Husband to wife, 1812

Letters from the Past

Alexander Craig in Bonny Glen, Ireland
to his wife Ann in Gatehouse of Fleet, Scotland, in 1812


Eunice Shanahan

We were contacted by a visitor to our site who had done a websearch for Ann Craig of Syllodioch, and found our letter written BY this lady TO her husband. Click this link to read that letter.

The visitor told us that he had a letter written TO Ann Craig FROM her husband, and he was going to sell it on e-bay.We checked it out and bid for it and luckily were successful. So here is an interesting link. It was written two years before our other letter, and this time Alex is in Ireland, and writing to Ann to keep her informed about what is going on.

The letter is dated 15 Aug 1812 but has no dated postmark, only the straight-line name stamp of DONEGAL in red. Charge marks are 10 in black and that has been added to by the 1/6 in red ink indicating it has been paid. It is written on heavy paper with an undated, unnamed watermark of a Crown and Post horn including a stylised design like a logo at the bottom.

It is addressed to
Mrs Craig Syllodioch
Gatehouse of Fleet
Then underneath
P. Donaghadee.

This refers to the mail service at the time this letter was written, between Northern Ireland and Scotland (Donaghadee to Port Patrick). This was the shortest crossing, being only 20 miles between the two countries, but it was the least used of the services because of the remoteness of the two ports and the poor road conditions to reach them. Until 1825 the Post Office hired small sailing barks to provide a weekly Mail Packet Service.

No handstamps were ever used on this service,(unlike mail using the Milford Service), so letters sent using this service can only be identified if (as in this case), it has a manuscript reference.

So now for the transcript of the letter which is mostly very legible, just the odd word usually the name of a place is hard to decipher. He puts the date and place at the end of the letter, rather than the beginning.

My dear Ann
I think it probable Mr Murray will leave this place for Derry on Tuesday, embark on Wednesday, wait on Dr. Richardson at Portrush on Thursday, & examine his Fowin(?)Farm? Meadows & look at the Giants Causeway on Friday reembark & be at the Roughpoint on Sunday; If the wind be moderate & from the west or North the above arrangements may be easily accomplished on Sunday when you may be on the look out for us, but if the wind be contrary or a calm our voyage may be prolonged a day or two.

Note: When I checked these places on the atlas they seemed to be too far apart to be reached in the times/days he mentions. Portrush and the Giant's Causeway are in the north and Derry and Roughpoint are in the west, and then Donaghadee is on the north east coast. The roads at that time were not the best but as Alex mentions in the letter, at least in August the weather was favourable.

I expected to have had the pleasure of a letter from you this morning but the post boy has just arrived without any & as there will be no more arrivals till Tuesday I shall have no chance of hearing of your welfare & the bairns until I am setting out on my return, I trust however that Lillias has got the better of her complaint by this time & that you are all going on in your usual way. The weather has been very favourable for the survey of the estate, there having been no rain until yesterday, we have not yet seen the whole of the property & I suppose will leave the country without looking at some mountain farms which lye detached and the access not convenient.

The final paragraph is an affectionate comment and shows what a good relationship they had, and this is reflected in the second letter written by Ann to Alexander. I still wonder why he was over in Ireland in this letter, and down in London in the second letter. Perhaps he was the Factor, or Estate Manager and it involved travelling for his employer.

I am just going down to breakfast, & as I am in perfectly good health, I shall not postpone the pleasure of eating since I flatter myself that an assurance of my welfare will afford you as much satisfaction as if I had filled the sheet.
Be so good as to let Mrs Farr know that Mr Murray may be expected on Sunday & believe me ever
Yours most affectionately
Alex Craig
Bonnyglen Saturday
15 August 1812
I could not find Bonnyglen in my atlas,but a websearch found it on the internet.
From the website

Bonnyglen in Ulster (region) is a town located in Ireland - about 123 mi (or 198 km) North-West of Dublin, the country's capital town.

NEWSFLASH ! Since the letter was loaded to our website on 25th October, we have been contacted by two different people who are researching either the family or the estate, or both. The first was from David Steel the chairman of the Gatehouse Development Initiative. David gave the following information

Alexander Craig was factor or agent to Alexander Murray the owner of Cally Estate at Gatehouse of Fleet. I think Murray had come of age about 1811 so probably Craig was taking him to view his estates in Donegal and perhaps making a sightseeing visit to the Giant's Causeway on his return.

It would seem that Alexander Murray was returning to Scotland in his own vessel as the Rough point mentioned in the letter would be the nearest place to Cally House where Murray and Craig could land on their return from Ireland.

David kindly gave me access to a paper written by the late J.E.Russell, titled
Syllodioch and the Craig Family.
03 January 2007
Published on the website
follow this link to access the Gatehouse-of-Fleet website.

This included information about Alexander Craig and his wife and children, and gave permission to use bits of it free of copyright.

So the relevant information from this paper for our letters is that

Alexander Craig was born in 1773 and spent his childhood in Ruthwell where his father was a minister. Alexander married in 1808 Ann Ravenscroft the youngest daughter of the Ravenscrofts who had come from America and bought the Cairnsmore in Kirkmabreck parish. Her stated age at death suggests that she was born in 1778 and was five years younger than Alex. Ann was evidently well travelled, as her letters to her husband whilst he was in London show that she had a good knowledge of the shops in that that city. They had two sons who died in infancy, and three daughters, one (Sophia) who died in adolescence and two daughters who survived them and lived to a good age. Alexander Craig died 5th October 1856 aged 81. His wife Ann Ravenscroft died 19th October 1844 aged 66

An interesting fact to me was that Ann Craig was the daughter of Americans who went to Scotland, and this would perhaps explain her very open attitude to her husband and children.

Alexander Craig may have gone to a university, and he seems to have studied law at Edinburgh, as he was described as a Writer to the Signet at his marriage, but his name does not appear in the lists of practicing Writers. He was appointed Factor to Alexander Murray, who had inherited the Broughton, Cally and Killibegs Estates in 1799. He was responsible for running what was said to be the largest Scottish estate without a titled owner. His prime function would be to collect the rents and feus and to pay the estate accounts, including paying the ministers and the estate employees. This included the estates in Donegal.

The second contact was an update from e-mails exchanged in 2008, from Peter Didsbury who is working more closely with the letters rather than the place, as he is researching the Craigs of Syllodioch. He very kindly gave me a transcription of one of his letters written by Ann Craig to her daughters about 6 years after ours was written, which was so interesting and well-written.

Peter has recognised the word we queried the last word on the third line at the beginning of this letter, Fowin(?)Farm?
I've also cracked that word beginning with the letter F. It's ‘Fiorin’, a kind of coarse grass which was being much experimented with at the time, on account of its suitability for moorland, mountain etc. and its supposed high yields of hay. Murray was clearly trying it out on his Irish estates.
He also told us of the pronunciation of Syllodiochwhich is ‘ Sillodjee’, with the stress on the ‘o ’.

We also have an earlier letter addressed to Alexr. Craig Esqre, Academy, Gatehouse of Fleet on 25th December 1803 by Henry Duncan of Ruthwell Manse. It is in another section of our website for postal markings, and this is a Scottish mileage mark of English 'boxed' type Dumfries 341.

Ruthwell Manse, 25th Decr, 1803
My Dear Sandy
I am sorry that I cannot yet give you more favorable accounts of your mother's health than you received from me two days ago. Dr. Smith came down yesterday & leaves us again tomorrow morning. Neither his opinion nor my Brother's is by any means favorable. Tho' she does not appear to be materially worse yet in her present reduced state her not gaining strength is of itself an alarming circumstance. In short, my dear friend your sister is anxious that you should return as soon as possible, your mother has herself expressed a wish to see you again, & if it be not very inconvenient I think you should not delay your coming later than the middle of this week.
I know that you are very much engaged & that circumstances may occur to make it impossible for you to leave Gatehouse immediately, If this be the case I hope you will write by return of post that you may not be expected. I shall at all events write you again on Wednesday that should you be obliged to stay your anxiety may be relieved.
I am, with true regard
Your sincere friend
Henry Duncan

We have since exchanged the information with these people who are researching the Craig family and Gatehouse of Fleet. They are pleased to see these letters, and told me that the 1803 letter is earlier than their records, but an even more interesting fact is that the man who wrote it, Rev. Henry Duncan was noted amongst other things, for starting the Trustee Savings Bank movement, although he was not recognised for this in his lifetime. There is a lot of information about him on the internet.

This exchange of information is such a good use of the internet, as if we had not put these up on our website, their existence would have remained unknown, and we would not have known anything about the places or people mentioned in our letters.

Sources: Alan W. Robertson Great Britain, Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839"

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