More like, what haven't we been up to? A huge sense of exhaustion keeps washing over us like a wave, as we struggle to keep up with all the needs of the island and our visitors and ourselves at the height of the Season...the last two weeks have been non-stop cake-baking, dog-walking, piglet-feeding, midge-cursing, whale-watching (someone's got to do it...), gardening, cooking, entertaining, organising and planning for what comes next. There's a sense that there is no time at all to stop and think, which is hard when you need to process so much. But also a sense that lots of things are happening, which is a Good Thing. Who would have thought this time last year, that I would not only be tea-shopping and archiving but also helping to resurrect the library service and organising a revamp of the community hall? Not me. I would never have imagined having the guts to do any of it. It would be very exciting...if I didn't just want to lie down and have a nap.
Never mind! Onwards! There are more archive stories to be told...
I am continuing with my research, and have been archiving letters, photographs and notes. It looks at the moment as though most of the correspondence saved is with the factor, R. Wallace Brebner, rather than with George and Monica themselves. But this throws a fascinating light on everyday life on Rum at the time, the practical issues people dealt with and - last but not least - why the deer went missing.
Telling our lovely visitor, Andrea, about the archive, I came across another folder of letters. Frustratingly, many of these obviously belong with the first set of letters I catalogued, but for some reason have been put randomly into plastic wallets and juggled about by someone in more recent times. Still, at least they've been saved. Once I get the new acid-free folders, I can start to put the correspondence in order...then we will know just when and how boilers were ordered, accounts were audited, cars were insured and deer were put on the train...Oh, on second thoughts it's far more fun doing it this way...
So, you may remember that last time, there were mysterious complaints about the L&NER (London & North Eastern Railway) having muddled up the deer and not sent them properly. I was intrigued as to what had happened. What did a railway line and Sir George's deer have to do with each other? Well, now all is revealed.
It appears that George regularly purchased new deer to top up his stock on Rum, and what's more, he didn't buy them from another Scottish landlord. The deer came from Sussex, from an estate owned by Charles Lucas at Warnham Court, Horsham. He had been supplying deer to Rum since at least 1926, when in February he wrote to Brebner confirming that he would send six stags and two hinds to Rum in September. This would cost Sir George just £96; "and I will see that he has good, strong and promising young beasts", writes Lucas. Later that year, in August, it appears that Sir George orders six more hinds, so that a total of six stags and eight hinds would be sent up to Mallaig in September. "The stationmaster has the matter of train arrangements in hand," writes Lucas, and we learn that all the deer "will be available for despatch in one large covered van from Horsham through to Mallaig per passenger train."
While this may seem like a long and hazardous journey, it's nothing to what other deer have to go through. Lucas writes that Brebner and Sir George need not worry about the transport, as the deer from his estate have been so much in demand that they sent 72 deer away the previous year, of which 30 went to India! And two - he mentions casually - to Sandringham; so he was supplying royalty too. But if you think India is a long way, "We have sent over forty deer to New Zealand over the past fifteen years or so." What could possibly go wrong?
In 1929, however, the mishap with the L&NER occurs. Luckily, the deer merely arrive late: "As I thought the fault lies with the L&NER people at King's Cross in not sending the van containing the deer by the service arranged as promised..." He advises Brebner to seek compensation, "I do think that you will insist upon full satisfaction." Hopefully the deer were not too traumatised by their extra wait at King's Cross Station; where did they put them, I wonder?
Naturally, where there is a shooting estate there are also DOGS, and we learn that in 1921, Brebner was seeking to purchase pointers and setters to assist with the stalking, this time exchanging letters with "The Cornwallis Kennel of Gun-Dogs" in Banffshire, "the property of Capt. R.B. Ricketts". Rodney Ricketts writes enthusiastically to Brebner that he can offer him an excellent choice of dogs: "Grouse" and "Bruce", two English setter dogs ("Both expremely [sic] good looking specimens and know their job"), "Hughie" and "Shot", black and white and liver and white setters ("Splendid workers and from a good strain") or "Pat" and "Jock", Irish setter dogs. Pat is "an exceptionally good looking dog and a tireless worker", although Ricketts clearly has some worries about Jock: "[He] should not be judged by his age (6 yrs) as he can do a days work on the moor with any dog, has a splendid nose, ranges a nice pace quartering his ground well and is perfectly steady and staunch." But eventually Brebner decides on Hughie and Shot - just in time as someone else has offered for Hughie, and so Ricketts cunningly ups his price "I cannot accept less than 25 gns [guineas] for him as this is the definite offer I have waiting." We shall probably never know what happened to poor Jock...
Throughout the 1920s it seems the estate continued to flourish, with new deer (and dogs) being purchased, the amazing boiler and new radiator system being installed in 1924 (the one we still have today!) and a variety of exciting new purchases for the house being made, including a "Frigidaire" in 1928. Yet, by 1930 Sir George is looking to let the whole island; a tenant is sought by his agents in Edinburgh, but despite some interest from the Duke of Leinster, eventually no-one is found who is prepared to pay the £3,000 asked for. A Mr Bowlby writes in August that he knows someone who wants "a shoot", but "he is anxious to have a place where there are grouse, & that is what brought me over." The friend thinks there are not enough grouse on Rum, so Bowlby went away again; not before he reminisces fondly, "I remember the excellent sport we had in 1891 and 1892 in Rhum, and am sorry to have heard that grouse have now almost disappeared." Other concerns of potential tenants may seem familiar; the agent sends Brebner a list of questions from clients which include:
"1. How often are letters received? Is there a daily mail?...3. Is there a Doctor on the Island? If not, where is the nearest?..."5. What roads are there on the Island?"
Ah, yes...some things never change. And in the light of recent discussions about the Calmac not bringing our fuel over due to there being too many passengers on board (a source of great controversy at the moment, as said passengers don't actually get off the boat and visit Rum, but stay firmly aboard the ferry, thus bringing us no benefits at all, despite all our efforts to attract them), local readers may like to know that certain problems existed in 1924 as well as in 2014:
"Dear Sir. We had a letter this morning from the Station Master at Mallaig Station stating that the Captain of the cargo steamer could not take the boiler and radiators as he was full up with other cargo, and it will be Monday before he calls again."
So rest assured, dear readers; even if you are a millionaire, you can't always get the ferry to deliver your goods on time!