Monday, September 23, 2013

Kitty Christian and Frederick Howard

I had one of those ‘goosebump’ moments a few weeks ago on taking a phone call from Roslyn Howard in Sydney. Roslyn asked if we would be interested in receiving copies of a number of letters sent to her husband’s great, great grandfather Frederick Howard in June and December of 1856 by two young Pitcairn Island girls newly arrived on Norfolk Island.

Frederick Howard was a Second Master on board HMS Herald which was at Norfolk Island when the Pitcairners arrived on the Morayshire. Between 1852 and 1861 HMS 'Herald', under the command of Captain Henry Mangles Denham, undertook an important series of hydrographic surveys amongst the island groups of the South Pacific and in the waters adjacent to Australia. Frederick Howard joined the 'Herald' in 1852 as Master's Assistant, was appointed acting Second Master in 1853 and then Master in 1860. Many on Norfolk Island will be familiar with Howard’s journal writings of his visit to Norfolk where he captures in great detail descriptions of the Pitcairners and their first days on Norfolk.

Frederick Howard
 In his journal Howard details spending time with both Catherine ‘Kitty’ Christian and Louisa ‘Victoria’ Quintall who, at 16 years of age, had both clearly formed a strong attachment to the young Howard. In letters sent to his sister Emily in London he tells her: “Miss Kitty, following the custom of her country, sent me a note and some of her hair which was scented with cocoa nut oil, rather an offensive smell to English noses but to which I have got accustomed. As I am going to send you the said note as a specimen I may as well tell you it is a little piece of deceit and is not written by Miss Christian or even signed by her for I have seen some specimens of her writing which do not at all accord with the writing of this note. I afterwards found out it came from John Adams, who is about the most polished among them, and who I believe would have made a first rate lawyer had he been brought up in England”.

That “said note” has now been sent to us by Roslyn and the originals will later be donated to the Norfolk Island Museum. In fact there are five letters, one from Victoria and the others from Kitty. One is undated, one June 24th 1856, then December 22 1856 and on the last visit of the Herald, October 8th and October 19th 1857. Howard also wrote in his journal about both girls following a tiring trip across the island where he offered to carry anyone back “(I) was quite dismayed on asking to find that the respective weights of the 2 girls I was walking with, named Victoria Quintall & Catherine Christian was 136 & 146 lbs and they were each only 16 years of age…”. Perhaps both girls had a crush on Howard but their affections were clearly not returned!

In the undated letter titled “Norfolk Island Thursday Morning”, Kitty says “My Daer Mr Howard, I am so sorry that you did not come on shore this morning that can hardly tell what to say to you. But I must not give way to grief. For I have been in a stupor ever since Monday….”. On the 24th June 1856 Victoria wrote “My dear Howard, I cannot thing (sic) of letting the Herald sail without sending these few lines to think (sic) you for the useful present you have sent me by Thursday Christian…”.

When the Herald returned in December Kitty writes “My Dearest Howard, I was beyond measure delighted this morning to here that the Herald is again off this island but alas for mortal joys how soon were my brightest hopes, my fondest anticipations of joys, doomed to a miserable blasting disappointment_ I had hoped to give (if nothing more) a hearty shake of the hands and a modest kiss if my dear Howard yet consider the above mentioned tokens of friendship as worth having all I can say is, you are a loser as far as that goes, for you shall now receive them through the medium of a second person…”

Kitty tells Howard about the state of affairs on the island: “Well then to begin we have lately sown a quantity of potatoes, which we obtained from the Lord Bishop of New Zealand and Governor General – they grew luxuriantly and then again came the most trying of all our misfortunes in one short week. The crops were all destroyed the maize is growing beautifully and one little sweet potato that we can find, all else is blank…”.

By October 1857 Kitty is signing her letters Catherine. Obviously a friendship between Kitty and Howard continued and she thanks him for a gift and letter that arrived on board the Iris. She tells more of the state of the island affairs: “We are troubled with the influenza since the Iris left for New Zealand but not dangerously…We had Lady Selwyn wife of Bishop Selwyn now residing among us, she attends the school and instructs in grammar, geography so much to our advantage, and the Bishop took one of my brothers and four others with him and we are expecting him here daily”. 

Kitty Christian went on to become Catherine Evans, marrying George Evans in 1858 and having 6 children before passing away at the young age of 55 years. Victoria Quintal (Louisa Victoria Rose) married Edward Buffett in 1858, had five children and died at age 53.

Frederick Howard became a Captain, also dying at a young age of 59 years. Now thanks to Roslyn and her husband (also) Frederick Howard, these precious letters will soon be available for all on Norfolk Island to see. Roslyn told me the letters “…were kept with a great many of the letters he wrote to his sister Emily in England. At some point she has handed them on to his family. They were then given over to my father -in - law who went to the 2nd WW and after that was a very busy business man and so these precious letters remained in Capt Fred's old sea chest in plastic bags in an old garage until we came along and began to unfold them”. How lucky we are that Roslyn decided to give us a call to tell us about them!