William Gray (1812-1880).
A quantity of old letters and papers found at Elmbank, Strone, has thrown a little more light on the life of the grandfather of my generation, William Gray ~ the man who led our family from the sphere of small farming to that of industry and the professions. His life was much more varied and interesting than I had realised, and as perhaps others may be interested I make these notes. William Gray died before any of us now living were born, and to a large extent he was to us, as my Cousin D.W. Rowntree aptly expressed it, "a picture of a sad" faced old man in an oval gilt frame that hung above our grandmother's bed.
It is a pity we do not know his ancestry farther back than we do. Our forebears joined the Society of Friends in the 1680's, and it is from the oldest records of the Society in Scotland that we get our earliest definite information. These records show the Grays as farmers in the neighbourhood of Kirkintilloch (about 10 miles N.E. of Glasgow), and the names of these farms -Wester Muckroft, Bedcow, Gartshore and Auchengeich -are still found today. Westermuckroft now forms part of the land of Woodilee Mental Hospital. Bedcow is a mile or so from it, and Gartshore and Auchengeich in the vicinity; as also is the little "Quaker Burial Ground" in which some of the old Grays lie. Farther back than that we cannot go. The name Gray has been common in that district for a very long time -too common to allow our particular family to be traced with any accuracy.
It is known that a Norman family of Grey settled in Lanarkshire in the 12th Century: a time when it was quite a common occurrence for Normans to make a peaceful penetration into Scotland. This family was descended from a knight from Caen who crossed the Channel about 1100, and was the forefather of the aristocratic Greys of Suffolk (Lady Jane Grey) and of Northumberland (Earl Grey of Falloden). So it is possible that our family is of this origin.
On the other hand, the vast proportion of Grays in Scotland derive the name from the colour source. It was, of course, common practice in a clan or similar community to distinguish between members by reference to a physical characteristic. It was also quite common practice for these names to be anglicised when their bearers settled in the Lowlands; and in many such instances the anglicised forms are now much more common than the originals. Young, Black, White are more frequently met with than Ogg, Dow & Bain, as is Gray than its equivalent of Glass or McGlashan. There was quite a numerous sept McGlashan (son of the wee grey one) of the Atholl Stewarts, who at a time of disputed chieftainship split away from their clan and to a large extent settled in the Lowlands and became Grays. It is because of this, that those who bear the name Gray are generally permitted to wear the Atholl Stewart tartan, although comparatively few are actually descended from this particular source.
Whether our remote Gray ancestor was of Norman, Gaelic or other blood, we do not know. All we know for certain is that our family was -in the Kirkinti11och district at the close of the 17th Century. They may well have been there long before that; but, it should be noted that (according to my great uncle Robert Gray) the earliest registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths of Aberdeen Monthly Meeting contain entries concerning our family in Kirkintilloch neighbourhood. Entries of this sort are quite unusual, as Aberdeen had no jurisdiction over this distant area, and suggest a connection between our Grays and the other Grays that were Friends in Aberdeenshire. If this were so, our family may have come from North East Scotland.
The earliest record of our family is of William Gray of Westermuckroft (probably from Muc-rach, "the place of swine"). His son James married Mary Smailly, whose father and grandfather were of Gartshore, at the Broken Cross of Hamilton in 1720. This word "broken" is from "broc", a badger. The second son of this marriage, Robert, inherited the farm of Bedcow (from Bad-Call, "a clump of hazel") from a childless .. Gray uncle in 1751.
Robert Gray greatly improved Bedcow, and also acquired the smaller farm of Gartshore. He married twice. By his first wife he had a son, John, who farmed Gartshore. By his second wife, Mary Roughead, he had eight children of whom the eldest son, James, was the great-grandfather of my generation.
In his old age he evidently worried about the future of his younger children and made a disposition. After his death the younger children were to carry on in Beddow for a year, then John would take possession and James get Gartshore. When the old man died in 1807, there was a dispute about all this, and the matter taken to Counsel.
The decision was in favour of the younger children and the disposition upheld.
In 1808 James Gray married Mary Cruickshank, daughter of John and Mary Cruickshank of Kinmuck, Aberdeenshire, in the little Friends Meeting House at Kinmuck. She was 8 years his senior, having been born in 1772 and James in 1780. In a letter written to his betrothed shortly before the ceremony, he asked that this event should take place on "first second day after Monthly Meeting", so that the newly weds could make the journey back to Gartshore easily before the next "first day" .Soon after their installation in Gartshore the young couple were visited by Mary's younger brother, John Cruickshank, Junior, who wrote them a letter on his arrival home describing his journey north which was partly accomplished on foot and took three days.
In December 1810 John Cruickshank's (Senior) elder son Alexander died, and the following month the old man wrote to James and Mary Gray saying his farm was too much for them to work without Alexander's help, and offered them a portion (some 18 acres) of the land and part of the house; taxes etc. to be shared. This offer was accepted, and James and Mary with their infant son Robert (1809-1903) came to Kinmuck. Presumably James leased Gartshore to his cousin, James Gray of Auchengeich, as it was eventually sold to him in 1818 for £1,000.
James and Mary Gray lived at Kinmuck for about eleven years, and during this time their four younger children, John (1811-1854), William (1812-1880), (Mary 1814-1900) and James (1816-1902) were born.
For some reason unknown to us, James Gray decided to emigrate with his family to the United States. There was "a very sharp parting" from their kindred and friends before they sailed from Aberdeen on the "James and Margaret" on 13th May, 1822. After a very rough passage lasting 30 hours, in which they all were seasick and "threw up violently", they arrived at St. Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay, in the Orkney islands. There the ship lay for several days apparently taking aboard more cargo. The travellers were glad to set foot on shore and there is a letter describing how they spent their days, cooking their food and washing tneir clothes in the cottages of the hospitable Orcadians. One can imagine their feelings when they eventually set sail on their long voyage across the Atlantic on 26th May.
James Gray kept a diary of the voyage, but the entries are short and give little idea of the ship or of the life on it –"rain", "very sickly and little out of bed" , "past by Rock Auld", "calm and all finely recovered", "calm and foggy" -but it was evidently pretty grim. They eventually reached New York on 14th July, two months after sailing from Aberdeen. James and Mary each wrote from New York giving more details of their voyage, but unfortunately these letters have not survived.
They spent several days in New York where Friends showed them kindness and advised against their original intention of proceeding to Illinois or Ohio. These states were referred to as unhealthy and too far from markets. New York impressed James as being "a large city of100,000 estimated population", but he considered it too closely built and the buildings too high for the hot weather they experienced. He also sorrowfully observed, "the Holy Name is shockingly blasphemed in this city".
On leaving New York the family sailed up the Hudson to Albany. The country they saw on this passage did not impress them favourably, and the family suffered from "the flux and vomiting". At Albany they disembarked and, purchasing a wagon and a pair of horses, continued
their journey by land. They trekked up the side of the Mohawk river past "Schenectady" and found the land hereabouts more pleasing.
At Little Falls they found that the canal from Lake Erie to Albany, then under construction, had reached this point. This canal was one of the attractions to them of this neighbourhood, as it promised contact with markets for farm produce. They thought Utica "a thriving town"; and here little William caused a panic by getting lost for several hours. He followed the wrong wagon out of the township, but had the good sense to return to where he had last seen his parents. In telling of this, the father makes the understatement that the loss of the child "would have left a great blank in our little society" , and quoted the parable of the lost sheep.
Continuing their trek they reached a small place called Hampton, some 11 miles farther on, where they considered settling. Here were other Friends, and James Gray refers to attending a Meeting at Bridgewater. But once more the children were "sick of the flux", so after a stay of a couple of weeks they again pushed on and eventually settled at Skaneateles, a village on the shore of the lake of that name which lies roughly 15 miles S.W. of the town of Syracuse. Here again they were amongst Friends, and made other friends, with some of whom they occasionally corresponded for many years.
James Gray acquired land here; but we have no particulars of his farm. He describes the horses there as "spirited but smaller than those at home" and the cows as "good". It is evident, however, that the family were never happy in their new surroundings and were homesick.
They experienced a very hot, dry summer when frequent bad thunderstorms afforded a few hours relief. They complained of the water and endured frequent attacks of sickness. They also noted how restless the people around them were, several selling their farms and going farther on -a pioneering type that wanted to get into the wilds. The upshot of all this was that James Gray sold up, and brought his family all the way back to Kinmuck where they arrived before the end of 1823. We gather that the farm in Skaneateles was disposed of profitably, although the final payments were not received till some seven or eight years later.
What Mary thought of all this trekking about we do not know, but unless she shared her husband's wanderlust she was 'a long suffering woman.
On his return to Kinmuck James Gray got the lease of "a small farm just adjoining the one we had formerly"; but in 1833 he became tenant of Denmill, in the parish of Keithhall, another farm in the vicinity. Here, at Denmill, he lived the rest of his life.
In 1855 James Gray was in "poor health", and his doctor spoke of "water in the chest". In December he was "smitten with erysepelas attended with fever" and died on the 28th of the month. He was buried in, the little burial ground at Kinmuck. Amongst the items of the funeral expenses are listed: gravedigger 5/-, coffin 30/-, 14/11 for tea and sugar for the funeral refreshments, and £1.3.9. to Aberdeen Monthly Meeting for hire of a gravesafe. This last item was, of course, to foil the body snatchers. In a testimony to him, his children describe him as "upright, straight forward and without flattery, and as of Nathaniel of old, an Israelite in whom is no guile".
His widow Mary, who was in her 37th year at her marriage, survived him for five years. She was 88 when she died on 20th March, 1860. In the testimony to her she is described as of a cheerful disposition, and "her conversation both instructive and edifying" .
The family of four sons and a daughter appear to have had their education at the little local school; except that the youngest, James, completed his at Wigton School, Cumberland. Robert and James never married. They were farmers, and carried on at Denmil1 until 1872 when they leased another small farm at Bridgefoot, Glenburn, from Aberdeen University. They only stayed there till 1875 when their brother William bought the farm of Garthdee and leased this to them. Ten years later they retired to the little cottage beside Kinmuck Meeting House, which they rented from Aberdeen Monthly Meeting for £4 per annum, later reduced to £2. Here the old men lived with a housekeeper whom they mistakenly thought faultless and against whom they would hear no criticism. She got such a hold upon them that in their last years they :.: were kept in bed, poorly fed and dosed with whisky, which at that time cost a mere 3/6 per bottle. Had they been properly tended, Robert at least might well have reached his centenary. He died in 1903 and James in 1902. Both lie in the little graveyard at Kinmuck.
John, the second son, seems to have been the best mixer of the family and made a good agent or traveller. At an early age he came to Glasgow and was associated in certain business ventures with his younger brother William. His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of his landlady, and bore him six children before his sudden and tragic death as a victim of Asiatic Cholera at the early age of 43.
Mary, the only daughter, married Robert Smeal -a Glasgow Friend -a tea merchant and grocer who, as a side line had a prominent part in a publication called The British Friend, now long defunct. She had a family of four sons the youngest of whom, John, was a very successful salesman and Sales Manager for Scotland for J.S. Fry & Sons, of Bristol. He found a situation as cashier in Fry's Glasgow office for his less able elder brother, James Gray Smeal, who resembled his uncle William Gray in appearance and quiet manner. As an elder of Glasgow Meeting, James Gray Smeal sat facing the main body in my childhood days, and could frequently be detected slipping a lozenge into his mouth. In his limited business sphere he was credited with a faculty of getting payment of accounts from defaulting Italian customers.
When my brothers and I were children, we frequently visited , "Aunt Mary Smeal" in her little house in Crosshill where she then lived.
She was a small, plain old dame who still retained her Aberdeenshire ,:; accent. But I fear the high light of such a visit was the sixpence which the kindly old soul so often gave us.
William Gray, the grandfather of my generation, was the third son of James and Mary Gray. On leaving school he was apprenticed to the drapery trade with Maw of Newcastle, members of the Society of Friends. The firm is referred to as Margaret Maw & Sons in one instance, so presumably this was the full name. There he got some bookkeeping to do -a thing he was always keen on. In his later life he had a ledger in which for a period of many years he kept most neat records of his transactions, not only his business accounts during the years when he was an agent on his own, but also of the loans he received , his house purchases etc.,. and of his expenditure in support of his widowed sister-in-law Elizabeth and her six chi1dren. The writing and figuring is immaculate; the work was evidently near to his heart.
It is interesting to note how usual it was in those days for friends to lend one another sums of money on a strictly businesslike basis of promissory notes; such loans being based, not on any tangible security, but on the integrity and ability of the receiver. From his brother-in-law William Ostle, William Gray had a loan of £80 from 1857 till 1867, and through him, another for £500 from 1854 till 1868. In addition he had several from his own family.
His apprenticeship ended in 1832, and for the next few years his life is unknown. But in 1837 he and his brother John opened a shop at 176 Trongate, Glasgow, as "John and William Gray, drapers, silk merchants, shawl and bonnet suppliers". For this venture the brothers obtained a loan from their maternal aunt, Jean Bissett. In a letter to her parents, Mary Smeal spoke most enthusiastically of the progress of her brothers' business -sales for a week of £350 -two saleswomen and twelve other employees, these last making the bonnets etc. presumably.
But the brothers were being very had wrought, often not home till eleven o'clock and John rising again at five in the morning to dress windows. The Glasgow P.O. Directory of 1838 gives the private address of the partners as 12 Hutchison Street. This doubtless would be John's home as he would be married by then, and William lodging with him.
In 1840 William married his first wife Hannah Ostle, the daughter of a Maryport (Cumberland) boat builder. How he met her, we do not know; but in those days the members of the Society of Friends seem to have kept very much in touch, in spite of the lack of good transport. She was clearly of good family and well educated. In the only letter of hers that has been preserved, she writes in August 1841 describing her life at that time in their holiday quarters at Bellahouston - now, of course, part of the city of Glasgow. This was "a sweet retired spot", the thatched cottage being part of a farm. The windows of the bedroom "open like a door and let in such beautiful fresh air". The house was situated halfway between the Canal and the Greenock Railway, and an avenue (now almost certainly Beech Avenue) led down to the "Paisley highway". "Dear William" walked to and from Glasgow each day. "First day meeting was more of a problem. The young wife, who was always delicate, could not manage the 3 to 4 mile walk each way. So she and "dear William" stayed over "seventh day night" in their own house in Glasgow. Unfortunately she does not state this address.
The married life of the young couple was tragically short. On a visit to her parents, Hannah was taken suddenly ill. William hurried to her bedside and arrived in time to see her, but she died very suddenly on the evening of 19th March, 1842. The funeral was a large one. It was attended by more than 300 people, many of whom were employees of her father's yard.
This, naturally, was a bitter blow for the young widower, and may well have affected his business life. At any rate, when we next hear of him the business in Trongate has been disposed of and he himself is about to sail from Liverpool to New York. From his private ledger, it seems that the firm had not been able to meet all its debts. These appear to have been shared by the brothers individually. Amongst those assumed by John was Aunt Bissett’s, and by William £152 to David Watts and £180 to George Richardson, both of Newcastle. Both of these debts were cleared in 1859, there being a very nice gesture On the part of Richardson in cancelling the last £20 "in token of my estimate of the honourable manner in which this debt has been liquidated".
William Gray's letter to his parents written on 16th February, 1843 from Liverpool, just when he was about to set sail, is interesting and rather pathetic. The steamer journey from Greenock to Liverpool had taken l63/4 hours - a fast run". He had booked 2nd Class on the U.S. vessel "Southerner" for £4 passage which included, as laid down by Act of Parliament, "breadstuffs, biscuits etc. and 3 quarts of water per day". Cooking facilities were provided, and he had laid in a store of :'ham, pickled meat, butter, eggs, coffee and various groceries" ; also cooking utensils. He expressed deep gratitude for a gift of £3 from his mother, and his determination to get on and repay those who had shown their faith in him. Then he touchingly told his mother to keep for herself what she fancied from the box of linen sent north from his broken up home.
The ship arrived in New York on 22nd March, after a voyage of 42 days. They only took 12 days to reach the Banks of Newfoundland, but bad weather held them up thereafter. It was a beautiful sunny, calm morning when they approached the mouth of the Hudson however, and William was greatly impressed with the sight. He came armed with introductions to several Friends, and eventually got a situation in a dry goods store in Baltimore. His hours of work were from 7.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. which were considered favourable, and although his master was not a Friend he was allowed to attend weekday Meetings when not too busy. At this time the Friends in U.S. were sharply divided into two camps, the orthodox and the Hicksites, and although William sided with the former, he regretted that the latter were more enthusiastic abolitionists. He did not say much about life around him, but remarked on the general cleanliness of the cities.
He evidently did not stay long in this situation in Baltimore, as it was from one with Friends in Philadelphia that he left to return home. He arrived back in Liverpool on 3rd October; only seven months after he landed in New York. Why he was so restless is not disclosed. The voyage home lasted 24 days, and was made on the British vessel "Ashburton" carrying 125 steerage, 68 second class and 30 cabin passengers, and was much more comfortable than the previous journey. The fare was only £3.7.0. Second Cabin.
On his return he got a situation with Robert Allan, a Dublin Friend, who was a "woollen draper" and with whom he was in contact before he left America. He appears to have lived in Dublin for a time, as Mary Smeal in a letter to her parents in 1844 tells of how she is looking forward to seeing William, who had written intimating that he was crossing to Glasgow for a few days. But before the close of 1845, his ledger indicates that he was lodging with John and his family in Glasgow.
At the beginning of 1846 he went to London and started on quite a new venture. He bought hams, haddocks, eggs, wilks etc., from certain sources in the Moray Firth district, and also soap from a Glasgow firm of Charles Boyd & Son. These goods he sold to various merchants in London. This was clearly not a profitable business as it only lasted for about six months. Many of his customers took only one ,consignment, for which in some instances settlement was never made apparently.
In June l846 he got a situation with John Morland & Son, 50 Eastcheap, who seem to have dealt in various articles from umbrellas to woollen linings for boots. This venture seems to have been his best to date. He began at a salary of £110 per annum, but in 8 years this had risen to £300 plus commission on his sales of 21/2 % on the first £2,000 and 5% above that figure. But he got his fingers slightly burnt in 1847 when he went into partnership with a lithographer named Wells, under the name of "T. Wells & W. Gray, lithographers, 35 Basinghall St." When this business was wound up in 1849 he had lost £144 in it.
It was during this time with Morlands that he met his second wife, Margaret Sarah Pace, when he visited the home of a Friend in Sheffield whilst on one of his business journeys. Margaret was also staying in the house in her capacity of "fine needlewoman", a comparatively genteel occupation in those days of fine sewn bonnets, caps and such like feminine finery. She herself was a Londoner, although her Pace ancestry came from Gloucestershire. She was a posthumous child and her mother died in her (Margaret's) infancy, so she and her three elder sisters were reared by an aunt with little money. Two of the sisters ran a school for small children in Camberwell -a recognised career for ladies of insufficient private means -and one of their pupils was Joseph Chamberlain, later the prominent Unionist and Tariff Reformer. The first three years of William and Margaret Gray's married life were spent in London.
Meanwhile, John Gray in Glasgow had been finding his feet as a traveller or agent on his own account. When the business in Trongate was given up in 1843, he got a situation as traveller over anextensive part of Scotland for a firm McGregor. Later he seemed to have sold quite a number of things, including some of Morland's wares. Then he became Huntley & Palmer's representative around Glasgow, and it must have been a result of this connection that led him, in l853, to join the partners of Campbell & Dunn, flour merchants, in founding the firm of Gray, Dunn & Co., biscuit and Cake manufacturers. Almost at the start of this new venture Campbell (who evidently was represented by the "Co.") withdrew, and Peter Dunn and John Gray were left to carry on.
About this time William Gray with his wife and infant (my father) returned to Glasgow. Why he did so, we are not told. He retained his connection with Morland, so it is possible that John's success with Morland's goods decided William to take over John's territory and make his headquarters there. Morland must have approved of the move, as William was allowed by them £1 per day expenses whilst he was on business for them South of the border.
The Glasgow P.O. Directory for 1854 quotes: "Wm. Gray, Commission agent, 75 Charlotte St. John Gray, 70 Portland Street".
John Gray was a victim of the outbreak of Asiatic Cholera in Glasgow in the summer of 1854. He was suddenly attacked at 4 a.m. on 24th August and died at 5 o'clock that evening. At the time of his death his brother William was in Belgium, whether on business or holiday is not indicated. Naturally, William hurried home. He took over his brothers commitments in the new company, and also the support of his widowed Sister-in-law and her young family. To have to keep this family was a load, but on the other hand he was very fortunate in that, thanks to his late brothers foresight, he stepped into what proved a very profitable business. An early move was an exchange of houses, William installing the widow and her family in 75 Charlotte Street, and himself going into 70 Portland Street, where Peter Dunn lived next door to him. A year or two later he removed his own household to Morrison Street, next door to the original factory.
It would be interesting to know how the new factory was financed. Possibly the premises were rented, but a certain amount of machinery was bought and ovens built, apart from capital required to run the business. Unfortunately we know nothing beyond the fact that those days it was common practice to work largely on bills payable in so many weeks time. Even more interesting would be an insight as to how William Gray's private finances worked out. When he came to Glasgow, he was owing several hundreds, and he took on these new commitments.
We see that in 1854 he got a loan of £500 through his brother-in-law, William Ostle and this would be of some help. As stated before this loan was repaid in 1868.
Apart from his sister-in-law and her children to support, he had his own increasing family. Eight of his own surviving children (Walter died in 1859, and the youngest, Maria Louisa, went to a Prep School in Kendal) and five at least of his nephews and neices were sent to Wigton School, and his own children finished their education at Bootham and the Mount.
Although money went far in those days -the fee at Wigton was only £6-2-2 per half year, and his sister-in-law's normal weekly allowance 31/-, schooling and certain other items extra -the burden was heavy. In spite of all this, in 1858 he bought the semi-detached villas Firbank and Ravensworth in Pollokshields, and moved his increasing family into Firbank, where both he and Margaret lived till their deaths. For these houses he paid in all £1960 (including £10 for grates etc. in Firbank), laying down £300 and raising the balance by bond.
Four years later, he and his partners purchased land at Kinning Park and built upon it a new factory. Also, by 1859, he paid some of his debts, thanks in part to the small amount he inherited on his father’s death. All this seems a lot to accomplish in about eight years from such a humble start; and it was not done by natural gamblers and unscrupulous people.
In 1870 he bought Elmbank (or Elmbank Cottage as it was originally) for £650, plus £30 as bonus to the original purchaser from the builder. What a good return in happiness his children and grand-children got from that modest investment!
When he died on 31st January, 1880 his estate, though modest, was sufficient to support his widow and family in the circumstances they had known.
As indicated before, we have scant information of the financial side of Gray Dunn's business -the source of such rise as there was in the family circumstances - during its early years. William Gray himself for many years made up, and kept in his private ledger, the balance each half year. But these entries make no mention of sales, trading profits, salaries etc; the statements being merely balances between assets and liabilities. And these balances are never impressive. \ No doubt, apart from his share of the profits, each partner drew a salary. We see from William Gray's cash book for 1855 that he drew £4 each week, presumably this was salary, and probably such drawings continued in later years. It is tantalising not to see more clearly.
And now, what was William Gray really like? His figure is still somewhat vague in the mist of uncertainty. But from what I understand from these records and heard from those who knew him, especially an old friend who saw a lot of him in her childhood and youth, my own impression is as follows.
Firstly, he was very gentle - all speak of this gentleness.
Quiet in speech and rather reserved in manner. Decidedly serious and rather lacking in humour and such leavening. A kind and loving father without being demonstrative. One who abhorred and shrank from violence of any kind, due fundamentally to his religious convictions, he never even slapped his children -rather unusual in those days if, as in this case, certain of the offspring decidedly "asked for it".
In a way he was almost venturesome. He readily changed his jobs and sought pastures new. But this feature of his life might equally be due to a lack of decision, purpose and objective. And in his later years, as senior partner in Gray Dunn & Co., he was not progressive. The business did not expand as did many of its competitors.
But he must have had his full share. of guts and nerve to take the risks he did in business in his early manhood and middle age.
This sober Quaker would have been horrified at the suggestion of wagering a shilling on a game of chance, but like so many others in those days before the time of limited companies, he worked extensively on promissory notes and bills, knowing full well that the penalty of failure was penury for his family. Probably in this side of his life also, his religion bolstered him. He would have an inate faith that the Lord would provide if he himself was diligent and acted righteously.
As a businessman he showed himself successful in the end, although I suspect a major factor in this success was the conditions prevailing at that time of profit in the youthful biscuit trade. But he would have no ambition to become one of the Captains of Industry.
That his business provided a sufficiency for his family would suffice him. Particular and punctilious in his business relations, he would aim to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's."
As with his forefathers, religion was much the biggest factor in his life; and he faithfully tried to live up to his convictions. It is nice to picture him, as was his wont, seated in the little glen above Blairmore on a "first day" morning quieting reading his bible and meditating thereon.
Granted, he was an employer of factory labour in those Victorian days that saw the growth of the slums -one of those who are so readily regarded today as hypocrites with a veneer of religion for respectability. But, apart from the fact that there were then, just as now, good and bad in all classes of society, it is a mistake for one generation to judge a former one by its own situation and conditions.
A hundred years ago man could not, and did not attempt to control his life as much as he does today. Disaster, sickness and death were the constant companions on life's journey.
In addition to the lack of medical and surgical knowledge, the ideas of hygiene and nutrition were crude in the extreme. Many of the workers in these factories had come from most primitive living conditions, especially in the West Highlands where it was the custom for the family and their cattle to live throughout the entire winter together in a hovel without any apparent ill effects. Why then, should it have been foreseen that these people would sicken and die in their new environment?
It is most striking as one reads these old letters, how death seemed never the surprising or stunning blow it is so often today. When John Gray died in the prime of his manhood after only thirteen hours illness, his cousin William Smeal wrote that evening to Robert Gray in Kinmuck telling the sad news in a very matter of fact way – "I am sorry to inform thee" –"Drs. Lowrie and Watson were called" –"we must resolve his removal to the Lord's will, all whose ways are righteous" – "however it is a sore trial to his family". The young widow had been able to discuss the most suitable day for the funeral.
In another instance, a young lady who had been subject to attacks of abdominal pain suddenly took a much worse attack and died "of inflammation of the bowel" – no doubt a burst appendix that had given months of warning.
Her young husband, though "much affected", was resigned to the "will of God who knows what is best".
All other such intimations are in a similar vein, and illness and suffering regarded in a fatalistic manner. It was generally felt that the Almighty sent each into his or her particular sphere of life, and in His infinite wisdom decided if that span should be long or short, healthy or sickly and painridden.
Fairness demands that this aspect of Victorian life should be realised by its succeeding generations.
FEBRUARY, 1956. Charles Gray