Sisters in England
Catharine Parr Strickland (180299) and Susanna Strickland (180385) were born in England only twenty-three months apart. With their four older sisters and two younger brothers they were raised at Reydon Hall in rural, coastal Suffolk. None of the daughters received formal schooling; rather, they were educated by their parents in domestic pursuits, such as dairy work and vegetable gardening, and academic subjects, such as mathematics and history. They were also strongly encouraged to read as much as they could from their father's library. Their early English life was quiet and isolated, though all the children spent time in the city of Norwich where their father, Thomas, maintained business interests.
Of the six Strickland sisters, five became professional writers. The two eldest, Eliza and Agnes, achieved fame at mid-century as historians of British royalty and nobility. Being the youngest sisters, Catharine and Susanna were often left to amuse themselves at Reydon Hall. Though of very different temperaments, they were close friends and often shared their experiments in writing with each other.
Catharine claimed to have published a book in 1818 and wrote at least twelve for publication prior to her marriage in 1832. Susanna's first children's book appeared in 1822. By the spring of 1832, when she emigrated with her husband and daughter, she had published several children's books and had begun to establish her reputation as a poet and a writer of stories and local-colour sketches. By 1832 both Catharine and Susanna were experienced writers and well-versed in relations with English publishers. They were eager to write about their new experiences in the northern colony.
Marriage and Emigration to Canada
Susanna married John Moodie (17971869) in 1831. He was a Scot from the Orkney Islands who had served in the Napoleonic wars and received a pension for his services. In the early 1820s he emigrated with his brother to South Africa and and began to develop a farm near the Cape Colony. In 1831 he introduced his fellow officer and Orcadian, Thomas Traill (17931859), to Catharine. Thomas had attended Oxford and had lived for a decade on the continent with his first wife and two sons. At ease in several languages, but widowed and lonely, he married Catharine in the spring of 1832 and immediately left with her for Canada via Scotland. In 1832 John and Susanna also left England for Canada.
In 1834 both families had settled on adjacent bush farms along the eastern shore of Lake Katchewanooka, a widening of the Otonabee River about ten miles (16 kilometres) north of Peterborough, Ontario, and immediately north of present-day Lakefield. The Traills came directly to the area, building their log house in 183233 while the Moodies first bought a cleared farm in Hamilton Township near Cobourg. They resided there until February 1834. The two families settled on Katchewanooka largely because of the influence, experience and help of Catharine and Susanna's brother, Samuel Strickland (180567). Samuel had emigrated to Canada in 1825, and in 1831 he had built his log house on the lake, eventually hoping to capitalize on a water system that linked directly to Lake Ontario.
As pioneers, the Traills and Moodies endured the hardships of bush life in the remote backwoods, as well as the effects of the economic depression of 1836-37. During these years the two sisters gave birth to several children and struggled to make ends meet on increasingly limited means. Their experiences, however, shaped much of their writing thereafter.