Pauline Wiltshire: Family life in Jamaica

Pauline’s story is marked by her honest approach and so I wanted to do the same in telling her story. It’s clear that her childhood wasn’t an easy one. I think she is such a strong and positive person, despite the obstacles she faced. Maggie Hewitt (Pauline’s publisher) explains in the preface that Pauline “gradually felt able to write about some things of the things that were left out of the first book [Now I live in England] because they were too painful to think about at the time” (Wiltshire, 1985:5). It is so important to recognise that by writing further memoirs such as Living and Winning,  Pauline has begun to face her own traumas through writing. Suzanne Scafe reflects on this idea, as she reveals that “subjects return to the site of trauma enable a reinstatement of her textual self and signals a refusal of victimhood” (Scafe, 2016: 156). This is integral in the showcasing the empowering facilities memoir-writing has to offer, as we shall see throughout this blog. Despite some extremely challenging obstacles Pauline has faced, she uses her writing to face them and challenge them.

We’ll start from the very beginning. Pauline was born in 1950 in Manchester, Coylette, Jamaica. Being born out of wedlock to a religious Jamaican family, she was immediately isolated due to her illegitimacy. This also caused her mother to emigrate to England, leaving Pauline behind. In religious families, young women who had fallen pregnant would often go on ‘pilgrimage’ in order to hide the pregnancy or birth of an illegitimate child, and would return without it. However in Pauline’s case, she was left behind whilst her mother moved on without her. She was legally adopted by her Aunt Doris who lived in America; however, she was left in the care of her cousin Charlotte. According to an interview David Matthews had with Windrush interviewees, adoption within families ‘was something that happening quite a lot [in the Caribbean]’ (Matthews, 2018), and so Pauline’s mother thought this would be the best possible outcome for both her and Pauline.

Pauline was born paralysed, which meant she was physically different from other children due to her impaired mobility. She was taken good care of by her cousin Charlotte, who made sure she was getting the correct treatment she needed. Horrifically, by the age of fourteen she was struck twice by in separate motorcyclist accidents, which left her in a great deal of pain, on top of her disabilities, causing her to spend most of her childhood in and out of hospital.

By the time Pauline was 24 she had lived with three different family members. She enjoyed her time as a child with Charlotte but she especially loved living with her aunt Ina. Ina saw the importance of education and made sure Pauline went to school. Ina even became a teacher at Pauline’s school to make sure the other teachers were giving her the correct support she needed as a disabled teenager. However, When Ina went on a four-month vacation to America, Pauline was left in the care of an aunt-in-law Mina, who “treated [her] like a slave” (Wiltshire, 1985:15). She was not allowed to eat with the family, and instead ate cold leftovers. When family visited, they put on an act, so no one was aware of the abuse. However, Pauline finally had enough of her ill treatment. She confided in a friend about it and they immediately got in touch with her aunt Ina who cut her vacation short to come rescue her. She has never forgiven her aunt-in-law for how she treated her. It must be said that, whilst researching further into family units within twentieth century Jamaica, its fair to say that they were strained, sometimes even ingrained with abusive and violent tactics amongst parents/guardians. This concept was brought to light by David Matthews, who tells the stories of the ‘Windrush Generation’. Mother and Daughter Nicey and Jenny recall what their childhoods where like, and how violence and neglect was often inflicted upon them. “You don’t have a say… and you don’t answer back…. it was strict” (Matthews, 2018: np). However they believed that a sense of historical and ancestral factors were to blame for strict and violent discipline amongst Caribbean families. Acts of violence or neglect emerged from slavery, they conclude. “When things are done to you, the only thing you have to call upon is your own experience. so, if your own experiences are lets just say spank this out of you, you don’t have any idea that you can negotiate. there’s on idea of that, so you can only act the way you experience” (ibid).

After her ordeal with her aunt-in-law, Pauline faced a life-changing event that shapes the course of her life forever. Pauline describes this event with care; she explains it subtly with non-descriptive detail however it is suggestible to readers what has happened to her. “There was a certain man that was bothering me” she describes in her memoirs. She explains that she tried to tell family members of her discomfort, however no-one took any notice because “he was too old” and “they trusted him” (Wiltshire,1985: 21).It is unclear in Pauline’s memoirs who the man was, but he was presumably a well respected man to the family and/or to the community, due to the families blatant ignorance of her cries for help. It could be suggested that Pauline’s fragmented recollection of her past traumas are a coping mechanism for her to face them in the most comfortable way she can. Fragmented autobiographies can be linked greatly to the work of Helen Rogers and Emily Cuming’s Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of Working-Class Autobiography ( 2018).

Pauline was in her early twenties when she had been groomed by him, and later raped. Pauline became pregnant and was again ostracised for her actions, despite being the victim in the situation. Her Aunt Ina as well as her friends tried to convince her to have an abortion, to which she strongly declined. When she was in labour, Pauline called for a nurse at 1pm. The nurse arrived at 7.30pm, 2 hours after her baby – David- had been born.

Not even a year later, Her Aunt Ina attempted to ‘sterilise’ Pauline so that she couldn’t have any more children. This became the moment that solidified her decision to move to England, to seek refuge and family love by her mother. She no longer felt as though she had a place in Jamaica with her family and so she decided to leave. She made a devastating decision to leave David behind with her family as she hoped to get herself “well established” (Wiltshire, 1985:35) in England first before he came.

Despite the circumstances Pauline was put in, she embarks on a journey that she feels will not only benefit her life, but also her son’s. The concept of ‘trauma’ literature is relevant with Pauline’s writing: she has a ‘parallel story of resistance’ (Keenan, 2013:xxiii) against her past traumas. As Keenan describes, ‘what is often really striking in trauma work is how individuals continue to privilege certain values in life and to preserve what is precious to them, such as love or justice, despite everything they have been through’ (ibid). This encompasses what Pauline did when she decided to migrate to England, in search for a better life. It also furthers the concept of the importance and relief memoir writing can often bring to authors.

 Pauline’s family life in Jamaica was turbulent to say the least. She experienced the kindness of family but also abuse and neglect, and so Pauline moved to England in the hope of a better family life. Whether this hope would materialise is a question for another post.

Similarly to Pauline, another author experienced migration to England: Fermin Rocker. Why don’t you visit Emma Sellars’ blog posts about Fermin and his family, and their difficulties they found in adjusting to life in London.


Image: King Street, Kingston, Jamaica

Keenan, M. (2013). Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender, Power, and organised culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed: 10/4/2020.

Matthews, D. (2018). Voices of the Windrush Generation: The Real Story Told By The People Themselves. London: Blink Publishing. Accessed 10/4/2020.

Rogers, H, and Cuming, E. (2018). ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of Working-Class Autobiography’. Family & Community History, 21:3, 180-201. Taylor & Francis Online. Accessed 19/5/2020.

Scafe, S. (2016). ‘Black Women Subjects in Auto/biographical Discourse’. The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010). Ed. Deirdre Osborne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 144-158. Accessed: 10/4/2020.

Wiltshire, P. (1985).Living and Winning. London: Centerprise.

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