"Whene'er a noble deed is wrought.
Whene'er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts, in glad surprise,
To higher levels rise."--LONGFELLOW.
HENRIETTA STOCKDALE was born on July 9th, 1847, at Gringley on the Hill, Notts. Her father, The Rev. Henry Stockdale, when he was twenty-five, was appointed to the living of Misterton with West Stockwith, Notts.; it meant the care of nearly 2000 souls. There was very little money, a dilapidated church, and no vicarage house, and he lodged here and there for three years or more, when he married Christine Ann Nicholson, to whom he had been engaged for eight years, and after a few weeks in lodgings they took part of a house at Gringley on the Hill, where Henrietta and two sons were born. In 1850 they moved to Misterton and lived in a small farmhouse near the church, and here another daughter and son were born. It was a small house with two rooms and a kitchen downstairs, the outside was covered all over with creepers and greenery, and it had a thatched porch.
Henrietta was a clever and intelligent child from the very first. Her mother used to say that in her earliest days she used to awake in the morning looking so bright and fresh, demanding her favourite Bible story to be told her before she was dressed. She learnt to read very early. Mr. Stockdale gave each child, as soon as it could read, a Bible, and it took its place with the rest of the family after breakfast every morning in reading the daily lessons.
It must have been a difficult household to manage and to make both ends meet. Fortunately, they were all strong and healthy, but there were five children in five years, and very little money to keep them on. There was plenty of food, but it was of the simplest. The rule for the children was bread and milk for breakfast and tea, until they were twelve years old, except on Sunday, when "we butter ourselves," which meant having bread and butter and spreading it themselves; very few sweets and toys, and practically no other children to play with. What teaching they had was given by their parents; all of them at about five years of age were taught to play the piano, and the boy Charles began Latin when he was five, and Greek when he was eight.
Mrs. Stockdale made all their clothes; the washing was done at home, and she has been heard to say that she has sat down to work with a basket by her side with eighty pairs of socks in it to be looked over and mended. The children were taken to church regularly, beginning when they were two years of age.
Though the house was so small, one room was often used as a classroom on Sundays for boys and girls, where Mrs. Stockdale used to teach, and Henrietta was promoted to do the same at the age of eight and Charles at the age of six, though what the two latter could have taught it is difficult to say. From the very beginning Henrietta had a high standard of conduct, a great sense of the Church and her duty towards it, and already she was influencing her brothers and sister in truthfulness of word and conduct. Her mother was one day much touched, after she had corrected her for some fault, and sent her away to a room by herself, on going to her after a time, to find her asleep by the sofa on her knees.
When she was about eight or nine, she made herself a little cross by fastening two pieces of wood together, tied a cord to it, and wore it round her neck. Her family have a little photograph on glass of her taken at this time, a little upright girl, with plump cheeks, a firm mouth and steadfast eyes; she has short hair, her frock cut rather low round her neck, and is wearing her wooden cross on its long string.
In the spring of 1858, when Henrietta was ten years old, Mr. Stockdale was presented to the living of Bole, a village about five miles from Misterton. It was a place of few inhabitants, and lay off the main road between Gainsborough and Retford. There was no road through it; after passing the few cottages and the church with its fine Norman Font, the road ended in the marshes by the side of the river Trent.
There had not been a resident priest there for 200 years. There was a dilapidated church, only a little dame's school, and no vicarage, so the family again took refuge in a neighbouring village, and lived in a farmhouse at Beckingham. This was a splendid place for the children; there were a lot of farm buildings where they kept rabbits and fowls, and on wet days they could play in the hay-lofts; there was also a large garden and orchard, so that when lessons were over, they found endless amusement on the premises without being any trouble or anxiety to their parents.
Henrietta, though always looked up to by the other children, was hardly a companion to them; she always seemed so much more grown up, and without being exactly grave, she was a serious child; she never played games or did anything mischievous or silly, or got into the childish scrapes that most children do. She was taught to play the piano and draw, and afterwards to sing, but she did not do any of these things well. Mrs. Stockdale used to walk four miles into Gainsborough with her that she might have dancing lessons; they were held in the Old Hall, the same Hall in which the bazaar was held that Maggie Tulliver attended. About this time croquet first came in, and she played that sometimes with the others, but she did not care for it, or play it well.
At one end of the house outside was a small lean-to roof, supported on two or three wooden pillars, and a flagged pathway underneath leading to an old tool-house. Henrietta immediately named this shelter "the Cloisters," and it is always spoken of by that name now by the family--the first indication of her future life--she was but ten. Her mind was deeply religious and literary, but her education, from force of circumstances, was very scanty; her brother Charles, the only one who was her equal in intellect, left home for school when he was ten. She was precocious, her mind was always reaching out for food, and there was very little on which it could feed. For two or three years of her life at this time she was not perhaps an agreeable child. She seemed older than other children of her age, and she liked to be with older people.
Living in this village were an old Sir Joseph Rudsdell and his wife. They had two daughters a few years older than Henrietta; they were all very eccentric people, with peculiar speech, and were often very rude in manner, and yet kind when they chose. The elder daughter, who was much the nicer of the two, offered to teach Henrietta Italian when she was about fourteen, and they took a great deal of notice of her, and had her often at their house. Mrs. Stockdale said afterwards that she thought their influence over her had not been altogether a good one. It is a trial to a very young girl to be made much of by older people, but she was always a good and loving daughter, and submissive to parental authority. She once said to her mother: "I never loved you so much as when you corrected me."
What kind of a mother had she? From the time of her marriage, Mrs. Stockdale had to struggle with small means to bring up her family. She herself came of a family devoted to the Church and to duty, and she remained so all her life; if a thing was her duty, there was no question of her doing it; she had a most loyal and loving nature, utterly unselfish; she lived to be eighty-three, and she was never known to lose her temper. On hearing of her death in 1900, Sister Henrietta wrote: "I never remember one harsh or unkind word, or one action which was not perfectly upright. I always used to think the verse in the last chapter of Proverbs suited her so exactly, so exactly expressed her" (She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness). She was a clever woman, too, in all handicraft, a most beautiful needlewoman and embroideress; there is to be seen in Stoke Prior Church on the altar and elsewhere some much-admired work that she did when she was seventy-eight; she played the piano well, and was a very good pencil drawer. She was fond of wild flowers, and devoted to her garden, and had the saving grace of humour, and buoyed up her family by her bright spirit and unfailing interest in all that concerned them. For some years before her marriage, she lived with her parents on a large farm in Lincolnshire, Grayingham Grange, and afterwards it used to be a great delight, when she took her own children there for some weeks every year; it was like a second home to them as long as any relations lived there. When the relations left it, Sister Henrietta wrote: "I wish I could be there, what a dear old place it is; when I can't sleep I often think of it, the places where the bluebells and wood strawberries and raspberries and dewberries and scabious and knapweed grew. I can see it all so well as it was, just where the elder trees came out of the walls," and again: "I am much distressed about Grayingham; all my earliest and happiest recollections are round it, from the time I was set up in the corner of the seat in Church to see Mr. Verelst (the Rector) and stood on the step of the old porch of the house holding my grandfather's leg, while Lord Yarborough gave him the silver Jug, the day of the great run from Grayingham to Dunholme in an hour and twenty minutes; why, a motor could hardly beat that."
Mr. Stockdale was a very loving father, rather strict, very energetic, quick and punctual, most kind-hearted and hospitable. He was devoted to the Church and to the cause of Missions, and very careful about his parochial duties; the parish must always come first with him.
It was by such parents that Henrietta Stockdale was brought up and given such education as was in their power to give; but when she was fourteen, they felt that something more must be done for her, and a governess was engaged. She was a clergyman's daughter from Chichester, of about twenty-three, but she was no good as a teacher; she knew no more, if as much, as Henrietta, who did not like her at all, and after six months she went away. Years after, at Kimberley, this same person wrote to Bishop Webb asking for help; she was in South Africa, had married unhappily, and was in trouble and want. After a time, she came into the Kimberley Hospital as a patient under the care of her old pupil, Henrietta Stockdale.
Again a governess was advertised for, and this time there came an officer's widow, a woman of nearly fifty, who stayed for one year.
By this time Henrietta was fifteen, tall for her age, full of life and health and strength and thirst for knowledge and work; one thinks how, if she had lived in these days, she would have revelled in all the facilities for learning that seem within the reach of anyone who cares to have them; instead, it was ordained that she should now do what she could for herself alone, and also teach her younger sister, a child rather dull in intellect, who made little response to Henrietta's efforts. And yet this self-repression and self-discipline in early life must have borne good fruit; whatever opportunities she had had, could more have been said of her than was said by Sir Godfrey Lagden after her death, when he wrote of "their admiration for the monumental work she had accomplished for the good of South Africa"? Up to this tune she had never been more than a few miles away from home, had stayed nowhere but with her grandparents and other near relations in Lincolnshire, but in the summer of 1862, the time of the second Great Exhibition, she was invited with her father and mother to stay with some friends in London for a fortnight or so. This gave her immense pleasure; she was hi a large house with a. lot of young people, and she was able to thoroughly enjoy every pleasure that came in her way, and to appreciate all she saw and heard. Even at this time she had a striking personality, full of life and enjoyment, yet to live was a serious thing to her. No one could meet her, even for a short time, without being impressed by her appearance and intelligence; an old friend who knew her all her life writes: "Never will the remembrance of her wonderful personality pass from me, as a girl and afterwards, always the same commanding presence."
In March of the following year there were three important days of her life: her Confirmation by Bishop Jackson of Lincoln on March 22nd, 1863, in Walkeringham Church, and her first Communion on the following day. This would be at Beckingham where they lived, and where the family attended every service that was held. They never saw the altar; they entered by the south door, and sat in a large high square pew at the east end of the south aisle. The Vicar was most of the time nonresident, but when he was there in Lent he used, at the Sunday afternoon service, to have some of the school-children stand in the middle aisle, in front of the reading desk, and catechise them, and Henrietta and her brother Charles, when he was at home, used to take part in this.
In the early part of this year, 1863, Mr. Twells had been consecrated Bishop of the Orange River Mission, as the Bloemfontein Mission was called then, and in March he came to stay at Walkeringham Vicarage for a day or two, and Mr. Stockdale and Henrietta, with a young girl cousin, were asked to meet him. Seeing him and hearing him fired Henrietta's missionary enthusiasm; she and her cousin were both made associates of the Mission by him, and from that time, when she was only fifteen, until her death nearly fifty years afterwards, she gave her prayers, her thoughts, her time, and finally herself to the Bloemfontein Mission, and died in its cause.
What could a child of that age do? She had no money, no friends, no power apparently; no, but she could pray and write and sew. Her sister remembers how, while she was doing her lessons, Henrietta used constantly to be sewing, making anything that she thought people would buy. As she got a little older she, with the help of her mother, illuminated texts, which she sent out for the walls of mission chapels; she bought sacred photographs and illuminated and mounted and framed them, and sold them when she could; she learnt to do church embroidery, for which she took orders; she wrote to many clergy in the neighbourhood asking for a church collection for the mission--so little by little her work and influence extended to other people and places, and she was known and acknowledged as a mission worker both in her own neighbourhood and in South Africa. And when, after three years abroad, Bishop Twells came to England and to that part of the country again, he came to see her, strengthening her efforts and adding to her enthusiasm.
Mr. Stockdale had during this time got schools and a vicarage house built at Bole, and the family moved there in the autumn of 1864. It was well they were strong and healthy people; it was a clay country, and the vicarage was built at the entrance of the village, with a large unenclosed tract of land called Bole Field on one side, and marshes bounded by the Trent on the other side of it, and it received the full force of the wind from every side. Henrietta chose for herself a small room at the top of the house, partly in the roof, and with windows facing north and east. The cold in winter was sometimes excessive--it is remembered that one Sunday the water froze in the cruet in church. The floors of the house, though, were not so cold to the feet as were the plaster floors of the farmhouses in which they had lived before. Years after Henrietta wrote: "Oh! those Bole Lents, how fearfully cold they used to be. I wonder any of us survived them," and again: "There is the welcome sound of pattering rain outside, so refreshing and joyful. I see you have had fearful storms in England, but I expect in your sheltered place you would not notice them, but oh! wouldn't they blow over 'poor Bole' and over the Misterton Carrs. I should like to see Misterton again; it would look, I fancy, so small, and my remembrance of it is so large and fine with such streets and houses. I wonder if they still make small beer in the Carr farmhouses."
Her life began now to be a more busy one, because living in her father's parish brought more outside work to her; and besides teaching her sister, she used to go about a good deal in the village, play the harmonium in church, attend the choir practisings, teach in the Sunday School and very often help in the day school; the church too was restored, which was very interesting to her, and she made afterwards a garden under the south wall of the church, and the rose and fuchsia, etc., that she planted then still grow and flourish and blossom; but she had no companions. She said once long afterwards how she had longed for a companion at this time of her life; she would have been thankful for anyone to talk to her, a listener, someone to exchange ideas with and to unfold her schemes and longings. Her father could not afford to buy books, but sometimes they were lent, and she read everything on which she could lay her hands; she was very fond of poetry, she loved Miss Yonge, and read those charming long stories of hers over and over again, and with unfailing interest to the day of her death. At this time she joined an Essay Club that a girl in the neighbourhood got up, and she wrote excellent papers for this during the three years or so that the Club lasted. But better things were in store for her. When she was eighteen a Mr. Gray was appointed to the Vicarage of East Retford, a few miles from Bole; he came there with his sister, both of them clever people and interested hi all things connected with the Church and for the help of others. They immediately became friends with Mr. Stockdale and his family, were much interested in Henrietta, and often had her to stay with them. Miss Gray, writing of her as she first knew her, says: "When I first knew Henrietta she was a remarkably handsome girl of about nineteen, just entering on life with keen enjoyment. Educated at home in a quiet country Vicarage, she was ready to be interested in people and things to a degree that a town-bred girl would fail to understand. She struck me then as being old for her years, she was so thoughtful, so dignified in manner, with a quiet persuasive influence which was to develop into the commanding power of her later years. But though generally grave she had a keen sense of humour, and her fine eyes would flash with amusement, thoroughly appreciating a joke--otherwise her manner was cold and rather alarming on first acquaintance. Looking back, Henrietta's girlish life was very different from that of a present-day maiden. She had regular occupations for each day, so many hours of solid reading, her general information was remarkable; so much time devoted to her father's parish and school, and the rest mainly spent in needle-work, in which she excelled, and for which she took orders for the benefit of the Bloemfontein Mission Funds. It was a beautiful, simple life, in the society of father, mother, two brothers and a younger sister. There was no narrowness; Henrietta had always an open mind for new ideas, but her principles, learnt from her parents, and founded on faith in the Holy Catholic Church, were firm as a rock.
"When we first met, Henrietta had taken up the cause of the Orange River Mission, as it was then called, with girlish enthusiasm, and very soon she persuaded me to become an associate. At that time I scarcely knew where the Orange Free State was, but she soon excited my interest in her work. We had now a common ground of sympathy, on which to talk and write. We used to say the Office together when we met, and after she went to South Africa we corresponded for some years. The Mission in those days was little known and altogether a small work, but she always seemed to see its vast possibilities and future extension, for which she quietly worked and prayed during her years of preparation for the life which she afterwards so nobly fulfilled."
Staying with Mr. and Miss Gray brought her into contact with the work of a town parish; she went with them to other houses in the neighbourhood and got to know more people.
About this time, too, the young vicar of one of the churches at Gainsborough married a charming girl of the same age as Henrietta; they soon became great friends, and through them she got to know many others, who liked her and asked her to stay with them. Some of them lived at Lincoln, and were connected with the Cathedral; this and the beautiful old houses in the Close appealed greatly to her reverent mind and strong churchmanship, and she rejoiced in all she saw there and the people she met, working, thinking, reading people who found a ready listener and a good talker in this young, strong and joyous girl. One of these friends writes: "It is not easy to say much about those years during which we were so intimate. She was a most delightful companion, handsome and so much better informed than most girls, with an extraordinary sense of humour which was, I suppose, what made her company so refreshing. She was in a pleasant way very imperious, amusingly so as it was so unconscious, and could offend no one as she was manifestly born to lead. I know I grudged her going to Africa, feeling what a loss she would be to me, an entirely selfish feeling--however, we never left go of each other."
She always loved an argument, and was ready to discuss any subject--the last time she was at home some people were coming to lunch one day, and her sister said, "I think Mr. ------ wants to talk politics with you." "Let him come, I'm ready," was her reply. Men who came to the house used to be astonished at her knowledge, and then there was her appearance--above the average height, she was largely made, but she was so upright it prevented her looking clumsy; she had a pleasant voice and a good complexion, and fine dark brown hair, which grew very prettily on her temples, but this was not seen in the last thirty-five years of her life. She had long, thin hands with a fine skin, and though she used to get very brown, she never got rough or lumpy or freckled. She was staying with some friends when she was about twenty-one, and called one day at a house where Mr. Wills, the artist and dramatist, was staying. When she was leaving, he took her aside and asked if she would allow him to copy her hands for an Ophelia he was painting.
Years afterwards when her sister was going to Lincoln, she wrote; "I felt very much as if I should like to go to Lincoln when you said you were going. I always think of the Cantilupe Chantry as the sweetest, kindest, nicest place on earth," and again another time: "You send me such pretty postcards. I have put the Grasby one into Charles Turner's Sonnets, and the Lincoln one I keep on my table, it is so beautiful."
These same Lincoln friends took her to Belgium with them one summer, and the travelling and the different life and the pictures and buildings she saw were a lasting joy to her.
All this time she was keeping her mind steadfastly on the Bloemfontein Mission, working for it and interesting others in it, and leading the very simple home life with its daily round and common tasks, greatly influencing for good her brothers and sister. She was very outspoken and her remarks and corrections were very direct, but they were always felt to be true, there was no gainsaying them; if she did not spare others neither did she spare herself; under her commanding manner was a truly humble spirit, and her life held up to all the highest standard of right; whatever may have been her mistakes and failings, the aim of her life from beginning to end was the Glory of God and the keeping of His Commandments, and this was felt by all who knew her.
In 1870 Bishop Webb was made Bishop of Bloemfontein, and before he went out he came over to Bole to see Henrietta. The following year Mr. Bevan, one of the clergy of the Bloemfontein Diocese, and still working there, was staying at Retford and came over to lunch at Mr. Stockdale's, and seeing there the youngest son, a boy of eighteen, who had not been placed at any special work or profession, he suggested that he should go out with him in October to the Mission Brotherhood at Modderpoort and work a small farm there that the Mission owned. Travelling then was not so easy as it is now, and with many delays from one cause or another, he did not reach Modderpoort until March. In a letter soon afterwards he wrote that Henrietta must not think of going out there for some time, the country was not fit yet and she must wait, and so she served by waiting, and was helped in this by at this time making her first Confession. Mr. Elsdale, who was director of the Bloemfontein Association, was staying with her friends at Retford, and it was through him first that she gained a lifelong help. She was nervous at the thought of it, but all were so gentle and thoughtful, that her fear was soon turned to comfort.
There is a little book she had of daily sayings; there is one underlined: "Eternity is too short to thank JESUS for all that is done in our souls in one confession," and the year of her first confession is written against it.
Her friendship with Mr. Elsdale and his sister lasted all her life; whenever she came home she went to stay with them first at S. John's, Kennington, and afterwards at Little Gransden Rectory. Hearing of her death, Mr. Elsdale wrote:
"I first met her at Canon Gray's, in the height of strength and beauty.
"It was her Missionary aspirations in those her young days which led her to ask my spiritual counsel and make her First Confession, since I was Director of the Bloemfontein Association through my friendship with Bishop Webb.
"Her Religious vocation followed upon her Missionary Call, and this shows in what diverse ways and varying order God leads those whom He chooses for perfection. Archdeacon Croghan had a great influence in the guiding of her course in those days of her decision to go to Africa. His delicacy of constitution and feebleness of frame made his power of will and organization the more remarkable.
"On her return as a Sister for the first time to England, she came to stay with us at S. John's, Kennington, and I remember the awe and reverence with which her appearance inspired one of my unrefined men.
"It was the spiritual influence with which she went about through this rough world that attracted the gentle and soothed the violent.
"And her affection for her old home and for each member of her family sanctified her heart according to the laws of a pure nature, so that she rose to the Vocation of a Religious family life out of the experience of the happiness which God had given her from the very beginning.
"A Religious Community takes its ideal, like the simplest domestic family, from the Holy Home at Nazareth.
"It was this training of the affections in youth which fitted her to be happy herself and to give happiness in the Sisterhood and also to carry love and peace out into the hard miserable world.
"Then her patience and submission when God through sickness and infirmity bade her to slacken her toil, were another side of her strong nature. It required strength calmly to resign work. Weak people cling desperately to old external habits when the inner spiritual power has gone out of them, but her letters from Kimberley when new work was God's will, showed how when a true worker grows old gracefully, she may do, as Father Benson once said to me, the best work of her life. It was--I think--the steady consistency and the gradual growth of her character from youth to age that made her all her life long so gracious and so charming."
In the year 1873 Mr. Stockdale was offered the living of Clay worth, to which he went in August, and while the family was in the excitement and turmoil of beginning to move to a new home Henrietta received a letter from Mr. Wilson of Rownhams definitely asking her to go out to South Africa. Archdeacon Croghan was in England then, but returning in the spring, and Mr. Wilson proposed that she should go out at that time. There was no doubt in her mind. It was what she had looked and waited for for years, and now the real call had come.
The Clewer Sisterhood had offered to train for a few months in their hospital any workers who were going out to Bloemfontein and wanted to learn something of nursing, so Henrietta went with her parents to their new home and then almost directly went to the Clewer Hospital, where she was for some months, and then went on to the Children's Hospital in Great Ormond Street, where amongst other things she renewed her acquaintance with Miss Tozer, the sister of Bishop Tozer of Zanzibar, whom she had met two or three years before at the Bishop of London's house at Fulham. Her sister so well remembers that one day about this time, when they were walking together, asking her if she thought she would ever become a Sister, and her reply: "I think not; you see I may live sixty years longer."
She sailed for South Africa on March 6th, 1874, the same day on which she had, eleven years before, been made an Associate of the Mission. Her father took her to Southampton, and when on board waiting for that terrible bell which warns friends that they must begin their good-byes, she burst into tears. Her father with cruel kindness, his own heart wrung at parting with her, said, "Do you want to go back, tell me if you don't want to go, it is not too late;" but it was not that--far from it. It was just the pain of good-bye to home and friends and country; she used to say it was the going out of the door of the home which gave her the feeling of parting.
The Mission Quarterly Paper for April of that year says, "Archdeacon and Mrs. Croghan sailed from Southampton on the 5th of March accompanied by Sister Emma of S. Thomas' Sisterhood, Oxford, Miss Stockdale, Miss Sibley, Miss Grimes, Miss Newland and M. Blackwell." Their arrival is mentioned in one of her letters further on. In those days people landed at Port Elizabeth instead of Cape Town as now, and there were no trains; the journeys up country were made in post carts and ox wagons, and this party was travelling for thirteen days before it got to Bloemfontein.
Postage from England was something like is 10 d. the 1/2 oz., and one letter, which was supposed to be nine days getting up country, took six weeks to do so.
Two lady workers were already at Bloemfontein waiting for this party to arrive; Sister Emma was at once formally made Mother Superior for a Sisterhood to be called the Community of S. Michael and All Angels, and with the other ladies a school was at once started, beginning with seventeen children, and it was here that Henrietta Stockdale began her work. The Mother's description of the house is, "we are much crowded here, a very small outbuilding has been fitted up as a Chapel; it is a dear little place, but it has only mud walls with unbleached calico stretched tightly over them, and it is so small that there is not room for the seventeen children. This house will be very pretty when it is finished, the worst is that you can hear in any part all that is going on in every part; only the outer walls are carried up into the pitch of the roof, the rest are mere partitions, and the ceilings are of canvas, so that the house is like one large room. So we sit in the sitting-room where there is a music-lesson going on, and can hear, not only that, but the singing-lesson in the refectory and the class in the school-room, with each word that each teacher speaks."
They had plenty to do, the school very soon increased in numbers; they had another school in the town, and with their teaching and cooking and care of the children's bodies and souls, and laundry work, and the constant struggle with inadequate buildings, hard work and great self-discipline was needed from all. It was all so new, but they were full of enthusiasm and love for all that was right and for all that God sent them to do.
After the first year Henrietta writes: "There has certainly been a great strain of work during the past year, but some of us have 'a natural lust of work.' Nevertheless, as 'enough is as good as a feast' we shall be extremely delighted to receive the reinforcement which the Bishop is bringing us. I hope you will write to me; it is a great joy and strength to know that those at home, even when unknown to us personally, care for our work. You must be on this great Continent before you can understand what a joyful event letters from those remote specks on the map, the British Isles, become to all of us. I used to think that I had no love of country, and that it would be nothing to me to leave England; now, I find myself at times even more country sick than home sick. But I am told by old settlers that a visit home always effects a cure, and that after it, everyone is able to see the real advantages of African life, which I fully believe, for we all of us dearly love our African home."
Despite what she had said before she left home about becoming a Sister, she had not been in Bloemfontein very long before she wished to join the Community there, and on S. Andrew's Day of her first year there she became a Novice. On S. Andrew's Day, 1903, she writes: "It is 29 years to-day since I was made a Novice; in one way it seems like yesterday, in another way all my life; it is all my grown-up life except ten years."
Though leading a full and busy life, her thoughts soon turned to the sick and she longed to help them. She writes the year after she went out: "Women are doing nothing at present to civilize or Christianize their own sex; more than anything I would make to everyone who will hear me an appeal for the sick. One of the Doctors said to me a few days ago that the sufferings of the sick poor were indeed terrible. The rich could always make some shift to help themselves, but--'the sick poor! no one can estimate what they have to endure.' It is a common saying here that 'there are no poor.' But when a woman can find no shelter for herself and children but half a warehouse at £2 or £3 per month, without one door on its hinges, or when she cannot be spared even for an hour, to see after her sick child, nor find any woman who will do it for her--then I call her poor even if she is earning £10 a month at an Hotel. If we could open a small Hospital it would always be full, but we should want much help to begin it, though I have little doubt it would be afterwards well supported in the town." When she had been at Bloemfontein nearly two years, the Bishop told her one day that he wished her to go to Kimberley with him to see what could be done in the way of starting any nursing amongst the people there. They had a journey full of incidents--grave and gay--but arrived at last and received a warm welcome. It was on this visit that the Bishop asked her if she should mind if he preached about her, and then took for his text: "I commend unto thee Phoebe our Sister," and then commended to their help and prayers the nursing work and the Sister who was to be in charge. Kimberley is spoken of at that time as a place with "no river, no trees, a dreary flat, nothing to tempt us on the surface; dust storms, heat without shade in the pitiless days of summer." It was to the new Hospital here that Sister Henrietta was sent in the early part of the following year, and the late Canon Crisp in his "Account of the Bloemfontein Diocese" says: "In January 1877 a band of ladies, headed by Sister Henrietta, began the nursing work which has made the name of the Carnarvon Hospital at Kimberley a household word in South Africa. ... As ministering angels Sister Henrietta's devoted following came with comfort to the sick and tender care for the dying." She herself writes: "I cannot go to Church here except in winter. The earliest service is Mattins at 7.30, by which time it is really unsafe on account of the heat, to walk the mile and a half from the Hospital to Church, besides which it prevents you doing any other work during the day. No white umbrella is sufficient protection. The men who go out in the sun wear a white pith helmet, no women go out till sundown. The burning fine sand, nearly ankle deep, adds very much to the pain of walking; and 'working women' such as we are, who must keep their tempers, have to avoid a three mile walk! Notwithstanding the heat, I like Kimberley very much, and am sure that I shall like it more and more. But there are many sad blanks, at the daily Celebration especially, and the presence of those who have become very near and dear during these two and a half years. ... I do hope it will please God to send some little child to the Hospital soon; it seems to bring His Presence nearer to a house, when we can receive a little child in His Name. I cannot tell you the kindness and consideration with which I am everywhere treated, not of course for my own sake, but I need your prayers."
Colonel Lanyon wrote to Miss Stockdale a few years later: "The credit of founding the Hospital belongs to Bishop Webb and your sister, for I could have done nothing without their disinterested and noble help. I shall never forget how she and the other ladies worked to push the matter to a complete success."
While at Kimberley he had, as Governor, presented Sister Henrietta with a large bog oak cross mounted in gold and fastened to a ribbon with the Government Seal, "in grateful remembrance of invaluable services."
She was not long at the Hospital at this time; almost directly after getting there she was urged by one of the doctors to do district work, and so left the Hospital and lived in the tents of the people in the camp. Kimberley was not then as it is now; food was an excessive price, and the difficulty of living in those early days of mining often brought great misery and poverty. Sister Henrietta suffered much from all these things, added to the heat of climate and her inexperience, and her brother, who lived at Kimberley then, finding her one day in what seemed to him miserable discomfort in an iron hovel, wrote to the Bishop, suggesting that she should be moved away. She also broke down with an attack of fever, so was sent back to the Home at Bloemfontein for a short time, and then ordered to England for a rest. While at Bloemfontein, she on S. Barnabas' Day made her Profession, and became the first Sister of the Community of S. Michael and All Angels, Bloemfontein.
She very soon after sailed for England, accompanied by Miss Trench, now Mrs. Copleston, who had been working at the Home at Bloemfontein for more than a year. Mrs. Copleston writes from Calcutta: "I was only at Bloemfontein a year and a quarter, but we travelled home together. I always felt there was an indescribable charm in her society. I loved her very dearly."
Before she left Bloemfontein, the authorities wrote to her parents to say they must be prepared to see a great change in her after all she had gone through; so they expected an invalid, but though never a sufficiently good sailor to enjoy the voyage (she crossed the Atlantic eleven times), that month of sea air and enforced rest had done wonders for her, and they were surprised and much relieved to see her looking well and more like herself than they had dared to hope. It was an August evening when she came; the ringers rang the church bells to welcome her as she drove up the village street, and after the home greetings were over, the family went into the church, which joins the rectory garden, and sang the Te Deum as a thanksgiving for her safe return in health.
She stayed in England through the winter, but she was by no means well; she had terrible attacks of pain sometimes. She went once to Liverpool on Mission business when she was quite unfit to travel or to undergo the exertion of meetings, but she struggled on.
Part of the winter she spent at University College Hospital, getting more training and experience in nursing in case she should be sent to Kimberley again on her return to South Africa. The rest of the time she spent at home or staying with relations and friends. It was an unusual thing in those days for the inhabitants of a village to see a Sister among them; a great many had never seen one before, and this time she went to stay with her relations at Grayingham, a very small village with a tiny church, and after service on Sunday, the rector's daughter, wishing to expatiate on her deeds, said to a small boy: "Did you see that strange lady at Church?" and he replied: "Do you mean that woman with the slobbering bib?" He thought that the large square collar hanging in front could not be anything but a bib.
She had a little goddaughter in her old home village of Bole, to whom she used to write most delightful letters, and this little girl with her mother walked over to Clayworth to the Early Celebration one Sunday to see her godmother, and spent most of the day at the Rectory. She is now a woman of between forty and fifty, and writes of that visit:
"What a noble life for me and all who knew her to copy. The most vivid recollection I have of her was the last time I saw her at Clayworth. My mother and I came to Clayworth one Sunday morning for early service. It was a lovely day, and in the afternoon my God-mother took me into one of the rooms and spoke so kindly to me, telling me how to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. I have never forgotten it. The room with blinds partly drawn and the beautiful sun shining, with the scent of flowers pouring in through the open windows, and my God-mother sitting with my hands in hers, and I looking into her face listening to the words she had to say to me, are as familiar to me now as if it were only yesterday. I shall never forget her sweet face and her parting blessing. Many and many a time have the words impressed upon my mind helped me against many a temptation. I think that was the last time I saw her. She gave me a book, The Star of Childhood, at the same tune in 1878. My Bible and Prayer Book she also gave me."
She returned to Bloemfontein in May, 1878, and there went out in the same boat Miss Frances Harcourt-Vernon as a Mission worker, who is now Mother Superior of the Community. Sister Henrietta stayed at Bloemfontein, and was for a tune in charge there of S. George's Cottage Hospital, almost adjoining S. Michael's Home. It was not until March, 1879, that she was definitely established in charge of the Carnarvon Hospital at Kimberley, and there began that nursing work to which, except for a few short intervals, the whole of her after life was devoted.
Other people and her own letters tell of her work in South Africa. She came home from time to time, the intervals between each home-coming getting longer as time went on. She was always very much in need of the rest and refreshment these holidays brought her; it used to be shown in the weakness of her voice, going sometimes almost to inaudibility, and in sleeplessness, and then she had a family inheritance of headache, which so prostrated her for a time that she could hardly see or speak.
Before she came home the second time, her father died, and her brother took her mother and sister to his home in Worcestershire, and it was there that she always afterwards came for her holiday, first to Franche, near Kidderminster, and afterwards to Stoke Prior, where her brother was vicar. She loved the country; it was wonderful how she remembered the names of the wild flowers which she so seldom saw, and in the spring and summer she loved to wander slowly in fields and lanes, looking in all the hedges for long-remembered favourites. Only three or four months before she died she sent home for a little old Botany book which had been given to her when she was a small child. Her letters show how she loved flowers and scenery, and her friends, knowing this, used very often to send her beautiful flowers to make her own room and other parts of the house in Kimberley gay and sweet, and this gave her much pleasure.
She made a great point of having a garden at the Hospital, and afterwards at S. Michael's Home it was the same. She always tried to make things as home-like and comfortable as she could for all those she lived with; she was very particular about the meals being good and plentiful and nicely served, that the sitting-room should be as comfortable and home-like as she could make it; she treated all fellow-workers as friends, and was most considerate for their comfort. She cared greatly for their social, moral and religious welfare, and took infinite pains to help anyone who needed her care. Someone once at home in speaking to her of the patients in the Hospital said:
"I suppose you try to help their souls as well as their bodies," and the answer came quickly: "Why, yes, or we might just as well nurse a lot of broken-down old horses."
It was at the end of 1894 that the Mission resigned the care of the Hospital, and it was then that Sister Henrietta moved into a house which took the name of S. Michael's Home, with a staff of nurses, some of whom had been with her at the Hospital, and there was established the Nurses' Home, which sent out its nurses to all parts of South Africa, did a large district work, and was also a training school for nurses.
This was her chief work for the rest of her life, but her usefulness did not stop here, for it was extended to every branch of work for the good of others. She worked hard to raise funds for the building of the Hostel for Women and Girls, and while she was on the Committee, did a great deal for it. She also undertook the registry work for women coming out from England for employment in South Africa; she was Secretary of the Church-women's Guild, had a Bible Class for ladies, had Dante classes and other poetry classes; and besides these things, there were people constantly with her for board and lodging for a day or a week or longer, people whose way of living is often so different from that of institution life, but for that very reason perhaps she was always interested in them, and glad to take them in.
In the midst came the War. Her Diary, which she wrote for her mother and posted after the relief of Kimberley, can be read further on.
The Nursing Record of that time says: "The nurses of S. Michael's Home at Kimberley, supervised by that pioneer of nursing, Sister Henrietta, for so many years Matron of the Kimberley Hospital, have done yeoman service to the sick. Indeed we are inclined to surmise that Sister Henrietta would have made her mark as a war correspondent, only we could not have spared her from the nursing ranks."
After the relief of Kimberley, sick and wounded poured into the town. Lord Methuen sent to her asking her to undertake nursing first in one place, then in another, until they had 500 patients under their care. She was mentioned for praise in Lord Roberts' Despatches. She always speaks with affection and gratitude of Mr. Cecil Rhodes' kindness and generosity and all he did for the town at this time--his troop, his road works, his private charity, his distribution of milk and vegetables, spun out so that almost everyone got a bit. "I am sure they saved us, and I never felt I loved anyone so much as one day when he brought me two great onions."
She also had the trouble during the war of not knowing what was happening to her brother and his family in the Free State, as all communication with different parts of the country was so very difficult and uncertain, and at this time her nephew, to whom she was greatly attached, died at the Diocesan College at Rondebosch; the telegram with the news was received at the boy's home the day after his father had been taken prisoner for the fourth time, and the relations in England knew all the details of his death before his father knew more than the bare fact.
After the relief of Kimberley, the people received their letters which had been accumulating during the siege, Sister Henrietta receiving thirteen from her mother, who had written every week as long as she could, and one saying that her mother was dying. The next mail brought news of her death. So that she had distresses and losses to bear at this time besides those connected with the War. She came home the following year, 1901, for a few months' much-needed rest. She landed on the first of June, that heavenly time of year; she was very tired, and had lost some of her bodily strength, but she was full of enjoyment of the English summer, and was delighted to show what she could , of the country to a niece she brought home, who had worked under her for two years and been through the siege, and had not been in England before.
While at home, she gave a course of Dante lectures to a class of about twelve ladies in the neighbourhood, the classes being held either at her brother's vicarage or at a neighbour's house.
She was also very enthusiastic about a little yearly book of quotations called Needles in Haystacks. She was seldom without a book in her hands, and whenever she went to a house, she was always on the lookout for a book or person to help in her answers. She went on with them year after year, and a few months before she died, she wrote: "You will be amused to hear I have to-day finished my haystacks for 1910 and sent them off. I get very stupid over them, but they are still a great amusement and always will be unless I outlive Miss Morshead, I think." She was never idle, always working or reading, and writing incessantly.
She had a wonderful memory; if she read a letter she could repeat it to you almost exactly as it was written; she wrote with great rapidity in her curious, uncommon handwriting, and always knew just what she wanted to say. She not only was a great organiser but a great thinker; her grasp of subjects was wonderful, and she seemed to have a great foresight on large matters affecting both Church and State.
The following quotation from a letter written in the last year of her life will show how varied was her knowledge, and how amongst all the business and serious work of her life she still cared about common things:
"That was a very interesting review of Conway Walters' book; we will try and get it through the library here, but I would much rather see the other book you speak of, Between Trent and Ancholme. Who wrote it and who published it? You ask me a quantity of questions as if I had lived in England and you in Africa. About Fasten Sunday and Tuesday! 'The Eve of the Fast.' As to goffres, the word comes from the pleated edge of frills and anything honeycombed or fluted. The American word waffle is taken from it. It was the honeycombing of those delicious cakes which gave them their name; people make them now of course in Yorkshire and Notts, and in their proper home, which is Brussels. When I was there the Park was full of little houses for gauffres, the Flemish word, and coffee. That gauffre is really the original word. It is curious that some books derive from it not only waffle but wafer--now Church wafers are made in the same way, the thin paste poured or spread on a hot plate, and a second plate, generally figured with a cross or monogram, brought down on it. But it is from the honeycombing of the cake that it gets its name goffer, properly, I suppose, a 'goffered cake.' I wish I had some goffers this Fasten-tide. At Misterton no one spoke of Shrove Tuesday but always of Fasten Tuesday. There now, that's a long story."
After her death, in one of her books there was found written:
"Let me be summoned before I am surprised. Let my clay cottage be shaken before it is thrown down," and in June, 1907, her clay cottage was shaken to its foundation. She had known for long that her heart was giving way, but now she entirely broke down and her heart was pronounced to be worn out. The strenuous work and the living at such a high altitude for thirty-three years was now telling its tale. She was very ill and was taken to Bloemfontein for a time; every care and attention being given to make the journey as easy as possible, but she got much worse, and it seemed at one tune as if she would never return to Kimberley; she herself thought that she was dying, and wrote home: "I should have loved to see you and dear, dear C. and C. M. again. Perhaps not seeing you may be my last offering. Oh! C., when you lie as I do, I do hope, indeed I am sure you will not have so many, many sins to ask pardon for. But I feel sure they are pardoned, and by His Mercy, poor and slothful servant as I have been here, I trust I may see His Face."
However, she recovered somewhat and was able to go back to Kimberley, but never to active work again. This was a very real trial to a person of her temperament. For the rest of her life she suffered unceasing pain, often very acute, yet recovered sufficiently after a long time to walk from room to room, and gradually to do more; she even once was able to make the journey to Cape Town to stay with her most kind friends at Welgelegen, which gave her infinite enjoyment. Yet despite all the pain and discomfort she suffered, she took up the reins again as far as she was able to do so, and knew of and directed all that went on in the Home; one of her last letters speaks of setting examination papers for the nursing pupils. One who lived with her says, "She did everything so beautifully up to the very end." Her flowers and garden were an unending joy to her, though after her illness she could only sit in her chair and watch others working in the garden. For twelve years there was as one of the household staff one of her nieces, to whom she was devotedly attached; the companionship of a relation was a great pleasure to her, and in the last years her niece cared for and comforted her with unfailing love and attention.
Some years before, when a relation after a stroke of paralysis had lain unconscious for some days before death, she wrote: "One wonders what the soul was doing waiting on the threshold."
In the early morning of Wednesday, October 4th, 1911, while dressing to go to Church, she had a stroke of paralysis; for thirty-six hours her soul waited on the threshold and then God took her--"like other fathers He wants His children home."
"Dearest of Masters, and we go to Him, and then and not before, and then and not elsewhere, we are at rest, for His bosom is the weary man's own house--his very own delightful home."