It has been an emotional week on many levels. The pain of separation and loss, broadcast daily in the papers, and on the news channels cannot fail to resonate with mothers everywhere. My youngest daughter made a flying visit home from university – time only for lunch, for a hug and lengthy admonitions: ‘don’t forget to wear your bicycle helmet’, ‘never leave your drink unattended’, ‘remember to lock your door – and check it twice’. My own mother always warned me that you never, ever stop worrying about your children – and that is of course true.
Walter Dendy Sadler, Nearly Done, aquatint, published 1898 (Private Collection)
The trials and tribulations of motherhood are far outweighed by the memories of kissing my daughters’ downy heads, the hugs and kisses when I returned from work, the scraps of paper with ‘I love you’ written in a tiny hand, treasured in a trinket box. Not all mothers are as fortunate. The story of Nelly Weeton has been playing on my mind recently.
Nelly Weeton’s letters to friends and relatives were discovered in 1925 and published eleven years later under the title ‘Miss Weeton: A Journal of a Governess’. Born in 1776, Nelly was persuaded by her brother to marry a local widower, Aaron Stock (1814). The marriage was not a happy one: she was both verbally and physically abused, threatened with the lunatic asylum when she retaliated and, when finally separated by deed of separation in 1822, banned from the vicinity of her home. More poignantly, the deed of separation was dependent on Nelly agreeing to see her only daughter, Mary (born 1815) only three times a year.
Physically separated, Nelly regularly wrote to Mary, sometimes ‘in a large hand, in hopes you will try to learn to read it yourself’. Her letters combine motherly love and practical advice; one accompanied a parcel containing ribbons and pieces of fabric. In her letter Nelly reiterates the importance of learning ‘something of the history of your mother’s family … the piece of patchwork is out of an old Quilt I made above 20 years ago… The hexagon in the middle was a shred of our best bed hangings; they were Chintz, from the East Indies, which my father brought home with him from one of his voyages.’
Nelly was eventually reunited with her daughter, Mary and lived to enjoy seeing her grandchildren. However she did suffer one last indignity. On discovering her journals, her editors decided that Nelly – named after her father’s ship – should be given the more refined name of Ellen.
Dearest Nelly, tormented sister, abused wife and loving parent, this blog is dedicated to you and to mothers everywhere.