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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters


After  Sixty  Years







Sept. 5th '59


Dearest Mary


I arrived safe on board of my Vessel this morning at about half past nine, I took a cup of coffee and then went to work and got the sails dried and unbent and had a good sweat over it, which gave me an appetite for my dinner, the mate is left and is coming to Glasgow by the morning train, so perhaps he will give you a call, and if so, you must hear what sort of a character he will give his master, it may be fully as bad as some of the sailors give me but I do not think it, however you may believe him sooner than they, let him say whatever he will for I think him an honest and decent man. I have been having some chat with wee Dick about home affairs, and do not know whether or not to believe that you are all quite so good as he represents you to be, he has great and good opinions of all that lives under (your) roof, it is now about eleven o’clock and he has been cleaning up the cabin and making my bed and there is a nice little fire burning and we are having a wee drop before going to bed and I may say that altogether the place looks quite comfortable and homely like, but dearest there is something which the heart seems to ask for, and the eye in vain seems to seek to make the home a happy one. I just thought to myself when Dick was doing his best to make these little improvements, if instead of him it had been my sweet little Polly performing these domestic duties, how happy I would feel myself in this snug wee spot, it certainly looks much better than when you saw it last spring, and I think (as auld Donald said by his Plaidie) this is room for us twa!  I have given up my lodgings and intend to stay on board the Ship which I find will come much cheaper and quite as comfortable. I must conclude with my kindest Love and best wishes for your health and welfare and beleive me Dear Maid


                                        Your ever True

                                              & Affectionate Lover

                                                     W Rackham






The following is a fragment of a letter. I have decided to insert it between the “Courtship" and the post-marriage letters. I think it is written from the ship Spes of which Wilby was chief mate.


-----make a teetotaller of me & because I do not always give in to his ways and his Opinions we not altogether on the best of terms at present. He Is very selfish in some respects & there are two on Board ( the carpenter and the 2nd Mate) belonging to the same place as he does & either of them I dare say would almost jump overboard to Please him, but you know that I have too Proud a spirit to humble myself so much before any man. I am proud to let him see that I can do my duty and keep my place properly but I like him to understand that I am independent of him. I tell him that I will turn teetotaller when I can no longer keep within the bounds of Moderation. My dear Polly I do not wonder at your saying that you longed for the time to come for you to write to me. I have never been so long before without hearing something or sending some news to my friends, but I am very glad that you did leave it as late as you could as the letter is of a later date - here are some on board who got letters when we first arrived which were written in February, & they were lying here for more than a month before we arrived. Did George go as second Mate in the Barque I suppose he is back again by this time. She is not one of the best of ships I think but I hope he made a prosperous voyage and a safe return, some parts of the West Indies are very sickly places at certain seasons of the year. In Roberts note to me at Greenock he said that he hoped I would forgive his (Georges) ill behaviour to me on the day that I left the house, I may say that he was pardoned before I arrived on Board but I was sorry to see him indulge in such a freak of illtemper, after I got off it never entered my mind the second time only. I thought Perhaps as we did not part as the best of Friends he might do his endeavours to alter your opinion in regard to me, but I am not in the least afraid that he would succeed, as I am quite sure that you know both him & me too well to allow his advice to lessen your esteem for myself as for my part I think there is nothing that I would prefer in this world to the Love of her who seems all that I have to live for & who has grown so much like a part of myself that my life would be to me as a wearisome burden, if I had not you to think about, every time that I call to memory the many happy days that we have Passed in each others company and the sweet hours of pleasure & amusement we have enjoyed together I think it possible that my Love strengthens every day of life. I think it indeed strange that my Sister Jimima did not answer your note if you sent her the address. I think there must be some mistake in the address or some thing of that kind as she always seemed so anxious to form a correspondence with you. I shall be rather anxious to know if she received the Tickets all safe, as this year will not be counted to me if I have no ticket to show for it. You might ask John to write a line or two and address it to her husband Mr George Bird Kessingland Nr. Wangford Suffolk, first merely asking whether they received the ticket of the Fishermans Society for this year belonging to me & perhaps our ship may be long enough on this coast for me to get word from you. I have not heard as yet where we are bound to from here & I shall close this letter tomorrow so you will have another to get from this Port as I cannot think about leaving without telling you where our next Port is but if you see us reported in the Gazette before you have my next letter, then write immediately to that Port, or if we go to the Chincha Islands for Guano you may write again to Callao as the ships always come back here after they are loaded to be cleared at the Custom house. This Place is like a great many other foreign ports which I have been to, it is not worth leaving the ship to go and see, the houses are nearly all built of wood & clay the streets are narrow & dirty with hundreds of ugly looking Birds called Turkey-Buzzards flying & -----






The Marriage "Lines" are very interesting.


On the thirty first day of December at 54 Clyde Place Glasgow Marriage (after Banns) was solemnized between us according to the forms of the Established Church of Scotland.


Wilby Rackham   Mate  (Merchant Service) Bachelor.  [Nance has added in ink Aged 29]

Mary Crosbie                                                 Spinster   [Nance has added in ink Aged 21]


[Names and occupations of parents]


John Rackham    Boot Maker( Master)     Elizabeth Rackham    Maiden name Simmonds

William Crosbie  Wine & Spirit Merchant    Sarah Crosbie             Maiden name Billington


If a regular Marriage, Signature of officiating minister and Witnesses.

If irregular, Date of conviction, Decree of Declarator, or Sheriff's Warrant.


Robert Pollok             Minister of Kingston Church Glasgow

Alexander Barry     Witness            R. Crosbie              Witness


Thomas Pollok          Assistant Registrar            Nicol MacDougal                  Registrar




Ship St. Magnus at Lamlash

Feb 15th.    [1861]


My Dear Polly


I sent a note up by Captn. Black when he left our Ship last Wednesday morning intimating our departure from Greenock Bank but I did not expect at that time that we should put into Lamlash, we arrived down off this place at about 4 P M and there was no prospect of having a favourable wind and our ship being 2 men short the Captn. thought it best to stop here. We had 2 sailors on board last night signing the Articles so that makes up our full complement, 14 all told. The weather has been very dirty here for the last 48 hours and there seems to be little prospect of a favourable change. I am getting quite tired of hanging about so long, and if it was not such an out of the way Place I would ask you to come, but there is no communication between this Island and Glasgow more than two a week and that is by steamer which runs to Ardrossan, and another thing is that we cannot tell how long we may lie here for if a fair wind should come we must be off at an hours notice. The Captn. and Mr. Bews are quite & sends his kind regards to you all. Mr. Bews says he will expect to see a letter from Sarah at Buenos Ayres and I hope you will not forget to send the papers, I told you about them before - give my kind Love to Father, Mother Sisters & Brothers wishing them all health and comfort.


You need not tell my Parants to write me at Buenos Ayres as I have written to them myself. I intend sending this up by the "Vigilant" steam tug she came in here with a large ship this morning.


So With my kindest Love & Most affectionate regards for your health & wellfare


I Remain Dear Polly

Your ever Loving



(Corner of sheet torn here)







Ship St Magnus

Sunday at Lamlash

Posted - Feby. 18th.   [1861]


My Beloved Wife


The wind still blows from the S W and there seems to be no appearance of any change in our favour, but I suppose our turn will come before many days, in the meantime we are keeping ourselves employed as best we can for the benefit of the ship & those concerned, but I must acknowledge that this seemed to me the dullest Sabbath day that I have passed for a long time, I sent a letter up by a steam tug to Greenock on Saturday but very likely it would not be posted untill late so that you may not get it untill Monday, I had some thought of going ashore to the Village this morning but the Captn. went himself and the day turned out so cold and disagreeable that I altered my mind and remained on Board. We are all quite well & trust that this may find you all at home the same. I suppose you spend most of your time about Mother's house now that I am not with you but wherever you are dear Polly keep yourself employed (at proper hours) with something that tends either to benefit or comfort yourself or some part of the family, as it makes the time cheerfully and keeps you from Idle habits, you are reaping some good from the labours of your hands. You must not forget to bind all my charts with tape round the edges as I saw the edges of them that were at home last voyage were getting all torn up and damaged for want of being bound. You must also get some dark blue worsted & knit me some stockings, and any other things I may want for next voyage, for you know my dear wife that I prize everything that is made or done by your own hands of far greater value than if it comes from any other source and when I see these things at sea or in a foreign country, they bring happy thoughts of yourself & our dearest friends at home to my mind. I was used to say to myself, well no man could ever love a woman more than I do my little Polly but I can safely say that I never Loved you before we were married half so much as I have since that blessed day and I am well aware that I have yours in return, so we must both strive to do our best for the mutual comfort prosperity of both. Your money will not be due untill we are ten days from this place as this is the last port in Clyde but your note tells you all about it. I must now conclude and commend you to the care of that kind Providence who sits up aloft keeping watch for the life of Poor Jack (Dibden's sea song) and while you are under the care and guidance of your Father & Mother I am happy. So with my kind Love to them I leave you all my heart in exchange for your own which I shall take (on) the voyage in the Good Ship St Magnus,


I remain, Dear Polly,

Your Loving Husband

W. Rackham


for a short time, dearest Goodbye





Ship St Magnus

at Buenos Ayres

May 8th '61


My Beloved Wife


I take the first opportunity of addressing a few lines to you intimating our safe arrival and my own personal welfare & enjoyment of good health, for which I return thanks to God who bestows all such blessings hoping at the same time that yourself and all the family an equal share of His bounteous Goodness. We had rather a long passage out to Buenos Ayres and were so long detained at the entrance of the river that the Mail packet passed us before we had a chance of putting a letter on board of her or else you would have received one a fortnight before this arrives home. I know you will think it a long time before you receive my first letter but you shall have one every mail after that during our stay here which will probably be about 9 months altogether as we have now been here 10 days and have not got much cargo out yet, so I think that by the time we discharge it all and take in another for home it will take the most of two months. By the Captns account we are chartered to come back direct to Glasgow, but I cannot say for certainty that such is the case untill we commence to take in our homeward cargo, My dear Polly I am sorry that I did not tell you to write sooner for I am wearying for a letter. I feel more anxious to hear from you than I ever did before, otherwise I am very comfortable & have everything that is calculated to make my situation agreeable to me, but a constant desire to have you at my side dear polly is ever uppermost in my mind. How I could enjoy the sweet pleasure of your company were I Master of a nice ship like the St Magnus & you to sail with me from one part of the world to another. We had a remarkably fine passage and the weather conditions delightful in the River Plate. We are not in a harbour here the same as ships are in Glasgow or Liverpool, the river here is so wide that we cannot see the Land from our ship on the opposite side to the town and we are 5 miles from it   Buenos Ayres is a finely built city and very clean, it has a fine appearance from the water and has two piers or jettys run out far into the sea which are always full of People Promenading & lounging about the seats viewing the ships &c. I can see them on a clear evening very distinctly with our spyglass. My dear I think you will remember me saying that I expected to get stouter after I left home, which is the case for after I had been away only a month I knew a difference in myself and I think there is no harm in saying that I hope your own dear self is in a thriving condition, only do not grow more than a stone or 2 larger before I come home or else I shall be afraid that you will want to be Master as well as Mistress. What would you think of filling both situations at once & Myself to be your Most humble Servant W.R. Well my dear I think you will say enough when you have had the patience to read all this nonsense so will cut the yarn short as a real sailor would say and sit down & wish I only had a letter from you. I only expect one here and am willing to send 3 or 4 to you for it but you must consider yourself indebted to me and the first Port we are at in Britain you shall know what I shall look for. A letter from my dear little polly. So farewell for a short time again and with my kindest Love and best wishes for your health and comfort I remain Dear wife Your ever Loving


Husband W. Rackham




Ship St Magnus

at Buenos Ayres

May 26th 1861


My Beloved Wife


As the Mail goes away on the 28th it is time that I was thinking of getting my letters ready for posting as it is not every day that we have the opportunity of getting on shore. I received your most welcome letter on the 18th and one paper. I also got a letter from my Parants. I was indeed surprised to hear that you had not got to Edinburgh yet as I thought there was nothing to prevent you when I left Glasgow the folks must be wearying for the expected change having been so long waiting to get away but you did not say the address of your future residence in Edinbro so I suppose I must send this to Father's late lodgings as I did the first one by the last Mail. Our cargo is nearly all out now and the homeward cargo is laying waiting for us to take on board, so perhaps we may not be here more than 4 weeks or so from this time. I hope to get another letter or two from you before we leave as this Mail comes twice a month. You must put half the postage down to my account as they will not receive it here so I cannot pay my letters. You ask me to bring you birds home from here. I must tell you my dear that there is not such a thing to be had in the place the only commodities of Buenos Ayres are Cattle, hides, Bones & tallow so when I come home you must take me and put me in a cage instead of a cockatoo but it must be a stronger one than you had the Cockatoo in before. I hope you have got the picture of the Ship into a frame & I shall be rather anxious to know what it is you are going to surprise me with when I come back. If you are thinking of going to Hanley how could you meet Mrs Rendall at Edinburgh when the Ship arrives. I do not understand what it was that you wished me to tell the Captn. I could not make it out neither can I see how love makes you thin for it has the contrary effect on me. I love you now more than ever I did & that makes me happy and my spirits more buoyant as I am now contented in my mind since I have married the girl I dearly love. There is none can take you away from me but Him who joined us together in holy wedlock bands we must both try to make ourselves contented with the lot we have chosen for ourselves & strive to do the best we can for the mutual welfare of both. I will do my best with all pleasure and at the same time expect with confidence that you will do the same so pluck up your spirits and make up your mind to be a happy industrious little wife to your own dear Willie and you will make him a happy man. My old ship Spes has arrived here after a very long voyage, and I am just going to give them a call on my way towards the Shore to post the letters, Mr. Bews sends his kind regards to you all and says he thinks Sally has forgotten all about him but he intends giving them a call if he is spared to get back. He did think she would have sent him a wee bit in the corner of yours. I must now come to a close and say goodbye for a short time with my kindest love and regard for your health & safety, with my love to father & mother, & remain Dear Wife


Your ever affectionate husband

W Rackham

Goodbye & God bless You






Ship St Magnus

at Buenos-ayres

June 5th 1861


My Beloved Wife


I again take up my pen to address a few lines to her who above all others in this world I prize the most hoping they may meet you in good health as thank God they leave me at present. I wrote you last mail and told you how we were getting on &c and since we have taken a small quantity of our homeward cargo on board and are in a fair way of getting Loaded some time during t his month and then we shall hasten on towards Glasgow with all possible speed. The passage home will likely to be about 2 months or perhaps something less. You have made me think that you are improving in your letter writing for I do assure you that the last you wrote to me was a very nice letter only some of the words are wrong spelled but we cannot expect to grow perfect in every thing at once so we must be content to improve by degrees. I do hope I shall get another from you before we leave, the Captn has received 2 from his wife and he says that every mail will bring him one untill we leave here. He brought some letters on board yesterday and when he put them into my hand I could not help feeling a little disappointed when I found there was not one for me, but my dear polly I cannot blame you as it is more my fault than yours. I should have told you to write every fortnight after the first of April up to the middle of May. Mr Bews has not got any letters yet he desires me to send his kind regards to you all. He did not send the letter to Sarah as I told you in my last. He thought he was such a stranger to you that father and Mother might think he was too forward. I hope father and Mother are a little more comfortable by this time in their new residence. I expect the neighbours round about Clyde place would have a fine gossip about them being detained in Glasgow so long after packing all their furniture I mean those who used to be fond of scandal. You did not say whether Rob had got a place or that you had heard anything from George. I shall pop in some night and give Charlie a start with (a glass of your Best Mr Crosbie). I think we shall lay somewhere down about Finneston Quay to discharge our Cargo of Tallow if so we shall have fresh lodgings to seek but we will talk about that bye & bye. I have sent for some soap from the shore to wash my clothes with as I have a leisure hour or two sometimes and I do not like to see them laying dirty. The bar of soap which I took from Glasgow is nearly done but I shall not get any like that here and perhaps pay a shilling a pound for It, I think if I was near my little Polly I should take pleasure in helping her to wash them and then pay her with             one dozen and a long lay next morning. Give my kind love to father Mother Sarah and the rest of the family hoping to meet them all soon again before the summer is all gone. I send you my blessings with the kindest Love and best wishes for the safety and comfort of My sweet little wife.


I Remain Dearest

your affectionate & Loving



Wilby Rackham


goodbye for a short time





Ship St Magnus

at Buenos-ayres

June 28th    [1861]


My Beloved Wife


This is my last sheet of Coloured Paper & I am happy to say that we are loaded and ready for Sea so that I shall not want to write any more letters from this place. I hope you have received one or more of my letters by this time & contenting yourself in the hopes of seeing our bonnie little vessel tow up to the Broomielaw some day not far distant. Of course I cannot appoint the day or I should be most happy to do so for I shall be most anxious to see you at the earliest opportunity and the weather will not be cold when we arrive. There will [be] no harm in your taking a walk down the riverside a little way or inquiring whether the St Magnus has arrived at Greenock or not and take a look at the Herald in the morning to see if she is reported. I hope they will not keep us laying at the tail of Bank after we arrive as they sometimes do. My dear I went on shore with the Captn on the Ships business last monday week & got some money from him to buy a bird with but when we got up to the Market I found there was not one cockatoo in the place for sale. I then asked the price of the parrots. They were from I£ to 2£ 10s each and very inferior birds at that. There were lots of canaries & other birds called in spanish Cardinalli which are very pretty but they wanted far too much money for them. Indeed I am quite sure that we can buy one in England or Scotland much cheaper than here. I cannot tell you exactly when we shall leave here but most likely in a day or two & if it Please God to grant us a favourable passage we shall arrive at Glasgow somewhere about the end of August or early part of September. I am happy to say that I am in the enjoyment of the best of health and spirits & hope sincerely this may find yourself & all the folks at home enjoying the same blessing. I think there is a mail come in to-day but I have given up all thoughts of getting any more letters from you this time so I will make myself contented to drive the St Magnus as fast home as possible. We will let her have but little rest between this and Greenock. You may think that a long race to run but while the wind blows she never stops so much for a sailors life. We never weary so long as there is a breeze to fill the sails and our ship goes through the water as though she knew that she had to make the best of her time. She do not take time to rise over the little waves but she cuts them in two and sends the tops of them flying up in a heavy shower above our heads & then we call her a dirty besom but she do not mind that she glides along & would as soon wet the Captn as the sailors. I should so like for you to see her under full sail. You would say that she is even a better picture than that which you have. I must now come to a close my love and bid you goodbye for a short time with my kindest love and most ardent affection. I remain


Your ever true & loving

husband   Wilby Rackham


(Note. The coloured Paper is pale heliotrope, very thin and faintly lined. All the six letters of this voyage are written on it. The hand-writing is exceptionally neat and well formed. The long  s  is used wherever double  s  occurs, the small d is the Greek style)


Draft of Advertisement  in Capt. Rackham’s hand-writing.




Ivy Cottage:   Langside


to be sold by private bargain this Cottage built by the Proprieter & until lately occupied by him; the house is substantially built of the best materials & with every attention to comfort & convenience; It consists of Dining & Drawing rooms, 4 Bedrooms Bathroom and kitchen & back kitchen, Attached is stable Gighouse wash house & Poultry Do, in front there is a large green house with ornamental ground; and garden at the Back. As this house was built by the Proprieter for his own residence no expence was spared and it now forms a very desirable residence.


Apply to Mr David Hamilton,  Campbill Lodge,  Langside  Glasgow    28th Sept. l861