Letter, Elizabeth Murray to her brother, Lieutenant Colonel John Murray, 1st – 8th November 1855

This letter is one of the many that members of the Murray family wrote to John when he was serving at Sevastopol in the Crimean War. It is held at the Archives as part of the papers of the Murray family of Polmaise. John Murray was 24 when he left Scotland for Crimea as a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards in late 1854. John saw action at the Siege of Sevastopol and his letters home give a vivid account of conditions there and the life of an officer during that conflict. His family wrote to him regularly with news and the collection includes letters from his parents and siblings.

Elizabeth, known in the family as ‘Bessie’, had recently started boarding school at ‘The Hermitage Lodge’ in Fulham near London. This was on the estate of Sir John Scott Lillie who had bought the house and lodge at North End, Fulham in the 1820s. He stopped living there in 1836 and the Lodge was subsequently converted to a boarding school for young ladies.

She gives news of the cold weather in Fulham and the reaction of her fellow boarders to the cold, describing them as ‘spoonies’. ‘Spoony’ is now regarded as an archaic term and means a silly or foolish person. Elizabeth evidently sees herself as tougher than her classmates being used to cold weather when she is in Scotland living on the Polmaise Estate near Stirling.

In her letter she describes seeing effigies of Guy Fawkes in the local streets, “Today Monday is the 5th of November and the whole streets are full of Guy Foxes we saw 4 today when we were out only think of that Have you any G Foxes out in the Crimea.”

Fox is another spelling of Fawkes and this refers to the celebrations for Bonfire Night. The thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was celebrated right from just after the conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were discovered in November 1605. In fact an Act of Parliament calling for an annual public thanksgiving and celebration of the ‘miraculous and gracious deliverance’ of the government from being blown up was passed on 23rd January 1606.

Traditionally, bonfires were lit and effigies of Guy Fawkes placed upon them to burn on the night of November 5th. Towards the end of the 18th century, reports exist of children asking for ‘a penny for the Guy’ and the celebration became known as ‘Guy Fawkes Night’. Elizabeth is writing on the 250th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot and evidently the occasion is being marked in the usual fashion. The Observance of 5th November Act was not repealed until 25th March 1859.

Begun on November 1st 1855

Finished Thursday 8th November – Hermitage Lodge

My dearest John

very very many thanks

for your long letter which I just

received before I closed my last

letter to you and I then had only time

to add a P.S. to thank you for it.

Well by this time I daresay you are

aware that Papa & Mama are at Polmaise

I had a letter from Ma saying they

had arrived and were busy settling

themselves at home again. I had

a letter from Minnie last night

telling me loads of news and that

I must try and give you some of

them. I suppose you know that

Capt. Ord and a detatchment of

the 42° has left Stirling Papa

saw them start I believe. So

Capt. Ord has been obliged to

go after all, although he always

said he did not wish to go again.

Are you now at Sevastopol or

at Balaklava? or where. What

a grand thing it was the taking

of Kamira (Have I spelt it right) we

read all about it in the Times

the other day which was very

interesting indeed. I wrote a

long letter to Jem the other day

which I hope he will favour

me with an answer. Today

Monday is the 5th of November

and the whole streets are

full of Guy Foxes we saw

4 today when we were out

only think of that Have you

any G Foxes out in the

Crimea. Be sure you tell

me where the 1st Dragoons

are when you next write

which I hope will be soon

I am the only girl who

receives a letter here strait

from the Crimea which

is of course by the young Ladies

thought a great deal of I suppose

you will receive this letter the

same time you get those from

Polmaise telling you all the

home news Have you any

idea when you are coming

home. Do you think you

will leave the Crimea before

your regiment does I should

think now that Sebastopol

is down you would not

much mind. Our Holidays

begin on the 22 of December

which is just late enough

is it not? I shall expect

my home letter tomorrow and

if there is any news in it I

shall tell you them though

I must say I think they will

have told you every thing that

I know for a school girl is not

expected to know much about

what is going on in the world only

that what is going on in her books.

The weather here is dreadfully cold

much colder than it ever is in Scotland

I am sure we have set fires on in

most of the public rooms now for

of course the English girls are frozen

when there is even no appearance

of frost some of them are rather

spoonies (Tuesday) I have had

a visit from Miss Lloyd today

who is as great a talker as usual

but is looking well she is to leave

the Curries in March I believe and

some time soon Capt. Currie is

to be married so that she will

favour it with her presence.

I have not had my letter from

home yet! I had a letter from

Minnie last night she tells me she

had had a letter from you but

no news All just going on as

usual. Today is poaring. A girl here has

just heard that her brother has sailed for

Malta it is Lt. Allhusen 50th If you

hear anything about him or the regiment

I wish you would mention it to your

Affect. sister

Elizth Murray