State Library of South Australia

Transcribing Tales: The reminiscences of Caroline Emily Clark

Date: 28 November 2016

In 1850 Unitarians Francis and Caroline Clark (née Hill) emigrated to South Australia with their nine children. Between 1853 and 1914 the Clark family lived on their 45 acre Hazelwood Park estate. The estate was named after a school in Birmingham founded by Francis Clark's famous brother-in-law, Rowland Hill, the inventor of postage stamps. The family allowed the community to use the park for recreational purposes, and it became known as Clark's Paddock. That use was formalised when the family sold the estate to the South Australian Government in 1914 on the condition that it remain a public park.

Handcoloured postcard of the main entrance to Hazelwood from Greenhill Road circa 1900 B 72460
Hand-coloured postcard of the main entrance to 'Hazelwood' from Greenhill Road circa 1900, B 72460

The State Library is fortunate to hold the Clark Family papers at PRG 389 and has transcribed a number of items written by three of the Clark children. Son John Howard Clark became proprietor and editor of The Register newspaper, Matthew Symonds Clark was a noted ornithologist, and Caroline Emily Clark introduced foster care to South Australia.

Perhaps the best known of the family, Caroline Emily Clark (Emily) was born in 1825. Her reminiscences written at the age of 81 read as a who's who of the literary and scientific worthies of the times, including Sir Robert Torrens and Charles Dickens. She writes "My memory goes back a long way, for I recollect the Proclamation of William IV in 1830. It took place in what was called the Bullring, the market-place of Birmingham. I remember the Heralds in their red coats blowing their trumpets before they proclaimed the new king"

Caroline Emily Clark in 1903 PRG 331 1 1
Caroline Emily Clark in 1903, PRG 331/1/1

Emily's reminiscences contain rich detail of 1830s cultural life in England. In 1839 Emily writes about the British Association in Birmingham, which:

... opened up interests in the scientific world which were new and delightful. At an exhibition of Arts and Manufactures held in the Free School building, I was for the first time introduced to photography, then in its infancy. The idea of the sun making pictures was astonishing. The specimens were crude enough and gave little promise of the immense growth of the art. They consisted of representations of lace ferns and skeleton leaves obtained by placing the things to be represented upon sensitized paper and then exposing it to the sun. Seeing how much interested I was my father procured for me a small quantity of Bicromate of Potash and I made sun pictures for myself.

Caroline Emily Clark in 1903 PRG 331 1 1
A page from Caroline Emily Clark's journal, PRG 389/9/1

Of the family's momentous arrival in Adelaide, Emily writes:

It was a bright winter's morning when on June 11th 1850 we first saw the Port of South Australia. The mangrove swamps looked very desolate and the Port a poor miserable collection of temporary buildings roofed with shingles, and only one story in height. The scene might have been depressing but for the clear atmosphere and brilliant sunshine. Everything looked so small and the colours so bright, we could hardly believe them to be real. We were not accustomed to see things so distinctly at such a distance.

We have all heard about the Australian light, but I have never encountered such a description of it. Emily continues:

The city was much better and much worse than I expected. It was a surprise to find so many good shops and houses where we thought we should only find log huts and stores, but I was quite unprepared for the mud, and the wretched hovels close to the well-built residences gave a most incongruous appearance to the streets. The mud was so bad that my Mother lost her shoe when crossing Pulteney street and we had to pick our way round puddles and over uneven places as if we were on an English common instead of a city street. The Park Lands of which we had heard so much, were a woeful disappointment. They had been planned by our thoughtful Uncles Rowland and Matthew Hill for lungs to the city and a recreation ground for its people, but ... the magnificent trees planted by nature, which should have been carefully preserved had been cut down and used as firewood and fences.

Emily's belief that her uncles contributed to Colonel Light's city plan is an interesting sidelight.

Her original diary runs from October 1850 to April 1852, with observations that put flesh on the bones of several well-known events. On Sunday 14 December 1851 she writes:

We hear of nothing but gold, gold. People are leaving here by hundreds, trade is very bad, shopkeepers are in despair and men stand talking in the streets instead of going about their business.... and there is a scarcity of ready money. In the shops we are offered a reel of cotton or a packet of pins instead of small change, and at the post office Sidney laid down sixpence to pay for a fourpenny letter and after waiting for a few minutes asked for his twopence, 'we've no change', said the clerk, 'you can take a pipe if you like', pointing to a heap of white clays upon the counter.

A few months later Emily describes some of the responses to the dire financial situation:

The Governor, Sir Henry Young, in an economical mania, has dismissed all the post-men, so that everyone must fetch or send for their own letters. It was done on Saturday without any notice given. It is too bad because the Post Office yields a profit of 4000 a year and it will be a great inconvenience to everyone, more especially to poor people who have husbands or sons at the diggings and do not know when to expect their letters.

Emily's great friend and fellow reformer, Catherine Helen Spence, set her novel Clara Morison (the first by a South Australian woman) in this fascinating period.

Many now familiar names from South Australian history appear in the diary in charming domestic guise. "Mr Babbage came in the evening and talked about rain gauges and life in the bush", and "we passed Mr Babbage outside his house in his shirt-sleeves nursing a cat!".

Emily describes incidental events such as an accident where a "horse had been alarmed by two goats which were tethered in the road, a very common and most dangerous practice here". Who knew about that? She also records the weather, and we get a feel for her environment. Henry, the family's farmer and gardener:

... was always discovering new birds and insects, plants and flowers. I shall never forget the delight we felt on first seeing the scarlet creeper growing among the grass. Then came the native lilac and the lovely wattle blossom. Henry would walk up into the hills and bring home the red and white epacris, the pretty pink Grevillea and numbers of beautiful orchids. Once he found a large fan-shaped fungus growing upon a gum tree. It was left on the side-board, and happening to go into the dining-room in the dark I was startled to see what looked like a piece of the moon shining there, it was the fungus, one mass of phosphorescent light, most beautiful, the rays of the fan like the underside of a mushroom were all distinctly visible lighting up the whole room.

Emily's sister Susan Mary Crompton writes of Christmases at Hazelwood where 26 people might sit down to lunch. This was Christmas in 1861:

The swimming bath in the garden was always an attraction on a warm afternoon. Various gentlemen sat and smoked, and joining in a heated argument, the Rev. J.C. Woods while holding forth edged his chair too near the bath and suddenly tipped in amid roars of laughter. A game of cricket in the paddock was followed by tea in the verandah, and a merry evening. We began with two games of musical chairs, then dancing, singing, and a clever charade. Christmas at Hazelwood can never be forgotten.

These reminiscences, totaling 73, 643 words, are an enchanting insight into middle class family life. The last words go to long-time volunteer transcriber, Dr Barbara Wall, whose phenomenal transcription record, complete with eruditely researched footnotes, includes the writings of Catherine Helen Spence, Arthur Hardy, Alfred Hardy, Mabel Hardy, Dr Constance Davey, Dr Helen Mayo and most recently Helen Una Grieve.

"I have found Caroline Emily Clark, known as Emily to her family, (all the family were known by their second names), one of the most interesting of the people I have come to know during my many years of transcribing. Of course people coming early to the new colony of South Australia had so much to tell of those times that their writings make a big impact on us, but I have found the day to day life of Emily very revealing and moving. The South Australian world certainly was new and exciting, but her life in the early days was that of an uncomplaining typical female drudge. Her early journals tell us often that she has done nothing all day but iron and mend. She ran the household at the age of twenty-five, and looked after her mother and her baby sister Mary, the one who later grew up to edit Emily's papers. Her brothers and father had many interests and were always out doing things, but Emily was uncomplainingly housebound. Her family did have servants, but there was not enough money for a high social position, and Emily was sad to discover that the family names were not on the Government House invitation list.

It was no surprise to find the mature Emily devoting her life to helping others. She cared for children, and was horrified and saddened by the lack of attention given to homeless and pauper children in South Australia. With fellow Unitarian Catherine Helen Spence, and other dedicated men and women, Emily Clark worked to have laws changed so that children could receive proper care. She organised the 'Boarding-out Society' with herself as secretary and Catherine Helen Spence as treasurer. Her memories of these years of hard work are truly inspiring. We are indeed lucky to be able to access the actual words of such an enterprising and dedicated worker."

Story by Carolyn Spooner, Community Learning Content Librarian

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