The letter provides an insight into the social history of the time and in part reads like an episode in a Jane Austen novel with references to the social circle of the time. It also provides interesting observations on the development of children as well as the style of life British wives were expected to follow when accompanying their husbands in India.
Jean MacKillop would have been 55 when this letter was written. She died in 1859. Her son, John MacKillop, died at the massacre at Cawnpore (India) in 1857.
26 Grosvenor Place
23rd and 25th October 1855
My dearest Ellie,
We all rejoiced to receive your nice letter from Madras on the 1st of this month, giving such good accounts of William’s health and endurance of heat – they were early days certainly – but gave good promise, and I hope and trust it may be God’s pleasure to bless you both with health even in the Indian climate. Pray do not, from the fear of falling into indolent habits, run into the opposite extreme and overtax your strength in any way; what would be slothful indulgence at home – is only necessary rest in India, and I hope you will take a sufficiency of it.
Now for the bairns. According to my rule; they are all well and happy – I thank God – I often wish you could both see them.
George is greatly improved and is reasonable and obedient – he speaks more intelligibly, and does not lose himself so often in a maze of words and thoughts – I hope that when he can read he will learn to express himself well and clearly; he had his first lesson this morning and was very attentive – but I have to begin with BA again – humanly speaking there will be no more interruptions and I expect to have to give you a good report of his progress in my next. Bessie tells me he was most anxious to do everything “as Grandmama would like” during our 11 days absence. He does not know the Lord’s Prayer quite perfect but almost so. I do not think he is quick in learning by heart, at present – but his technical memory will probably improve when he acquires the habit of giving his mind to his occupation. He is to write to you next, if he is a good boy – this goes via Marseilles and must therefore be brief and light.
Jeannie is not so obedient as Georgie and has rather a fancy occasionally for doing what she is told not to do – because it is forbidden – but she is an affectionate little body and they are all three very good children.
Last, but not least in any way, comes Baby – soon after I last wrote to you her cough became very severe, attended with light fever and great dearrangement of the stomach and bowels; the two upper eye teeth appeared, and she got slowly better – but she still had a shake and is not so fat and firm as formerly. Looks black under the eyes and still coughs a little, i.e; a night and day perhaps, she will be quite free from the enemy – then she will cough twice or three times in the 24 hours – and I have no doubt this will last to all her teeth are through; the worst (the upper eye teeth) is however over – I have told you quite the worst of her case and now to cheer you up with the good; her flesh is mottled, though a little soft for her – and we all think she is better for not being so (she still makes nearly two of Jeannie) she eats and digest well, sleeps well, plays and runs about, scrambles up on Jeanie’s bed whenever she can find the opportunity and trys <tries> to say everything. “Down dere” is a favourite expression – she insists on calling your father “Papa” – then asked where Papa is she points to Wm’s picture. Mr Brace (he attended while Mr B was away and Mr Ormond both say it is not an unusual way of cutting teeth and only requires care in avoiding exposure to cold at such times; I give them dresses up to the neck – Jeannie’s brown pelisse is made into a frock for baby – and baby’s red one into a frock for Jeannie – Nurse has made a high body to Baby’s pink frock and Jeannie has a new pink muslin-de-laine those are for their evening dresses; when the cold weather sets in they will take to their merinos but I do not mean to give them any but high dresses during the winter – prevention is better than cure of coughs and colds.
George and Jeannie were delighted with your letter to them, and George of his own accord, prayed for the conversion of the heathen and still continues to do so in his evening prayers.
When I last wrote to you I had no expectation of making out our proposed visit to Paris; - and when dear Baby became so unwell, though sorry for the cause, I felt very thankful that we had been detained at home; and hoped; selfishly perhaps, that it wd be given up altogether; however; when my poor Aunt became convalescent, and she wished it, and Bessie volunteered to take my place here, and baby was then well again (except looking hollow under the eyes), I gave in to your father’s and Georgie’s desire to go to Paris – I’m not going into details of all that we did and saw during the 11 days for Georgie will do it much better than I can – I think the change and the rest from household affairs has as usual done me good, and I always enjoy home comforts more after I have been deprived of them for a time.
We saw and dined with the Learmonths in Wimpole St the day we left home; they are both looking well and Mrs L has grown stout – they were very friendly and pressing for us to spend some days with them on our way back from Paris – but it is late in the season and as my poor Aunt is extremely nervous I could not have conscientiously have asked Bessie to have remained any longer – besides I am glad to be home again. The Caltons were in treaty for a house in Reading – Bessie is growing tall, but still delicate and under a doctor’s care. Mrs Reilly’s boy has been ill and was still delicate. Tom Learmonth was expected in a few days from Sebastapol – he has been travelling through Switzerland and other parts of the Continent during the summer and arrived at Sebastapol a few days after its fall.
24th Papa and I went yesterday to pay a wedding visit to Mrs Frederick Inman and left Georgie to keep guard outside, fortunately as it turned out, for we found the bride supported by her mother, Mrs R Bridges and Emily Inman in a small room, and we were scarcely seated when Mr and Mrs G Baker entered, soon followed by Dr and Mrs Stone, so we took our leave after partaking of cake and wine. It wd not be fair to form an opinion of Mrs Fred on such a short visit and in such awkward circumstances. I did not like her mother’s manner, and I think R bridges by far the best looking and most agreeable of the party at present. On our way there we met Miss Nash, who had been paying her a visit – she’s looking out of spirits and told me her mother was very poorly but not from the …
Papa desires me to say – “He has recd William’s letter from Madras –
The net proceeds of the tea of 1854 – paid in July “56) will be about £50,000
Deduct all expenses 24,000
Leaves to be divided on a capital of £180,000 £26,000
or nearly 14½ p. ct. He does not, however, expect the Div. Will divide over 10 p. ct. – They will probably give a profit of upwards of £30,000, and most of that will likely be divided in 1857. He doesn’t care whether you contribute or not to the paying for the shares. – You will see from the above they will in a few years be paid for entirely by the dividends …. his family, which is likely to be increased in a few months hence. Mr Magee will have the Octagon to himself, I believe, but this too is not quite settled.
I do not know how we are to manage if Kensington is shut up. George goes now and then to afternoon service and he behaved very well last time.
It is time I concluded this letter – for you will be puzzled to make it out. I would have entered more into details if I had been aware we cd exceed the ½ oz. Mrs Learmonth strongly recommends The End by Dr Cumming – I intend to read it when I get time. God bless you and with best love to Wm – I am ever
My dearest Ellie
Yr affectionate Mother
J E MacKillop