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


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

Mabel, Mr Clarke, a dead scorpion and some fleas.


July 17th 1900

My dearest Mother

It is only just 9 o’clock. I have had a long morning already as I was up at 6. Mr Clarke has gone away today and he had to start from here at 6.30 to pick up the coach at Madampe. He has been here nearly a week and it has been quite exciting having someone else in the house for so long. I rather dreaded his coming as I thought he would grumble at things and make everyone miserable but he has been awfully nice. Of course he found a lot of things were wrong and has made a good many alterations, but he says that most of the mistakes George has made have been through ignorance and also through not liking to alter things from the way Mr Harbor had been doing them. You see, at Veyangoda, George did not have very much to do with the actual desiccating (that means drying) as Mr Maxfield was mainly responsible for it, but here he is responsible for everything that goes on, as Mr Van Dort has had very little experience. Also Mr Clarke says that Mr Maxfield has been making a lot of mistakes so that a great deal that George has learnt from him has been wrong.

Mr Clarke was a manager of a mill for five years and is very well up in everything. He thinks that things ought to go very well here now that he has told George where he was wrong. He found things very much worse at Veyangoda. Mr Harbor seems to have been sleeping all day and Mr Maxfield had got miserable about things going wrong and took no more interest in his work. I am awfully glad Mr Clarke has been as George has been worrying so over his work lately. The stuff was packed up here looking as he thought quite all right and when it got to London it was rotten, or yellow, or damp, and as he couldn’t find out the reason why, it was beginning to get on his nerves and every letter of complaint that came made him worse.

But Mr Clarke has roused him up and given him so much more confidence in himself. From what Mr Clarke has said to me, I think they have a fairly good opinion of George in London and that is why they sent him here instead of Mr Harbor, as he says that being such an out of the way place and too far from Colombo to get much supervision, they must have someone here they can absolutely trust.

I was rather afraid he might think that being married might make George neglect his work but he told me that he thought it was a very good thing he was married as he could see that having no society of any kind, he would never get his thoughts off his work and would soon get into a morbid condition, while he told me that if I was any good I ought to be able to amuse him and keep him cheerful.

He was rather a beautiful person and said straight out what he thought but I liked him and he has been very nice to me and sent all his spare time with me. He wanted to get off by the P&O Peninsular on Thursday but he does not think he will be able to manage it as that will only give him one clear day in Colombo and he has a good deal to do besides going over once more to Veyangoda. So he will have to wait till the next P&O on the 2nd as he has a return ticket. They want him back in London as he is their buyer or seller or something, and an important person. But you must be quite tired of all this business, it is not very interesting.

I am afraid we shall have to give up all hope of going to Colombo for Race Week as it would be rather silly for George to leave before they have quite got used to all the alterations in the work and things are going quite satisfactorily. It is very difficult to drill new ideas into natives’ minds and is a matter of time. I should not like them in London to think that George did not take enough interest in his work and I’m sure they would think so if he were to leave so soon. Of course it so horribly disappointing and it would have done George good but I think when his mind is more at rest he will soon pick up again and I am so ridiculously well that I can’t pretend I want a change.

I have been studying the almanac and you ought to get this on the 6th or 7th so it will be just in time for your birthday. Many Happy Returns and much love from us and I wish I could give you a big kiss. I am going to send you the scorpion as a birthday present and I hope you will appreciate its beauties. But I am afraid it won’t get off this afternoon as George can’t find a proper thing to pack it in. It must be in spirits of wine or it would arrive in a high condition. He will have more time to see about it in a day or two. He says he has felt very mean all this week wearing his stud every night without having written to thank you both for it. But he really has not had a moment to spare with Mr Clarke always with him and so much to think about, so you must not expect your letter till you see it.

Our plants have not been doing very well and Mr Clarke says it is because they were standing on the cement floor of the veranda which stuck cold to them so now I have had them put on bricks. They don’t look elegant but I hope they will grow better. We have not got very many, mostly ferns, and some big round leafed things of the arum family only no flowers, and some begonias, foliage ones, which do very well in Ceylon. I want to get hold of some good palms but it is rather difficult here. The vegetation is not a bit what I expected it to be like. I thought it would be much more tropical and luxuriant instead of which it is very Englishy. Of course in the jungles and up country it is more like that but on the whole Ceylon is not a fertile island. The teak trees are rather fine just now as they are covered with blossom. They are rather like Spanish Chestnuts, and so is the blossom only it is a pale yellowy green, and as the leaves are very dark green, it shows up awfully well.

You know the Boy went down with us to Colombo and we expected him to come back on the Tuesday that we did. However, he never appeared so we wrote to ask why and it appears he had rheumatism which he said he caught in the boat and he did not return till last Saturday. I enclose a rather beautiful letter which George had from him explaining why he had not come. Luckily Solomon can cook very well otherwise we should have been in a hole with Mr Clarke here. He does not understand much about waiting but he got along very well and was very proud of himself.

Breakfast time, so I must shut up. The puppies are getting on all right but have many fleas so have to be kept at a distance.

Lots of love to all and many kisses for the 8th, from your loving 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 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

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.