Library seeks family connected to mystery love letter

The Library has just acquired the ultimate love letter, penned 125 years ago! It had such an impact that it resulted in a wedding 10 years later! The letter was discovered in a box of postcards by a Sydney collector who suspected it might be something special, so offered it to the Library.

In 1899, Norman Standen Tayler was apprenticed to the British shipping company Devitt & Moore that transported passengers and goods like wool between London and Sydney. Before leaving on a return voyage to London on the ship Macquarie he made a promise to Catherine Vanston Ferris of Waverley in Sydney’s east, the woman who had captured his heart. He would write an account of the voyage for her, creating what he called a ‘journal letter’, a handwritten and illustrated diary that was posted back to her.

Tayler writes to Ferris of the miseries of the voyage, the gales, the ice, the terrible cold. Throughout it all thoughts of Ferris sustain him. He imagines what she might be doing, looks forward to receiving her letters when he reaches home and imagines his return to Sydney, in one passage writing:

‘In the silent watches of the night I am lost in thought. I find myself again in Sydney when a squall gives me to understand that I am pacing the Macquarie’s decks.’

Throughout the entries he includes lines of poetry in an elaborate cursive script, illustrations of passing ships or events on board and hand drawn maps of the voyage. Nearly every entry is signed off wishing her goodnight with a row of kisses.

He writes: ‘We are still labouring along. Yesterdays storm has increased to a gale and we are making no headway whatever. It is awful. Goodness only knows what is in store for us further on…I wonder how my little sweetheart is getting on at Yarrundi [Ferris’s house in Waverley]. Do you think I have forgotten you kiddie. You make a great mistake if you do.’

The ‘journal letter’ concludes in March 1899 not long before the Macquarie would reach England. Luckily the historical records reveal a postscript — the couple were wed in Sydney in 1909. We know that they had a long marriage (30 years, long for those days!) and were together when Catherine died in 1942. They had two daughters, ​Betty and Mary.

The Library is appealing to any surviving family members to come forward to help provide more information, and hopefully unearth more love letters between Norman and Catherine.

If you have information to share, please email