Letters from the past

“ Edward Fraser to James Baillie Fraser Esq., 1826
A 19th century family letter,the Frasers of Reelick, Inverness ”

This letter is one of twentyone we have for the Frasers of Reelick or Reelig, most of them are written to James Baillie Fraser, and this was written by his father Edward Fraser who lived at No 14 Edwards Square, Kensington, London. There is only one postal marking on the letter, the charge mark 4˝d. which indicates the distance of not exceeding 15 miles. It has no date stamp, only the charge mark, which includes the additional halfpenny for the Scottish mail tax. From the contents it seems as though the letter MUST have been written from London. Inverness is 651 miles from London and that cost would have been 1/4d, (one shilling and four pence) which raises these questions:-

  • a) is there a 1 before the 4˝? It does not appear to have one.
  • b) why are there no London postmarks, or Edinburgh postmarks.
  • Could it possibly have gone privately by ship? But the coastal rate would have been 8d, port to port.

    There is another question :

  • c) The writer mentions that he will not post the letter until the 30th on which day he will have a frank.
  • That is really mystifying, as he should not have been entitled to the franking privilege, and if he had managed to obtain one in any way, that should have been indicated on the letter, which it is not.

    The address appears to be James B Fraser Esq, then Yr which may be to represent Younger, of Reelick Inverness

    I have put in this illustration, of the whole of the front page, which shows how the letter would have been folded to go through the mail, and that he had written on both ‘ears’ or ‘wings’ of the letter, and this writing would have been invisible once the letter was folded and sealed

    The letter is very closely written over 3 full pages and wherever he found a space. It is full of interesting information of events happening locally and internationally, The writing is very legible and is in a really good condition for paper that is almost 200 years old. It begins with an interesting note with the address, about the date.

    Because of the length of the letter and the references made to so many events in this letter, I have annotated the letter in paragraphs, and put all the information at the end of the letter.

    Para 1

    Nr 14 Edwards Square, Kensington
    Aug 26 1826 sent 30th

    My Dear James
    It seems to me as if I had not for a long period written you, but unless to say that our health is steady, and that we are very comfortable, we have a little subject for a letter, your mother however wrote you lately. Neither private nor public news have occurred from India our latest from George are to 7 Feb. The latest public accounts are by the ship from Madras of date 16 March, but nothing transpires. Both should soon arrive.to late and interesting dates.


    (this last part of the sentence is perfectly clearly written but seems to make no sense).

    Para 2

    Parliament has been prorogued 2 months or more. The general understanding was that on account of the precarious health of the King & Duke the Prorogations would only be from month to month. We suppose now that the King is in present safe health, but the Duke is considered to be in a serious state. Hydrothorax and ossification of the heart have been both mentioned, but that there is ASCITES is most authentically current, and at 63, a complication of disease is awful, this matter of deep regret. We learn too that Clarence is in very precarious health.

    Para 3
    Now truly, the country much requires steady & vigilant Government and for some years yet. I hope no change may happen for many years. Both the foreign & domestic Machinery needs able and virtuous Managers. We have here the eternal paradox of idle capital and bad times, Splendor & misery, yet certainly the Stagnation of Credit, & want of market &consumption operate to deadly mischief, shewn in numberless ways. Among the evidence of diminished means for luxury and reasonable expenditure, the falling off of public prints is striking. The circulation of the Newspaper is lessened from 3 to 1. The printers are not employed about 1 in 10 of what were two years ago. Buildings begin to be checked. Builder’s speculations having except in particular cases, fallen into Solicitor’s hands, a whole Square completed nearly for inhabiting in our own neighbourhood has been sold by auction, piece meal. I find a rumour here (I hope not true) that Belladrum (?) is sold for £80,000 to John Stewart. I shall the less regret having quitted the Aird. The dissolution, or even the unhinging of old ties is distressing, and the more so, the older we grow.

    Para 4
    By the way, I have adopted one symptom of age lately, with much benefit, Spectacles. I find much comfort and pleasure in the use of them, and in the probable extension of the pleasures and duties of reading and writing.


    Para 5
    We have undergone yesterday a most awful, most splendid thunderstorm. I seldom have witnessed any thing near to it – a Gentleman now here, who is just arrived from the Cape after Eighteen years residence there assured me that he never experienced the like I have no authentic evidence of any Mischief done by it. It was accompanied by so little rain, that the Earth here was not refreshed. In some places at some miles off, there were torrents of rain, our thermometer was at 84 before the Lightning began, it is now at 68. Our grapes & peaches are ripe and plenty – and cheap of course – Yet we sleep with open windows and without blankets or quilts.

    Para 6
    Really your mother is in stout health – but abuses it sometimes with scampers to Chelsea, Sloane Street & Grosvenor square, & Russel square. Sometimes takes the Public coach, often not, always walks out or home. I am sometime obliged to be of the party, however I may object to the exertion she makes.

    Para 7
    For my own part, I am regular in my ways, ride early, write & read till the Breakfast calls me, then generally return to book or pen or both for two hours. Other times walk till 4 or 5 according to heat or coolness, I vary the times, We took a fancy lately to make a wandering day together, we were set down at the Temple bar, went all over the Temple, then called on Polson at New Lincoln’s Inn Square. Visited Alexr, the Intelligencer’s nieces at Lincolns Inn Fields, walked onto Miss Linwood’s exhibition – then to the operations at Spring gardens and around Charing Cross – thro the Park, to Capt (tongthe’s?) and through Lord Grosvenor’s new operations to Cadogan Place & across the fields home. We had before been a day to Chantry with the McIntoshs a great treat indeed – We had also been another day to Angerstein & the King’s Picture &c. Our next object is the museum privately with the McIntoshs, Sir James & his family seem to expect us – and are of course from connexion happy to receive & visit your mother.

    Para 8
    I suppose your Killin Journal is on the way I desired your mother to forbid your sending us any for me, until Frost authorized it – She sent you my idea of our requisitions from the North – If Eggs can be well collected and packed – so as not to be (maesty?). They are a real treat. If they were sent at two collections it were better.

    Para 9
    Among political occurrences, there is one important feature – a Treaty between France and Brazil of a most liberal tenor – We look curiously too for Lord Cochrane’s operations and at this crisis of the Ottoman’s dissolution of the Janissaries, a serious advantage might arise to the Greeks, but if not seized the Turks may rise with renovated strength from that change in her force, and even be enabled to maintain her present hold in Europe, but also may come nearer to the verge of Civilization, and reform even of religion.

    Para 10

    Ministers have a great interval for preparation for the ensuing campaign in Parliament – and many new circumstances may meantime occur to govern their operations. It seems to me, that there never was a time so big with the fate of Nations and Monarchs and Britain has her hands full at home, and afield for all her eyes abroad. Whatever be the vaunted superiority or prosperity of Britain, I do believe that there never was a period when the Mass of her population was so miserable. In point of substantial happiness, the poorest quarters of the Empire seem to be in the fairest state – those where artificial wants are fairest, and where manufacture are not. Ireland is an exception perhaps, but not difficult to be accounted for.
    Para 11
    I hope the harvest which has been so admirably got in may prove abundant in flour & meal. There will probably be importations of Barley for Malt, & oats for Horses in England & more in Scotland, but not at a dear rate. I trust that popular commotion will not ferment again. I hear nothing new as to your works – and I see no great good in my visiting your people with enquiries, unless in a very casual way– I heard of some of the Kimala copies selling at Bookseller’s sale – very low.
    Para 12
    Pray tell me, how & by whom, & to whom has the Collectorship of Customs at Inverness been disposed of, Charles Robertson, I imagine, if it lies with Robert Grant, But perhaps it rested with Mr Canning, as the vacancy possibly preceded the dissolution of Parliament, and the new Election – I cannot help having Edward (Gosterley?) too in my view, in case Charles Rob’n was not to have it. Is the Doctor’s son Aleck about to marry and go out to India, as reported here? Possibly to some mercantile situation connected with his Uncle’s house. The winds have had so much Westing of late, that I look for interesting public & private advices – I therefore keep this open till the 30th for which day I have a frank.

    Para 13
    The leaf is falling fast – before the Michaelmas shoot comes for the rain would produce a new spring of verdure & foliage. The fruits are a month forwarder than usual – Grapes and walnuts come in proverbially the 1 Oct – This year the 1 Sepr. Game is strong & numerous beyond all former time
    This wishy washy letter about nothing may serve to light your pipe at relig.

    Para 14
    - I dare to say you find the morning and evenings rather cool & autumnal. I have just been paquetting some seeds of fine varieties of what I think neither Jane mine, nor your Jane are deficient in. Heart’s ease. Did our Robertson pippen trees survive or shall I send you some to replace failures. How does your South country Gardner now prove? He ought to be superior, at his wages, for your limited gardening and planting. Did you notice what I said about your Bramah & Baron Locks – and my observations as to planting in poor soils near the house? What are Afflecks brothers doing. I hear that John has lost by his sporting instead of being within hale of his admiral – has Alexr secured his Majority? Remember me affectionately at Culduthel & Moniack & Relig, and kindly to all old friends of all classes
    Yr most affect father
    E. Fraser.

    He then adds a final paragraph to close the letter.
    Para 15
    You will see by the public prints, that an overland despatch (Via Bombay & Constantinople), brings accounts from Calcutta of 7 April of the termination of the Burmese war, ratifying the former treaty. Sir A. Campbell has proceeded to within four miles of (um merapodra??) He had come to Calcutta but was returning to Rangoon. I own my astonishment and rejoice.

    So that is the end of this chatty family letter, and the following notes are just to give information about the subjects mentioned. It is obvious that they are very well informed about the events and must be keeping up with the news in the newspapers like the London newspaper The Times.


    Notes: –

    Paragraph 1 :
    This family had links to India, and they were aware of the mail service to and from that continent. He notes that they have not heard from India since February, and this is now August.


    Paragraph 2 :
    This paragraph begins with the health of the King and other male members of the royal family. From this letter it was obviously known that the King was suffering and was commonly held to be suffering from a madness which meant that his son was acting as the Prince Regent. Clarence was the Prince Regent’s brother, William the Duke of Clarence.
    Parliament is progrogued when it is discontinued, between sessions, but not dissolved – which involves re–election of members. The next sentence shows how closely they followed the economic and political situation in Britain, and obviously discussed it with other members of their family. Information in a contemporary letter like this is what is now considered to be real time reporting, of events that are happening in 1826, and not just a 21st century report on an historical period.


    Paragraph 3 :
    This paragraph shows how concerned Edward Fraser is about the situation in Britain economically and socially, and he was sharing his concerns with his son. These comments could be related to the current situation in Australia because of the Covid 19 pandemic, the same kind of problems have occurred here too in 2021.


    Paragraph 4 :
    I find this sentence really interesting, because in all the letters we own, and many others we have read, there has not been a mention of the wearing of spectacles.


    Paragraph 5 :
    The storm mentioned must have been reported in the paper, but I was not able to find it.


    Paragraph 6 :
    All of those places mentioned are in London, as is Kensington. After this comment about the weather he shares the information about his wife with his son.


    Paragraph 7 :
    He then continues with information about how they are spending their time. I find it interesting that they obviously kept up with the news, as they visited exhibitions, museums and relatives, and generally kept an eye on the development around where they lived. Miss Linwood had an exhibition of embroidery.
    Cadogan Place is a street in Belgravia, London. It is named after Earl Cadogan and runs parallel to the lower half of Sloane Street. It gives its name to the extensive Cadogan Place Gardens, private communal gardens maintained for Cadogan residents.
    The reference to the portrait of Angerstein is that King George III expressed his wish to have a replica of the portrait. Lawrence borrowed the original from Angerstein’s son, John, who had inherited it, and had this copy made for the King. The portrait of John Julius Angerstein aged 84 was in the National Gallery.


    Paragraph 8
    I could find no information about the Killin journal mentioned. The idea of sending fresh eggs down to London from 650 miles away in Inverness is surprising. I cannot help but wonder how many of them would have been whole at the end of the journey.


    Paragraph 9 :
    Lord Cochrane’s operations… From Oman’s History of England Page 643
    …the sympathy of all men of generous mind in England, was most deeply stirred by the Greek insurrection against the grinding tyranny of the Turks, which had commenced in 1821, and had been struggling on, accompanied by all manner of atrocities and massacres, for six years. Many English volunteers hastened to the East to aid the insurgents: Lord Cochrane took command of their fleet, and General Church headed some of their land forces. Even Lord Byron, the poet, roused himself from his mis-spent life of luxury in Italy, and went out to offer his sword and fortune to a people rightly struggling to be free. His death from marsh-fever at Missolonghi caused him to be looked on as a martyr of liberty, and gave England yet a further interest in the cause that he had championed.
    The second comment concerned the Janissaries. This referred to the forced disbandment of the centuries –old Janissary corps by Sultan Mahmud II on 15 June 1826. Most of the 135,000 Janissaries revolted against Mahmud II, and after the rebellion was suppressed, most of the Janissaries were executed, exiled or imprisoned. The Janissary corps was disbanded and replaced with a more modern military force.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Paragraph 10:
    The next paragraph explains his concern for the state of Britain and its place in the world. He was knowledgeable about the ramifications of the changes in the parliament, which at this stage was in a state of flux, with ministers resigning etc. I find it amazing that he can be so clear sighted as to see that the mass of the population were in fact worse off, and to have such an unbiased view of the way Britain was developing.


    Paragraph 11 :
    I could find no information about a book titled Kimala


    Paragraph 12 :
    The collector of customs at Inverness in 1826 was listed in the Pigot’s new commercial directory of Scotland for 1825-26 as John Shaw, (page 694), which also noted that ... The Mail arrives from Inverness every night at ten. The comment about the Doctor’s son Aleck getting married and going out to India to be employed in one of his uncle’s mercantile interests was an obvious career path for young men in the 19th century.
    The comment about the Westing is a reference to the fact that the mail would now be able to get to Britain from India, as this was the age of the sailing ships, which of course were dependent on the winds.


    Paragraph 13:
    The information about the grapes and walnuts is a surprise to me, as I grew up about 17 miles west of Kensington, and there was no evidence of such fruit and nuts growing in this area in the 1940-50s.
    After having written three pages full of family and national and international news, he wrote a surprising sentence that the letter was so wishy washy that his son may as well use it to light his pipe.


    Paragraph 14:
    This was a final paragraph asking questions to catch up with the family and local news. Culduthel & Moniack & Relig were all localities around the Inverness area, where the relatives were living.
    He had then heard more news, while he was waiting to acquire his frank, and as his pages had been used up, he had to go back to find a space at the bottom of page two, and wrote on it upside and round the edges.


    Paragraph 15:
    This was the astonishing news about the Treaty of Yandabo. Which was a Treaty of Peace between the East India Company and His Majesty the King of Ava, which was signed at Yandabo, Burmese Empire, the Kingdom of Ava. This ended the First Anglo-Burmese War. The treaty was signed on 24 February 1826, nearly two years after the war formally broke out on 5 March 1824, by General Sir Archibald Campbell on the British side, and the Governor of Legaing Maha Min Hla Kyaw Htin from the Burmese side, without any due permission and consent of the Ahom kingdom, Kachari kingdom or the other territories covered in the treaty. With the British army at Yandabo village, only 80 km (50 miles) from the capital Ava, the Burmese were forced to accept the British terms without discussion.
    General Sir Archibald Campbell, 1st Baronet GCB (12 March 1769 – 6 October 1843) was a Scottish soldier who served as an officer in the British Army. From 1824 to 1826, Gen. Campbell commanded the British forces in the First Anglo-Burmese War, the longest and most expensive war in British Indian history, that gave the British control of Assam, Manipur, Cachar, Jaintia, Arakan and Tenasserim. He became known as the "Hero of Ava". From 1831 to 1837, he was the administrator of the colony of New Brunswick, Canada. The Canadian city of Campbellton in the province of New Brunswick was named in his honour. …(Wikipedia…)

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