In a letter from Umvoti, July 1850, to Mrs James Bailey, Rev Grout gives a clear picture of the isolation endured by the American missionaries on their rural stations:
Having written thus far, I went to Mr. L. Grant’s station to attend a meeting of the contiguous missionaries to see if we might not form ourselves into a sort of association for mutual improvement but as it happened instead of six or seven members present as we had hoped, we had but three. The distance is such that starting at about nine in the morning, I arrived only at about four in the afternoon riding on horseback, and this perhaps my nearest missionary neighbor, though two others, Mr. Tyler and Abraham will be about the same distance from me.Agricultural skills or a knowledge of crafts such as building and carpentry were often of more value in the mission field than an academic education. Aldin Grout, like most missionaries, was able to undertake a variety of practical tasks. In 1848 he describes his building operations at Umvoti:
If my house when done is not as well finished as a workman would do it yet I swear that every part of it shall be strong, durable, and comfortable. The walls are of brick made of ant hill dried in the sun. My boys [i.e. Africans living at the mission] have made them all. I have an L to the house, but that was built first by itself. Then a little more than half of the main house was commenced, joining upon the kitchen. The walls of that part are now up, the roof timbers on ... Thus far have I progressed my work. When the totality is done, then comes plastering and laying floors. That done I design to move into that part and put up the other part. I submit to this slow and tedious way of building for two reasons. 1st I cannot hire workmen to build me a comfortable house for the amount allowed me for that purpose and 2nd I am in the mean time going on with my missionary work …Parental anxieties were compounded by the family’s isolated situation:
Our children have both colds & coughs. Humphrey was so poorly last Sabbath that Charlotte stopped at home with him all day and in the afternoon I stopped with her giving him medicine and witnessing its duration. We were quite alarmed about him, but as no doctor was nearer than forty-five miles it was of no use to think of calling one, and our only alternative was to do our best and commend our case to the great [God?]. We now think them both better and hope in a few days to see them about again.As the year 1850 approached, Natal became the focus of British emigration schemes, notably that of Joseph Byrne: 20 ships carrying about 2 700 settlers arrived at the port between May 1849 and April 1850. Other smaller private schemes followed in their wake. No doubt missionary families like the Grouts read in the local press about these interesting developments, and pondered over the inevitable changes such an influx of emigrants would bring to Natal.