THE COMING OF BABY EDWARD
SEPTEMBER came and with it "Baby Edward." He was born on Thursday, September 21, 1922, at a quarter to three o'clock in the afternoon. We had only sent for the nurse, old Martha Green, aged eighty-seven, and her helper, Mrs. Bill Rogers, our near neighbour, at twelve o'clock. Martha Green is old Betty Cotton's sister, the only one of her family now living at Tristan, as the other brothers and sister emigrated to the Cape, where they are now resident near Cape Town. Old Martha has been midwife for over fifty years, and Tristan owes her a real debt for all these years of loving care over its babies. Her sight is now beginning to fail, and she is obliged to have an assistant, but she is wonderful in many ways.
I was impressed by her fervent prayer when Edward was born, and I then realized her great anxiety and nervousness on my behalf. Every day she and her assistant arrived close upon 8 a.m. She bathed the baby, and when he was ready to come back to his mother he was given a kiss with, "You pretty clean little thing! You're the best and whitest baby I shall ever see." I did not know, but many people flocked round the house to hear any news, and some told me they spent the time in prayer on our behalf. That day and for many days I had constant visitors, every woman coming to see little Edward and his mother. They all insisted on coming in, and knelt and kissed the baby, saying, "May you grow up a good boy and be a blessing to your brave mother." I felt very proud and happy.
When I was making my recovery after baby's birth I found the food rather poor and unsuitable, and it seemed hard having no relations near me and no mails, but everyone round me did their best for my comfort. After ten days I got up. The house was beginning to get upside-down, and my husband was being overworked very much, trying to cope alone with all the duties of home, school, and church services as usual.
Tom Rogers had made Baby Edward a cot out of the wood of the famous redwood-tree which had drifted up on Tristan twenty years before from America as described in the previous chapter. The little cot was modelled after an old Norwegian pattern and was very quaint.
I think the coming of "Baby Edward" made a great difference in the attitude of the islanders towards us and our work. It seemed a living link between us and them; we were outsiders no more, for was not baby "a real Tristan baby"? The people asked to be allowed to choose his name, and begged that it might be "Edward," after H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, the people of Tristan having a great admiration for the Prince. They were also very proud that baby was to have Tristan godparents.
The baptism of Baby Edward was quite an event for Tristan da Cunha. They were all immensely proud and pleased with the first English baby ever born on the island. He was a pretty little fellow with a crop of silky, golden curls and a lovely shell-like pink and white complexion. He was quite big for his age and had large brown eyes. Fair people are thought a lot of at Tristan, and those few islanders who are fortunate in having fair-haired children are very proud of them. Some of the darkest ones can hardly get anyone to marry them, so strong is the prejudice. Tuesday, October 24, 1922, was the day fixed for the public baptism, and luckily it turned out a nice fine day.
At daybreak all the available Union Jacks were hoisted on the various flag-poles, some five in number, and we could hear Tom Rogers and his nephew, Paddy Rogers, one of the Boy Scouts, at work trying to get a flag hoisted on the roof of the tiniest parsonage in the world. Everyone hastened to put on his best clothes, and no work was being done, as the people were determined to make the day a public holiday. The godfathers were especially well dressed, and looked fine but rather awkward and uncomfortable. They wore medals and ribbons and button-holes, and starched high collars reserved for rare and very great occasions. Edward's godmother was in white, with a string of beads and a hat instead of the usual handkerchief. The little island girls were looking very pretty in white frocks with big sashes and white stockings or socks, but the whole gave rather a fancy-dress ball impression, as one saw soldiers, sailors, dungaree suits, corduroys, a dress-coated gentleman, Boy Scouts, ladies in mid-Victorian frocks, and many ornamented with big rosettes of coloured ribbon or nosegays, hurrying hither and thither. The big girls had decorated the little church schoolroom with flowers. St. Mary's Church Room, as my husband called it, looked quite gay, and a good while before three o'clock service time the room was crowded by all who could possibly squeeze in to see the missionary baptize his own baby.
There was the usual hymn-singing, which is their joy at all services, and little Edward had six sponsors, two for England and four for Tristan. Four leading Tristan citizens were chosen to represent all the rest—Mrs. Frances Repetto, Tom Rogers, John Glass, and Fred Swain. John Glass has been parish clerk under more than one of the missionaries, and he and Peter Repetto are the heaviest men on the island.
After the baptism was satisfactorily over we invited "all hands" to come up to the Parsonage and drink to baby's health in tea, and more than a hundred came in and shook hands with us both. I had projected a baptismal cake for this party, but owing to a shortage of flour and raisins, and the difficulty of getting milk, it was so small that there was barely a taste for the sponsors and ourselves. Everyone else was promised a "piece of cake when the mail comes." We always expect to have sufficient after the next ship reaches the island, for Tristan is like Alice Through the Looking-Glass—"jam yesterday and jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day."
Those who could find anything made up gifts for baby, and soon he was in possession of half the coin of the realm on the island, viz. a half-crown, a shilling, and a threepenny bit; also several pairs of Tristan socks for the knitting of which the island is famous, some coloured "moral" pocket-handkerchiefs with pictures and words on them, which are much thought of, and also several of the hats, or rather bonnets, the children wear, called "cappies." There were besides a metal teaspoon and a gorgeously patterned teacup, all made over "jintly" (like Captain Cuttle's silver) to Master Edward and his mother.
Our most honoured guest was dear old Martha Green, whose greatest pride for evermore will be that she was able to preside at the arrival of Baby Edward in a very curious world. During the evening we entertained our visitors with tunes on the gramophone, at which concert one man remarked, "I could listen all night and never be tired," but as we are not so constituted, we were rather tired by 10.30, and dismissed our friends rather thankfully and went to bed.
During all the time we were at Tristan Edward had two "nannas," as he called his kind nurses himself. The first was Mrs. Tom Rogers, who took charge of him until he was about a year old, when she died, greatly to our sorrow, as she was a good friend to us from the day we landed. After her death, Mrs. Frances Repetto, Edward's godmother, took care of him. Describing Edward and his first "nanna," an officer of H.M.S. Dublin wrote: "I soon discovered the missionary's bonnie baby, the fat, fair little man lay fast asleep in the arms of a big dark Tristan woman. They made a vivid contrast."
At Tristan, godparents are expected to do a great deal for their god-children, often minding them all day and making their clothes, besides giving them moral and religious instruction; in fact the post is no sinecure. Mrs. Frances Repetto is rather a remarkable character, exceedingly good, clean, and strict with her family, and one of the most truthful and honest persons on the island. We found her a sincere Christian, trying to lead a right life, and one of the best-educated women on Tristan, and she proved a very sympathetic friend.
"As Edward's godmother I am the right person to look after him, so be sure and bring him over to me," she said one day, and until our last day on Tristan she looked after him. She was, as I have said, a very strict disciplinarian, and at first Edward was a good deal afraid of her and screamed prodigiously. I have seen her take a stick to her two big sons—and Peter Repetto was one of the biggest men on the island—if they ventured to disobey her orders. Her sons were all fair, good-looking lads, and took after their Italian father, Andreo. The families of Italian descent, Repetto's and Lavarello's, are perhaps the best-looking and most intelligent people on the island. Edward was particularly fond of Mrs. Repetto's son, Joe Repetto, whom he called "Uncle Joe," and Joe was as truly devoted to Edward, and would carry him round all day and amuse him, and in fact was as good as a big brother to him.