Catherine Call, Isle of Wight

Letters from the Past

Chelmsford to Cowes 1804,
Two personal letters from a military man.

These two letters were written by a soldier to his promised girl friend. The first is addressed to Miss Catherine Call, West Cowes Isle of Wight, the second to Miss Katherine Call. The surname looks like Call, but when we contacted Alan Champion on the Isle of Wight, he suggested that the name is actually Cull. We have no other letters to or from the Isle of Wight, so it has been interesting researching the background.

I found much information about this island and this brief summary is from the Wikipedia entry.

The Isle of Wight is the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between 2 and 5 miles off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and landscape of fields, downland and chines. The island has been home to the poets Swinburne and Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. The island has a maritime and industrial tradition including boat-building, sail-making, the manufacture of flying boats, the hovercraft, and Britain's space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, which in 1970 was the largest rock music event ever held. It has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.

I have managed to obtain one old and one recent postcard of the Isle of Wight showing different scenes and buildings. This older postcard was written in Dutch and addressed to the Netherlands, and fortunately, an e-mail contact of ours from that country was able to translate it for us.

The beauty spots are Blackgang Chine, Luscombe Common and Culver Cliff,

The Needles from Alum Bay Cliff and Osborne House, Shanklin Chine in the centre.

Neither of the letters has a date or a name or an address of the writer, but the postmarks show that they were posted in Chelmsford Essex, as they have boxed mileage marks for that town, and they have dated postmarks of 29 JUN 1804 and 30 JUN 1804. The letters begin with no salutations or greeting, and they are both full of sentimental chat, which is surprising from a serving army officer. He is apparently stationed in barracks somewhere near Chelmsford, but the Essex Record Office has advised me that they have no records of such a barracks. The first letter has a a very clear boxed mileage mark of CHELMSFORD 29 , a good London morning duty date stamp in red for Jun 29 1804, and a charge mark of 8 in manuscript. It also has another manuscript mark at the bottom left of the address panel, but I cannot decipher it. The 8 is a correct amount for a single letter over a distance of between 80 and 120 miles, and this is made up of the 29 miles Chelmsford to London, then the 84 miles from London to Cowes. There is also a very faint mileage mark which could possibly be PORTSMOUTH.

The first two paragraphs show that he is missing his fiancée and that he is writing to her regularly to prove it.
What will my own dear Kate say when she hears that General Finch has positively refused to grant me leave for a fortnight, he says that it is absolutely necessary that I should be at quarters on Sundays & that if I wish to over stay that time I must apply to the Duke of York, which I have accordingly done, so that I have still hopes of seeing my own love. If I find it impossible to get leave for a fortnight, I must content myself with a flying visit, but how mortifying it will be to go to you only for a day or two which I am apprehensive must be the case. In short Kate, this world is full of miseries & I find the only thing is to support them with fortitude. I was indulging my fancy with the pleasure I was about to receive when alas my hopes vanish, was it not the case when I wished to go to Wycomb, my leave & everything arranged and one single insignificant being put an end to my prospects.

Why should my lovely Baby suppose I don’t love her as much as ever, be sure never was Man more constant or more warm in his attachment. When I was at Binfield I wrote to you & have never missed writing every second day. When I reproached you with neglect, I did it in a different way, but however I hope you were only in jokes, for it is not always very easy to know whether or not you are in earnest. I shall be frightened to death till I hear Lord Corcoran has brought you safe home. I don’t like the back of the Isle of Wight, as I know it is infested with French privateers so do not venture too much, recollect you have not only your own property to take care of, as I now have everything but possession. I called on your Brother before I left Town, he had gone the morning before. I hope he has delivered the Book. I expect your remarks detailed otherwise I shall not know whether you have read it.

Note: Britain was at war with the French and the privateers were active - The Grand old Duke of York was still alive and General Finch, 1793-1861 (the second son of the Earl of Aysleford), was active.

The letter continues

About going the lanes of the Island dearest I will do as you like, I know the Island very well so that you have better take Mamas & the two children’s convenience. I hope Mama is quite well, I shall be quite unhappy if she is not recovered, say a thousand handsome things to her & your sister at your own discretion, whatever you think they will like most. I know you have a good invention & a happier mode of expressing yourself than Mr Crump, My Baby in her letter says I am very vain & conceited, I should be glad to know what has drawn this animadversion from her, I request it be m? (? as the letter is torn) as I make every effort to conceal my vanity I must have an uncommon quantity not to succeed better. You have never explained the meaning of my seal you are too conceited to acknowledge you can't find it out. I have a great many things to quarrel with you about, I have made out a list of them so that I am determined to go to the Isle of Wight in spite of old Finch & every body else.

Note: the image shows that the letter is ‘crossed’ the next paragraph is written across the first page, and can be read if the page is turned 90 degrees.

I wish to God you were not so far off & that Mama would send you packing to Wycomb. I would then see and quarrel with you every other week. I spoke to Bayly today about going to Wycomb and I think I shall be able to manage. If so Mama must give you over to me, as I shall not be able to leave Bix (?) College when once there, & we shall have the two months of vacation to our selves. What say you to this Baby? never mind George’s birth Day the sooner the better when old Tom has finished his business.
Adieu old love. C.

Note: I have been unable to find out the name of the writer, but he signs himself with just the letter C, although in the letter he mentions Mr Crump, in reference to himself.

Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a summer home and rural retreat. Prince Albert designed the house himself in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The builder was Thomas Cubitt, the London architect and builder whose company built the main façade of Buckingham Palace for the royal couple in 1847. An earlier smaller house on the site was demolished to make way for a new and far larger house, though the original entrance portico survives as the main gateway to the walled garden. Queen Victoria died at Osborne House in January 1901. Following her death, the house became surplus to royal requirements and was given to the state, with a few rooms being retained as a private museum to Queen Victoria. From 1903 until 1921 it was used as a junior officer training college for the Royal Navy, known as the Royal Naval College, Osborne. In 1998 training programmes consolidated at the Britannia Royal Naval College, now at Dartmouth, thus vacating Osborne House. The House is now open to the public for tours.

This ex-royal residence is so well-known that it appears on most of the pictorial postcards of the Isle of Wight, and is the top left of the six pictures on this more recent postcard.copyright J. Salmon Ltd., Sevenoaks, Kent Tel (01732)452381 2 59 00 14. The others shown from the left, top row, Whippingham, and Mottistone Manor. The bottom row shows Bembridge Mill, Carisbrooke Castle and Bonchurch.

The second letter also has the CHELMSFORD boxed mileage stamp, is post marked 30 Jun 1804 in London, but the charge mark of 8 and the additional manuscript mark, which is illegible. Like the first letter, it has no address, or greeting, but starts straight into it, and is obviously a reply to one that Miss Cull has sent to him.

I received Mamas and Kate’s letters this morning. So my Baby did not go round the Island because she thought I disliked it, I regret a thousand times that my miserable joke should have deprived her of the pleasure. I can assure you that I am very fond of the water and by no means a coward, never my own Kate, let me be in the way of any of your amusements. I have too firm reliance on your dear wise head, to be apprehensive of your ever or on any occasion acting wrong, believe me, Kate sincere in this declaration & I will allow you to keep this passage to reproach me with in case, & any if I ever contradict myself.

I sincerely regret your dear Mothers illness tell her so, any being so near you my sweet Baby interests me truly. I hope to God I shall get my leave that I may have an opportunity of thanking her for her good & kind letter to me, to be sure seeing my little Bird will be a very secondary pleasure. What says she to that.

Note: the image shows that this is also crossed, but the crossed writing is the continuation of the letter from the last page.]

He continues his letter with trying to justify himself against the criticisms of Katherine’s sister. His writing style is very ponderous, but nearly 200 years ago letter writing was much more prevalent, and the only means of keeping in touch with someone who was not near enough to visit.

So Sister Fanny has picked my letter to pieces, tell her from me that it is easier to write with familiarity & warmth to a Mother which she was doing, than for me to write to a person with whom unfortunately I may sincerely say I am but slightly acquainted, particularly at the moment that I wrote when I was by no means certain that my suit was favourably received, Mama’s last letter was dictated by sincere Friendship. My ground is consequently very different from what it was. I should have had no right to address her with familiarity, it would in my opinion have been ill judged, & I am tempted to suppose Mama would have seen it in that light. Let me know whether my reasons are good. I will be judged by Kate & no body else. Give my compliments to that young Lady if you happen to know her, I desire she will give her impartial judgement. I can assure you upon my honor, I have a great opinion of her understanding & if she says I am guilty, I will submit to her sentence without appeal, as I consider her the highest & most sacred tribunal in the world.
He then stopped writing that day, and continues the next.

Friday arrived and no answer to my application for leave of absence besides the chance of being on the general Court Martial at Colchester (where Aylmer is) all conspires to disappoint me of seeing my beloved Kate on Monday, if I am not chained down, I am however determined not to disappoint myself nor to run the smallest chance of disappointing my Baby, won’t it be so to you, I hope it would.

How much my Baby interests herself about her Brother. I am surprised your dear arguments have not greater weight, I know they always carry conviction to me. I call’d on your Brother in Town, there was no one at his rooms. I am sorry he has not sent you the Book as the copy was made up in the prettiest manner by my Brother on purpose for you, with notes in his own hand writing. When George found he could not carry it to Kate, he ought to have sent it by the Coach. Tell sister Fanny not to be so severe on me, that I am a good soul at bottom, and that in stealing her sister, I have only done what many others would have wished to do & that perhaps Kate & I shall get on as well as

Note, this is where the letter is continued in cross writing on the first page of the letter…

those who fancy themselves more favoured by fortune, at least we will try our best, & no one can do more.
Till Monday, when Kate will either hear from, or see Mr Crump.

When I first began research for this letter, nearly 20 years ago, I could find nothing about the Court Martial, mentioned in the second letter, but have since found records of it on 3 different websites.

First was this information from a website of the Royal Collection Trust

Proceedings of a General Court Martial, held at Colchester on Friday the 29th Day of June 1804 and continued by adjournments till 17th July 1804 [held on the conduct of Lieut.-Col. Robert Rollo Gillespie of the 20th (or Jamaica) Regt.] 1804 19.0 x 2.0 cm (book measurement (inventory)) | RCIN 1085843
So that gave me the name of the person who was involved in the General Court Martial, and a further search brought up information from the Message boards from in 1999. There is a lot more information on the site, but this information has no relevance for our letters, other than stopping Mr Crump from going to see his lady on the Isle of Wight. However, Gillespie was a well-known personage at the time. He met his death in India. There is more information about him on this Wikipedia page, which finishes up with these paragraphs.

In 1814, at the beginning of the Anglo-Nepalese War, he led a column to attack a Nepalese hill fort at Kalunga, in the Battle of Nalapani, repulsing a Gurkha counter-attack. Gillespie then tried to follow them back into the fort with a dismounted party of the 8th Dragoons. Although this failed, Gillespie renewed the attack with companies of the 53rd Foot. Thirty yards from the fort he shouted the words, "One shot more for the honour of Down" and charged with the men when a Nepalese sharpshooter shot him through the heart and he died within seconds of falling. With his death the attack faltered causing the next senior officer to call a retreat.

He was posthumously knighted with a K.C.B. on 1 January 1815


A large statue of Major General Sir Rollo Gillespie was constructed under the oversight of John Fraser, the first County Surveyor of Down, and was unveiled on 24 June 1845 (St. John’s Day) in the Town Square of Comber. Fifty lodges of the Masonic Order were present, in what is believed to be the biggest Masonic gathering in Irish history. It was calculated that 25,000 to 30,000 people crowded into the town to witness the ceremony. The column is 55 feet high. At the foot of the column are many Masonic symbols and his famous last words “One shot more for the honour of Down”.

Presumably, the result of the Court Martial did not affect his reputation.
NEWSFLASH! A visitor to our website has very kindly identified the writer of these two letters and taken the trouble to share her information about this couple with me.

I have just been reading the letters from a soldier in Chelmsford to his fiancée on the Isle of Wight in 1804 and it intrigued me enough to do a little bit of research. The writer mentions Binfield, which is a place in Berkshire not too far from me. He also mentions someone called Aylmer, who seems to be a fellow officer.

This has convinced me that the writer is Henry Mackinnon, later Maj General Henry Mackinnon (1773-1812). The family owned a house at Binfield.

This was the really good news:-

4th Oct 1804 Henry Mackinnon and Catherine Call married at St George’s Hanover Square, London. Lord Aylmerwas one of the witnesses. (source: ancestry).

Catherine certainly had a sister called Fanny (still unmarried in 1804) and another sister called Louisa, married to Lord Aylmer, who was an officer in the army at that time. Lord Aylmer was a witness at their wedding. I think Henry and Aylmer were both in the Coldstream Guards but someone who is better in military history then me would need to check that. Henry and Catherine had two sons but in 1812 Henry, by then a Maj General, was killed at the Battle of Cuidad Rodrigo. He was a national hero and there is a memorial to him in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Catherine Call, daughter of Sir John Call and Philadelphia Battie, his wife. Sir John had died in 1801 so Lady Call was a widow in 1804.

Catherine was baptised May 23rd 1785 St George the Martyr, Queens Square, London (source: ancestry)

Sister Louisa (1778 -1862) married Matthew, 5th Lord Aylmer (later Maj Gen) in 1801.

Sister Frances (Fanny) married Sir Charles Cunningham -Fairlie in 1806.

In 1804 Catherine and her mother and sister (probably Frances) spent the summer on the Isle of Wight.

As far as I can work out Henry Mackinnon was fighting in the Peninsular War from 1809 to his death in 1812, with one furlough to the UK in 1811. There is quite a detailed obituary of him in The Scotsman, which is available on the British Newspaper Archive. He sounds like a very talented and courageous soldier.

His wartime journal was also published by Catherine and others after his death, and this is available to download. (A Journal of the Campaign in Portugal and Spain by Henry Mackinnon, Pickle Partners publishing).. He comes over in the journal as a very nice and intelligent man, interested in everything he found in Spain and Portugal. But unfortunately he doesn’t really mention his wife and family.

Henry was killed in the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo on Jan 19th 1812. The accounts mention his ADC Captain Call was with him, who I think may be Catherine‘s brother, George. Catherine was pregnant when Henry was killed and gave birth to her third son, Henry, in May 1812 in Bath. There is a memorial to Henry in St Paul’s Cathedral.

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