Old letters are a valuable resource for historical information. Afterall they were the way people communicated about life, love, and general happenings of the day – so there’s usually lots of details just waiting to be found the in them.
An exciting discovery has let to a valuable collection of historical letters that were written between various family members of the Fennell family who were early settlers in the Lake Macquarie region of New South Wales.
The following is an annoucement from the Lake Macquarie City Council Libraries about their new collection …
Earlier in June, Lake Macquarie City Council Libraries had the pleasure of making a valuable, and previously unpublished, historical resource available to the public – a series of 25 letters written between 1846 and 1874 by Richard Fennell, his wife Louisa, and his brother Nathaniel Thomas (Tom) Fennell.
The Fennell’s were early settlers of the western side of Lake Macquarie and gave their name to the suburb of Fennell Bay. The brothers, who pen the vast majority of the letters, were from Yorkshire, England and lived a relatively comfortable life, working in a family business, before making the journey to Australia for reasons unknown. Richard arrived in 1833 and his brother Tom followed 14 years later in 1847. They were both excellent writers and wrote many letters back home detailing life on the land.
From the early isolation of the lake, (“I am situated in a little nook of land jutting unto an inland lake connected with the main waters by a very narrow entrance, too shallow for any but flat bottomed boat to enter”), to the severe flooding which decimated NSW in 1867 (“You will see by the papers I have sent you that we have just experienced the most dreadful visitation of flood and hurricane ever known since the colony has been formed”), and the gold fever gripping the country in the late 1850s (“people of every grade … are leaving good situations and occupations in which they are doing well for an uncertainty, all leaving their wives and families to look for that gold [sic]”), the letters give voice to the struggles of early pioneers and were as essential to sustaining life in those formative years as food and water. As Richard so aptly puts it in one of his letters, “Like an Oasis in the Wilderness, Like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land was the sight of your much-loved handwriting to me [sic]”.
By great fortune, the letters were kept by the family back in Wakefield, Yorkshire for more than 125 years and only came to light in 1976 when Fos Strudwick, a descendent of Richard Fennell, made contact with one of his British relatives, Reggie Fennell. Much to Fos’ delight and amazement the letters were gifted to him. Fos and his wife Olive then worked on transcribing the letters, many of which were written in cross-hatched handwriting, a technique by which two separate sets of writing are included on the same page – one written over the other at right-angles. It is testament to the Strudwick’s tenacity that this was completed before the days of digitisation and computers, using only magnifying glasses to help decipher the written word.
A chance encounter with local resident and Fennell descendent Maree Bullock brought the letters to the attention of Lake Macquarie Libraries’ Community History staff, who were able to gain permission from the family to digitise and transcribe the correspondence and make it available to the public for the first time via the Lake Macquarie History Online website, history.lakemac.com.au.
The language of the letters is very poetic and the sentiments expressed very heartfelt, making them an interesting read. We expect the resource to be of wide interest to researchers, as the Fennell’s lived in a number of Hunter Valley locations and the letters describe the landscape and conditions, giving an insight into the life of early settlers in Lake Macquarie and beyond.
Each letter has been scanned at high-res, so can be enlarged for viewing if required, and transcribed as well. Which wasn’t an easy task, when you look at the crosshatch writing. But by doing so they have not only ensured that this collection is preserved, but is also available to everyone by making it freely available for people to view on the Lake Macquarie Community History website for free.
You can VIEW THE LETTERS HERE (click on the tabs on the righthand side for the letters)
[many thanks to Angie from the Lake Macquarie City Council for details of this collection]