Sunday, June 29, 2014

The McRae Letters–Part one


We are lucky enough to have transcripts of 6 letters between Jane Thompson McRae ( nee Middlebrook) and her brother in law Welsh McRa.

This is the first of a series of layouts featuring the letters which appear on one side, with the facing page having notes and explanations (where possible) . Unfortunately there is no information contained within the 6 letters to help us with the “marriage” of Jane and James John McRa, but he is clearly not living with them at this time despite Robert Irwin, their youngest child being only 2 years of age when the first letter is written.


Kaeo 5th October 1887
Dear Jane
I address you this time on the subject of your daughter, Amy, and as her moral and physical welfare deeply concerns both of us, I feel compelled by a sense of duty, to strike a note of warning in reference to her present position and surroundings. And while, unbiased by malice, and unprejudiced by selfish conceit, I strongly advise ( in the interest of all concerned) that you remove her into your own keeping for a season.
As from long absence from home associations and your moral tuition she is losing track of those influences that should serve as “guide marks” to her proper course through life; moreover, I am not aware that she reaps any substantial remunerations from the performance of her arduous duties here. Harriet is to mean and Jack too poor to contribute any material assistance in this respect. And I am certain that her “employment” is a lamentable failure in reference to mental and moral culture and cannot be regarded as commendable, from a physical standpoint, Fact is, Harriet was never designed by God as a trainer for the young, otherwise she would have had children of her own running round. She is altogether too versatile and volatile for the business, and her relations to Amy are simply of a mercenary nature. A mere matter of pounds, shillings and pence, and only a mockery of interest in her general welfare.
I am far from being a 'moral' man myself, but I claim to be nearer to heave than nine tenths of those who wear the cloak of religion to hide their moral deformaties, and my esteem for Amy is so sincere that I would grieve beyond measure if it were ever hinted to me that she was running on a 'down grade'. But I have no fear that this can ever be stated truthfully of her... I entertain too high an opinion of her merits to even dream of such a calamity. Nevertheless (for obvious reasons, subject to her removal from her, and as I have the consent of all interested parties, saving your own. I will say in order to gain yours, that I intend to leave this section by steamer on the 12th inst( if all goes well) and I am prepared to take Amy along with me, and convey her to your door in safety, and defray all the expenses of the trip, provided that you forward your answer by return mail and I receive it in time.
Trusting that this may merit your approval and that our greeting will take place on Opua wharf as desired,
I remain,
Yours very sincerely
P.S. Whether you sanction this proceeding otherwise, I am duty bound to go through with it anyhow. And will shoulder all the responsibility attached to it. So that if we are not at Opua by the next trip of the steamer, we will certainly be there, trip following.
With kind regards from Amy and Jack
Welsh McRa was Jane’s brother -in-law. Born in 1829, he is 20 years older than Jane, but two years younger than Jane’s “husband” James John McRa. Unfortunately nothing in these letters gives us any more indication of the nature of Jane’s relationship with the father of her 7 children, though it is clear that she is not living with James at the time of these letters.
Amy is Jane and James’ eldest daughter, born around 1869, she would have been 18 at the time of these letters and it appears she is “working” for another McRa brother, John ( Jack) and his wife Harriet, who were living in Kaeo. ( In electoral rolls from several years later John is listed as a surveyor, and also as a bushman)
It is clear that Welsh doesn’t think very highly of his sister in law Harriet. At this time she and Jack had no children but later apparently was to have a son Ian Malcolm who died in infancy, but neither the birth nor death appear to be registered. Later she and John apparently adopted 2 other children, Malcolm Innes, and Lucy Selina. Malcolm died in Palestine in World War I but Lucy lived till her late 80s.
We dont know what Jane was doing in Opua during the late 1880s. A timeline of her life sees her moving frequently, and often between Auckland and areas of Northland, from Whangaroa to Matakohe, but her brother James was also living in Opua during this period. He built a house on the top of the hill overlooking the wharf. We are unsure of where exactly Jane was living in the small settlement, however she had at least 5 children at home with her, if Amy and Nellie( who is mentioned in later letters) were away, that would leave 16 year old John Roderick ( known as Roddy), 9 year old Thomas, Jane Elizabeth aged 7, Mary aged 5 and Robert Irwin aged just 2 years. Quite a handful for a woman on her own ( which we know from future letters that Jane was at this time) .
Family legend has it hat James John McRae was somewhat of a drinker- perhaps Welsh felt some responsibility to his sister-in-law because of this fact.
A note on the surname McRa. : Welsh, in his letters always signs his name McRa. The eldest of Jane and James’ children are registered with the surname McRa, but the younger children are registered as McRae, and Jane signs her name as McRae in these letters. It seems that the spellings are fairly interchangeable

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