« It's 84 Degrees. Christmas Is Right Around The Corner | Main | 55 - A Fate Worse Than Death »

Day After Day: Twenty-Eight

Muriel in Worcester continues to exchange letters with her betrothed, Harold, who is now working in the mining industry in Malaya. She learns something of Christmas celebrations in that country.

Jean Day continues her novel of romance and social mores set in the days following the conclusion of the Victorian era.

Lansdowne Crescent, Worcester
January 1, 1905

Dearest Harold,

Thank you so much for the beautiful brooch of quartzite as you call it. I will be very proud to display it on my dress, and the rich blue colour is my favourite hue, as you probably knew.

The quotation you were unable to recognise was from Charles Caleg Colton who wrote Lacon in 1820.

Your quotation I had heard before and managed to find in my dictionary of quotations. I hope you don't think that is cheating. It was Charles De Montesquieu. It's rather sad to think of writing as a form of enforced boredom on future generations. I hope you don't find my letters boring. I would never think of writing a book, though I suppose if one kept all one's letters they would almost make a book.

Here is an easy quotation for you to identify. 'Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword.'

I did visit your family in Barbourne Road as I promised I would. Your mother invited May and me and our mothers over for tea. She was pleased to hear what you have told me in letters, and I do believe she was a bit jealous as you have not yet written to her.

She is concerned about the state of health of her mother, Mrs. Duncan, who has aged considerably in the four years that I have known her. She is now very frail. Dot was shy and quiet as usual. Her glasses are so thick that you can hardly see her eyes. Una was also at our tea party. She is such a beautiful girl, far outshining May and me.

I expect she will have many beaux in her time. She continues to get top marks at the High School for Girls, and one of her friends is Carrie Tree, whom I mentioned to you before. May and I are good friends with Margaret and Jessie Tree. May also knows Beth Tree, who is a musical prodigy.

John enjoys being a master at Warwick School. He has found lodgings in Northgate Street and is quite happy there. When he and May marry a year from next spring, he hopes to become a housemaster. This would mean a higher salary, and the school would also provide accommodation. He also hopes to be appointed chaplain, but there is someone in that post and he will have to wait his turn.

He suggests that May and I should go to visit him in May. He is suggesting that we go to see some plays performed in Stratford, and he will arrange hotel accommodation.

My parents are well, and busy as usual. My father has been made chairman of the Chamber of Commerce which he much enjoys. Mother complains that he is on so many committees that he is hardly ever home. She spends a lot of time with Mrs. Eliza Stinton, May's mother.

Our weather has been very bleak and cold. It makes me envious of you having temperatures in the 80's. Do you have a suntan? What sort of clothes do you wear for work? What does your work consist of? Perhaps you could send some pictures of your mine so I can have a better idea of what it is like.

All for now my darling as I need to go out in a few minutes to play whist. Did I tell you that I am teaching a group of like-minded females the game? It is especially to benefit my good friend Charlotte Walker, as she is stuck at home most of the time now that her mother has died and her father is not very clever mentally.

Love from Muriel


Lahat, Perak,
1 February, 1905

My dear Muriel,

How I enjoy your letters and I certainly do not find them boring. I am pleased that you managed to have time to visit my family, and thank you for your comments on how they are all getting on. I know that Mark hopes to follow in my footsteps and go into the mining business, studying at Camborne School of Mines, as I did. Jimmy has written to me telling me about his training to be a teacher. I expect you see something of him during the holidays, so perhaps you know all his news.

As to your quote, I certainly have heard it before, but cannot remember from where. You of course have a book to help you, while I have only my own brain.

Here is one that you might know with your feminist leanings. 'You ask me why I do not write something. I think one's feelings waste themselves in words. They ought all to be distilled into actions, and into actions which bring results.'

I can now take more time to answer your questions from the last two letters. You asked me to describe the living quarters. The house is quite well set out, with a large veranda which is supported on posts with wrought iron trim on the top, where I sit out often if the breeze is blowing which makes the weather more tolerable.

It extends to both the front and the side of the house, with the roof overhanging so there is protection from the rain (unless it is blowing in the wrong direction).

There are several blue gum trees to the front and the side but beyond that is rough grass which we don't even attempt to cultivate. There are six shallow steps up to the front door and three sets of large windows which are nearly always open top and bottom.

The house does reflect the French influence of the previous occupants. There is a gable above the steps which has a pattern on it, and the shape is mirrored in the space above, where there is a window in the attic room. The French doors and attic window are all decorated with a pattern of coloured stone which makes them look rather interesting. I will try to borrow a camera and send you a picture, as I am doing a very bad job of describing it for your artist's eyes.

The view from the homestead is across the Kuiks River with a very high hill in the background, with some farmed land in between. Most of the furniture is made of wicker and very light in weight to make one as cool as possible.

The kitchen is fairly primitive, but as you will not be expected to do any cooking, it probably won't matter to you. There is a dining table with four chairs, although seldom is more than one used at a time as the servants do not eat with me. There are several small carpets on the wooden floor, and a bookcase and desk and a selection of wicker chairs. There are wooden shutters on all the windows to keep out the sun. For the most part the internal walls are clad in wood panels. That's about all I can think of to say about the house for now. Ask me specific questions about what I have missed.

I have managed to join the rowing team which competes in Ipoh. We five give it a good go whenever we can manage to all be there at the same time. We try to coordinate our times off so that we can meet there on a Sunday and spend the day on the river.

You also asked about what the servants feed me. They provide traditional satay and tasty seafood dishes. There are many types of tropical fruits and vegetables. The cook makes bread and will attempt anything I ask, if we can manage to communicate with sign language and diagrams when words fail us. The food is good, well seasoned and plentiful.

You must tell me more about your activities at home. Have you chosen which play you are going to see in Stratford? What are the elder Tree girls doing now?

Thank you so much for the initialed cuff links you sent me. I have not had occasion to wear my suit or dress clothing as yet, but I will treasure them, and think of you whenever I look at them. You asked what we wear for work. Because the sun is so hot, we dare not go about uncovered lest we get sunstroke. For the most part I wear a white shirt to reflect the sun, light coloured trousers, strong and heavy boots, as we work amongst much rubble and muck, and always a hat. So the answer to your question as to whether I am tanned or not is that my face and hands are quite brown but the rest of me is as white as if I still lived in England.

You also asked about where the workers live. Most of our workers are Chinese. The owners of mines are obliged by law to provide suitable, ample, and sanitary housing accommodation. This generally takes the form of a building raised some five feet from the ground, partitioned into rooms of ten by twelve feet; one room being allowed for a married couple or for three bachelors. The walls are of planks and the roofing of either tiles or attaps (dried palm leaves). The manager, or assistant manager as I am, is held largely responsible for the adequate feeding of his labourers. An ample water supply, hospital accommodation, and medical attention are obligatory. As the supply of labour is very much below the demand, the first object of a manager is to make his labourers contented, and the rule is to do for them more rather than less than that required by law and most Englishmen are known to be kind to their workers.

I find the Chinese very hard working and biddable. The little contact I have had with Malay workers has not been so successful. The daily life of a mine manager is spent chiefly out of doors, and the length of his day's work depends very largely upon the stage of development which the project has reached. Usually my day begins before 6 o'clock, when I muster the labour force with breaks for breakfast and Tiffin, and goes on until 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, but usually the evenings are free.

It seems a long time ago now, but you did ask about Christmas in Malaya. To say Happy Christmas you would say, "Selanat Hari Natal", but since most of our workforce is Chinese, a more used one was "His Hsin Nieu Bing Chu Shen Tan". Christmas celebrations here in Malaya are a little different from the rest of the world, since we live in a multi cultural country with no snow. Malaysians tend to celebrate by visiting friends and families in their homes.

On Christmas day, families have a feast and friends of all faiths make their rounds to wish each other Merry Christmas. Some visitors bring presents and gifts. The children receive gifts and money in a modified version of "ang-pow" from friends and relatives. Giving gifts is an old tradition. Traditionally, men give glass bangles to the women of their family. Women wear henna to create traditional hand and foot decorations known as mehndi. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, Islam is the official state religion. To avoid giving possible offence to Malaya's king, who is also the constitutional head of Islam, carols will be sung but we were told, "Jesus should be praised only before the King arrives to take part in the celebrations." Malaya has a population of which Muslims are 53 per cent; Christians are 6.5 per cent.

The tropical heat and monsoon rains may be unfamiliar, but the Spirit of Christmas - the loving and giving, sharing and feasting - is as much a part of Christmas in Malaya as it is in England.

I think that brings me up to date with your questions. Do ask me more, as it is easier to think of what to write when I know what you are interested in hearing about. I delight in anything at all that you wish to tell me, and think of you every night as I am going to bed, hoping that you are thinking of me too.



7 Lansdowne Crescent, Worcester
March 15th 1905

Dearest Harold,

What a wonderful letter you sent with all those answers to my questions. I have hundreds more, but I will try to confine myself to a few each letter so as not to overwhelm you.

First of all, I will tell you that the quote you couldn't remember comes from Edward Bulwer-Lytton. And I am quite sure with the hints that you gave me, that your last quote was from one of the suffragettes - probably Emily Pankhurst.

You said that you were responsible for the medical care of the workers. How do you go about doing that? What about the women and children - how to they cope and what sorts of things to do they do? I don't think you have ever mentioned the names of your servants, or of your fellow rowers in Ipoh. I am pleased that you are getting a chance to keep up your athletic prowess. Do you do any other sports?

As far as our plans for going to Warwick and Stratford, we have checked to see what plays are on. As you know the season there runs for two weeks from Shakespeare's birthday each year, and they put on 14 of his plays, a different one every day. We haven't made our final choice yet.

I am rather hoping we can also take in a visit to Coventry to see the cathedral there. I also have heard that in early June they have a Lady Godiva Festival. I think it would be great fun to be there for that. Charlotte says her father went to it in 1851, and enjoyed it very much. He is such a stiff old sourpuss now that it is hard to imagine him as a lusty young man.

We meet at the Walker house for our whist afternoons. I have now taught two groups of four to play, and so we can have two tables of whist, and then change partners after tea. It is a wonderful way to keep one's mind alert and also socialize at the same time.

Charlotte is so grateful to me for suggesting it, as she is more or less tied to the house due to her father being senile now. Her sister Mary who is a bit on the slow side anyway, is happy to sit with him while we have our afternoons, and even if he says the same thing twenty times over, she doesn't mind. She just smiles and nods and gets on with her embroidery. But it upsets Charlotte so much to see him like this as she is so very fond of him. I wonder how much longer he can last. He misses his wife, who you will remember died in October of 1902.

Charlotte has been reading her mother's journals (when her father is not about to see her doing it) and is amazed at some of the things she is finding out. Apparently she tried to get Mary adopted by a family. She planned to switch Mary with their baby, without their knowing it. It is hard to credit that any woman would do such a thing with their own child.

I will write again soon. It will soon be Easter when John, Jimmy and Tom will be home.

I love you very much,



Lahat, Perak,
25th April, 1905

Dearest Muriel,

I hope you had a wonderful Easter and managed to meet my brothers and May's brother as planned. I am quite envious of your social life, even though I am not the most sociable of men.

I am so pleased that I managed to score a point off you in the quotations test. It was Florence Nightingale who said it, but she might have been considered one of the earliest of the suffragettes.

How about this one? 'How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.'

You asked if I did any other sport. I ride a horse occasionally, which I never did at home, but it is good exercise, and is sometimes necessary when we need to get to a neighbouring area and no other method of transport is available. I also run. The roads here are very good because they are needed for hauling the tin to the railways.

Next year by this time, I will be home on leave, and we shall be getting married. How I long for that day. I picture you here with me. How much more exciting and fulfilling my life will be when you are here to share these things with me.

Our camp runs schools for the workers' children, and we have a system by which a bonus is paid to the parents for each child born and reared here. This helps largely to reduce infantile mortality.

The Medical Mission trains and supplies the local hospitals with Eurasian and native midwives and nurses. The type of woman required is not easily found, however, in a country where the elder women either have their own homes or are not anxious at their age to learn a new profession. Young women not yet familiar with childbirth are considered unsuitable for the job. At present the hospitals are practically without midwives, and short of nurses and it is most earnestly hoped that the Medical Mission will see its way to satisfy this need.

Our workers have one day off every week. The wages which they receive are sufficient to enable them to make big savings; so much so that, on an average, each one of them returns home for a holiday at the end of every two years' work.

It is interesting that a small percentage of our tin actually comes from the efforts of women. They collect the tin whilst doing their washing in the local streams and rivers. A good worker can earn a dollar per day. Panning for tin with a wooden tray (which is called a dulang) is called melanda.

You will have to build up your vocabulary of Malay and mining terminology so that when you come out you will quickly understand what we are talking about.

My servants are called Sum Lui, Gallet Sin and Sey Nawab. My rowing friends are called Osbourne, Craddock, Roberts and Blackwood. All went to schools like mine where one was always known by one's surname.

I hope you enjoy your time with May in Warwick which I know will be coming up soon. That will make a nice treat for your birthday for you. Happy Birthday a bit early from me. I await your description of your time there, especially your notes on Lady Godiva. I wonder what John will make of all of that.



Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.