Anne ( 1841-1928) and Matilda Lucas (1849-1943) were the daughters of Samuel Lucas, a brewer with land and influence in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Lucas family were Quakers. Their mother had died when they were young and after their father’s death in 1870 the sisters continued to live for a short time with their step-mother. But then, in mid-1871, they left England for Rome, where, for the next 29 years, they were to spend much of the year. Ten years after her sister’s death, Matilda Lucas published excerpts from the letters sent over the years by the sisters to friends and relations back in England. Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871-1900 (Methuen, 1938) makes very entertaining reading.
Rome. November 23, 1878.
There is no reason now to complain that events do not happen, for with thunderstorms, floods, popular demonstrations, and Orsini bombs, we are living in a perpetual whirl of excitement; so that a woman going mad last Sunday on the Spanish Steps, and a man killed yesterday in sight of our windows, seem quite in the natural order of things.
First the thunder-storm last Wednesday week. It was terrific and raged all night. The rain came down like a water-spout, as it only can rain in Rome. It came through our roof, and basins and pans were put all about to catch it; the staircase was a cascade. Our ruffian Augusto was had in to help and was quite in his element.
In spite of the rain, as soon as lunch was over we put on our ulsters and rushed out to see the river. It was coming down tremendously. The people were crowding the bridges. The water had got into some of the streets, but the flood had not reached its height. On Friday the floods were much higher and on Saturday still higher. The Bowen’s palazzo was invaded by the water. Shops were shut on the Corso, and people saved their goods. All night the latest telegrams from Orte were being shouted in the streets. The Tiber works were so much money thrown away. The people were hard at work down by the Farnesina strengthening part of the works, but the water burst in on them and they had to run for their lives. One if not more bodies were carried into Rome from the Campagna. I suppose peasants who had been surprised by the water. It was not so bad as in 1870, when bodies of men and animals came down the Corso, and people could not get out of their houses to buy provisions.
We called together our walking academy on Saturday and made the round of the different bridges, the Ghetto, and the ruins. Carts were acting as ferry-boats and taking people through the flood for a soldo a crossing. The Pantheon looked very grand reflected in the water. Victor Emmanuel’s grave was under water, but Pio Nono was quite safe over his doorway. We had no difficulty in getting about, having to make only a few detours to avoid the inundations. The Temple of Vesta and the Arch of Janus had water round them, and there was a good deal in the Forum.
See here for more about the flooding Tiber