My darling Belle

My darling Belle

A sister's letters from Sierra Leone, 1908–09

‘Our bedroom was upstairs … Sam swept it, just the bare boards, and one bed in it, no table, no chair!’

‘We had a very good dinner, stuffed olives, tomato soup, tinned salmon rissoles (no fresh fish came in yesterday), grilled chicken on mashed potatoes, then roast beef, boiled peas and tomatoes and potatoes, sago pudding and stewed tinned fruit and cheese savoury … madeira, then champagne! and we drank the health of wives and sweethearts!’

‘… this is the fifth murder in five weeks, so you can imagine how thrilling it is to be here.’

‘Charlie said, “Look out, don’t touch it, it’s a tarantula spider.”’

‘We next overtook a most weird dugout. One man was standing up behind paddling it and in the very front was a man enveloped in a shiny black mackintosh sitting in the bow … with alligators all around.’


Maida Roberts married Dr Charles Hunter, a physician with the Colonial Medical Service, in 1907. Eighteen months later, in September 1908, she sailed with him to Bonthe, a small town on an island off the coast of Sierra Leone. During the voyage and throughout the year that the couple spent in Bonthe, Maida wrote frequently to her family and friends back in Caernarvon. The letters reproduced in this book are mostly to her younger sister Belle. (The originals are now in the Rhodes Library collection.) They have been edited, with an introduction and postscript, by her daughter and grandson.

Maida was then in her mid-thirties, and reasonably well travelled. As well as supporting Charlie in his work, she collected samples of local plants which she forwarded to the British Museum, and butterflies and birds. She writes of daily life in Bonthe, the local flora and fauna, the fellow colonials who make up her social circle, her servants and pets, encounters with local chiefs and market traders, supper parties, shooting expeditions and trips on the river, the ritual ‘leopard murders’, alarmingly common among the natives, and the mail boats with their regular delivery of cakes from Wales. Open minded, interested in everything, and determined to make a success of the posting, she is an engaging and illuminating correspondent. The letters are illustrated with family photos, maps, old postcards and Maida’s own paintings from her stay in Africa.

Some sample pages from the book:

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ISBN 978-1-9997752-0-9
Publication December 2017.
224 pages, 234 x 156 mm, including 3 maps, 10 colour and 35 black and white illustrations.