Carsphairn Archive

William Campbell Letters


William Campbell Letters


This collection of twenty-two letters were written to William Campbell (1755-1829), from his sons James, who later became the minister for Traquair, and John who was a doctor.

Most of the originals are held by Dumfries and Galloway Archives. In Newsletter 28, James' great-great-granddaughter Ann Miller, discusses the letters and how they came to be written:
"In the quiet graveyard surrounding beautiful little Carsphairn Church there is a stone erected to the memory of William Campbell. We know little of William's early life but the inscription, in the usual flowery language of the time, notes his piety, his industry etc. The wonderful discovery in the village a few years ago of his medical reference book at least does seem to prove that his "self-acquired medical skill" was indeed a "blessing to the neighbourhood". William had several daughters and also two sons, John who became a doctor and James, my great-great-grandfather who became a minister.

With the medical book there were letters written by James to his parents in Carsphairn when he was engaged as a tutor to the son of a wealthy family, presumably to augment his income when he was studying divinity at Edinburgh University. Until the finding of these letters we had only been able to envisage James as a middle-aged man, minister at Traquair, Peebleshire, his sole charge, from the portrait of him which hangs in the session-room there. Now however, from his writings, dated between 1812-1817 when he was a young man, he would seem to have been a most interesting and interested person, with quite a caustic wit and keen eye for everything and everyone around him. His schooling at Carsphairn, or Kells(?) was certainly of a very high standard enabling him to excel in Latin, in Greek, in Chemistry and Astronomy. His fluency of language is a delight to read and an example to us all!

Letters from Edinburgh to Carsphairn were carried by Mr Robert McTurk - and when posted were of course without our modern postage stamps. Those from abroad were paid partly by the sender and partly by the recipient - so no space was wasted. Enter Major Hart of Castlemilk requiring a tutor for his son, Montgomery, the tutor to accompany the family to the Continent when the Major has business there and Mrs Hart needed to "take the waters" for her health. One can imagine the excitement felt by the young man from the Galloway Hills when he secured the appointment and foreign travel became a prospect.

In the long year if his life at Traquair (a small place surrounded by hills which are very similar to the Rhinns of Kells). James must often had recalled his "great adventure", and too, he must have remembered, and often given thanks for, his careful nurturing in a loving, though humble, family and the splendid education this is was his good fortune to receive from his dominie."

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