Letters  from the Past

“Major Macpherson, Aberdeen, Scotland,
to his wife in Ardersier, by Fort George 1812.”

We bought 6 letters all linked to the MacPherson family from David Shaw, a postal history dealer in England, in December 2001. The dates of the letters range from 1812-35.

This is the first one October 1812 from Major Duncan Macpherson in Aberdeen to his wife in Ardersier by Fort George in the Moray Firth, Scotland. It was postmarked with a mileage mark date stamp ABERDEEN 13 OCT 1812 528 – E in red ink. The ‘E’ indicates it would have travelled by Edinburgh and it cost 9d to send it, which his wife would have had to pay.

It is a long letter which is ‘crossed’ on three of the pages, and continues on the ‘wings’ on the outside of the letter, so this took many hours to transcribe. It is a marvellous letter to read, and his wife must have been really pleased to receive it, as it keeps her up to date with everything going on with her absent husband.

The writing is very legible and there are only a few words which were difficult to decipher because of the crossed writing, or the failure (or blots of) the ink. The images show how the writing is ‘crossed’ , so that the only way you can read it is to read the words while the paper is the right way up, and then turn the page 90degrees and read the words written over the previous writing.

Thisletter was relatively easy, (we have some which have been crossed twice, so that there are three lots of writing to read).

Why do they do this? Because of the cost of posting the letter. The charge was for a single sheet letter. If two pages were used the postage charge would double, and at this time the postage rates were comparatively high, so it was worth the effort of ‘crossing’ your lines.

The first page of the letter begins with complaints and criticisms, which he then realises is not a good way to begin to his wife.

Aberdeen 12th October 1812.
I received your letter without a date on Friday last & though it was short, I read it with pleasure, but I must tell you that you have treated me with greater indifference on this that I ever remember your doing for any other person, for I never saw you begin a letter without filling it, however, my good mother’s P.S. made up for your neglect. So, as soon as you got my back turned you must go on outings with your pets, putting people to inconvenience in this busy time sending men & horses with you. You know I disapprove of your jaunting about while you are nursing & it would have pleased me much better to hear that you remained quiet at home. However, I am not angry, believe me. What I have written just came into my head, & I sat down after giving you such a terrible scold, I must try now to please you by giving you the result of the meeting held here last week. I had almost determined not to attend it for two or three reasons, first that I feel little pleasure at a plan of this kind particularly when absent from those most dear to me.

Another reason is I wish to avoid the expense which was enormous, however I was persuaded by the Col & McKay, who arrived here on the 8th, that it was necessary for the respectability of the Corps that I should sport my handsome figure there & accordingly I went on Friday we dined at one Inn, & dined and supped at another. Ladies paid 5/- a head for dinner & wines during dinner. Gentlemen 10/- which was collected in a plate by the waiters as soon as the cloth was removed. We then called for what wine we chose & had to pay the servitor before he would trust us with the bottles. On going in to dinner we all stood up in our places at the tables, all the forms were brought in from the next room. I stood next to McKay & when the form was brought there was no room on it for me on which a big fat fellow put his chair close up to the form and wanted to shove me out saying it was everyone for himself, on which I gave him to understand that I was also for myself & by God he could move down, which he eventually did. This man’s behaviour did not impress upon me a favourable opinion of the politeness of the military in general to a mere stranger and that I never saw a more dull and rude dinner party. After drinking our bottle each we were harried to dress for the Ball which together with the supper was pleasant enough. Mrs Hadin was extremely polite and introducing us to partners & Capt. Duff Fiteness or some such title whom I remember in Edinr with the Forfar Militia. I met Miss Fanny Reese but she did not seem to recollect meeting me before. I was introduced to her & danced with her and a number of others whom I do not know.

There were a number of beautiful women present and my bottle of wine had raised my spirits so high that I danced at a great rate & and almost forgot for a little that I was a married man – we had singing after supper & I believe I was the first called on by Col Duff from the Chair. I know not how he found out that I attempted to sing, however I sang my old song The Glass with great eclat. I met them later, Miss Grant M. M and her husband in the St & he enquired of Kennedy after you, and she did not introduce me to her husband which she ought to have done. They were not at the meeting, of which you are tired by this time, so am I, Capt McKay and I breakfasted together & played backgammon in the evening. I amused myself then in the day by walking, fiddling and reading we have a very good mess & very good wine the expense of which this forms, I mean is not yet considered and I am in hopes we shall be allowed lodging money. The General has applied for it, I shall be allowed it at any rate there being only one Field Officers quarter in the Barracks & certainly shall take Lodgings when you join as I find the Barracks extremely unpleasant for families for many reasons which I can explain hereafter. I am informed I can get a neat cottage within half a mile of the Barracks for less than the allowance and we are allowed coal & candles in Lodgings.

He then continues the letter with current information about the things that have happened.

I am afraid you will not be able to read this however, I do not much care if you are not able to read this page. We hear nothing of the Inspection. A number of the men are at Harvest work and dreadful weather they have for it. It has been a downpour of rain here all this day. I pray God you do not have the same kind of weather as we have had since we came here, with the exception of two fine days. Col. Macleod went to the country yesterday, if he returns today he will get a ducking, which will not agree with the poor man. Mrs Bath arrived a few days ago they have managed to let her have two rooms. She looks very round and well. I should not like my wife to lay in the Barracks which I believe she intends doing. I do not hear a word of the Col’s leaving this place this winter. I shall at all events insist on two month’s leave & shall apply for it the moment the inspection is over. I am almost convinced we could live cheaper together than I can with decency & propriety do at the Mess for when we have strangers which will happen oftener here than at Fort George, I feel it incumbent on me to eat larger much than I would be disposed in short I do not relish this kind of life I long for you & the dear bairns more & more every descending day.

He stopped writing there, and then continued on the next day.

13th October
Just as I had got this far on with my letter which I intended to have finished & sent off by this days Post which leaves this at 7 o’clock in the morning Capt Donald McKay who had just arrived by the Mail from Hattin, came in upon me & as he was very attentive to me whilst in the North, I thought it my duty to be as much so as possible to him in return. I was engaged to dine with Dr Sibley yesterday but sent my apology as Capt McKay had only one day to stay with us, he set off by the Mail for Edin this day. He dined at the Mess with me & after drinking a little wine the two Brothers Matheson & myself adjourned to my room, played whist and drank one tumbler of Toddy. By the Bye, I rather suspect my mother changed the whisky as it is much better than I expected, it is in fact too excellent to keep long.

Doctor Sibley was here today, I dine with him tomorrow. He is not looking well, as if matrimony disagreed with him. Capt McKay has written to his servant to call at Ardersier for a pair of Regimental Buckles, which you will give him. Munro says both pairs are left behind you will also tell the servant to call at Blackhill for one of Mr Falconers Greyhounds. I shall probably write to him before the servant calls but in case I do not tell him to send Toby & I will endeavour to dispose of him as he wants his saddle if I do not. I will take care of her for him, having left all my pets behind I feel sadly in want of amusement in the way of taking exercise which is absolutely necessary for the preservation of my health & I do not like walking simply for the sake of it without having some object in view. Col. Macleod returned this forenoon as wet as a duck & found a letter waiting for him with the account of General Macdonald’s Death on which he feels very sensibly. Roderick Macleod wishes to know when Henry goes to Edinr as he wishes if Henry comes this way to accompany him. I thought there was a Tea Cady among the other things but Munro says not. I must buy one. I have bought a Seal & am getting yours repaired I have paid Mr Patrick’s account £4.18.0, shall keep the receipt till I go northwest.

Now that he has covered all the inside of the letter twice, he still has things to write, so he continues on the outside of the paper, either side of the address panel, (see the first image) These would not have been visible to the postman, as they are folded inside the letter.

I think I have done you and this sheet of bad paper justice & I desire you will do the same to me every Sunday between Breakfast & church time & let me hear no more of your not having time to write. Thank my mother with a kiss from me for her P.S. & tell her I would write her, but it would be a repetition what I have here written & not worth the expense of postage. There is not the least idea of our leaving this place this winter, & as to the idea of our being sent on service it is absurd. Sir N. Ryan’s death has appeared in the Army List, that’s a step, I shall lose my dinner, the piper is playing.
Remember me to everybody & believe me, ever yours
Dunc Macpherson.

This is such an interesting letter that reads as if it had been written quite recently, not more than 200 years ago. I found information about him from the Army List.

Major Duncan MacPherson Major in 78th Foot 7 November 1811; brevet Lieutenant-Colonel 12 August 1819.

Also, information about that regiment from a website British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them 1793-1815: 78th Regiment of Foot by Steve Brown, which shows that Major Macpherson was right that they were not going to be sent on service that year, but in 1813, about 12 months later, they did send 92 men to Java on overseas service.

For the second letter 1831 click here

For the third letter in this series, 1831 click here

For the fourth letter 1833 click here

For the fifth letter 1834 click here

For the last letter 1835 click here

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