Love in the time of Sleeping Sickness

There’s happiness in love                Peter mine
that will raise our souls above,      Peter mine,
Hearts together we will roam
through long ages yet to come
Finding nature Truth our own.      Peter mine!

This fulsome expression of love was written by Geoffrey D. H. Carpenter as part of a poem entitled ‘Peter, my Rock’ included in the early pages of his diary. The ‘Peter’ referred to in the poem is Amy Frances Peter, who Carpenter became engaged to in October 1919. The lines of verse almost seem to map out the future life of the couple, who left England shortly after their marriage on 30. December 1919, ‘hearts together’ and bound for Uganda where Geoff, with his ‘rock’ at his side, was to continue his research into Sleeping Sickness.

Pages from the Carpenter Diary

The Carpenters documented their time in Africa within a shared diary. It is an extraordinary volume replete with photographs, handwritten diary entries from the couple, dried flowers and press cuttings. The diary is a window into colonial life in 1920s Africa, of the contrast between the harsh, sometimes dangerous life of the field researcher and the luxury and privilege of colonial society.

A newspaper cutting included in the diary detailing a fancy dress dance in Entebbe

This contrast is illustrated in the pages of the diary, by wildly disparate entries, often written within a few days of each other. For example, in an extract from 29. October 1929, Geoff describes a ‘long exhausting tramp to see Waiga river’ where he ‘nearly walked into an elephant coming back’. This is juxtaposed with a rather more tame encounter on the following page, where Amy refers to ‘a very jolly afternoon’ they both enjoyed in Kampala ‘at the Bishop’s garden party’.

The diary is also, in its way, a love story. Between news of social events, visits from the Prince of Wales and nasty bouts of malaria, the volume is scattered with small expressions of devotion between husband and wife. For example, in April 1923 Geoff comments that ‘Peter . . . looked a perfect pet’ at a dance they both attended. Elsewhere, in an entry from December 1922 Amy writes of her excitement, following a separation, ‘when the lovely day came for [Geoff] to get home!’. Their deep affection for one another continues on a visit they made to England in the summer of 1926. In one entry dated 3. August, Amy speaks of ‘missing Geoff horribly’ while she was in Bath and he in Oxford. On the very next line Geoff responds with ‘no more than I missed her all the time I was in Oxford!’. Towards the end of their visit home they return to Cornwall and revisit the ‘engagement stone’ where Geoff proposed in 1919. Amy writes of the occasion:

we photographed the Engagement stone, and then my darling and I went down to the actual spot where the best thing in the world happened to me.

Amy and Geoff Carpenter standing next to the ‘Engagement stone’.

Geoff, in answer, writes the words ‘and to me!’

The diary gives an insight into Amy and Geoff Carpenter’s day-to-day life in Uganda in the 1920s, capturing both the mundanity and the adventure in equal measure. Yet, at the same time, it also presents a picture of marital bliss, a story that translates down the years, of two people in love, partners in both life and work, embarking on their journey through life together.

The diary is available in the archives for researchers, please see the archives website for further information on access

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