Monday, February 22, 2010
Over the years that I've been researching and writing, I've been fortunate enough to have access to extracts from the diaries of several generations of the men who farmed the valley that my Waituhi Valley is based on; portions that have survived, at least in transcript, within the extended family. But recently I was given a great gift: the 1910 diary of my husband's great-grandfather.
He was a punctilious diarist, writing an entry for every day with the notable exception of Sundays, which were always left blank, their events recorded on the following day. This was a man who took the Sabbath seriously. A family story survives in oral form of the day Great-grandfather, when driving in to Sunday service, saw a man ploughing a field. He stopped the buggy, got out, and went across the paddock to tell the plougher what his afterworld destination would be if he did not mend his ways. (The man's response has not been recorded).
So what did this farmer find to write about? The range of topics is fascinating, from the careful recording of expenses as small as a few pennies for a new spade handle through to (one would hope) far more significant events like the birth of a new grandchild. Sometimes the juxtaposition of such entries can be startling: on the very same day Great-grandfather writes of learning that his beloved oldest daughter is dangerously ill with scarlet fever, he also records that "Harold took in the four pigs today to [the local stock agents] Dalgetys and Co.".
This man spent much of his childhood trailing from one goldfield to another, first in Australia then in New Zealand, with a father who had a severe dose of gold fever, and I imagine that his education was sketchy at best. His handwriting is a challenge at times; certainly a long way from the copperplate one sometimes finds in the writings of those educated in the late 19th century. But the effort is well-rewarded.