“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – 6th March 1867

There is no letter from Helen to Malcolm on the 6th March, and the one from Malcolm to Helen is full of details about what they are looking for in a house to move to in Scotland.

There is an explanation in the letter of why the couple could not simply live at the family estate, Edinchip, near Lochearnhead. Malcolm’s father Sir John Atholl Bannatyne Murray-MacGregor, died in May 1851, at which point Malcolm became 4th Baronet, inherited the Estate and the Chieftainship of the Clan Gregor. At this point, Malcolm was very much involved with his naval career, so the family estate was let to a tenant and the shooting rights let out every year. There is a definite suggestion in the letters that the money this brought in was also very welcome to the family. Minor aristocratic families such as this one often struggled to find cash to cover their expenses, being land rich and cash poor. In this letter Malcolm discusses the suggestion of a friend that he merely remove the sitting tenant, a man called Fellowes, and move in to Edinchip himself. He says in response to this idea – ‘I could not turn out Fellowes without more than legal notice’, and then continues later on ‘it does not signify to a tenant what the landlord’s reason for giving notice is. It is simply the inconvenience caused to the tenant that would be taken into account – and with some justice… I said that at all events it was impossible to get rid of F in a manner I should like to follow before Whitsunday 12 month.’ It would appear that Malcolm MacGregor remained a gentleman in all of his business dealings.

Malcolm is clearly thinking about his wife while he is out and about – ‘I bought a plaid at a shop kept by a MacGregor and sent it to you. It will do either to keep you warm if you should travel north or for the bairns.’

‘I have been a whole fortnight away from you my pet & feel half tempted to give up and return – but having begun I think I will try & go through until success or failure comes.’

There is a mention of having their youngest child Margaret, who was only three months old, vaccinated: ‘Pray have Margaret vaccinated if you & Mr Baker think it right – I consider it a thing of the greatest importance but am no judge of the right time.’ At this time, the vaccination of babies would be against smallpox, a deadly disease that was eradicated by 1980, largely because of the widespread practice of vaccination.

Malcolm ends his letter on a wistful note: ‘I wish we were like the beasts in Homer without hands and could make our own habitation. Kiss Malvina and Margaret.’