Lady Ann’s dairies have a unique value for the brilliant light they shed on many of the social aspects of Cape life during the 18th century. While they are important as historical source, they are equally valuable as autobiography; they can be enjoyed as offering an encounter with an exceptional individual amid a fascinating life. They are a domestic record containing guest lists and menus, accounts of the building decoration and furnishing of a new home, of their servants and their own lives.
EXTRACT FROM THE TEXT
Paradise, Jan. 31st, 1799, Thursday; Friday, Feb.1; Sat., Feb.2
I am obliged you see to pack up half a week in one page, for want of time at the moment prevents individuality… Heavens what a fine long word from me! —but added to other business already too much almost for me — I am upper boy at present, my Dutch1 pickle having lately askd my permission to go to the Cape for a night . . . I gave it & a little money to boot — he dressd himself in his new cloaths — hat etc — left us in good faith and is gone off — probably has embarked on board of some of the ships now sailing & we shall never hear more of him.
I am not sure if I am tight in making myself so very great a Slave to saving the money of my dear Secretary, without Cook (two black slaves excepted who understand nothing above the roast and boil that I dont teach them) — without housekeeper — Ladys Maid — butter-dairy maid — as I have much of all this to do myself, the leisure for all the little elegancys or singularitys which by drawing or describing I coud fix on my paper & on my memory for the amusement of others are lost, nor am I sure that what I save him is equal to what I lose to myself— on the other hand, tho there is trouble & some fatigue to me there is peace — no quarreling amongst upper servants, no one to find fault with for omissions, as I have to do all, it is done however and pretty well done. Mr B. seems quite Happy & delighted to see his table well furnished his dinner good & well served, & altho I cook part of it & put it down myself, I am rewarded by his sweet words. I save too at least 100 per ann. of wages to him and in this world if one is usefull & not unhappy while being so it is ones business & certainly wisdom to think it much the same whether one spends time in one way or another. . . to sit light on circumstances which hobble beneath one is the best way of not being hurt by them.
Cousin Anne woud feel herself sadly demeaned by many of the acts I am in some degree necessitated to perform; she is not aware, nor is any one aware who see me trudging about a Housekeeper, that it is philosophy which assists me to carry the keys & that in my mind I feel myself rising by every circumstance which is beneath what I perhaps feel myself entitled to, but which I surmount; how easy & how right it is to be proud and conceited privately while bending to what must be endured.
Anne proposes to be a good wife to her poor Col by starving, eating chops for ever and ever, off the cleanest table cloth, the best wine, the best cooked chops & perhaps a soup: but that no one is to eat one along with her & him — I tell her she is proposing a Life of self indulgence instead of activity & attention, that she is shutting the door to his friends, and with the same money she shoud have to pay for the chops & clean table cloth washed out by the laundress and nice wine woud give them a little joint at home, a clean table cloth washd by her maid, Cape wine — & two or three friends. She is preferring the other way of living because it gives her no trouble — but all this I hope a little time will bring right — at 23 young people must be unutterably elegant and supinely dignified! it provokes me a little who am certainly as well born a woman as any of the Elegantes and who know and feel what is best, but the most generous people in large matters are often selfish in trifles & have a false high minded sett of notions which they despise those for not having who have them not, & which the other party recognises by returning secretly the sentiment tho on a still prouder Key.
Doctor Hare & Capt Holmes dined with us the 31 of Jan., Col Craufurd the first of Feb. — & on Saturday the 2nd, inspite of the most extraordinary deluge of rain which I ever saw, it occupied Mr B the whole morning in placing and emptying buckets & pails put judiciously under the parts of our old thatched roof where the water found its way; had we saved the Hogsheads full of wine instead of water (renderd the color of Madeira by the old thatch) we shoud have had enough for more than one years consumption tho that is of common wine 22 gallons per week — by B’s vigilance he prevented it from getting thro to the rooms below but all was a sea above & the clay of the floors mixing with the rains we were so many pigs in our stys.”
Edited by Margaret Lenta and Basil Le Cordeur
Margaret Lenta works in the Department of English at the University of Natal, Durban. Her research interests are eighteenth-century prose, especially by women, and twentieth-century South African writing.
MARGARET LENTA grew up in the north of England. She took her first degree at Manchester University, and later taught in Nigeria and Kenya before coming to South Africa. Since 1973 she has worked in the Department of English at the University of Natal, Durban, where she is now a professor. Her research interests are eighteenth century prose, especially by women, and twentieth century South African writing. Besides having published a variety of articles in these areas, she is co-author, with MJ Daymond and JU Jacobs, of Momentum: On R ecent South African Writing, has edited Olive Schreiner’s Thoughts on South Africa and is an editor of the journal Current Writing. She has five children.
BASIL LE CORDEUR was until his retirement King George V Professor of History at the University of Cape Town, where he also served as head of the Department of History. He is the author of numerous books, papers and articles on the history of the Cape and Natal in the nineteenth century. Besides The Kitchingman Papers and The War of the Axe, 1847 which he co-edited with Christopher Saunders, he has published The Politics of Eastern Cape Separatism, 1820-54 and edited The Diary of Charles Lennox Stretch. A past President of the South African Historical Society, General Editor of the Brenthurst Series and Editor-in-Chief of the South African Historical Journal, he is currently working on a social and economic history of the British army at the Cape in the first half of the nineteenth century.