Posted by: preshist | July 14, 2010

‘CHANCE ENCOUNTERS OF A PERSONAL KIND’

Yvonne arranging a series of Molly's papers

Personal papers are the most difficult to process I find and the collection I’m currently arranging and describing is no exception.  Approximately 4 to 5 metres, I started it some time ago but with the closing of the Archives and preparations to shift into new premises the task was put on hold.  Now as is often the case a researcher would like to access the collection so, you’ve got it, I need to put my skids on and complete it. 

Perhaps at one time the papers had some original order but over a long period of storage by the family they now have an original ‘disorder’.  It appears that the creator herself may have separated of her original work as she rewrote and re-presented her material in reports and articles, hence I have a small group of papers in each file which are described as ‘assorted loose papers detached from originals’.

Molly Whitelaw was quite some lady!  Arriving from Scotland in the early 1920’s as a daughter of the Manse,  she soon became deeply involved in various administrative levels of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church, the NZ National Council of Churches (NCC), World Council of Churches (WCC) from 1948 and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches(WARC) also from 1948.  I have grave doubts if Molly ever threw away a piece of paper relating to her activities.  As a consequence, there are hundreds of letters both inwards and outwards, notes, drafts, reports, articles for various publications, prepared studies, devotional material, her parish related materials (she married a Presbyterian minister, Alan), family papers and many copies of Committee minutes ranging from the 1890s-1964 when her sudden death sent shock waves through the world Church and the community of women she supported.  A feminist of her day she focused on women’s position in the church encouraging them to move beyond the ‘church kitchen’ into leadership roles.  Her enthusiasm and her willingness to speak out for her cause, resulted in her being highly sought after as both a speaker and writer.

Taken at farewell party at Marlborough Women’s Club, given by Mrs George Seymour, 1945

As you can imagine one discovers some gems as you troll through such an accumulation of material .  With her somewhat effusive and occasionally humorous writing style with hints of E.F. Benson’s  themes of elegance and snobbery, I find I get quite caught up in her various writings.

A series of short talks about notable people Molly encountered during her travels took my fancy which described a visit to  one of my favourite authors from my teen years;  O. Douglas known as Anna, and who is the sister of  the infamous politican and writer John Buchan. 

While attending the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 1930, Molly discovered to her amazement and excitement, that the person seated next to her with ‘reddish hair’ was no other than O. Douglas, her much loved author.  This chance encounter occasioned a visit to the Buchan homestead during her stay in Edinburgh that year.

“Imagine,” she writes “a two storied corner house standing at the lower end of Peebles main street, ‘The Bank House’, a quite unpretentious house with a flagged stone path leading up to the door where Mrs Buchan and her daughter live with an unmarried son Walter Buchan.  Imagine an attractive hall, a most pleasant and pretty sitting-room with lots of books, and flowers, and pictures, a recessed square window and low window seat over hanging Tweed and looking up to the Border Hills.  Imagine Anna Buchan with her lovely reddish hair and clear complexion in a charming frock, vivacious and delightful and imagine the most delicious little mother, Mrs Buchan, petite and bright, the soul of hospitality and kindness… A marvelous afternoon tea was laid such as those in O. Douglas’ stories … Scones and drop-scones and shortbread and strawberries and cream and I know not what else… It was so jolly and friendly and extremely interesting for the Buchans are far too sincere and natural not to realise that you have come primarily to see them and hear about them.”  She follows on with more banter and concludes with a description of two autographed books from Anna Buchan, and two further books this time signed by John Buchan given as a wedding gift.

In a paper she presented many years later, relating to growing up in a Manse and the changes she perceived over a number of decades she refers back to the Buchan family and their Manse life revealed through the writings of  O. Douglas.

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