Sarah (1805?-1890) had emigrated to Australia to marry her first cousin Felton in 1832. Her diary, begun on the voyage to New Zealand on March 2nd 1840, is held in the Sir George Grey Special Collections (NZMS 79). It is one of a number of interesting documents written by both Sarah and Felton in the early years of settlement, which Professor James Rutherford researched in England and negotiated to add to the Library’s collection in 1940.
Sarah’s journal is full of sharp observation, interesting speculation and some shrewd opinions on the people and places that were so new to her. However, one of her comments in the diary has always intrigued me. This is her entry for March 7th 1840:
“This day being a little better I had my mattress taken up on deck and have been lying there all day reading at intervals Nicholas Nickleby, and listening to Mrs Freeman’s conversation”.
|Ref: NZMS 79 001, excerpt from Sarah Mathew's diary, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
This shows not only the immense popularity of Dickens, but is also perhaps a correction to our assumptions that Australia and New Zealand were too far away to respond to new ideas and popular books. Sarah Mathew was an educated and clever woman with a lively interest in keeping up to date with the latest in literature, and had the means, even then, to read the most recent hit novel from England.
|Ref: AWNS-19250730-52-2, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
Auckland Libraries has a number of books in the heritage collections about or by Sarah Mathew and her husband Felton Mathew, which are worth dipping into. There is also Dickens related heritage materials available including: a letter about Dickens, who was a popular topic at the time (GL B71.1 (Grey Letters), a scrapbook (MS 269), Dickens' papers (MS 77-97) and books by and about Dickens.
Author: Georgia Prince, Sir George Grey Special Collections