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ROBERT ROBERTSON'S LETTERS to his FATHER & BROTHER in SCOTLAND

Within one week I found three stampless entires from three different sources sent by the same soldier in two different Australian colonies to his family in Scotland, spanning the years 1845 to 1856. The covers will be described in order of the dates, from earliest to latest, rather than in the order of their researching.

The earliest dated entire was found when I contacted a Robertson family member in Australia, and although its quality left much to be desired, the excellence of the letter’s contents made up for its poor appearance. The sender was Corporal Rt Robertson, N.S. Wales, 23 July 1845 and it was addressed to Robert Robertson Esq, Banker, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland. There were 2 additional illegible manuscript endorsements, an obliquely written J. Jackson (?) and a manuscript Commanding/ (illegible ). The red unframed oval date stamp was a PAID SHIP LETTER/ [Crown]/ ( ) JY [Rosette]/ 1845/ SYDNEY (Figure 1).

The reverse showed two red postmarks which were presumed to be London postmarks, one clearly dated 24 NO 1845, the other a green unidentified postmark, as well as an illegible manuscript endorsement (Figure 2).

The second entire was found on an auction site, with a poor scan of the front only, and this had to be digitally enhanced, so that the majority of the markings were legible. The sender was No. 849 Private Robt Robertson, 99 Regiment V.D. Land. There were a ‘Paid 1d ’ marking, and a ‘via Sydney’ manuscript. It was addressed to Alexd. Robertson, Banker, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland. There was a countersignature of ‘H. Despard, Colonel Com(manding), 99 Regiment’. There was a red postmark GENERAL POST OFFICE/ HOBART TOWN/ [Crown]/ 2 SP 2/ VDL/ 1851 (Figure 3).

The finding of the above second dated entire was fortuitous, for the first dated entire’s contents mentioned the name of Colonel Henry Despard, who subsequently had disastrous exploits in the Maori Wars, New Zealand. A Google search for ‘Despard’ was the source for this 1d rated soldier’s letter which was described by vendor as “one of only 2 stampless concessionary mail covers known”.

In the third entire the sender was identified in manuscript as L(ance) Corporal Robt Robertson, 1st Battn 12 Foot Tasmania and was addressed to Alexr Robertson Esq., Banker, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland. There was a manuscript countersignature by J.M. Percival, Lieut Col. Com(mandin)g. 1st Bn 12 Regt. In addition there was a manuscript ‘3' and a smaller ‘8' for the amounts paid for postage and to the ship’s captain. There was a red postmark GENERAL POST OFFICE/ HOBART-TOWN/ [Crown]/ 11 JA 11/ VDL/ 1856 (Figure 4).

On the reverse there was a red London transit mark dated 2 MY, 1856 and a green boxed BLAIRGOWRIE/ MY 13/ 1856, as well as a further countersign, partially legible: ‘( )/ Captain’ (Figure 5).

The two Robertson family members (Alexander and Robert), both bankers at a Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland address have been identified by research in Scotland, for Alexander was mentioned “in an advert for the Scottish Equitable Assurance Society in January 1857. He is the society’s agent in Blairgowrie and is listed as a banker”.

I will quote almost verbatim the entire contents of the first letter’s transcription:

“From Corporal R Robertson 99 Regiment
N.S. Wales 23rd July 1845

Robert Robertson Esqr.
Banker
Blairgowrie
Perthshire
Scotland

Brigade Office
Sydney N.S. Wales 23rd July 1845

Dear Father
      I believe this is the first letter I have wrote you since my arrival in this Colony and my reason for doing so now is to know how you are all getting on, more especially if you have heard from my Brother James lately or not. As for myself I have enjoyed good health, since my arrival here, having never had a days sickness. My wife & family are also in the enjoyment of good health. I have now two sons the elder named after you, who is now about 2 years of age, & was born at sea is really a fine child, the younger named Nicholas after my wife’s Father. You strongly advised me against getting married, but I assure you that it was the best job I could have done as I never was so happy nor so contented in my life before. I cannot say too much in my wife’s praise who is in every sense of the word a good and faithful wife to me. When I arrived in this Colony I landed at Parramatta where I remained only a few days when I was sent to Norfolk Island the farthest distance from England a soldier can be sent to (at least in the British Possessions). I remained there for a period of 12 months where I was in charge of the Military Hospital and was really very comfortable. Norfolk Island is a Penal Settlement for Prisoners of the very worst description, and of course the duty there, was very severe and vigilant. I had the pleasure of sailing in the same ship to Norfolk as Dr. Allan McLaren, who to use his own words used to be Reeking (?) about the North Seas in a schooner. He promised to take a letter for you but he never called for it and it was never sent. I landed in Sydney from Norfolk (Island) in the beginning of February1845 and was only a few days here, when I got a situation in the Brigade Office with 9d per diem. All this I can attribute to nothing else than my marriage, having more mouths to fill than my own.

      I am now in this situation about 7 months although as yet have not seen one half of Sydney. I have seen a good number of Blairgowrie folks here, but I have formed no acquaintance with any of them, merely bid them good day or so, in passing. David Constable, I have only seen 4 or 5 times although he is in a shop not more than 20 yards from our Office. I do not think he is doing very well here. When I first saw him he was in business on his own account in Parramatta.

What reason he assigns for leaving that I cannot pretend to say, but he is now a shop-man to a Mr. Mitchell here, in a very small concern. Mr.McLaren, John McLaren the tailor’s son, I see often as he has occasion to come to our Office. He is doing very well & reports say he is worth money. Be that as it may, he is highly respected, he has five or six houses of his own & rides his own horses. He frequently gives me a Perthshire paper to peruse in which I sometime see your & Alexander names mentioned principally in Assurance Companies. You would scarcely believe what pleasure I enjoy in perusing a paper from my own country. I have formed no acquaintance with any of the Blairgowrie people here principally because soldiers are not so much respected here as at home & as I earn an honest livelihood by my profession, they at least the one half of them, cannot say the same thing. I have never seen Mr. McPherson Esqr. although I know where he lives and have occasion to write to him sometimes on business. I would not call on him for the world & I am sure I do right in keeping aloof from all my former Blairgowrie acquaintances for more reasons than one.

      The Provisions in this Colony are very cheap compared with home, but this being the winter season, they are dearer than in summer, the present price being for Bread, Best 3d per 2lb, Beef 2d per lb, Sugar good 3d , Tea 1/6, Butter 1/4, Potatoes 3/- per cwt. Summer prices Bread 2d per 2lb, Beef ½d per lb, Sugar &Tea (prices are) stationary, Butter 1/- etc.etc.. It is perfectly astonishing to see how cheap things in general are here but it is easily accounted for. People in Trade here get credit from home, sell the goods for little or nothing & turn bankrupt. There are in Sydney this moment upwards of 150 Sale Rooms open every day & night selling all kinds of articles by auction.

      From the newspapers you would have an account of the disturbance in New Zealand. Troops are withdrawn from this Colony for the protection of the settlers. There are 800 or more from this Command under the direction of our Colonel in New Zealand, 200 men of the 99th regiment, the remainder are of the 55th and 96th Regiments. There was one engagement by which 8 soldiers were killed & 35 wounded. We are anxiously waiting for further particulars as Colonel Despard & 600 were within 7 miles of Nekiis, the Tribal Chiefs Pah or stronghold, awaiting to attack it. The great difficulty the troops labour under is the want of cannons & transport or conveyance of any sort. I of course am exempted owing to the situation I hold, from all such expeditions.

      Perhaps you will think it strange when I inform you that the weather is so cold that I can hardly hold the pen in my hand. In conclusion I sincerely hope that you are enjoying as good health as I wish. You will be kind enough to write as soon as possible giving me an account of how Messrs James, Alex & David are getting on, not forgetting your young family. Mrs Robertson desires to be very kindly remembered to you all.

      Direct No. 849 Corporal R Robertson Brigade Office
      99 Regiment
      Sydney N.S. Wales

      I remain Dear Father, Your Affectionate Son
      Rob Robertson

      A final piece of research was obtained when the Auction house for the third entire kindly sent me a scan of the letter’s contents, which was also totally legible:

      Hobart Town Tasmania
      8 January 1856
      My Dear Alexre

      In my last to you I informed you I was about being transferred to the 1st Battalion 12th Regiment, they have arrived from Victoria.. I have now found them. In your future letters you will address me as belonging to the Corps. I also mentioned in my last, that I had paid to the Manager of the Union Bank the sum of £100 for which I hold his receipt. And there is an arrear of Interest due on the whole sum now in your hands, you will be so good as acquaint me what has been done in the business.

Myself with all the family are well with the exception of my younger son James who unfortunately fell down the stairs in the Barracks and broke his leg at the thigh - he is now getting better, after lying 6 weeks and through that accident, his mother has been unable to do anything to the support of the family.

      I am anxious that I should hear from you about James and also David, all the other members of the family.

      My wife, self and all my family send their best regards to you, Mrs Robertson and all your family and acquaintances in Blairgowrie.

      I am dear Alexander
      Your Affect Brother

      Robt. Robertson
      1st Batt 12th Regiment

      The 12 th Foot and the 99 th Regiments are remarkably entwined in their history in Australia, and my problem has been what information to omit in this discussion. Our soldier was in both Regiments over the period of time covered by these letters.

       “In 1853, after six years at home (in England) the 12th Regiment received orders that it was to undertake garrison duties and relieve the 99th Regiment in Australia. From 1854 to 1866, the 1st Battalion of the 12th Regiment performed this role and kept law and order in the Australian goldfields. Prior to the 99th Regiment returning from Australia to England, 185 volunteers transferred to the 12th Regiment on the 1st November 1855 when stationed in Hobart. Just under one third of these volunteers had taken discharge from the 12th Regiment by the end of 1857 and presumably remained in Hobart, Australia. The rank of Lance Corporal does not appear on any of the Regiment’s payrolls and there are only a few references to it (this rank) that are noted in official documents.” (Personal communication from Australia by Ken Larbalestier).

      Robert Robertson was one of those volunteers who transferred from the 99th Regiment into the 12th Regiment (East Suffolk) and settled with his family in Hobart in 1857.

      The Barracks where Robert’s son James fell and broke his leg would have been the Anglesea Barracks in Hobart, which terminated this role when the last British soldiers left Tasmania in 1870. Colonel Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of N.S.W. paid his last visit to Van Diemen’s Land in 1811 and he directed that barracks were to be built to house 150 men, with quarters for the officers and a hospital to accommodate 32 sick persons. The building was partially completed by 1918.

      I gratefully acknowledge the great help of 4 individuals who have provided so much information that has been used in this paper, over a period of less than one month:

      Yvonne Bell, Local Studies Assistant, A K Bell Library, Perth, Scotland;
      Ken Larbalestier, for the Regimental information on the 12th and 99th;
      Andrew Page-Robertson for Figure 1 & its letter, as well as the family history; and,
      Nick Anning, Prestige Philatelic Auctions for the scan of the letter in Figure 4.

Hobart Town Tasmania
8 January 1856
My Dear Alexre

In my last to you I informed you I was about being transferred to the 1st Battalion 12th Regiment, they have arrived from Victoria.. I have now found them. In your future letters you will address me as belonging to the Corps. I also mentioned in my last, that I had paid to the Manager of the Union Bank the sum of £100 for which I hold his receipt. And there is an arrear of Interest due on the whole sum now in your hands, you will be so good as acquaint me what has been done in the business.

Myself with all the family are well with the exception of my younger son James who unfortunately fell down the stairs in the Barracks and broke his leg at the thigh - he is now getting better, after lying 6 weeks and through that accident, his mother has been unable to do anything to the support of the family.

I am anxious that I should hear from you about James and also David, all the other members of the family.

My wife, self and all my family send their best regards to you, Mrs Robertson and all your family and acquaintances in Blairgowrie.

I am dear Alexander
Your Affect Brother

Robt. Robertson
1st Batt 12th Regiment


 
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