The core of the collection consists of five exercise books containing hand written transcriptions made by her father of more than 200 letters sent by Constance Douthwaite to her family in Bristol between 1887 and 1896. There are a few letters from Dr Douthwaite, written for the most part when Constance was unable to write herself.
Book 1 of the letters begins with detailed descriptions of Constance's first voyage to China with the Judd family in 1887, and then goes on to recount her first impressions of China and of daily life in an isolated mission station. As the months passed the letters gradually became more and more unhappy as homesickness set in, and Constance had growing doubts over an ill advised engagement into which she had entered before leaving for China. She went back to England in 1889 hoping to resolve the issue of her engagement, and having succeeded in this she returned to China in October 1890 to marry Dr Douthwaite.
The letters in books 2, 3 & 4 are concerned with life and work in the Chefoo mission station, and contain much family and domestic detail, particularly of the development of her children. Constance also gives a series of eyewitness accounts of the Japanese invasion of Shandong Province early in 1895.
In Book 5 Constance finds it hard to conceal her disappointment that a fourth pregnancy means that the family's departure for England would have to be delayed until the new baby was old enough to withstand the rigours of the voyage. Sadly this was never to be, as Constance died in March 1896, four weeks after the birth of a baby boy. The remainder of Book 5 is made up of a series of sad letters from Dr Douthwaite to her parents in Bristol, written as he tried to create a new life for his three motherless children.
The final part of the collection consists of a transcript of Douthwaite's memoir, which covers his life up to 1875 and the completion of his first year in China. There are also transcripts of a few letters from Douthwaite to his family in Sheffield.
The entire collection is supported by a set of appendices, including a brief biography of Anthony Norris Groves, some notes on his descendents, and biographical notes on the many members of the CIM and other missionary organisations which are mentioned in the letters. These are included to help readers make sense of the many references Constance makes to her family and colleagues throughout her letters. A CD of transcripts and the draft catalogue to this collection are also included.