Author(s): Kate Foster & Jean Garner (eds.)
This remarkable collection of letters provides a rare female perspective on life in colonial Canterbury, when letter writing was the only way to keep a close relationship with family members on the other side of the world. The writers were four women of the Hall family. Unlike Charlotte Godley and Lady Barker, whose correspondence, experiences and impressions of the time have been widely promulgated, the Hall women were anonymous members of the middle class in England with no ties with the aristocracy. But ironically, the letters are significant partly because all four were the wives of public men in New Zealand, Rose being wife of Sir John Hall, who was Premier of New Zealand 1879-82. Sarah, Agnes Emma and Rose were married to three Hall brothers, and the youngest correspondent was Agnes' daughter, Agnes Mildred. The recipient was the elder women's sister-in-law, Grace Neall, in England. The women were typical of their time in that their lives and their letters focused on children, household duties, health, housing and servants. Outside the home, the main topics were church, shopping and social events, with Rose also occasionally commenting on her husband's political life. The letters came to light in England in 2008, found by a great-grandson of Grace, Tim Rix. He sent them to his distant cousin Kate Foster. Accompanying the annotated transcriptions of these letters, published here for the first time, is a superb essay by historian Jean Garner, introducing the Hall family and placing them, and this correspondence, in an appropriate historical context.
Historian Jean Garner specialises in New Zealand social history. She has previously written a biography of Sir John Hall, By His Own Merits. With Letters to Grace, her ambition of writing about the domestic side of Hall's life has been achieved. She has written essays on Charlotte Godley, and social issues in 19th-century Canterbury. She has also contributed to The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. In her other working life, she co-ordinates support for students with disabilities at Lincoln University.
Kate Foster is a great grand-daughter of Rose and John Hall. She and her husband Richard live at Terrace Station, Hororata, where Rose and John lived and from where some of these letters were written. As keeper of the family stories, Kate was so excited when the package of letters arrived that she worked until the early hours over countless nights to decipher and type up their contents. Terrace Station homestead is now vested in the Terrace Station Charitable Trust, and groups are welcome to visit by prior arrangement.