A series of letters written by Susannah Middleton to her sister, Mary Leake.
As it’s ‘that time of year’ we’ve selected three letters, each one written during the Christmas period.
Regular readers of the Caird Library’s blog will know something of the Middleton papers. Catalogued in 2007, the letters were written between 1805 and 1808. During this time, Susannah was living in Gibraltar having accompanied her husband, Captain Robert Gambier Middleton, as he took up the position of Dockyard Officer. Susannah maintained a long correspondence with her sister, describing in wonderful detail the sights and events she witnessed.
Writing on 21 December 1805, Susannah was clearly adjusting to her new life (NMM MDT/7). She had arrived on the Rock just a few months beforehand and was suffering from a bout of ill health. Unfortunately, Susannah had recently suffered a miscarriage and her letter contains a rather melancholy statement:
I can’t help thinking how differently I expected to be employed about this time.
Hampered by her health, Susannah was still able to maintain a reasonably active social life. She writes that although she was not able to make the mile-long journey into town, a succession of naval officers visited the Middletons’ home. In the period after the Battle of Trafalgar, Gibraltar was awash with men killing time while their ships were repaired in the dockyard.
Throughout her time in Gibraltar, thoughts of home were never far from Susannah’s mind:
I have been wondering what day you will set off for Hertfordshire, and have settled it must be to day, being the Saturday before Christmas day.
The Middletons have a party to dine with them at Christmas but, Susannah says, she would have gladly exchanged it for her sister’s company. A suggestion of what appeared on the table is given by Susannah’s description of her servant, Driver, helping the butcher with the killing and preparation of a ‘great hog’. Nothing is left to waste with plenty of sausages and black pudding being set to one side.
One particular advantage of Christmas in Gibraltar is the weather:
Our Christmas day I think was the most beautiful day I have seen for some time, it was quite like summer in the middle of the day.
By the following year, Susannah was a little more settled and her letter of December 1806 suggests that she is finding plenty to occupy her (NMM MDT/32). A ball is organised and, despite copious alcohol consumption, it is remarked that:
There was no quarrelling or fighting and every body was in good humour which has never been the case at any ball before or since.
Aside from the general merriment, much of the letter is taken up with charitable activity. Along with her sister in England, Susannah was anxious to ease the plight of a Mrs Reeves, wife of Captain Middleton’s clerk. Mr Reeves had all but abandoned his wife and children in England. With the help of her sister and the Captain, arrangements were made for Mrs Reeves to receive £10 taken from her husband’s wages. It was common for officers and their wives to offer care to the families of the men serving with them and this is a good example of Susannah acting in a similarly benevolent way.
As her time on the Rock came to a close, Susannah’s correspondence became noticeably shorter. Her letter of 30 December 1807 is one such example. In it, Susannah discusses the possibility of Captain Middleton being posted to Halifax. The rumoured move was evidently on her mind as she wrote:
As to Halifax I don’t like to think of it as I have been looking forward ever since I have been here to our time being out.
Fortunately for the Middletons, when the time came to leave Gibraltar, the posting was to England. We might only assume, but by December 1808 it seems Susannah was able to celebrate Christmas with her family once more.
However you plan to celebrate, we wish you a very happy Christmas from everybody at the Caird Library.
Richard, Assistant Archivist