Letters to Sir Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks (Wikipedia)

This year, in our course Philology 3 (History of the English Language), the students did a project on the correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). Banks is described on Wikipedia as a “naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences” (he has of course an entry in the ODNB, too). His letters and other papers are available online through the website of the State Library of New South Wales, though in facsimile only (which is fantastic as it is, as it gives us access to the original letters). The assignment was for the students to transcribe a letter as closely as possible, and to comment on the form and style used.

Valerie Brentjes transcribed a letter from a certain J.T. Bell (Series 24.03, CY 3008 200-201) addressed to Banks on the subject of a woman called Mary Rose, who was convicted to being transported to Australia for a period of seven years for the crime of “stealing clothing from a house”.

Transcription by Valerie Brentjes

Transcription by Valerie Brentjes

2 pounds and 11 shillings “for Bed & necessaries which are to be the property of the Convict when landed”: to find out how much this would have been in Mary Rose’s time, the money can be converted with the help of the Currency Converter on the website of the British National Archives. It comes down to nearly £143 in today’s money, not a great deal to start a new life on. Mary Rose seems to have gained Bell’s sympathy, for he writes that he will try to raise some money for her from his friends.

Despite her conviction and the long journey ahead of her. Mary Rose didn’t do so badly after her arrival on Norfolk Island in 1791. She died in August or September 1832, at the age of 63, and she was buried in the churchyard of St Philips.

Mary Rose in Australia

The extract from the record on the website Convict Stockade, “a Wiki site for Australian Convict Researchers”, shows that she had married a certain John Trace in 1790, so before her arrival, and that she remarried after John died. After the term of her transportation had ended, she didn’t return to England. She died in August or September 1832, at the age of 63, and she was buried in the churchyard of St Philips in Sydney.

The letter is formal, as can be concluded from the opening and closing formulas: “Sir”, it starts, not “Dear Sir”, and it ends similarly: “I remain Sir Your most obedient humble Servant”. It is, after all, a matter of business that the writer informs Banks of, though, to his credit, not without feeling.

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