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Diary of Sergeant John Matheson

The First Part of the Diary of John Matheson.

Born at Craigkilisie, in Strath Carnaig, Sutherlandshire, in the Spring of the year 1772.

To distinguish him from other John Mathesons I have labelled him variously as The Tree-Planting Diarist, or John Soldier-Business Man, according as the mood took me!

The Diary is the property of Dr. Molly M. Johnstone, of No. 1 Dalkeith Street, Joppa, Edinburgh. She very generously gave me the opportunity of making a copy of it. James M. Matheson, a direct descendent of the Diarist, has kindly decided to make copies of the Diary for the interest of Mathesons, Murrays and Mackays.

"On considering that everyone ought to have a short account of themselves about them, when they leave their native place - however triffling (sic) my situation in life may have been, I intend to state a few things in this small pocket book, for a memorandum to myself, and shall add a short statement of my money affairs for the satisfaction of my friends (that is to say if there be any money). The first part of my narrative will likely include from my birth in 1772 to this date, being April 1793 [age 21] which cannot be anyway interesting to any but myself alone, and as this book is small, very little can be said at any rate - but will be continued (if spared) as long as their (sic) may be room in this small book.

This book belongs to John Matheson, who was born in the year 1772, some time in the very beginning of April or latter end of March, but as the Register cannot be found, I am not certain as to the very day, only it was Patrick's Fair, a Saturday, at a small farm called Craigcillisie or Craig Kilisie, in the Parish of Dornoch, Shire of Sutherland, North Britain. My Father's name was Donald Matheson, and my Mother's Helen MacDonald. They lived the most part of their lives in Rearchar and Breay or Brae, both places in the Parish of Dornoch.

My Father's Father's name was Hugh Matheson and lived the most part of his time in Breay and Torboll, and my Mother's Father's name was John MacDonald. He lived in Shinness, Parish of Lairg, all in the Shire of Sutherland. I have three brothers and two sisters. George, born in 1775, William in 1778, Elspeth in 1781, Hugh in 1783 and Ann in 1786. My Father's house being far up in the country there were no schools near it, and though he was willing he could not afford to pay for me at a distance, so that the little education I got was at intervals in the winter season, by which means I sometimes at first lost in one session what I had learned in a previous session, and beside, the people in general were so poor that they could not afford a proper teacher within a few miles of where I was born which reasons are sufficient to account for my want of education, and as a proof of the poverty of the place, and the want of teachers. I was teaching for two or three years myself in a corner of the parish of Lairg, and it might be well said "like teacher, like scholars" and before I left them there were some of the scholars as far forward as their Master, at least nearly so.

I left my Father's house when young, having been some time in service when a boy with Major George Sutherland, Riarchar, some time with my Uncle and also with a Captain Mackenzie of the 36th Foot. Having been with him and his family in Loch Broom I had the misfortune to make too free with a servant maid in his house and the consequence of our familiarity was that she had a son who was born on Friday 12 March 1791, a few days after which matters were so far settled by the interference of my Father as that the boy was baptised and called John, there being hardly nineteen years of difference between his age and mine. However I left Sutherland that same month and came to Glasgow, where I remained until December 1792 and then went home to Sutherland to see my parents and friends and to settle matters with the Session which I could not stand to do before I went away. I had hardly these affairs settled when the Sutherland Fencibles began to be raised, and the tenants of that Shire, somehow or other, being in some respects obliged to give some of their sons for the said Regiment, I, of course, as one was obliged to go, being the eldest son.

To write the adventures of a poor country boy would no doubt be counted ridiculous, otherwise it would give my own feelings much satisfaction to record some of my boyish adventures and transactions, and which I may perhaps do afterwards in another place if time is permitted only for my own amusement in maturing years.

Being in service for several years with the persons already mentioned, and with a sort of merchant, not already mentioned, and for upwards of a year and a half about Glasgow, I earned a few pounds of money which I always gave my parents, not excepting my Bounty Money. None of the rest of the children were in service nor out of the household till they got houses of their own. Just when the Regiment is going to leave Dornoch my Father died (say April 1793) and I got leave to remain at home for a few weeks, and my brother George taking charge of our small affairs, along with my Mother and the rest of the children.

I have to join the Regiment at Inverness and now having engaged in a particular line of life different from any I inclined or pretended but which I was under the necessity of doing for the reasons already stated. I may conclude the first part of this diary with a more correct statement of the ages of each of my Father's Family, viz,

(2) John was born in March or April 1772. ["The Diarist"]
(3) George ditto December 1775. [Drowned 16/8/1809]
(4) William ditto September 1778.  [Married 1802.  Died 1803]
(5) Elspeth ditto May 1781.  [Married George Mackay]
(6) Hugh 2nd ditto September 1783 [Died Brea 15 May 1805]
(7) Ann ditto September 1786.  [RLM's Great Grandmother]

N.B. The first child of my parents had died before I was born, I believe in the year 1771, very young. His name was Hugh. The above is the statement given by my parents of their children's ages, and as already mentioned I was born the latter end of March, old style, probably the beginning of April, new style, year 1772.

The second part of my narrative being wrote after I left the Army will be but very short. I served for a short time for a sixpence a day a short time at first on the pay .... private though I never did duty as ...[torn]... that I may say that I was during the first year and a half, private, corporal, sergeant and Pay Sergeant, which last situation I occupied for the remaining six years that I was a soldier, and though I was always averse of being a soldier still I must admit I lived for the most part far more happier and far more comfortable than I imagined I would have done, and perhaps more so than those who are not acquaintant with the life of a soldier would be apt to believe.

However, I must admit that I have been but what is commonly called a "Fireside Soldier", and of course knows nothing of the life of a soldier properly speaking having been during the above period through the Principal Citys and Towns of Scotland, and through several parts of Ireland. I have seen and known several things which I would wish to put on record, at least for my own entertainment, which I may do afterwards, but not in this book, having been at least till now, sober and careful, and having been drilling Volunteer Parties and out with working parties from the Regt.

I made more money than would be expected, of which I always sent some to my Mother from time to time, according to her need which was always laid out for the benefit of the whole family. The Regt. being disbanded in Fort George on the 19, 20 and 22 April 1799 I went home and remained there till Tuesday 10th September, left Sutherland that day and arrived in Glasgow on Wednesday the 18th Sept. 1799 which may end the second part of my narrative.

I had the command of working parties both to the harvest and labouring work. I have been even on the stage both in Edinburgh and Glasgow with a party of picked men from the Regiment acting under the direction of the Manager for which I was in general liberally paid.

Third Part of My Narrative, viz, having arrived in Glasgow 18 September 1799 I remained until the 10th October considering what to do with respect to employment, and being advised to learn the Muslin Weaving I agreed with David Mackay in Calton to give him 5 stg. for learning, exclusive of paying him journeyman's wages for the loom etc. I remained at the weaving till the 10th January 1802, having been either going to night schools or myself keeping a night school for most of that time, I believe during the whole time.

I engaged with Messrs. Dale and McIntosh on the 10th June 1802 for Dalmarnock Dyework, where I entered immediately during the next year. My brother Hugh was with me in the work, and William my brother died 24 April 1803 at Bray. I omitted to mention that my sister Elspeth was married 7 March and my brother William in 1802, and died next year as already mentioned. I went home to see my friends 26 Nov. 1803 and returned to Glasgow on Friday 2nd March 1804. My sister Ann married 13 April 1804, and I married on Monday 17th Dec. 1804, Margaret Macintosh from Daviot, Strath Nairn at her brother's house, Barrowfield Dyework (she being his housekeeper at the time) by the Revd. John McKerrie, Minister of the New Gaelic Chapel, Glasgow.

At that time I had the management of Dalmarnock Dyeworks, where I remained till the beginning of February 1805, at that time Messrs. Dale and McIntosh, Dalmarnock and I engaged with Messrs. Monteith Bogle and Co. immediately and left Dalmarnock on the 18th Feb. 1805, remained with my brother-in-law till the 1st April 1805 when I took a house in Bridgtown where I end my third narrative, only to say something on the terms and agreement with Dale and McIntosh and with Henry Mont. Bogle and Co. I was some time with Dale and McIntosh before I engaged with them on 12/0 per week, when I engaged I had fifty pounds yearly of salary, free house and coals etc. and had for 3 years 2.5%, afterwards 5% on the Profits of Dyeing, also, and only on quarter salary in advance in case they sold the work which they had in view when I engaged with them.

I engaged with Henry Monteith Bogle and Co. for fourteen years from Whit Sunday 1805 for Ninety Pounds per Annum, free house and Fire, etc. and ten pounds more yearly, if I had the management of any of their works afterwards. This long engagement was very rash and foolish on my part, and if I live I shall have plenty of time to repent it, but I never considered at the time but what I might get away any time by paying the penalty, but I see since that I have been wrong, in my opinion.

I begin now the Fourth Part of my Narrative, viz, Hugh, my brother, died at Breay on the 15th May 1805, my mother was left alone, all the rest of the children having moved out of the house, and William being dead. She still remained in the place with a servant and some of her grandchildren.

George, my brother, (together with 98 more people) was drowned on the Meikle Ferry on Wednesday 16th August 1809, the boat being overloaded with people going to a Fair at Tain was overset owing to the ignorance and mismanagement of the Ferrymen, his body being found ten days after and was interred at Dornoch. [No trace of his grave now, in spite of local efforts to find it.] His wife went to Daviot 13/6/1810 to 27/8/1810 to see her friend's dying father and "for benefit of her health" She was born Spring 1783. Owing to this misfortune my Mother gave up the farm soon after, and lived with Ann her daughter [already married to John Murray II]. I went home to see her before she gave up the farm. I left Glasgow Tues. 29th August and returned again to Glasgow on Wednesday 20th Sept. 1809, being away three weeks.

My mother died at Rhine (Rhaoine) on Saturday 3 March 1810, so that the whole family is now no more, except two sisters, Ann and Elspeth and myself, and all taken away in the prime of life, my mother excepted, and now I may well conclude at this time in the ever-memorable words of the wise man, saying "There is nothing on this earth but vanity and vexation of spirit" which we must all see sooner or later, but the sooner the better.

List of Societies which I joined in Glasgow, viz,

1) Sutherlandshire Friendly Highland Society.  1st Jan 1800
2) Macdonald Friendly Society.  18th September 1807
3) Universal Highland Friendly Society.  25th August 1808
4) Argyllshire Friendly Society.  3rd Feb 1812
5) Glasgow Widow Fund Society.  3rd Feb 1812
6) Barony Parish - Militia Society.  1802
7) Barony Parish - Army of Reserve Society.  1802
8) Bridgtown Wheaten Bread Society.  3rd Oct. 1808.  Paid 10/6
9) New Gaelic Chapel Benevolent Society.  1811.  Paid 5/0 entry.
10) Sutherlandshire Social Club.  30 May 1811.  Paid 7/6 entry.
    N.B. The last two were for charitable purposes.
11) Glasgow Highland Strangers Society.  14th May 1814
12) Calton and Bridgtown Bible Society.  1815
13) Highland Society of Glasgow.  10th April 1818.  Paid Two Guineas.
14) London Street Company for improving the City of Glasgow.  March 1824.
    Paid at different times 200.
15) Macdonald Society of Glasgow.  I thing this society was dissolved.
16) Glasgow Provident Company for Building and purchasing property.

Births of my brother George's children. [i.e. George of Meikle Ferry 16/8/1809]

1  Catherine.  22 May 1802
2  Helen.  25 March 1804
3  Marion.  17 May 1806
4  Donald.  18 May 1808.  [Died 21 March 1809.]
5  George.  1st March 1810.  ["George The Merchant" became father of
   the blind Preacher]

Elspeth, my sister's children were born:

1  Donald.  11 Feb 1801.  Died.  Date not known.
2  Helen.  9 Feb 1802
3  Christian.  23 Feb 1803
4  William.  24 December 1804, and died.. when?
5  Catherine.  26 November 1806
6  Ann.  4th Feb 1809
7  Margaret.  11 June 1810
9  George.  5th March 1814
10  John.  February 1816.  Died.. when?
11  John.  15th Nov. 1818..... on the -- 1817.
12  Hugh.  30th May 1820
13  John.  19th Nov 1822
14  Alexander...

N.B. There were three of her sons called John Matheson, of which two died young as above. For the children of Ann, my sister, see later.

The fifth part of my narrative is ended in March 1819 when I am 47 years of age. And here I may observe the Kindness of Providence to me respecting the state of my health, that, with the exception of slight headaches to which I am now very subject, and the common temporary colds or slight accidents to which every person is more or less exposed, I do not recollect to having had any real sickness from my childhood.

As to my domestic affairs I am now upwards of 14 years married to a very dutiful and virtuous wife [now aged 36], and though we have no children we are as happy and comfortable together as our worldly circumstance will afford, and even in our temporary affairs we have been as successful as could be expected from our situation in life, of which some particulars may be seen in another part of this book, and for which under Divine Providence we are much indebted to my respectable employers for their kindness and liberality, as taken notice of in this book also - and though there is not getting through the world without giving offence to some of our brethren of mankind in one way or another, and doing many things which we ought not to do, both in a religious and moral point of view, yet, I hope, upon the whole, that even in that respect I have been fortunate as the generality of mankind at least I do not at present recollect to have received any material or social injury, either in my person or character from any person whatever, and I hope I have given as little, at all events it may my wish to give as little as possible, however far I may have come short.

In the former parts of my narrative I have taken notice of the death of my Father [1793], Mother [1810] and three brothers [1771, 1803, 1805, 1809] and that there remains only my two sisters and myself of our family. They are both married and have children. I observed also my long engagement of upwards of 14 years with Messrs Henry Monteith Bogle and Co. and I have to remark that however long my engagement was I have no real cause for regret except that if I had engaged only for 3 or 4 or even 5 years at a time my salary might have been considerably higher before now, at the same time my employers have been very liberal to me all the time and have more than doubled my salary for the last two years of my engagement, and in every other respect no servant could have been better used or could meet with more civility and indulgence from his masters.

I have been assistant manager with my brother-in-law for the first 11 years of my engagement but when he left the service of the company I had the charge of the work for the last 3 years.

And it will be seen in another part of this book that during this long engagement of 14 years I have only saved about seven hundred pounds, even including what I may have had before this engagement. I have been in the first eleven years of this engagement in a house in Bridgtown. Rent 16 exclusive of all taxes, and the last three years in a house that is within the boundary of the works, and valued in the Lease Books at 30 Rent, exclusive of about 10 in Taxes.

My old indenture was binding to Whit Sunday next but as I have entered into a new engagement of five years from the first day of January 1819 my old one is considered at an end. My salary during this new engagement is Five Hundred pounds per year, a Free House, Coal, Candles and Soap for the use of my family. If my days be prolonged to finish this new engagement I hope I shall have something to support me in old age, if I live to need it, and if not, it will be of some use to those who may get it, but this is a subject of which I have taken notice already in its proper place.

My two sisters with their families have come to this place lately, viz, George Mackay and Family on Thursday 20th August 1817, and then John Murray (and Ann) and family on the --- day of June 1818 and left at 24th May 1820 for Sutherland.

George Mackay has ten children and one dead, viz, 4 boys and 6 girls, viz, Donald, Helen, Christian, William, Catherine, Ann, Margaret, Elspeth, George and John. John Murray and Ann Matheson have seven children, viz, Donald, Ann, George, John, Helen, Catherine and Margaret McIntosh, and others afterwards. John, my son, was married on Tuesday 31st Jan 1815 to Jean Gray, daughter of James Gray, mason in Glasgow, and has two children, viz, Jean (Jane) born --- and John [later called "Junior" in Glasgow"] born ---. My said son has been for some years Salesman and Clerk to Henry Monteith and Co. Warehouse in Glasgow. Neil Matheson, my cousin, is my assistant at the Works for three years past. N.B. My brother's children's names to be entered in another part of this book. My Uncles and Aunts are all dead, but for Neil Matheson, who is not in Leith. I have no relations now in Sutherland, but a few cousins and other distant relatives.

I have been very little from the work these fourteen years past, except as already mentioned, once in Sutherland, several times in Edinburgh and a short time in the year 1815 I was in England, viz, Liverpool, Manchester, etc.

Before I conclude this fifth part of my narrative I may take notice of the quantity of the goods we have finished here for the last three years, viz, In the year 1816, 2000 parcels, in 1817, 1900 parcels and in 1818, 2,300 parcels, each parcel reckoned at 112 lbs. or 1 cwt. of Cloth.

I think I shall conclude this part of my narrative: Providence only knows how long I may live to add to it but as we always should be ready I lately paid Twenty Guineas for a Lair in the High Church Yard, that if I die about Glasgow or neighbourhood my remains may be buried there as well as that of my wife, and my son and sisters and their families - which is the end of all our cares and toils here below and which put an end to all our earthly ambition and concern, hatred and love, beautifully expressed by a sublime writer thus:

"How loved, how valued once, avails thee not.
To whom related, or by whom begot,
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
'Tis all thou art!  And all the Proud shall be."

[This is a quotation from Pope's "Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady". RLM]

The above affecting lines would make a deep impression on one's mind on turning away from the grave of a Parent, a spouse, a husband, a brother, a sister, a child, or even a dear friend - after, as it were, taking the last farewell.

"How loved, and how valued once avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot.
No friendship can go further than this but
that of God's through the merits of a Redeemer"

31st December 1823.

Having served the five years mentioned on page 22 of this book, on the terms agreed on, and that so far as I know with advantage to my employers and to myself, Mr. Gordon said that Mr. Monteith wished to have me engaged for five years more, but owing to the state of my health and other circumstances I wished to serve the year 1824, to give him time to think of a new engagement, which I did, but trade had got so bad at the end of 1824 that the Coy. wished me to serve 1825 for 400, and afterwards for 300 per annum during the pleasure of both parties. I was not very willing to have my salary reduced so much though considering the state of trade and the low price of goods and dyeing etc. I think now I was wrong and ought to have submitted to their terms. However I got 500 for 1825 but only 300 for 1826 for which, together with some other causes, we parted with much regret on my part - whatever may have been their feeling I cannot say.

I left Barrowfield Dyework in the beginning of 1827 and had a house in 22 Monteith Row from Whit Sunday 1827 to Whit Sunday 1832, say five years. I then came to Kirn Park where I now remain. I took the feu of Kirn in 1829 and of Daling [sic] in 1832 but paid this last from Martinmas 1831.

[At this point, John, The Diarist, leaves his narrative and devotes many pages to financial data about purchases and repairs of property, loans and gifts to relatives, his own financial state, at different periods. These details go on as late as 1836. So as not to spoil the narrative, these are shown much abbreviated and selected as an appendix to this present volume of his Diary. RLM]

John Matheson, Junior, my son, was married to Jane, daughter of James Gray, builder in Glasgow on Tuesday 31st January 1815 by the Rev. Mr. Mushart [Wishart?] of Shettleston. The birth of their family per following dates:

Jane, 30 June 1815.  [She married George "The Merchant" in Glasgow,
    and became the mother of the Blind Preacher.]
John, Oct 6th 1817.  [He died 12/11/1878 in Sauchihall Street, Glasgow.]
Margaret, 2 June 1819.  [Mrs. George Coats]
James Gray, 13 July 1821.
Henry, 29th Feb. 1824.  Died 30 Oct. 1842, age 18.
George, 17 Sept. 1827.  Died 6 Nov. 1835, age 8.
Donald, 30 Sept. 1830.  [KCB]
Helen, 30 Sept. 1830. (Twin)
William, 4 March 1833.  Died 9 Feb. 1834, age 1.
George, died.
William, died.

John, my son, was born 12 March 1791, and arrived in Glasgow on the 7th June 1807, and was married 31st January 1815.

Birth Dates of Ann, my sister's children [by John Murray II of Asdle]:

1) Donald.  15 Feb. 1805.  [Later Provost]
2) Ann.  9 or 24 Oct. 1808.  [Married Donald Rose 9th.]
3) George.  28 August 1810.  [Died 3/11/1869 at Windsor, Ontario.  Druggist]
4) John.  17 Oct. 1812.  [To Vale of Leven.  Died 1853.  Father of China Bill.]
5) Helen.  31 Dec. 1814.  [Married a Murray.  4 kids. (1 to Australia)]
6) Catherine.  7 Jan. 1817.  [Married Alex Calder]
7) Margaret McIntosh.  24 Sept. 1818.  [Married McLachlan]
8) Elspeth.  21 or 23 Sept. 1821.  [Married Andrew Mackay II]
9) William.  4 Dec. 1823.  [To Lancashire]
10) JANET.  15 March 1826.  [RLM's Grandmother.  Married William Mackay]

The difference in Ann's age is owing to her father marking the old stile [sic] and her uncle George the new.

Margaret born on Monday 21st and baptised on Friday next at --- Elspy.
William and Janet born at Aisdale, Parish of Creich.
John Murray, my brother-in-law born 15 Feb 1777, and Ann his wife in Sept. 1786.
Hugh Matheson, my grandfather, died in 1805.  He, as well as my Father and Mother,
    brothers, etc. were buried in Dornoch in 1809.
My Father died in April 1793, and my Mother 3 March in 1810.
My brother William 25 April 1803, Hugh 15 May 1805.  George 16 Aug 1809. 
My father-in-law died 8th August 1810. [ i.e. Mr. McIntosh of Daviot]
Hugh, my brother died --- [before 1771]
Marjory my sister-in-law died 19 Aug. 1819.
Catherine, my sister-in-law died ---
Donald, my brother-in-law died 4 Feb 1821
William my brother-in-law died ---
Isabel Matheson, my aunt, died 8 July 1818.
Neil Matheson, my Uncle, died in Jan 1821.
Hugh Matheson, my grandfather was 85 years old when he died.
John McIntosh my brother-in-law was married to Ann Thomson on Monday
26 January 1818 at Dalmarnock Dyeworks, or rather, at her mother's and came
afterwards to his house then.

The date of birth of their children, as under:

James, 16 April 1819.
Jane, 9 Feb. 1821.
Ann, 7 March 1823
Catherine, 22 May 1824.
Margaret, 10 Aug. 1826.
John, 10 July 1828.  Died Sept. 1828.
Mary, 21 Oct. 1829.

[This page completes as full and true a copy as we could make of the early part of the Diary of John Matheson, Diarist/Soldier/Landowner, born 1772, in Strath Carnaig, Sutherlandshire, at croft named CraigKilisie (see 1" map). My wife, Margaret and I, worked in alternating stints during a recent holiday in Scotland copying out, with the greatest interest, in longhand. There may be some errors in it, due to my handwriting which is not as good as that of the Diarist, and to my typing, a process he never heard of. Following the financial part of his diary, I may add a few explanatory comments to the whole. R.L. Mackay.]


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