“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – Epilogue

The 14th of March 1867 is the last day for which we have letters for both Sir Malcolm and Lady Helen MacGregor in this collection. The rest of the letters are largely to Lady Helen from her husband either when he was away on business or, more frequently, when he was away at sea. They are fascinating reading, particularly if you are interested in finding out more about day to day life in the British Royal Navy of Victorian times. Malcolm sailed all over the world and kept up a steady correspondence with his wife from wherever he happened to be.

Those reading this blog may be interested as to what happened next for the couple. They did indeed move to Scotland, there is a gap in the letters but it is clear that they are there before Malcolm took up his command of the HMS ‘Danae’ sometime in early 1868. He wrote to his wife most affectionately on the occasion of their fourth wedding anniversary in the October of that year:

‘Four years ago, you dearie thing you made me the happiest man alive! God bless you, and may He in His infinite goodness never give you cause to repent the day. Oh my own, to think I am here in the Southern Hemisphere away from you makes me feel how very dearie you are to me and how much I owe to you. The dearest and best wifie that anybody ever had! I do believe that you are the very best wifie that anybody ever had! Darling pet, my own soul’s treasure, my greatest blessing my own dear darling wifie! I never can thank you sufficiently for your dearie love, my own!’

There is something very moving about this decorated and well respected high-ranking naval officer writing with such frank sentimentality to his wife of four years. They were clearly very happy together – perhaps the secret of a good marriage is long periods apart to keep things fresh.

Malcolm, Helen and their family eventually managed to move in to the family estate at Edinchip and were there by the early 1870s. The couple went on to have three further children, Malcolm in 1873, Mariel Alpina in 1876 and Alexander Ronald in 1878.

There two cartoons by Sir Malcolm amongst the letters written to his wife, both humorous illustrations of his misadventures on horseback, which indicate his sense of fun and tendency not to take himself too seriously, which is also evident in some of this letters.

Plagued by ill-health – a heart weakness, possibly brought on by the strain on his system of the rescue of a crew member from the sea in 1868, Malcolm retired from active service in the Royal Navy in 1875. He remained in the service, undertaking administrative duties, and was granted the rank of Rear Admiral in 1878 in recognition of his service. Spending the rest of his days at Edinchip with his wife and family, Sir Malcolm continued to be active in public life, serving as a local magistrate, a Commissioner of Supply for Perthshire County, and Chairman of both the local School and Parochial Boards.

Helen and Malcolm were only granted 15 years of their happy marriage, as Malcolm died young on the 31st August 1879, at Edinchip, of what was described in his obituary in the Stirling Journal of the 6th September 1879 as ‘an aneurism of the heart’ with which he had been diagnosed 18 months earlier. He was only 45 years of age. His popularity amongst his friends and colleagues is indicated by the quantity of letters of condolence that were sent to his widow after his death. Lady Helen kept all of his letters carefully, along with some cuttings of his hair, which she preserved in a small box marked ‘Hair of my darling husband Malcolm MacGregor’ in her handwriting. It is owing to her care and diligence that this fascinating and moving series of letters has survived to this day.

The MacGregor of MacGregor collection is a remarkable archive of letters, legal documents and other papers that relate to that most distinguished of clans, members of which were so influential throughout the history of Scotland. They may be consulted at the Stirling Council Archives, contact us by telephone or email for an appointment.