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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters
Part Two






To his parents-in-law

Glasgow   Nov 26      [1861]


Dear Parants


The weather has been Very Stormy this last week past and our ship is still laying here waiting a favourable opportunity to sail. We received Aunts letter and answered it and a note from Charles this morning. We have been arranging matters for my dear Mary to come to you and I think if it is fine weather she will go Saturday morning by the Steamer to Liverpool & from there to Hanley. She will send her chest by the goods train to Hanley which will cost about 3/6 or 4/- & her own fare from Glasgow to Hanley including steamer & train fares will be about 12/- or 13/-. They are fine vessels running between here and Liverpool & the passage is short so I think she may manage pretty well. The ship arrives in Liverpool on Sunday morning at about 6 or 7 A M so if she should be too late to catch the A M Parliament train for Hanley she would have to stay a few hours in Liverpool. She wishes you to send her Mr.Fiddlers address so that if it is not too far to walk from the steamer she might give them a call to pass the day. I hope to have a letter from you tomorrow before I go, as I think it is likely we shall sail some time during the day. I cannot see her away for she would not leave while I am here. We were staying on board the Ship for two or 3 day & in the River & Mary is becoming quite a sailor. I hope you are all enjoying good health & that fortune is favouring you in your undertaking. Give our kindest Love to Father and all the family also to Aunt & Uncle Jordan, hoping to meet you all in health & comfort on my return.


I send you my address in case Mary should lose the one I gave to her. We Remain with kindest Love & best wishes               Your Affectionate

Son & Daughter

W & M Rackham


(Chief Mate)  Barque Leesburg   care of   Messrs Fesser & Co

Matanzas      Cuba








To his father-in-law


Ship Leesburg

Rothesay Bay

Dec 12/ '61


My Dear Parant


We are still detained by contrary winds & bad Weather. I have been most anxiously looking for a letter from My Dear Mary this last week & I cannot understand the cause of her not writing to me. If you do me the kindness to drop me a line immediately on receipt of this you will releive me from a most torturing suspence, as I am in dread of her being ill from sea sickness, or having caught cold on her journey. Hoping this will find you all in good health as it leaves me at present, with my kindest Love & Esteem


I Remain

Your Dutiful Son

W. Rackham


write without delay   goodbye & God bless you







Barque Leesburg


Dec    [1861]    [Letter torn]


My Dear Polly


I have managed to get another stamp so I will send you another word or two before we go, I cannot say when that will be but I am in hopes tomorrow as l do asure you that I am quite tired of laying about here so Iong. I would much rather be at sea proceeding on our voyage. Our Captn received a letter from his Wife today and I thought to myself what a pleasure it would be to me now if I had got one from My dear little Polly and I wished that l had told you to write as it might happen so that it might be in time to catch us before We go. I suppose you would receive 2 letters by the same mail this morning as the first did not leave here on (?) day night as I expected. You would make yourself quite (?) when your Aunt presented you two letters. It is a good Job that she would know that they were both addressed by the same person or she might think you had too many correspondents. I should so like to have had a letter from you before we sail & I am inclined to be quite angry with myself for not telling you to write to me. I am so anxious to know how you find yourself after your voyage and journey & how you were situated for money when you arrived in London. I suppose you must borrow a pound or two from your Father & Mother if you want it. I hope my dear that you will endeavour to make yourself at home & comfortable for if I thought you would not I should be very unhappy about you. I know it will rest all with yourself whether you are or not as I feel quite sure that your kind Father & mother will do all that is really necessary to make you so and like myself be more happy at seeing you under their own eye than in a house alone or with a stranger. You will also find other valuable Friends in London if you endeavour to merit their notice and esteem. I Must again beg of you not to forget to give me all particulars of your health & comfort in your letter to Matanzas, and mind & take care of yourself in London, for there are some sharpers about it I assure you , I am happy to say that I enjoy good health, hoping at the same time it is no better than your own which I consider equally as dear to me, I conclude by sending my kind Love to Father, Mother Sister Sarah & Brothers & Aunt & Uncle Jordan. Accept the same to yourself with ----------- & beleive dearest you are remembered in the Prayers of


Your Loving Husband

Wilby Rackham


goodbye for the Present.













Ship Leesburg

in Rothesay Bay

Dec   (3rd crossed through)    [1861]


My Beloved Wife


We left the tail of the Bank this morning with a fair wind but before we had proceeded far the wind came contrary and we are now anchored in Rothesay Bay to wait for a better opportunity of sailing. I have never had a chance of getting a letter on shore untill now or I should have written to you before. I sent up a few lines by Mr Park the Pilot but did not have time to say much. The Capt is just gone on shore and as he is coming on board in a boat belonging to Rothesay I shall [have] the pleasure of sending this back with it. I shall address this to John Tomlinson but at the same time I hope you are safe arrived in London. The weather has been for the most part very stormy since we left Glasgow but of course we have not felt it very much laying at our anchors. Sunday was a very fine day and most heartily I wished that I could make my way to Glasgow but at the same time I hoped that you would leave by the saturday train for London as I knew that you would not attempt to go in the Steamer to Liverpool as saturday was a very windy day. I am in the enjoyment of good health (Thank God) & comfort too so far as it goes on board of a ship, having plenty to eat & drink, dry Lodging and not too much work. I hope my dear that this will meet yourself and all our dear Friends in London enjoying the same blessings. Give my kind Love to them all, wishing them a merry Christmas and a happy new year.


I cannot tell you exactly when we shall sail but you will see our ship reported in the Herald or the London Shipping & Mercantile Gazette. Be sure and write before the 1st of January as the Mail leaves for Cuba at that time. I send you my blessing with kindest Love & best wishes for safety & welfare and shall be happy in the knowing that you are where you will be well cared for in case of need. I spoke to the owners about the months allotment note being stated 2 months after sailing. He said it was a mistake but you are to send the note to them signed by you on the back on the 22nd. of each month & the money will be sent back to your address. I must now bid you goodnight & believe me Dearest your


ever true and Loving husband

W. Rackham











Barque Leesburg

at Matanzas Jan 23    [1862]


My beloved Wife


I was in bed last night when the Captn brought your letter on board but the Steward came and told me that he had a letter for me so you may be sure I was not long in getting it into my hands. You wrote just about the right time as it only arrived at Matanzas on Monday last. I am indeed glad to hear that you are all enjoying good health and am happy to say the same of myself, thank God for it. As for the toothache my dear you must get them out I suppose. I shall not love you the less because you have not got a fine set of teeth. Mine are pretty good and we must make the one set serve us both. You will surely not call me Old Man after that! We had a very fine passage out & the quickest one that has been made by any ship this year. We arrived yesterday and I am not going to have you say that I delayed in writing to you but you must not complain about its contents, that is the contents of the letter I mean, for I have no news for you yet as to where we are going to or whether the ship is to be sold or not I cannot tell. For my part I would like it much better to get a cargo for home. The Captn thinks it likely that we shall go from here to Havana about 60 miles from here. My dear you have not told me anything about your journey to London or what money you had left when you arrived or what Father & Robert & Charley are doing. Did you get the letter back from Rothesay after I went away. I was vexed about your not writing to me after you got to London and received the letter I sent by J. Tomlinson but it is no use talking about that now. I hope you have not forgot to write by the Mail after the New year. As I told you when I came off last voyage, the Mail leaves England for here every fortnight. It would sail on the 17th of January and then on the 2nd. of February again. If you wrote on the 15th. or 16th. I shall get it here about the 4th. or 5th. of next month. I hope if you are staying with Father and Mother you are not only making yourself comfortable but useful also, as I have no doubt, but if you can find plenty to employ yourself with, which is much better than sitting Idle brooding over the toothache and my absence we must accustom ourselves to our own circumstances & be content to take the best of our comforts as we get the fruit of the garden, that is in the proper seasons, there may perhaps be a day not far off when we shall be differently situated. You have not sent me a paper this time my Lady nor that bit of news I Mentioned to you last voyage. I bet a dollar if I had the dictating of your letter I would make you put something more into it, but I will not complain. You will send me a nice one next time wont you. I will send you two for it. You may tell Uncle that I will agree to his proposal if it is Winter time when I come to London as I expect he has a warmer partner for cold weather than what I have and it must be a bed large enough to hold all four of us or 6 then Father & Mother can be there to see fair play. How is Sarah getting on. Give my kind Love to all & I will try if I can get a parrot. Captn Hall is quite well & sends his kind regards to you, he is very kind to me & I like him as well as any I ever sailed with. We have many a chat about our home affairs and friends. I had a very good dinner on christmas day but not so many luxuries perhaps as you had and I drank all your health out of a good glass of Adams ale, but Rum is cheap here. I shall have glass some of these days perhaps then I shall drink to you over again You will have received your 3£ from Glasgow by this time and I suppose it has not come before it was needed. I must not stay so long at home any


(next sheet missing)






Barque Leesburg

Matanzas Jany 30th      [1862]


My Dear Polly


I do not know when my last letter to you would leave here but I hope it is half-way across the Atlantic by this time as I know my Love will be very anxiously looking for a letter every day. I am inclined to think you were speaking too fast when you said in your letter to me that you expected a letter in a week or two from the time you wrote. You must know my dear that it is near 5000 miles from here to London which is a good Journey for 3 weeks, so that you could not expect a letter before the middle of February. I am afraid the postman will get many a frown from you before that time but never mind he will say, she will smile some of these days when I call. I must tell you my darling that we had a patty on board last Saturday. There were three Captains and their wives from vessels belonging near to our own Captns home. They were very nice people very cheerful & homely, one of them had not been long married and they seemed very fond of each other. We spent a very comfortable day and they left us at about 6 in the evening. Among our good things we had a turkey, a splendid pudding, fruits of the season, brandy and other drinks. Fruit is very cheap here, oranpes are 1/6d per hundred and very beautiful ones too they are. The Captn treated me to a hundred this morning out of a boat which came to the ship, and I have eaten about a score of them already. I have not been on shore yet so I cannot tell you about the place. All I see is the ships in the Harbour, the land at a distance of ½ a mile off and a few black Men (which are slaves) working in the boats taking our cargo on shore, but I am comfortable for all that as I have plenty to employ my mind with in the affairs of the Ship through the day and in the evening I have writing and reading to do, and when I go to bed I light my pipe and take a peep at my love in the Portrait case, sometimes read over the Letter and before I go to sleep I pray that God will bless you all with good health and the comforts of this Life, so good night my beloved, I will write some more tomorrow night, the Mail leaves here on the 12th. of Feby


Friday 31st. Jany


My dear we are getting pretty fast with our cargo and if we have no stoppage I think it will be all out in another fortnight. Our Captn was speaking about taking a cargo of sugar to Liverpool or Glasgow but he has not settled upon anything yet so that I cannot say at present what we shall do. There are a great many ships in the Harbour so I suppose if our ship is sold and I want another it will not be hard to get one to come in. One of the Captns that I mentioned to you as being on board to dinner was going to sea this morning when another ship came and struck his ship such a blow as to do her a severe injury so they had to return. The Captn got his leg very much hurt and his pretty young wife was dreadfully frightened she thought the ship was going to sink, and is afraid that her darling will be lame for life which I sincerely hope will not be the case, for he is a very nice gentleman, and it did My heart good to see how happy they were together. My dear you would not think what a delightful climate it is here, every day soon after sunrise a fine breeze sets in from the sea, the sun shines bright all day and the atmosphere  beautifully clear. Then in the evening after sunset the breeze comes off the land, bringing with it a thousand sweet smells from the orange & lemon groves, sugar plantations, flowering gardens and all kinds of fruit & spices which grow here in abundance, but still it is not such a lovely country as our own is in the summer, the people do not keep it in such a high state of cultivation and it is frequently visited by the most dreadful hurricanes which sometimes are so violent as to tear down every thing that happens to [be] standing in their track. Goodnight dearest, I could wish that I was talking with you instead of writing to you.


Saturday Feby 1st.


My dear I have been busily employed all day in looking after the cargo giving out and having our ship well cleaned down as we like to see her look respectable on sunday if she is dirty all the week which sometimes cannot be avoided. The day passes by with me much quicker than I wish and by the time that I get my tea, have a little chat, write up the Ships Journal and a few words to my dear Polly it is nearly time to go to bed. So a sound sleep to you and pleasant dreams if you have any.


Sunday Feb 2nd.


My dear P. I have not much news for you yet. I am quite well and have spent the most of this day in reading a book called Jane Seton. It is not perhaps such a good book as you have been reading today, but you will be able to excuse me for reading a Novel on when I tell you that I did not neglect to give a part of the day to Religious exercise, and I trust that you are still mindful of these things. I think the Church that my sister attended is in Tottenham Court Road or close by. Good-night and God bless you.


Monday Feby 3rd.


I have something more to say today for I must tell you love that I have had a trip on shore. I was called upon by the Captn of that vessel that got the damage the other day, to go as a witness for him to the British Consuls home & I am happy to say that he came off the Winner and the other Captn of the ship that struck him had to make good the repairs of both Ships he being in the fault. After I came out of the court I got 4 dollars from our Captn and I went to have a look at the town for I wanted to buy a hat in place of that old one I used to wear [on] the Brig Harriet Julia which I lost overboard. I could not wear the black felt hat in this hot weather for it made my head ache. I bought a light straw hat cost 4/6, some fruit a few cigars and a glass or two of wine and came on board at 4 in the afternoon. There is not much to see about the place only gaming houses, the streets are neither paved nor level, there are no nice shops to look at nor bonnie lasses to wait on you the same as at home so I shall not go on shore much for pleasure you may believe. Our Captn is gone to Havana to try and sell the Ship. l will now bid you goodnight -------------------- you must not count them


Tuesday February 4th.


When I come home I can say that I wrote to you every day. What will you say to that. I hope that you are not troubled with that nasty old toothache now but better that than anything worse. There is consolation for you, keep up your spirits, I shall call and prescribe for you some day not far off but (as some folks say) I suppose you must be ailing something. Weel; Weel; We canna help it, one kiss and then goodnight



Wednesday Febry 5th.


My Dear P. Our Capt has just returned from Havana but I have not heard that there has been any business done as to the selling or chartering of the Ship yet so I do not know wether this ship or some other will be my next. I shall know something more about it soon so untill then I will say goodbye Dearest.



Thursday Feb 6th


My dear the Captn tells me that the Mail leaves tomorrow so I shall close this & send it away. I would pay the Postage but they will not take it here. It is payable in England, so you must find as much as will do somewhere. If I am discharged here when the Ship is sold I shall remit 4 or 5£ for you to draw in London, as it will be safer in your hands than for me to take it on board of another vessel. Now my dear I hope you are in the enjoyment of good health as this leaves me at present. I will write again in about a fortnight to catch the next Mail, and then I shall most likely be able to say where I am going next. So with my kind Love to Father Mother Rob, Charles Sarah & Our Wee Willie, Also to Aunt and Uncle Jordan I will conclude this funny letter which somewhat resembles the fragments of some old Journal. But you will excuse it I know for I cannot let a day pass without feeling a desire to have something to say to you. Accept of my kindest Love and best wishes & beleive Dearest


Your True & Loving husband

Wilby Rackham


P S    I have not received any more letters yet but the next Mail I hope


Goodbye my Love for the present,            W R






From Jemima Rackham (Mrs. George Bird) to her sister-in-law.


Kessingland  Feby 1862

My dear Sister


I received your very short note and I was very glad to hear you were quite well and I trust this will find you the same I thank god it leaves me my Husband and little son prity well with the exception of colds. I sopose you have not heard from my dear Brother yet if you have we should all be most happy to hear about him as it always give joy to our hearts to hear of his welfare and happiness and the time always seems so long to us. I do trust the Lord will protect and safely bring him home again to you the partner and treasure of his life. I should say the time seems very long to you I am sure it would to me thats the worst of a sailors life there are so many meetings and partings but I have heard say Abstance makes the heart grows fonder so I hope thats the case with Boath [of] you. If so you must be happy indeed while you are together. I wish you dear Sister a very happy new year and I also wish it may be a prosperrous one to you and may god grant that you never see any thing else but happiness and prosperity. I hope you enjoy yourself in London. I have been there so I know its a fine place. I wish I was nearer you so that I could just step in and pass away a dull hour but my time is now always occupied for my husbands Imployment is rather dirty so that he makes me such a great deal of work and there is my Baby to attend to and he is now more trouble than ever for he is just 10 months old and he always wants to be on his feet. I hope in 3 months he will run alone ---- and I live with two maiden ladies and I have to wait upon them and they keep a deal of company so you may gess I have not much time to idle away. Well now dear sister I must conclude this scroll as it is just midnight and my husband is in bed with his little son in his arms for thats just what he likes. He takes him to bed by 7 oclock in the evening for he is tired and glad to go to bed and he will not go without his boy so thats the way I get rid of them Boath. Now my dear I will bid you goodnight and believe me to be


Your Affect Sister Jemima





Barque Leesburg

at Matanzas   Feb 24th.     [1862]

My beloved Wife


I have been very anxiously looking for the arrival of your letter and I cannot account for its detention in any other way than it having been detained in New York for if it was by the New York Mail it came at a late hour on sunday last. I was in bed sound asleep on sunday night when the Captn came on board, here, Mr Rackham, turn out, says he, here is a present for you I thought it was a letter & you may be sure my dear it did not take me long to jump out of my nest, when he gave it to me. He said, there, you are two letters to windward of me now for I have not got one yet. I expect my old woman is off with the soldiers. No danger of that Sir I said, them Yankees has got it and they will forward it to you some of these days. You must know my dear that our Ship is named after the battle of Leesburg where the Northern people were defeated and they may think that none but an enemy's ship would be called the Leesburg so perhaps they have a fancy for seeing what our letters contain. I cannot say that such is the case but it is most probable that they look back at all that their suspicions fall upon and very likely through that they are at least kept untill the next mail. Your last letter was no less than forty two days coming to me. I mean the one you wrote on the 13th January which I should have received after a fortnight after we arrived here. Well my dear I am just as far forward as regards sending you any news about what is to be done with our ship. She is up for sale but there seems to be but little prospect of selling her at present. Our Captn is waiting for further instructions from home but it will be a fortnight now before another Mail so I suppose nothing will be done before that time. In the meantime I am making mvself as comfortable as circumstances will allow. I live and Lodge well. I work when I please & play when I feel inclined, and the time seems to pass along merrily. I hope you do not allow the time to hang heavily on your hands. You say that you long for me to come home. Now if I had said that there would have been an excuse for me excluded as I am from all society except the few individuals on board never seeing a female face from one weeks end to another but you situated as you are among all your Friends excepting myself alone with plenty to occupy hands & mind I cannot see why you should weary for anything. Of course we cannot help feelings of the sort at times but do not long for anything which is not to be had. As I told you before we must take everything in its proper season. I trust that for my sake you will [make] yourself easy & comfortable & if it is with you as I suppose from what you say about our wee (word crossed out) it is of great importance that you should keep your mind easy. Do so my beloved, and make your Loving husband a happy Man & you may trust to his proving a kind and affectionate Father I hope you will pay good attention to Aunt Mary so that she will not tell me you are a bad nurse. If it is over before I get home you will please save me a piece of the Christening cake and a drop of the stuff to wash it down with. You do not say anything about how the Shop is paying or who attends it, where Charles or Robert is. Yours is a very short note but I think a great deal of it for all that. You will be all right by this time with your two letters and long ones too. I hope this will find you hearty & well as I thank God it leaves me at this time. Give my kind love to all at home and to Aunt & Uncle Jordan. I will not forget the parrot, but what if our ship comes to Glasgow. I guess Aunt must send me my wife for her Parrot. It will be a fair exchange. What will she say to that do you think. I shall now conclude with my kindest Love to your own dear self, and I will write by the next Mail and tell you where I am going to. So untill then accept of my kind Adieu with best Wishes & prayers for your health & comfort.      I Am Dearest

                                           Your ever Affectionate Husband

W. Rackham


True blue never fades -  goodbye & God bless you





New York

May 21st. / '62


My Dear Wife


I have now been a week in this City onshore out of my Ship. We arrived here on the 16th of this month and I staid on board untill the Cargo was out and the Ship Chartered to go back to Havana. I have been most anxiously looking for a letter from you, but no letter has come yet. Indeed I am quite tired of going to the P. Office after it, and am in fear of the Clerks taking me for a Madman. I have just engaged as Mate on Board of the Brig Andover. She is bound to some part of England but where I can not say. She will likely be ready to sail in course of next week and then I will let you know. I am in good health, thank God and hope this will find you all at home enjoying the same. I sent you eight pounds just before I left Havana and I hope it is all safe. You surely did not write immediately after receiving that letter or I should have had yours before this time. I am (for many reasons) more anxious to hear from you now than I have ever been before and this is Just the time that I cannot get a letter. I think you about you all day long, and then go to bed and dream of you all night and such horrid dreams they are, some of them that I wake in a fright and say to myself that I would give all I have for a letter from home. If you have not written the answer to my last from "Sagua" when this arrives do not write at all because I shall be away from here before it comes. My dear this Voyage will sicken me of leaving Ships in a foreign Port for I never was pushed about from port to port in this way before, it seems to me like a voyage full of trouble misfortunes and disappointments, but it will soon be over I hope, and I am thinking we shall not be more than 30 or 35 days longer separated if it pleases God to spare us both untill that time. I have very comfortable Lodgings at about one shilling per night and get my meat where I choose. I am to commence work on board the Ship tomorrow morning and  then the time will pass more cheeringly. Give my kind Love to all at home hoping to see you all soon and accept of My kindest and best Love with earnest wishes for your safety and welfare. I Remain, Dearest Your Affectionate

Husband        W R



P S    I hope my dear that the Weather has allowed your bed to get a little warmer since you wrote to me. I shall come some night and waken you out of a fine sleep, and it will be a bit of fun for me if I find Sally or some of your acquaintances by your side, but never mind I shall say, if there is no room for us all. You told me to be true to you in your letter. I must tell you my dear that I did not stand in need of that caution and that the temptation spoken of in that beautiful peice of Poetry does not mean anything of that kind. I am now proof against all temptations but your own dear self & must humbly acknowledge your power over me in that respect

God bless you

                          W R


Note.  The Peice of Poetry may possibly be the story of "The Dark-eyed Sailor" which is In Wilby's hand-writing along with “Colin and Phoebe" and another  “0h would I were A Bird" which may possibly be an original composition. He certainly was addicted to versifying.