The Letters of Margaret Mann, ed. Danielle Delon

A fascinating collection of letters from Trinidad with strong Guernsey connections, that complement an important set of letters held in the Priaulx Library. The main families mentioned in the letters of local interest are: Baynes; Brock; Carey; Dalgairns; Darby; Davis; De Havilland; De Jersey; Dobree; Douglas; Durand; Edwards; Fitton; Freeman; Hardy; Hawtrey; Hayes; Hewer; Hutchesson; Kennedy; Lacy: Le Mesurier; Lenfestey; Le Maitre; Le Page; Le Sueur; Maingay; Mann; Mansell; McCrea; O'Brien; Powell; Powys; Priaulx; Routh; Saumarez; Selwyn; Tupper; Valpy; Wheeler (Anna Doyle); Whitchurch.

'My dear Fanny, if you contemplate the bare possibility of marrying a soldier, take my advice and count the cost.'

The Priaulx Library has the fortune to have in its collection the transcription of a selection of the Courtney-Mann letters, written by members of the Mann,¹ Dobrée, and Routh families, and edited by Julia de Lacy Mann. Julia Mann, who was an eminent economist and principal of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, had owned many family letters and eventually deposited them in the Bodleian, to join a large number of others that had belonged to her relative, Dame Kathleen Courtney. She was also interested in local history and contributed to the Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise. Along with her notes, the letters are of exceptional interest to Guernsey social historians.

Julia de Lacy Mann did not transcribe all of the 800 letters in the Courtney-Mann collection, however, and included only excerpts of others. It is greatly to be welcomed then, that more of these letters are now available for us to read: Danielle Delon has published² seventy-three more from the collection, all written by Margaret Mann³ over a period of just four years (1847-51) while she was living in Trinidad with her husband, Gother Mann, who had gone to the island as Colonial Engineer. The author underlines the importance of these letters to the history of Trinidad and of the West Indies, as such documents, especially written by a woman, are 'fairly scarce for the Caribbean colonies before the twentieth century.' They are also of interest to Guernsey historians, as many of the letters are written to Guernsey recipients and naturally deal with Margaret’s family and friends in Guernsey and England.

Margaret writes in English, but does once refer to being in 'a great poustu,' which is a version of the Guernsey French en pouss’tin, meaning 'bustle, or fuss.'

Margaret, who arrives with one small child and has another baby while in Trinidad, is particularly fond of her nurse, Mrs Fitton, whom she brought over with her from Guernsey, and writes about her a great deal. Mrs Fitton has had to leave her husband 'Old Fitton' and her children behind, and Margaret is always concerned about their welfare, especially little Jane, who does not seem to have had much about her.

I am sure Mrs Fitton’s Guernsey friends would have been surprised at the cordiality with which she shook hands with black John; indeed I am surprised myself, for on some points Nurse is, like most persons of the lower orders and like almost all Guernsey persons, narrow-minded and illiberal, but with regard to the blacks, from the very first she has treated her fellow servants as her equals, making no difference except as as she was obliged to from their bad characters. Mary, the Portuguese despises the blacks and looks on them as quite an inferior race of beings. (25, to Mrs Mann, 1847)

'It is not that I dislike Trinidad—far from it—but I literally pine for Guernsey. However nearly one year of our exile is over and I trust in little more than two years to be 'at home,' but how can you talk of not living to see me again!' (Letter 26, 1847) Margaret’s mother lived at Choisi in St Peter Port for some of the period covered by the letters; she rented this house from relatives, as was the Guernsey way; she also spent time in St Peter’s with Miss Le Mesurier and in 'Quertier’s Cottage,' and holidays in Sark. Houses at La Mare and de Beauvoir in the Rohais are also mentioned as being lived in by Margaret’s family and friends (and are confirmed in the census records).

.... loneliness seems to be my destiny .... you can scarcely tell what it is surrounded as you are by friends. I certainly pity Emily Hardy if she is to come to the West Indies for it is not the atmosphere in which a Guernsey girl can thrive. Those who are so accustomed to friends and acquaintances can ill bear to be so deprived of them and, moreover, she must starve of £200 a year at least in Trinidad or make up her mind to live on salt fish and sour oranges! As to butter and milk, oh inhabitant of the Channel Islands, dream not of them now you are in the fertile isles of the Caribbean Sea. Irish salt and American rancid butter is two shillings and sixpence per pound and sky-blue milk ten pence a pint! (Letter 39, to Fanny Carey, 1848)

I long, as you may well suppose, for the time of our return, not that I do not like Trinidad, for I do, but I am so lonely here and I long to be with Mama and you all again .... Henry John says you and himself are the only two sensible ones of the family because you don’t like Guernsey or Guernsey people but I think you do, don’t you? At any rate if you don’t now, you will after you have had a little more experience of the world, for you will never find such a place elsewhere – all the comforts and luxuries and indulgences of life, a delicious climate and lovely scenery and as for the people, I long to be amongst them again. As a whole they are immeasurably superior to all others. (Letter 82, 1850, to sister Etta)

Margaret also voices her opinions on a multitude of subjects. In 1847 she has some advice for her sister:

'My dear Fanny, if you contemplate the bare possibility of marrying a soldier, take my advice and count the cost.' She should take the opportunity while still at home to prepare herself to acquire 'habits of industry and every possible means of mental occupation' to prevent boredom, and should learn as much as she can about sewing so as not to be 'entirely at the mercy of an exorbitant needlewoman' (Margaret wishes wholeheartedly she still had Rachel Le Page to do her needlework), make puddings and pies and even a fricassee or omelette, 'and learn to keep accounts. You may even regret (as I do) that when you had the opportunity as you have now, that you did not improve yourself in all these things.' Fanny married Carey Brock, a minister, and unfortunately fell out with Margaret over Carey’s attitude to money, discussion of which continues in the letters here at the Library.

Margaret is always concerned over her household expenses, and discusses at length the making up, mechanics of posting, and cost of 'boxes' from home. She advises, from experience, on the best arrangements for boat travel for children and ladies. The ship in which the family travelled to Trinidad, the Tweed, was later lost at sea; happily some of the crew and passengers were saved. This concerns and distresses her greatly, and she reminisces about the people she met on the voyage.

In the Library collection are two letters written to Gother in Trinidad, dating from 1850. On February 3rd, 1853, Agnes Routh wrote to her mother describing the return to Guernsey of Margaret and Gother: 'We dine at the Mann’s today and meet Gother and Margaret. They all arrived last Wednesday.' Interestingly, Julia Mann’s list of letters includes an early one from 1802 in which Gother’s Uncle Gother (1775-1804) is said to be in Trinidad, 'which he likes;' in 1802/3, Cornelius Mann, another uncle, is said to be settled in Trinidad 'much to his advantage' and to have a son,4 so we might imagine that Gother himself was encouraged to accept his post in Trinidad by his uncles’ experiences there. There is, however, another probably stronger military link with the Governor of Trinidad that may explain his posting.

Margaret and Gother’s wedding is described in great detail in a letter of September 1845; but despite theirs being a happy marriage resulting in nine children, Margaret, who died a widow in 1905 in Guernsey, was to see only one child, Alice (so lovingly described in the letters) produce any grandchildren. Seven of her other children survived to adulthood and had long and often interesting lives; her daughter Dora, born 1856, who had married Havilland de Saumarez, drowned while pregnant; and of those seven children of Alice, none married. One of those children, Dame Kathleen Courtney, presented the main collection of letters to the Bodleian.

See also A Library Selection Box for more letters from the collection.

 1 She refers to them in her notes as the Routh-Mann and Courtney-Mann letters. The Priaulx Library has a collection of material in its archives concerning the Mann family. The most important straightforward source of genealogical information is, however, Thorold, H., and Mann, V., The Mann Family: Notes on some members of the Mann family and their connections with the Gother, Fyers, and Thorold families, privately published,1950, in the Library.

2 Delon, D., The Letters of Margaret Mann: with the Cazabon-Mann watercolours of 19th Century Trinidad, Trinidad & Tobago: National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad & Tobago, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, 2008. Kindly donated to us by the author.

3 Margaret Mann was a member of the Baynes family, prominent in the Royal Artillery, who arrived in Guernsey at the beginning of the 19th century. Henrietta Baynes and Francis Perry Hutchesson are mentioned by Lukis in his memoirs.

4 This child may even have been born in Trinidad (though he cannot have lived long as he is not mentioned again), unless this is a mistake, as Cornelius Mann and Sarah Fyers are recorded as having had two daughters by 1804 in Thorold and Mann’s book, above.