"Lady Maria Dunbar to her mother, about 1798."
This letter is a purely family one. Regular readers may remember a letter in the March 2002 issue from Maria Dunbar to her mother in Ireland. This one was written to Mrs. G. Hamilton, Loch Gear House, Inveraray, Scotland. I cannot date it exactly, as Maria only begins her letter with Edinburgh Jany 31st, and gives no year. Had she added which day it was, I could have identified the year. The only postmark is the smudged Scottish bishop mark JA 31 which looks like the type in use from 1778-1806, and the 6d manuscript to cover a distance of between 60 to 100 miles (Edinburgh to Inverary is 68 miles) was from 1796 to 1801 (so that does not help). (Fig.1)
This is one of the things that makes collecting old letters so interesting, as they are all individual, and all need a different amount of research.
So now to the letter, where surprisingly she calls her mother ‘Madam’.
(What a descriptive phrase that is. The reference to Dumfries would be because of the relatives William Copland, Sir George’s brother-in-law who lived at Colliston Dumfries. The mention of the Liverpool wedding party was probably referring to the previous letter saying that the daughter of Sir George’s cousin in Liverpool had married Major Brooks of the 20th. She then continues explaining why they are in Edinburgh.)
The next paragraph is about family friends etc., and I am surprised at a) the mention of the lady being eighty-five years old, not a common occurrence in the late 1790s, and b) the mention of a cancerous complaint. (Fig.2)
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“I dined at your friend Dr Tennants on Saturday.(Sir George’s sister and her husband) Mrs Tennant and he kindly enquired for you, particularly the Doctor who seems to take quite a lovers interest about you — poor man, he has got a cancerous complaint in his nose. He seems easy about it, and will not allow of any operation, which is a sad prejudice, and makes all his friends uneasy. The patch that covers the sore is now twice the size since I left this town in November last. This morning I called on my old friend Lady Do ?? (hole in the paper at this point) Buckingham, the late Lord Egglington’s sister whom I had not seen for six years. She had formerly heard me speak of my Dear Mother in terms addequate to such a parent and tho eightyfive years of age her recollection is such that she made every enquiry about you and rejoiced that you were in a place of safety. She did not know Mr Campbell by the title of Lochgear his designation is Asknish”
A British friend, gave me this information — Loch Gair is an inlet on Loch Fyne on the A83 south of Inverary on the west side of Loch Fyne before it opens out near Lochgilphead. There is a place called ASKNISH near there which fits in with the remark in the letter. Blackwood could possibly be a place south of Glasgow, North of Lesmagow and east of Lanark.
“By the bye Sir G called on Mr Campbell the very day after his visit to us which I mention as a kind of miracle for this Bart. (Baronet — her husband!) seldom visits anyone.
She finishes by putting a note at the top of the letter: (Fig.3)
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“When you write, address for me Douglas’s Lodgings No. 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh. Dr Madam write soon or we shall be gone.”Despite the fact that Maria Dunbar the writer of the letter died 31st August 1808, I feel that she just jumps off the page, and must have been a real character.
(with acknowledgements to Laura Wallace of Texas, Tom Jackson of Cumbria, “Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839” by Alan Robertson)
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