Tuesday 23 February 2016

A 1779 English Longcase Clock by Thomas Woodruff, Salop

My 8 Day Longcase clock by Thomas Woodruff,
of Salop, Shropshire, England, 1779

My 18th century eight day brass faced clock by Thomas Woodruff of Salop (now known as Shrewsbury) in Shropshire England is a good example of a classic Georgian era English provincial longcase (Grandfather) clock.

While the provenance of ownership of this clock is unfortunately unknown I have been able to find a reasonable amount of information about this provincial clockmaker including uncovering (literally) some interesting and very conclusive evidence of when it was made.

Detail of the face plate and silvered dial
(my apologies for the reflections)

Shrewsbury itself is an historic and pleasant old Tudor town located in a loop of the Severn River and contains many half timbered and historic old homes and churches among its narrow streets and wynds. I have myself visited twice, once staying in the centre of the old town in a listed 16th century house with plastered walls and beautifully exposed beams, some of which one had to "duck" under to avoid hitting.

A view looking up Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury
[Source : Google Streetview]

The first reference to the Woodruff family as Clockmakers in Salop [Shrewsbury] is 1762 when G.H. Baillie notes in his "Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World" a 30 hour long case clock made by James Woodfruff, presumably Thomas' Father. The next reference is to be found in "Shropshire Clock & Watchmakers" where Thomas Woodruff is recorded as being a Clock and Watchmaker in Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury from 1767 until his death in 1801. Obviously the business passed from father to son. Legal records held in the Shropshire Archives and dated 1767 record him as being a "watchmaker [and] bondsman [indentured servant] of Salop".

A view looking down Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury
[Source : Google Streetview]

Wyle Cop lies in the old part of the town, running close to the "English Bridge" up a rise towards the High Street and the town centre. It now contains predominately 17th and 18th century dwellings with shops at street level. An historic half-timbered three story building survives at the lower end of Wyle Cop with the 12th Century St. Julian's Tower at the upper end. As to where in Wyle Cop Woodruff's premises were located is unknown.

Two examples of Longcase Clocks by Thomas Woodruff

A number of longcase clocks by Thomas Woodruff come up for sale occasionally, some being in a similar or identical classically styled Georgian case or hood similar to my own and additionally some with a brass arch and adornments. This similarity confirms that my clock has not been a "marriage" of mechanism and case. Unscrupulous dealers have often been known to place a good brass movement in a better quality case to hopefully increase its value. This is always something to watch out for as often the mechanism will not properly fit the hood or the dial face and / or case will be a mixture of time periods or styles. While I have not personally discovered one, GH Baillie notes a late 18th century bracket clock by Thomas Woodruff which shows that he was a reasonably versatile clockmaker.

The trunk with the door open
and showing the very heavy
lead weights and brass bob

I am assuming that, as with so many other provincial clocks, the mechanism parts and brass face were brought in fully machined or at least made to the clockmaker's specific order so only assembly would be required. While Woodruff's name has been ornately inscribed on the brass face there appears to be no conclusive proof that James Woodruffe himself would have manufactured anything other than the oak case. But this would certainly not be impossible were he to have manufactured and sold a reasonable number of clocks to make the purchasing of cutting and machining equipment financially worthwhile - and had the requisite skills to undertake this highly specialised but expensive work. I would imagine that his watches were similarly inscribed with his name but I have never located one.

Detail of the brass mechanism, large cast
iron (?) bell and rear of the face plate
showing theareas of cut out brass

The face plate is made from one piece of polished and lacquered brass with an overlaid silver plated chapter ring and a date ring behind the face plate. Cast decorative gilt scroll spandrels are screwed onto each corner of the face plate. Due to the high cost of brass, areas of metal have been carefully cut out from behind the chapter ring. This work caused a slight crack in the edge of the plate which was then expertly riveted together at the back. Only the small crack is visible from the front.

The oak case and door with
mahogany cross-banding,
an expert piece of joinery

This case is of dark stained oak with fluted columns on the case and hood, with mahogany cross-banding around the edge of the trunk door. Unfortunately a previous owner has applied a few screws to some parts of the case which must have come loose but these are thankfully not too obvious. Sturdy iron brackets have been inserted inside the case where the base joins the trunk containing the pendulum but these are not visible unless the case door is open. This was probably a wise move as the mechanism and iron weights are exceedingly heavy and had obviously been placing pressure on the old and now creaky oak case. Upon opening the case door one can still perceive a smoky smell which indicates that the clock spent many years in the vicinity of a fireplace.

The etched details "J May 79" which I found under a layer
of grime on the rear of the face plate. While it looks like "99"
 in the image it is definitely "79"

Since purchase at auction in the year 2000, I always believed  the design of the clock and brass face to be commensurate with the period circa 1760 to 1790. But while once having removed the brass face plate in order to clean the mechanism, I could just, under two centuries of grime and in a good light, make out some unusual scratches on a back bottom edge of the plate. After carefully polishing this area to get a clearer view, I could then make out the details "J  May 79" etched in scrolling copperplate. This therefore usefully confirms that the brass face plate itself was manufactured in May 1779 by someone with the initials "J". The dial, which is in Roman numerals as well as numbers, includes a subsidiary second hand and a date aperture which moves every 24 hours. The weights are of lead suspended by catgut (fibre) cables.

The remains of Old St Chad's Church with
the cemeteryin the foreground.
[Source : Darwin Country]

Thomas Woodruff married his wife Ann sometime prior to 1767 and went on to have nine children. He died on the 5th October 1801, aged 65 years, and is buried at "St Chad's". This could be the church yard adjoining the new St Chad's Church built in 1792 or in the grounds of what remained of the old St Chad's Church which largely collapsed in 1788. The latter would likely have been used if there had been an old family burial plot. I walked around the new churchyard in 2003 but there was no sign of a named gravestone. Surprisingly, his wife Ann lived on for a further 54 years and died as late as 1855 aged 99 years, being buried in the Abbey Cemetery beside Shrewsbury Abbey. This area is now known as Abbey Foregate. There is no evidence that a family member continued the clock and watch making business.

Clock cleaning and re-oiling
After 236 years this longcase clock still usefully serves the purpose for which it was designed, complete with an exceedingly loud bell strike. With care and attention there is no reason why it should not serve another 200 plus years. While some reproduction parts are available and re-bushing presents no problem, qualified clockmakers are unfortunately becoming fewer as the years roll on. It is truly a highly skilled occupation. Values appear to have dropped over recent years and it probably now has a value of around NZD$3,000 to $4,000 But I am still fascinated at such an old mechanical object still going strong after so many years and generations, a credit to the original maker.

Sources :

- "Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World" by GH Baillie, 1929
- "Shropshire Clock & Watchmakers" by DJ Elliot, 1979

My thanks to a very helpful antique dealer (I have unfortunately, in the passage of time, lost his name) in Wyle Cop who, in 2000, provided me with the information quoted from "Shropshire Clock and Watchmakers" and even went down the street and took a photo of Wyle Cop for me.

Copyright : Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied for personal use provided this site is acknowledged. Thank you.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

A Collection of Old Scottish Ploughing Match Prize Medals

A Ploughing Match Medal presented by the Highland
and Agricultural Society of Scotland to John Watson,
of 'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1869

Back in 19th century Scotland my Great Grandfather John Watson of Dalserf Parish in the County of Lanark, regularly entered and later judged local and regional ploughing competitions. These were - and still are - a popular and keenly competed for event on the annual farming calendar.

Ploughing Match Medal won by John Watson,
'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1867

His success at these competitions can be gauged from the beautifully detailed and engraved silver and gold medals he won and which I now hold. More recently, digitised newspapers have provided interesting reports of these self same events.

"Given By His Grace The Duke of Hamilton" -
Reverse of Ploughing Match Medal won by
John Watson, 'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1867

John Watson would have learnt the skilled art of ploughing under the expert tutelage of his father Thomas who had himself judged competitions from at least 1849 so I can safely assume the latter had himself successfully competed in earlier years to have earned this singular honour. Thomas also appears to have passed on his ploughing skills to his "farm servant" Dougal McArter who I note gained a first placing in the senior class at the 1864 competitions.

John Watson, of 'Muirhead' and
'Candermains", Dalserf, taken c.1875

The plough John used would have been a typical single furrow two-handled wooden or iron plough pulled by two solidly built Scottish Clydesdale horses especially bred for such work, their leather “collars” being stuffed with straw. The ploughman would walk behind directing the horses by holding the reins.

Ploughing a field in Scotland using a hand held plough
[Source : KC Martin : Scotland - Vintage

My own father, who worked Clydesdale draught horses for close to 25 years, had an enduring respect for these intelligent animals and they apparently needed very little direction. I can still recall the old collars hanging in the then disused and empty stables, worn from many years of hard toil.

"Presented by Robt. Wotherspoon Esq. of Overdalserf
Colliery to the Dalserf Agricultural Society Senior Class"
- A large Ploughing Match Medal in a presentation box,
being won by John Watson of 'Muirhead', Dalserf,
Scotland, January 1869.

Ploughing with draught horses and a hand held plough required considerable skill, and as newspaper reports of these competitions noted, the state of the field and how this was handled was also critical to the final result.

Ploughing Match Medal won by John Watson. 'Muirhead' 1869
"Given By His Grace The Duke of Hamilton To The
Blantyre and Cambuslang Agricultural Society"

Although not part of the ploughing competitions, the resultant turned field would normally then be gone over with a pronged grubber to break up the sods then smoothed over with a spiked harrow, again pulled by a Clydesdale horse(s). After hand sowing of seed the field would be harrowed again to work the seed into the soil.

Ploughing Match Medal presented by the Highland 
and Agricultural Society of Scotland to John Watson, 
'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1869

Many farmers, my own family included, often employed "ploughmen" who were obviously respected for their hard work and skill. This is evident by three 1870's named carte-de-visite photos of ploughmen on the Letham family farm at East Mains in Stonehouse Parish being placed together in the family photo album. Not that long ago I was even able to provide one descendant with a copy of one of these old photos.

East Mains Ploughmen, Stonehouse, c.1881
(L to R) : Charles Harvey, James Hutson (upper),
James Hamilton.

But returning to the ploughing competitions. I note that John Watson won ploughing medals from 1867 through to 1869 and by 1875 was himself now also judging competitions. The last reference to his now elderly father Thomas judging competitions is in 1874 so the 'mantle' appears to have then seamlessly passed from Father to Son. To avoid any possible hint of nepotism it should be noted that three respected judges were nominated to jointly judge each of these ploughing competitions.

"Dalserf Ploughing Match Medal" -
An engraved gold boxed Medal
awarded to John Watson  of
'Muirhead', Dalserf, circa 1867-69

Around 1901 John's own son, William Watson, won a further two silver medals in the "Junior Ploughman" class, most likely at the "Dalserf Agricultural Society" competitions as His Grace, The Duke of Hamilton, donated the medals.

Silver Ploughing Match Medal awarded to
William Watson of Candermains, Dalserf,
Scotland, circa 1900

Thus three generations of my family competed in ploughing competitions with two generations additionally having the honour of taking part in judging. These beautifully engraved silver medals (there are actually as many as seven in total) today continue to commemorate and affirm their achievements and are now treasured heirlooms.

My Great Uncle Thomas Watson ploughing with a two
furrow plough pulled by a team of four draught horses, c.1909

Of the three Watson family generations featured in this Blog, Thomas Watson died at 'Muirhead' farm, Dalserf Scotland in 1881 aged 70, his son John Watson at Heddon Bush, New Zealand in 1912 aged 65, and his own son William Watson (my Great Uncle) died as the result of an accident on the family farm at Heddon Bush in 1914, aged 30 years.

A later Blog will feature my Horse Showing medals, another keenly competed for event!

Copyright : Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied for non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged, thank you.

Sources :

- Watson family artefacts and photographs in my possession
- Letham family photographs in my possession
- "The Watson Family Annals - The Story of the Watson Family of Lanarkshire Scotland and Heddon Bush New Zealand", by the writer, published 2014
- "The Glasgow Herald" (The British Newspaper Archive)
- "The Hamilton Advertiser" (The British Newspaper Archive)

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Identifying and Exploring an 1860's Era School Photograph

Crossford School and Children,
Lanarkshire, Scotland, c.1866-68
[From my own collection]

A Short Preface :

In my former 'life' as a Photographic Archivist I took great pride in correctly identifying, dating and naming old photographs, usually with a reasonably high degree of accuracy. The knowledge I gained over many years, including applying a very thorough and systematic approach to this process, has also helped me solve many mysteries relating to my own family collection of not only photographs but also of memorabilia. My methodology in regards to the latter will form the subject of a future blog.

So, let me share with you one previously unidentified and undated but absolutely fascinating image which had always intrigued me. My hope is also that by highlighting this quite historic photograph others may be able to add to what I have uncovered.

The date "1862" appearing on the lintel

Establishing the Subject Content :

Obviously a school group, and the teachers and children are dressed in typical 1860's to 1870's style clothing. The date of  "1862" appears over the lintel while the photographer is "Wm. Birrell, Hamilton [Scotland]". There is a very high stone fence built to the left which indicates a neighbouring property. There is no location noted nor any mark or stamp on the rear of the photograph, being a 113mm by 65mm "carte-de-visite" format image.

William Birrell's accidental fingerprint. This was most
likely placed on the glass negative during processing.

The Photographic Process as a Guide to Dating :

Birrell would almost certainly have used the "collodion emulsion" process invented in 1864. This involved sensitising the glass plate by coating one side in liquid collodion in a travelling or portable darkroom, placing it in the camera in darkness, exposing the plate to the image for a set time based on the perceived amount of ambient light (usually just a few seconds), then developing and fixing the plate back in his portable darkroom. This whole process would have to take no more than about 10 to 12 minutes otherwise the emulsion coating on the plate could completely dry out and ruin the latent image. Due to the relatively slow exposure time a few blurred faces are evident.

The Colodion "wet plate" photographic process used prior to 1864 required that the glass plate be first placed in a sensitising bath before exposure. This was a messy process and additionally gave unreliable results so was less suitable for field use.

Crossford Village with the River Clyde, pre 1911
[From my own collection]

Establishing the Area :

This was the longest process. As the photographer was based in Hamilton the image would need to have been taken within a radius of say 30 kilometers south to south west of Hamilton (as other photographers would be prevalent in other directions with larger towns).  

My family were resident just to the north of Stonehouse which led me at first to think this could be Draffan school which their children attended from around the late 1850's onwards (noted in family records), Stonehouse itself, or perhaps even Dalserf (where they attended church). On closer examination however, I noted a faint but distinct ridge line evident behind the school building. The aspect of the photograph would be facing north and this would fit with it being taken somewhere along the Clyde River valley, but where exactly? Searching modern Google street view, not surprisingly, proved fruitless. The Low Parks Museum in Hamilton were unable to provide any information as to the location of this image.

Crossford School Teachers and Children, c.1866-68
[From my own collection]

Searching Old Newspapers and Books :

According to "The British Newspaper Archive", William Birrell, "Photographic Artist", is noted as being active in Hamilton from as early as April 1867. A further mention in the "Journal of Photography" dated the 26th January 1877 (per Google Books) notes that Birrell was awarded a bronze medal for "his automatic ozyhydrogen apparatus".  So we have a date range of at least circa 1867 to on or after 1877.

Searching scanned newspapers for the date 1862 (the lintel date) in relation to schools also proved fruitless.

Panoramic View of Crossford School Children, c.1866-68
Click Image for Larger View
[From my own collection]

Establishing a Precise Date :

Firstly, we know that the process of Carte-de-Visite (CDV) format photographs was patented by the Frenchman André Disdéri in 1854. The format came into widespread use from 1859. I believe, as previously stated, that Birrell used a reasonably portable photographic process invented in 1864.

The date on the lintel reads "1862" and the lintel surround itself appears slightly discoloured or weathered. We know at least that the image is definitely dated after 1862.

"Wm. Birrell, Photo, Hamilton"
[From my own collection]

An excellent photographic dating site, "Glasgow's Victorian Photographers", which includes many examples, highlights CDV's with text appearing on the front of the image in a "fine, black font" as dating from 1864, give or take a couple of years. I would agree that, based on other images in my possession, this date range is entirely correct. The reverse of the CDV is blank.  

The style of clothing fits with the period 1860's into the 1870's.

Therefore, in my opinion, we have a date of perhaps anytime from say 1864 at the earliest to 1870 at the very latest. Old CDV cards could still have been used by Birrell till stocks were exhausted. So let's say 1866 to 1868. I doubt that we will ever get an absolutely exact date for this photo.

The Main Street, Crossford, pre 1910
[From my own collection]

Confirming the Location :

This proved the most difficult exercise. Ultimately I felt sure that it would have been taken either at Dalserf or Crossford as these two villages had strong family connections, even if no children attended schools there. I soon discounted Dalserf as not having the correct aspect with the low hill in the background. This left Crossford but no current building even faintly resembled this school building. The ridge line at the back does however almost perfectly match the old photo.

Ordnance Survey Book Entry for Crossford School, 1858-61
[Source : Scotland's People]

So What Schools Were There in Crossford in the 1860's? : 

The "Ordnance Survey Name Book" records, which are available on "Scotland's Places", makes mention in 1858-61 of (only) one school in Crossford, "a district school in receipt of £16 from the Government [...] educational fund and the fees of about 100 pupils. The usual branches[?] taught. One storey slated in good repair". While this fits perfectly with the style of building and the number of pupils evident in the photo our school has the now enigmatic date of 1862 on the lintel.

The published "Report of the Committee of Council on Education" for 1868-69 (being schools aided by Parliamentary grants), which is available on Google Books, lists the Crossford School as being an undenominational school funded by "Subscription", having an average attendance of  89 pupils, and being paid an annual Government grant of £15.0.0 (the same as the 1865-66 year but then with 84 pupils)

Interestingly, education for all children was not compulsory until the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872, all schools originally being parochial or church funded. From 1830 the Government provided grants towards "Building, enlargement, improvements, or fixtures" and from 1846 (subject to annual inspections) provided an annual grant subsidy based on attendance numbers.

I have checked the Parliamentary grants for the financial years 1858 to 1862 and there is no mention of a grant for the Crossford school building. Unfortunately, and perhaps crucially, there is no available record for the 1862 to 1863 year.

The 1858 Ordnance Survey Map of Crossford
showing the "footprint" of the school next
to the United Presbyterian Chgrch
[Source : National Library of Scotland]

I next consulted the "Ordnance Survey Maps" which are available from the National Library of Scotland. A building matching the exact 'footprint' of the school - and in fact marked "School" - appears on the 1858 map (published in 1864) next to the old (and now recently demolished?) United Presbyterian Church (later the United Free Presbyterian Church) on the corner of Main Street and the present day Smuggler's Brig Road in Crossford.  As with the old photo the building is built right up to the left boundary of the property. 

The 1911 Ordnance Survey map crucially shows this building with the same footprint but now marked as a "reading room". Smuggler's Brig Road was obviously formed at a later date with the property adjoining the old school property being demolished. The Church itself closed in 1913 when an amalgamation took place.

"Reading Room"
Ordnance Survey Map, 1911
[Source : National Library of Scotland]

But on Google Street View today what we see on this site is the Crossford Village Hall, an older styled building with a completely different footprint. It would now appear that post 1911 the old school building / reading room was dismantled and replaced with the current hall which appears to have subsequently also been built onto. But interestingly, part of a low capped stone wall is still visible to the right of the building and can just about be discerned in the 1860's photo.

Crossford Village Hall which now
occupies the site of the old 1862 school
[Source : Google Streetview, 2011]

School & School Board Records :

The South Lanarkshire Council Archives have confirmed that they do not hold any relevant records (eg admission registers, log books or minute books) for the old Crossford School. 

Approval was given by the Lesmahagow School Board (which oversaw Crossford) to "enlarge" the Crossford School in 1873. We know the school building was definitely vacated before 1911 as it was then a reading room. 

I do note a cryptic and rather caustic letter from "An Elector" published in "The Glasgow Herald" dated April 1876. The writer decries the decision to appoint a new candidate to the Lesmahagow School Board (which oversaw Crossford School) simply in order to overturn a decision which had been "arrived at after great trouble and anxiety" and emphasizes that "...the site of the Crossford School, near Underwood, has been sanctioned by the Government, the title-deeds made out, and, in fact the whole matter irrevocably settled." I cannot locate any further reference to this disagreement. The first actual published reference I can find to "Underbank School" at Crossford is in 1897.

The (second) school building still exists as upmarket flats on Lanark Road at Underbank and, according to a real estate site, dates from the 1870's. No foundation stone is noted.  

But the present day Underbank Primary School did not open until as late as 1925, new school plans being considered by the Education Board as early as 1915.

Some minute books, letter books and ledger books do exist for the Lesmahagow School Board. These are held by the Glasgow City Archives but only commence in 1873 and end in 1919.

Crossford United Presbyterian Church, circa 1903
The arrows confirm the location of the old school.
[Image courtesy of Hugh Miller and
"Lost Houses of the Clyde Valley"] 

Period Photographs :

While I have not located any other images of the old school building I have, just in the last couple of days, discovered (with thanks to Hugh Miller, a local historian) an old postcard image which crucially does show the immediate area and entrance to the old school. This is a circa 1903 tinted postcard of the then United Presbyterian Church and adjoining cottages on the main street. Although only the stone fence, gap in the fence for the entrance. iron railing and two chimney pieces of the old school are visible this still confirms beyond any doubt whatsoever that we have the correct location for my image. You can also see the previously mentioned low stone fence adjoining the church, part of which remains today.

The First or Second Crossford School? :

We know with absolute certainty that the school building, being the subject of this blog, was built or enlarged in 1862 (confirmed by date on lintel), closed and moved to a second school building at Underbank very soon after 1876 (confirmed from published sources), then also closed and moved to a third new combined district Primary School building also in Underbank just down the road in 1925 (date confirmed by the school).

While the 1858 Ordnance Survey record (noted above) alludes to an existing one story slated school in good repair later Ordnance Survey maps show the school building in the same location and position as my photo. So it would appear that the existing school building was only partially rebuilt in 1862. It is unfortunate that published records do not record the scope of the 1862 rebuilding but we do now know the site and 'footprint' is the same as for the pre 1862 school and possibly included much of the fabric of the previous school building which even in 1858-61 was "in good repair".

Old land title records held by "Registers of Scotland" or Sasine records held by the National Records of Scotland would presumably show how long the original school had been on this site. A locally supported school would have existed for many years, most likely under the aegis of local heritors or churches and latterly receiving the previously mentioned Government grant. A school at Crossford is not specifically mentioned in the 1791-99 or 1834 "Statistical Accounts" for Lesmahagow Parish but this is not to say that one didn't exist.

How Did I Come By This Image? :

My great great uncle John Watson and his wife Margaret née Frame ran the grocery shop in Crossford from at least 1858 to 1883 but had no children of their own. Their grandfather clock, which I know hold, is featured Here and I or my family own other small items which belonged to them. Margaret was extremely close to her own family who ran the local smithy and who lived just next door or boarded with them. The Frame family had school age children so John and Margaret Watson may have obtained or were given a copy of the photo. But they would also have known many of the local children who attended the school.

Summary :

My photo now appears to be the first identified image of the old Crossford School and pupils. This is a wonderful and possibly unique "snapshot" of all school age children from the Crossford area during the mid to late 1860's.

My hope is that other images of this school, which evidently closed in the late 1870's, may be found or be identified. It would also not be difficult to at least ascertain the teacher's name(s) from 1871 census records if anyone is able to access these records?  

Please contact me should you have any additional information relating to the (1862) Crossford Primary School, or better still, any old photographs or postcards. My contact email appears in the box in the right hand menu bar or you can add a comment to this Blog.

Copyright :

Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied for personal, non-profit or academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Other images will require the permission of the image holder.

Sources :

- Watson family photographs and ephemera (held by the writer)
- "The British Newspaper Archive" website
- "The Glasgow Herald" (Google Newspapers)
- "Glasgow's Victorian Photographer's" website
- "Edina" - The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791 - 1845 
- "Scotland's People" website
- "Scotland's Places" website
- Hugh Miller, Lanarkshire
- "Lost Houses of the Clyde Valley" (Facebook site)
- South Lanarkshire Council Archives
- Glasgow City Archives

Tuesday 2 February 2016

A (Very) Peripatetic Letter

A "wandering" letter, posted from Vancouver
in Canada on the 9th June 1909
[From my own collection]

During the period 1907 to 1910 my Grandfather, William Dykes (1880 - 1971), served as 3rd Engineer then as Chief Engineer on the new cargo vessel "S.S. Otterburn" and led a most interesting seafaring life circumnavigating the world as his vessel came under charter to various companies during this period. 

While these voyages, which included the new wonder of wireless communication to direct them to their next port of call (courtesy of an American battleship), are fascinating in their own right and will feature in a future Blog, a letter posted to him from Canada is also of great interest from a philatelic perspective.

The Wight Family children of
1235 Keefer Street, Vancouver, c.1909.
Tom, John, Margaret (later Mrs Gillette)
& Grizel (later Mrs Coote).
[From my own collection]

Posted by a family friend, Mrs Wight of 1235 Keefer Street, Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, it was addressed to my Grandfather, "Mr Wm. Dykes, c/- the "S.S. Otterburn" at Newcastle, NSW, [Australia]". I would imagine that my Grandfather had written to her before the ship left Californian waters for Australia. 

The reverse of  "wandering" letter, posted from
in Canada on the 9th June 1909
[From my own collection]

So, let us follow the progress of this amazingly peripatetic [wandering] letter :

Vancouver B.C. Canada to Newcastle N.S.W. Australia

[Postmark] : Vancouver B.C. (British Columbia Canada) 9th June 1909

[Postmark] "Newcastle N.S.W. (Australia) 12th July 1909

[Redirected to] "Wallsend Coal Company (Newcastle N.S.W. Australia)"

[Postmark] : Newcastle N.S.W. 27th July 1909

Newcastle N.S.W. to Sydney N.S.W. Australia

[Line Postmark] : Sydney Australia 27th July 1909

Sydney N.S.W. Australia to Manilla, Philippines

[Redirected to] : c/o Macondray & Co, Manila Philippines

[Postmark] : Manila, Philippines, 17th Aug 1909  

Manila Philippines to Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan

[Redirected to] : Muroran Japan

[Redirected to] : Niv….orna, Japan [Muroran, Hokkaido]

[Postmark] : Japan  [illegible] 30th 8[?] 1909

Muroran Japan to Manzanillo Mexico

[Postmark] : Nuova Laredo, Tam [Tamaulipas], Mexico 30th Sept 1909

[Redirected to] : Mansauico[?], Mexico

[Postmark] Aomor De Correos, Manzanillo Col[Colima Mexico] 4th Oct 1909

[Rubber Stamp] : LIS, Manzanillo, Col[Colima Mexico]  

[Postmark] : Aomor De Correos, Manzanillo Col[Colima Mexico] 10th Feb 1910

[Rubber Stamp] : Direction General De Correos, Departamento De Rezagos, Servicio International, Mexico, 15th Feb 1910

Manzanillo Mexico to Ottawa Canada

[Rubber stamp] : Dead Letter Office, Ottawa, Canada, 23rd June 1910

Ottawa to Vancouver Canada 

Letter then assumed to them have been returned to Vancouver as undeliverable.

The route of the wandering letter across the vast
Pacific Ocean and the North American Continent

By this stage I am considerably surprised that the various postal services could even make sense of the intended destination. As to how my Grandfather actually received the letter I am strongly assuming that the letter within the envelope included the sender's address and was returned to them in Vancouver by the Dead Letter Office in Ottawa. Once the Wight family established that my Grandfather had returned to Scotland (in February 1910) they must then have sent him the envelope as an interesting "souvenir" of his world travels. 

This is certainly a well travelled letter and a very interesting and unusual piece of postal history. A two cent Canadian stamp proved very good value for the distance travelled, even if the letter did not catch up with its intended recipient. 

Sources :

- Dykes family papers (held by the writer)