Taken from
Issue Number 91 Spring 2022
91coversmall (246K)


Another of the letters published in the last issue prompted Mr Graeme Reynolds in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, to contact me - not by e-mail, but, appropriately, by a letter with a stamp on it! Almost twenty years ago, he wrote a series of articles for this Magazine on 'The Dispersal of the Brown Family of Kerranbeg and Machrimore' (numbers 54, 55 and 56). That family, like the Ralston family into which it married, was of 17th century Lowland Plantation stock. The following is an extract from his letter:
'I was very interested to see the John Ralston of Brecklate letter of 1849 to his relatives being published. In the late 1980s, Antoinette Ralston of Burnie, Tasmania, was involved in major research into the Ralston lineage. Her husband, from my memory, was of the most senior line of the Lowland family. She had received a copy of the 1941 transcript of the letter from the Grace Ralston who is mentioned in the notes in the current publication. It is lovely to see the letter in print with the notes that add to the meaning. In the Ralston and Brown families, this letter had been taken as the best evidence forty years ago to determine that two Ralston men had married Brown sisters, or more correctly half-sisters. These two families have members living in Victoria. Some are at Avoca to the north-west of Ballarat and others are generally in Ballarat but are descendants of the Pootilla/Glen Park line just on the outskirts of Ballarat.

Letter to America (1861)
Hugh Ferguson

The following letter was written by Hugh Ferguson, farmer at Kilmaho, near Campbeltown, on 6 December 1861. The identity of the recipient is unknown, and the text contains no firm clues. The owner of the document, Robert W. Ralston in Denver, suggests that it could have been sent to his great-greatgreat- grandfather Peter Greenlees in Illinois, who was the husband of Hugh's sister Martha, and that seems most likely, despite Hugh's addressing him as 'Dear Brother'. Another possibility was Hugh's brother William (1813-84), who also settled in Illinois, but since he was doubtless the William to whom Hugh refers in his letter, he obviously couldn't have been the recipient.

A later letter - referred to in the editorial notes - was also addressed 'Dear Brother' and mentions Hugh's having received a letter from Peter Greenlees. That letter, which was dated 2 March 1865, probably was sent to Hugh's brother William. It, too, is in the possession of Robert W. Ralston, and is largely concerned with the parlous state of Glenside Distillery's finances, following the death, on 10 January 1865, of founding-partner James Armour, who had neglected the accounts for 'about eight years'.

In the census of 1861 - the same year the first letter was written - Hugh described himself as aged 53 and a farmer of 32 acres. With him at Kilmaho were his wife Martha, aged 43, seven of their children, ranging in age from 16 to three, his 14-year-old nephew, James Ferguson, 'scholar', and a 19-year-old dairymaid, Catherine McSporran.

Hugh's father was James Ferguson, maltster, and his mother Mary was also a Ferguson. These Fergusons were of 17th century Lowland stock and distinct from the Gaelic Fergusons, whose name was anglicised from MacFhearghuis. Hugh was a baker in Campbeltown until taking the tenancy of Kilmaho, and a partner in Glenside Distillery until 1865, when he agreed to withdraw and the company was dissolved. He died in 1876, aged 70, and his wife Martha Huie, a merchant's daughter, whom he married in 1842, died in 1901, aged 84.

Hugh's brother James was a founding partner in Wylie, Mitchell & Co., Rieclachan Distillery, and when he died in 1848, aged 43, his one-fifth share in the business went to his seven siblings, who were: Hugh; Jean, widow of John Harvey, distiller; Archibald; Mary, wife of Robert Maxwell, farmer; Agnes, wife of William Johnston, farmer, all in Kintyre; and, in Willow Creek, Illinois, William and his sister Martha, wife of Peter Greenlees. In 1850 they sold the inherited share to Archibald Mitchell, one of the original partners.

A report on the marriage of William's son, Charles P. Ferguson, in Harlem, Illinois, was published on 9 September 1882 in the Rockford Gazette and reproduced in the Argyllshire Herald of 7 October. His wife, Jennie, was a daughter of James Turner, farmer, formerly of Pennyseorach, Southend, and Ann Greenlees. She was married on the lawn of her parents' residence 'in the presence of fully two hundred and fifty guests'.

As with the letters published in the previous issue, spelling and punctuation have not been edited. Hugh didn't use even one full-stop throughout the entire letter: commas served him as full-stops, and where these were absent, I increased the spacing at the end of sentences. Some of the individuals referred to in the text have not been identified, but those I was able to comment on appear in the numbered editorial notes at the end.

Dear Brother

As we have wet and stormy weather for some time past, and not much out work, I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know that all your friends in this country is enjoying pretty good health at present, I was in company with your friends the Armours of Rosehill1 a few days since, they say they are getting along pretty well, they have been driving a good quantity of potatoes from the Largie Side for the last eight days, as there is three vessels at the Quay buying, they are getting £5 per ton, they expect they will get higher, as they will be very scarce this season the most part of the farmers will have none to sell the only farmer about here that will have any quantity for sale is Mr Snodgrass Clochkeel2 he will sell about 100 tons and he is getting above £5 per ton at present, the white crop has been very bad this last season in general, barley and corn will average 4 [?lb] per bushel lighter than last year some of the barley is so light they are using it for feeding cattle, price of barley 25/ per boll, oat meal is retailing at 1/11d per St[one], butter 1/ per [?lb] the farmers in general has large Stack yards but far deficient in quantity and quality You will be surprised to hear of Daniel Gilchrist Balevain3 losing his farm, as it was thought he had a good bargain, he was very foolish for some years past and did not attend his farm his barley when took to town only weighed 43 [?lb] per bushel and could not be used for distilling purposes he is to be rouped out next week, and his farm is up to let, Semple his Brother in law is offering to pay his arrears and keep the farm but it is said he will not get it, John Gilchrist4 was getting on pretty well, but it is thought he will have a dear bargain with his new tack of the two Balevains, it is likely mid Craigs will be a letting in a short time as Mr Hunter5 the farmer died a few weeks since, he had only 4 or 5 milk cows and 2 horses on the farm and it was very high rented, there is a new Laird6 has bought the farms of Drumore and Craigs with the large house and garden, Mr Wilson Auchaleek7 is getting along pretty [?well] he has got very lame, James does not appear to be doing any good, he has done nothing on the farm for some years past, and I may say nothing else I mentioned in my last letter to William that Mary Harvey8 was going to get married to a Mr Bell a supervisor he is expected in Campbn tomorrow night, and it is likely the marriage will take place in a few days, I thought when I wrote to William he was a Widower, he is a young man and has a sister keeping house and two boys of a Brother's lodging with him, I mentioned in my last letter to William of our eldest son John9 going to Glasgow to the engineer business, he did not like Glasgow, and he has come home, and wishes to keep by the Work as he thinks it much healthier, I have not sent Archd's boy10 to any trade he has got a stout boy [recte body] and is able to work well for his age he is in the school still, and is a pretty good scholar I was thinking if he was inclined to go to America he might get on better than go to a trade in this country, and I will have no use of him as I will require always a good ploughman, the last day I was speaking to Alexr Wylie11 he was wondering very much you did not send him the Cash, as they are very badly of, they were not able to pay me any rent last year as they did not get as much as they expected from America, I heard a letter of Archd Smith's read a few days since, he speaks very highly of America, you can let him know that his Father is in his usual way, Robert got his shoulder blade broke a short time since, but he is getting on pretty well with best respects to William and family compliments to James and the rest of the family yours truly
Hugh Ferguson

Editorial Notes

The abbreviation 'KL' signifies 'Kintyre Leases', extracted in 1958 by Duncan Colville from originals loaned to him by the Duke of Argyll.
1. The Armour family was of 17th century Lowland plantation stock, but by the mid-19th century had been long established in the Largieside and was Gaelicspeaking. Descendants still farm in Kintyre.
2. 'Mr Snodgrass' was Alexander, who came from Renfrew to Chiskan, in the Laggan, c 1838, and took the tenancy of Clochkeil in 1857. An innovative and successful farmer, he died in 1862, aged 52. When the lease of Clochkeil expired in 1875, Alexander's widow Janet Robertson and family took the grazing farm of Keppoch, Kilberry. (Argyllshire Herald, 20 March 1875)
3. Daniel Gilchrist's cattle and horses, stacks of hay, barley, oats and beans, ten acres of Swedish turnips, agricultural implements and dairy utensils were sold by public auction at East Ballivain on 16 December 1861. The farm was then let to James Mitchell, son of Samuel in Strath. (Argyllshire Herald, 10 January 1862) Daniel died at Ballivain Cottage on 21 March 1887, aged 65, and his wife, Margaret Semple, who was born in Lesmahagow, on 5 October 1892, aged 71.
4. John Gilchrist (1817-93) was a son of John, farmer, and Margaret McBride, and husband of Jean Stewart, who survived him with four of their ten children (Campbeltown Courier, 21 October 1893) and died in 1901.
5. Joseph Hunter, Mid Craigs, gave his age as 30 when the census was taken earlier that year. Both he and his wife, Elizabeth, were born in Ayrshire, he in Kirkmichael and she in Maybole. They had three young children. He died on 24 October. (Argyllshire Herald, 25 October 1861)
6. The new laird of Drumore and Mid Craigs was John Watson Laidley, Sea Cliff, Haddington, who paid £27,000 for the lands in a private bargain. He died, aged 71, in 1885. (Argyllshire Herald, 15 November 1861 & 21 March 1885)
7. James Wilson took the lease of Auchaleek in 1858, with his son James as cautioner. In the 1861 census - taken earlier in the same year the letter was written - James Sr. was recorded as a 74-year-old widower, born in Collessie, Fife. Son James, aged 35, a 'merchant', was also in the household, along with four grown-up siblings and five servants. After complaining that the rent was too high, Wilson was threatened with eviction, resigned the lease at Martinmas 1862 and was replaced by Robert Miller from Beith, Ayrshire. (KL p 10) James Jr., cattle dealer, died at Kirk Street, Campbeltown, on 5 March 1886.
8. Mary Harvey was Hugh's niece: her mother, Jean Ferguson, married John Harvey, distiller, in 1823. Mary married Robert Bell, Supervisor of Inland Revenue, on Christmas Day 1861. He was from Ballygawley, County Tyrone. (Argyllshire Herald, 3 January 1862)
9. John was Hugh's eldest son, who had gone away to train as an engineer but 'did not like Glasgow'. The meaning of 'keep by the Work' is obscure, but the employment, whatever its nature, was 'much healthier'. John was mentioned in the letter Hugh wrote to America in 1865: 'the engineer business, it was not agreeing with him with the heats and colds and he came home.' Hugh's nephew, James Harvey, managing partner of Rieclachan Distillery, had advised Hugh to send John to Glenside Distillery, presumably to help James Armour with his accounts, but, as noted in the Introduction, the books had been neglected for years and James was already close to death. John died at Allandale, Ontario, on 24 October 1902, aged 57, and was buried in Toronto. An obituary appeared in the Argyllshire Herald on 1 November 1902.
10. Archibald Ferguson, Hugh's brother, was evidently dead by 1851. His 'boy', who lived at Kilmaho, was James, about whom Hugh wrote at length in his letter to America in 1865. James had been employed by an uncle, John Huie, ironmonger in Campbeltown, but disliked the job and left within a year, which Hugh explained thus: 'as the youngest boy has always the heaviest part of the work, they always keep four boys and the youngest is kept working or running messages.' On his own initiative, James joined the crew of a ship and sailed to South America. On his return, he said that he 'liked the sea well and would be going back in ten days'; but when the day for his departure arrived, he disappeared and hid in the smithy at Kilkenzie, near Kilmaho. Later that same day, he found work with David Watson at Drum farm, and after a year there was engaged as a ploughboy at Crossibeg by James Drain's widow, Margaret McGeachy, and was 'pleasing well' there. In Hugh's opinion, James was 'much
better with a stranger, as he did not pay much attention to orders in our house'.
11. Alexander Wylie was a founding partner in Rieclachan Distillery in 1825 and built Toberanrigh Distillery in 1834. His first wife was Isabella Ferguson, whom he married in 1816; when he married Agnes Colville in 1829, he was nearly twice her age. He died in 1862, aged 87. (A. Martin, Campbeltown Whisky: An Encyclopaedia, pp. 266-67) The cash he expected from America - the main reason the letter was written, I suspect - remains a mystery.

Cover Photograph
Sandy Helm with his brother-in-law, Alexander McAllister, at Auchenhoan during lambing time, c 1952. Sandy, on the left with tobacco-pipe in mouth, carries a lambing bag, and after the photograph was taken the two men 'headed round the hill'. For the image, I thank Alex McAllister - a grandson of Alexander in the photograph - who supplied it; Mrs Isabel Redman - daughter of Archie McAllister and granddaughter of Alexander - from whom Alex received the copy; Ross McInnes - grandson of John McInnes and Katie McAllister, who was Alexander's sister - for having restored 'the tired old photo'; and, not least, Mrs Margaret Houston, a daughter of Alexander for information on the photograph.

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