Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Catterall and Cowley in Sydney, 1835

When I was visiting Sydney during a university holiday in 1989, I bought a copy of The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley, 6th ed. (London: J. M. for Henry Herringman, 1680). As the photos in this blog post show, the book is in very poor condition, very badly foxed, no frontispiece, boards taped on with duct-tape. Despite its age, it would also not even now be considered a rare book—ESTC (r14069 = Wing C6654), records thirty-nine copies. But, since I had rarely seen a seventeenth-century literary folio at anything approaching a price I could afford in 1989, and I felt protective of the poor, damaged thing, I coughed up A$110 for it.

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia Inflation Calculator, I paid the equivalent of about A$250 in today’s terms. The fact that there is a nicer copy online now, rebound, with the frontispiece, for about A$150 (here) tells you everything you need to know about the rise of the internet (supply) and the passing of the Baby Boomer generation (demand) on Antiquarian book prices. In fact, there are thirty-one copies of The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley, printed between 1668 and 1700, on ABE at the moment, priced from USD75. Notwithstanding the fact that I would have been better off financially if I had invested my $150 in almost any other way—including Batman memorabilia—I am glad I bought this book. I was glad before antiquarian book prices collapsed, and I was glad afterwards.

The reason I was very glad to have my very own seventeenth-century folio of The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley—no matter how battered—when I bought it was because it made my first experience of reading Cowley uncommonly memorable … and romantic. In fact, the more my copy of Cowley showed the passage of three hundred years the better it served my purpose. I read Cowley by candle-light, during the winter of 1989. I discovered in this way that it takes a lot of candles to be able to read a badly foxed seventeenth-century folio with ease, and that a lot of candles generates a lot of wax, which is hard to remove from carpet, and a lot of heat, which will warm up even a very large and otherwise-unheated room in a cold Hobart winter. My landlord was not happy about the wax, or the soot-covered walls, but the experience of reading Cowley night-after-night, in the dark of winter, was so perfect that I will remember it with pleasure for ever.

The reason I am very glad to have my very own seventeenth-century folio of The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley—no matter how battered—now, is because, since the internet makes provenance research so much easier, I am now able to identify the person who owned this book in 1835. As you can see below, Joseph Catterall inscribed his name on the front fixed endpaper, and dated the inscription to 1835. The inscription is position above a patch of glue residue, indicating that a bookplate has been removed, but the relationship between the two is unclear: whether the inscription pre- or post-dates the bookplate, or whether the bookplate belonged to Catterall, is unknown.

* * * * *

Although, in 1989, I had no easy way of discovering who Catterall might have been, Professor Google now informs me a good deal about him. Joseph Catterall (1812–82), the youngest son of Paul Catterall, late of Lytham, in the county of Lancashire, Esq., was educated at private schools and at the University of Göttingen in Germany. He was twenty-two when he inscribed his book. He married—in Sydney, in the same year—Georgiana Anne Sweetman, who was aged twenty. This establishes that my copy of The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley has been in Australia for more than half of the book's existence (183 of 338 years), and for four fifths of the modern history of Australia (183 of 230 years). Catterall is considered “Australian Royalty”; at least, he features (here) on a website of that name. In reality, he seems to have been an all-round arsehole. The marriage ceremony was performed by the great Australian, John Dunmore Lang—the “Scottish-born Australian Presbyterian minister, writer, politician and activist” (Wikipedia)—an early advocate for the end of transportation, Australian nationalism and an Australian republic (and, therefore, all-round Australian legend, if not genuine "Australian Royalty" too).

According to Lang, Joseph and Georgiana—“a person of prepossessing appearance, … of a respectable family, and of good education” (i.e., the child a free settlers)—“had been living for some time previous in a state of concubinage.” Since Georgiana was pregnant, Lang was willing to lend his services to enable Joseph “to do his utmost to repair the wrong which I supposed he had done her”—i.e., perform a marriage—and the marriage took place “either shortly before or shortly after the birth of their first child.” Their daughter, Georgiana Ann Catterall, was born 16 February 1835 and died two months and thirteen days later. A second child, James Dillon Catterall, was born and died on 17 January 1836. Shortly thereafter, it appears, Catterall “left his wife in new South Wales, and proceeded via India” to England.

Once he had retuned to England, he instituted a suit against Georgiana, to “obtain a decree of nullity of marriage.” He argued that, although he was married to Georgiana by Lang, “an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland,” neither he or his wife were members of the Church, nor did they sign a declaration to that effect. The relevance of this is that an act had been passed in the colony “to remove doubts as to the validity of certain marriages” which he interpreted to imply that, for these reasons, his marriage was “null and void for non-compliance” with the act. This case was disputed and, apparently, abandoned. Later, Catterall filed for the marriage to be dissolved “on the ground of alleged adultery on the part of his wife.” Although Lang stated in 1846 that Catterall failed a second time, on the basis that the House of Lords had no power to examine witnesses in New South Wales to test the validity of his claim, he was in fact granted the divorce in 1847 on the basis that his wife had given birth to another child one year after Catterall left Sydney. (Seemingly, John Sydney Catterall, who was born in 1837.)

Lang’s 1846 account of Catterall is colourful and unflattering. Referring to him fleeing his responsibilities and his lack of success in putting aside an inconvenient marriage, Lang writes:

I do not think [Catterall] either deserves or is likely to meet with much sympathy … for when a young man marries a young woman whom he has previously seduced, or who has otherwise lost her character beforehand, he may be supposed to have made up his mind to undergo the very calamity which Mrs. Catterall alleges has befallen him, and which he so feelingly deplores. … Mr. Catterall, it will be recollected by the older colonists, is a person who has been before the public in this colony long ago. He had a farm somewhere in Argyle a few months before his marriage, with a farm house and other building upon it, in which he was residing with his paramour, when a ferocious attack was made upon it by armed bushrangers. He had a very brave man, known as an overseer at the time, of the name of Shepherd; who, in defence of the person and property of his master (who remained all the while within doors, within hearing of the shots), gallantly stood the fire of the bushrangers, by whom, if I recollect aright, he was severely wounded, and succeeded in beating them off. Mr. Shepherd got great credit on the occasion, for it was one of the most heroic actions that had been performed in the colony; but Mr. Catterall got about as much sympathy as he is likely to get now under the failure of his repeated attempts to set aside his colonial marriage.

And so it seems, Catterall was a coward, as well as a cad. What stands out for me in this passage is the reference to “a farm somewhere in Argyle a few months before his marriage … in which he was residing with his paramour [i.e., Georgiana].” Argyle County was (according to Wikipedia, one of the original Nineteen Counties in New South Wales, in the area around Goulburn, 195 kilometres (121 miles) south-west of Sydney. Georgiana—who also appears on the “Australian Royalty” website (here)—was, in November 1828, a thirteen-year-old “servant, to W. Cordeaux Esq, Minto,” in the Southern Tablelands, 48 kilometres (30 miles) south-west of Sydney. It is not clear how long she stayed in Minto, and how she ended up ninety miles away seven years later.

Lang said that he did not know if “Catterall had seduced the young woman in the first instance, or whether she had been of indifferent character previous to their acquaintance”—but it appears that Georgiana’s social standing was low, and her vulnerability high, prior to finding herself in “a state of concubinage” with Catterall (i.e., she was a servant); while his social standing was high, and his vulnerability low (as a university-educated, Gentleman adventurer). Consequently, I am inclined to blame Catterall for their situation, and her fate.

It is not known what hardships Georgiana endured after the cad-coward Catterall departed, but I gather that he left behind some of his belongings from the fact that more than a century and a half after he slunk away, his copy of The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley remained in Sydney. We can’t know whether Georgiana sold this book and his other belongings in the 1840s to pay for food and shelter, or clung to it in the hope he would return, or because she wished to pass it down to her descendants. I do know that her fifth child, Effield “Frank” Catterall survived into adulthood and that his four daughters—one married—mourned his death in 1892. (The cad’s two children died in infancy, while Georgiana’s two other children disappear from the records after their birth.) So it is possible that Cowley remained in the family for a lengthy period.

Unfortunately, if anyone other than Catterall left a name on the volume, it is no longer there. All that remains other than Catterall’s inscription, and the residue of a long-removed bookplate, are the marks of booksellers. From the number of prices inscribed onto the endpaper, it seems that this book circulated in the Sydney second-hand book market for some time. One of the partly-erased prices is in pounds, which dates it to before Valentine’s Day 1966, when Australia adopted a decimal currency. Not surprisingly, after almost thirty years, I have a pretty weak memory of buying this book. All I recall is buying it from a down-market antique shop in the city. A temporary-looking, run-down, second-floor shop—dusty, with stained walls and peeling plaster, and filled with a mass of not-very enticing antiques. And I think I paid the $110 asked of it, partly because I felt an obligation to rescue the book from immanent destruction. Given all the pleasure it has bought me, I am glad that I did.

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