Sunday, June 25, 2017

Newspapers and Postage. Rambling Recollections of My Schools and School Days

Article XVII written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 17 Nov 1881 – Part C


"I referred to the library in connection with the school, as the only literature we had within our reach. Newspapers in those days were a rarity in the far north. The John O’Groat Journal and the Northern Star, if I remember right came into existence about the time I allude to, the one published in Wick where it still flourishes, the other, I think, in Thurso. They were both diminutive sheets, perhaps about 12 inches by 10, so far as I can recollect. Then the Northern Ensign came into life, and I need not say still flourishes prosperously. The price of these papers at the time was 3d, I think, and I believe the postage for one of them would cost as much as the price of the paper."


"There was no penny post at that time, and the rate of the postage was very high. A letter from Helmsdale to Berriedale, or Badbea, which was only one stage, cost 4 1/2d. A letter from Edinburgh was 1s 1d, and letters to Canada cost 2s 6d. There was this advantage, if advantage it could be called, there was no rule as to prepayment, and no difference in the rate whether prepaid or not."

My Comments:

As Alexander Gunn tells us, in the1830s postal rates in Great Britain were very high. At the time it was usual for the recipient to pay postage on delivery, charged by the sheet and distance travelled. In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill proposed an overhaul of the postage system using a glued stamp to show pre-payment of postage. It was first issued on 1 May 1840 and featured a picture of Queen Victoria. The ‘Penny Black’ allowed letters of up to ½ ounce to be delivered at the rate of one penny regardless of distance.

The Grey Hen’s Well was the place Badbea letters were collected and posted from. I doubt most of the Badbea residents could afford to post letters but John Badbea Sutherland received some financial gifts from Christians he corresponded with and over several decades he both wrote and received many letters. The earliest I have a transcription of is 12 July 1838.

See my blogs on August 18 2014 and July 15 2015 for more on the postal services and John’s letters.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Boy’s Quarrels - Rambling Recollections of My School and School Days

Article XVII written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 17 November 1881 – Part B

The route along the coast from Badbea to Berriedale. The school was just below the Berriedale cemetery

Frequent Rows

"There were frequent little “rows” between us boys on our way to school. The long road we had to travel (four miles), tended a little in that direction, and these squabbles sometimes ended up in a stand-up fight. One of our Badbea boys was constantly on my top, and many a sound thrashing he gave me; but while I well knew that it would end in my defeat, I never shrank from facing him, nor showed the white feather." 

A white feather on stinging nettle. A white feather was a traditional symbol of cowardice. 


"This state of matters went on for years, but one day as we were returning from school, he again picked a quarrel with me. We were just at the top of the Berriedale brae, and we turned down off the road to a bit of short smooth heather, and went at it full tilt, when, to my great delight and his evident surprise, I came off victor. This settled matters for some time, but, as of determined not to be beat, he picked a quarrel with me once more. This time I came off victor with greater ease than the first time. After this we were the best of friends, and quarrelled and fought no more."

Boys Quarrels

"While we fought amongst ourselves pretty frequently, as boys will do, we always made up matters among ourselves, and neither parents nor master knew anything about our differences. So much was this the case, that we were referred to by the master as the best behaved boys under his charge, and less complained of by the public on our way to and from school than the others. We took a pride in this and sought in every way we could to keep up our good name. Our quarrels were but boys’ quarrels, and when they were ended, we were as if they had never occurred."

Gunn tells us elsewhere that the boys wore kilts to school in Auchencraig but they may have worn homespun clothes to Berriedale school like these boys from St Kilda.

My Comments:

According to Wikipedia a white feather has been a traditional symbol of cowardice, used and recognised especially in the British Army since the 18th century. It was used by some patriotic groups in order to shame men who were not soldiers. The white feather supposedly comes from cockfighting and the belief that a cockerel sporting a white feather in its tail is likely to be a poor fighter. 

I am not going to try to figure out what was going on in these fights. Looks like a case of bullying which would be hard to condone. But Alexander Gunn was charitable enough many years later to almost shrug off the beatings he received at the hand of a bigger boy especially as Gunn was the victor in the end. Gunn suggests it was boys being boys. 

It certainly doesn’t seem as though the classroom and home teachings of the Bible and the Shorter Catechism with their emphasis on “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” did much to curtail the fights the boys had. Anyway the very real business of being soldiers and fighting for the crown was part of the fabric of their lives. Alexander’s grandfather was press-ganged and forced to enlist and his father was in the Aberdeenshire Militia at the time of his marriage to Marion. Alexander Gunn went on to become a policeman enforcing law and order.