as the house has been cleaned up. If George is not wanted for anything we shall most probably stay here until the end of the month and then go down to Colombo. I expect we shall go to Horekelly for a day or two to see after things, but the Boy and Solomon will do all the packing and bring the furniture by carts to Veyangoda. It will be a business bringing all our animals. I do hope my pussy will come all right. But of course nothing is settled yet and we must just wait and see. We may not be at Veyangoda too long as Mr Norman would much rather have George in Colombo but that will depend on how much the Home Office will raise his salary. He will have all the machinery under his charge and will have to visit Horekelly about once a month. Veyangoda is not much nicer than Horekelly in many ways, but the fact of its being near Colombo is the great point in its favour and we shall have a sort of feeling that we are on the way to living in Colombo. Nothing has been decided about the case yet so we don’t know if it is to be retried or not, it is tiresome as it would have been nice to have got it off our minds but these things always take time so it is no good worrying.


We got our mail today just before lunch. It is so tiresome getting it so late just as our letters have to go off. It does not give one time to digest your letter before I answer it. Please thank Dor very much for her jolly letter. I was so hoping she would write and let me know how she enjoyed the dance. I have been wondering if she would go to the Addiscombe or not. It would seem rather hard to leave her at home. We should like a bread platter immensely but tell her not to hurry about doing it, any time will do. So far I have had one pair of shoes soled, the brown thick lace-up pair, the others I have worn very little and I have still one quite good pair of evening shoes.

George will be very pleased to have Hockey and thanks you very much for it. You see, if we do go and live in Colombo, some time he will be able to play again. Don’t you worry about that cake, make it anyhow and it will be sure to turn out splendidly. I think I must have told you afterwards that I did receive the films all right, we have been busy printing photos taken on them now for Xmas cards. George has been busy all the afternoon cutting them straight etc and feels very virtuous in consequence.

He wants to go out now so I must be quick and finish up. Please thank Jack for sending the A.C.C. Report. George is pouring over it at this minute. Also George thanks him very much for sending the papers about the elections. He was so pleased to have them.

We really don’t know if we are going to stay on or not. Mr Norman is to let us know tomorrow if he wants George to go back to Colombo or not. I don’t think it is very likely as George has put it to him that we can’t afford to live at an hotel so if they want us to go back, the Company must pay our expenses. As it is, having to come up here has cost us a lot and we shall have to be uncommonly careful for some time. You see when we are in Colombo, they pay George’s expenses but not mine, staying at an hotel does mount up so, even for a few days. It is tiresome having to move just now too, but of course they pay for that, but all the same little things crop up that we have to pay. However we flourish on our worries and it will soon come all right again.

George is ready so I must say ‘adoo’. I do hope mother is better. She must try and do as little as possible and rest as much as ever she can. I do wish you could be at home altogether and that money weren’t so tight.

lots of love and kisses to everybody

your loving sister


Mab and the Tea Leaves of Ceylon

Elephant Nook

Nuwera Eliya

Nov. 6th 1900

My dearest Mother

Here we are in our little elephant hutch again and very jolly it is too. We came up on Thursday and had a very nice journey, getting in here about 5 o’clock. I am not enjoying myself just at present as I am a grass-widow. George had a wire from Mr Martin on Sunday asking him to go down to Marawila as further evidence was required evidently before the Attorney General decides the case. So off he went by the night mail on Sunday night and would go to Marawila in the coach on Monday and get to the courthouse in time in the afternoon. I had a wire from him last night to say he is coming back by tonight’s mail so he will be here by 8.30 tomorrow morning and shan’t I be glad to see him.

We went to church on Sunday morning, it was nice to go again. We have only been three times since we have been married and this is a proper church too with an organ and choir, not like the quaint one we went to before. I am revelling in the garden here, real English flowers, roses, yellow daisies, violets, verbenas, lovely arum lilies (very common here) and big tree fuchsias. Begonias grow very well here and so do those red leaved plants, coleus aren’t they called? Maiden hair ferns grow all over the place, in holes in the walls, on the side of the banks, it is so scrumptious to be able to pick it as much as you like.

It was so tiresome, poor George went away without any luggage. It must have been horrid for him spending the night in the train with no pyjamas or anything. It was all Solomon’s idiocy. I could have boxed his ears. George walked down to the coach office (one goes to take passengers to the train) and told Solomon to meet him there with his bag. But instead of waiting for George, he went off with someone else to show him the way and waited at the wrong coach office. He didn’t have the sense to go to the right one when George did not appear but waited till the coach went from there, and then went to the right one but was of course too late. I expect he could have got it down somehow if he had really tried. You see, the station is not at Nuwera Eliya, but at Nanuoya nearly a thousand feet lower down, it takes nearly an hour to drive down or up as the road winds round and round and is of course tremendously steep in some places and on the slope the whole way. I wired to George to know if it would be any good sending the bag on but of course he wired back no, as by the time it got there, he would be coming back and, of course, being so near Horekelly, he could get anything he wanted from the house. I expect he slept there last night with Mr Van Dort.

I expect Mr Brine, the clergyman, will come to visit us as he saw us going into church and asked where we were staying and for how long. He is fairly nice but rather too smug.

By the way, Mr Brown is coming to Ceylon this month to conduct a mission in Colombo. I wonder if I shall see him when we go back. I quite forgot in my last letter to tell you that we say Charlie Antram the day he arrived. He was spending the night with his brother-in-law who had come down to meet him, at the G.O.H. and I spotted him at dinner. I sent a card across to him asking if he had had a good voyage. He looked very mystified at first until he caught sight of me and then he recognised me at once. We had a nice little chat after dinner and he told me scraps of news. He looked very well and not altered a bit. He was only going to spend ten days in Ceylon and was then going on to Assam to learn tea-planting. He had altered his plans of staying in Ceylon as this was a better offer.

George and I have joined the Club here. It combines everything, tennis, croquet, golf, and library and reading room. I have not liked to go alone as I don’t know anybody but directly George comes back we shall go. It was rather unfortunate on Saturday. We went to call on the Wickwars, the only people George knows well enough, but Mrs Wickwar was ill in bed and the daughter out, however I expect she will return it and we are sure to see them at the Club.

We have not had much rain so far, only one wet evening. It is the rainy time here really so I hope we are going to be fortunate. It is so funny being so high up, sometimes a cloud comes right along the road when we are out like a wet fog but that is when we are closer to a hill, we don’t get them here. We have tea growing all around us, it is not very interesting, just little low bushes, rather like evergreens. Of course it is kept pruned and not allowed to grow high. They pick just the three top leaves to make into tea, the tiny top leaf is the best, that is orange pekoe. When the leaves are picked they are put onto hair clothes with air blowing over them to wither and then after so many days they are sorted out and put into machines to be rolled.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

Wednesday. George has not come this morning after all. I had a wire from him to say that he is coming by today’s train, so he will be here about five. I expect when he got to Colombo yesterday afternoon, Mr Norman wanted him for something or other and he could not get away in time.

It rained nearly all night last night and thundered but not badly. The thunder is so curious up here because there are so many hills it resounds all around and goes on for such a long time. This is a hilly place. It wouldn’t suit you. There is just a plain where the village is and most of the houses and then mountains all around, some of them covered with jungle. I went down to the village this morning and got caught in the rain, at least it was a sort of Scotch mist but very wetting so I had to come back in a rickshaw. With such hilly roads, you have to have one man to pull and one to push. I’m afraid they found me a tough job.

Please thank Amy for sending me the ambulance books, I quite forgot last letter. My tummy is very well now. I do hope you are feeling better. It is so tiresome, we shan’t get our mail till tomorrow as it goes to Horekelly first, so I shan’t know how you are. Has Jane’s trial come off yet because I want to have a paper about it. Give my love to Mrs Grundy when you see her next.

This must go off to the post or it will miss the mail.

lots of love and kisses to everybody, from Mab

Mab Dispenses More (Dodgy) Advice.

The Grand Oriental Hotel


October 31st 1900

My Dearest Mother

I hope you got my little letter some time in the middle of the week. I thought you would like to hear we had come away. But, mind, you are not to worry yourself and to think all sorts of dangers exist, because of George being mixed up in a quarrel. I thought first of all I wouldn’t tell you anything about it but then I thought that if by any chance it leaked out through the Bois’* via Lottie, you would immediately imagine all sorts of things, and think it much worse than it really is. There is actually not much in it – natives are always bringing cases against people – and us being out of the way, they will very soon calm down and forget all about it. And, also, I really don’t think we shall be much longer at Horekelly, the chances are very much against it. Mr Norman would much rather have George nearer, either here or at Veyangoda, and sooner or later we are bound to be moved.

We are going up to Newera Eliya tomorrow, starting at 7.30 and getting there about 5. It is quite exciting to think of going on a train. The Boy and Solomon go up today with most of the luggage to get everything ready. We have to take all linen and knives and forks and a good many odd things and we are also taking various groceries that we have in stock as they will not have kept till we came back so there is a good deal of luggage. I have not been out much here as George has been at the office nearly all the time and I don’t like going out by myself and had not much shopping to do either.

It is quite nice and cool. I am wearing my check skirt and it is not a bit too warm. We have got all our warm things for Newera Eliya as it is very cold there, not much over 60 degrees and down to nearly 40 at night so my flannelette blouses will be very useful and do them a lot of good to be worn again (I have aired them well, also blankets).

Before we came away, we did up our little box for you for Xmas as it would have been too late to leave it till we came back. It is coming as Company’s goods, and very likely won’t be sent off so you won’t get it much too soon. When it does come, it must be opened as there is another box inside addressed to Mrs Gillespy that we want you to send on. Also some little parcels and some coconuts (not packets but whole nuts) for Fairbank. Neither Amy nor Dory are to peep inside the parcels but if the latter takes them they must be packed very carefully underneath their things. No one is to look till Xmas day or I shall be very cross. They are very quaint little offerings, but all home made. I am so sorry that Amy’s letter about the things for the ‘Chicks’ was too late, as of course, I had packed up their things already. I never thought of bangles which was very foolish of me, and I’m afraid they won’t like the things I have sent them nearly so well. The little animals are very cheap too and I will send them some later on.

Your new mantle does sound a nice one. I was very glad to hear you had really got it and it was off your mind. I am so sorry though to hear you are still feeling poorly and having neuralgia. You must feed yourself up and take some sort of stimulant or Coca wine** or something. I do hope it is not going to be a cold winter with coats so dear.

Tell Jack I want a pen-wiper*** very badly. The one I have now is only made out of patterns and is very hairy. If he feels extra generous, George also wants one badly for the office.

I have been so silly. I have packed up my last mail’s letters in the box the Boy has got and I can’t remember if there was anything special to answer.

We are going to tea with Mr Norman this afternoon if it is fine but each day it has started raining about four o’clock.

My tummy is all right now, but I have got indigestion rather badly. I think it is because I haven’t taken much exercise lately and it will soon start getting all right when we start going out biking and walking at Newera Eliya. Our bikes are coming to Colombo by boat and may not be here in time for us to take on Thursday, so will have to be sent on afterwards.

Thursday morning, 6.30.

Just off, have been scrambling with the last bit of packing and am very hot. Now we are going to have breakfast and try to get to the station nice and early.

Lots of love and kisses to all

Your very loving daughter, Mab

*George’s sister is married to Mr Bois.

** Coca wine was indeed a stimulant, made from the leaves of the coca plant.

*** Pen-wipers were used to remove excess ink from the pen nib.

Mab Dispenses More Pharmaceutical Advice.



18 X 00

Dearest Tommie

If you can spare the ‘ready’ will you get me that book about the war and send it out to me. I want to give it to George for a Xmas present as he has just said he would like to have it. It says there will only be a limited number printed so I hope I am not too late. I wish I could send you the money straightaway but we shall be able to send it all soon as George owes his mother some too so it will come to a respectable sum.

I am very busy making Xmas presents. How you will all laugh when you see them but necessity is the mother of invention.

Everything is very quiet here and we are having a good deal of rain. We got the mail last night, very late, but the boat was delayed in the Canal by another one getting stuck so it came in two days later.

I do hope Mother came home better from Fairbank. She certainly does not sound up to much in Kate’s letter. Why don’t you try Blaud’s pills if you are anaemic. I do believe in them, don’t you? I should think your system wants iron and they would be just the thing.

I’m scribbling this off as I’m afraid George is going to send the post boy off and I want to get this down in time. I expect he will wonder why I am writing to you intermediate mail but I shan’t tell him. He is very inquisitive. I hope you won’t think I am always writing for things.

lots of love and kisses from Sammie*

*I don’t know why Mab signs off this letter as ‘Sammie’, but her sister Amy is always addressed as ‘Tommie’.

George and the Hockey Stick.


Dearest Tommie

Oh, wot a day we’re ‘aving, and ‘ow cheap!

George has been nearly put in jail for manslaughter, only luckily the man is recovering and George didn’t hit him either but some other ruffian. You know I told you in my last letter about the row between the head packer and the sheller who went and annoyed him. A lot of them are jealous of him because he is getting on so well. Well! George and Mr Van Dort went down to the Court House the next afternoon to defend Juanis as the sheller had taken out a case against him for assault. It was adjourned until the 23rd and they thought the matter would drop till then. But in the evening just after dinner, about 8.30, Juanis sent a man to ask George to go over to his house as a lot of these men were abusing him and he wanted George to stop them. When I heard there might be a row, I made him take his hockey stick as I thought it might be some sort of protection and might frighten them.

When George got there he found an excited crowd, but being dark he could not see much who they were. So he took hold of one man by the arm and said, ‘who are you?’ The man said he was the owner of the piece of ground (it was just outside the mill boundary). George let go his arm and turned to speak to Juanis. As he did so, the man gave him a little knock over the head with his hand. Anthony, the watchman, was standing behind George and was so mad with the man for touching the ‘master’ that he gave him a punch with his fist and then Juanis flew at the man and a general row began. They shouted and bellowed. I was nearly frantic with fright as I thought George might get hurt. However, Anthony made him come away directly they began to fight as he said his being there only made things worse.

So he came to the house and sent off for Mr Van Dort and the head man and then hearing that the former had already got there, he went back to the scene of the fray. When he arrived he found that Juanis had been knocked senseless and one of the men on the other side had got a most tremendous blow to the head and was bleeding horrendously.The man was not insensible and both he and his friends declared that George had hit him with his hockey stick and they wanted him taken off to prison then and there. Mr Van Dort who is splendid at managing natives sent George back to the house to be safe and then started trying to pacify them. He had to talk for a good time but at last he managed to calm them down and thee two wounded men were taken off to the hospital. Juanis was not really hurt much, only badly bruised and was able to appear in Court the next day but the doctor said the other man only got there just in time. Another half hour he would have been dead. And yet that man, although he knew he had nearly died, swore the next day that it was George who had hit him.

The head man came to fetch the hockey stick in the morning and they were all very disappointed to find it had not got an iron tip, also that it was not covered with blood. They all went off to the Court House the next morning. George and Mr Van Dort started at 9 o’clock and did not get back till 8. I can’t say I passed a very happy day. The way those men lied in the witness box was enough to turn you blue, the only thing was a great many points in their tales did not tally but they all swore George hit the man. There was only Anthony who could speak for George and they had got hold of him (he is quite young) and so terrified him that he declared he did not go near the place till after the man was hurt. Of course, the magistrate knows that George is speaking the truth and the men are lying but he could not dismiss the case straight away as they would be sure to appeal so it has been sent to the Attorney General to decide and he will either dismiss it or send it to the District Court to be tried again but both the magistrate and George’s proctor think it will be dismissed. George and Mr Van Dort think this is really a put up job directed more against the Company than George personally and they think a man who was dismissed for stealing coconuts some time before we came is really at the bottom of it. When the row began they hoped George and Mr Van Dort would go so that they could mix them up in it.

2 p.m. It is raining hard and thundering. The N.E. Monsoon is on us and it begins to rain a little earlier every day and soon I expect we shall have whole days of it. But it is delicious to have it cool. It is quite chilly early in the morning and the water makes my hands quite cold. We have not taken to a blanket yet although have had it aired all ready. George is writing an account of his adventures to his mother and I have sent one to Kate and also written to Maggie. I am rather sorry the baby is a girl. It would be good for Dudley to have another boy and I hope Gwynie won’t be jealous. Mrs Gillespy said that Mr Bois is rather pleased that it’s a girl as he says he likes girls.

George and all the men have to go to the Court House on the 26th to hear the result of the Attorney General’s decision. If it is all right and the case is dismissed we are going up to the Nuwara Eliya for a fortnight’s holiday. Of course if it has to be tried again, we shall wait till after that but anyhow we shall go away directly it is all settled. We both feel as if we should like a change after all this bother and worry. It rather shook my nerves that night hearing all the bellowing and shouting and then being by myself all the next day was not very cheering as I kept on imagining all sorts of things when George was so late. He wished afterwards I had gone with him to the Court House but it would have been very uncomfortable for me there and besides he was riding my bike as Mr Van Dort’s had come to grief so he had to lend him his.

Mr Norman, the manager, came up on Thursday and stayed till Sunday. Of course he could not actually do anything but George thought it best to send for him, it is so difficult to explain things in writing. There is a slight chance of our being moved from here soon. I only hope it will come off. But Mr Norman says that the Company would like to get rid of Mr Harton but as his agreement is not up for a year they could do it without paying him six months salary. If they do that they will make George sort of visiting agent to both factories and we shall live either at Veyangoda or Colombo. Mr Van Dort will be in charge here with a responsible fitter for the machinery and George will come down regularly once a month to inspect. Of course this is very vague and they may keep on Mr Harton for his year and then move us but Mr Norman says Mr Harton is doing nothing for his money so they would really save six months salary by letting him go. I suppose we shall know by about Christmas time.

Very many thanks for the films which came all right. They are beautifully fresh aren’t they and might be all right.

I hope Mother’s finger is quite all right. It sounded a nasty place.

George says will you find out the price of sparklers per dozen.

Well, I think I have told you everything. This has been such an exacting week. I have not had time to think much.

Good bye, lots of love and kisses to everybody

from Mab

The one where Mab is racist and takes drugs.

Here’s the next instalment of my Great Grandmother’s letters to her mother, sent from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1900. (Please don’t hold them against me!)


My dearest Mother,

I hope you came back from Kate nice and fat. I wish you could come here for a time and lead the lazy life I do, but I don’t believe you would like the heat, even with nothing to do, it would pall after a time. I do so pine to wear a woolly frock again, I do get so sick of everlasting cotton things. I am having a fight with the dhoby just now, he will make my frocks so frightfully stiff, my skirts are like crinolines and my blouses like cardboard. I spoke about it a few weeks ago and they were better for a time, but he has gradually got them stiff again. I suppose he thinks it is correct but it makes them so frightfully hot. I am busy making a cycling skirt. I have altered my dark blue gingham into one and for this one I have bought some holland. I got it very cheap as the shop is selling it off. It was only 45 cents a yard, that is about 6 1/2 pence. It is rather a loose one so I expect will shrink a good deal but I am going to allow for that.

I am getting on very well with my biking, although we have only been on very little rides at present as it does not get cool until half past five and it is dark soon after six just now. When the weather is cooler and we can get out earlier, we shall be able to go down to the sea. It is only about half an hour’s ride.

The people at the mill are so idiotic, they are always quarrelling about something. They are like naughty children, only very spiteful to one another. Last night one man who had finished his work went into the mill and began worrying another man who had not finished. They finally hit each other and then some more joined in and they began throwing stones. Then George came on the scene and took the man who began it outside to ask a few questions and in the middle of his talking, the man rushed away into the mill again and began hammering away at the other individual. So George sent for the head man and gave him a charge for a breach of the peace. Now he and his friends are going to bring an action against the other one for assault. This is ridiculous, they do so love going to law. If two men fight, the one who gets the worst of it nearly always brings a charge against his opponent or if not he gets a lot of men together and they fall upon the unfortunate man when he is alone and unprotected. George will have to go off to the courthouse at Marawila this afternoon to bring his charge against the man. This man had really no business inside the mill at all as he is a ‘sheller’ and works outside while the other man is head packer and it was just his busiest time. He is a very good worker, one of the best they’ve got, and if only instead of hitting the man for worrying, he had reported him to George it would have been all right and he would have been punished. The worst of it was that a poor unfortunate stoker who had nothing to do with it got a nasty cut on the leg with a stone. George bound it up with lint and a bandage but these people have got the most dreadful flesh for healing, just an ordinary little cut usually swells up. I suppose it is because they eat filthy dried fish and stuff. Unfortunately Mr Van Dort is away just now buying nuts so George is the one to help him in the talking. They all get so excited and will talk all at once that it is most difficult to understand them unless you are very well up on the language. It just shows you what silly people they are, we are always having little rows like that, only George generally manages to stop them from going to law.

I hope you went down to Seasalter* a nice lot of times when you were at Fairbank. You always enjoy it so. My tummy has been much better lately, in fact rather the other way about but I think that was the effect of the coach coming back from Colombo. It was even worse than usual, the roads were being mended. However I’ve got some camphor water which I imbibe if I get too bad and of course we always have Chlorodyne**.

The mill works has been going on very satisfactorily lately, last week they broke the record in the amount done, and the reports from London have been good too.

I do hope the bottle of beasts has come by this time and not smashed up.

The puppies are flourishing. Mr Van Dort is going to have Ginger, he is the only one we can spare. Moses and Tuppence are so sweet and cheeky.

It is breakfast time and George is hungry so I must leave off.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody

Your very loving daughter,


We shan’t get our mail till this evening.

*Village on the north coast of Kent.

**a mixture of chloroform, cannabis, and morphine used for upset tummies etc.

Mab Makes Some Biking Knickers

mechanical world

Horekelly, Madampe, Ceylon

October 2nd 1900

Dearest Tommie

The N. E. Monsoon will soon be on us now. Last night it was gusty at times and the wind came all ways and it rained a good bit too. Now is the time we have to be careful and not let the wind blow on us at night as it is a feverish wind as it comes right over the land instead of straight from the sea. We are going to start taking quinine and will keep our north windows shut at night. This is where the benefit of sleeping upstairs comes in. It makes a huge amount of difference.

Oh, I was tired after the coach journey on Thursday. It seemed much worse than usual. I did not get over it till Sunday. I don’t think I shall go for a such a short time again, it isn’t worth it, only we could not afford to stay any longer. To our horror the Galle Face Hotel is much more expensive than the G. O. H. although we had always heard it was the same. But at the G.O.H. they always charge you so much per day however short a time you stay, but they don’t at the Galle Face unless you make special arrangements, but charge each item separately which of course makes it come to much more and also they charge half as much again for their drinks. Wasn’t it a sell and we were so pleased with everything. But we have bought our experience and shan’t be caught again.

I am making some knickers for biking, grey print ones. I hadn’t a pattern so cut them out from George’s and they aren’t half bad. We went on a ride Sat and Sun night and I am getting on capitally although I can’t go far as it makes my legs ache. While I think of it, George would like Hockey very much if you can really afford the ready and pay for it, but you are not to send it if you can’t as he wouldn’t mind a bit. He doesn’t know if it is still in existence, you must write and enquire. You must keep a strict account of what you spend for us and tell us when it is a respectable amount but it is not worth while us sending less than £1, if you can wait till it comes to that, but perhaps it has come to that by now. You seem to be always spending money on me. I hope you enjoyed the lengthy list of my wants that I sent you. It was certainly long enough and George would suggest the most ridiculous things, he very much wanted me to put down a ladies rifle. He thought I would like to shoot snipe, poor little things. I shall be very cross if you spend much on a present for me. I put down lots of nice useful small things for you to choose from. I am saving all my bestest table cloths and things in case we go to Colombo, there is always a slight chance of that.

Have I told you the manager, Mr Waldrock, who went home for a holiday just after I came out, has got the sack. They did not think he managed things well and he seems to have rubbed the directors up the wrong way so they have made the man next to him manager (Mr. Norman). He is a bachelor and fairly nice, very like Mr Humphrey, both in appearance and manners. I don’t get on with him extra well but I have never seen much of him. All the men in the office now are bachelors. George is the only married one.

Please thank Carrie very much for her letter and also kiss the chicks for theirs. I was pleased with them and so was George with his. They are without a cook again then, how unfortunate they are!

It is so silly about George’s books. Mrs Gillespy is really most foolish. He told her most distinctly he wanted every one of his books of any description especially the bound Mechanical Worlds and also his manuscript note books. He says they have all got their name inside. He doesn’t want the Engineers that is all. And a few more books won’t make much difference to the amount we shall have to bring home and besides we may be here another two years. He does so wish now he had brought them all out with him but as he thought he would be home again in a year he only took the very necessary ones, but he has often wanted to refer to some he left behind, especially the M. Worlds.

Thank you ever so much for getting the films but I do hope you can spare the money for them. Isn’t the difference in the price ridiculous? I suppose they often get them spoilt so they charge that much extra to make up.

How is your neuralgia, you didn’t say anything about it? I hope the rest at Fairbank has done Mother good. Don’t I wish I could have her to stay with me. It is beastly being so far away.

lots of love and kisses to everybody, from Mab

Mab is back and she’s living the dream!


Sept 26th 1900

Dearest Tommy

Behold us luxuriating in civilisation! Only for two days though, we came on Monday and go back tomorrow (Thursday). But still, it makes a little break in the monotony of one’s existence. We are staying here this time, we thought we would see what it was like and we like it better than the G of H which is right in the town. This is a little way out, quite on the edge of the sea and is much more breezy and open. We have got such a jolly bedroom with one window looking onto the sea. The beds, washstand and dressing table all up one end, there are thick curtains which can be drawn right across that part and the rest is furnished as a sitting room, with comfy chairs and sofa and a sort of little sideboard and tables. One could live quite comfortably in a room like that, in fact a lot of people do live here and at the G of H. It is almost less expensive than having a house.

We have had early tea at 7 in our room and George has gone down to the office. I have had a cold bath and have been sitting opposite to the sea to get a freshener. There is such a jolly breeze coming straight off it. There is a seawater swimming bath in the hotel but I have not the courage to go alone. I wish it was mixed so that George could come. Between here and the town is a long parade and drive (3/4 mile) by the edge of the sea. Everyone takes a constitutional along it early between 6 and 7, either driving, riding or hiking.

Yesterday morning I went shopping and then picked George up at the office and had a chat with the men there. Mr Waldrock, the manager, who went home just after I came out has got the sack. The reasons have not come to light, but he had been rather unlucky in his work lately and the directors, being in a cantankerous mood evidently, came to blows with him. It is hard times as he is married with two children, but he has heaps of friends out here and has got one small appointment already and will doubtless soon get one again. Mr Norman, the man next to him, is the manager now. They don’t seem as if they are going to put another man in at all.

Yesterday afternoon we went to call on the Stanley Bois but they were not at home and we have an idea that they, or at any rate she,  is up country as their drawing room floor was being relaid. I was sorry as I should liked to have seen her. In the evening after dinner we went down to the G of H to see Mrs Maxfield. I expect I have told you about her. She is the mother of the man in charge of the Mill at Veyangoda. She is the matron, or whatever you call it,  at the G of H.

The night before we went along Galle Face to get a blow before we went to bed. It is rather fascinating spinning along in a rickshaw at night, by the side of the sea with only the lights of the town in the distance.



I have been into the town again with George and now he has gone on to the office and I came back to write. I don’t think we are going to do anything much this afternoon except go to a nursery garden and try to get some little ferns for the table.

We got the mail last night, or rather I did. George was very disgusted as all the letters were for me. I had quite a bundle. It was jolly. Five altogether, from you, Kate, Jo, Mother and Maudie, the first time she has written to me. I shan’t have time to write to people this week so I am going to send Mother, Kate and Mrs G. pictorial post cards as they are rather good little views. I have put a mark against our bedroom windows, the front one is over the porch and the sea is to the right by the coconut trees. You can get a little idea of the Galle Face from the view on this paper. Then there is a view of the lighthouse which is in the middle of the town and you get a view of a bullock cart with its great big thatched roof. Then there is a picture of a catamaran. The one we went out in at Negombo was a little bigger than that I think. You can see the out-rigger where they put the braid across for us to sit. You can see a rickshaw in the hotel scene. They are not very comfortable as you have to sit forward and it makes your side ache after a bit.

This hotel is really quite palatial like the Metropole only of course with huge verandahs and corridors which make it more airy, but all the appointments are very good and plenty of servants about. I am using all sorts of paper as I began to write in the reading room. Now I’m in the Ladies drawing room and they give no smaller paper.

Then I am going to make your mouth water as it never did before – I’ve got a bicycle! We got so sick of walking along those beastly roads always the same way and George would not go out for a ride without me, so he got it for me, and it came down as a surprise. Wasn’t it sweet of him? It is an American machine. White is the maker and it is to cost R.187. George is going to pay for it in three monthly instalments. It would have been R.170 cash. Of course it is a fairly cheap one but it is strong and well-made and suits me capitally. I’ve only had it since last Wednesday and have been out three times. I got on all right only the roads are so rutty that sometimes I get off a little unexpectedly. But tell Mother I will be very careful. She is not to think I am going to be reckless and try to go fast or anything and besides George is much too cautious over me to allow me to do anything rash. But it will be so much nicer for us to go out for a little spin of an evening instead of just meandering along the road and of course the exercise will be much better for us and will be just the thing for my tummy.

I do hope you did not hurt yourself when you fell down those steps. It sounds horrible. The Long’s party does sound jolly. I wish I had been there. Your blouse does sound sweet, I do want to see it so badly. You must keep it till I come home.

Isn’t Jane awful? Do tell me all about it or send me a paper with her trial. Who is the child like? Sil Ryder is good to take it but why is it a handful? It must be quite small? How lucky Fay is. I should think she’s off her head with joy. I can quite imagine Ma being sceptical.

I am so sorry Aunt Lin has rheumatism so badly and hope it is better now. Tell her she had better come out here and all of the heat will work it out. George will be coming in for lunch in a minute. It is past 1.30 and I’m hungry so I hope he won’t be long.

Tell Jo I was awfully pleased to have her letter and will answer it soon.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody

Yours ever



The one with Mab in her combies.






Dearest Tommie

Your parcel really went off yesterday morning so I do hope it will go by this mail. We put in some sample packets of coconut to make up the weight, but the box was heavy so we could not put very much. We had to put it in the small packets as all the lead paper is cut at that size. They take samples of the stuff that is made everyday and then open them after a certain time to see how it has kept.

I have put in some more seeds of various sorts. I don’t know whether any will grow. The things with the curious brown leaves attached are the seeds of the ‘Hora’ tree from which this place gets its name. This is really Hora-Kelle (forest) and before it was cleared to plant coconuts there was a big hora forest here. There are still a good many trees about and they are very fine. They have perfectly straight, thick trunks, quite bare for about 20 or 30 feet and then they branch out. The seeds like shrivelled berries are Teaks. They are awfully pretty trees with dark leaves and big bunches of pale green flowers like the shape of Spanish chestnut blooms. The long bean is a plant that has a rather pretty white flower a little like a very big jasmine only with no scent. Aren’t the red berries pretty? But they are poisonous. I planted some in a box and some on a sponge and I found that only the brownie coloured ones came up so I suppose they are the ripest. I think if you were to plant some of the various seeds and keep them in the kitchen they might come up. I generally soak mine in tepid water before planting. They say it makes them germinate quicker.

I am going to send you a paper with an account of the earthquake. I thought you would like to see it although it did not really amount to much.

The new Boy is going on very well so far and he is certainly keeping the house very much cleaner than it was before. He had the sitting room carpet up the other day without being told and I noticed this morning he had got everything out of the little sideboard arrangement. We have not got a proper sideboard you know, only a sort of little chiffonier thing with two cupboards and two drawers and then in the top one glasses, finger bowls etc have to be kept. You are obliged to keep your things in evidence in the dining room here, you know, because there is never any proper place in the kitchen. We have a dinner wagon too and on that we have the tea and breakfast sets, cruets, and all the silver things we have in use. There are some shelves in the kitchen verandah and our dinner things are kept there. There are two safes there too where our eatables are kept and we have a big cupboard in the dining room under the stairs where we keep groceries and drinks and spare china etc, rather like our cupboard in the breakfast room.

One thing, this Boy is a very good cook, gives us awfully dainty little meals and serves up everything so nicely. The other Boy had got so lazy and he always served us up the same things, so often fish cakes and rissoles till we got sick of the sight of anything round. He makes very good bread too, both white and brown. You can’t think what a treat it is to have nice bread and butter again. George has gained a bit lately and I am sure it is the nourishing brown bread. What he had been eating was always made of the very cheapest flour and must have been very bad for him. I weigh 9 stone 9 lbs so I am not quite an elephant yet.

I like the Hospital stamp very much and have stuck it on the calendar on my writing table. I do hope you felt better after you got home and you ought to go on with the Chemical food for some time. One bottle is no good. I cannot understand you taking, or Kate allowing you to take, any sort of medicine that had been kept years. Of course it would have made you ill. The properties would have changed tremendously. I wonder it didn’t poison you. I think you were perfectly idiotic. It has simply undone all the good work going to Fairbank would have done you. What a fool Fanny is and what a lot of good a spanking would do her. How jolly of Kate to give you a tan waterproof. I am so glad. Is it at all like mine? I should like to think we are ‘little twins’.

I had a letter from Mrs Gillespy this mail. She seems perfectly happy at Billingshurst and very pleased with everything. She said she hoped you would come and stay and was disappointed you could only come for a day.

Talking about Christmas presents makes me feel quite excited although I know it won’t feel a bit like Xmas here, but still having presents will make it a bit better. At any rate it will be a more peaceful one than last. With regard to our presents, of course there are heaps of things we want both, small and large, so I’ll give you a long list, but mind, I’m only putting down big things just to show you what we haven’t got but you are not to allow Mother to insist on getting something which costs pounds just because it is down on the list. We shall be very cross if you spend much. You have all spent so much on us already, and tell Kate that too. We shall only be able to send very feeble little offerings home, there are so many to send to, but people won’t expect much from a newly married pair, will they? There are such jolly things I should like to buy you, but they are all so dear. We are going to manufacture things though. We have got some in our minds eye.

We are rather wondering about George’s books. He wrote and asked his mother to send them out to him and just mentioned a few he could think of. The other day he had a letter from her and she said she had asked Jack to go and look out the books George had mentioned. Of course he meant her to send them all, note books and everything as they are coming out for nothing with the company things. It doesn’t matter how many come and there are a lot of things in note books that he has written at different times that he sometimes wants. She is really rather foolish sometimes in understanding things and of course he can’t ask to have a box sent out again too soon.

I am looking forward to the cricket photos. Please give my love to Dor and thank her very much for her letter. Her evening frock does sound pretty and I want to see it badly. It is hateful to think of her doing her hair up and I shan’t be there to see. She will seem so different when I come home.

I must tell you such a comic thing which happened the other day, though annoying. I was just going to dress before tea when George came up to say a sort of pedlar man had come and did I want anything? We did want one or two things so he went down to see what he had got while I dressed. I went on calmly dressing and had nearly finished when my door suddenly opened and in walked the office boy, followed by the pedlar man and another man with the pack. I gasped and tore past them down to the office to fetch George. I found that he had been sent for to go into the mill and the office boy (who was new and cheeky) had taken it upon himself to bring the man upstairs. The cheek of walking into my bedroom without even knocking did for me. If they had been five minutes sooner I should have been attired only in my combies. I always lock my door now!

George was furious. He smacked the office boy’s face and sent off the man without buying anything. The boy is not supposed to come into the house and to come upstairs was great impertinence. George smacking his face evidently offended his dignity as he has never appeared since. I laughed afterwards although it made me very hot at the time, especially as none of them could speak English.

I do hope Mother had a good time at Fairbank and came back rested.

lots of love and kisses to everybody

from Mab