So long and thanks for all the fish - News from the Archive

Besides tea-shops and gardens, the project I am really excited about at the moment is the archive. The Library is out of bounds at the moment, at risk from falling ceilings due to all the rain we had over winter - the poor castle can't absorb any more.  But the archive materials are available, and I have been diligently (well, sometimes) going through boxes, listing details properly so that there is some kind of systematic information available.

I wasn't only motivated to do this by curiosity - although of course I am curious.  It's more to do with my own writing as well (besides the strange need, common to many academics and students, to feel closer to those who are gone, even if we never knew them, to read their words and learn about their lives). I try to imagine the lives of those who built this place, for whom it was a kind of home, a different kind of home to "normal", but imagination isn't enough.  I need to know more, be more accurate in what I write, not just fantasise about the past.  Unlike many people who wrote about the Bulloughs in the 1970s and 1980s, for example (these magazine articles keep turning up in the archives, usually full of inaccuracies and myths), I bear no resentment towards them for their wealth; instead I feel somehow fiercely protective, perhaps because out of all the experiences on this island so far, living in their castle - a privilege I could never have expected in my life - has been the most enduring, positive and lovable.  It has felt safe, even homely, at times when I have felt lonely and unhappy.  No matter that I would never have fitted into their world.  I'm not of their time, so our respective "classes" have no real meaning - not now.  Instead, gifted with a life a century on (I am 101 years younger than George, who was born in 1870), I have experienced the joys and challenges of an education that women in those days could never have had.  When you are lucky enough to have an education and your (comparative) freedom (I don't have to skivvy for a living), you get a sense of being equal with anyone.  You feel you are outside "systems" - class systems, gender systems, or perhaps a better word is "hierarchies" - even though the first thing you learn as an academic is that this is an illusion - no-one is outside their own history.  But despite the illusion, it's still true that education can give you a freedom in your mind that you may not have in terms of money.  Your mind is your most important birthright, not your wealth, status or family.  In this way, being an archivist becomes not just a privilege where you are allowed to see into other people's lives - it can become a way of finding a common ground with people who, had you been born into their time, would hardly have known what to say to you.  

Anyway I am digressing from the important thing, which is the archive itself.  And what have I learnt so far?

So far I have mainly been looking at letters.  Not personal letters or love letters, I'm afraid.  But these letters are just as fascinating.  They describe how the Bulloughs lived their everyday lives, how they shaped their island and their castle, the networks of people they needed to fulfil their dreams.  For example, a fishery to provide salmon and sea-trout eggs, to build fishing grounds at Long Loch - where there are still trout, as we explained to our visitors last week, but no salmon. And now we know why. 
What, no fish? Only trout...
After an initial set-back, where it appears that buying fish eggs is going to prove too expensive, it seems that Sir George and his factor finally reach an agreement with the fishery in 1928.  Exacting and complicated arrangements are made between the factor on Rum, R. Wallace Brebner, and his contact at the Solway Fishery, J.G. Richmond, for the transportation of salmon and sea trout ova in special boxes, by train and boat, to be accompanied by the gamekeeper, McNaughton, early in 1929.  A risky business, as the eggs won't survive if they are subject to too strenuous conditions; they must be kept "cold, but above freezing point".  

Influenza strikes
But disaster nearly strikes as McNaughton falls ill of flu in Glasgow and can't get to Mallaig.  Worried letters are exchanged, Richmond sending telegrams and letters sometimes simultaneously to ensure his instructions, as well as the eggs, arrive safely.  In his fine, copper-plate handwriting, or in careful typewriting, he describes the conditions needed and what to do with the hatching boxes once they finally arrive at Rum (or Rhum, as it was known at George Bullough's request).  Later, we learn that the salmon do not do at all well and even the sea trout eggs do not hatch as quickly as hoped.  It's all down to the weather (what else on Rum?); Richmond writes he has never known of such a prolonged cold spell

Shipping live creatures to Rhum did not stop at fish eggs, or indeed, as we know, alligators.  Two small postcards from a C. Eric Lucas from consecutive years (1927 and 1928) note that "the stags for Sir George" will be sent direct to Mallaig by the London & North Eastern Railway, not the London Midland and Southern Railway as they were last year; it is hoped that this will avoid the problems experienced with the LMSR (what problems? Did the deer escape?  Were they travelling on the wrong ticket?).  I at first thought this must mean venison, but the second postcard clarifies that live deer are meant: "the best plan will be to mark the six Hinds for Sir George by taking the top off the left Ear. It is as good a distinguishing mark as is possible." Evidently, there was a whole trainload of deer on their way to the Highlands, destined for the hills and perhaps later, the hunter's pot.

Many of the letters are about money, of course; insurance and tax play a major part in the correspondence.  Both George and Monica take a keen interest in the policies and we learn that in the 1920s they kept not only two Trojan cars, but also an Albion and a "Motor Lorry", all of which need insuring.  Meanwhile their solicitors are determined to make their accounts as correct as possible and chase up receipts, valuations and expenditure; we learn that they require proof of how much the estate spends on hens' eggs (£2 15s), but the proof is not forthcoming.  Brebner writes, somewhat tetchily, that their supplier, MacLeod simply refuses to provide receipts: "He is supplying the eggs but no matter how often asked for will never send acknowledgment of payment, treating all business as cash transaction." Instead Brebner is forced to request a copy of his own cheque from the Bank, which is then forwarded to the solicitors.

I learn too of how the new boiler and heating arrangements were ordered and obtained, how kitchen ranges were scrutinised and finally built (in the 1920s, not as early as I expected), and read the original letter of application sent in 1914 by the gamekeeper, Duncan McNaughton, who remained on the island for many years and later became factor after Brebner was sacked. "Dear Sirs, seeing you are advertising for a Gamekeeper Stalker in Sat's Scotsman I apply for same. I am 27 Years old Married, w[ith] family I may say I thoroughly understand Pheasant rearing Grouse and Partridge Driving the breaking and working of mostly all sporting dogs 11 years experience in dogs and the management of a Grouse Moor & of which I had experience in Deer stalking and Driving on the strathgartney [sic] Deer forest and Grouse moor where the killed annualy [sic] 20 stags.  I am strictly sober (and good pipes) You can have my character by writing to Mr John Paterson, Brenachoile Lodge, Trossachs, Callands, and A.S. Maenaghten, Craiginie, Balquhidden, Perth Shire and T.H. Mann Esq., Trulls Hatch, Bothesfield, Sussex.  I am Yours Obediently Duncan McNaughton". 

I've yet to learn what happened next -  during the war, and the flourishing 1920s (although, by all accounts, not as flourishing as the Edwardian years).  We always think of the Bulloughs as Edwardian, but of course they were far more than that; Monica lived through nearly a century herself.  

Meanwhile, we continue to establish ourselves in our own small way; sadly we have no classic cars (nor would the roads let us drive them if we had), but we have our little vegetable plot.  We don't aim to be self-sufficient, not physically - what I want from my time here is to learn to be mentally self-sufficient, but also to learn when and how to need others.  A writer in West Word last month spoke about how in a truly healthy society we would know that we are all dependent on each other, rather than striving for total independence from other people.  People with lots of money can easily become isolated, not part of the social fabric, as well as people who have none, because they can view themselves as not needing anyone or anything, and conversely, not needing to give anything back either.   Sometimes I feel we're so much less advanced than George and Monica - our society here is at such a basic level.  Other times, I feel we're ahead of them in our striving to each contribute what we can.  I'm glad we have the opportunity, as it were, to live alongside each other, past and present.

Hope in our garden - an onion is growing...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.