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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters
Part Four





Ship Lord Elgin

at anchor in the River

St Lawrence   July 20th.  [1863]


My Dear Polly


It is now nearly a fortnight since I wrote my last letter to you and I am sorry to say that we are detained by Calms, Contrary winds and Fogs. All the distance we have gained from Quebec is about 60 miles which we could sail over with a fair wind in 8 or 9 hours. We have a pilot on board and as he will go on shore when the Ship gets down to the pilot Station I will ask him to post this for me. I thought you might think it a long time before our arrival at Newport as we shall be a fortnight later than the time I mentioned in my last, and you must not be making yourself uneasy about these things as we are obliged to take the Weather as I took my beloved, for better, for Worse and if we meet a foul wind all we can say about it is that it will be like my darlings ill-temper, it will soon blow over and take a more favourable turn again. The longer we are in getting home the more money we have to take when pay-day comes. I was thinking of you and our dear little polly yesterday, she is one year old and I was wondering wihether you took her down to St. James's Park for a drink of New Milk on the first anniversary of her Birth. I would so like to know how you are getting on with the Shop and do sincerely hope that you will be all gone from it before I get home for I think you would all (myself included) be much more comfortable in a private way of livinig, and as I told you before if we take up our residence apart from Father and Mother It must be somewhere near the River or Docks. I often think about those pretty little houses on the Deptford Road by the Surrey Docks and wish I saw you in one of them with a nice little flower garden in front of it. You could walk to the Thames Tunnel on Sundays and take a trip up in the Steam Boat to see your West End Relations & the Fashions of the Parks. I suppose there are plenty of fruit in the Markets by this time. I have not seen a bit about Quebec since we came, so you will have to feed me on fruit pies and green peas when I come.


I cannot say my dear, when we shall be able to leave here as there is no wind and no appearance of a change at present, but if you write to me about the 20th. of August I think we shall not be far off by that time. I sent the address In my last. Give my kind Love to Father and Mother Brothers and Sister Sally, also to Aunt & Uncle Jordan and with my kindest Love and best wishes for the health and Welfare of yourself and our dear little daughter


I Remain Dearest

Your Loving Husband

Wilby Rackham


M,J, R


Note.  Evidently there are some letters missing. This is the only one belonging to this voyage on board the Ship Lord Elgin. The initials M.J.R are of course those of the baby Mary Jordan Rackham.







To his Parents-in-law,  Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Crosbie.


Newport Mon       Sept 2nd.     [1863]


Dear Father & Mother


My Dear Mary arrived here last night about 8 oclock and I met her shortly afterwards at this house where I get my board. We took Lodgings and this morning I had to run for the Doctor with all speed he came back with me and arrived just in time. My Dear Polly was safely delivered of a female child which only lived about 4 hours and then its little spirit passed away, and I thanked God with all my heart that He was pleased to take it away and that my dear Polly is doing very well. We have a nice Old Lady for a nurse and the People of the House have been very kind and attentive to the wants of my beloved one. I will write again tomorrow and as it is near Post time I will close this so you may get it in the morning and rest assured that every comfort that money can purchase or my own kindness and attention procure shall be given to my dear Wife by Your


Affectionate Son in Law

W Rackham


I got no letters from any of you since I left Quebec.  Our kind Love to you all.



This Letter is folded so that the blank sheet looks like an envelope and is addressed:


Mr W Rackham

Chief Mate    Ship Cygnet

Capt Patterson

New Brunswick


write about the last of Novbr





To the Same


Newport  Oct 17th.      [1863]


Dear Father & Mother


Our Ship is to sail from here tomorrow morning if the Weather permit and Mary intends leaving by the 10 25 train on Tuesday morning and according to the tables She will arrive at the Paddington Station about 3 oclock in the afternoon when I hope one of you will try to meet her as she has some luggage beside the little one to look after. She brings a Parrot also which I want you to present to Aunt Mary with my kind Love and I hope she will succeed in taming it and making it a good Talker. It is rather wild and noisy at times as it is not more than 3 months from the Woods. I got it from the Mate of the Ship "Sea King" from Honduras Cent. America he is an old acquaintance of mine and he said that he would not have parted with it to any other Man living nor yet to me either only in consideration of a good turn I once did for him and his going back to the same place next voyage. I like my Ship & Captain very much. The wages are the same as last Ship & I think there is a chance of my being somewhat more comfortable than in the last one. She has not got away yet. The Captn has made four attempts but the Weather has proved Stormy each time and it has cost 17O£ for Towage & Pilotage and the last time he came back all his crew refused to go any more in the Ship.


I will now conclude with our kind Love to all hoping to meet you all well and comfortable on my return which I suppose will be soon after the New year if all goes well. I feel rather strange to go away without seeing any of you this time but I hope this will prove the lucky Ship.  Goodbye & God bless you all


We Remain Dear Parants

Your Affectionate

Son & Daughter

W & M Rackham







Ship Cygnet

Oct 20th.      [1863]


My beloved Wife


It is now eight oclock in the evening and a very fine night. We could not have started at a better time for just as the steamboat left us, a fair wind came, and we are now running down Channel very comfortably. I expect the Pilot will leave about daylight, and I shall ask him to post this when he gets ashore. My light is very dim and I feel a little tired so I shall not write much. Give my kind love to all and do not forget to write at the time I told you. Take care of the Baby and yourself & accept the kindest Love of


Your affectionate Husband

W. Rackham


Write about the last of the Next Month and a week after with all particulars to


                Mr. W. Rackham

                            Chief Mate    Ship Cygnet

                                      St. John

                                             New Brunswick


goodbye and God bless you all


P. S.  Remember me kindly to Cousin James


Wednesday morning


My Dear Polly


We are now down to the Pilot station and the wind is still in our favour. I am just going to have a wee drop and a bit of the Cake & then a short nap.


Remember your     Loving husband           W R







To Cousin James

Ship "Cygnet"

at St. John N B

Decbr 16th./ ’63

Dear James


I have no doubt that you would think it rather unkind of me for not writing to you from Newport or any of the other Places I have been to since I left the Steamers and I must confess that I am rather backward in letter writing to anyone but you will forgive me I know when I assure you that it is not from a want of respect or kindly feeling for you that has been the Cause of this neglect as you have ever been ready to write a letter to me and I am quite sensible of the gratitude I owe you for the kindness and good wishes expressed in your letters and my heart would rejoice at your success in whatever you undertake (Matrimony included). Well in the first place I must tell you that we had rather a Stormy passage out and for the latter part a very cold one. It froze so hard at one time that the salt water accumulated in great blocks of Ice round the Ships Bows and the ropes about the Bowsprit and Jibboons were as big as the Spars themselves. We had to beat the Ice off with handspikes heavers or Iron bolts before we could get the ropes to run through the Blocks and it took us all one day to clear the Decks of Snow & Ice the thermometer at that time stood at 6 [degrees] below Zero.


We were within 20 miles of our port at one time and got driven back about 100 miles by a heavy storm from the N E. You may be sure that I was glad when we got to St John. I am pretty comfortable here now as I have all the common necessaries of life (except one or two) and am not afraid of being called out in the night to reef topsails but I dont like the Idea of passing the winter here altogether. You must not tell Mary this, but they have unbent all the sails and so far as I can understand intend to lay this Ship up untill freights are better, which I hope will not be long, the Weather is too cold for my liking the Winter in our Country is not near so severe.


Our Sails went on Shore as stiff as the yards we took them from and if you go to bend a rope which has been wet overnight it will break in two with the frost. Everybody wears big coats big boots Skin caps and Mitts and you will see some fellows so muffled up that you can see nothing but their eyes. They cut bullocks into quarters hang them in the frost for one night and then load Vessels with it next day Stowed in Bulk without salt or anything to preserve it and take it to the States for the Northern Army. They Build houses on the Ice and then Bank them round with snow to keep the cold out and I am told that this lasts until about the end of April. Well I cant tell you the half of what I should if I was in that little Bar Room alongside of you, but we will have a chat when I come home. Give my kind Love to all at home. I wrote to Mary yesterday tell her she must write me a longer letter next time. I will now conclude with my kind Love and best wishes for your health and welfare and beleive me

Dear Cousin

Yours Affectionately

& Sincerely

W Rackham


I forget your address so must send to the Bull’s Head      W R    goodbye


Note. I do not know who "Cousin James" is. I never heard of Aunt and Uncle Jordan having any children. I wonder how this letter came to be in Grandma Rackham's possession. (You must not tell Mary this). Perhaps James gave it to her after the last voyage knowing that she would treasure anything that was in any way connected with her darling.


Note 2. I have found a telegram of a later date addressed to "James Jordan". Probably he was married and no longer living with his parents when, five or six years later, the orphaned Mary Jordan Rackham found a home with Aunt and Uncle Jordan.





This is to certify that Wilby Rackham has served on board the ship "Cygnet" as 1st Mate on a voyage from Newport England to St John N.B. and I find him to be a steady sobar, Careful Man, and I feel a pleasure in recomanding him to any Master or Owner requiring his services.


William Patterson    Master

Jany 13th. 1864





[This letter was not included in Part Four of the Synopsis of Letters which Nance had prepared but she later pencilled in the name “Dinsmore” after Wilby’s Testimonial from the Master of the “Cygnet”. It has been added to the Synopsis as Letter 6.]


Ship W. D. Dinsmore

St John    Jany 20      [1864]


My Dear Polly


I thought when my last letter was written that we should have sailed before this time but the Weather has been stormy and unsettled ever since, so as I have just enough of this country money left to post a letter I may as well be writing to you as to be only thinking about you. I also think it will be as well to send you word of our being detained or else you will expect me home before we have a chance to get started. But this one thing I can assure you of that we shall go home pretty quickly if the wind is not contrary for she is the finest Ship that I have seen since I left London and I am better fed and Lodged here than in any Ship I have been in before. My room is larger than that in the Cygnet and neatly fitted up and painted White, with Chest of drawers, Desk, Chairs, Washstand &c. the only fault I have to it is I am afraid the Bunk is not large enough for two full-grown Bodies like you and me so I think wee polly must be my bedfellow and you can sleep underneath where you wont keep Daddie awake all night. Do you mind the Leesburg laying at the Buoys at Glasgow. Well I saw Captn Hall the other day. He is coming home to Liverpool; Mate of the Ship 'Lampedo" (New Ship) has been to his native place and got a new Wife 21 years of Age. He is not so stout as when you saw him. I weigh 159lbs and him 138. We were in the Scales and it took 21 lbs in his scale to balance me. He says he has never been stout since he had the yellow fever in Nassau. Only one of the children died, the other is in Liverpool at a boarding School. His present Wife resided in "Anapolis" about 45 miles from here. Goodnight. I am going to bed and will finish this when we sail.


My Dear I think we shall sail this evening. It is a fine day and the Wind is fair, so I will send this on shore but it is too late for the Mail. It will not arrive untill a fortnight after the last and I hope we shall not be far off home at that time. Give my kind love to all at home also to Aunt and Uncle Jordan. I have no more to add at present only my kindest Love to yourself and Baby hoping soon to meet you all well.  I Remain


Dr. Polly   Your Loving Husband

W, Rackham