Henrietta’s Cross Letter

To save on postage and paper, letterwriters of the early nineteenth century would write an entire letter on one large sheet of paper using a technique referred to as "cross writing" whereby a page was written on, rotated through 90, and then written on again.This is referred to as “cross writing”.One such letter was written by Henrietta Eliza Sewell to her brother Henry Doyle Sewell at Oxford in 1827.Henry and Henrietta were children of {Chief Justice} Jonathan Sewell of Quebec and his wife Henrietta Smith.

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The following is a transcription of the letter written by Henrietta Eliza Sewell to her brother Henry Doyle Sewell at Oxford in 1827.

Henry Doyle Sewell Esq.

Trin. Coll.


Quebec Decbr. 20th, 1827.

I am afraid my dear dear Hank from your silence that you accuse me of wilful neglect in not answering your kind letter a charge which of all others I should most dislike to have proved against me. This letter will I trust however exonerate me from so harsh a charge and will show that though I have been long in answering your letter I have not forgotten to do so. I add also for your consolation if you can derive consolation from it that I have a pile of unanswered letters by me which I should have answered weeks ago. We yesterday received a long letter from you dated 27th October. I was quite delighted to find that you were again comfortably settled in your old rooms in Oxford and although it is not hard to persuade myself that you were happier with John and Margaret[1] than you could possibly be at Oxford yet knowing by experience that you suffered dreadfully from the Steamboats[2] I felt quite relieved by your letter for if you had not been quite well you could not have written in such good spirits. I suppose by this time I may congratulate you on passing your examination. I hope and trust it was entirely to your satisfaction as I have not the least doubt it will be to ours all I fear is that you have worked too hard. The first thing I think of when I awake is that it is the day you are to be examined upon. We shall all be quite relieved when we receive your next letter. What a delightful time you must have spent in Ireland how often I have wished that I could have been with you. I think I could have managed one of the mountain ponies quite as well as any of you the only difficulty I would have met with would have been the boat scene and you know my feeling there. The lakes of Killarney must indeed be beautiful but I shall be discontented with poor Quebec if I dwell upon anything relative to the other side of the Atlantic which I feel inclined to do every hour of the day. We have been very gay indeed as yet and I think there is every possibility of its remaining so the Society is very pleasant much more so than when you were here and the people shop quite as well as they do in England. Maria[3] tells me she has given you a long account of a grand ball the 77th Highlanders gave us sometime ago therefore I shall say nothing more about it excepting that it was very handsomely given and the Ladies were most of them splendidly dressed by the bye if you should hear of any flirtation that is going on between a young lady by the name of Miss H. Sewell[4] and an officer by the name of Brown I beg your nerves may not be startled for she has taken a great fancy to him and I think it will end in something serious now I will give you my reason for supposing she likes him he is in the image of John. So much so that I asked Mr. Antrobus[5] if he did not think he was very like John’s picture and he said upon it if he had been asked anywhere else he would have said it had been for him. I was dancing with him one evening and in course of conversation he told me he had just returned from the military college and on looking over the list for this year he found that there was a gentleman by the name of Sewell and he wanted to know if he was any relation of ours. I never saw a man stare as he did when I told him he was my brother. I believe he thinks I have got a brother in all corners of the world. It is quite ridiculous to see the new drivers this winter for there are so many and they are so stupid that I much fear there will be some accidents this winter with the Tandem club we have two splendid four in hands continually out it is quite dangerous to walk the narrow streets of Quebec it is quite the fashion this winter for the young ladies to go out driving with the young men we are offered a drive almost every day but there are only two or three selected that we are allowed to go with consequently we are obliged to refuse to our very great mortification a great many dashers. Charlotte and Augusta Sewell[6] have been with us since November and they remain until January. A. is a very nice girl and very much noticed by Lord and Lady D.[7]she has been particularly civil to her and has taken her out to drive two or three times. I drove with her Ladyship to Lorette some days ago and she made herself particularly agreeable which you know she can do when she likes sometimes she is fickle. We were at one of her music parties last Monday. They are really worth going to if it is only to hear Miss Cockburn[8] sing. She certainly equals in my opinion many of the public singer in London. Begry, who was her master, took her to the Argille Rooms and all the public concerts in London and made her sing first with him and then by herself therefore you may suppose she sings at the Castle[9] without the least fear in the world. She has been very kind indeed in offering to give me two lessons a week which have availed myself of and am practising duets with her to sing at the Chateau. I am to make my entre next Monday in the singing way. I am afraid I shall faint but I leave you to Judge for yourself. I am also taking lessons from Mrs. Hearst (?) a very good mistress she has just arrived from England and has had the first masters and I often practise with Mr. . . . .and Mr. Hare therefore I think if I do not improve it will be my own fault. Miss Caldwell is a great acquisition to our society. She sings very prettily. Captain Dickson says he has not been in love for seven years but that Miss C. has quite won his heart. I am now dear Henry going to give you a scolding so prepare yourself I am quite hurt and mortified to think that I should have asked you to send me out your . . . . . (?) taken in your cap and gown and that you will neither send it to me or tell me why you will not. I once for all wish you to have it very nicely done and set down to my account wich[10] when I send home in the spring for clothing you will deduct from the sum do not disappoint me again. Mama[11] will write to Margaret or John if possible by this conveyance but in case she cannot when you write pray give our kindest love to them as well as to rest of Mr. Hobbs[12] family. William and Mary[13] as well as the baby are going on very well William invited young Cockburn to dine with him the other day. Mary happened to feel tired and went to bed at nine o’clock when William thought proper to go to sleep and was awakened by some one walking up and down the room and found it was young Cockburn[14] who pulled out his watch and said dear me Mr. Sewell you have just been asleep one hour by the watch. The baby is uncommonly like Mrs. Smith. Edmund[15] christened a few days ago it is called Mary Georgina[16]. I am afraid it will not only be spoilt by its Mother and Father but by its Aunts and Uncles they seem as happy as it is possible to be, how is my (?) as well as your friend Basset (?) and my friend Miss Green give my love to her I suppose you have seen her often. I do not think brown and green a good mixture (?) Papa[17] met with a very severe trouble the other day but I am happy to say he has quite recovered from it. He met with an injury but remained stiff for a considerable time. We are indebted to the Miss Kerrs[18] but I am in great doubt wether[19] I shall as it is one of Mr. . . . . . houses which he has built with the remains of old houses and has been blown down three times. They have had Mr. . . . . the mason to inspect it who gives it his opinion there is no danger in dancing but my plan is to go at eleven and I think by that time it will be sufficiently tried.I must now conclude as my paper will not contain any more give our kind love to the P’s . . . . . Mrs. Mallet not forgetting all the Smiths and accept my dear Henry all that is kind and affection from yours as ever.

Henrietta Sewell

P.S. . . . all well and send their love to you . . . Edmund cannot get his salary[20] from government.

[1] “John and Margaret” are perhaps {Colonel} John St. Alban Sewell (1793 – 1875) and his wife Margaret Hobbs (d. 1849). John was a half brother of Henry Doyle Sewell (1806 – 1886) and Henrietta Eliza Sewell (1808 – 1847).This letter implies that Henry had stayed with John and Margaret previously, but in 1827 John’s regiment (49th Foot, Herfordshires) was stationed in Capetown, South Africa; so Henry secured alternate accommodations.
[2] “Steamboats” likely refers to Henry’s experience with them in England and Ireland.
[3] “Maria” refers to Henrietta’s older sister, Maria May Livingston Sewell (1805 – 1881)
[4] “Miss H. Sewell” refers to the author of the letter, Henrietta Sewell, daughter of {Chief Justice} Jonathan Sewell (1766 – 1839) and his wife Henrietta Smith (1796 – 1849).
[5] “Mr. Antrobus” may be Edmund William Romer Antrobus.
[6] “Charlotte and Augusta Sewell” were Henrietta’s cousins, daughters of {Solicitor General} Stephen Sewell and his wife Jane Caldwell.
[7] “Lord and Lady D.” refers to Lord and Lady Dalhousie.George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie, was Governor of Canada from 1820 until he was recalled in 1828.
[8] “Miss Cockburn” may refer to a daughter of painter James Pattison Cockburn.
[9] “Castle” refers to the Chateau St. Louis, the governor’s residence in Quebec.
[10] “wich” should be “which”.It is spelled correctly elsewhere.
[11] “Mama” refers, of course, to Henrietta Smith, daughter of {Chief Justice} William Smith (1728 – 1793) and Janet Livingston (1730 – 1819).
[12] “Mr. Hobbs” refers to {Justice} Hobbs of Cork, father of Margaret Hobbs who married {Colonel} John St. Alban Sewell.
[13] “William and Mary” refers to Henrietta’s brother {Sheriff} William Smith Sewell (1798 – 1866) and his wife Mary Isabella Smith.William and Mary were married on January 13, 1827.
[14] “Young Cockburn” may refer to a son of painter James Pattison Cockburn.
[15] “Edmund” refers to {Reverend} Edmund Willoughby Sewell (1800 – 1890), a son of{Chief Justice} Jonathan Sewell and his wife Henrietta Smith.
[16] “Mary Georgiana” must be the first child of William Smith Sewell and Mary Smith who were married on January 13, 1827; as this letter was written on December 20, 1827.William and Mary’s grandson, Sir Hector Livingston Duff, wrote circa 1924 that William and Mary had 10 children, but that the order of birth was not known.
[17] “Papa” refers to {Chief Justice} Jonathan Sewell.
[18] “Miss Kerrs” may refer to daughters of {Judge} James Kerr.
[19] “wether” should be “whether”.
[20] {Reverend} Edmund Willoughby Sewell’s stipend was at this time paid by the government from revenue derived from the confiscation of the Jesuit estates.