This letter is one of two from Maria Dunbar, wife of Sir George Dunbar from Scotland, 4th Baronet, and Lt Col of the 14th Light Dragoons, to her mother Mrs Gustavus Hamilton. Both letters are more than 200 years old and rather the worse for wear, which is not surprising after all these years. It is full of information, and concern for her mother’s safety at the time of the 1798 rebellion in the south of Ireland.
The postal markings are : (Fig. 1)
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the black, single-ring London date stamp which has the date in the inner circle for JY 3 98. This type of stamp was introduced in 1787, but this particular variation was only in use from 1795 to 1798. The other markings are all charge marks, and there are 4 of them 3 of them crossed out and ending up finally with 1/9. The postage from England to Ireland at this stage depended on the route taken, and would include the land costs at both ends, Braintree to London, London to the coast, probably Anglesey for the ferry to Howth, (this would include the toll bridge charges and the ship packet rate), then the land charge to New Town Limavady. No wonder the postmaster was confused as to the correct charge. It was sealed with black sealing wax, the impression is of the head of a lady, but being black, does not reproduce very well.
Although the letter is headed Braintree, which is a small town in Essex near Colchester, and despite all the military references, the Essex Record Office Archivist has advised me that there was no military barracks at Braintree.
The letter which is dated July 1st 1798, took 2 days to get to London,is addressed to Mrs Gustavus Hamilton Bessbrook Newtown Limavady Ireland (which is near Coleraine). It begins with an interesting comment for the time (Fig 2) :-
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The concern for her mother is natural, but she realises that even though the action is down in County Wexford, it is still a worry for her. She then continues with a very descriptive paragraph about the health of the people around her.
(Note : Mrs Tennant was Sir George Dunbar’s sister, and Mrs Copland was another of Sir George’s sisters married to William Copland of Colliston Dumfries).
After this sentence about the family news, she then reverts to the events in Ireland
“We read scarcely anything but the papers of which we take in great abandonment but Good God what scenes they contain & how little we would have imagined such events three months ago. With the wretched Sir Edward Crosbie we were most intimately acquainted. He was almost the cleverest man I ever knew, but unfortunately always those ideas which caused his melancholy end.”
(Note : Sir Edward William Crosbie was executed in error at Carlow 5th June 1798 )
Then it is back to comments about Braintree, with which she is obviously not impressed!
“Being Nail’d to this Dismal Village I neither hear nor see anything worth relating. Gen.l Egerton sometimes comes for a day to see his Regt and that is the only break that prevents one day from telling another.”
(Note: I could find nothing about General Egerton either, which surprised me, as I thought I would have been able to trace such a high ranked officer.)
She then continues with other news to keep her mother up to date with events :
(Sir George Dunbar died on 15th October, 1799 and his wife Maria the writer of the letters died 31st August 1808)
I have had this letter for a good many years and was unable to track down the information about the death of Sir Edward Crosbie. I followed all my usual sources, with no success, except for the absolutely intriguing sentence “Sir Edward William Crosbie was executed in error at Carlow 5th June, in 1798” which was an entry in one of the reference books. But with the huge expansion of the internet, the sources available for research have grown out of sight, and I was finally able to locate the information, which I have included here, with his permission from firstname.lastname@example.org in Ireland .
Landowner and landlord Sir Edward Crosbie, Baronet, of Nova Scotia son of Sir Paul Crosbie, and brother of the first Irish balloonist Richard Crosbie, was a gentleman of liberal opinions, but altogether innocent of treasonable or other criminal designs or acts, was arrested in Carlow in 1798, tried by a court martial, sentenced to death, and executed by torch light a few hours before the arrival of an order from the Lord Lieutenant for his transmission to Dublin. He was hanged at Carlow Jail on June 5 1798 for 'traitorous and rebellious conduct, in aiding and abetting a most villainous conspiracy for the overthrow of his Majesty's crown, and the extinction of all loyal subjects'. He was beheaded and his head was placed on a spike outside the jail — it remained there for three years before being returned to the family.
However it was Thomas Myler, his butler and steward, who had been involved in the 1798 Rising. He disappeared in the wake of the Rising and it was only years later that he made a statement exonerating his old employer. It read, in part, 'Sir Edward was never a United Irishman ... if the United Irishmen happened to be mentioned to him in ordinary conversation he would remark: 'Ah, they are foolish people. I pity them'. The kindness of my good master to me was partly the cause of his ruin and he lost his life for what he had had no hand, act or part in."
Myler, it transpired, had worn a coat given to him by Sir Edward on the night of the Rising in Carlow and, he believed, someone had mistaken him for his employer.
As Maria Dunbar mentioned, a melancholy end for an innocent person. This is another letter which shows why they have such an appeal for me. It shows again that not all women were uneducated at this time, although, obviously in this case Lady Dunbar would have had the benefits appropriate to one of the ‘upper class’ – she was the daughter of a clergyman. Considering how long ago the letter was written, it seems quite modern and gives such a vivid picture of her life in 1798.
British County Catalogue of Postal History , London Willcocks & Jay
Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839, Alan W. Robertson
This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.
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