Back in Carlisle, I walled myself up in the Carlisle Archive Centre, taking photos of Georgiana’s letters, which were kept by her family, so that my research assistant could transcribe them when I got home. Because paper was in such short supply in the colony, and because the recipient of the letter paid for the cost of postage, Georgiana crossed her letters. This means that she wrote in one direction, turned the page at a right angle and wrote over her words. Trying to decipher these letters is enough to send anyone batty (including my poor research assistants!), but when I spoke to a colleague who has done some research into the psychology of reading, she said people of the time were able to read these letters with ease. I guess it’s akin to someone in the nineteenth century trying to read today’s text messages.
Carlisle was a pretty unprepossessing place despite its rich history (it began as a Roman settlement then sprouted a castle in 1093) and elegant buildings. Keats, on his walking tour of 1818, described the city thus: 'The Cathedral does not appear very fine — the Castle is very ancient, and of brick. The City is very various — old white-washed narrow streets — broad red-brick ones more modern — I will tell you anon whether the inside of the Cathedral is worth looking at. It is built of sandy red stone or Brick. We have now walked 114 miles, and are merely a little tired in the thighs, and a little blistered.'
On a not unrelated note I was totally chuffed to pass a Walkabout pub when I was having a look around. These pubs were a dime a dozen when I lived in London a decade ago, but they went into administration in 2009, perhaps because of the GFC.
On the way back from the Archive Centre, the cabbie struck up a conversation about Brexit. I didn’t venture my opinions as I didn’t know what side of politics he was on (and have had my share of conservative cabbies), but it transpired he was against it. His daughter had a part-time job in a store and had no hope of ever getting ahead or owning a home, he said, and Brexit wasn’t going to help. That made me sad, and I was very conscious of how lucky I was to be able to travel and do my research.
I also got in touch with the owners of Crosby Lodge, the house in which Georgiana grew up until her father died just before her 15th birthday. The place had formerly been a bed-and-breakfast and the current owners were knee-deep in renovations – it was a mammoth task! They very kindly took me around, pointing out the part of the house that was original and that which was added on, the walled garden, which was just gorgeous, and the nearby woods, with tall trees and dappled light. There was a big ditch between the wood and the road which might have been a fortification akin to a vallum built by the Romans. This startled me, until I remembered that Aborigines in Australia have sites even older than Roman fortifications. History!
The owners left me to wander around and take pics. I was keen to get a sense of the countryside, and although it was another startling blue day, I remembered the last time I was there with my friends, and how overcast and grim it seemed. Although I guess for someone raised in that environment that kind of weather would have been normal. The house and grounds conveyed a sense of calm, stateliness and privilege, particularly in the walled garden, which was where Georgiana began her first lessons in gardening. It was a stark contrast to Georgiana’s life in Australia that was marked by giving birth to her first child on a hard board in a tent while a storm raged outside.