Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Letter From 1842 Brought To Life

A Property Dispute Involving an Earl, an Admiral and a Mystery Claimant

This entire (meaning a folded letter-sheet) was sent in April 1842 from solicitor James Burn of Edinburgh to solicitors Russel & Aitken of Falkirk.

The address reads Messrs Russel & Aitken, Writers, Falkirk. “Writers” is an abbreviation for “Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet”, a private society of Scottish solicitors formed in 1594 that still exists. The abbreviation “WS” can be seen after solicitor’s names in the letter, and members of the Society still use the letters today.

The stamp is SG8, 1d red-brown imperforate, issued in late 1841. It is cancelled with an Edinburgh Maltese Cross (this stamp was illustrated in my Marcophily blog)

The reverse shows an Edinburgh despatch mark and a Falkirk receiving mark (with an inverted “4” in “1842”), and the stain from the wax seal

The Edinburgh despatch mark, showing “APR C 14 E 1842”

The Falkirk arrival mark, showing “FALKIRK AP 15 1842”

The letter consists of two sections. The top part is a copy of the original letter, and the bottom part is the reply

The transcription:

Copy letter, 13 April 1842, Mr. H. G. Dickson WS to Mr. James Burn WS
I have a letter to-day from Messrs Russel & Aitken stating they are now satisfied that their client, Major Anderson has no right to the superiority of the lands of Blackmyreknoll belonging to Lord Zetland, and referring me to John Anderson, the Major’s author, for the duty wanted.  Before writing the letter I should wish to see the printed Summons of MP which you had in your hand the last time I had the pleasure of seeing you here. I shall therefore be obliged to you to lend it to the Bearer, and it will be carefully returned to you if necessary.
Messrs Russel & Aitken seem to think that John Anderson has not been entered with his Superior:  On looking into the papers here, however, I find that he obtained a Charter of Confirmation from Admiral Fleming in the year 1821. I mention this for the information of yourself , or Messrs Russel & Aitken, as it may be of use to you in making up Major Anderson’s letter. I think it very probable that the Charter may be in the hands of Messrs Nisbet & Peebles , Writers, Glasgow, who appear to have acted as Agents for John Anderson about the time of it’s date, or in there of Mr John Hamilton Mack, Writer, Airdrie, who was Agent for the party from whom the late Lord Zetland bought Blackmyreknoll in 1828.

Messrs Russel & Aitken                                 Edin 6 Broughton Place
Writers Falkirk                                                   14 April 1842

Prefixed is the copy of a letter from Mr. A. G. Dickson which is of considerable importance to Major Anderson in as far as it confirms the fact which, by looking at my letter to you of 30 Jany 1839, you will see I always suspected, that John Anderson late of Tannoch obtained a Charter of Confirmation from Admiral Fleming in 1821. I do not think it probable that the charter  is in the possession of Steel & Nisbet, but it may be worth while to enquire whether it is in the possession of Mr. J. H. Mack.

Cullen v Gossage

I hope you received the parcel which I sent by yesterday’s Railway with (?) correspondence for the (?)

Yours faithfully                  James Burn 

In 1828, Lord Zetland, known at that time as 2nd Baron Dundas, purchased property at Blackmyreknoll, in the Parish of Cumbernauld in Dunbartonshire.

The letter indicates that a Major Anderson made a claim on the property, but his claim proved to be unfounded.

Blackmyreknoll has disappeared from the map. The area is now part of the New Town of Cumbernauld in Lanarkshire, about 21 kilometres north-east of Glasgow.

The Protagonists:
1st Earl of Zetland (1766-1839)

Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Baron Dundas, 1st Earl of Zetland.  He was a Member of Parliament (Whig) for Richmond 1790-1802 and 1808-11, and for York 1802-07 and 1811-20. His  career spanned 30 years, although his performance in Parliament appears to have been unremarkable.

He was Alderman of York in 1808 and Lord Mayor of York in 1811-12. 

He succeeded his father on 14 June 1820 as 2nd Baron Dundas. He was also the Provincial Grand Master, North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, of the Society of Freemasons 1834-39, and Lord Lieutenant and Vice-Admiral of Orkney and Shetland from 1831-39.

He took the name Zetland, in honour of Shetland, when he was created the 1st Earl of Zetland on 2 July 1838

1st Earl of Zetland (1766-1839)

Admiral Charles Elphinstone-Fleming (1774-1840)

Born Charles Fleming, his name was legally changed to Charles Elphinstone-Fleming on inheriting the estates of the Earl of Wigtoun, including Cumbernauld House near Blackmyreknoll.

He served in ships of the line during both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

He was an abolitionist, who frequently reported on the status of slaves in the West Indies. He was Governor of Greenwich Hospital and Member of Parliament for Stirlingshire

Admiral Charles Elphinstone-Fleming (1774-1840) 
Russel & Aitken, solicitors, to whom the letter was addressed, were formed in 1818 and are still in business.

The author, James Burn, was an Edinburgh solicitor. The few records that have been found indicate he was active from at least 1830 to 1842. No record has yet been found of the other law firms.

The identities of Major Anderson and John Anderson are, as yet, and sadly, unknown.

Research is continuing into the nature of the “Charter of Confirmation” issued by Admiral Fleming, and how it impacted on John Anderson’s claim


  1. I have just acquired a letter dated 14 April 1841 addressed to Russell and Aitken written by a J A Anderson from 38 Gerrard Street, Soho, London about £2,000 which related to a bond on his brother Robert's property. This brother was expected to take his final leave of India in November 1841. A filing note indicates that the letter was written by Major Anderson. I hope that this will help you to locate Major Anderson!

    1. Thank you for the great information, which will help immensely. Would it be possible to obtain a scan of the letter at all?

    2. Scan sent to your email!

    3. And received with thanks. Plenty of research to be done now!