Eunice and Ron Shanahan have shared with readers of the Victorian Web this material from their website, Letters from the Past. Click on thumbnails for larger images.

This 'letter from the past' was written by William Cloyne in June 1820. Despite its age, the writer seems to jump off the page to me, with his irascible humour. However, from the contents, it seems he had reasons to be disgruntled. The letter was addressed to :

Revd B N Turner,

Postal Markings:

General Post Inland Office Receiving Office stamp Adam Street W, in black, double boxed line. This office was open from 1819 to 1829.

London black evening duty datestamp double circle with the day in the centre, and year in three figures in a curve around the base of the stamp, with code letter B at the left. This type of evening duty stamp was applied to outgoing mail and was in use from 1800 to 1822.

London FREE stamp in red - double ring evening duty type in use from 1812 -1839.

Because it was a 'FREE' letter, there were specific regulations about how the letter should be addressed, dated and signed. The Postmaster where the letter was lodged was supposed to be familiar with the handwriting, signature and seal of all the persons entitled to FREE postage in his area. To enable this to be checked, the date in full and the address had to be written in the handwriting of the person who signed the front claiming the entitlement.

In this case, It was William Bishop of Cloyne, and he has written on the front of the letter London Fifth June 1820, signed at the bottom left corner - Wm Cloyne: and then imprinted his very handsome seal on the sealing wax on the back of the letter. This shows a Bishop's Mitre above his initials 'WC'.

And so to the letter:

Click on the image for a larger view

Dear Turner

I should have answered your letter before if I had any return of my usual health and spirits, but I remain as you left me confined to my couch, and only seeing a few of my friends. Dr Baillie is my only Comforter who persists in not seeing any thing alarming in my complaints tho he allows I have still need of taking great care on account of a tendency to inflammation in my chest."

Note: Dr Baillie was a famous Scottish physician and anatomist who had trained under William Hunter, his mother's brother, and later succeeded to this uncle's anatomy school in Great Windmill St, London. He was the author of the first treatise in English on morbid anatomy. He died in 1823.

"Under these circumstances it is in vain you say to me

I nunc, it vesus tecum meditere canonos

for tho you may continue to imitate the living swan, my symbol would be only the dying one, nor would my prose be worth your notice more than my verse, only by good luck you can get it without paying for it".

He then continues with a complaint:

"You must know too that unfortunately the summer is the period when the Archbishop of the Province makes his Triennial Visitation, and all such of my Clergy as have within them crimes 'unwhipp'd of justice' already hear at a distance the sound of his rod. In their fright you may suppose the flock run for protection to their legal shepherd and the Irish Post comes loaded with excuses for negligence to me, and intreaties of protection from me.

By the bye I have always thought this remnant of the ancient discipline a most fortunate thing for the Irish Church. The Bishop is deprived of all active Power, and the Archbishop except in the right of presenting to Livings is the actual Prelate to correct misdoings of every sort"

Note: the Triennial Visitation was a bishop's examination of the churches of his diocese - a symbolic divine dispensation of punishment or reward.

"You may imagine every moment of my time is taken up - especially as, by the failure of the two largest banks at Cork, whose notes form'd the whole circulation of that part of Ireland, my temporal affairs require as much attention as my spirtual ones at this moment - not that I can be a loser by my own act, for I never keep my money at an Irish Bankers, but all rents and tythes that are in a course of payment at the moment have been made in the deteroriated, I might even say annihilated, paper. The shock seems to have frightened my Agent out of his wits, for tho he must know my anxiety he has sent me no particulars. All chance of my going to Ireland this year is out of the case,

I beg my best regards to your family, and am Dear Turner
Your sincere friend
Wm Cloyne. "

As I said at the beginning, he had good reasons for being upset - he was not well, the Archbishop was on his way for a Visitation, and to cap it all, two of the Irish Banks had failed affecting his income from the tythes and rents. At least he had a friend in the Reverend Turner - someone to share his woes, and 173 years later, I can feel sorry for him too.

Last modified 16 December 2002