Sunday, November 24, 2013

Letters from Pitcairn Islander Girls

A few months ago we wrote about a donation to the Museum of six letters from Frederick (Fred) and Roslyn Howard. The letters were written in 1856 and ’57 to Fred’s great Grandfather also named Frederick Howard, by two young Pitcairner girls, Catherine ‘Kitty’ Christian and Louisa ‘Victoria’ Quintal. Fred and Roslyn had emailed a copy of the letters and promised that when they visited Norfolk this month they would bring the letters with them. Well this week the wonderful moment arrived and they brought them in to the museum and formally made their donation.

These letters are very special. They provide us with a rare opportunity to get to know the youthful Kitty and Victoria and through them the community as a whole. We so often think about that arrival of our ancestors from Pitcairn, imagining what it would have been like for them to land at their new home so alien yet full of new promise. What did they think, how did they feel? 

Frederick and Roslyn Howard
 Howard met Kitty and Victoria in the days after they had arrived on the Morayshire. Howard was Second Master on board HMS Herald, which was here at Norfolk Island when the Pitcairners landed on the 8th of June 1856. Captain Henry Mangles Denham from HMS Herald was of course one of the people greeting the Islanders as they came ashore on Kingston Pier. The Herald had come to Norfolk Island during its work undertaken between 1852 and 1861 carrying out an important series of hydrographic surveys amongst the island groups of the South Pacific and in the waters adjacent to Australia.

From the letters we get a sense of these girl’s humour, innocence and naivety, together with their obvious enthusiasm for meeting the new people they are coming into contact with as a result of the enormous change that has just occurred in their young lives. Together with a separate letter to this donation sent by Kitty’s mother Charlotte to Howard, they reveal how easily trusting they were, sharing their feelings and personal circumstances so openly.

Howard’s view of the Pitcairners is fairly well known as another of his letters to Emily (now held by the Mitchell Library) describes them in great detail – and refers specifically to Kitty and Victoria. It was Howard’s sister Emily who received Kitty and Victoria’s letters, sent to her by Howard as he sent all his letters to her for safe keeping. From Emily they were passed down through the family to Fred’s father, who had kept them in Howard’s old sea chest where they remained untouched for many years until Fred and Roslyn discovered them. Roslyn has also compiled for her family a fabulous history of Frederick’s life detailing his years at sea.

It is such a generous act of Fred and Roslyn to separate Kitty and Victoria’s letters from their collection and return them to Norfolk and we sincerely thank them for doing so.

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