This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

Ely to Bath, 1803 -- A 200 year old family letter

This letter is over 200 years old, from A Clerke in Ely, Cambridgeshire, to her sister Lady Clerke in Bath, Somerset.

The postal markings are
  1. London Morning Duty date stamp of APR 30 1803
  2. manuscript charges 11 (or 1/1) crossed out and replaced with the figure '9', and
  3. a boxed mileage mark of ELY 68

Mileage Marks: Town stamps which included a mileage figure

For many years the cost of posting a letter was based on the number of sheets and the distance the letter was carried. Surveys were carried out to calculate the distance between towns, and specifically the distance from London. This was because until the introduction of local 'Penny posts', and 'cross posts', letters sent from one part of Britain to another had to go into London and then out again. All over the country milestones were erected by the side of the main roads to inform travellers - many of these milestones are still there. However, the mileages were often inaccurate so in 1797 it was ordered that mileage marks should be removed from the office name stamps, but not all were removed.

In 1801, two years before this letter was written, postal rates were altered again and mileage marks came back into general use. There were different types of mileage mark in use over the years, including this 'boxed' type. If you would like to see more information about mileage marks, go to here.

The initial charge mark was wrong as the mileage was worked out by adding the 68 miles from Ely to London, then the 109 miles from London to Bath, making 177 miles, and the rate in force from 1801 to 1805 was 9 pence for a distance of between 170 to 230 miles.

So now to the letter itself which is addressed to Lady Clerke, Great Poultney Street, Bath, a gossipy letter covering family and general news. At this time, spelling was not standardised, and many writers used their own abbreviations, such as ‘whh’ for ‘which’ etc, and capitalised many of the words. I have transcribed it exactly as it was written. She begins rather formally, considering the letter is to her sister, with congratulations, and sounds unselfishly happy about the news.

When I wrote to you last, my Dear Lady Clerke to acknowledge the receipt of yr draft I had not time to say half what I wishd upon the occasion and indeed my Dear it is with the greatest pleasure (I can find in contemplation on the affairs of this World) that I think of yr acquisition of the money from India. Indeed My Dear it appears to me a wonderfull act of divine Providence and will I think as long as I am capable of reflection be a subject gratefull to my mind and I pray God give you health and happiness in the injoyment of it.

As for myself, could I command the Indias they could not afford me more gratefull and pleasant sensations than the Lord has blest me with in regard to money. Within this year I have had a proof (at a very critical time) of the integrity and liberality of one Friend and I have had it in my power to assist another, and one who of all the world I could most wish to have it in my power to serve. But my greatest concern at present is another Friend that I think truly worthy but am much afraid of loseing and am sure the greatest service I could do her would be to introduce her to yr acquaintance if I could contrive it.

She then continues with news of the ill health of a friend, and showing a rather low opinion of the medical practitioner of the time.

The only hopes I have for her is if possible to get her out of the Physicians hands under whose directions she is wareing away her life which is realy a valuable one to her fellow creatures, and get her under Mr Townsends directions of whose skill I’m sure I have reason to think very superior to any of the Physical tribe I ever had anything to do with, and if my Dear Miss Bentham can but recover the present depression of spirits on account of the death of an only brother, and strength enough for a journey to Bath I shall hope to bring her and Mr Townsend acquainted. And I know she has an old friend there, a Mrs Quick, very well known to you. But I beg you will ask Mr T if it is not unusual to go to Tonbridge with liver cases and jaundice as her malady apparently is, and there she was kept three months at least (by a Dr Mayhew I think is the name) tho he did not let her drink the waters, but all the Bennifit gained there seems intirely the Doctors own emolument for she certainly returned no better than she whent.

I have to thank you my Dear Sister for a very kind Letter previous to your last with a beautiful extract from King copy’d by Miss Williams to whom I beg you will give my kind love and thanks, and assure the Dear Girl she stands high in my love and esteem. I often think My Dear of the two matches in our family yrs and Mats in which I am sure you both have oft had cause to rue many unpleasant circumstances but upon the whole it is now I think a subject of reflection and thanksgiving to both of you ( at least it is to me ) that such was the way through which the Lord our God has brought us, as to render us maker of joy and comfort to each other in various circumstances, amongst which I must recon the having been introduced to the knowledge and acquaintance of many respectable and amiable characters the thoughts of whom wether I can see them or not, call up gratefull and pleasant sensations in my mind.

Our cousin Anne Mosely is returnd to Ely once more after an absence of some months nor do I think any nearer marrying than when you last saw her she flirts with one and coquets with another till I believe she will be forsaken by all if she does not alter her conduct.

She then continues with news of mutual friends and acquaintances, most of it bad news but she is still determinedly cheerful.

You will see in the papers Doctor Layard the Dean of Bristol is gone &emdash; a heavy stroke for his family &emdash; the young man ye eldest son that you saw at Bath was upon the point of being married to a girl not worth a shilling. I wish his Fathers death may bring him to a wiser conduct. Mr Pegus, who married a sister of Dr Layards and was at Bath the same time we were, it has pleased God graciously to call Home, for he has been in a deplorable state of health a long time. But indeed Death has mown down an uncommon number of our friends and acquaintance within this 12 month, Pray God fit and prepare us for our own call.

Pray let me hear from you soon I am truly sorry for the complaint in your eye perhaps dear Miss Townsend (to who I beg my kindest respects) would be kind enough to give me a line or two if your eyes will not permit, or Miss Williams if she has not left you. Assure Mr Townsend of my constant good wishes and sincerest regard but I much wish to se you both and if you come to London and do not stretch ye line to Ely I shall be truly mortifyd. God bless you adieu
Yrs affectionately
A Clerke
Ely April 29th 1803

on the outside of the letter she has added this note:

Mat writes in kind Love & best wishes, & rejoyces very sincerely in the providential event of yr acquistion from India.

This letter really appeals to me as it shows that although the language has evolved, people have not changed much over the past 200 years.

NEWSFLASH... We have had feedback from Erica Ryan | Assistant Director, Australian Collections Management Branch (Printed Australiana) National Library of Australia who wrote

I have taken a recent interest in Lady Lydia Clerke and have read with great interest, the letter you have transcribed from her sister-in-law Ann on your website, and I am puzzling to work out who the cousin, Ann Mosely was.

Your Ann Clerke (born 1738) was the sister of Captain Sir John Clerke (1734-76) and Captain Charles Clerke (1741-79), who sailed on James Cook’s three voyages (and famously took the helm after Cook’s death in Hawaii). Lady Lydia (1740-1814) was left in the lurch financially after Sir John's death so the money from India that evidently turned up in the early 1800s, was much needed. Her maiden name was Hamond and she re-married in 1790, to Rev. Joseph Townsend (1739-1816) of Bath. “Mats” is presumably Ann‘s sister and Lydia‘s sister-in-law, Hannah (1735-1812), who married Paul Henry Maty (174487) in 1775 and went to live in Ely after her husband’s death.

This was extremely helpful, as we had not been able to find this out when we first had our letter. Because of this further information we have found more details, in a book A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean during the years 1776-80, vol. iii. by Captain James King, p. 280 et seq. which was published in 1887.
Charles Clarke, was in the Royal Navy, and he was appointed in 1768 as master’ mate to the Endeavour, with Captain Cook, and again sailed round the world in that expedition, 1768-71. He had been promoted during the voyage to the rank of lieutenant, and sailed as second lieutenant of the Resolution in Cook's second voyage round the world, 1772-5. On his return to England he was advanced to the rank of commander, and when Cook’s third expedition was fitting out in 1776, Clerke was appointed to command the Discovery. On the death of Captain Cook on 14 Feb. 1779, Clerke succeeded to the vacant rank and the command of the expedition, which, however, he did not long enjoy, dying of a lingering consumption within little more than six months. During this short time he had given proofs of his ability, energy, and devotion. He had taken the ship into high latitudes. The climate proved extremely trying to his fatal disease; but as his orders were to look for a north-west passage, he persisted until ‘it was the opinion of every officer in both ships that it was impracticable, and that any farther attempts would not only be fruitless, but dangerous.’ But it was then too late. He died in Avatcha Bay on 22 Aug. 1779.

We then found further information on the brother-in-law Paul Henry Maty, who was a different character altogether.

Paul Henry Maty 1745-1787, assistant librarian of the British Museum, son of Matthew Maty, was born in London in 1745. He was admitted a king’s scholar at Westminster in 1758, and was elected in 1763 to Trinity College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1767 and M.A. in 1770. He was nominated to one of the travelling fellowships of his college, and passed three years abroad, after which he was appointed chaplain to David Murray, lord Stormont (afterwards second Earl of Mansfield), English ambassador at the court of France. He vacated his fellowship in 1775 by his marriage to a daughter of Joseph Clerke of Wethersfield, Essex, sister to Captain Charles Clerke, the successor to Captain Cook.
A reviewer of his written work included these comments about Maty:

As a reviewer Gibbon speaks of him as the ‘angry son’ who wielded the rod of criticism with but little of ‘the tenderness and reluctance’ of his father. A kindly man, though cantankerous and utterly devoid of his father’s complaisance, Maty made strong friendships and strong enmities. He died of asthma on 16 Jan. 1787, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. He left his widow and young son (aged 10) in very poor circumstances. The child was educated at the expense of Dr. Burney, but died while at school. A medallion by James Tassie in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery depicts Maty's shaven face, bald prominent forehead, and protruding lower lip.
We really enjoy hearing from visitors to the website to exchange information, it adds another dimension to our letters.

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Last modified 3 February, 2009