This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

Shipping cargoes from Chester to Whitehaven, 1830

This letter was written by John McMiken from Gatehouse-of-Fleet, and addressed to Mr Joseph Alison, Merchant, Whitehaven. There is no record of that name in the directories of the time, but it is likely that the name was incorrectly written and should in fact be, Joseph Allinson, of 42, Strand street, Whitehaven, whose entry in the 1820 edition shows he was an iron merchant and metal worker.

Alison address panelThere are three postal markings :

  1. Postal charge which looks like '10'. It is not always possible to be sure of these charge marks, but Gatehouse of Fleet is 374 miles from London via Dumfries and Whitehaven is 294 and the difference between them is 80 miles. The charge for a distance between 50 and 80 miles is 8d, 10d is the charge for distance between 120 & 170 miles — so it must be a figure 8.
  2. straight line GATEHOUSE almost impressed rather than inked. The illustration shows there is hardly any ink on the name, and looks as though it was a metal stamp and heavily whacked down on the letter.
  3. manuscript '½'. This represents what is known as the Scottish Mail tax. From 1785 all mail-carrying vehicles of any description, and even horses carrying the mail, were exempted from paying tolls for their passage through any Turnpike, Tollgate or Bar. Because much of the revenue for the upkeep of roads came from tolls, the Turnpike Trustees campaigned to have the Act repealed, and they succeeded in having a new Act passed in 1813.

One of the orders in the Order Book on June 18th 1813 stated —

"All letters for Scotland except for the following towns — Coldstream, Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, Montrose, Gallashiels, Greenlaw, Dunse, Lauder, Earlstone, and Boswell's Green — are to be charged with one single halfpenny in addition to the rates to which they are now liable, and letters coming from Scotland on and from tomorrow morning are to be charged in like manner. It must be understood that a packet weighing one oz. is only to have the additional charge of ½d not four half-pennies".

The postal markings resulting from this were in force until 1840, and the types and varieties make a very interesting side-line collection of postal history. Not all offices were issued with hand stamps, and the half-penny could be indicated by pen, or hand stamp, in black or red ink.

Alison textThe contents of the letter give an insight into how small traders conducted their business. The 'Douglas' mentioned is on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea — which is actually visible from Whitehaven.

"Gatehouse May 24th 1830.

I duly received yours of 18th inst. and for answer the Sloop Lady Ann Murray is going either to Douglas or Liverpool with a cargo of wood {to some one of these ports} her first voyage so that I will be able to bring your Cargo of Bricks from Chester to Whitehaven even at the low freight, only I consider you will pay one half of the port charges which will be {I presume} 10/-d but I am unacquainted with the charges at Chester — from your statement by the thousands I see that the freight will be 6/-d per ton which is the way I would wish it to be mentioned as I do not know any thing about what the weight of a thousand bricks may be. You will please write me by return of post with instructions for the Captain where he is to call for his cargo as the vessel will be ready to proceed this week, wind permitting, waiting your reply.
I am yours etc.
John McMiken per James McMiken."

There is an entry in The Commercial Directory, of Scotland, Ireland, and the four most Northern Counties of England, for 1820-21 & 22, McMiken, James, Councillor, of Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcudbrightshire. I find it interesting that he was prepared to admit he did not know how much 1000 bricks would weigh. The figures 10/d and 6/d indicate 10 shillings and 6 shillings.

Looking at a map of Britain, you can see there is a canal from Chester to the Mersey. I contacted Peter Hardcastle who is a canal enthusiast in England, through his website, (which has wonderful images of the locks etc.) and he gave me this information. "The canal from Chester to the Mersey is now part of the Shropshire Union Canal network though it was originally supposed to be the northern end of the Ellesmere Canal (now called the Llangollen Canal). Ellesmere Port gets its name because of this even though it is dozens of miles from Ellesmere.

The Shropshire Union Canal is a complicated network of canals and branch lines rather than one linear route although the "main line" is referred to as the Shropshire Union Canal in its own right, ends at Ellesmere Port. It drops down a flight of locks into the Manchester Ship Canal, which was built around 1900 to replace the tidal Mersey. In 1830 (when this letter was written),the SUC would have dropped into the Mersey."

The canals were then a thriving part of transporting goods, but this was to change very soon with the birth and phenomenal growth of the railways.

I was unable to find out anything about the sloop 'Lady Ann Murray' whose first voyage was going to be from Whitehaven to Liverpool in May 1830, nor could I find anything about brickworks in Chester at this time. However, it is obvious that the postal service was also an essential part of trade. Mr McMiken was sure he would have the reply to his letter so that he could advise his Captain at which port he could load the cargo of bricks on his sailing ship — weather permitting!

I am indebted to a friend in England for the information about the people concerned.
N E W S F L A S H ...
Since posting this on the web, I am very pleased to have been contacted by Dan MacMeekin of Maryland USA, who gave me a lot of information about the sloop "Lady Ann Murray", some of which had been collected by his distant cousin, Bob Henry, of Stranraer in Scotland while he was following up his family history. They are happy for it to be added to this article. So here is what Dan had to say:-

John McMiken (1745-1841) of Girthon Parish (Gatehouse of Fleet area) was my GGG grandfather and his son, James (1786-1862) my GG grandfather.

The letter is new to me, and I am very glad to see it.

Below is information I have collected on the Lady Ann Murray.

Dumfriesshire Courier, August 17, 1830:


"THE SLOOP, LADY ANNE MURRAY, will commence TRADING between the above-mentioned Ports, about the 18th current, when she will be at Glasgow taking in Goods for Gatehouse, and will continue Trading every Two Months, "From the central situation of Gatehouse, it will be found well suited for the convenience of merchants in Kirkcudbright and Castle-Dougl as on the one hand and Creetown, Newton Stewart, and Wigtown, on the other.
"For further information apply to the Captain on board; Mr. Francis [?] Millar, North Robertson Street, Glasgow; or "JAMES McMIKEN, Merchant hire "Gatehouse-of-Fleet, 12th Aug., 1830."

Then on July 20, 2002 he found this information on the Shipping Registers website
http://www.dumgal.gov.uk/services/depts/comres/library/shipping_search.asp listing details of the vessel and the owners and masters over a long period, but I have only put one here as an example

Archive Ref: CE 51/5/16 Folio No: 64
Date: 30/09/1828
Port: Kirkcudbright
Registration Number:
Type: Sloop
Burthen: 45 30/94
Length (ft): 48
Breadth (ft): 15 1/12
Hold (ft): 6 9/12
Description: Running bowsprit. One deck, one mast. Square stern, carvel built. No galleries, no figurehead.
Master: SHANNON, Peter [in 1825 Peter Shannon was Master of the Schooner CARDONESS CASTLE out of Kirkcudbright, owned by Thomas Birkett of Gatehouse of Fleet, the first owner of the LADY ANNE MURRAY]
Owners: McMICKEN, James of Gatehouse in Pa. Of Githorn, Wood Merchant and Joiner 64 shares.
History: Built at Gatehouse in Stewartry of Kirkcudbright 1821, registered at Kirkcudbright 30 March 1825.
Surveyor: JOLLY, David Milligan, Tidesurveyor at Kirkcudbright
Later Masters: McKIE, James at Wigtown 08 March 1832.
SHANNON, Peter at Wigtown 01 may 1832.
POLLOCK, Peter has now become Master 04 Oct. 1832.

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