Letters from the past
“Two letters to Sir Henry Hay Makdougall Bart., of Kelso, 1817
Litigation about a will.”

by

Eunice Shanahan

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,
My dear Sir Henry
I have had so much to communicate to you lately in respect to my correspondence with Messrs Tod and Messrs Spottiswood that it is at this moment impossible for me to enter upon it, further than to say I have been endeavouring to have our Cause brought forward in the Hse of Lords this year. We are still (even with the deferment), so far down on the list that we hath no chance of having that Cause heard for a long period and in the Common Cause being pretty certain that we should fail in our attempt.

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”.

They spoke instantly to Mr Nicol on this interesting subject and from him they discovered that this desirable Point was impossible. That the Ladies both resolved to sue the Executor in the Court of Chancery in England. That the Bills were to be filed immediately one in regard to the Personal Estate another as to the Real Estate. This will plunge the affair into an Ocean of Litigation. Lord Winchelsea is engaged on the Ladies Part and is with their Attornies to hasten the Proceedings. After we are once fairly in Chancery, you and I will probably not outlive the Suit. At all Events we have the chances in our favour to see the other Women out.

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.

I am my Dear Sir Henry,
Ever yours most faithfully
C. D. Hamilton.


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 1817

My dear Sir
Upon Monday 28 April my Rib, Wm Blair and myself went to visit our wealthy Friend Mr Home of Wedderburn and returned last night.
I found several letters from Spottiswoode in one of which he mentions the two Bills to be Filed in Chancery alluded to in the Archdeacon’s letter which you have sent me under cover of your letter of yesterday’s date, and which is herewith
As the Ladies have uniformly said they were convinced their Brother was imposed upon which determined them never to acknowledge his Settlement, I should not under such circumstances have advised any Proposal of Compromise to them, and it is not unlikely the Proposal has created in them a Confidence which has caused them to think of Filing the Bills in Chancery. When an indirect Proposal was made to me thro Mr( Arick?) I requested to have a direct Proposal from the Ladies and as they declined making any Proposal I desired to have no further (tide? Winds?) and would answer no communications unless the Ladies explicitly explained their views and then I should inform whether they could be listened to. I think it would have been better that this Tone had been kept up, as I stand, unless the Residuary Legatees and them each acting for themselves, I have only the disagreeable duty of probably displeasing both Parties by endeavouring not to involve myself.

If it had not been for my wish to serve the Archdeacon and you I should have Renounced the Trust but having undertaken it I must continue to authorise your Proceedings in so far as can be reasonably done. And if I had been advised in regard to them I should have been decidedly against showing the least want of confidence in the Justice of your Claims. If the Ladies (trim?) the proposal upon themselves found it adviseable to obtain present relief from a Compromise the Proposal should have come from them and upon this plan I have acted in my correspondence in their business and I need add nothing further to you upon the subject.

He then leaves the subject of this legal battle and continues with personal news and finishes up quite happily.

I have now in name of Mrs W and myself to return our best thanks for your Side of Lamb which Bell says is the finest she ever saw. I shall judge of this on Sunday. we dine from home tomorrow. your Garden Productions are Famous. I have fix’d with Bell to give you a good dinner upon the 27. Your notification to McCulloch shall be sent in due time. I have omitted to mention the pigeons which will keep the household for some time.

I went nowhere except to Paxton and had while there full exercise dayly. Mr Home is in better wind than I am, I was only glad to see him in such perfect good health and almost as active as yourself in carrying forward the improvements of his place. With our kindest and best wishes.
I am charged my dear sir
Yours most sincerely
John Wauchope

To Sir H. H. Makdougall


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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