These letters graciously have been shared with the Victorian Web by Eunice and Ron Shanahan; they have been taken from their website. The letters give an insight into the daily lives and concerns of 'ordinary' people without whom history would not exist. The letters are a wonderful example of how much history may be gleaned from such sources.

This letter from the past is one long moan of complaint from a father in Ayr, in Scotland to his son living extravagantly in Chelsea in London. The father, George Dunlop wrote the letter on the 2 September, 1813, which was a Sunday. It is interesting that he has headed it AIR, not the usual spelling of AYR.

It is addressed:

George Dunlop,
Hospital Assistant
11 Upper Ranelagh Street,

The letter has six postal markings of varying quality. The first is a poorly struck undated mileage mark of AYR 440. This type of mark was in general use in Scotland from 1811. It should have a letter ‘G’ after the mileage, to indicate the route, but this was only partially struck, and is, I think, incomplete. The listing of Scottish Postal Towns in Alan Robertson’s book Great Britain, Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635 - 1839 shows the mileage as 439, but there were often differences in the actual town stamp mileage marks.

The next is a partly-struck Glasgow 3-line unboxed dated mileage mark. This is placed across the fold of the letter, so the left part of the stamp - the day - is missing. However, in the time bills of 1797, the Glasgow to London mailcoach was recorded as being a very fast coach. It covered the 405 miles in 59 hours 15 minutes. It left at 3pm and travelled overnight to Carlisle, then travelled continuously, (with breaks for meals and changing of the horses), until the arrival in London at 4.15 in the morning of the 4th day. The datestamp applied by the General Post Office in London is a circular stamp in red SP 6 1813, so the Glasgow stamp must have been 2 SEP.

The charge mark of 1/2½ written in black ink is the total charge to be collected on delivery. This was the cost of a single letter for a distance of more than 400 miles, (AYR as shown by the mileage mark stamp, was 440 miles from London), plus the Scottish additional ½d mail tax. This charge could have been applied either at AYR or at the GPO, London. The Additional ½d stamp was definitely applied in London. It is Hodgson & Sedgewick Type 1A measuring 36.5mm x18mm and it was in use from 4 August 1813 to 16 February 1817. This is quite an early example of the additional halfpenny tax which was introduced in June 1813.

From the GPO, the letter was transferred to the London Penny Post Chief Office, which applied the unpaid oval date stamp in red 10 O’Clock SP 6 1813 F.Nn. It is identified as being from the Chief Office, as the month is before the day, however, the listings of the Penny Post Offices show Chelsea as being under the Westminster office, for delivery.

And now to the letter, which I have transcribed as he wrote it, including the odd spellings. It is a very thought-provoking letter. Parents at that time took their responsibilities very seriously, and lost no opportunity of directing the thoughts and actions of their off-spring. The first paragraphs are concerned entirely with his son’s spending.

Dear George,

I have this moment received your letter of the 30th ult., which has in no small degree filled me with surprise. On your arrival in London you must have had in your pocket £20, your passage thither and every other expence incurred by you at Edinburgh having been paid by me when there, among which was the price of a pair of new boots, though you seem to have got another pair at London, which makes me think that those you got at Ed must have been lost; for in less than 2 months, I cannot otherwise conceive how another pair was necessary.

You received from your uncle £50 - possessed thus of £70, I cannot comprehend how such a sum ought not to have more than suffised till your first quarter’s pay became due, seeing that you lived till within this fortnight past at no expence in Mr. Gibbs’ family It is true an expence of £25 seems to have been incurred by you for a uniform and a sword. A uniform, I suppose was not necessary till you had entered upon duty in some Regt. and the expence of it astonishes me. I know that living is expensive in London, but to those only who choose to be expensive; for any person of economy may support himself with decency as cheaply in London as anywhere in the Empire.

But as I have said, you have had no expence of living. The uniform and the other purchases you state, amount to about £32 or £33 - Of the £70 therefore there remains a balance of about £37 - of which I am afraid a large portion must be placed to account of amusements. A little of the amusements of London I have no objection to your partaking of, and a small expence would have procured these. Knowing the state of your finances, you ought to have known how to have adapted your expenditure to them, and they were such as ought to have more than carried you forward till your first quarter’s pay was due. Your pay as you state it, is £2.12.6 a week, a sum on which many an officer has to maintain a family. The 10/6 you pay for lodging being allowed you, is besides no small advantage.

You seem to have had very little reflection on your situation, and must, I am afraid have been ill advised in many of your expenses. In entering upon life many hardships are to be struggled with, and if you are so little able to adapt your expenditure to your funds, I know not what is to become of you. For my own part I have done all I can to aid you, and I trusted that the generosity of your Uncle had placed you in a train requiring no further pecuniary assistance from me. My finances, you may well know, are in no condition to afford any. I am truly vexed at the dilemma into which you have brought yourself. I hope it is not so bad as you represent.

Note - this use of the word 'train' is no longer current, and in this case means a condition, or an ordered arrangement. After he has got the financial situation out of his system, he then starts the lecture on the son’s job. It was a matter of pride that his son should work hard and be well thought of by his superior officers.

I should be sorry to think that your situation in the York Hospital from confinements, or being obliged to remain long without sleep should be in any degree oppressive to you. I hope you do not feel it so, and that the appartment you remain in without going to bed, was well aired and healthful.

By all means cultivate a correspondence with your uncle, taking his advice in all your proceedings. The promotion you have the prospect of, I hope will soon take place. To ensure the attention and friendship of those you act under at Chelsea, nothing is of more importance than a steady and careful performance of your duty in the hospital. Improvement in your profession is I trust the first object of your care, and that you neglect no study that can forward this. A habit of constant occupation is of great use to you.

Habits of economy must also be acquired, a cheaper mode of cleaning boots than 3d each time may be discovered. Your Commission by the Gazette appeared to be dated the 19th July, from which day I presume your pay commences, and a quarter’s pay is thus due you the 19th next month. The appointment you wish of asst. Surgeon to the Forces, will I suppose require you going to Spain. This I am ignorant about, but it is no doubt of importance as a step to further promotion and I hope your expectations of obtaining it are well founded."

Mr Dunlop Senior is obviously concerned for his son’s future. I should imagine that he was in fact proud of his son, as he has kept track of his appointment in the Gazette, but that is the last thing he would indicate. The next paragraphs show he is interested in learning about his son’s occupation, friendships and contacts.

"I never thought of writing to you till I should again hear from you as you promised in your last; but never stand upon ceremony when you have anything to communicate. James tells me he wrote you a few days ago.

Pray what kind of institution is the York hospital? how does it differ from that of Chelsea? what kind of patients are received into it and what number? How many assistants have you with yourself? & are there any young men you find worthy to associate much with? In the choice of companions you cannot be too guarded.

I am glad you have seen General Hutton. Remember me very kindly to Mr. Gibbs, to whom I must soon write, expressing my acknowledgments for his particular kindness & attention to you. When you see General Hutton you will also present my best regards to him. To Dr. Crawford I must also express my sense of his friendship to you, which I hope you will do everything in your power to preserve. I shall be exceedingly happy to hear from you soon as you promise & I hope you will communicate every particular circumstance occurring to you."

Then he is back to instructions - he must be very frustrated that he is so far away, and unable to give his views in person.

"Everything that can advance your knowledge in your profession ought to occupy your attention. Let me recommend a book to your perusal & study "An Introduction to medical Literature including a System of practical Nosology - intended as a Guide to Students & assistants to Practitioners' by Dr. Thos. Young, Physician to St. George’s Hospital. I never saw a work so highly recommended than this in the Quarterly Review. I am sure it is valuable & worthy of your attention. You can be at no loss I should think to get the perusal of it, & when you become richer you ought to add it to your library.

Note: Nosology - the classification of diseases. The Quarterly Review was a periodical that favoured Tory politics.

He then adds another little dig - presumably these two girls are George’s sisters.

Anne & Bess join me in best wishes to you. They both feel uneasy at the very extraordinary deficiency in your funds Bess will write to you soon after I again hear from you, & I hope in your next you will have some gratifying intelligence to give us.

I remain ever,
Dear George,
Yours most truly,
Geo Dunlop.

I feel it was a bit hard on the young man who had obviously sent a ‘begging letter’ to his parent, that he was not only refused any assistance and had to endure a long lecture complaining bitterly about his extravagance, but in addition, was obliged to pay 1/2½d for the letter! Surprisingly, he has noted on the outside answered Sept. 8th, only 2 days after he received it. I wish I had that reply, to see the son’s reaction to his father’s lecture.

As an interesting footnote, William Carson of New Zealand sent the following information concerning this 'letter from the past':

The article on the 'spendthrift' George Dunlop reminds me of, almost 20 years ago, handling a batch of letters written by him to his father in Ayr. Dunlop was a surgeon with the 66th Regiment of Foot and in 1816 arrived on St Helena as part of the guard for Napoleon. His letters from St Helena make interesting reading and include references to meeting Napoleon. From a philatelic viewpoint his letters are important as they are the main source of the rare St Helena Packet Letter datestamps. Dunlop left St Helena in 1819 and was dead by 1827.

His father was a lawyer in Ayr and the legal firm of Dunlop & Co is probably still in existence - they certainly were when I lived round the corner in the early 1970's. There is no need to make speedy representation to Ayr in search of further covers. Many have been down that trail, including myself, only to discover that the firm's archives were sent for paper salvage during WW2. Prior to Ayr using the boxed mileage mark, the post office used a straight line AIR - the old spelling - and Dunlop's use of this spelling is a hangover from earlier days. There is a straight line namestamp AYR but it is extremely rare.

Last modified 18 December 2002