“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – 8th March 1867

Lady Helen wrote to her husband twice on the 8th March, one letter early in the day and the other in the evening.

In the first letter Helen outlines her thoughts about the prospective house at St Fillans. St Fillans is a village at the opposite end of Loch Earn from Lochearnhead.

She ends her thoughts on how they might arrange the household in the rooms of the house thus:

‘I think it would be as well for you to see the house & then you could judge of the feasibility of my plan – the rent is most enticing.’ The need to save money is a continual preoccupation in these letters.

Helen refers to a point raised by her husband in his previous letter of 5th March:

‘I agree with you as to the question of turning Captain Fellowes out & I think you could not do so before 69 as the arrangement about furniture has been made…’

Helen mentions the ‘Fenian outbreak’ which is a reference to what we now call the Fenian Rising. This took place in County Kerry in Ireland on the 5th March 1867 and was an attempted rebellion against British rule in the country by an organisation known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Helen is clearly not in favour of their cause, although she does evince some sympathy for those involved:

‘I am rather glad of this Fenian outbreak as now I hope they may be utterly squashed. Poor wretches, they must bitterly repent their folly.’

Helen is enthusiastic about the plaid that Malcolm told her he was sending in his letter of the 6th:

‘You dearie pet to think of buying me that plaid; I shall like it much. Is it coming “by carrier” all the way from Scotland? I should fancy it will take a month to come. Where did you buy it?

She teases Malcolm:

‘I forgot to scold you last night for actually daring to put some of your puns in a letter – what do you deserve Sir after all I have said on the subject so many a time & oft? – But I suppose I mustn’t scold as to the contents of your letters as you may punish me by not writing. My own Malcolm you have written so much oftener than I thought you would & such nice long letters too.’

There is a confirmation of the vaccination of their youngest daughter at the end of the letter:

‘I shall have Margaret vaccinated this day week when she will be 2 months old by the days of the month, Malvina was done the same time.’

Malcolm wrote one letter to his wife on the 8th of March. It appears that he had spent the day in Edinburgh, leaving Scone Palace at 8.45 am to get to Perth Station for the train, which, it appears, took just under three hours to get to the capital. Malcolm was staying with Lord and Lady Mansfield whose family had lived at Scone for over 250 years at this date.

It appears that Malcolm had gone to Edinburgh to organise finance to act as a contingency in case the family rented an unfurnished house, and to discuss business relating to the construction of railway lines on land belonging to the Edinchip Estate. The loan proposal was that they borrow on the security of the estate, similar to a modern mortgage secured on property.

There is a long description in the letter of negotiations with the railway company regarding land within the Edinchip Estate that has been compulsorily purchased to create the Callander and Oban Railway line. New railway lines were created by Act of Parliament so the landowners involved had little choice with regard to giving up the land for the railway. Their main recourse was negotiation with the railway company to ensure that they received adequate compensation for the loss of the land and that sufficient infrastructure was put in place to ensure that the usual operation of the estate could continue once the lines were constructed.

‘They had just served him [their Edinburgh lawyer] with notice of their being about to break ground on our land – and that they were prepared to pay up. They may not begin before they have paid us and it is supposed that in a month or 6 weeks they will have paid the £2500 and settled as to the price to be given for the land they actually abstract from us. The quantity they want is 22 acres.’

The acreage needed for the line will have been in one long strip bisecting part of the estate. Railway plans were deposited by the various companies with Parliament as part of the preparation for each act allowing the development of the lines to go ahead, and copies can often be seen in local Archives.

Helen wrote again to her husband on the evening of the 8th of March to let him know what she had been doing all day. It would appear she had a visitor, the name is heavily abbreviated so it is not clear who it was, but from the description it would appear it was someone with whom Lady Helen was on close terms as she describes her visitor telling her that her grandmother in law:

‘cannot bear my calling Mammie “Mammie” as she thinks it “low” & says she shall expect to hear Malvina call you “Daddy” next.’

Of course calling one’s mother ‘Mammy’ in Northern Ireland is quite normal. Presumably the lady in question would prefer ‘Mamma’ and ‘Papa’ in the English way of the time.