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.

The Grand Oriental Hotel, Colombo


The Grand Oriental Hotel
July 2nd 1900

Dearest Tommie

Oh, what a day we’re ‘aving and oh so cheap, or rather it is dear at the price. You will see we are down here in the centre of civilisation again, although we did not in the least intend to come. Money was wanted and Mr Vandort was coming down for it, but at the last minute they wired from the office to say they would prefer George to come as they wanted to see him about something. So off we started gaily on Friday morning at 6.30 in the launch. We came along very well till we got about 7 miles from Negombo, then we found the water very low and we kept sticking and sticking. We first got stuck in a lagoon and a lot of boatmen shoved and hauled us off, then a little further on we got aground again and finally when we got into the canal again, we found it quite hopeless as the water was dreadfully low and the boat stuck fast. Luckily we were near a little village and the men there said the water would rise in about 2 hours but we could not possibly stick there and wait on the chance of getting off, as it was 11 o’clock and frightfully hot.

So out we got, bag and baggage, and we managed to get a little bullock cart, on the floor of which I sat, enthroned and surrounded by our luggage, with my feet hanging out the end. There was no room for George so he had to walk nearly 3 miles to another village where we got a bigger cart and we finally go to Negombo at 1 o’clock. We had left the boat in the charge of Jeremiah and the boy who had come up to see his family. George sent someone down to help bring up the boat when the water rose. It arrived about 5 o’clock in a most grievous plight as it had sprung a leak and was 3 inches deep in water. The Boy’s expression was killing; it was so lachrymose. I don’t think he will ever want to come in the boat again. Of course we had to stay the night at Negombo and come on in the coach on Saturday morning. The launch will have to come up here and be thoroughly repaired. It has always let in water a little and George thinks it had been strained somewhere, then getting stuck so badly has finished it off.

I thought when we really got here safe and sound that our troubles were over, but alas, no. We got here about 10.30 and George went off to the office to see Mr Horner. He also found that the man from london, Mr Clarke, has arrived and will very likely come back with us tomorrow. After tiffin we went to Mount Lavinia to get a sea blow but it was rather hot. We had tea there and got back about 7. I think the train journey is the nicest part as it runs along quite close to the sea and is deliciously breezy. It is almost too close to the sea for safety as in some places it comes within an inch or two of the line and George thinks they will have to move it farther back soon.

Well we had dinner and went peaceably to bed, but at 4 o’clock George woke up and was awfully bad. It began with diarrhoea and then sickness thrown in, first one and then the other. At 7 o’clock he was horribly bad. He shook as if he had the ague and was a sort of grey colour. I was frightened and thought he was in for fever so I sent off for the doctor. There is one who lives in the hotel but he is away just now so I sent for Dr Thomas, the man George went to about his boils. It was rather funny. George saw him and brought him to see me in the hotel on Saturday. He is a very nice man. He lives some way off and he sent back an answer to say he could not come for an hour or two as he was obliged to go a long way in the opposite direction but he told me to give George a dose of Chlorodyne. I did not get his answer till nearly 10 so if George had not got better before then, I should have been in a fright. However about 8 the pain began to get better and he left off being sick. Poor boy, he did have the most awful pain, it simply doubled him up. I began to have awful visions of dysentery and cholera. I got him some arrowroot and he went to sleep for a little while, quite worn out. When the doctor came, he said it was very likely caused by the change of air and sleeping in the wind with his bed close to the window.

Horekelly air is very dry, and here it is damp, and although it was perfectly still and very close when we went to bed, about 2 o’clock a little breeze springs up and being fast asleep, it gave him a chill. Also he had one or two iced drinks, which of course he is not used to, and they may have upset his tummy. His temperature was just over 100 so he had to keep in bed all day and exist on slops. They do all those sorts of things very nicely here. They sent up delicious chicken broth and corn flour and arrowroot. He felt very done up all day and did not want to get up a bit till the evening when he began to feel better and got up to sit in a long chair to have his dinner. I stayed up with him all day and in the afternoon went dead asleep, you see, I had been on the go since 4 o’clock.

Mr Marshall came to see me after tea and we had a nice little chat. Then I read to George till dinner time and again till he went to bed. What I did not like much was having my meals in solitary state in the dining room. I felt quite conspicuous as there are very few people in the hotel just now and you get so much attention it is quite embarrassing. It is very difficult for me to remember that I am a married woman and can do things and be more important than I was before. I don’t feel any different.

George is much better this morning. He slept like a top and has had a very good breakfast and has now gone to the office. He is going to see the doctor presently; he is coming here at 12 o’clock. It was so funny. The doctor was chaffing him on Sat morning saying how well he looked and that he supposed it was because he had me to look after him. He said that sleeping in a draught was not likely to affect me as I have not been out long enough. It is not until you have been out some time that you are likely to get chills.

The doctor came just now and I wanted to talk to him before he saw George. I told him about his getting thin and losing so much weight and he has recommended cod liver oil and malt so I got a big bottle of Kepler and am going to dose him. The doctor says he has to give it to a lot of people to fatten them up as one takes so little of that sort of thing out here. The doctor says one must not think too much about getting thin as the climate always takes you one way or the other, there is no happy medium, but at the same time he thinks George’s weight is a little too small for his size. I also talked to him about my constipation and he said it’s caused by taking so little exercise and is difficult to avoid. But he says Cascara can’t hurt me and is very good to take and if I find it does not do me much good, he will send me some dinner pills.


I have quite forgotten about the parcel. It arrived all right on Wednesday and I am most delighted with the contents and thank you and Mother ever so much for them. The dressing gown stuff is sweet and I shall make a blouse of it as well. The silk is just the very thing I wanted as I can make an evening blouse to wear with my alpaca skirt. I have not had one to wear with it before.

The book I am revelling in. It is awfully nice. What a pity you did not read it before you sent it. I am glad to have the clubs; they will be such good exercise. Altogether that parcel was most satisfactory.

We are off tomorrow by the coach at 7 o’clock and shan’t get home till past 5, a most hateful journey. I hope the launch will soon be mended. Mr Clarke is coming down on Wednesday. I am glad he is not coming with us as his room is not ready and it would have been tiresome doing it when he had come.

We are going out for a little walk after tea so adieu.

Lots of love to all
from Mab