Family is an important aspect of Thomas Raymont’s life, as he goes into detail about his expansive family history. The first few pages of Thomas’ memoir is dedicated to his family history mainly focusing on giving the names, date of birth and/or date of death of his siblings.
Born into a family of thirteen children, Thomas claims this was considered normal behaviour for a Victorian family ‘to have babies as often as nature allowed it’. Infant mortality rates were considerably higher; healthcare and quality of life were not up to the standards of today due to a lack of hygiene and medical knowledge. Thomas was therefore subject to witnessing some of his brothers and sisters pass away at an early age, including:
- Twin brothers James Thomas and Thomas James both suffering from whooping cough aged one month and one year respectively
- Older brother James falling victim to ‘consumption’ (Tuberculosis) aged 24
- Sisters Caroline and Elisabeth and Mary Elizabeth passing away aged 15 months, 1 month and ‘a few months’ respectively
It is interesting how he does not offer any thoughts on the impact these deaths had on him. Overall, his memoir lacks any evidence of emotion only giving a professional account of his life. David Vincent notices this as a common trend amongst working-class memoirs: ‘autobiographers felt themselves unable, or felt it improper or unnecessary to write at length, or even at all, about aspects of their family experience.’ (227). Therefore this should not simply portray Thomas as a heartless and unemotional member of the family; it was simply a shared mentality by the working class.
Although, this could be due to the acceptance of Victorian families that infant mortality was unavoidable, this is reflected in a song Thomas remembers from his youth:
‘Empty is the cradle, baby’s gone,
Gone to join the angels, peace for evermore,
Empty is the cradle, baby’s gone.’
Whilst this may appear to be an apparently gloomy outlook on life, it does show a universal understanding of how despairing conditions were.
Thomas’ early home life was not anything out of the ordinary from a Working-class family. His father provided the family with income being part of the farrier business, whilst his mother took upon typical housewife chores such as feeding, cleaning and clothing her children. Little details are given about the state of Thomas’ living arrangements but we know there experienced ‘fair prosperity and dire poverty’ (3) possibly due to trying to provide enough for the extensive amount of children.
Whilst we know the occupations of his parents, not much is divulged about the relationships between them. Thomas shows no emotional attachment to his parents, only informing us about the basic facts about them whilst avoiding delving deeper, a trend In memoirs as highlighted by David Vincent in his article on Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century working class: ‘most of the autobiographers simply thought that the details of their emotional lives were not a matter of interest to their readership.’ (229). These memoirs wanted to focus on the history of themselves to educate their children and was not intended to be used as an insight into their family relations.
Thomas Raymont. Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.