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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters

The Prologue and Epilogue, which follow, were written by Annie Isabel (Nance)  Caine.

The grand daughter of Wilby and Mary,  Nance Caine,  writes some explanations to their great grand daughter,  Mary Rackham  Faragher.

Dear Mollie,

For one short week there were four generations of daughters in our family, from May 2lst to May 28th 1920. Here they are:

Yourself,   Mary Rackham Faragher,

Your Mother,   Ethel Caine   (Mrs. C. Faragher,)

Your Grandmother,  Mary Jordan Rackham  (Mrs. J. Caine.)

Your Greatgrandmother,   Mary Billington Crosby  (Mrs. Wilby Rackham.)

Your Great-grandmother was eighty-one when you were born and it was sheer will-power that kept her alive till she had seen you. I carried you along to her and let her hold you. In her weak arms you seemed a very big baby, for she said: "My word, but Ethel will have her work cut out with this fine wean." She died a week later and your Mother, who had always been her grandmother's "own bairn" grieved so much that you were upset too; her own daughter, your Grandma, became ill also with this treble anxiety.

As I have said Ethel was the pet and received most of the confidences about the Crosbies and the Rackhams. I was supposed [to be] the "spit image" of Grandma Rackham and so sometimes I too, shared them. As Grandma often spoke to us children as if we belonged to our Mother's generation we were often confused as to who these various aunts and uncles and grandparents were. I've made out a sort of family tree but I can't be certain that I have given the sons and daughters in their correct order.




William Crosby  =  Sarah Billington


[Nance shows their children as - ]


George  = Matilda    (went as mate on the Barque)      [Part 1, Letter 2]

Robert    (witness at marriage of Mary)

Mary  =  Wilby    [and had children]  Mary Jordan and Charles Wilby

Sarah  =  John Laynton    (is Sally)

Charles    (at sea Havana etc)

Wm  =  Emma    (is "wee Willie”)

The Billington family really belonged to Hanley, Staffordshire but lived in Dumfries where Sarah met and married William Crosbie. (There are quite a number of Crosbies lying in the same hallowed ground in Dumfries that holds the bones of Robbie Burns.) According to my grandmother the Crosbies were people of good social standing and the Laird and Leddy Crosbie never forgave their son William for marrying the daughter of an inn-keeper. (He evidently entered into that business too though he also engaged in property buying and building in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. He seems to have been unfortunate in many of his speculations. William Crosbie was certainly of good appearance and education, his handwriting is scholarly and his letters betoken a man of ability. His wife, Sarah, may not have been blessed with such worldly advantages but from all accounts she was exceedingly good and lovable. (She died in 1885, a few months before the marriage of my Father and Mother, so is still within living memory. My Mother was in half-mourning at her wedding. She always had loved and admired her grandmother.)

I don't know a great [deal] about their children. Grandma Rackham always spoke happily of her young days in Dumfries. The household demeanour was a mixture of Scotch religiosity and gaiety. They were strict U.P’s yet Grandma went to Balls and was an accomplished dancer. I remember her crossing two pokers on the floor to demonstrate the sword-dance. She was a good singer too (the Auld Scotch songs) and would tinkle away at her tall old-fashioned piano, with its green silk hangings - all this when she was over sixty years old. She was very proud of her beautiful shoulders and her pretty hair. She loved a stiff silk dress - we still have her blue and gold one, with its swallow-tail bodice, and I remember seeing parts of her wedding gown. It was a pale blue soft silk, with a faint line in it. Oh she was a bright wee thing!

Her sister Sarah (Sally) must have been a bit of a character. You'll just get a hint of that from the letters. She eventually ran away to marry John Laynton. Her daughter Edith used to come to Victoria Terrace as a child. Later on the family went to Australia. (There is a letter from John Laynton Jr. in the writing desk).

The youngest son William (wee Willie) was evidently rather a spoiled weak boy. He also lived in the Isle of Man for a time and his family came to visit us once or twice.

Of the other boys there's not much known to me. Charles evidently let Wilby Rackham down very badly on one occasion. (See letter five, part six.) William Crosbie and his wife are both buried in Kirk Braddan. William became blind in his old age and wanted to come to the Isle of Man, and so Mary Jordan Rackham at the age of eighteen used to lead him up and down Victoria Terrace. The household at Victoria Terrace consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Crosbie, Mrs. Rackham and her two children Mary Jordan and Charles Rackham. Mrs. R. became a nurse after her husband's death and was of course away for long periods at nursing cases. Your grandmother's name “Jordan" was given her because of “Aunt and Uncle Jordan" of whom you will read in the letters. I think they were really her great-aunts and uncle. I do not exactly know the relationship of the Hendersons, there were Adam, Janet, and Mary. Mary made the little frilled shirt that is  one of your mother's treasures. I think "Uncle George” Crosbie whose miniature we prize must also have been a great uncle. He was a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh.

[Note: Writers to the Signet are Scottish solicitors who are entitled to lodge cases – though not to act as advocates – at the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh].

I know very little about the Rackhams. They were a Suffolk family of no pretensions to gentility, though there is no doubt whatever that Wilby Rackham, your great-grandfather, was a man of outstanding ability and charm. (I should like to know where his name Wilby came from, his wife evidently teased him about it.)




John Rackham  =  Elizabeth Simmons


[Nance shows their children as follows but Hannah was actually John Rackham’s daughter by his first wife Sarah Wealey and Nance gave no details of Hannah’s marriage.]

Wilby  =  Mary B. Crosbie    [and had children]  Mary Jordan  and  Charles Wilby

Jemima  =  Geo. Bird

Charles    (Went to Australia)

Edward  =  Miranda

George    (who had bad eyes)

Hannah  =  [William Marjoram of Lowestoft 1858]

I think you will love Wilby when you read his letters!  I wish it were possible to show his beautifully neat and characterful hand-writing. Your great-grandmother had a strangely up-and-down life - all those lonely years of widowhood - but to her "the Captain" was more than a memory, to her dying day she idolised him.

Theirs is a sweet and sad love story. I am glad Auntie Alice has given you the little turquoise ring - your Mother of course has their wedding ring. It is engraved "W.R. - M.C. I860". I treasure the writing-desk - and now you are to have copies of its contents.

Your loving Auntie Nance


Mary Billington Crosbie                                      Annie Isabel Caine


born I839                            September 11th                   scripsit 1939