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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters
Part Seven




To George Crosbie

"Star of the Sea"

at Glasgow   Augst 15th. 1866


Dear George


I have just returned off a short Voyage to Gibraltar & Comaron. My Cargo is now all out and I am going down to Ardrossan to get my Vessel caulked and some small repairs done, it is likely we shall load there also, but where we are going to this I can not say at present. My sweet little Wife and the young One are here and we are staying with our old acquaintance J. Tomlinson the Rigger. The weather has been fine for the last few days and we have paid a visit to the Old spot at Langside, and I must tell you George that I enjoyed it much for it brought many pleasant recollections of the Happy hours Polly and myself have spent in the vicinity of Langside. The Queen's Park which was scarcely begun when we left Glasgow, is now finished and it is really a most beautiful Spot. The Proprietor of Ivy Cottage where your Father lived has made a great improvement in the house and general appearance of the premises. He has built a new green-house at the side where Father's used to stand and a large hot house runs back from it the whole length of the Garden. The ground in front is now full of beautiful flowers and the trees are grown so large that they almost hide the front of the house from the Road. There is also a large School built on what was formerly Father's Potato ground and another house of similar size is added to the row of cottages. Mary stopped at the gate and thought it rather hard that she had not the priveledge of entering her former home. It is now called “Ivy Bank Cottage" and Dr. Morton has it still as his country residence. The old shop in Clyde Place is still carrying on business but its appearance is wretched outside and in we went to get a glass of ale and the rooms were worse than a sailor's forecastle with dirt. We have seen many old acquaintances who inquired after yourself and the Old folks. Of course I told them that you were doing well, Master Rigger, kept a large establishment in the East of London &c  &c. And now I want you to write to me and as I promised to let the Old folks know about what I have written, you can on your first visit to Wandsworth convey the same by word of mouth or this scroll, which ever you think fit. Give our kind Love to Matilda and kiss the Chip for us both. Hoping this will find you enjoying as good health and comfort as


Your Affectionate

                       Brother & Sister

W. & M. Rackham


Captn. W. Rackham

care of Messrrs. J. Wright   Co.

Ship Brokers, Robertson St. Glasgow


write on Receipt              W.R.





Barque Alcaig at Lagos

West Africa   Jany. 2nd. 1867


My Dear Wife


I arrived here on the day before Christmas and had to wait untill yesterday before I got your letter which I was most anxious to see. I have not been quite so well pleased with it as I would wish to be, for although the news relative to yourself was good I am sorry indeed to hear of your Dear Mother's illness, and then to console your loving husband you finish off with a dolefull and very silly story about not getting over it. Why if I was a Woman I should think no more of a little job as that than of kissing the Man I loved. You have been very clever at it before and why not this time. I only wish that I was to be there for your sake. I would soon let you see what sort of a doctor I am. I expect the M.D. would be ashamed of his mode of treatment when he saw what a magical effect mine had on his patient, he would hardly have the conscience to pocket his fee without sharing it with me. However I sincerely hope and more than that, I fully expect (with God's help) you will do quite well without me, and if as Mother says the present is to be one of the right kind, I shall be proud to hold him up for the Minister to wash his face about three months hence, and as a Builder with a fine Ship or house, I shall be happy to receive your Order for another of the same Model. I had a very long passage out here but the vessel which sailed before me is not here yet, so I may at least have the credit of doing as well as my neighbours. This is not a very nice place but it is much more pleasant than Nuevitas or Havana. There are very few mosquitoes or sandflies, but as there are plenty of Parrots I shall be able to supply the Birds and you must be the Schoolmistress. You talk about Books. I have felt the want of some of mine very and the paper you say came with this letter has been badly navigated for I cannot find it in Lagos. I got four from my Owners. Mr. R. Duckett is very kind that way he always [sends] me one or two. I cannot say at the present moment that I shall be able to send you the money from here but if not I will ask my Owners to remit you £lO on receipt of my letter which will be about the 5th or 6th of February, or if you have the adress, Messrs. Walsh Bros. No.11 Chapel Walks, Castle St. Liverpool. Father might drop a line and say that I instructed you to ask for it. You saw my passenger, Mr.G.F. Fisher, before you left Liverpool. He was a jolly fellow and we passed the time very cheerfully together.


I am to take some things home for him presents & such  like and he has commissioned me to kiss two ladies for him, so you had better be in Liverpool when I arrive, as I know you would like to have the first, but Mr. Fisher says I must only kiss the cheek or the forehead, which is like putting your finger into the Baby's mouth instead  of the tittie. Never mind , Polly, I'll not kiss them at all, you know the lips I love best to kiss so you must keep them pure and ripe & rosy for me. I hope to  have another letter from you next Mail and I will write too. Give my kind love to all at home and kiss our little darling Polly and if she has a little Brother give him two and tell him his Father will make a Man of him if he is a good Boy. I had a Captn. from a London ship on board with me on New Year's eve and we drank just two toasts (wives & sweethearts & friends at home). I went to my hammock at 11 oclock and the Harbour Master was my first foot in the morning at half past six. I was up and dressing when he came in, we had a glass together and through the day all the captains in the port met at a Merchant's house and drank a happy new year all round. There are no public houses or hotels here, the only white  people here are the Merchants who trade with the natives and about a dozen of other Gentlemen holding situations under Government, so when we go on shore, the only place we can sit is in the house of the Ship's consignee. The only White Women in the place are the Governor's Wife, two or three others have their Ladys with them, but I have not seen any of them yet nor do I wish it. I take a peep at your likeness now and then and though I cannot help wishing you were here yourself still I know that you are much better in London as I am sure the separation for one voyage  will be beneficial too us both and as the song says  Absence makes the heart grow fonder  we shall prize each others company the more when we meet.


My dear Polly you have not followed my instructions in respect of Sarah's affair. If I was in London myself I might be able to do something for her but I wish you would not meddle or mix up in it in any way more especially when you are not in a fit condition to undergo any exersise or excitement. You were very silly I think to go with them to Court, and I assure you that if I hear of your having been there again I shall be very  much displeased about it, and I think your own sense of propriety should tell you that a public court -----


(next half-sheet is missing

Most tantalising that!  The remark about the finger in baby's mouth is heavily crossed out in pencil. Did "the Captain" think it only suitable for Mr. Fisher or the other captains? )





Bk Alcaig

off Bell Buoy

L'Pool Bay

July 11th. 8 PM       [1867]


Dear Polly


We got down all safe and have a light breeze fair for the present, with a prospect of a very fine night. I send you a peice of tobacco by the Office Boy for Father hoping you will have a Pleasant journey Home and meet all well. I saw you and Mr C waving and another whom I took to be Sarah. You would see me wave my hat in return. Give my kind Love to Father, Mother and Willie and


Beleive me ever

                                         Your Loving Husband

                                              W Rackham





Barque Alcaig

at Accra

Sept 6th        [1867]


My Dear Polly


I arrived on the Coast at a port called Cape Coast Castle on the 30th. of August and have been selling some goods there. About 30 pounds worth of my own are gone and nearly £100 of my Owners, and I have called at this place for the same purpose and to meet the Mail steamer going ho  (? Homeward . Northward ? page torn here)  so you will receive ----


----- will soon be shifting into the other house. If Father can't get a customer for it he had better occupy it himself and we must help him to pay the Interest of the Mortgage uritill we can get it sold. I hope you are sending Mary to the School and endeavouring to teach her all you can and thereby improving yourself at the same time so that if I should engage in any business on Shore at some (? future time) I may reckon on (?) Wife and

(page torn here)


----- about the price of the different articles bought for the house and yourself and the children. What you buy for the little ones should be put down by itself as then you would always know when and where it was bought and the price paid for it. This would soon improve your hand writing and make it come easy to you. If you will do this and I am fortunate in our own business for a year or two we shall no longer be compelled to live a separate life but shall soon find the means of living always together either afloat or on shore as we may find most advantageous and I know you Love me well enough to be happy with me anywhere. With regard to my own Love I will merely say that it is solely and exclusively thine own and the more worthy you make yourself of by your kindness, Obedience and attention to your duties as a Wife & Mother the deeper and stronger it will grow. I hope you have given me all particulars of your health and condition also that of our little ones and others of the family in your first letter. I will write to you by every mail from this untill I leave Lagos and expect to receive as many letters but one as I write to you. Give my kind Love to Father, Mother, Sarah & Willie  and if I am not home by new year, tell them to drink my health. They can take a wee drap on Christmas eve too in remembrance of the young Captn. but as the old Scots minister said, dinna be aye dram drinking


Goodbye & God bless you all

from Your Loving Husband

W. Rackham




Bk "Alcaig' at Lagos

Sept 17       [1867]


My Dear Polly


I wrote to you by last mail and sent a Bill for £10 on Messrs. Barclay Bevin & Co. Bankers 54 Lombard St. but which I neglected to endorse. If you have all ready presented it for payment when this arrives without getting the money you must go again and show them this letter. I have written to them about it, so they will know that you are the right person to pay the money to. The Bill was given for cash by the Purser of the Steam Ship "Calabar" on the 6th Sept. when she was laying in Accra Roads. Hoping it will be all right, with kind Love to all


I Remain

Your Loving Husband

W. Rackham




This letter is without address and date, is written on a torn half-sheet of thin foolscap which is partnered by the half-sheet letter dated Sept. 17.


Dear Polly


I have been detained outside the harbour for want of a Steam Tug to tow the Ship in, but I  think we stall get in this week and have a chance of a quick dispatch. The “Sophie”, Capt. Coyle, has not arrived yet so Mr. Duckett has won his new hat by betting on me. I have enjoyed the Best of health up to the Present and sincerely hope that you have all been favoured with the same blessing. No letters have come from you as yet but I expect one by the coming Mail. Give my kind Love to all at home and do all you  can for the improvement of our dear little ones also  for the Comfort and welfare of yourself and Father & Mother. I sold my goods pretty well and should I come out here again I shall make a much larger speculation. I got a letter from Connolly on my  arrival here. He did not pass the Board for Mate and went to Bombay as able seaman.


Mr. O'Connor my present Mate is a very good man and pleases me well. He sends his kind regards and wants to get something for Mary if she is a good girl. I hope you are keeping her at School and make her repeat her lessons to you in the evenings. You must also encourage her by little presents &c and tell Willie he must be her schoolmaster at home and I will think of him for it.


Kiss them all for me and accept the kindest Love of


Your affectionate Husband

W. Rackham




"Alcaig" at Lagos

Oct 19th. 1867



My Dear Polly


My Ship is now ready to sail out of the River, and we may have about a week to remain in the Roads to complete our Cargo and I hope to leave here before the end of the Month. I did not get any letter from you by last Mail at which I felt a little disappointed, seeing that I told you to write about the first of September However I shall still write by every Mail from here untill I leave. I have been very ill again since I wrote last but am now quite recovered. I sincerely hope you are all in the enjoyment of good health at home and with kind Love and best wishes


Remain Your Loving Husband

W. Rackham







Barque Alcaig at Lagos

Octbr. 3rd. 1867


My Dear Polly


Since I wrote to you last I have got my ship into the Harbour and have discharged the greater part of my cargo. We shall commence taking in our homeward cargo next week and I expect to get loaded by about the 20th of this month. I received your letter a day after my last was posted and one from Connolly. He does not mention Sarah in it. I did not suppose he would speak of that to me, however if he has as you say promised I think you may expect him to perform, that is, if Sarah has been candid with him and have not attempted to deceive him. I hope little Charlie has recovered from the trouble with his teeth by this time and that he is growing strong again. He ought to be able to walk by the time I come back. If you are troubled with a sick stomach in the morning take a cup of warm tea without milk. It will answer the purpose better than Brandy and be less expensive. I have had a severe attack of this country fever and was confined to my bed for three days. I wished at the time I had you here to wait on me but thank God I am all right again now. The Doctor said that my cheerfullness and natural bouyancy of spirits did a great deal towards my recovery. I hope to have another letter from you by the next Mail. You did not say whether or not Father got the £25 all right which I sent him before I left Liverpool or if the boy gave you my letter and the plug of tobacco from the Ship at the Bell Buoy. I expected you would have thought of these things to mention them in your letter.


Mr. Duckett tells me that you wrote to him for £10 which was remitted, but I hope he does not think that that sum is on account of wages, as he promised to give me the gratuity and that was just £10.  I am afraid the per centage money I shall get for the sale of their goods will be a very small amount for some of the things I can not sell at all and I shall have to leave them here to be sold at some future time. I have sold the most of my own small things but some of them went very low and I shall not make altogether more than what I have sent you. The Person who is washing my clothes this time does them better than the last one did so I think there is not much danger of getting my shirts spoiled. I hope by this time that you are got back to Bucknall House and feel yourselves a little more at home than in Battersea.


Give my kind Love to all, and I hope to be somewhere about Liverpool by the New Year, if so, you will perhaps require a little less coaxing on a certain point than you did seven years ago. I will now conclude with my kindest Love and best wishes for your health and welfare, look well to the little ones and give them a kiss from their Affectionate father and


Your Loving Husband

W. Rackham


P.S.   You did not send me a cheepie





Barque "Alcaig" at Sea

Dec 25th. 1867


Christmas morning


We have a fine breeze from N E. The Weather is delightfully warm and the sea pretty smooth. Our ship is going about 4 miles an hour to the NW ward. The men have breakfasted and are sitting or lounging about the Decks talking about home and friends, and I hear one of them say: Boys, if you were in Liverpool now you would have to blow your fingers to keep them warm instead of basking in the sun. Oh I dare say some of the fellows are gone out skating this morning to get an appetite for their roast beef & Plum pudding says another. My Eyes, wont they be muffled up with monkey Jackets, big Boots and mittens said a half-naked youngster who had just been getting a shower Bath by having buckets of salt water thrown over him. - We have now about three thousand miles to sail to Liverpool and supposing the Ship to make 100 miles per day it will take her 30 days to reach there. So that it will be about the 24th. or 25th. of January before we arrive.


(This letter, the last from Wilby to Mary, is written on a sheet torn from his note book, probably his rough Log. There are notes about Ships Spoken. A Poem "My Darling" is described as  “Song Written on board the Barque "Alcaig" at Sea December 31 1867)


Dec. 12. French Barque Banare from Mozambique for Marseilles 35 days out. Latt 2º  55’ S Lon 19 ½. W

Dec.21. British threemasted Sch. Enfield from Glasgow for Zanzibar 25 days out. Latt 7º  01’ N.   Long 25º  22’ W.

Jan. 11. Brigt. "Cecil" of Liverpool from Lagos for Liverpool 70days out. Latt 28º  20’ N   Long 37º  44’ 'W.




On Hogmanay I took a Wife

to cheer my lonely path through life

to end my cares and banish strife

and ever be my Darling.


She vowed to be for ever true

and aye a virtuous life pursue

to bring me peace and comfort too

when she should be my Darling


To love and honour and Obey

and cheer my spirits day by day

life's sorrows soon did fly away

when she became my Darling


Since then its been my Joy & Pride

to love and cherish that sweet bride

Come weal or woe whate'er betide

She'll always be my Darling


Then here's to thee my Mary dear

I wish thee many a happy year.

To all our friends at home good cheer

and so good night my Darling.






From his Father-in-law, William Crosbie


(I think it likely that Captain Rackham and his family are in Liverpool. He is evidently making preparations for another voyage - alas!  It was to be his last.)


Sunday Morning

               March 1st. 1868


Dear Wilby


Yours just came to hand Yesterday afternoon and it seems a long time on the way likewise your last letter was two days in coming. I have but little time to say much as I wish to catch the first post. I am glad that you succeeded in disposing of the Ivory likewise that Findlay and Hill turned out so favourable which I did not expect. In regard of money matters I am still making little improvements which I hope will lead to a sale of the house but it will not sell till the stair case is altered and the House all made into one. My pass-book is balanced but we have not got it till the 25th. inst when we pay the next Quarter – Mrs Ames keeps the key till her time is up that is on the 25th  -   We all wish you a Quick and safe voyage. Hoping your cold is better. In haste we conclude with kind love to all and a cheepie for young Charlie



                                Wm Crosbie









From Mary to Wilby


(I wonder how this letter came to be included in the collection. Was it returned to her through the Dead Letter Office?  No year is given in the date but it is evident that it must be 1868. The letter is written on a half-sheet of paper and on the other half-sheet Mary has copied out the Blessing that her husband had addressed to her in September 1862 just after her 23rd birthday and a few weeks after the birth of their baby girl Mary Jordan Rackham.)


Bucknall House  London  June 9th.



My Dear Husband


I gain take upe My pen to write you a few lines according to promis and I hope you have done the same but you have the advantage of me for by this time you will have received My letters. But I hope it will not be long befor I have the pleasure of hearing about your health and wellfare and all the particulars of your voyage and when you think of leaving lagose for home for I think by the time you receive this you will be preparing for home again which I sincerely hope you will have a Speeding voyage and in good health - In regard to family afears we are all going on as unusual only Sarrah she as been vearry ill but is now a deal Beater  Mothers Leg is Stil as bad as for our little ones thay are both in good health thank God as for mysilf I am better to day and am going out a little waye with them - Charlie is a veary Stiring (sturdy) Boy thare is no keeping him out of mischief you will find him a veary different boy to what Mary was - My Dear since I wrote you last wee have gotten the Stear turned into a veary nice winding Stearcase and all most read for papering and panting but it is a deal of durty and troble but if you have sent the monny as I hope you have wee will soon get over it all  i think there is no more letters for you this voyage it is past time     I must conclude with Love wee have been and sat for our likenes to day that is the way the letter is so short     you must not forget the parrot this time


with Love from all

god by and God bless you

Mary Rackham




The following is "A Blessing" as sent by Mary. (What irony!    Were The Fates laughing?)



A Blessing.

May the blessing of God await thee

May the Sun of Glory shine around thy bed

May the gates of plenty, honour & happiness

be ever open unto thee

May no sorrow distress thy days

May no gref disturb thy nights

May the billow of peace kiss thy cheek

and the pleasures of imagination

attend thy dreams, and when length of years hath

made thee tired of earthly Joys

and the curtain of death gently closes around

thy last breath of human existence

May the Angel of God attend thy bed,

and take care that the expiring lamp of life

doese not receive one rude blast to hasten its extinction



Forget me not


Forget me not as a wither flower

Apon the waters Cast

thy Memory in My heart shall dwell

Like tones of Music soft


Mary Rackham



Note.  The Likeness referred to is the one we now possess. Mary sent one copy to her Sister-in-law Jemima and one to her brother-in-law Edward Rackham at Kessingland. The photograph shows the young mother with her two darlings - Charles Wilby, a bright eyed babe on her knee and Mary Jordan (little Polly to her Father) clinging shyly to her side.


In 1929 when the same little Polly was an elderly lady of 67 she and her husband James Caine called at Kessingland Post Office and made the acquaintance of Edward Rackham's daughters Kate and Ada.


Their letter to their newly-discovered cousin, will form a sort of epilogue to those from Wilby to Mary.


Note 2. I do not know whether "Forget me not" was Mary's own composition, I fancy it was, as Wilby and she liked sentimental poetry (so called) and certainly he indulged in writing it.


I never remember her alluding to any of her own, and although I was familar with some extracts from the letters, through having them read to me and later, when Grandma's eyes were failing, reading them to her, I was unaware of the existence of "A Blessing”. Perhaps it was too poignant for any eyes but her own. Now it will always be poignant for me because of the circumstances in which I came across it.


It had been understood that some day I would copy out the letters. The leisure time afforded by my long convalescence seemed opportune but Mother's ill-health warned me not to undertake a task which might revive old memories.


Immediately after her sudden death I felt constrained to do so. It was then that I discovered "A Blessing". Truly the benediction denied Wilby and Mary was given to their daughter on May 21st 1939.