We’ve digitised another gem from 19th century Canterbury in the form of a diary kept by Charles Reginald Shaw.
Shaw was born in Cheshire, England in 1829 and spent some time on the Australian goldfields before coming to New Zealand in 1857. Shaw was Surveyor for the Canterbury Provincial Government carrying out surveys on Banks Peninsula.
In 1861 he moved to Timaru and was District Surveyor there until 1877. His diary has daily entries and covers a period during this time, 10 December 1866 – 5 August 1872. It gives details of the sections he surveyed, how much money he paid people for various things (milk, butter, a horse!) as well as comments on social affairs, and family matters. Local tradespeople are mentioned as well as places and events like the opening of a new church.
The diary is full of industry and activity; building fences, laying out roads, plotting out land, and digging up carrots.
Though there are interesting insights into colonial life in Canterbury (the Canterbury anniversary holiday in 1866 is celebrated with, of course, a game of cricket) the most poignant story from the diary details the loss of Shaw’s daughter.
She may have been a sickly baby as there is more than one reference to her being ill in the diary and on Wednesday 20th of February 1867 Shaw reports that his wife Louise (often referred to as “Lou”) and the baby are both “very poorly” with colds and coughs. He stays at home rather than going to work but digs potatoes “most of the day”.
By Friday his wife has improved but the baby is worse. A Dr McLean is sent for. Again Shaw stays home. Over the weekend Shaw is “up all night nursing” the infant.
After a week of sickness the baby fails to rally prompting Shaw to consider administering a rather inadvisable “tonic”.
Thursday 28th: “Up all night again last night with the baby…slept in all morning and sent to the Royal for a bottle of sherry for the poor little baby – but it was all no use for the poor little thing died – about 1/2 past seven in the evening on Mrs Butler’s lap.”
Over the next few days Shaw makes funeral arrangements, registering the death, showing the grave digger which plot in the cemetery will be used and eventually putting “the little Bertha in her coffin”. On the Sunday baby Bertha is laid to rest.
March 3rd: “Buried my little daughter in the cemetery…”
Not everything in the diary is this poignant but the reality of 19th century life was that childhood illnesses did sometimes prove fatal.
After his tenure as Surveyor was over Shaw stayed in the area, farming 500 acres at Totara Valley, to the west of Pleasant Point until 1898. He was married twice and had a large family (five sons and nine daughters). He was active in the local community even in his older years and died in 1906.
He is buried at Timaru Cemetery in a plot he shares with Bertha, his wife Louise, and another of his daughters.