Charles William Esam-Carter: Early Childhood, Home and Family Part Two

From the earliest point of his childhood, Charles is able to recall that there was something, someone missing. Eventually, reveals to us that he had an older brother Sonny, who passed away before he was born. His child-like voice tells us, ‘Sonny was my older brother in Heaven. He had gone there because God wanted him, which was very good of God, but a bit hard on us I thought.’ (13) He recalls always wishing to have a brother a year older than him, which is accurate to his brother Sonny. Even as a child, he felt that missing piece. The majority of his companionship as a child came from the families fourteen-year-old maid, Clara, and his kitten, Fey, who followed him everywhere.

It is apparent to me that perhaps the lost of their first child is what caused the breakdown in the marriage of his parents. They do not seem to have returned to functionality after this experience or if they ever had a happy marriage. ‘The most sophisticated computer programme can never tell us how much a man loved his wife, to what extent he grieved over the death of a child…’ (1) I do believe that Sonny’s death was what led to these events happening over the years. Charles recalls waking up after a visit from his grandfathers to find his mother crying. He believes the reason for this was because ‘my father had not yet come home.’ (12)

Charles recalls some sweet moments between himself and his mother. He tells us that she would talk to him about ‘Sonny’s little shoes and a lock of his hair, which she kept calling her ‘treasures’ but which she did not usually let me see.’ (13) It is obvious, that the unfortunate loss of her first-born son was something that his mother had never been able to get over. A completely understandable experience. Although, I do not believe Charles’ opinion that ‘Mother, of course had go me in Sonny’s place but it seemed she didn’t think much of her bargain.’ (13) Quite a sad thought for a child so young to have regarding their own mother.

Baby boots from the early 19th century, just like the ones Charles’ mother kept in memory of Sonny.

As his childhood continues, his parent’s marriage undergoes various struggles. He notes that ‘Daddy went out in the morning and often did not come back until late at night and we started to have a visitor, a young man with a high collar who was a water diviner.’ (25) He goes on to say, ‘Very often, at the time, she would let me go with Clara to the grocer’s shop in Sandhurst.’ (25) It is suggested that perhaps Charles’ mother was having an affair.

Further suggestion of an affair is given when Charles goes on to share that ‘Mr R, the water diviner continued to call regularly. Then one night, my mother and father had a really terrible row. He had come in earlier than usual…’ (36) The understanding is that Charles’ father came home to find his wife entertaining another man and did not take kindly to it, telling her ‘she failed in her duty as a wife.’ (36) Charles’ was able to recall the whole event as his parents were arguing quite loudly while he was meant to be asleep, quite a traumatic experience for such a young child and one that stayed with him all of his adult life.

Newspaper report on a divorce trial from the early nineteenth century on the grounds of adultery as an example of how much scandal Charles’ mother leaving his father would have caused.

It is clear through his writing that Charles was always very aware of the people around him, able to tell at a young age when he was being lied to. He had learnt, very quickly, to avoid asking for an explanation to situations he did not understand. Instead he developed the ability to piece together the on goings of his parents on his own, he admits ‘I was not entirely unaware of the cause of the trouble. I knew, or at least suspected that my mother had more or less decided to leave my father.’ (38) At four years old, he understood the tedious relationship his parents had with each other, reflecting that it was the main source of his anxiety at the time as he did not want to be left alone with his father.

Bibliography

Esam-Carter, Charles William. Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiorgaphies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 

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