Women’s memoirs of the West Indies

My PhD research focuses on connections between Ireland and the British West Indies from about 1770 until 1830. I hope to be able to weave the voices of some Irish women who had connections with the region through my work, but I suspect this will be a challenge. I found a few (very few) letters written by Irish women who lived in the Caribbean during my research at PRONI in Belfast, and am now looking for published (or unpublished for that matter) memoirs. I’ve found a number by women travellers from England, Scotland and north America, as well as a handful of works by non-white women. My search for a work by an Irish woman, however, continues. This list is not exhaustive and I may update it as I go. I haven’t done much secondary reading on this topic yet, but the most helpful work by far has been Evelyn O’Callaghan’s Women Writing the West Indies, 1804—1939, “A Hot Place, Belonging to Us” (Routledge, 2004).

Any recommendations or comments from you, dear reader, would be most welcome!

Perhaps the best-known published journal is that of Lady Nugent, wife of Sir George Nugent, who served as Governor of Jamaica at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This is a link to a published copy of her journal Lady Nugent’s Journal of Her Residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805.

Anne Powers, the author of A Parcel of Ribbons: The letters of an 18th Century Family in London and Jamaica, has reviewed two memoirs by female visitors to Jamaica in the nineteenth century: Martha Jefferson Trice’s A Lady in Jamaica 1879Link to Powers’ Review and Diana Lewes’ A Year in Jamaica, Memoirs of a girl in Arcadia in 1889Link to Review

I used the journal of a Scottish traveller, Janet Schaw, during my Masters research, for her description of the bustling island of St. Eustatius in the 1770s: Journal of a Lady of Quality: Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the years 1774 to 1776

The Fate of the Fenwicks, Letters to Mary Hays (1798-1828), which (excitingly!) is available in digital form via the National Library of Australia here.

As for the writing of non-white women, O’Callaghan notes that the generally agreed chronology commences with the writings of Anne Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites (The Hart Sisters: Early African Caribbean Writers, Evangelicals, and Radicals, edited by Moira Ferguson (University of Nebraska Press, 1993)), followed by the History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself  (1831), and concludes with Mary Seattle’s autobiographical Wonderful Adventures (1857). There is then a gap until the twentieth century. O’Callaghan notes (pp.2-3) that although very few texts by non-white women appeared, that does not mean that there was no women’s writing from the West Indies—although it seems that for a long time, academics did argue that such a void existed. The book goes on to discuss what O’Callaghan terms “narratives of the West Indies by women.”

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