The Letters of Rachel Henning


Cover of Henning, R. The Letters of Rachel Henning (Edited by David Adams, with a Foreword and Pen Drawings by Norman Lindsay). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1969. First published by the Bulletin 1951-2.

Years ago, I was fortunate to find amongst my mother’s many books a copy of “The Letters of Rachel Henning”. Rachel Henning wrote the letters during the period between 1853 and 1882 as she came to terms with life in colonial Australia. As a teenage reader, I was struck in particular by her letter to her sister Annie describing her trip by coach across the Blue Mountains in 1856.

I should have enjoyed it more, also, though I am no great coward, if we had not been going at a hard trot down that steep hill with an unguarded precipice on the left down which a coach was upset some time ago, and eleven passengers either killed or maimed.” (April 7th, 1856)

The picture she painted of the descent down Mt Victoria Pass still resonates each time I travel the same route with my foot wearing out my brake pads.

Apparently, the editing for the original publication of the letters in the Bulletin (1850-52) was rather free and loose (here’s a link to a quick summary ‘Have we been conned?’).  However, the original letters are available to the public in the State Library of New South Wales (catalogue MLMSS 342/ Volumes 1-3, Folder 4X).  Even more exciting is the free online availability of the letters via a number of sources, including Project Gutenberg, the Trove collection of the National Library of Australia, and as in ebook from the library of the University of Adelaide.

Author: Alison Ferguson

Back in the 1970s, Alison Ferguson completed one of the first Bachelor of Arts degrees in Professional Writing and then went on to qualify as a speech pathologist, working as a clinician and academic for over thirty years. As well as writing research-based book chapters and papers for international refereed journals, Alison authored two scholarly books (published by Plural Publishing, and Palgrave Macmillan). Recently retired, Alison is pursuing her long-standing fascination with story writing in both non-fiction and fiction.

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