Letters from the past
“Two letters to Sir Henry Hay Makdougall Bart., of Kelso, 1817
Litigation about a will.”
The first letter of 1817 is very worn on the outside, but the inside is in much better condition and relatively easy to read, with just an odd word or two being indecipherable. It is addressed To Sir Henry Hay Makdougall Bart., Makerstoun, Kelso, signed by C.D. Hamilton, and it was charged at 10d which covered a distance of between 120 and 170 miles at this time.
The address of the writer is hard to read and could be Stenton or Hinton, neither of which would explain that 10d charge, and without more information I cannot say which it is. It is possible that it is the name of his house, and that would be known to Sir Henry. This illustration is the first part of the letter
28th Apl 1817,Note: the word ‘deferment’ probably refers to the fact that the Hansard records show that there were no sittings in 1816, then many in 1817, presumably a back-up.
I wrote on the 24th to Messrs Spottiswood to the following effect “that failing the (prime?) object, it was to us then to post a speedy Settlement, particularly as I never lost sight of the still material Question as to the real Property in England. I wished them immediately to take into their consideration the Propriety of offering a compromise to the Ladies there to give them £5000 down to withdraw all further litigation”.Note: The reference to the Court of Chancery shows that it was known to be the place where law suits took so long to be decided that the persons involved could well be dead before a decision was made. Charles Dickens used this fact as a basis for his novel ‘Bleak House’ , where the lawyer in the Jarndyce v Jarndyce kept going back to the court to delay proceedings so that the eldest child involved would be old enough to be out of their jurisdiction.
He then continues.
I must conclude this scrawl in the greatest hurry but first I must mention that my Brother wrote to me that it was said you was going to London. If this is true, I trust you will make me a promise to be with me on your way to Town.
Note: I would be most interested to know if there is any way that a record could be traced of Petitions being filed in the Chancery Court, with so little factual information as a base. I do not know the names of the Ladies, nor their brother, and assume they must have been filed in 1817 or 1818, only assume that the attorneys involved were Tod and Spottiswood(e). But Dr. Marjie Bloy, our great friend and historian in England checked a lot of details for me and reported that she had “trawled Hansard (https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/index.html) for 1817 and found nothing about a petition, so your man couldn't get it on any list there! ”
The second letter is connected to the first, and has obviously been included in a separate letter, but cannot be the first one because of the date. It has no postal markings and no outer address, so it must have been an enclosure. It is beautifully written by John Wauchope of Edinburgh, with only a few difficult words. An internet search brought up the information that his ‘lady’ had given birth to a daughter on November 5th 1817, and the address was for Abercromby Place. That was the only reference I could find, yet from the contents of the letter, it seemed that he is also concerned with the case of the Ladies and the Will. In the first sentence I think the sixth word is ĎRibí which is a joking reference to his wife, as Adamís rib was said to have been used to make Eve. (Genesis 2:3).
There are a couple of words which were difficult to decipher, so they are between brackets and marked with a question mark.
Abercromby Place, Friday evening 2 May 1817He then leaves the subject of this legal battle and continues with personal news and finishes up quite happily.
Note :I wonder if C.D. Hamilton who wrote the first letter, is the Archdeacon mentioned by Mr Wauchope?
There is a lot of information about Sir Henry Hay Makdougall Baronet, and his family on the internet, his birth being about 1750, and his death recorded as April 13, 1825. He was the son of Sir George Hay-Makdougall, 3rd Baronet of Alderston and Barbara Makdougall He married Isabella Douglas and they had one daughter Lady Anne Maria Hay.
This is a relevant part for our letter.
By a settlement made by Henry Makdougall, 14th baron of Makerstoun, in 1715, the barony was ‘infeft’(insest) to his daughter Barbara Makdougall in 1723. She married Sir George Hay (later Hay-Makdougall), and the Makerstoun estate passed to the Hay-Makdougall family.
What always surprises me about these old letters is not only the fact that they were written with quill pens, but also the quality of the language. This letter is now 200 years old, yet as a letter giving formal advice/information about a legal situation it could have been written in the 21st century. With the increasing use of electronic communication and the subsequent decrease in unofficial correspondence, there will not be letters like this available for research and interest in 200 years time.
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