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The Settlers at Home   By: (1802-1876)

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The Settlers at Home, by Harriet Martineau.

This shortish novel first appeared in 1841, and was published in a collection of the author's four short 1841 novels, "The Playfellow".

The scene is set in Lincolnshire, a part of England much of which is flat and prone to flooding by the sea. It was drained in the 1600s by Dutch engineers by the creation of drains and sea defences. To this day part of the county is called Holland. After the draining the land was leased by the King to various settlers from overseas, among whom were the Linacres, the hero family of this book. The King's enemies break down the sea defences, and the land is flooded, with haystacks, mills and barns floating away, farm animals drowning, and everyone in great peril. By various mishaps the three Linacre children and a boy from a roguish nomadic family, are deprived of the Linacre mother and father just when they most need them, and find themselves in the care of Ailwin, the strong and sturdy maid of all work. Before they can get reunited with the parents, Geordie, the weakly two year old, dies, and they have various struggles for survival, with foul water killing many of the animals they would rely on for food. At last help comes in the form of the local pastor, who has enlisted the aid of some men to row him to wherever he is needed.

This book is pretty strong reading, and probably more of a tragedy than any other category.




Two hundred years ago, the Isle of Axholme was one of the most remarkable places in England. It is not an island in the sea. It is a part of Lincolnshire a piece of land hilly in the middle, and surrounded by rivers. The Trent runs on the east side of it; and some smaller rivers formerly flowed round the rest of it, joining the Humber to the north. These rivers carried down a great deal of mud with them to the Humber, and the tides of the Humber washed up a great deal of sea sand into the mouths of the rivers; so that the waters could not for some time flow freely, and were at last prevented from flowing away at all: they sank into the ground, and made a swamp of it a swamp of many miles round the hilly part of the Isle of Axholme.

This swamp was long a very dismal place. Fish, and water birds, and rats inhabited it: and here and there stood the hut of a fowler; or a peat stack raised by the people who lived on the hills round, and who obtained their fuel from the peat lands in the swamp. There were also, sprinkled over the district, a few very small houses cells belonging to the Abbey of Saint Mary, at York. To these cells some of the monks from Saint Mary's had been fond of retiring, in old times, for meditation and prayer, and doing good in the district round; but when the soil became so swampy as to give them the ague as often as they paid a visit to these cells, the monks left off their practice of retiring hither; and their little dwellings stood empty, to be gradually overgrown with green moss and lank weeds, which no hand cleared away.

At last a Dutchman, having seen what wonders were done in his own country by good draining, thought he could render this district fit to be inhabited and cultivated; and he made a bargain with the king about it. After spending much money, and taking great pains, he succeeded. He drew the waters off into new channels, and kept them there by sluices, and by carefully watching the embankments he had raised. The land which was left dry was manured and cultivated, till, instead of a reedy and mossy swamp, there were fields of clover and of corn, and meadows of the finest grass, with cattle and sheep grazing in large numbers. The dwellings that were still standing were made into farm houses, and new farmhouses were built... Continue reading book >>

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