The Rollestons, The Fitzgeralds And Scarlet Fever

As Mrs. Fanny Fitzgerald bustled along The Terrace, Wellington, she had one arm around her infant daughter while her free hand hitched her long petticoats away from the stomping heels of her shoes.  To strangers, the frustrated crease between her eyebrows were no doubt caused by the stress of the recent break out of Scarlet Fever but Mrs. Mary Rolleston knew better.

But even Mary couldn’t believe that Fanny was at her door, with baby Katherine to boot.  Quickly Mary opened the door, closing it with a bang once Fanny was inside and the two women looked at each other.
“Mary,” maybe Fanny exclaimed, “James is letting the servants go!”

The year was 1867.

As the ‘Charlotte Jane’ – the Canterbury Association’s 1st ship – sailed into Lyttelton Harbour around 9.30am on the morning of the 16th December 1850, Fanny felt no need to rush up to the deck to take her first view of Lyttelton.  Crippled by a migraine, I don’t doubt she mused as her new husband – James Edward Fitzgerald (pictured on the left) – dashed about the cabin in excitement, determined to be the first settler to step ashore (as he was).  As he emptied his pockets of money, maybe Fanny asked him what he was doing.  He wanted to be able to tell his future children that when he stepped ashore in this new world; he only had a few coins in his person.

The future Mrs. Mary Rolleston made the same journey as James and Fanny two years later at the age of 7.  Her maiden name of Brittan was already well known in Canterbury due to her Uncle William Guise Brittan (who had arrived aboard the Sir George Seymour –the Canterbury Association’s 3rd ship) who was in charge of the Land Office and owned a bit of land himself.  Mary’s father, Dr. Joseph Brittan and his new wife (and Mary’s Aunt) settled by the Avon River, naming their farm ‘Linwood’ and their lives were much involved with the nearby Holy Trinity of Avonside – their garden bordering with the church grounds.

These two women, in spite of their age difference came to know each thanks to their men folk being involved in Canterbury politics.  By the time Mary was accepting William Rolleston’s (pictured on the right) proposal of marriage during an afternoon walk in the sand dunes of Linwood (yes, you read that right), Fanny Fitzgerald had already had her days as the wife of the Superintendent.  Mary had grown up to play hostess to many of the politicians – who were entertained at Linwood – as her step-mother and Aunt had been too ill to greet visitors.  This in turn strengthened Mary to be the wife of Canterbury’s last Superintendent, her love of politics and the sound of her own voice were not always a comfort to an easily embarrassed William Rolleston.

In 1867, the two firm friends found themselves living in Wellington as their husband’s careers had demanded it. William was well settled into his role as Under Secretary of Native Affairs although this job did send him all over the country and with the birth of their first born, Rosamond, Mary had been very much left holding the baby.  With the outbreak of Scarlet Fever, Mary felt very alone; especially with everyone locked away in their houses in fear so having Fanny Fitzgerald banging away at the door had been a frightful thing.  But she couldn’t be left out on the porch.

The Fitzgerald’s had moved to Wellington after James ‘retired’ from being in Christchurch itself.  He had won the Christchurch seat in the House of Parliament and to the horror of the older children, they had settled in Karori as the land there was cheaper than town.  James had also added salt to everyone’s wounds with the establishment of a new household budget that resulted in the firing of all but one maid, the removal of the older boys from school – to be home schooled by James himself –  and future clothing being made by the home sewing machine.  Fanny was convinced that she would die.

At least by the time Fanny was sipping wine to help calm her nerves while on the sofa of the Rollestons, the Fitzgeralds were now living on Mt Victoria, overlooking Oriental Bay.  Trust Fanny to be more concerned about having to do the washing herself than over the health scare gripping the city.  Mary herself had suffered from Scarlett Fever a year or so previous, suffering the worst of it while sailing between Wellington and Christchurch.  She was quite recovered now but was fearful for little Rosamond as the disease proved most fatal in children.

A sore throat begins it all, a fever and rash soon following.  The tongue turns red and the white spots that appear give the impression of it being a strawberry.   A form of Streptococcus, it was believed to have been spread by air or skin contact.  Brought to New Zealand by two children from Melbourne, Australia – if you survived past day 4, the chances were greater that you would fully recover.  Bed rest, sea air, leeches, wine, brandy, podophyllin, nitre and ammonia were among the preferred treatments.

So you can imagine as Mary listened with much patience to Fanny, she was praying under her breath that Fanny hadn’t brought the fever in with her.  She hadn’t 😉

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