This week’s theme is ‘Translation’.
I have a mysterious Great great grandfather named Thomas Darchy who was born in Augsburg, Bavaria in 1820 but lived the first eleven or so years of his life with a Prussian-born guardian in Neuchatel, Switzlerland. When he was aged 10 the guardian received a letter from someone apparently connected with Thomas’ mother’s family, saying the boy was to be collected and taken …. where? The guardian was most upset and drafted a reply in archaic French – not his native language – full of crossed-out words and other words added above and below – and by the greatest good fortune that draft has been was found in the Neuchatel archives, along with some other legal papers.
Over the years several translations have been made by a variety of people, including me using an on-line translator. Not all agree. The general consensus is that the distraught guardian wrote, in part:
“And what do you want to do with him? Send him to boarding school? Or in other words, abandon him, because you do not want to look after him and his mother will continue to watch him from a distance at her pleasure”. … “Regarding the rest, I do not understand how Madam L. was able so easily to consent to this arrangement, which is precisely the opposite of what she told me two years ago in Geneva, when she seemed to fear his presence in England (deleted…. and assured me she wanted to leave him here for better hiding him). She said in her own words that he would never know his mother and that the mother’s family would forever ignore his existence. She told me her final wish for her son, and she gave me her express wish, to raise him entirely as Swiss.” … “ I would like to remind you that this child is here under the protection of the government and that I am his guarantor…”
“ Personally, I am deeply worried about the consequences that this change will have for my dear child, for who shall he count on in the future. On you? Alas! You live with 200-300 livres of him, you are married, a public servant. (deleted …and you have no interest to see him prosper and to make his way). Or his mother? Much less than on you, because she doesn’t want him and as she says, she cannot look after him. Thus, he will be abandoned and alone, continually in boarding schools and he will become what he can.”
We do not know for certain what happened during the next ten years, but in 1840 Thomas turned up on a ship in Australian waters, a wealthy young man aged just 20. He went on to found an Australian grazing empire – at one stage the family owned or leased vast tracts of sheep and cattle pasturage. Sadly much was lost in the depression of the 1890s. Most of his sons including my own great grandfather became drovers. One became an outback postman.
But nobody has ever managed to discover just who he was!! We have a baptismal certificate from Augsburg but it is suspected that his parents’ names were falsified. Family stories abound – he was the illegitimate son of a French noblewoman emigree and a Scottish nobleman, or a Prussian princess, or an Englishwoman who was one of George IV’s mistresses …. So the draft letter in the Neuchatel archives is important since it mentions his mother but does not of course give her name apart from referring to her as “Madame L”.
A much fuller account of Thomas’ early years is at https://nancyvada.me/the-mysterious-advent-of-thomas-darchy/