LISDD:2007.A1 Mary C Macgregor’s Diary for 1868
A small (132mm x 93mm) leather-bound Pocket book and diary for 1868, published by Caldwell brothers Edinburgh. Six days per double spread (Monday to Friday); Sundays together at the start. Introductory pages include a Kalendar for the year; lists of important events for each day; details of the Royal Family; lists of county populations, lords-lieutenant and sheriffs; judges and officers of government in Scotland; details of taxation; postal information; and lists of weekly markets for corn.
Mary Cameron MacNab (1814-1871) was the daughter of John MacNab, a modest tacksman in Laggan, Inverness-shire, and Jean Ross. However, her mother belonged to a family that was very conscious of its position in society: she was the daughter of Rev Thomas Ross D.D., minister of Kilmonivaig, who claimed descent from the Earls of Ross; and Lucy, daughter of Cameron of Fassifearn and niece of Cameron of Lochiel. Four of Jean’s brothers were soldiers, three reaching high rank in India. The fortune accumulated by Lieut-General Hugh Ross was sufficient to buy the estate of Glenmoidart; and her sister was married to the prominent judge, Patrick Lord Robertson.Gregor MacGregor (1797-1885, minister on Lismore from 1836), married Mary in January 1842, bringing her home to a manse that had recently been repaired and doubled in size. They were soon joined by Charlotte (1843), Jane (1845), John (1847) and Janetta (1851). At the 1851 census, the household had expanded to include three gentlemen lodgers (presumably paying guests), a governess and five unmarried servants.
Quite by chance, Mary’s diary for 1868 has survived. It shows that life at the manse was simple and modest, in spite of the social aspirations of her family. The year was very stormy and there were several days when her husband, always referred to as “Mr Macgregor”, was obliged to stay on the mainland on church business. He was away from home a lot (not least in his role of shoring up the established church in Argyll after the Disruption of 1843), and the winter months passed slowly, with long periods indoors occupied by knitting, sewing and reading. Mary and her daughters taught at the Sabbath School on Sundays, but afternoons could be taken up with examination of the Shorter Catechism. In these months, she recorded many “scoldings” administered to servants and daughters for “idleness” and breakages. Securing basic supplies could be difficult: on 1 February “stores got across in good time, the bread was rather wet but not quite destroyed”.
With the arrival of better weather, the minister’s wife and her servants were almost totally taken up with laundry, and securing the food supply. With a sizeable glebe and garden, she worked to achieve self-sufficiency in potatoes and vegetables, fruit (gooseberries and rhubarb), poultry and eggs (finding a turkey nest on 20 April), home-cured ham and herrings, and oatmeal (5 bolls needed for the year). Mutton came from the minister’s flock on tenanted land at Portcharron. However, as these pages for September show, her main task from June onwards was making cheese and butter from the milk produced by Lady, the manse cow.
When Mary Cameron died of heart disease in 1871, her place in running the manse and supporting the minister was taken by her daughter Jane. Some of her possessions, including the diary, were inherited by her son John (who ended his career as minister of Kilmore and Kilbride) and, on his death, they passed to his son Arthur in the USA. Eighty years later, the diary, family letters and other memorabilia, were found in an attic in New York, and it was only by the extraordinary fact that a journalist was aware of the twinning between Oban High School and a school in Laurinburg, N Carolina, that they were sent to Rev Andrew Campbell, minister of Oban and Kilmore. He, in turn, kindly donated them to Lismore Museum archive in 2006.
This note on the diary includes only a few of Mary’s entries. It is hoped to transcribe the whole diary, and CELM directors would be grateful for any help in completing the task of deciphering Mary’s pencil handwriting.