What a wag Edward Gibbon Wakefield was! Well, not really, but I did smile at this. In November 1848 he wrote to J. R. Godley:
For once you will be glad to hear of an approaching death. My Mrs Harris is in a bad way; and I feel pretty confident of seeing the last of her some time next month.
To Robert Rintoul he wrote in December 1848
For fear of accidents I write to say that the coffin containing Mrs Harris’ remains was put on board the Albion steamer, belonging to the Steam Navigation Company last night.
So who was this unfortunate Mrs Harris? Mrs. Harris is a character in Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit– a very ‘colonial’ novel for Wakefield to reference. In the novel, Mrs Gamp had much to say about her but the narrator of the novel could only explain:
a fearful mystery surrounded this lady of the name of Harris, whom no one in the circle of Mrs Gamp’s acquaintance had ever seen; neither did any human being know her place of residence…the prevalent opinion was that she was a phantom of Mrs Gamp’s brain… created for the express purpose of holding visionary dialogues with her on all manner of subjects and invariably winding up with a compliment to the excellence of her nature.
For Edward Gibbon Wakefield, “Mrs Harris” was his book The Art of Colonization. I’m increasingly convinced that my own thesis is taking on the qualities of Mrs Harris too- a phantom of my brain, very familiar to me but rarely seen by others. Mrs Harris- I embrace you.