John Ireland’s mother Annie is best known as a biographer, journalist, and mother of five children. Less well known is that within her short life she was extremely well travelled, both in Europe and beyond. She records that some of her most vivid memories were connected with a visit she paid, in around 1860, to some of her father’s family in what she describes as ‘Barbadoes’. She was about 17, and fears for her health led to her being dispatched to a tropical climate and a new household in which every member was a near relative, though all much older than herself. Here Annie spent the best part of a year. At an impressionable time of life, torn from her familiar surroundings, siblings and studies, she was highly receptive to her new residence. One member of the household was a revered great-aunt who liked to regale the young English visitor with stories of her girlhood.
When Annie was there the island still had its flourishing sugar industry. The planters at that time had large incomes, lived in handsome houses, and Barbados sugar was the most fragrant and delicate in the world. The slave emancipation had already taken place, but there still remained a Government House, an ‘Icehouse’, or ‘Club’, and extensive barracks. Annie was drawn to the glorious climate and the magnificent flowers and fruits, especially the Martinique roses (seen below), but found the prospect from the island uninteresting to an almost intolerable degree. Accustomed to the Cumbrian hills, she felt the monotony of white road and blue sky, rustling fields of cane and everlasting sugar-houses, so oppressive that she had her dining chair moved to a side of the table that had no view. Instead she preferred to contemplate a bare wall or the portraits of her ancestors. There is no record of her ever having discussed this visit with her son John, yet she chose to write about it later in life, and it was published in a book edited by her daughter Ethel.
Source: Annie E. Nicholson, Longer Flights: recollections and studies (London, 1898)