Between 1832 to 1843 there was an ongoing correspondence between Anna Jarrett and her brother Wathen Waller. She was the wife of John Jarrett, the owner of broad acres in Somerset and plantations in Jamaica and Wathen was a diplomat serving in Brussels. Their letters1 provide an interesting insight to maternal attitudes to pregnancy and childbirth among the upper classes in the earlier decades of the 19th century. One of the letters, describing Ann’s confinement is pictured here, with a transcription available in the pdf document.
News of the pregnancy
In a previous letter2, Anna expresses boundless joy and delight at learning of her pregnancy, an event eagerly awaited during 14 years of marriage. Given that the majority of families in those days were large and that her husband would want an heir to inherit his substantial wealth, this childlessness must have been a great sadness to both. In the event, the birth of a daughter Anna Maria instead of a son was not without some disappointment as the end of the second letter shows : a visitor Sir Charles Clarke was “..rather sharp “ with Anna’s response to his proposed wager that she would give birth to a son in 12 months’ time. Unhappily, she never did have a son, but another daughter named Emily Elizabeth was born in 1840.
In the second letter3, a section of which is pictured above, Anna describes her confinement. This term was applied to the birth and the succeeding period of recuperation, usually some 4-6 weeks. It generally ended when the mother was churched and the baby christened, both of which events are mentioned by Anna. During the confinement, Anna comments on how she is treated like an invalid – even writing a long letter is likely to incur a scolding. Many mothers today may be envious of the amount of rest she had!
Or perhaps not – the term, confinement was significant after all. In other respects, her experience was typical of a woman of her social standing. She was attended by a male doctor, Mr Stone, while the great majority of women in the lower classes would have been delivered by midwives.
2 Reference CR341/327/109
3 Reference CR341/327/111
This article was Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office in September 2008. Further articles can be found on their website.