I found this page in Susanah’s journal a bit of a curiosity. A few strange words and shapes ruled off at the top and the rest of the page is left blank.
When I first looked at it I could not make out any of the words except “Mottos” at the top. I think it may say “a rose” to the right of a little doodle of a flower losing a petal. The only other English words I could see were “change” and the word in front of that might be “Jane” – but the rest I couldn’t decipher.
Then the Eureka moment – it’s in French!
“Je ne change qu’en mourant”
I change only in death
I will remain steadfast until death.
The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck – these are very prophetic words. The page is undated but sits chronologically within the notebook between 1834 and 1835. Susanah WELLINGTON was fourteen or fifteen-years-old at the time and had experienced her fair share of death. You can read more about the circumstances in these posts: susanah’s journal – births, deaths and marriages and diseases and remedies of the 1800s.
Terry HASTINGS is my distant cousin who was custodian of Susanah’s Journal before passing it on to me for safe keeping. I emailed him to share what I had discovered and to ask for his thoughts on what it might all mean. Terry replied with the following:
“Susanah was probably conversant in French through her education. It was considered an accomplishment of young ladies of the era and fits well with the music she both taught and learned at Mrs Eason’s school. “I change only in death” indicates awareness of her fate, resignation to her end and expectation of a heavenly reward for what must surely have been a pure and blameless life.
“The strong religious tone of the diary also complements the French motto, presaging the immortality of Susanah’s convictions. It was God’s will and she would therefore accept it. In an age when premature death was common, perhaps this was a consolation for the dying.
“The emblem of the rose is significant too isn’t it? It’s undefiled beauty is gradually withering just as a young lady’s life is gradually deteriorating.”
A poem and song The Last Rose of Summer by Irish poet Thomas MOORE would have been popular in the early 1800s. Moore wrote it in 1805 and Sir John STEVENSON set the words to music in 1813.
‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.
I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?
The words reflect the shortness of life and the ‘bleak world’ the rose inhabited. This is more than likely the message to be found in Susanah’s little rose sketch. The circle with the initials is still a mystery to me.
O. L. P. or O. J. P.
I. D. or J. D.
It may indicate a secret love interest or could be simply a tribute to her loving family. The initials are perplexing as they do not seem to relate to anyone mentioned before in the journal or any other family members. As Susanah had great faith it might be a religious motto. Capital D at the end may stand for “Dieu” (God).
If you have come across anything similar and you can shed light on these little encryptions, please let me know. I would be grateful for your help.
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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. Her diary includes school lessons, letters and a record of the last few years of her life between 1832-1838. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. Many thanks to Terry HASTINGS for his contribution to this article.