Last week I copied a particular family letter written in the 1860’s and this week I am doing the same. Letters were important when you’d left for a country on the other side of the world and were unlikely to return. Mail took months to reach its destination. Whenever two ships met at sea, newspapers and bags of letters were exchanged to shorten their journey.
You knew someone had died when you received a black edged envelope so you could sit down before opening the black edged paper inside. Archie Dougall of Glasgow wrote the letter I have copied below just as he wrote it in April 1866 although I have left out some details. He was the brother-in-law of Maggie and Robert, married to their sister Elizabeth or Elizibeth as he spelled it. Archie was the most regular correspondent in the family.
It is with deep greaff and sorrow that I write to you of the Death of Mary after a very sever illness of six weeks. She departed this life about 6 o’clock on the morning of the 13th of April.
(He goes on to explain that their sister caught a cold with a bad cough after working in a cold Glasgow silk warehouse. He took her to the doctor when she didn’t get better.)
Doctor Mclean examined her minutely and said she was very bad with inflammation in the Lungs and the Stomach. The doctor nor any of us did not think there was any danger at the time but she grew a great deal worse.She got a good number of mustard blisters on her but they did not do any good and we always hoped she would get better. Se was very much uplifted in spirits when she receaved your letter and keptit always aside her. At that time she had to be in bed constantly she was so very weak.
The Doctor attended her regularly every day for the wholle five weeks she lay. We never lost hope of recovery till the Monday she died. The Doctor came in to see her that day and told Elizibeth there was no hope of her recovery. At that time she lost her speech. She could only mutter what she wanted for a fornight before her death. She was always quoting passages of Scripture and trying to sing hymns. Sometimes she wandered very much in speaking of Mother and you. We had every reason to believe she died trusting in Jesus Christ. She got every are taken of her and everything she could take for to do her good both in medicine and food. That is the only satisfaction we have. Your father has not had any work this good while back.
We buryed her beside her mother in Anderson. Uncle Donald Paterson, your father and myself was at the funeral. Elizibeth is very sore greaved and is much fatigued with much watching. I neglected to tell you who was presant when she died. There was Mrs McNicol, Mrs Graham, Aunt Janet, Elizibeth and Mrs Smith who were there when Mary departed this life.
I remain Your affect. brother Archibald Dougall.
I have always hoped that this account brought comfort to Maggie and Robert. My search for Mary’s age and death certificate was unsuccessful. She was probably in her twenties and may have been the oldest of the children. I have imagined her dying in a small and stuffy bedroom with all those women present. It no doubt was a small room because the family was not well-off. At least it sounds like a peaceful death.
Next week I will write about a significant letter of my own/