Thomas Hardy his Parents and Family
Jemima Hardy (nee Hand) 1814 -1904
Jemima, the fifth child of George and Betty Hand, was born in Dorset in 1813. George Hand - when he could be bothered to work - was a Jack-of-all-trades who quickly drank away any meagre wages he earned. He was a violent, degenerate man who died of consumption in 1822, leaving his widow with seven children to raise.
Thomas acknowledged that the forceful Mrs Yeobright in Return of the Native was based upon the middle-aged Jemima. The outspoken Mrs Dewy in Under the Greenwood Tree and also Mrs Smith in A Pair of Blue Eyes bear more than a passing resemblance to Hardy's real mother.
Because her family were so poor, Jemima was forced to go out to work at an early age. For a number of years she was in service with the Rev. Fox-Strangways' family in Maiden Newton, even accompanying them to London for the Season. When the reverend gentleman died Jemima, now an accomplished cook, found a position in the household of the vicar of Stinsford. It was during her employment at Stinsford that Jemima met a young stonemason named Thomas Hardy. Thomas was an instrumentalist with the Stinsford church choir and, according to their son's moving poem, 'A Church Romance', the couple first met at a service at Stinsford church.
According to the Hardy family's more earthy version of events, the first
meeting between Thomas and Jemima was a far more improper affair. Apparently
the young man - who had a reputation as a womaniser - caught sight of the
servant girl whilst working near Stinsford church and promptly seduced her.
No doubt that was why the pregnant Jemima Hand had to wed Thomas hastily in
1839, although both parties seemed reluctant participants in the marriage.
Because of her miserable childhood, Jemima distrusted outsiders and demanded
her children be utterly loyal to each other and their parents. According to
her son she possessed a wonderful vitality, although her cheerful manner and
good humour could be marred at times by caustic sarcasm. Apparently the harsher
side of her personality became more pronounced after the mid-1840s when she
nearly died from a miscarriage.
Jemima Hardy lived in the Higher Bockhampton cottage until her death. Her health gradually deteriorated until her two daughters, true to Jemima's teaching of family solidarity, decided to live with her and look after a mother who was as lucid as ever although deaf and often confined to her bed through ill health. Her son frequently visited her from his home in Dorchester and when she died in 1904, aged 90, Hardy wrote a poem in her memory entitled 'After the Last Breath'.
Thomas Hardy was in his mid-sixties when Jemima died. Her tenacious maternal stranglehold had so hampered his emotional maturity that he claimed he was 'a child till he was sixteen, a youth till he was five-and-twenty, and a young man till he was nearly fifty'. Nevertheless, he grieved for the mother who had not only been the primary influence in his early life but had also, with her stories, songs and sayings, provided the source of many of his Wessex tales. Despite her many faults, anyone who cares for Hardy's work should be delighted he had such a wonderful Mother of Invention.
Thomas Hardy 1811 - 1892
Thomas Hardy senior was a local builder and stone mason who would pay his employees through the barred window that opens from the back of his cottage out on to Egdon Heath
Both Thomas's sisters became teachers, and his brother Henry took over the buildering business following the father's death in 1892. In 1911, Henry, Mary, and Kate left the cottage at Higher Bockhampton for a much larger house Henry had built a couple miles away, on the other side of the Frome valley, called Talbothays which Thomas designed..
"The dairy called Talbothays, for which she [Tess] was bound, stood not remotely from some of the former estates of the d'Urbervilles, near the great family vaults of her granddames and their powerful husbands."
(Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Chapter 15)
"An up-hill and down-dale ride of twenty-odd miles through a garish mid-day atmosphere brought him [Angel Clare] in the afternoon to a detached knoll a mile or two west of Talbothays, whence he again looked into that green trough of sappiness and humidity, the valley of the Var or Froom. Immediately he began to descend from the upland to the fat alluvial soil below, the atmosphere grew heavier; the languid perfume of the summer fruits, the mists, the hay, the flowers, formed therein a vast pool of odour which at this hour seemed to make the animals, the very bees and butterflies drowsy."
(Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Chapter 27)
This ended the Hardy family life-holding that had survived for three generations, and the property was returned to the Kingston Maurward estate upon whose land the cottage had been built. The house was later bought by a local farmer.
The first tenant was Hermann Lea, a photographer and trusted friend of Hardy's, who lived there for about ten years and was often visited by Hardy. Subsequently, a series of tenants, mostly local people, followed at varying intervals over the years until the National Trust acquired the property in 1948 and opened it to the public.
Thomas Hardy, at age 86, made his last visit to the cottage in November, 1926 to arrange for tidying up the garden and further "secluding" the building itself from public view. A very private man was Hardy.
Strangely, none of the Hardy siblings, Thomas, Mary, Henry, nor Kate ever produced offspring. Thus the lineage of the Hardys of Higher Bockhampton came to an end with the death of Kate in October, 1940.