Last week Ian and I went for a trip to the Maidstone archives for a spot of research. Our intention was to focus on reading the family diaries of the early 1880s to see if there is any mention of the garden, in particular the Pulham rock garden. Sadly we didn’t find any reference to Pulham at all. But a visit to the archives is never wasted, as there is always some discovery to enlighten and inform us about the history of Court Lodge and the Morland family.
It was Ian’s first visit to the archives, and he wasn’t quite prepared for just how awful the handwriting of my ancestors was. My great uncle William once wrote in his diary (typed, mercifully), “My grandfather once told Madie (Miss Maddock, the writer’s old governess. Editor’s note) that no Morland ever wrote well.” Having tried to decipher the handwriting of several of my ancestors I can certainly endorse Madie’s opinion. William continues “Personally I believe I should have written adequately had I learnt to write with my left hand.” Poor William was of the generation that forced left handed children to write with their right hands, and his handwriting was truly illegible.
The diaries of William Courtenay Morland (WCM), my great great grandfather, followed a similar pattern to earlier diaries of his that I have read. The entries are succinct statements (one might anachronistically describe them as bullet points) about who he wrote to, and about what, where he walked or rode to, what meetings he attended, matters of estate business, and who came to stay or who he dined with. Reading WCM’s diaries certainly gives a picture of daily life at Court Lodge 150 years ago, but there is little in the way of feeling in them, particularly in these later diaries when he is in his late 50s to early 60s.
I also read one of the diaries by WCM’s younger son, my great grandfather, Henry Courtenay Morland. And this was an unexpected surprise for me. What I’ve found out about HCM so far has not made me warm to him, shall we say. I know that he was “beastly” to his first wife Alice, and that she died young – aged 40. I know that he once threw a burning log from the fire at his second wife Bessie. The butler, it is said, always bought the cheapest crockery he could, as he knew it would end up being thrown at someone. He was a very charming and sociable man, who enjoyed big game hunting, and in the late 1890s went on a two-year tour of India and Africa, where he dined and danced at one embassy after another, and kept a tally of all the creatures he killed. We have in our dining room an elephant’s foot that has been ‘converted’ into a decanter holder, as a lasting reminder of his big game hunting. Both his sons bought farms in Kenya in their twenties, in order to escape from him.
With the image of him that I had inevitably formed with all this information, I was very surprised by what I read in his diary entries from 1883. He was in India with the army, and he describes most eloquently his overwhelming awe at the sights he saw. He also writes of being deeply affected by receiving letters from his wife Alice. He writes with emotion (unlike his father), and his appreciation of beauty adds a dimension to him that I was previously unaware of. Here is an example:
24th November. Left Delhi at 7am for Agra where we arrived at 3pm. Left luggage at station and Lobby and I went off in a cab to the Taj. This I cannot describe except as being the finest thing I ever saw built entirely of white marble and inlaid with precious stones. Shah Jahan is buried here and his wife for whose body he built it.
25th November. Took a walk by myself in the morning after breakfast. I went alone to the Taj and took my book about Agra and read it in the gardens and enjoyed looking at the Taj. I walked around it and spent nearly 2 hours looking at it. We met Col. Denby at the station at 3pm. He seems a charming man. He brought all our letters. Two from Alice. I enjoyed hearing from Alice more than anything I have seen in India. Such a nice long letter.
However, in the back of this diary is one of those tallies of his big game kills during this trip.
The list includes 1 panther, 51 black buck, 5 does, 2 jungle cats, 1 turtle (a turtle!) 70 ducks, 4 flamingoes and 3 pelicans. It’s very hard to forgive this level of big game hunting, even though we know that at the time this was seen as perfectly acceptable behaviour for a young upper class man abroad.
Reading this diary made me realise that Henry was, to a large extent, a product of his time. The diaries of their time at Court Lodge mention lots of hunting, shooting and fishing, so it would seem perfectly natural to hunt, shoot and fish the native creatures of countries they visited abroad. Sadly, as we know now, they failed to take into account the sustainability of those species, as they did at home with partridge and pheasant.
But Henry was also a product of war. His older brother Charles writes – in red – of taking Henry to Victoria Station to see him off to fight in the Zulu war in 1879. I don’t yet know the extent of his active service throughout his life, but the Zulu war would certainly have been a nightmarish experience. Perhaps these battlefield experiences left their mark on his character in the form of his nasty “temper”.
People’s characters are rarely black or white; they are much more complex than that. And I’m glad to have discovered that there is more to my great grandfather than just his furious temper and penchant for big game hunting.