Eunice and Ron Shanahan have shared with readers of the Victorian Web this material from their website, Letters from the Past. Click on thumbnails for larger images.

I have two letters addressed to members of the Vans Agnew family of Barnbarroch, Wigtown, Scotland. Through the internet, I made contact with the current, and 23rd, Laird of Barnbarroch, James Vans, who was born in Melbourne, and succeeded to the title in 1998. He has given me a great deal of information about the family and Barnbarroch itself. He very kindly sent me a map of the area showing the location of Barnbarroch (sadly now a ruin), near Whauphill, south west of Wigtown, in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. He also advised me that "Sadly most of the Barnbarroch papers (considered to be just about the most complete records of any family in the area) were destroyed in a fire, and very little has come down to me".

This current laird is an artist and sculptor and has his own website with genealogical information etc for any reader who may be interested in the Scottish background.

The Letters

The first letter is only a short one, a reminder of a bill that had not been paid, and James has suggested that as John Vans Agnew, who was born 1780, and was the Laird from 1809 until his death in 1825, at some time worked for the Madras Civil Service in India, he should not have been short of money - perhaps he just forgot to pay his bill.

The letter was dated 1821 signed by Mr. McCaa Esqr of Newton Stewart to John V. Agnew Barnbarroch Wigtown. The two postal markings are a poorly struck and only partly legible boxed mileage for Newton Stewart - D (the letter D showing the letter went through Dumfries) but the mileage is not legible; and a charge mark of 4. This was the cost between 1812 -1839, of a single letter over a distance of less than 15 miles, and Wigtown and Newton Stewart are about 12 miles apart.

The writing is very fancy

“British Linen Office, Newton Stewart 5 Feby 1821
J Vans Agnew


William McConnells acceptance to you of 31 May last payable 1/4 Curt (Current) for Twenty three pounds Stg (Sterling) is past due, protested and must be immediately paid to :
Sir Your Mo. Obedt
Will McCaa
Barnbarroch - Wigtown.

Scottish records show that there was a William McCaa living in the area who died in 1848 aged 50 so this may be the man who wrote the letter.

The second letter, 22 years later, is from J Fraser of Inverness, and addressed to Robert Vans Agnew, Esqre Barnbarroch Wigtownshire. James advised me that Robert was a nephew of John Vans Agnew (of the first letter), and was the Laird from the death of his father in 1842 until his own death in 1893. The writer of this second letter was probably a relative, as Robert's mother was Catherine Fraser of Newton Stewart.

This letter has three postmarks, all date stamps showing the route

  1. Inverness 2 JUL 1843,
  2. Red Edinburgh JUL 3 with triangle on left, and
  3. WIGTOWN JY 3 1843 .

The cost of posting this letter was only one penny, as the Penny Post had been introduced in 1840. The illustration shows how the writing was continued onto every space on the letter.

In contrast with the first letter, this one is obviously a personal one concerning family property, but because of the destruction of the records in the fire, there is no written evidence about the property, apart from this letter. Looking at the date, this presumably concerns the settlement of the Estate after the death of Robert's father, Lt. Colonel Patrick Vans Agnew in 1842.

Inverness 1 July
My dear Robert

I hope the inclosure from W. A. bids fair for a proper offer for Brook St at 350£ less 120£ - this would be 230 which at 14 years purchase would be £3320 & adding fixtures say £250 would make up £3500 -- if we could keep it without expense I wd not let it go under £4000, but as it is attended with outlay I am inclined to take whatever may be offered above £3000. If we cannot get so much I wd wait for another season. The Title Deeds & Probate are at Messrs Coutts & Co & W. Cofe’s these & other papers respecting the affairs are in a green box in York Terrace.

I inclose a Bill paid by part of a remittance from Mr. Hill. This application from the India House has followed me here, & it has reminded me of Balances of Pay as a Director of Leith Coll for the final adjustment, which I am doubtfull whether or not Messrs Coutts & Co have done - In answering their letter when you have referred to
C & Co’s Book, you can, if necessary ask for a Memd (Memorandum) of the sums due agt (against) which the demand can be set

Note: The reference to India House is interesting, as the Vans Agnew men at this time had been in India, and Robert was in fact born in Madras, as was one of his brothers who also died in India in the Anglo-Sikh war in 1848, after which Napier took the Sind.

I have now to thank you for your last kind note, & for your consenting to join this Trust for Hester & Babies. I shall soon send you a Power for signature.

The letter then finishes with a comment about the weather, a constant topic of conversation in Britain, as the weather is so unpredictable there.

We are all well & enjoying very fine weather, only we wish for more rain for the crops especially for the turnips. With love to your mother, Fanny & Mary & all with you
Believe me
Yrs ever, J. Fraser

Note: Although James does not have many records, he has this portrait of his forebear, Robert - the addressee of this letter, and he knows that Fanny and Mary were Robert's sisters. He has no record of a Hester and her babies, for whom they were organising a trust, but thinks they may have been Frasers, not Vans Agnews.

It is unusual to find direct information for many old letters, and without access to the internet, I doubt if I would have found the present-day link with this 200 year old letter. It just shows that Philately is a hobby that is keeping pace with modern life.

Last modified 27 May 2010