State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 28 October 1981

76

Letters from Bertha Lawson to Henry Lawson

I.

[3] Beauchamp Terrace
[Whistler Street]
Manly. Friday
1Dearie,
I've got no paper, so I'm going to write on this.2 I wont come in tomorrow, it is such an expense it cost me 2/6 last night. I'll bring the children in early on Monday. And we will spend the day with you. I'm so glad you are getting on so well.3 We will be very happy yet. You must just let your own good nature over come the evil one. Six months4 wont be long skipping past. And I'll come and spend one day a week with you. You must make great resolutions for the future and you will keep them, I know. Above all get to work and work hard. By so doing, you will forget the past and you will also forget yourself in your work. And I want you to make the most of your chances. You know you are a long way ahead of all Australian writers But every week you let go by is so much lost. And it makes way for others, get ahead with your novel. It will be a big success and you must sell your work now, because your name is now before the public on account of C[?] of the Bush.5 You know dearie, in the past you have always let your opportunities slip past. Be like Kipling now, and make the most of it. We are always growing older never younger. And I never think a writer writes such good work after he is fifty years old.6 So now work hard and you'll be happy. Jim7 is not very well. He is troubled so with worms. I'm giving him a treatment for them. I think I'll take him to the Dr tonight. These bills have been worrying me greatly they keep asking me for them. So Dearie I'll be glad if you can fix them up. We have a good name here as far as debts are concerned. I've paid the rent and 7/6 for vegetables. And I really cant pay any more. There is a bill for bread for 9/- to Harper. I've paid the other bread bill myself. Good bye till Monday. With love from the youngsters and your wife.
Bertha Lawson.

II.

[‘Ladywood’
Whistler St.,
Manly]
1
A ring at the door bell. My heart gave a leap, I thought at last there is some one for the rooms.
An old lady dressed in the fashion of twenty years ago, stood leaning on her umbrella.
I hear you have rooms to let.
Yes, will you come inside, my heart sank. She didn't look as if she could afford £1 week for rooms.
Thank you, well you have got them nicely arranged, may I sit down. I wondered if she were about to come to terms.
“Now my dear, when he comes home.” —
I thought I was about to entertain a lunatic.
“Now my dear, when he comes home, and you want to sober him up quickly, just you take his nose, like this (she squeezed her nose) hold his head back and pour down his throat, half a bottle of worchester sauce, use Lea & Perrins, because it is the hottest, then take the palm of your hand so, and pour about a
77
tablespoon of black pepper on it, get his head down and shove his nose in it so, and he'll sneeze & he'll sneeze and he'll sneeze and he'll sneeze the drink from his brain. Next put his head under the tap, pour the cold water on him for about ten minutes, or until he'll sneeze violently. Then my dear make him lay down & sleep for a quarter of an hour, and he'll be sober enough to do business.
Now my dear. There is nothing like apples. I used to give my old man raw apples to eat for breakfast, stewed for dinner, and roasted for supper. You know he was a harmy man and they do drink. Now I was nearly forgetting the curry. Give him plenty of curry, and hot spices, there is nothing like hot things. As you know my dear, I had years of it. And in the end he killed himself with drink. You know my dear, I really do not want the rooms, but you are so young. I thought I would just drop him [in?] and give you a little motherly advice.
I thanked her, and told her I was very busy. And would have to go on with my work.
When she reached the garden gate, she turned, Now my dear I only want to say Doctor's aint no good, for a man who drinks, there is nothing like Lea & Perrins worchester sauce.
B. Law Alone
Dear Harry, I'll come on Wednesday, with the children to see you2 (if possible). Any way eat all you can, and you will soon be well. I gave mother a shilling for stamps for you, and she said she'd take paper & etc. to you to day. I'll bring what handkerchiefs Peter3 has left, which are not many. What do you think of the old women, could you work her up in some way. The above is just what happened. After she had gone, I laughed until I felt sick. The poor old soul did not think she would hurt my feelings, she only wanted to give me a little motherly advice. I enclose a statement of accounts, so as you will see how I stand and how I spent the money.4 You see I have to let the cottage or the rooms then I will also go out and work because the rent and the furniture amount to 17/6 a week before a scrap of food is bought. I have answered advertisements both for work and boarders, and apartments and hav'nt had a single reply. If all else should fail, I can still go out and work by the day. I answered an advertisement for an assistant in a draper shop, but they didn't want me. I've heard nothing from the Bulletin re my story,5 so they apparently wish to treat me with silent contempt. If all else should fail I'll ask Bland Holt6 to give me a chance on the stage. I'll not go on the street. And I'd rather do that, than accept money from the Illingworth7 crowd.
Love from the kiddies & your wife
Bertha.
[Attached to this letter is the following statement of accounts and two sketches by Bertha Lawson.]
expenditure of Ten pounds received by Monte De PietÆ
Mr. Blunden Two Guineas. Summons'es 8/10
Mr. Henderson. One Guinea.
Dr. Hall and chemist one guinea.
Rent one pound.
interest on furniture 7/6
Rent of room 8/-
woman minding children 12/-
Laundry 4/7
Fares 2/6
Cab to Hospital 1/-
Tram fares 1/-
lunch 6d
chicken & eggs for Harry 4/6
Stamps for Harry 1/6
Cash for – 2/6
Stationary for self 2/6
£8.1–11
House hold expenses.
Groceries. butcher. Baker. Milk 15/-
Cash in Hand 1.3.1
December. Sunday 14/12/.92 [1902]
He looks so tired. I wont speak. I'll get him his dinner & talk after. Dearie are you hungry?
No. I only want to be let alone. I'll be alright presently.
I wont tell her of the dissapointment, what's the use, it will only make her miserable.
It is no use me trying to please him, I've thought all the morning of him. Now he comes home as sulky as a bear. I shant speak to him again until he speakes to me. I wonder if he thinks of all the ways I try to help. He knows I hate housework and yet to save him expense I wont keep help. He thinks I dont understand him. I wonder if he thinks how often I watch his face, when I know he is thinking, and I'm
78
just dying to tell him something, still I keep silent. Does he ever notice how his room is arranged, all the little attentions, that a women who loves her Husband, thinks of. I dont believe he cares for me a bit. He loved me because I was not like other girls. Now he is tired of me. I jarr on him. He thinks I think all day long of the home & children. He does not believe me capable of deep thought or ambition. What is the use of me telling him, he would laugh & that would kill me. I wish he understood me. I wonder why he ceased to care for me. It isn't possible for him to love me or he would not neglect me so, he treats me like a child, he'll amuse or interest me, when he is in the humor, and then its run away & play now, I'm tired. Does he ever think I'm a woman, with all a woman's feelings. — —
— No he still thinks of me as the child he married. He does not think my nature has matured with years — — — and that my love is more intense.
What's the use of coming home. I might have had a jolly day with the boys, and yet I thought of her, watching & waiting for me. Bah. I dont believe she thinks or cares, she did once, that's past. I suppose all woman are the same. The novelty of matrimony wears off after a time. I'll just go out for a walk. What's the use of me going to her, she'll only say something nasty, and if I go and kiss her, she'll think I'm a fool. I'll go for a smoke.
To Harry with love from Bertha.
I'm not going to let him think I feel it. Let him go. This is what I get for fussing about him. He never asked me if I'd like to go for a walk. I wonder if he thinks how I long for the old days when we were first married. How my heart used to pump when I heard him coming. How I'd watch that window to catch the first glimpse of him coming up the street. Men dont think of that. We seemed to have sunk into a real matrimonial groove. Oh I wonder how I could win him back again. When he comes home, I'll just try.
Dearie I found the pipe you had lost. It's on the dressing table, shall I get it.
Oh if you like.
Tell me, whom did you see, when you were out this afternoon. Any one I know?
Yes I saw Burdkins.
Why didnt you bring him Home to tea.
What's the use, I didnt want him to know our domestic unhappiness.
Look here Jack. Do you want a quarrel.
Have it your own way. I dont care.
Your a beast and I hate you. Now you can go out again if you like and stop out.
He goes. Well, I cry and fret and worry for an hour, then I think I shant let him see he can hurt me. I'll just treat him as if I didn't care.
Jack do you really love me?
Yes
And you wont go on like that any more.
I didn't go on it was you.
Oh Jack, this is hopeless. You know.
Never mind little woman, kiss me. We'll make it up. Dont let us try to find out who's fault it is, or we will quarrel again.
This is nothing to the one I wrote for the B[ulletin]. This is just written to you.
Bertha.8
79

Bertha Lawson at her home in Northbridge, Sydney, in the 1930s.

80

III.

Ladywood
Whistler Str.
Manly.
Wednesday.
1Dearie,
I will have to come into Town on Saturday morning. I'd forgotten I had to pay the Mont De PietÆ people,2 so I'll call at the hospital3 to see you. I hope you are feeling better and brighter. Do you sleep better, if not you should ask the Dr. for something. Nurse will tell me when to bring your clothes — you see there is no room in your locker for them and they may go astray. I'll bring them as soon as they are needed. They will send you away for a while either to the Coast or a convalescent home. You go dearie — we have not got the means for another holiday and we are so heavily in debt. You be persuaded by me, you will get plenty of good nourishment and plenty of material for a new book, at the Coast Hospital. It is a beautiful place so different to the Sydney. The nurses and Drs. are so kind there. Bertha has never finished talking of her daddy. She has told every one her daddy has his legge in a cradle.4 Love from the children and your wife.
Bertha.

IV.

“Ladywood”,
Whistler St.
Manly.
Wednesday
1My Dear Harry,
I am writing as promised. Why did you ask me to go to day. You can never know what an awful struggle I had with myself to come & see you. You know dear, if you would rather we were parted, I am willing. And it would be best to part now, we have made the break, and you did not seem a bit pleased to see me. Would you rather we separated?
I must know this. I have suffered. God alone knows. You never understood me and never will. Now through your family, I have to fight for my reputation. I have scarcely a friend, even Dr. Bennett2 turned from me, it is always the case. A man gets every one's sympathy. (I can live it all down) Dr. Bennett need not have said what he did. Of course when you are drunk, you are not responsible for what you say. But your cursed relatives go and verify your drunken statements. If you wish us to come together again3 it is on the understanding not a relative of yours darkens our door. I will never speak to Peter4 or your Mother5 so long as I live. She can go where people can see her and shed her crocodile tears and make a blessed fuss, but she would not put her hand in her pocket and give your children a sixpence. I hate her. Now Harry I want to impress on your mind. I'll have no deceit. It must be all or nothing with me. I have forgiven you. And I never thought I could do it. You asked me to go to day (after all I had done). Never mind I'm glad you told me. It is better to say what we think. Still I feel now. when you care to see me you will send for me. I would not come unless, dont think I will come, if you do not wish to see me. Mind Harry, I am quite agreeable to the Separation. I came to you and you asked me to go. Now you must send for me. I felt it because I suffered so terribly, in forgiving.
Still all that is over. I have stopped all law proceedings,6 and I hope you will soon be well and strong again. You have plenty of sympathizers, plenty who will shield you, behind the slanders of your wife. I think I have the courage to live it all down. If I wanted to love another man, or go wrong, it was not for lack of opportunity. You know my ideas of life, and you also know you are the only man I ever cared for. It is cruel the report should be round I forced you in to a marriage. Any way. My own heart & conscience is the only comfort I have.
Love from the children & your wife
Bertha.
81

V.

“Ladywood”
Whistler Street
Manly
Monday.
1Darling
just a line, Dr. Hall2 has just called in to ask after you, he told me to tell you he'll be up to see you the first day he can get away.3 Harry he is your truest and staunchest friend, dont you let your delusions carry you away in this matter, believe me in this matter. I'm a woman and I know men, think of all he did for you. And he has shielded you, all though Manly. And he will take a great interest in you still. You be your true self to him, tell him you never meant what you said when you were drunk — you know you were so cruel to him that morning, when he came to get you into Prince Alfred Hospital. Tell him also I'm not the black woman I'm painted. I would feel it if he believed me bad because he is one of the few men I have any respect for. I respect about five men in the world, and I hope they also respect me. I love one — does he love me.
I will bring the children to see you on Wednesday. Dearie I owe Dr. Hall my reason and my life.4 If it had not been for him, I should certainly have gone mad, and I'd have taken my own life to. So that is why I want you to be nice to him and thank him for all he has done.
Why dont you write to me I'm so lonely. I get very miserable at times. Do you think of me. Ah, dearie, do let us forget the past. And we'll try and make the future bright for each other, hurry up and get well. And we will commence a new life here by the sea. We wont have any relatives, and only those who have proved themselves friends. Do you ever think of me I often do of you, and wonder if you are thinking of me — think and sum me all up from the first you have known of me. Now dont you think Ive tried hard to forgive you, haven't I done all in my power. Harry do you love me as much as I love you.
love from the children and your lonely wife
Bertha. Dont you be influenced by anything your Mother or brother says.

VI.

c/o Mr. Henderson
Solicitor
23/4/031Harry,
If you do not send Mr. Henderson, some money for the children at once, I shall be forced to place them in the Benevolent Asylum. I have 1/6 left and have to pawn my ring to day. I dont care about myself, but I cannot see my children starve. I have had to place them with strangers, while I tried to earn a living. The people have sent me word, to come and take them away to-morrow because I could not pay them for their support this week. I think it is most dreadfully cruel for any Mother, to have to part with her children let alone be placed in the position that I am in.2
Your wife
Bertha Lawson.
82

VII.

397 1/2 Dowling Street.
Moore Park.
Monday
1Harry
Your letter has just come.
Your papers are not here. I looked for them before. There are also a good many of my private letters and papers missing, and I thought they may be amongst your things. Re the children. I will not consent to let them go. Not through any paltry feelings of revenge, but as a matter of duty. You see, you left me, with these two little children. I was turned into the world, with 1/6 and not a shelter or food for them. I had to pawn my wedding ring to pay for a room. And then had to leave the little children shut up in the room, while I sought for work. And when I got work to do I had to leave them all day, rush home to give them their meals. And back to work again. And mind you, I was suffering torture all the time with toothache, and had to tramp the cold wet streets all day, knowing unless I earnt some money that day the children would go hungry to bed. (I was a fortnight working before Robertson2 gave Miss Scott3 that money.) I had no money to pay a dentist. (I wrote to you at P.A. Hospital telling you, you were forcing me to place the children in the Benevolent Asylum and you took no notice of the letter.)4 I went to the Dental Hospital and had a tooth extracted. They have broken part of the jaw bone. And I go into hospital on Wednesday and go under an operation to have the dead bone removed. The children will be well looked after. While I am away I have to pay a pound where they are going. So I trust you will endeavour to send Mr. Henderson5 some more again this week. You know my condition6 and I am certainly not fit at the present moment to struggle for a living.
As far as the case7 goes, the sooner it is over the better. You alone have forced this step. God alone knows how often I have forgiven you and how hard I struggled for you. And how have you treated me. Harry there is no power on the earth will ever reunite us. You are dead to me as far as affection goes. The suffering I have been through lately has killed any thought of feeling I may have had for you.
When you have proved yourself a better man and not a low drunkard you shall see your children as often as you like. Until then, I will not let you see them. They have nearly forgotten the home scenes when you were drinking — and I will not let them see you drinking again. I train them to have the same love for you as they have for me. And if baby's prayers are heard in heaven, you should surely be different, to what you have been. They will have to decide the right and wrong between us, when they are old enough to understand. I think you are very cruel to make the statements you do about me. You know Harry as well I do they are absolutely false. Why dont you be a man. And if you want to talk to people of your troubles, tell them drink is the sole cause. Do not shield yourself behind a woman. Mr. Henderson cannot influence me one way or another, nor any one else. You had your chance to sign a mutual separation and you would not do it. I dread the court case and publicity more than you do. Still I will not draw back again. And I only wish it was settled and over to day. I am so weary of struggling against pain and sorrow that I do not give a tinkers curse for anything — or anybody.
Bertha.
83

VIII.

c/o Mr. Henderson
“Solicitor”
Corner, Hunter &
Castlereagh
St. City
Harry,
I am forced to write to you. I do not think you realize my position. I will be laid up either the end of October or first week in November.1 I must pay two guineas into the Lodge by the 13th of next month, or I will not be able to receive medical attendance. There is the nurse to engage, and all my sewing to do, you know I have not any baby clothes. I want you to let me have ten pounds — it will take every penny of that to pay the expenses of my confinement. The nurse will be two guineas a week and I will have to pay a pound a week for some one to look after the children, and then there will be other expenses. I think considering what Dr. Brannand2 told you and after all your promises, it is most cruel that I should suffer all that agony again. If it were not for the sake of Jim and Bertha,3 I should not go through it.4 Another thing is I have to solely depend on you for an existance until after the baby is born. You have debarred me from earning a living for myself ever now. I cannot walk far or stand long,5 and it is not a very cheerful prospect to look forward to, knowing as you know well, I will very likely die. I cannot save anything out of the thirty shillings a week.6 I have seven shillings rent to pay. 10/- every week to pay off the dentist bill.7 That is seven pounds ten, I have already paid two pounds ten off it and I have twelve shillings left for food & clothing and other expenses for myself & two children — it does not look as “If I were one of the most extravagant woman” does it!
The children are well and happy. I do trust you will send me the money shortly. So as I can commence my sewing and I must pay the lodge money. You promised I should have every comfort. I am not asking you for that but for bare necessary's.
Your wife
Bertha Lawson

IX.

Sydney.
Dear Lawson,
Re the amount to be paid by you for the children. I wish you would consider the matter seriously. It is impossible for me to keep them at Boarding School unless you pay the amount. I only ask you to pay for their Board as I manage their clothes, education, etc. Angus & Robertson's term will be up next week, and I have to look to you for the weekly amount, and do not wish to have any more unpleasantness or court proceedings1 over the matter. So I trust that you will realize the position. I have struggled hard enough the last three years and have kept the children well. But I find I cannot do it, and cannot face the worry. I have enough Business worries without the incessant anxiety of providing the necessary amount for the children's weekly account.
Trusting you will consider this matter in a proper light.
I remain
yours etc.
B.L.

1

Dated from internal and external evidence.

2

The letter is written on paper bearing the letterhead of ‘Thomas Robinson & Son. Ltd., Wood Cutting Machinists & Flower Mill Engineers of 317 & 319 Kent St., Sydney’.

3

Lawson was resting in ‘Nurse Keys’ Private Hospital’, Letters, nos. 110 and 111, pp. 132–33, possibly the private hospital run by Nurse K. Younger at 5 Wellesley St., Summer Hill.

4

Bertha was hoping that Henry would go into an inebriates’ home for six months. See note 19 above.

5

Children of the bush [Mackaness item 8] was published in London by Methuen & Co. in August 1902.

6

Lawson was 35 in 1902.

7

Their eldest child.

1

Dated from the enclosed statement of accounts.

2

Lawson was in Sydney Hospital recovering from his fall.

3

Probably Henry's brother.

4

They, or possibly just Bertha, had obtained £10 from the pawnbroker, Mont de PietÆ.

5

Nothing appeared under Bertha Lawson's name in the Bulletin over the period July 1902 to June 1903.

6

Theatrical entrepreneur, actor and friend of the Lawsons. See Australian dictionary of biography [hereafter ADB], 4, pp.413–14.

7

Presumably a reference to Nelson Illingworth, sculptor and Sydney bohemian. See Ken Scarlett. Australian sculptors (Melbourne: Nelson, 1980), pp.285–86.

8

These semi-autobiographical stories are undated but presumably written about the same time. They are on similar paper and were sent with this letter. Bertha Lawson does not appear to have published anything except My Henry Lawson, and even this was ghosted by Will Lawson. However she obviously had literary ambitions. Henry, in a letter to Bland Holt of 12 August 1902, stated that “she is blossoming into an authoress”. Letters, no. 111, p. 133.

1

Dated from internal evidence.

2

See note 4 to preceeding letter.

3

Sydney Hospital.

4

Lawson broke his ankle in his fall.

1

Dated from internal evidence.

2

Dr. F. A. Bennet practised in College St., Sydney. Sometime late in 1902 Lawson wanted to have Bertha committed to an asylum. See Letters, no. 118, p. 137 and note, p.443.

3

They were reconciled. See the introduction to these letters.

4

Henry's brother.

5

Louisa Lawson, feminist and publisher. See note 12 to ‘The Editor of the Comet’.

6

See note 21 above.

1

Dated from internal and external evidence.

2

Dr. G. R. P. Hall who practised in Manly.

3

Lawson was again in hospital, probably the Prince Alfred.

4

She suffered a breakdown early in 1903. See Bertha Lawson, op. cit., p.80.

1

Lawson was at the time a patient at the Prince Alfred Hospital.

2

She did not receive any alimony until 25 May.

1

Dated from the accompanying envelope.

2

George Robertson of Angus and Robertson. See Percival Serle, Dictionary of Australian biography (Sydney. Angus and Robertson, 1949), 2, pp.279–280.

3

Rose Scott, feminist and friend of the Lawson's. See note 12 to ‘The Editor of the Comet’.

4

23 April 1903. Letter no. VI above.

5

Her solicitor.

6

She was about 4 months pregnant.

7

The Lawsons had been granted a judicial separation by mutual consent on 4 June [See note 32 above] which Lawson had at first apparently refused to sign. However, there is no record of a further court case in the Sydney morning herald for June and July 1903.

1

The baby died at birth. See Bertha Lawson op. cit., p.80.

2

Possibly Dr. H. J. Brennand of 203 Macquarie St., Sydney.

3

Their two children.

4

Presumably she was referring to the alternative of suicide rather than abortion.

5

She was about six months pregnant.

6

Her alimony.

7

See letter VII above.

1

Lawson was frequently gaoled for failure to pay alimony.