Letter 7

Ellen Harris to brother and sister-in-law Edwin and Sarah Harris. Plymouth, 17 January 1842

My dear brother and sister

As we heard today that the mail would leave London on the 25th of course as I know you would be anxiously on the look out for news from England I determined to avail myself of the opportunity which the vessel gave me of writing though I have no particular news to tell you.

I need scarcely say how delighted we were to have a letter from you as we had heard previously but the report sent by the surgeon stating the arrival of the vessel, the health of the crew and the accouchement of Mrs Edwin Harris. Of course this allayed our fears and suspense a little though we could not understand why we had not a direct letter from you before. However when it came nothing could exceed the joy though it was damped in a great measure by the suffering which dear Sally underwent. But indeed we could not help feeling thankful to Providence for his mercy in sparing the mother and removing the dear infant though perhaps it was natural to both of you to feel a regret at losing it.

The description of the climate, natives, productions & all gave pleasure but the only part we disliked or that dwelt sadly in memory was the probability of dear Edwin’s attempting his journey from New Plymouth to the other settlements, on foot with no other escort than the native guides enlightened as they are by the spirit of Christianity, but you may be sure this plan was not relished by any of us. But if you have indeed accomplished it I trust that the protecting shield of the Almighty has indeed been with you in the wilderness.

I suppose you were surprised to receive a letter from me dated Plymouth but I left Alfordon about a month ago having resided there about 12 months. The Lehrens would have detained me longer but as I knew I gained nothing by staying having a low salary and bad health I was determined to leave and so here I am at home again and ready to sing the old air ‘Home sweet home.’ But I will say no more of myself as I think you will be better pleased to hear of the movements of the more important branches of the family and now I think I will tell you about Mr Stephen Court. Aunty told me just now that she had mentioned to you in her letter of his being in difficulties but he contrived to surmount them in a gentlemanly way very common now-a-days by taking a comfortable trip to Ilchester Mansion (where a certain friend of yours Henry Paddon the auctioneer has been paying a visit also). Since his return Mr R has procured him a situation at Ackerman’s Iron works, Bristol, though it is unlikely that it will be a permanent one in order to eventually carry out the plan about emigration.

We do not know what his salary is to be as he is not aware himself but we suppose not a very high one as his situation is merely a clerkship to make estimates of the different works carrying on at Bristol. It was difficult for Mr R to procure it at all as he was not sure that he would be able to fill the situation but Emma who is now lodging at Lipson heard from him yesterday and he seems quite conversant with his occupation already so we hope he will be enabled to keep it.

Mr Greaves has just left Bristol for Calcutta with one of the Rendels’ bridges, similar I believe to the one at Torpoint. I have just laid down my pen to hear the news from a friend that a vessel arrived a day or two ago but as we have not received a letter from you it has occasioned a great disappointment to us. Kate and Rendel are quite well with all the dear children. They reside entirely in London. The three youngest boys have still been at Mr Lane’s though they are moving, spending their vacation at London. Lewis will not return again but George and Stuart we expect shortly as Kate promised to send them back.

Your sister Elizabeth has been home about six weeks after she left London. She stayed a few weeks at Mrs Hitchcocks (Elizabeth Armstrong that was) and from there she went to Tiverton and spent a few months at Mrs Somers’ where she had the misfortune to witness the death of poor Mr Somers who had been ill some time. They gave her a nice suit of mourning and she is now in search of another situation.

Mr Hill I believe is quite well; we sent Emma Hill Edwin’s letter which we afterwards forwarded to London. Kate and Rendel were pleased with the account of the country though not with your prospects as they wished it had been differently arranged and you had gone by the London company’s vessel as you would then have been in Captain Hobson’s way. We heard privately that Captain Hobson had at length gone to Port Nicholson to meet Col. Wakefield where it is to be hoped matters will be amicably adjusted.

On Sunday to our astonishment we found James Stuart sitting in the family pew. He stopped and spoke to Aunty who eagerly asked if he had seen or heard any thing of you but he replied in the negative having come from a different part of the island.

Poor Grandmother has been confined to her bed for nearly twelve months; her intellects are quite disordered and Mamma or Aunty are obliged to sit with her all day so you see we have always a sick house. Poor little baby Dobson is the most beautiful child in Plymouth or at least to our partial eyes but the poor little fellow has been obliged to have his little finger amputated in consequence of pushing the nursery table down on him and crushing it so entirely that nothing else could be done but to cut it off immediately. He bears it dear little fellow with great good temper and is doing pretty well and his Mamma is shortly expecting an addition as I suppose she fancies that her little baby wants a playfellow as all you poor foolish married people do.

I suppose some of our friends have told you of Mr Beardmore’s marriage with Mary Burnet and of his being a junior partner of Mr Rendel’s. I think they have been married about 9 months, they are very intimate with Augusta and Dobson and they are going to a party there next week. Captain Oake has just been appointed to the command of the Ferret, sloop of war which is ordered to the coast of Africa to look out for slavers, of course it is a dangerous expedition and has cost him upwards of 200 pounds to fit himself out.

Jane Harris has a very comfortable situation at Farnlow at a gentleman farmer’s named Musgrave, related to the old Mrs Pope who goes to our chapel so that Eliza is now the mistress at home and is now recovered quite from that nervous disorder which she had so long a time. James is still going on very comfortably, has tolerable health and a pretty good share of employment not withstanding this patent Photography Society. Perhaps you may not have heard of the extraordinary invention, that of taking likenesses by means of throwing the shadow of the person on the ivory bit. As this can only be seen in a certain light I do not think that James will lose much by it .

Mr John Harris of Radford died at Germany about three months ago leaving the MacDonalds a hundred a year and the son two hundred and young Mr Bartlett at the bank, Ellen Fogelsbroom’s lover, fifty pounds a year now and fifty more on the death of an old Lady at Plympton so that the young Lady is much elated about it and will be perhaps married in a few months.

I think I have told you now all the news I can tell you except that Papa has been poorly but is now tolerable. He sends his dearest love to you and is always regretting that he ever sanctivised your going at all and Aunty is constantly wishing and hoping to hear of your coming back, indeed she says she would be delighted to see you return as she is always unhappy about you and every day fancying how much she would give to see you sitting down  to a good dinner as she imagines you cannot have eaten a decent one since you left England. Mother sends also her best love. Henry and Emma […] and Aunty is just now trying to make poor Grandmother understand to whom I am writing, poor soul she can scarcely tell who we mean but still she sends her respects to you both and wishes you every happiness. Little Katie sends her love to her uncle Edwin and Aunt Sarah and I am to be sure not to forget little Corbyn and now as they are getting ready to go to bed I must conclude this by wishing to be kindly remembered as your

Very affectionate and attached sister



MS letter to brother and sister-in-law Edwin and Sarah Harris, New Plymouth, NZ. Written in Plymouth, England, postmarked 17 and 19 Jan 1842. Puke Ariki. ARC 2002-190. Box 2, folder 4. (O)



I suppose you were surprised to receive a letter from me dated Plymouth
Ellen Susan Harris (1819-1863) was Edwin’s youngest sister. She married bookseller David Murray (1803-1850s) in the late 1840s and they had 5 sons.  Owen Jones, who lives in England, is a descendant of their third son Archibald James Murray.

I think I will tell you about Mr Stephen Court
Edwin’s older sister Emma Harris (1802-1889) married surveyor Stephen Collins Court (1811-1858) in 1832. They had 3 sons and 3 daughters.

Mr Greaves has just left Bristol for Calcutta with one of the Rendels’ bridges
Charles Greaves was JM Rendel’s assistant. Rendel designed and built several steam-powered floating bridges in the 1830s, for which he was awarded a Telford Medal by the Institute of Civil Engineers. His innovations were later used in the bridging of the river Hooghly in Calcutta. ‘During this period, Mr. Rendel was further engaged in examining and reporting upon the improvement of almost every harbour and river in the South West of England, and then acquired that mastery of what is termed hydraulic engineering, on which his fame will chiefly rest.’ (Grace’s Guide).

The three youngest boys have still been at Mr Lane’s
Edward Lane, schoolmaster, of St Andrew, Plymouth, appears in the 1841 England Census. Living at the same address were Lewis Rendel (10), George Rendel (8) and Stuart Rendel (6).

Your sister Elizabeth has been home about six weeks after she left London
Like Ellen Harris, Sarah’s youngest sister Elizabeth Dyer Hill (1810-1887) was a governess before her marriage. She married George Cole in 1849 and the couple had 1 daughter and 1 son.

We heard privately that Captain Hobson had at length gone to Port Nicholson to meet Col. Wakefield
Lieutenant-Colonel William Haywood Wakefield (1803-1848), principal agent for the New Zealand Company, arrived in Port Nicholson on the brig Tory in 1839. He negotiated with local iwi for extensive purchases of land in Wellington, Nelson, Marlborough, Whanganui and Taranaki, and the company began selling land to investors and prospective settlers. The Crown forbade direct purchase of land from indigenous owners in 1840 and Hobson proclaimed that no European land purchases could be recognised until they had been inquired into by Government commissioners. Wakefield faced increasing hostility from settlers, Māori and government administrators as land deals were shown to have little or no legal substance (Te Ara).

Poor Grandmother has been confined to her bed for nearly twelve months
Living in the Plymouth household of James and Mary Harris were Mary’s unmarried sister Maria Good (1794-1875) and their mother Susannah Good.

Poor little baby Dobson is the most beautiful child in Plymouth
Edwin’s sister Augusta Harris (1809-1874) married civil engineer George Clarisse Dobson (1801-1874) in 1835. They had 5 sons and 1 daughter. The injured child is their eldest son, Henry Austin Dobson (1840-1921), who became a well-known poet and essayist.

Captain Oake has just been appointed to the command of the Ferret
Edwin’s older brother James Cobham Harris (1794-1876) married Elizabeth Oake in 1819. They had 1 son and 3 daughters. HMS Ferret was commissioned in 1840; her second commander appears to be a relative of Elizabeth Oake: ‘1 Dec 1841 recommissioned at Plymouth, by Commander Josiah Oake, appointed in command.’ (Naval Database)

not withstanding this patent Photography Society
The early 1840s saw a dramatic increase in experimentation with photographic reproduction, some of it located in the scientifically ambitious counties of Devon and Cornwall. See Robert Hunt, A Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography, including Daguerréotype, and All the New Methods of Producing Pictures by the Chemical Agency of Light (1841).

Jane Harris has a very comfortable situation at Farnlow
Jane Harris and her sister Eliza Dean Harris were daughters of James Cobham Harris, who was a professional portrait painter in Plymouth. He and his wife Elizabeth and their children lived at 37 Park St for many years (see England Census 1841-71).

Henry and Emma […]
Sentence fragment, part of overwriting on this page of the letter. Henry Marmaduke Harris (1815-1895) was Edwin’s youngest brother, unmarried in 1842 and probably working for the family house-decorating business. Emma is probably his married sister Emma Court.

Little Katie sends her love to her uncle Edwin and Aunt Sarah
Katie Court, who would have been six years old, was the same age as her cousin Corbyn Harris. She became a principal source of family news relayed to her New Zealand cousins in the 1880s and 1890s.