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RACHEL HENNING, LETTER-WRITER (MRS. DEIGHTON TAYLOR) (1826-1914)

Two covers appeared on Ebay addressed to Mrs. Deighton Taylor and it was soon obvious that Deighton Taylor, the husband, took a back seat when compared to the significance of his wife, Rachel Henning. The first letter was addressed to her at Green Mount, North Shore, Sydney, N.S.W., and the 2d blue N.S.W. stamp was postmarked with rays ‘102' of Stroud as well as an adjoining STROUD/ DE 1/ 1870/ N.S.W. (Figure 1).

The reverse had a reception postmark of SYDNEY/ DE 3/ 1870/ N.S.W. (Figure 2).

The second cover was addressed to her C/o E.B. Henning Esq., Linton, North Shore, Sydney and the same 2d stamp was postmarked with a ‘rays’ postmark the numeral of which was illegible (Figure 3).

The reverse had 2 postmarks both dated February 28, of which only WOLLONGONG/ FE 28/ 1875/ N.S.W. was legible. and there was a reception mark of SYDNEY/ A/ MR 1/ N.S.W., as well as red sealing wax on the flap (Figure 4).

Rachel Hening, letter-writer, was born on 29 April 1826 at Bristol, England, the eldest child of Rev. Charles Wansbrough Henning and his wife Rachel Lydia, née Biddulph. Her mother's death in 1845 left Rachel responsible for her three sisters (Annie, Amy and Etta) and only brother, Biddulph. His health had been early impaired by scarlet fever and in August 1853 he left for Sydney in the Great Britain with his sister Annie. Rachel soon decided to join him and a year later sailed in the Calcutta with her sister Amy. They lived with Biddulph on a leased farm at Appin, then on his own farm on the Bulli Mountain.

Rachel's letters dated from1853 until1882, were never intended for publication, and were mostly addressed to her sister Etta who married Rev. Thomas Boyce in England, and to Amy who married Thomas Sloman of Bathurst. Her 'slightly mordant sense of humour' first showed in her shrewd comments on her fellow passengers the Donaldsons, he being a member of the Australian Parliament (I did not know they had one)'. After a placid existence in English country houses, Rachel disliked the heat and the bush life 'extremely' and 'did not care enough about Australian flowers' to make a botanical collection. Miserably homesick she returned, after 5 years, to England in the Star of Peace and lived mainly with the Boyces. In 1861 she returned to Australia in the Great Britain.

Biddulph moved to Queensland and in 1862 Rachel and Annie joined him on his run, Exmoor, in the South Kennedy district. From the moment of reaching Queensland, Rachel revelled in station life. She had 'never liked parties' or meeting strangers, and found 'a complete emotional, social and intellectual felicity within the family circle'. She loved the wild flowers and 'beautiful' scenery and discovered that 'hardly anything [was] pleasanter than a gallop over a plain with the wind rushing by you and the ground flying under your horse's feet'. A lover of animals, she soon had a 'train' of nine poddy lambs which she took for walks with the dogs. A picture of Rachel Henning is seen in Figure 5.

Rachel left Exmoor, Queensland in October 1865 and on 3 March 1866 married Deighton Taylor, Biddulph's overseer, who was more than 8 years her junior. They lived on the Myall River where Taylor managed a timber-logging business, and then bought a farm, Peach Trees, near Stroud. In 1872 they sold it and moved to another farm, Springfield, near Wollongong. Rachel created gardens wherever she lived. She also loved music and poetry, which she sometimes wrote. In 1896 she sadly left her beautiful flowers at Springfield and moved to Ryde, where Taylor died in 1900. After Biddulph's wife died, Rachel and Annie lived with him at Passy, Hunter's Hill. Rachel died there without issue on 23 August 1914 at the age of 88, and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery. From her estate of £3433 she left legacies to the Animals Protection Society and the King Edward Home for Dogs.

The above entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography mentioned Deighton Taylor in only 5 lines, and I was interested to learn more about their relationship, as well as about the illustrations by the talented artist Norman Lindsay, that first appeared, when her letters were published in the Bulletin in 1951-52. I bought a copy of The Letters of Rachel Henning, edited by David Adams (with forward, and illustrations by Lindsay) published by Penguin Books in 1969. In May of 1865 she wrote to Etta that she had been engaged to Taylor for 6 months and had told only her brother, Biddulph; her reticence was partly due to the uncertainty of their life ahead, for Taylor was going away on a job for months, and his future was not assured.

She continues: “it is immeasurably foolish for any one of my age to enter into an engagement like this” (she was 39) and he was “a boy of little over 30" ...and she had known him for 2 and a half years “and pretty intimately, living in the same house nearly all that time”; she also recognised that there may be family resistance to the union! She requested that Etta and her husband not spread the news, until she wrote further; at which time she wrote to Etta in October 1865, about extolling the quality of Taylor’s parentage. After their quiet marriage on 3rd March 1866, in her letters she always signed her letters Rachel Taylor, and always referred to her husband as Mr. Taylor, as shown in the drawing by Norman Lindsay (Figure 6).

In the editor’s epilogue, we learn a little further of Deighton Taylor in that he became a chronic sufferer with asthma and they decided to sell their home Springfield near Fig Tree, N.S.W. in 1896, when they moved to Ryde, where they lived until Deighton died in 1890. The cover of the book shows Mr. & Mrs. Deighton Taylor, an adaptation of a drawing of Norman Lindsay (Figure 7).

Addendum:  A later cover was sent to Mrs Deighton Taylor in 1893 at her home in Springfield N.S.W., Fig Tree P.O., Illawarra from Canley Vale, a Sydney suburb.


 
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