Throughout time, it has never been too late for love

Welcome, Time Travellers, to 1886.

You have arrived in the year of my novella, Forged in Fire, which appears in the Bluestocking Belles’ box set Never Too Late.

In 1886, Queen Victoria was the revered mother-queen of the British Empire, on which the sun never set, and New Zealand was her furthest possession.

This was the year in which Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Karl Benz patented the world’s first successful gasoline powered car. The Apache chief Geronimo surrendered in this year, ending the last major US-Indian war, and Spain abolished slavery in Cuba.

A strange mix of long ago and very near.

I was startled when I realised that my grandfather — whom I remember from when I was four — would have been a young apprentice builder in 1886, working with his master builder fathers and uncles to build the home my mother grew up in, and after which I would one day name my publishing imprint, Titchfield Press.

Lovers of 1886

In 1886, Grover Cleveland became the first and only sitting President of the United States to marry while in office. He and his bride, Frances Folsom, remain the only president and first lady ever to marry in the White House.

The ceremony was a small affair performed at 7pm in the evening. The new first lady took over the hostess duties formerly performed by the president’s sister, and became very popular. She managed another first for a first lady, giving birth to the second of the couple’s two daughters during the president’s second term. In all, they had three daughters and two sons.

The lives of lovers in 1886

In the British Empire in 1886, your lifestyle would have very much depended on who you were and where you lived. My own ancestors were almost all in New Zealand by then — all hard working people, tradesmen and shopkeepers, determined to make a better life for their descendants. (One grandmother was yet to be born in London — she came out as a war bride in 1819.)

In 1886, New Zealand reached a milestone, when the census showed that, for the first time, more non-Maori residents had been born in New Zealand than had immigrated from overseas.

What they wore

The bustle returned in 1886. Fashionable ladies wore theirs straight out from the back waist, and decorated them with bows, frills, and swags of drapery. My own family photographs don’t show anything as extreme, but still Sunday best had a decided bustle.

Most men wore full-length trousers even for formal occasions, often with knee-length top coats in the colder weather.

Hats of all kinds covered heads then as they would for the next seventy years, right through into my childhood.

What they ate

The 1880s were hungry years for some in New Zealand, with an economic depression leading to poor working conditions and exploitation of the labour of women and children.

Those with money or a bit of land of their own ate food they were familiar with, mostly British-Isles cuisine. One innovation not found in the old country was meat. Meat was rare on the tables of Britain’s labourers. In New Zealand, all but the very poor ate meat at every meal.

And New Zealanders retained the sweet tooth of their countries of origin, with baked goods made to imported and newly invented recipes becoming a great staple of every social occasion. With no shortage of milk and butter from the family cow, and eggs from hens, the ‘ladies a plate’ entry fee was born. No need to pay for a ticket, just bring food for the supper.

Where they lived

According to the 1886 census, 95% of the population lived in one of New Zealand’s 108,000 houses made with good materials. By which, the statistician meant mostly wood, since fewer than 5% of the houses, he informed the government, were made of brick, stone, or concrete.

New Zealand had a lot of wood, though they were felling the forests at an enormous rate. Even our Parliament Buildings were made from wood, worked to look like stone.

Most houses had three or more rooms, which was just as well, since the average house had five people living in it. Titchfield was built with eight rooms (four upstairs and four down), for my great-grandfather and his family (a wife and eight children). Later alterations added a lean to kitchen at the back and other improvements.

Health and wellbeing

By 1886, the Maori population was reeling under the effects of the loss of their land and the diseases brought in by pakeha (the settlers). Lack of resources, overcrowding and poor diet let disease take hold. Just over 50% of Maori who died in 1886 were children. Significantly fewer Maori girls lived to child bearing age, which meant far fewer Maori were born.

For the settlers, better food and living conditions than they’d had in Britain meant better health, more children surviving the diseases of childhood, and a longer life expectancy.

New Zealand had its own risks, though. Not just the rare but devastating earthquake or the volcanic eruption that I write about in Forged in Fire, but the ever-present risk (in a land formed by water) of flooding. By 1886, the main roads had bridges, but many journeys still required fording a river. In the nineteenth century, drowning was known as ‘the New Zealand death’.

The rights of women

Reading the lives of colonial women, I am in awe. They set up house in the most primitive of conditions and built homes in the wilderness, working shoulder to shoulder with their men to clear the bush, at the same time raising and educating large tribes of children.

By 1886, most New Zealanders lived and worked in or around one of the towns rather than out in the country, but there were still cows to milk, pigs and hens to feed, vegetable gardens to tend, butter to churn, bread and other baking to make, and a myriad of other tasks to keep the family fed. Not to mention clothes and linen to boil and wash in kettles under an outside shelter or in a shed, and then to dry, with mending and the making of new items of clothing also high on the list. And childcare. Did I mention large tribes of children?

Male drunkenness was an abiding problem, and the Women’s temperance movement a response. That, in turn, led to a bid for women’s suffrage. The theory was that women who voted would be able to exert pressure on the liquor laws, to improve the lives of women and children who suffered from unbridled drinking.

Two suffrage bills narrowly failed to pass Parliament in the late 1870s. In 1885, a group of women led by Kate Sheppard founded the New Zealand version of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. So as a time-traveller, you might see them rallying for the vote, or collecting signatures on one of the huge petitions presented to parliament.

Barriers to Love for my 1886 couple

Tad and Lottie are both running from scandal when they meet on the other side of the world. It’s a bad time. Lottie is resigned to her fate, and untrusting of charm. Tad is being summoned back to England to a life he doesn’t want. And Lottie’s cousin is determined to keep her unpaid lackey, even if it means lying.

Tad has had many more choices than Lottie. As a man, he has been able to travel and find work. Lottie has been living as a dependent, physically safe and well cared for but emotionally abused.

Facing the power of the volcano gives them pause. Do they want to die before they have lived? And if they survive, will they have the courage to step into a whole different life?

Comment to win

All comments on this blog will go into the draw to win a mug with an 1886 map of the British empire, drawn seven days from the date the blog was published.

Comment on all eight blogs in the tour, and be in to win a $25 gift voucher from Amazon and a print copy of Never Too Late.

Farewell from 1886

Thank you for dropping in. Your next stop should be on Elizabeth Ellen Carter’s blog on 28th November. Or return to the time machine page on our Bluestocking Belle’s website and pick a year as they are posted over the next few weeks.

I wish you safe travels. Good luck. Try not to land in the midst of the Black Plague or Paris during the Terror of the French Revolution.

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66 thoughts on “Throughout time, it has never been too late for love

  1. I loved every story in Never Too Late. Yours was wonderful, the first I’ve read taking place in New Zealand. Your country has always intrigued me. You know I’m into horses, livestock and farm life. I’ve read of the different and interesting breeds of sheep and poultry there. Im not into traveling since its hard to get away with so many animals relying on me; but I would love to visit New Zealand, seeing the country side and farms more than the cities. Thank you for sharing so much with us!

    • You would love our A & P (Agriculture and Produce) shows; country fairs where farmers gather to compete for best ram or largest litter of piglets or finest pickled onions.

  2. What a wonderful and informative post. We all owe these earlier women a debt of gratitude for opening the way for us today. We are so lucky to live now. Well, in !most ways. Thank you for sharing.
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  3. This is quite fascinating. Is the picture of the house the one your ancestor built? It looks quite lovely. I’m afraid I have only the vaguest knowledge about New Zealand so it was interesting for me to learn that the women had a similar temperance and suffragette movement as the US did. Quite fascinating!

    • The house is very similar in size and appearance, but not Titchfield. New Zealand was the first sovereign country in the world to give women the vote, and it happened almost by accident. The debate was very close, but a few members of Parliament who had not decided how to cast their vote on the Bill to give suffrage to women were so disgusted by the underhanded tricks of those opposed to the Bill, that they cast their votes for the women. And the Bill passed.

    • In time, my greatgrandfather and greatgrandmother, two great aunts, and my grandfather and grandmother and their seven children lived in Titchfield, so I imagine it didn’t feel big enough!

  4. This was a wonderful story and the history is so interesting. To have what we have today as women it was a long struggle and am thankful to those who paved the way. New Zealand just seems so far away so it is wonderful to learn some of the history. Thank you Jude!!

  5. Learning about the pivotal role that women played in this time is, for me, monumental. Everything that was achieved helped to make women the strong person(s) we see today. I will continue to follow women through history.

    • They were so strong and determined! I love the story of the suffragette in court, who kept objecting to the proceedings until the judge told her that if she spoke again, he would find her in contempt of court. She replied, “That would be appropriate, your honour, for I have nothing but contempt for this court.”

  6. The women who made it possible for us to vote, etc were the great leaders of their time. History is great isn’t it? I love reading the historical items.

    • For the past forty years, a government commission of inquiry, called the Waitangi Tribunal, has been listening to the grievances of Maori tribes and trying to negotiate fair settlements between them and the Crown when the tribes have been wronged by government action. It has been a long and often controversial process, but the successes have been wonderful. I am proud of my country for doing this.

      • But think of the adventure we may have missed too! The chance to help make history! And SOME of the dresses werent too bad. What WOULD have been nerve-wracking for a lot of us Boomers especially is the chauvinism!

      • Some of the dresses were wonderful, but I would not have wanted to work in them. Especially the back breaking work of the time

  7. I love the sign about women and being recognized by a political party. Thank you for the reminder how difficult it was for women all over the world to find the respect and power they deserved.

  8. Folks, the mug giveaway is over. Congratulations to Jayjhicks. But the giveaway for the voucher and print copy of Never Too Late applies to the whole of the tour. Every comment on every Belles’ Time Travel post will be counted, so keep those comments coming.

    • No, but Titchfield was very similar, with the double wrap-around verandah and the double height bay windows.

      It still exists, and was moved a few years ago to a new site, but it has not been in family hands since before I was born.

    • I shall never cease to grateful to my ancestors for their courage in making the move. It was a wonderful country in which to grow up, and is still one of the best places in the world to live.

  9. I loved Tad & Lotties’ story. I learned so much about New Zealand just from a novella and now your blog. I’ve read some about the fine sheep being bred there as well as some poultry. I always find the circumstances that young women were subjected to incredible; just being alone with a man could force them to marry! Can you imagine the mess that would be today? It’s so difficult to stay married for couples that actually choose to marry, much less be forced. Although it wasn’t as easy to divorce then.
    I think times were so difficult for colonists no matter what country or continent they went and worse for the natives. They always seemed to receive the blunt of it. Jude, I’m grateful that you write of your country, its so interesting!

    • I admire the women who came here so much, especially those who built a homestead in the valley where I now live. What a life they had: cooking in outside shelters over fires while keeping watch over their children, making all the family’s clothes, growing as much of the family’s food as possible, milking the family goat or (if they were lucky) cow. And all while their menfolk carved a farm out of the bush (as we call the forest here).

Love hearing from you