THE LETTERS (1860-62) OF



to his nephew


Alexander Aitken was born 8 December 1776 at Abercorn, Midlothian, Scotland and died 12 July 1865 at Walcot in Alkborough.

As a young man in the 1790s he had walked down from Scotland looking for work. He found employment with the Strickland family at Walcot Hall, and rose to become bailiff of the Walcot Estate. Lady Strickland had this picture painted of him in old age and the family gave it to his grandaughter Mary Spilman when they left the district for Cotesbach, Leicestershire.

He is sitting by the back door of his cottage in Walcot and the newspaper is supposed to signal that despite his humble origins, he had become an educated man.

Letter 1

March 9th 1860

Dear George,

I thank you for the newspaper you have sent to me from which I see that some of the principal inhabitants have had a meeting to do honour to an old gentleman whose ancestors can be traced back for 400 years as belonging to Glasgow, and I confess that I felt some surprise that that should be thought at all wonderful on the north side of the Tweed - why I remember your father telling me, that he was living at Inverary when the Duke ran himself into difficulties in a very foolish way, an old labourer in the garden, in lamenting the circumstances said to your father "Ay, it is 759 years since such a one ( my ancestor) came over yon hills to settle under this family and until now, they never did anything wrong." - This is pretty well for a little man, and now I will tell you what I have read about two great ones, two highland chieftains, a Graham and I think a McPherson , at any rate it was a Mac and I shall call it McPherson, were disputing about the antiquity of their respective families, when the Graham said his forefathers could be traced back nearly as far back as Noah's Flood - 'Noah's flood' exclaimed the other, 'Why Graham to tell you the truth of the matter the first Mcpherson was Adam's grandfather!" Well after doing honour to the aged gentleman for his virtues (which would appear to have needed no [blank] from his ancestors) the meeting seems to have passed on to rusty Keys and old Punch Bowls, but these I pass over to [blank] upon whose great patriots and Warriors, Wallace and Bruce, that not withstanding all they did for their Country, that Scotland generally and Glasgow in particular, owes more of her prosperity to the Union and to the battle of Culloden than to all these heroes did and suffered-

We have had a long cold winter, which although my health has been very good has confined me very much to the house and your paper came in good time to amuse me a little and I have now made Martha a present of it, she had another daughter about three months ago, it is a poor little delicate looking thing not likely to live long, but fortunately her own health has been better since she was confined. Her husband is also very well and I suppose you know that little Joe got his thighbone broken, however it mended very well and he is now as mischievous as ever.

I had a letter a short time since from your brother John, when himself and his wife were well, he had been to Tiptree to see the celebrated Mr. Michi and his performances in agriculture and I shall not be much surprised if he some day pluck the laurels from Michi's brow and place them on his own. John considers his own swedes and marigolds, quite as good as Michi's, but it was not a suitable time of the year to form a correct idea of other things.

I almost think your father will have a pop visit from your cousin Alexander in this ensuing summer, at least he talks of it, he is now employed on the Carlisle and Hawick railway and is living in Longtown, the Bridges is more particularly his department, and of them there will be five of considerable size, besides many small ones.

Thomas Spilman has got a steam engine, which is to answer the double purpose of threshing corn and grinding corn.

We had a letter from Tom a month ago, when himself and family were well, he is still employed in the timber line at 50/- a week, which he says, is just enough to live comfortably on but not more.

Dorothy has got a school between Lincoln and Grantham at a village called Navenby and she seems very well pleased with her situation, the clergyman being her employer, she has no one else to care for, and he would appear to be a remarkably good sort of man. It is long since I saw William, but I expect him coming down here in a month or six weeks.

It is now found that ironstone abounds in different places not far from here, but particularly at Appleby, two miles beyond Winterton and they are now boring to try and find coal and should they succeed in that, it will be the means I hope of rendering this corner of Lincolnshire as noted as a manufacturing district as it is now is for its agriculture. The ironstone lies very near the surface.

Your cousin George was over here on Sunday, himself, wife and daughter were well, and his business seems to continue to be profitable. Your Aunt, together with your cousin Exelby join with me in love to you and hope this will find you well and I remain

My dear George

Your affectionate Uncle

Alexander Aitken

P.S. Perhaps you will find time enough sometime when you are not engaged in your Master's business, or amongst the ladies to write me a few lines, a letter now and then helps to enliven me from the dull monotony to which old age condemns me. A.A.


Mr 'Michi' is John Joseph Mechi (1801-1880) a maker and vendor of cutlery, razors and fitted boxes who made a fortune selling his "magic razor strop" before turning his attention to agriculture at Tiptree in Essex. He transformed 130 acres of poor wet heath by draining it with 80 or 90 miles of 1" pipe and he turned it into a profitable Model Farm. Alexander Aitken was not to know that Mechi would go bankrupt and die in penury in 1880.
George Aitken (1816-1893) eldest child, dealer in spirits,oats,guano and hops in Winterton.
Dorothy Aitken Bilsborough (1836-1924) youngest child,a schoolteacher named in honour of his Master's wife Mrs Dorothy Goulton.
Anne Aitken (1823-? ) was married to William Exelby (1817-1883),gardener of Alkborough.

Letter 2

Walcot March 27th

My dear George,

I thank you for your letter and freely acknowledge that your version of the two Highland Lairds is beyond all comparison better than mine and as I like a funny story I shall not soon forget it.

And now before proceeding any further, it will be as well to set ourselves right in regard to our respective positions; you have lived all your time in Scotland and during at least the last twelve years of it, you have at least had ten to one more opportunities than I had of gaining knowledge of the country.

I left Scotland before I was 22 years old and up to that time I could not afford even to read a newspaper- indeed while I was an under gardener all I could do was to keep myself in decent clothes and sup brose (=broth) three times a day. When I came to England the scene soon changed, for after I had been a year in the country, my employers regularly let me have the reading of a newspaper three times a week, besides giving me free and unrestricted use of their libraries, in truth I feel a pleasure in thinking of, or in recording what Mr. Goulton did for me, which must be my excuse for telling you.

When I got married he built this house on purpose for me - after I had saved a little money, the Bank where I kept it broke, leaving me something worse than penniless; well, Mr. Goulton promptly gave me 10/- a pound on my whole loss, so that with the dividends from the Bank I did not lose much. When my family began to increase, I asked him to let me keep a cow, he did so. She went along with his, both summer and winter and was attended to the same as his own, so that Ellen had nothing to do but to milk her. He declined taking any rent and after a time my cow died, and he gave me money to buy another. Well after a time the good old man died also, but even then he did not forget me, as there was in his will 800 pounds for me - and his successors on the estate have all proved good masters and mistresses.

I know that most Scotsmen think me too partial to England but supposing it to be so, the error is at least on the safe side; a sense of gratitude must plead my excuse.

From what I have said you will perceive that I can know but little about Scotland except what I have learnt in England, much of that is good, but some not particularly inviting, some of which I shall now notice.

Pride of ancestry would appear to be a Scotch weakness and I thought you would have seen that it was national vanity more than anything particular which I had in view when I wrote to you. I am well aware that the inhabitants of great commercial towns are of a very fugitive kind and that merchants, bankers and manufacturers have been the founders of many good families in England perhaps also in Scotland, but if I have taken a right view of the case, the difference lies here, that the Scotch are proud of their ancestors, and that the English are not. I have heard many men boast of having wrought out their own independence but very few indeed who will say that their father's did it for them.

Another vanity you seem to be chargeable with is that of almost idolizing your great men. Wallace and Bruce undoubtedly were very great men, particularly the former, otherwise he could not so long have defied the power of such a sagacious and powerful enemy as Edward, though as for Bruce I cannot help thinking that he was fully as much indebted to the imbecility of his antagonist as to his own skill and bravery, for the honours that he won. Now the difference lies here, I was always having Wallace, Bruce and Bannockburn ringing in my ears whilst in Scotland, whilst I might live here for half a century and never hear Flodden, Cressy, Agincourt or Dunbar mentioned - even Cromwell is seldom mentioned except in connection with his bad deeds.

I cannot bring myself to agree with Robert Chambers, that it was as good for England as for Scotland that Edward was beat in his desire to conquer Scotland, the Scotch must have been somewhat troublesome at first, but they always liked the "penny siller" [silver penny, a payment, a bribe] and except a little grumbling would have soon been reconciled to loss of independence, if they found their interest in it; the Irish are very different, they like money only for the pleasure of spending it, as the encumbered estate counts can testify, but even as it is Ireland is not all loss, it is a good nursery for the army. They love fighting, and if they did not fight in other countries would fight amongst themselves, besides all this the northern counties of England - - -part of Scotland and now they are as much English in every way as any three or four counties on the coast of the Channel and I believe as far as the mass of the people are concerned they are far more prosperous and if Scotland and England had been united, either by conquest or otherwise they would surely have found some better way of furthering their mutual interests than by cutting each others throats. The comparison you draw between Glasgow and Manchester seems to me to be not quite a fair one, for although the increase of Glasgow even in my day has been immense, I believe that of Manchester has at least been as great; indeed I saw a statement in a newspaper the other day, that Manchester is past approaching towards a million, but be that as it may, there is this great difference between them that Glasgow is its own shipping port and Manchester is not. Could sea going ships come to Manchester a large portion of those who now live in Liverpool would have swelled the population of Manchester and on the other hand, had Greenock continued the shipping port for Glasgow, a many many thousands, who now throng the streets of Glasgow would have belonged to Greenock.

And as for my being heretical I can only say that what is heresy with some, is orthodox with others. I only know this for certain that there is a God who alone knows how he has constituted me both in body and mind and He alone knows how to judge me.

And now having handled everything in your letter with the greatest freedom, I trust you will try and divest yourself of all prejudices and if you do, so you will most likely find something right and something wrong.

I have given you good reasons why I love England so much, but while I love England I do not necessarily hate Scotland. I am always pleased to hear of her sons who are placed in high places, doing their duties well and grieved when they do not, and do not like what I consider her national follies.

I had a letter the other day from your brother John and most likely he has let you know that he has got a son and that it and its mother are doing well. I am in great hopes that John will shine before long as an Agriculturist, at least all he says about it leads me to that conclusion.

I am happy to say that Dorothy gets on very well with her school. I had a note yesterday from the clergyman, her employer; he speaks very highly of her and seems much pleased with her services.

I fear you will have some difficulty in reading some parts of this letter. I have had a bad cold and a cough which prevents me sleeping, so that altogether I feel very weak and nervous, but no doubt old age has something to do with it. I should like to hear from you sometimes and when you write don't make any apologies, but go slap dash at it at once, and tell me all my faults and false ideas and that I hold to be the best way to make men both wise and better.

I believe all your relations about here are well, but partly owing to the cold weather and partly to my own weakness I have gone very little out of doors this winter.

I remain my dear George
Your Affectionate Uncle
Alex Aitken

I hope your brother Alex will soon meet with something to do him good.

Note: Ellen = Elenora Forman (1793-1871) AA's second wife, after Elizabeth n�e Booth died in chilbirth in 1812.

Letter 3


May 8th 1860

Well done! My dear nephew, I own you have fairly beat me, but particularly about the Heroes and battles of bygone days, but I guess you have got the logical bump on your "Pow" [=head] and if so you will be able to help me to solve a question of more grave importance at the present time and to the present race of men than all the battles of even Greece and Rome, I mean the use to any nation of an established church, in a word, is it better for a nation to have one, or to be without one? Here are the dissenters of different denominations crawling in inch by inch to undermine and over throw the Church; they don't own that to be their object, to be sure, but the whole thing is so plain " that he who runs may read", their present dodge is to abolish Church rates and I think they will succeed and after that I do not see how it can be said to be the national church unless everyone can be compelled to assist in its support. - And now me, dear George, if what the newspapers have reported concerning Scotland during the last thirty years be true, you will be able to form and most likely have formed a tolerably correct opinion upon what I want to know.

It would appear that about thirty years ago, there was a great disruption in the Scotch Kirks - that more than half the members left it and if course weakening it to that extent for good or for evil. Now I have read much lately of Scotch profligacy, drunkenness - - - would appear to stalk over the land - - - and then there is fraudulent bankruptcies bringing ruin on thousands and there have been many rogueries of the same kind in England in which amongst those concerned I sometimes see Scottish names, now supposing all this to be true, what I particularly want to ask you is, whether this deplorable state of things can be fairly traced to the weakening of the Kirk, or whether if it had been continued in its former power it would not have acted as a check to so much wickedness.

In the United States too, they have not national Church, and villainy there seems to reign triumphant, both publicly and privately.

You need not annoy yourself about what you said of me being heretical. I like to be told of my faults. I read only the other day, that Luther said before he died that if he could have foreseen all the consequences of his reformation, he never would have done what he did do, and if he thought so then, what would he think if he could see all the spawn that has sprung out of it, in fact heresy and orthodoxy have become convertible terms. I only see one way out of it, and it is this, the Catholics are said to number 200,000,000. Now will any man presume to say that all these Catholics will be sent to Hell, merely because they are Catholics and without any regard to whether they have lived good lives or bad ones, - and now take the other side of the question, and suppose there are 100,000,000 of Protestants of all denominations, can it be safely said that all these will get to Heaven and whether or not their lives have been good or bad. I think I hear you say to both these questions, "No, certainly not". If so, all men cannot think alike, they differ as much from each other in the constitution of their minds as they do in their bodies; it would be absurd to say that men at a certain age, say 18 or 20, sit down deliberately and make up their minds as to whether they would be brave or cowardly, miser or spendthrift, contemplative and thoughtful, or rash and thoughtless, so I think if religion can encourage what is good in us and check our evil propensities, it fulfills all that it can do, but as for making us all think alike, that it never did do, and I fear it never will and I therefore think a clergy paid by the State and independent of the multitude could speak out more fearlessly and reprove vice and immorality than a body of clergy who are dependent upon their hearers for a living. Now, my dear George, as this is an important subject I hope I have managed to make myself understood, though I feel somewhat nervous and my hand trembles, which makes my writing scarcely legible.

In your first letter you asked me to give something towards the erection of something at Stirling to the memory of Wallace, which I am not inclined to do; I have for more than 50 years found an outlet for my spare money among the poor and necessitous and if you live till your hair is as white as mine, you will find more satisfaction in the thought that you had given even 1 pound to a suffering fellow creature than if you had given 5 pounds to a Wallace Monument.

I continue to enjoy good health and now that we have warmer weather my cough has nearly left me, last year at this time I could walk to Whitton and back with as much ease as I can now go to Alkborough and back. Your loving Aunt, as also Ann and her husband join with me in love to you and we hope this will find you well, all your other friends about here are well, at least I hear nothing to the contrary but I am sorry to hear John Farrow's farm crops do not promise well this year.

I remain, my dear George,
Your affectionate Uncle
Alexander Aitken

Notes: Martha Aitken (1831-1864) was married to John Farrow, Alkboro' farmer of 215 acres in 1861 census.

Letter 4


July 6th 1860

My dear George,

I thank you very much for the letter you have sent me, the very able manner in which you defended Scotland and Scotchmen from all I said against both the one and the other, impressed me with the belief (which has not been disappointed) that you would be able to give me a very sound opinion upon the vexed question of "Church and State", and I feel now, more than ever satisfied that there ought to be a national religion supported in some way or other by the nation and that all, dissenters or not, should be obliged to pay to it in proportion to the real property they possess. The Church rate taken by itself, to be sure is not a very important matter and might be compromised, but it is only a step to something more and that is to put an end to a National Church altogether, indeed I know that there are some who say and I believe there are many who think that the very best thing which could be done, would be to pull down all the churches and break the stones to mend the highways with them. However, judging from what I have read in the proceedings of the present session of Parliament, there is a reaction in public mind, both in regard to Church rates and the Reform Bill (a great humbug as I think) so that I hope common sense will in time resume its place in the public mind.

As your learning has been better, your reading more extensive and your chances of observations (at least as far as Scotland is concerned) far superior to mine, your criticisms on what I said about Scotland becomes of so much the greater value, and I now think that I have little left to find fault with except the proneness of Scotchmen to laud and exalt to the skies every Scotchman who happens to distinguish himself; there are few things more hateful to me than to hear a man blowing his own trumpet, and I think it equally disagreeable to hear Scotchmen extolling Scotchmen above others who are equally as good as they. It is not very long ago since a great number of Scotchmen met to do honour to the memory of Burns (it was in the County of Durham, I think) when one of the Speakers, amidst great applause drew a comparison betwixt Burns and Shakespeare, the thing was naturally enough, offensive in this country and the public journals instead of treating it with contempt or turning it to ridicule took it in high dudgeon, for which I blame them.

We are all pretty well here and your Aunt and your cousins join with me in love to you. My own health continues good, but I suffer greatly from shortness of breath and cough arising from phlegm accumulating in my lungs, my hearing also and my memory also gets very bad, and my eyes do not improve, indeed altogether I fail very fast both in body and mind and am no longer able to contend with you in controversial letters and I again thank you for having freed my mind from many prejudices, but I should like to hear sometimes from you and John. I had a letter from him a few days ago when he and family were well but his letters and mine are chiefly on agricultural matters.

We had a terrible hurricane here on the 28th of May; the trees blown down on this estate were counted by hundreds and on Sir Robert Sheffield's by thousands.
I fear you will have some difficulty in reading this letter, for to bad writing I often add bad spelling and I fear also bad grammar, a thing by the bye, which I was never taught.

I remain my dear George
Your affectionate Uncle
Alexander Aitken

Ps The grain crops about here are very unequal, in a few places they look extremely well, generally they are a little below middling and in some very bad. - I regret to say that John Farrow's are among the worst. All this us as I have been told for what with coughing and difficult breathing I am unable to go and see. A.A.

Letter 5

August 1860

My dear George,

I have for the last week or more enjoyed better health than I have had for many months before, that is to say I breathe more freely and am free from cough and spitting of phlegm, for strictly speaking my health has not been bad, so under such favourable conditions, I think I cannot do better than answer your kind letter. So in the first place we may as well finish our controversy about Scotland and Scotchmen, for after all I must admit they have something to be proud of and to begin at the beginning the Scotch (unlike the English after the battle of Hastings) though suffering many terrible defeats, never bent their necks to the yoke of the conquerors. I also admit she has produced many names, glorious both in peace and war - Wallace and Montrose con never be forgotten and in more modern times we have had Duncan and Abercrombie and though last, not least there is the brave Colin Campbell these, and a few more names, makes me almost forget Murray and Dalrymple, and Calder, wretched poltroons though they were, and in peace there is Allan Ramsay, the author of Douglas, I forget his name, Scott, Burns, Macaulay and Watt, some of them great names, all of them respectable and I have also heard it said, but whether true or not, I have no means of knowing, that the immortal Newton was either the son or the grandson of a Scotchman.

I am glad that your father's Irish excursion has done him good, though I think fine weather would do him more still .We have had dismal weather here of late and rain, rain, seldom a fair day. Well I see you intend paying a visit to the valley of the Tweed, and I am sure you will like the excursion, for of all the rivers in Britain, I believe it and its tributaries are the most celebrated in song; it is a fine pastoral district, although I have seen but little of it, but still I can say that I have crossed the Tweed at Berwick, at Coldstream, at Peebles, at Selkirk and I have stepped across it, where it is almost a yard wide near its source and in crossing the Country I must have crossed some of its feeders though I have no distinct recollection of any but the Teviot near Hawick. I hope you may have fine weather so that you may enjoy the jaunt.

I have read Parke's Travels in Africa ['Travels into the interior of Africa' (1795) by Mungo Park] and some of Hogg's writings [James Hogg 1770-1835] and although I think them both clever men, I do not fear but I could visit their monuments without breaking the second Commandment and I hope you will be able to get back to Glasgow again without committing such a grievous sin.

I had a letter from John about a week ago. He would appear still to get on pretty successfully with his farming and I am not without hopes that he will, at no distant day, surpass the celebrated Mr. Michi. He went to see the great Agricultural Show at Canterbury and took the opportunity to go over the fine old Cathedral, I mean fine within, for when I say it more than fifty years ago, I did not at all admire its exterior. John's son, after being likely to die, was brought about, and is now thriving well by living on ass's milk.
Your Aunt and cousin Ann and her husband beg to join with me in love to you.

John Farrow's crops of corn looked miserably had for a long time, but with in these last two months they have improved wonderfully and will not be such a very bad crop after all, but like all other crops about here they will be very late.
Your cousins, Harriet, George, William were all well when I last heard from them.
Your affectionate Uncle
Alexander Aitken

Please write to me sometime after your tour. I had a letter a week ago from your cousin Harriet Purdon, her brother David and her sister were well but she had not heard from Alexander for some time, but she had herself been very ill and in the hands of the doctor, who says she is in great danger going into a consumption, although as she has youth on her side she may fight through. I suppose you know she is learning dress making and so much sitting is all against her, however her time will expire on the 14th of Sept, after which I hope she may be able to earn her living without such very close sitting. I don't know how they are circumstanced now, but as their Grandfather left 1500 pounds at his death, there ought still to be enough to yield 50 pounds a year interest to divide amongst the four. I have invited her to come and spend a few weeks with me when her time is up. A.A.

Letter 6

Oct 8th 1860

Dear George,

I got three newspapers last week directed to me in your well known hand, which I was most glad to see as it seemed to say "my eyes have got better again" and I sincerely hope that you are well again in all respects, and in the hope and belief I will direct this to you at Glasgow as usual.

Well I thank you very kindly for the papers and I have read as much of them as my eyes will bear, but my eyes, and ears and memory all alike give way and giving way very fast too. However I managed to read the article on the difference between the Scotch and English Bankrupt Laws, I also read the article on Education, but I have all along had my doubts about the wisdom of educating the masses beyond reading, writing and the elementary rules of arithmetic. I fear anything beyond that may render them discontented with their position in life, and less fitted to fulfill the duties of servants or labourers, I wish I may be wrong but a few more years must test it. I also was greatly pleased with what I read about the general character of the Scotch clergy, - but at the time I was busy with social science a voice came to me beyond the Atlantic which pleased me better than anything I have ever read for many years - I mean the well hearted castigation which it conveyed to those in this country who with Lord Brougham at their head, are continually bawling about the Emancipation of the Slaves while at the same time they and this country at large are the greatest encouragers of slavery of any nation on the Earth's surface in the enormous quantity of cotton and other products which we consume. If we are in earnest about abolishing slavery let us stop using cotton and there will soon be an end of it. I had many a battle with my neighbors when slavery was abolished in the West Indies and I have never yet seen cause to retract a single opinion I then advanced. I fully believe that a short Act of Parliament and one per cent interest on the twenty millions of pounds that was given to the West India Planters as an indemnity, might have put the Negroes in a position which the British labourers might have envied. There is only one thing on which I cannot fully satisfy myself, namely whether there was more folly or more hypocrisy in the whole of the business.

I keep hearing from your brother John now and then and am happy to hear that he has been on the whole very fortunate with his crops this year. He got his clover well during a short fit of fine weather in summer and his wheat well during another fit of fine weather in the autumn and he looks forward to a good balance sheet at the end of the year. I fancy that one of the greatest disappointments your illness will have brought you, will be in putting a stop to your extended visit to the Valley of the Tweed, but I hope you will be more fortunate next year and as for myself, although I feel the effects of age in most things, yet my health is good, I can eat and drink and sleep nearly as well as ever I could.

We have had the last week fine weather and harvest operations have gone briskly on, should this week prove fine it will I think get finished and the corn where not carted too soon, will not have suffered very much, for notwithstanding the great deal of wet weather, I do not hear of much corn being sprouted. Our worst produce this year is the potatoes ; they are very small and dreadfully diseased, turnips also in most places is a defective crop.

My family are all well, your Aunt and Ann, and her husband beg to join with me in love to you and

I remain dear George

Your Affectionate Uncle

Alexander Aitken

I hope you will write to me when you feel your self well enough to do so. I see I have not clearly expressed my meaning about the 20, 000,000 pound indemnity- what I mean is etc. etc. etc

Letter 7

Nov 5th 1860

My dear George,

When I received the three or four newspapers which you so kindly sent me, I thought the directions so much like your usual writing that I came to the conclusion that you must have been at least nearly well again and had gone back to Glasgow and felt very sorry on the receipt of your letter of the 2nd inst to find myself so very far wrong, however as you are so much better as to be able to return to your employers, I hope you may soon get quite well again without either leaving the desk or emigrating. If however you should leave your native land, I fancy you would try the Cape, if indeed you could find employment there congenial to your past habits; at any rate your employers being in extensive business and I guess having extensive connections in many countries, they will be your best guides.

I am glad to see that your father is well, but did not suppose that his business ever led him to Dundee and as for myself I continue in very good health, but fail fast in other respects, a walk which a year ago was a pleasure to me has now become a toil. I am also getting very deaf, but my memory is worst of all, on the other hand I am suffering less from cough, owing partly I believe from my having given over drinking ale and taken to water in its stead. I began the change, five or six weeks ago and since then I have been gradually freed from phlegm and in course its attendant cough.

I, as well as you had a letter from Forest Farm the other day and happy to think all is going on well there but I was particularly pleased to see that John had got a prize of 5 pounds for the best essay on the management of small farms near large towns. This is pretty well to begin with and no doubt he will by flying at higher game soon.

As for education, I am still, as I always have been of opinion that if possible every child should be learnt to read and write and learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide; but I have serious doubts whether more than that would contribute whether to the benefit or the happiness of those whose lot it is to get their living by hard working There has been for some years a good school at Alkborough where a great deal more is taught than that, but I heard complaints lately that youths talk less and seem to care less about ploughing, mowing etc. Than used to be the case, however it is fair to say that from some cause or other (but whether from schools, or church or chapels or all combined I do not know) there is a very great improvement in this parish since I first came into it........................Drunkenness and swearing were so common, that none were ashamed of them. I hear very little of these vices now, but on the other hand I hear much said about people being more ready to contract debts than to pay them and giving money towards the support of missionaries etc. which ought to go elsewhere.

And as for slavery I am still of the opinion that under proper restrictions, it is the best plan that could be devised for the Negro race. They are most decidedly amongst the lowest, if not the very lowest of human race (I mean intellect) not even in excepting the Red Men of America or the New Zealanders whose fathers and grandfathers ate one another. Had our Parliament instead of voting twenty millions to give the Blacks their liberty, passed an Act to regulate their hours of labour, forbidding man and wife to be separated and that when their children were sold, they should not be allowed to be sent to a greater distance than, say, 20 miles and that they should be allowed to see each other at stated times if they wished it and that there should have been a paid official in certain districts to see that these conditions were observed. I also think there should have been proper persons to give them moral and religious instruction, without at the same time trying to make them dissatisfied with their situation and as I said before, the interest of twenty millions at one per cent would have been amply sufficient for all this and as for the slave trade it is a different affair, though I think under the above condition, the slaves that were in the West Indies at the time of the abolition would have been enough for the cultivation of the Islands.

And now, my dear George, I have told you all I think about Education and Slavery; these were my opinions at first and they are so still. Your Aunt and cousins join with me in love to you and in the hope that you will soon be well again. By the bye your cousin Spilman was confined day before yesterday, at least I have been told so and I think it must be true although I have had no message from any of the family. I remain, dear George,

Your affectionate Uncle

Alexander Aitken

Note: 'your cousin Spilman was confined' - Thomas Spilman (3 Nov 1860 - 7 July 1915)


Letter No 8

April 22nd 1861

My dear George,

I have to thank you for your letter of the 5th. With the very welcoming news that your health keeps improving, so I hope that the genial weather which has come at last will soon set you all right again and I am also glad to see that your father has also had his health better during the last winter than it was during the previous one. I had a letter from himself soon after I got yours which brought the same agreeable news, as also that he had a good sale for the produce of his nursery, as also that his family were all well. He also sent me a Glasgow paper, which told me of the wonderful progress shipbuilding, is making on the Clyde. I fancy it must now beat all the rivers in Britain in that respect, not even excepting the Thames itself. The progress that commerce is making is not less surprising than the building of vessels, as it appears from your letter that the customs for Glasgow, Greenock and Port Glasgow for the past year amounted to 1,756,000 pounds. Well, faith, Geordie, to tell you the truth of the matter, that after reading your account of the deepening of your river and the way in which you improve bad land with the mud which is raised out of it , I began to think if the banks of the Humber had had Scotchmen on it instead of Englishmen, its stream instead of being widened would have been narrowed to a few hundreds of yards and made nearly straight in its course, by which means its very dangerous navigation would have been made safe, the stream be being made stronger would have scoured out its bottom and ships of a larger burden could have come up it and last and not least instead of a waste of sands and mud, a many thousands of acres of land would have been added to each side of it.

But I have only conversed with one man who seems to understand all this and that is the Engineer for the Aire and Calder navigation. The inhabitants believe that the mud or warp as it is called, is brought down by floods from the land in spite of the evident proofs that it comes from the sea. The sea has been encroaching on the Yorkshire coast from time immemorial, the stone and heavy particles remain on the sea shore and the lightest parts being carried southward by the flood tides are partly drawn into the Humber and the remainder is deposited on the Lincolnshire shore where good land keeps accumulating.

You have given me some good information about the Clyde, which you know to be true, and I have given you some about the Humber, which I think is true.

I think it is not improbable but what you say of the American Union may be fulfilled, namely, that they may in time become two or three nations, but I do not expect that they will live in harmony with each other, though which ever way it is I fully believe that in time the race will absorb the whole of the North Continent, Canada and Mexico and the West Indies included and I have long thought that if they should hold together until there should be a hundred million of them they would give laws to the World, so it will be best for us if they separate and keep separate.

We had a visit from Dorothy at Easter, she is very well and continues to like her situation very well, as the clergyman and his wife always behave kindly to her, but I do not think she is altogether comfortable where she boards, the old man is well enough, but his wife is drunk half her time and when in liquor, she is unmanageable and very bad tempered.

I had a letter from Tom last week, himself and family were well, himself and another man had been trying to purchase a saw mill in Bullerook Forest, but they were not able to come to the terms the owner wanted, so Tom when he wrote was acting as Clerk and Salesman to a Timber Merchant. He says, however that as what he calls the "Land Bill" has passed through their Parliament and become the law of the land, he will endeavour to purchase a small farm when he says will cost him one pound an acre and he will be able to rent land of equal extent as the farm and joining to it, at one shilling rent per annum with the chance of buying it at some future time if he ever should be able to do so and this he says the new law enables him to do. I should have said that his present employer gives him 3 pounds a week as wages.

And now I must tell you how I am myself. I have been unusually well for a few weeks past not having been troubled with phlegm. I expectorate very little and cough very little and am still able to go to Church on Sundays and sometimes I get as far as John Farrow's on a weekday, but although my bodily health continues so good, I find my intellect fails me very fast, particularly my memory and I get very stupid and soon get bewildered for after paying the labourers here for more than forty yours I was obliged to give it over last summer as I found myself sometimes losing money by it. I also hear very badly and do not see very well, but I ought to be thankful that I am so well (instead of grumbling) as I am, and that I am so well provided for now in my old days.

I had a letter yesterday from your brother John, when himself, wife and darling son were well and would seem to be going on well on the farm which I am very pleased with as I feared he would not manage very well, being so far in years before he began that line of life, however he has done wonderfully well and I am not without hopes that he may someday tear the laurels from Mr. Michi's brow. We had a visit from your cousin George a week ago. His business seems to be increasing. He now deals in Spirits, Oats, Beans Guano and I believe Hops. Your other relations about here are well and beg to join me in love to you and are glad to hear that you are getting better.

By-the-bye can you tell me anything about Lord Clyde's family. I fancy he must be of humble origin and if so it is just so much to his honour if without powerful friends he has by his good conduct raised himself to the head of his profession.

I remain my dear George
Your affectionate Uncle
Alexander Aitken

Letter No. 9

June 4th 1861

My dear George,

I duly received yours of the 26th. May I was glad to hear such good accounts of your health and I think you would derive some benefit from your excursion to Stirling and Foot o' Green, but particularly from the sight of Bannockburn. I hope of you did not bathe yourself in it; you at least took a copious draught of its waters. I think I should hardly have done less myself, although I am not nearly so much of a Scotchman as you are, but thorough Scotchman though you be, I hope you are not such a foolish one as I once was, for in my early days I believed it to be as true as the Gospel, that the English army were 300,000 strong and the Scotch only 30,000!!! I am likewise pleased to see such good accounts of Mr. and Mrs. Nimmo, he is quite right in feeding his farm well. There are many who become rich by feeding them well, but there are more still who become poor by starving them. Thomas Spilman is getting rich by doing as Nimmo does, but of all the men I ever knew, Thomas's brother James has been the most successful in farming.

Some 30 years ago he went to Goole as a miller when few persons there durst trust him with a quarter of wheat, however he soon made money enough to enter on 200 acres of land. Skilful management there, did in not very many years add another farm to it of 500 acres and a person who had good means of knowing told me two years ago that his property was worth 20,000 pounds. He has three of his sons on three of his farms, but only as his servants, for he makes them account to him for everything and this while it enriches him will be a good thing for them.

I believe the account you sent me of Lord Clyde's parentage is the right one as I saw the other day in a full account of the Peerage that his father's name was McLiver and his mother's Campbell, and as that was all it told on the subject, I conclude that it had been a match disapproved of by the Lady's relations, or otherwise he had been an illegitimate child, but no matter what his parents were, he is a brave and skilful soldier himself and that is all which concerns the country.

Although I know that Lord Dundonald gave the world his autobiography, a short time before his death, yet I have never seen it, not indeed it is very necessary that I should see it for since the time that the news came to England that in command of paltry cutter or schooner of 6 or 8 guns and 50 men he had captured a Spanish ship of 32 guns and 300 men. I may almost say I never lost sight of him until his remains were deposited in Westminster Abbey. The impression it made on my mind was somewhat magical and I seemed to follow him through all his fortunes and misfortunes with as much anxiety as if he had been a near relation whether fighting in Basque roads under the eye but of inadequate support from that " ---Psalm singing son of a ---" as Admiral Harvey styled Lord Gambier. I say whether in Basque roads or boarding the Esmeralda or storming the forts and batteries of Valdivia or through many other desperate enterprises in which he was engaged I never lost sight of him, no, nor yet in his trial for a fraud on the Stock Exchange before old chief Justice (God save the---) Law where he certainly had not a fair trial, but was condemned besides fine and imprisonment to stand in the pillory, however, made the virtue of necessity and remitted that part of the punishment, not out of kindness to Lord Cochrane, but fear of the consequences as Sir Francis Burdett had given it to be fully understood that if they did pillory him, he would feel it his duty to attend, as the old saying is " A wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse." So the Government had worldly wisdom enough to profit by the hint, I may just say that I consider the boarding of the Esmeralda and the storming of Valdivia as two deeds of success for which it would be difficult to find a parallel in Ancient or Modern History. And now having said so much in his praise, I must also tell you what little I think against him and that is that I never could divest myself of the idea that he was in some way mixed up with the fraud on the Stock Exchange. His Uncle Cochrane Johnstone certainly was and the coach that came up from the way of Dover and on its way scattered the news of the fall of Buonaparte was I think fully proven to have driven to Lord Cochrane's address in Harley St.

John Farrow's children and Exelbys and the three youngest of T Spilman's are all ill of the whooping cough but I hope they will all fight through it, it little Mary Farrow does, but I think it is somewhat doubtful with her; her father also I am sorry to say is in the Doctor's hands, and as for myself I have passed the past two months in comparative comfort until a week ago I caught a cold which causes me to cough a great deal.

When your father last wrote to me he told me, amongst other things, that the Ayrshire landowners cut their plantations entirely down when they got about 30 years old and then planted the ground anew and when I answered his letter I forgot to ask him at what distance they commonly planted them tree from tree, also whether they thinned them before the final felling, and next whether they mixed Larch, Scotch and Spruce firs or planted each sort by themselves, so any time you happen to be writing to him I will thank you to tell him that I would like if he would tell me those things when he writes next to me.

I have to thank you for the newspaper you sent me containing the population of Glasgow and suburbs, the progress it has made is truly surprising and I fancy there is nothing equals it in the British Isles unless it be Liverpool, but I have not seen the census for it yet, but am inclined to think that is progress may have been more rapid than Glasgow. I see you have 27000 unmarried women xxxxxx , it is rather deplorable that the number of females unmarried should so far exceed the males as I do not know of any remedy for it, unless a very heavy tax were imposed on old Bachelors and that would only be a partial cure for the evil, as the Spinsters are so much more numerous that the bachelors.

You express some surprise at my being in my 85th year. So it is however, the great American Republic and I were both born in the year ' 76 and from present appearances on our deaths we will not be very far divided. I had a letter a short time since your cousin Tom himself and family were well, he had got a son a few days before he wrote which he has named Alexander in honour of the Patriarch, I suppose.

All your other friends about here are well. I heard from Dorothy lately, she continues to like her situation very well for all things but one, namely that the man's wife where she boards is a great drunkard. Dorothy would like to get a house for herself, but cannot get one in the village. If she could get one, she would take Ann Spilman and her pupil teachers as boarders.

Your Aunt and William and Ann Exelby join me in love to you and I remain dear George

Your affectionate Uncle

Alexander Aitken

Dundonald, Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of: born Dec. 14, 1775, Annesfield, Lanarkshire, Scot. died Oct. 30, 1860, London, Eng. British admiral, who ranks among the greatest of British seamen.He was the eldest son of the 9th earl, whose scientific experiments on his Scottish estates impoverished his family. In 1793 Thomas joined the ship commanded by his uncle, Alexander Cochrane, and thereafter served on other ships during the Napoleonic wars. In 1806 and again in 1807 he was elected member of Parliament. He led a hazardous fireship attack on the French fleet in the Aix roads in April 1809, but the fruits of his courage were thrown away by the commander in chief, Admiral James Gambier. Cochrane's ill-advised criticisms of Gambier resulted in the latter's court-martial, at which he was acquitted. This, together with Cochrane's unpopularity in government circles because of his demands for parliamentary and naval reform, resulted in his not being employed again at sea. In February 1814 Cochrane and others were involved in a plot to make money on the stock exchange by spreading false rumours about the abdication of Napoleon I. In the trial that followed he was sentenced to a period of imprisonment, expelled from Parliament, and deprived of the order of the Bath, which he had been awarded for his exploit in 1809.At this lowest point of his fortunes Cochrane accepted (May 1817) the invitation of Chile to command its fleet in the war of independence against Spain. His capture of the Spanish flagship Esmeralda in Callao harbour contributed largely to the independence of Chile and Peru. From 1823 to 1825 he transferred his services to Brazil in its war against Portugal. Soon after his return to Europe he was employed by the Greeks in their war of independence but resigned in 1828 because of factional disputes and delays in the delivery of steamships, which he proposed to use in warfare for the first time.At home he campaigned vigorously for reinstatement in the navy, which he achieved in 1832, the year after he succeeded his father as earl of Dundonald. From 1848 to 1851 he commanded the American and West Indies station. He died in 1860 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Letter No 10

Aug 5th 1861

My dear George,

By your welcome letter of July 10th, I see you continue to improve in health and are able to take a stroll in your parks on a fine evening. The fresh air will do you much good, more perhaps than a many shillings worth of doctors medicine would do. Your jaunt to Linlithgow will also I trust do you good, not merely in your health, but also in the pleasure you would derive in seeing your old Aunt so comfortably fixed under the shade of the Old Palace. She has been a careful industrious little body and I hope will live long and have health to enjoy the fruits of her industry.

I was not very greatly surprised at the odd letter which your father got from Sydney, as judging from the little I knew of them, or I should say, judging by the little I have heard of them I think it is an odd family and not a very creditable one by the bye, however I believe Mrs. Porter to be a really respectable woman.

As you, like myself, feel interested about everything relating to the late brave Earl of Dundonald I shall revert once more to him, and in the first place I do not think an Autobiography is altogether to be relied on, few men indeed can hold the balance fair when speaking of themselves, in their disputes with others. They will generally think too good of their own case and not good enough of their opponent's, whilst on the other hand modesty will prevent them doing full justice to themselves in relating their own actions and so I am inclined to think it was with Lord Dundonald. Earl St Vincent was I believe an Irishman and certainly the reason he gave for deferring Lord Cochrane's promotion was Irish enough, as the little loss he sustained in capturing the Spaniard was entirely the result of his fruitful mind judiciously applied. What he did was this- he had got the small vessel he commanded disguised by painting or otherwise, so as to resemble a certain class of Greek vessels which are common on these seas and when he got sight of Spanish ship, he made all his crew, except the few who were necessary to navigate the ship, lie down or otherwise conceal themselves with their cutlasses in their hands and thus prepared he kept dodging the Spaniard, they were taking little notice of him and he seeming to take little notice of them until he got very near, when he suddenly clapped his vessel alongside, when his crew rushed on board and drove the enemy below before they had time to recover from the surprise. But if this did not deserve promotion I do not know what could deserve it, but still I must say that he was not long before he was put in command of a frigate in which he was very successful and for a desperately daring, though unsuccessful attempt to capture a French frigate of greatly superior force, he was promoted to the command of the Imperieuse, one of the first ships of her class in the Navy - a command which he foolishly enough resigned to go and stand a Candidate for Westminster, where in his address to the electors he abused the Government of the day and made enemies of them ever after. How far he was implicated in the hoax on the Stock Exchange I cannot certainly say, but I have never yet been able to satisfy myself that he was altogether innocent; it is true enough that when the thing became publicly known and he found he was suspected, he immediately came up to London (for he had just before been chosen by his Uncle to go to America with him as Flag Captain) to clear himself which to be sure would be no easy matter, when so many powerful adversaries wished to find him guilty. You say it is certain he deserved no benefit from the fraud which is true enough because it was part of the sentence pronounced against him and his partners in the affair that they should forfeit all the profits they made, by the sudden rise of the finds which followed the false news they had promulgated. Well now that he is gone, all I can say is, that he was one of the bravest and most misguided of men, had he stuck to his profession which he did understand and let politics alone which he did not understand he might have made money enough to purchase estates as large and good as those which belonged to the Cochranes in their palmiest days.

We are all pretty well here at present, all the children being nearly better of the whooping cough. Your Aunt joins with me in love to you and she hopes if you should go to London next year to see the Grand Show you will take Walcot in your way.

We have had a great deal of rain and thunder of late, one man killed where Dorothy lives, three persons near Beverly and one beside Doncaster. I am not able to go about to see how crops look but am told they are generally very light and consequently not much beat down by the rain and what is curious John Farrow who has hitherto not had great crops, has very heavy crops of wheat which are all laid flat, it will be a great loss to him as the corn will be sure to be small and shriveled.

I had a letter from Forest Farm about ten days ago, when John and his wife and child were well and things were going on middling well with him but he complains of vegetables selling badly owing, he thinks, to the "Strikes" in London. Dorothy continues to like her situation. We expect her over before this month is out to stop a few weeks with us, as the school is always broken up during harvest to allow of the children going to glean. Our village school feast is fixed for the day after tomorrow, when I expect I will have a visit from all my children and grandchildren who live near.

I remain dear George
Your affectionate old Uncle

Letter No. 11


Nov 17th 1861

Dear George,

I have just been re-perusing your letter of the 21st of Sep. and I am glad to see that all friends in the North were then well and that your brother Alexander and you had such a pleasant excursion to Stirling and Edinburgh, and Linlithgow, all places of some note in Scottish history, for even Linlithgow is noted for the murder of the Regent Murray, perhaps he deserved what he got, but still I think it was murder.

Well I am thankful to be able to say that we are all well here and going on much in our usual quiet way, as for myself, my health continues very good, but my memory, my hearing and eyesight all fail me very fast but even these perhaps I still have in greater perfection than most people who are 85 years old.

The tremendous storm which came over us in the beginning of the month has some little damage to Thomas Spilman; it washed away a part of the Humber bank, and flooded a field of young wheat and one just planted with winter beans, however Thomas has a very broad back and it will not hurt him much; it would have been a great deal worse had it all happened to John Farrow who, although he has not altogether escaped, still his loss is very trifling.

You ask me what I think of the battle of Bulls Run, when I do not exactly know what master in the art of war they followed, whether Hudibras who says that

"He who fights and runs away
May live to fight another day
Whilst he who is in battle slain
Will never live to fight again."

or whether they were guided by the tactics of Sir John Murray, when he ran away from before Tarragona without fighting, and on which some wicked wight (=creature ) parodying Hudibras said:

" A warrior said, and who'll gainsay
That he who fights and runs away
May live to fight another day
But gallant Murray doth surpass
That valiant hero Hudibras
For Sir John holds it to be right
To run away before you fight
Since he who doth the battle stay
May never live to run away "

But after all we ought not to be too severe upon our volatile cousins, it is to be observed that their officers were inexperienced and I believe a great part of their adversaries were posted in a wood where from behind trees they could shoot down the northerners with almost unerring certainty, whilst the volleys from the Northerners would damage more trees than men. Had the Southerners been posted behind earthworks, even had they been as strong as a - poet describes the lines of Schillenburg:

"Like hills the aspiring ramparts mount on high
Like valleys at their feet the trenches lie
Batteries on batteries guard each fatal pass
Threatening destruction etc. etc…."

I say even had the Southerners been as strongly posted as this, the Northerners would have seen the work before them and could have calculated their chances of success, but to fight against an unseen foe is dangerous work. I remember reading (during our last war with America) of 25 Yankees being sent to observe the position of the British Army, but while they were doing so, an Indian attacked to British interests was watching them and contriving to conceal himself among some tall grasses or reeds, his rifle soon brought down one of the Yankees; the party fired a valley at where the smoke of the rifle arose but the red man with the flexibility of an eel had changed his place and very soon with another shot brought down another man, when a second volley from the party hit the reeds and the smoke, but missed the crafty warrior, who's third shot however did not miss them. for it killed another of the Yankees, after which all the rest fled; and indeed they were wise in doing so, in the state of ignorance in which they were, though it is most likely if they had known the exact power of their enemy, they would have made sure either to have killed him or taken him alive, for, with all their faults, I do not consider the Yankees to be cowards.

I have had not had a letter from your Cousin Tom since the middle of May, and it must have been written in March. It only contained a few lines telling me that he had received a small sum of money I had sent him and saying he would write more fully by the next mail, but there has been at least five or six mails since then and still no letter. I have written to him twice since but still I hear nothing from him.
Your cousin Alexander lost his second wife about two months ago. She has left him a child under three months old when she died, but as his daughter Eleanor is at home with him, they manage middling well. However he tells me the child thrives well with them. He is still employed by the Railway Company; finishing a bridge over the River Liddell, but it all upon uncertainty whether they will want him any longer after that is done.
We sometimes hear from Dorothy, she has many scholars, which keeps her very full of employment, but she seems very well contented with her situation, but particularly with the Clergyman and his wife who are very friendly to her. The crops just round here have been very good this season and there has been most magnificent harvest weather to reap it in and I am happy to say that John Farrow's crops were as good as his neighbours which has not always been the case. Please remember me to my friends at Kilmarnock when you write to them. Your Aunt and other friends here beg to be kindly remembered to you and if you should go to London to see the Great Exhibition next summer, we hope you will be able to take Walcot in your way either going or coming.

I remain dear George
Your affectionate Uncle
Alexander Aitken

Bull Run -The first of two battles of the American Civil War called 'Bull Run' after a nearby small stream ( but called 'First Manassas', by the South) was fought on July 21, 1861, and won by the South, four months before this letter was written.
Schellenberg was the fortress captured by Marlborough before the Battle of Blenheim, 1704.

' Th' immortal Schellenberg appears at last, Like hills th' aspiring ramparts rise on high etc ' are lines 128 to 134 from the poem 'The Campaign' of 1705 by Joseph Addison (1672-1719). in praise of the Duke of Marlborough.

Letter No. 12


Feb 3rd 1862

My dear George,

I have received your letter of Dec 26th and also some newspapers for all of which you have my best thanks, but you had better not send me any more newspapers; it is a needless expense to you and of no use to me as everything that is in them that is worth reading I get more early in The Times which Mr. Cumberland lets me have as soon as he has done with them.

Well now then, I am glad to have such good accounts of your health and hope you have got over the winter better than you seemed to anticipate; indeed I had a letter from your Brother John the other day in which he tells me you are getting stout by which I suppose he means you are getting fat. I am also glad to see from his letter that he expects you and your father to the Exhibition next summer so if you do go then, I hope you will take Walcot in your way either coming or going. I rather expect Thomas Spilman and Dorothy will go, but am not quite certain.

I thank you for the information you gave one about your Uncle David's grandchildren for I had very long lost every trace of the family, for taking for all in all, I must say it has been an unfortunate family. I remember many years ago having a letter from Wm. Murray saying that one of David's sons had come from Airdrie to see his sister in Fife and that he stopped with them about a quarter of a year, indeed until they were all tired of him and then they were obliged to give him money to carry him away for he had got none of his own. I forget whether they told me what his trade was, but if they did I don't think it was a Blacksmith; when you write again, perhaps you will be able to tell me a little more about them.

Your kinfolk about here are all well and going on in the old fashion, as for myself I am in good health but I suffer sadly from shortness of breath and coughing X X X but I ought to be very grateful to Mr. And Mrs. Bentinck for their great generosity to me allowing me a liberal pension which enables me to live comfortably without doing anything more hard than sitting by the fireside, indeed going upstairs and going to bed is my hardest work, and work enough too, sometimes. I fear your father cannot be near so comfortable for I am sorry to hear from John's letter that he has been suffering from cold all winter and I suppose his employment is chiefly in the nursery which will be all against him.

We had a letter from your cousin Tom last week when he wrote himself and family were well and he was then in the employment of a Mr. Graves in the timber line; if I understand his letter right he must act as Bookkeeper and Salesman but his letter is rather short and very unsatisfactory. I don't think that he will ever do any good, as he never settles long at anything; however I am better pleased that he is in Australia than if he were in England as he never need, where he is, be long out of employment with wages enough to keep himself and family (wife and three children) which might not be always the case here.

I am glad to see from John's letter that his farming prospers in his hands, and I trust that after a few years he may be able to begin farming on his own account.

I am almost tired of thinking or reading or talking about the Yankees; there seems to be nothing really respectable belonging to them, there is however one good they will do, they will teach the discontents in this country, that is Bright and Co. that a democratical government would not be likely to improve the condition of this country, in a word all parties will soon begin to find out – if indeed they have not found out already that reform has already gone quite far enough and that any further lowering of the franchise could do no good, but might do much hurt, indeed if I were allowed to try my hand at reform I would reduce both the number of the electors and the elected. "Too many cooks spoil the broth ", as it is, it is all talk and no work, however if we can keep as we are, we will not take much hurt.

Your Aunt and Anne and her husband join with me and I remain

My dear George
Your affectionate Uncle
Alexander Aitken

Note: Mr Richard Cumberland R.N. (Ret) lived at Walcot Hall and was the cousin of Mrs Bentinck,owner of Walcot and Whitton.

Letter No. 13

May 26th 1862

My Dear George,

I see it is two months since I got your last letter, so I guess it must be four months since I last wrote to you; and indeed it is well that I should only write seldom because writing, like most things I do, becomes a burden to me and as I see little and hear little, I hear very little to make a letter of; however I was glad to see by your last that you have got over the winter so well and also that your Father has got so well over his attack of pleurisy and I hope that you and him are now quite well together with all your relations.

And I am happy to say all friends about here are well. George is here now from Winterton where I believe he is doing pretty well, he deals in Spirits and Horse Corn and Guano and he talks of taking a licence to sell wines also, after which his yearly licence for one thing or another will be upwards of £24 a year.

I had a letter the other day from Dora but she never mentions anything about the education question, which has so been agitating the country. I fancy she does not care much which way it is. She seems to be much in favour with the Clergyman and his wife and would seem to look to her interest every way they can. She says the Bishop's wife had offered a prize to be competed for by the mistresses of ten schools whose scholars should shew the greatest proficiency in sewing, darning etc and she has gained the prize; it is not of much value, a book, she says, but such things please and are encouraging but I fancy she did not succeed so well with Mr. Barry the Inspector as she did with Mrs. Jackson; she seemed to be rather disheartened about her trial with him, however I have no fear but the Clergyman will help her through.

Well for my own part I think the whole education question a badly managed affair from the very first. Why, common sense seems to tell us that it may be the duty of the Government to educate the children of the poor yet it ought to the poor alone and then only to read and write and a few of the first rules of arithmetic, that is as far as the Rule of Three or Practice and wherever parents want more than that for their children, they ought to pay the full value for it. When my children were young, I paid 5 shillings a quarter for reading, 7shillings when they began to write and 10 shillings when they began arithmetic. And I think it would be quite reasonable that every one should pay 10 shillings a quarter after they had learned as above.

I lost my good friend Mrs. Bentinck lately. She died 6 or 8 weeks ago, although I was never a servant of hers, yet in consideration that I lived so long on the Estate she allowed me a pension of £100 per year. Lady Strickland succeeds to the property, but although I have no doubt but her Ladyship would like to continue it, yet she has so many hangers on all anxious to get what they can, that I do not expect much, but if she only gives £20 a year I will be quite content.

I had a letter the other day from Australia. Tom and family were quite well and he was still employed by a Mr. Graves in the timber line; they were about to shift their sawmill further into the forest as the trees were getting scarce where they were.

I had a letter from your brother John ten days ago and I am pleased to see that he still progresses favourably with his farming operation and that his Master is well pleased with him.

I do not know whether ever you knew any of the Purdons. I mean your Uncle William's grandchildren at Beverley but at any rate you have heard of them, so I just want to tell you that they are just about leaving England for New Zealand. I had a letter the other day from Harriet telling me that she and her Brother David were to sail on the 29th of this month and that her stepfather and other brother were to follow in July. Harriet says that her address will be "Mrs. Purdon, Nonconformist Settlement, Auckland, New Zealand".

After what you told me in your letter we will not expect any of you on your way to or from the Exhibition, but if any of you should come, you will not be less welcome for being unexpected.

As for myself I have been nearly free from cough for the last two months. My breathing however keeps bad as usual. I am also much troubled with a most uneasy feeling in my legs and feet. It is not pain but I think it is almost worse. Our doctor tells me that it is owing to my blood not circulating. George has been telling me of some thing that that he thinks will do me good, so I shall try although I have not much faith in it.
I see the Clyde maintains its fame for shipbuilding. Bye the bye while speaking of the Clyde, does Lord Clyde ever come to look at you? I think he ought to own his birthplace a little more.

I remain dear George
Your affectionate Uncle

Alexander Aitken