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Life in England
Life at Reydon Hall in the 1820s
After their father's death in 1818, the Strickland family remained in their Suffolk manor house, Reydon Hall. The two eldest sisters, Eliza and Agnes, soon moved to London to seek a living as writers and editors in the growing world of magazine and annual publishing. The two youngest members of the family, Samuel and Thomas, also set off to seek their fortune in the early 1820s: Samuel emigrated to Canada and worked as a surveyor for the Canada Land Company before settling in the Peterborough area, while Thomas joined the East India Company as a merchant seaman (see Susanna's letter to James and Emma Bird, January 1831).
Left with little money to support the family, the sisters turned to one of the few outlets available to genteel but poor young women of their day. They began to write stories and poems for publication. Initially, Catharine and Susanna concentrated on the children's market, but Susanna also tried her hand at the more ambitious writing of poetry and sketches for adult readers (see Susanna Moodie Bibliography of Major Works). They made connections with the London literary world through their older sisters and with the help of Suffolk writers, editors and publishers like Thomas Harral, the Childs family of Bungay and James Bird.
Suffolk Literary Connections
The Harral family were close friends of the young Stricklands: Susanna and Laura Harral were bosom companions until Laura's early death, and Catharine was for a time engaged to Laura's brother Francis (see Susanna's letter to James Bird, April 9, 1831). Thomas Harral, after working on the East Anglian and the Suffolk Chronicle, moved to London with his family and became the editor of La Belle Assemblée, a court and fashion magazine. For a time Susanna and Catharine sent manuscripts through him for placement in the popular giftbooks and annuals of the time. However, their friendship with the Harrals cooled considerably in 1831 as a result of Mrs. Harral's strange behaviour (see Susanna's letter to James Bird, April 9, 1831).
The Childs family were East Anglian, Nonconformist printers. They were responsible for printing Enthusiasm, Susanna's volume of poetry, in 1831. Sarah Strickland, one of Susanna and Catharine's older sisters, married Robert Childs in 1835.
Other close friends of the young Stricklands were James and Emma Bird of the nearby village of Yoxford. Many of Susanna's and Catharine's letters written in England are addressed to them. James was a stationer, bookseller and published poet, who encouraged the sisters' literary endeavours. He and his wife had a large family, and one of their sons, James, would emigrate to Canada with the Moodies.
Through relatives, the young Stricklands were able to spend time in London and thus broaden their professional and personal acquaintances. Their elderly cousin Thomas Cheesman, an engraver of some distinction, resided near the British Museum, not far from their aunt Rebecca Leverton's home in Bedford Square. It was Cheesman who made the miniature engravings of the young Strickland sisters on one of his holidays at Reydon Hall (see Susanna's letter to Catharine, January 1872). Their aunt, Rebecca Leverton, the wealthy widow of the architect of Bedford Square, was a generous hostess to her young nieces on numerous occasions. She even invited Catharine to accompany her to Bath and the Leverton country home near Waltham Abbey in Essex.
An important London influence on Susanna was Thomas Pringle, the secretary of the Anti-Slavery League and an active and vocal reformer. A Scot by birth, he was an editor, journalist and poet, and he and his family had recently returned from South Africa when Susanna met them. At their London home, where she was a welcome guest, Susanna transcribed the stories of Mary Prince and Ashton Warner, two former slaves who sought Pringle's assistance (see Susanna's letters to James and Emma Bird, January 1831, and April 9, 1831). Susanna also worked with her sister Agnes that year to produce Patriotic Songs, a collection of their poems set to music.
It was at the Pringles' that Susanna met John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie, a retired (Half-pay) officer of the 21st Northern Fusileers, who had arrived in London in 1830 seeking both a publisher for his manuscript and a wife to share his distant and lonely farm in South Africa. (John's book, Ten Years in South Africa, Including a Particular Description of the Wild Sports was published by Richard Bentley in 1835.)
The courtship of John and Susanna was brief and tempestuous to judge by their letters during this period (see John's letters to Susanna, August 19, 1830, and September 7, 1830, as well as Susanna's letter to James and Emma Bird, January 1831). They were married from the Pringles' home in London on April 4, 1831 (see Susanna's letter to James Bird, April 9, 1831) and shortly afterwards moved to Southwold to await the birth of their first child. That winter they began to make plans for emigration to the Canadas (see John's letters to Susanna, Friday morning, 1832 and May 24, 1832. Susanna's novel Flora Lyndsay begins with the story of these months of preparation for their departure.
Thomas Traill, like his friend, John Moodie, came from the Orkney Islands and had served as an officer in the Napoleonic Wars. While visiting an uncle in London in 1830, he reconnected with John (see John's letter to Susanna, March 1832), and through him met Catharine Parr Strickland. The couple were married, somewhat hastily and in the face of family resistance, on May 13, 1832. Catharine and Thomas immediately set sail to meet Traill's Scottish relatives and finalize their plans to join the Moodies in emigrating to Upper Canada (see Catharine's letter to James Bird, May 13, 1832).