Letter from Frances Hodgkins to Rachel Hodgkins

21 Feb 1901
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21 Feb 1901
R.M.S. Arcadia Thursday morning
My darling Mother
I hope Sis posted you my letter written from Sydney. I thought it best to wait till I was comfortably settled on board before writing again. It was one long rush the week in Sydney, but I had a glorious time and managed to crowd a fair amount of sightseeing into my week. We are now half way between Sydney and Hobart spanking along with a good stiff breeze behind us. We left Sydney at midday yesterday but were no sooner outside the Heads when our engines stopped, something wrong with the bearings, and we drifted aimlessly on and off thro’ the night losing 12 hours however we are making up for lost time now and expect to make Hobart at 12 tomorrow. It seems odd sailing due South again after getting so far from N.Z. It is very cold and I have had to put on my warm clothes again. I love the heat of Sydney and felt very fit the while time I was there with the exception of one day. So far our voyage promises to be a very dreary one, the passengers are 2nd class in every sense of the word. (Engines stopped again). There must be a Jonah on board, there is nobody fit to speak to but we may probably pick up some better class people in Melbourne or Colombo. Our cabin is small and not nearly as nice as the “Moana” one, and the washing arrangements primitive in the extreme, and cockroaches & fleas hop about gaily. I am bitten badly and am a most unlovely object, last night I peppered everything with insect powder and managed to ward off night attacks. So far the ship seems to be entirely in charge of Lascars. We have seen nothing in the shape of a uniform since we came aboard, some feeble looking official with a telescope has just passed by otherwise we have seen nobody who seems in authority. I met a man in Sydney, at the picnic I told you of, who asked Lydia & me to afternoon tea on board to introduce me to the Capt. He (the Capt.) is fairly ancient not to say senile looking. The meals are much better than we expected and as Mrs Turton says, so infinitely superior to what we get at home that we haven’t the impertinence to grumble. We have a heavy midday dinner which we sleep off till four then afternoon tea and about five all hands retire to “clean themselves” and at 6.30 we have a substantial high tea. I met some nice people whom Mr Tom Roberts introduced me to in Sydney who are travelling 1st saloon and they have been over several times to see me. I introduced them to Mrs Turton & we have had some jolly talks. Miss Dixon is not a success, and is rather a thorn in our sides, but she is making friends of her own so we will not be bothered with her much and I shall drop her directly I get Home. I saw a good deal of Mr Roberts while in Sydney, he was most awfully good to me and showed me round. I had a kind note from his wife asking me to stay with them but of course it was out of the question. He got me a ticket for the conversazione at the Society of Artists and introduced me to all the artists introducing me to the men as the cleverest girl in Australia, and to the women as the “best artist in N.Z. – modifying it slightly to suit the sex – naturally they all looked skeptical and I felt rather a fool – but it was all very jolly and they made it very nice for me. It sounds horribly conceited repeating this twaddle but it is the last change I shall have of suffering from swelled head. The further I get from N.Z. and the nearer I get to England the more & more humble I feel. So far the women artists in Australia are not up to much. I have not seen anything particularly outstanding. Tell Dr Scott when you see him that Mr Sid Long is going to Dunedin next month to try his luck. I persuaded him that there was a big opening for him now that Mr Hanson is laid aside. He is an ugly little man with a Phil May face but tremendously clever. I met Mr Ashton, Souter and a host of sister brushes, they all seem a property stricken lot & would hardly believe I had made enough by my brush to go Home. I put in a good word for our exhibition and tried to persuade them all to send over. Mr Rich & Mr Rolin gave us a lunch at the Australia the day before I felt it was very swagger and I have felt bilious ever since – they insisted on my tasting everything, and nothing loth we ploughed steadily thro’. I saw Mrs W. Black & Ethel at the next table, Mrs B. looking like a duchess and pretending not to see me they both looked quite blank when I looked at them so I didn’t give them a second chance, however they came gushing round the wharf yesterday but I wasn’t very cordial. It was a sickening sight seeing them living on the fat of the land at the Australia with the other poor Blacks in such abject poverty in Melbourne. I found a letter from Rosie at the boat yesterday very keen about you and me going up there when I come out again. Betha has such a pretty home far prettier than Lydia’s, her husband is a dear little man and very jolly. Mr Rolin is the soul of propriety and would suit Willie down to the ground. He keeps Lydia in check and is most particular what she does and whom she knows. Lydia is a queer old thing not nearly so warm hearted as Betha but very sweet. The old Dr. was very unwell the whole time I was in Sydney but she never went out to see him or enquired after him and one of her brothers who has been away for 13 years came home about the time I arrived but she had not seen him or bothered her head about him in the least. I met Miss Rose Scott who thought me very like you, she was very interested in hearing all about you and hoped to see you when you come across. I can hardly believe it is only a fortnight since I said goodbye to you. You are always in my thoughts and I am constantly wondering what you are doing. I am longing for my letters in Melbourne. Goodbye darling, take care of your dear self, and be sure and tell me always exactly what you are doing and how you feel. I hope you are not very lonely and that you are not working too hard. I have heard some quaint old stories on this side about the old general. Send this on to Sis. I shall write you turn about. I hope Willie has not had much bother with my Art Union. I hope to hear of its successful conclusion. I feel a wretch leaving you all to do my dirty work. I feel the most heartfelt gratitude for all you dear people have done for me. Goodbye, with fondest love to Willie and your dear self. Your loving Fanny. Mr Roberts came down to see me off and brought me a budget to [call] out to artists all along the line so I am in well. My friends in the 1st class have asked me to dine at Hadly’s in Hobart the night we are there.
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R.M.S Arcadia
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Letters from Frances Hodgkins. Field, Isabel Jane, 1867-1950 : Correspondence of Frances Hodgkins and family / collected by Isabel Field. Ref: MS-Papers-0085-08. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.