" Sir Robert Anstruther of Balcaskie to
Mr Charles Stewart W.S. of Edinburgh, 1809. "


Eunice Shanahan

This letter has three postal markings. First, the office where the letter was lodged, it is very poorly applied, but under magnification, I think it could be PITTENWEEM 443 E circular mileage town stamp. This is next to Anstruther in Fife, and the information about Balcaskie says it overlooks St Monance, which is the next town to Pittenweem.

Second, the post mark received at Edinburgh 2 days later is the type in use 1807 to 1812. However, the illustration on page 43 in the Willcock’s book “The Postal History of Great Britain and Ireland” shows the date in the middle of the stamp in a small box, whereas the example on this letter is clearly not a box, but more like an oval.

The note is “ It was not until 1801 that date stamps containing the year were used at Edinburgh. Struck in red, except where noted. Fig. 509 Several sizes and varieties. Year three or four figures, curved or straight. Month in two or three letters”.

Third, the rate of 6 pence covered a distance of between 30 and 50 miles at this time, and this would be correct if the letter was lodged and handled from Pittenweem. The map in Haldane’s book Three centuries of Scottish Posts shows that it was on a route covered by a horse post or a gig ride, so two days is probably the time it would take to cover that distance.

So now to the letter. It is quite long and most of it is easily transcribed, but he uses Latin terms, which must have been in use at that time in Scotland, and any I have been unsure of I have put in brackets and underlined in red on the images. :-

Balcaskie 7th April 1809
I omitted in answering yours of 1st inst to say that as tutor to my Gdchildren I hope you would take care to have the £96 remitted to Frazer in order to equalize the dividends received at the Bank as he says. As GdFather only to these children I tell you that that, and every other shilling you pay for these children or their mother, must be stated to acct and not to my Acct. My reason for insisting on this keeping separate and distinct Accts of these children is that I see, from the rough Stile of the Widows (Aycots?) a rupture is most likely to take place and I wish to be prepared for defence the best I can. His proposed mode of remitting money to his Client in Scotland savours strongly of the Commodulum Curie (a small bit at a time)(?) but I agree with you it may be prudent to give him his way at first, as religionists give the Devil a Sop to keep him from mischief.

This next sentence does not make much sense, but the words in brackets are difficult to decipher.
I wish you had given me sooner warning of Mr.Horn’s rapidity in getting his former Clients ready to receive so large a payt,so I might have delayed a little the (reversing?) some of my own (Crown?) to receive their monies, as Form Days and our Collector of Taxes will be upon me next week.
Having occasion after that to be at Burntisland I shall send you from thence Drafts on the Banks for £1100 but can not promise the other £500 till 2 June, when my rents are all paid for Whitn.(Whitsun)

This next paragraph explains the financial problems the lady is likely to face, and he obviously has no faith in her ability to cope financially.

In your letter of 29th ult, you say that Mrs F will need the Carriage and horses for her own use. I do not see how the Tutors can in conscience take upon them to make such a present out of their pupils funds, especially as they appear to be so very narrow; and it also appears to me her funds at the very utmost they can be supposed are able to afford £300 pr ann which is the very least it will cost her for Coachman Carriage, horses, taxes and upholding Art.2d and 3d and I know of no income she is sure of but £500 and perhaps £192 from her Brother’s funds, for no pension is yet gazetted and hiring a house, paying Taxes &c will cut deep upon her £692 who has no more knowledge than her youngest Child of how little length money can now go in keeping house with a large establishment. She speaks of leaving this 1st May previous to which I shall give her a broad hint to consider the odds of her finances, now unhappily sunk from full £3200 of which not one Pound appears to have been saved, so a huge retrenchment must be or she will soon be involved in all the difficulties her Father labour’d under at last.

I (?dread) several small Claims may yet appear ex her husband, but independent of these can not make out £75 of clear income that will remain to Her two youngest Children and not upon to (pour?) Sulphur(?) nor an Acre of land unless I please, which I probably shall do, if I am allowed to bring him up as I did his father, and Uncles, but if he be trained in spite of me, in the fashionable Stile of Cattlemastership, I, thanks to God am at no loss to find Him in the same degree of relationship to all I profess as may live to acquire. If I’m drove to this, his Tutors are to blame; they can order who shall have the entire direction of bringing up their Wards, if they will not give it to me alone.

This next paragraph is amazing, and just goes to show that humanity does not change over the centuries, any generation always criticises the previous and the next ones. The writer of this letter was 75 when he wrote it, and obviously living in his past with those contemporary standards.

In a former letter you told me that Boys till 14 and Girls till 12 were under the guidance of Tutors and these came under that of Curators; To be sure I have heard of such a law among the Romans, but what I wanted to know was the direction of their upbringing was till these Ages entrusted to the mother or to the nearest of him on the paternal Side by the law of Scotland. Common Sense seems to point out that from nine months, the usual stage of weaning, a woman’s charge of infants must end, themselves being in Perpetua Tortela(***) and then either Tutors or the nearest Agnate (*) of Legal Age is called to the direction, till they can choose Curators Bonis; it is too late after 2 or 3 years old to begin forming their flexible minds, for by living this foolish indulgence, allowed after that age to follow their own (muhco?) humours, they acquire rooted habits of sulkiness, (ricuage?) Pride and all the other horrid vices incident to human nature, which once firmly planted, can hardly ever be eradicated afterwards. Hence we see from the Throne to the lowest rank of fashion so very few young people possessing the smallest shadow of Virtue in their Character.

(***) Note, I received this very helpful comment from Dr. Marjie Bloy in the UK.


In the Balcaskie letter, I think the Latin is perpetua tutela, which translates as “permanent guardianship over women”, or words to that effect. Latin was compulsory for the upper classes in the 18th and early 19th century, a lot of lectures were still delivered in Latin at OxBridge (eek!), and everyone who was educated knew the Classics, Latin and Greek. They threw in appropriate phrases whenever they could.

I can only suppose that Anstruther was Anglican, since only Anglicans could go to Oxbridge, and Scottish Universities didn’t teach Latin.


Mr Anstruther then reverts to financial matters, which is something more for him to worry about.

I have no guess who is the present Laird of the Dunns, Ralph or me, but when I send you the promised Drafts on the Banks for £1100 be sure to state it as so much borrowed to pay that purchase; an ill timed one it has been, and a most perplext affair it must turn out to me and mine; We must make the best we can of it.

In body and mind I (falls?) off very sensibly every week and am quite at a loss how to extricate myself from so many plagues as surround me. All thought of further purchases must be suspended, till the impending Clouds be cleared away at least. If you be in Fife I’d need a long talk with you upon these subjects, meantime, am
Your very humble Servant
Rob: Anstruther.

There is a filing note inside by the recipient that the letters is from Sir Robert Anstruther

NOTES: Curator bonis from Wikipedia

In Scots and Roman-Dutch laws, a curator bonis is a legal representative appointed by a court to manage the finances, property, or estate of another person unable to do so because of mental or physical incapacity. The corresponding office in common law is that of conservator or guardian of the property.

(*) Agnate There are different meanings for this word, but the first one seems most likely in the context of this letter. As a noun, a relative on the father’s side. As opposed to enate (someone related on the mother’s side)

I could find no information about the title Laird of the Dunns and it may be a local nickname for a position of authority.

This information about Sir Robert is an extract from the website
thePeerage.com A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe Person Page 10993

Sir Robert Anstruther of Balcaskie, 3rd Bt. was born on 19 April 1733. He was the son of Sir Philip Anstruther of Balcaskie, 2nd Bt. and Catherine Hay. He was baptised on 21 April 1733 in Carnbee, Fife, Scotland. He married Lady Janet Erskine, daughter of Alexander Erskine, 5th Earl of Kellie and Janet Pitcairn, on 17 August 1763. He died on 2 August 1818 at age 85 in Balcaskie, Fife, Scotland. He was buried in Carnbee, Fife. He succeeded to the title of 3rd Baronet Anstruther, of Wrae, co. Linlithgow [N.S., 1694] on 27 May 1763.

Balcaskie House. This beautiful image is by Duartmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2440553.

A mansion house with a garden and fine views looking out over the Firth of Forth, situated in the East Neuk of Fife a mile north of St Monance.Originally the site of a tower house, Balcaskie was remodelled by Sir William Bruce, Surveyor-General of the Royal Works in Scotland, who owned the property from 1665 to 1684. In 1698 Balcaskie came into the hands of the Anstruthers who still live in the house. Bruce’s garden was the first formally-designed garden to be created in Scotland and the driveway from the west was designed by W.S. Gilpin in 1826.

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