Maria has at last found her safe haven. She remains with the Dennistoun-Hamilton family for the rest of her working life, bringing up the two girls until they are of marriageable age, treated almost as one of the family.
For the first few years when Eva and Beryl are small Maria stays with them almost continuously. The Hamilton family usually spend summer holidays sailing and the winter in London, where they take a fine house for the season in Kensington. Addresses such as Princes Gate, Queen’s Gate and Queensberry Place all appear at the top of Maria’s letters over the years. Maria shepherds the two young girls on the train from Scotland to London as she describes in one brief undated letter to her mother from 43 Princes Gate:
I am sure you will feel thankful to know that we arrived here quite safe last night at a quarter to eleven. We left Golf Hill (the home of Alexander Dennistoun near Glasgow) at 9 in the morning, so we had a long day in the train, but the children were very good and we had a very pleasant journey. Baby is just asking who I am writing to and I told her, so she has sent 5 kisses and 5 loves to my Mother and a thousand kisses and a thousand loves to my little boy.
I have no time to say more, as I am busy unpacking and very tired, but very thankful that providence has brought me to my native land once more in peace and safety.
By January 1868 Maria hasn’t seen her son or mother for 9 months. She is writing from 64 Princes Gate to Jimmy on the 22nd for his 11th birthday the following day:
I trust this will find you in good health on your eleventh birthday. 11 years old, only think, you will soon grow up I do hope a good boy and, if you do, you will no doubt grow up a good man. I have sent you a British (illegible) again this year, as I believe from what I hear, you are trying to improve yourself and I hope you will like it and try and imitate the good men you read about, and be kind to animals, for they are God’s creatures as much as we. And I do hope you ask God to help you every day. Remember you are God’s servant as much as the King on his throne, and if you serve him faithfully here, you will wear a crown of Glory in eternity hereafter. And let me beg you to go to school as much as you can, both night and Sunday school and Church too. And if you try to do right, God will help you and bless you. And be careful not to tell a lie, nor be saucy to any one. Never mind about being laughed at if you are trying to do what is right. And be kind to your dear Grandmother and Isaac, and think of what they have done for you. And if you can do any thing to help them, do it cheerfully. You will then show at least that you love them and are willing to do all that lies in your power to repay them and it will comfort me very much if you do so.
I have not seen you now, nor your dear Grandmother, for 9 long months and I fear it will be a long time before I shall see you again, so that it will be a great comfort to know that you are trying to be good.
Maria sees some sights and goes to concerts in London. She writes this from Queensberry Place in the 1870s:
I went out in the Carriage yesterday morning and saw the procession beautifully. We left at quarter past nine in the morning and did not get back till two, but met with no accident, thank God, and did not take cold. The children enjoyed it very much, although it was snowing. The royal party were in open carriages drawn by six horses each. The streets were lined with Soldiers. The Queen (Victoria) was looking very well and the Duchess pleasant but tired.
In the 1880s Maria sees Adelina Patti at the Royal Albert Hall:
I enjoyed myself very much at the Albert Hall. It was an Oratorio, “Israel in Egypt” (Handel). There was the great organ and a band of musicians with string and brass instruments and 3 drums and 400 singers, yet in that vast hall it was not a bit too much. It began with the words, “there arose another king in Egypt which knew not Joseph” and ended with the song of Miriam. The horse and his rider had (to) be thrown into the sea. Madame Patti (Adelina Patti, who was in her prime in the 1870s and 1880s) sang the solo “their land brought forth frogs even in their king’s chambers”, but what I thought most fine was the bass and tenor, singing “the Lord is a man of war, the Lord of Hosts is his name and he gave them hailstones for rain and flames of fire in their lands”. One tenor sang “the enemy said I will prevail, I will divide the spoils”. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed it very much. It lasted 2 hours and a half.
Maria explores Scotland too, as Constance Hamilton, who is fond of Maria and good to her, pays for her to go on excursions, as in this letter to her mother from 16th July 1868:
They (the adults in the family) went last Tuesday for a tour in the Highlands, and in the meantime I and the dear Children are with their Grandmama (the old Lady that engaged me at Torquay), (Frances Onslow Dennistoun) and of course she cannot be kind enough, since I have turned out so satisfactory. I expect them to be away a fortnight.
I am going on an excursion next week if all is well, to see some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, the Mountain called Ben Lomond and its Loch or Water called Loch Lomond. It’s at my mistress’s expense. She very kindly paid me my wages before she went away, so please tell me in your next what my boy wants, and I will send the money.
Maria writes to her mother once or twice a month and once or twice a year to Jimmy himself. To her mother she sends money for Jimmy’s keep, unwanted clothes that have been passed on by the family to be altered for him, and words of advice or remedies, such as this one for her step-father Isaac:
If Isaac should be troubled with rheumatics again, wrap it up in Archangel Tar*, that they use for sheep, when he goes to bed. Our cook had been treated for months with it and the Doctor could do nothing for her, and an old woman advised her to do it and the second night she did it, she was completely cured. Just spread it on with a knife like Treacle and wrap it up in an old gown tail or something to keep it from the sheets.
This remedy evidently worked as Maria says to her mother some months later on 19th October 1868:
I am truly glad to hear Isaac’s arm is better and could persuade him to persevere in the Tar.
Next blog we will see what happens when Maria goes sailing.
*Pinewood tar, called Stockholm or Archangel tar has a long history as a wood preservative, as a wood sealant for maritime use, in roofing construction and maintenance, in soaps and in the treatment of carbuncles and skin diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.