At the end of July 1870 Maria accompanies her two charges, Eva aged 6 and Beryl aged 5, and the rest of the Hamilton family on a six-week sailing holiday around the Hebridean islands off north-west Scotland. First traveling by steamship for 8 hours from the river Clyde to Fort William before joining the Yacht ‘Columbine’. Maria has her first taste of sailing in bad weather during the following weeks, as she writes to her mother on 25 August 1870 from the yacht anchored off Isleornsay (village on the Isle of Skye overlooking the Isle of Ornsay):
You will be thankful to hear that I and all on board are quite well, but we have had fearful weather. Tuesday we left Tobermory in the Island of Mull, but the wind was against us. I never expected I should see such waves. I went on deck about nine and before tea we were every female on board, 7 in number, stretched on the decks in sea sickness. We did indeed feed the fishes. We wanted to get to Skye. Before we had got far, we heard a tremendous crash, and looking up, found the wind had torn our top sail, so we were obliged to reef our mainsail, which caused the vessel to toss very much.
We then put into the first shelter we came to, which was a natural harbour in the Isle of Rum, and rum enough. I thought it was only one house on the Island, belonging to the chief called McLeod, dressed in Highland Kilts. There were a few servant’s huts but no shop of any kind, nor Carpenter. But he was very kind and sent a large basket of Vegetables, fish, Grouse and Venison. We stayed one day just to recover from our sicknesses and yesterday morning weighed anchor to come to this place.
It was blowing hard when we started, but when we got into the open sea, it was a tempest, the sea at times washing clean over the decks, and as we could not get up, we just stopped in our berths the whole day, and the steward had as much as he could do to empty the basins, but we are all well today and it does seem good to be in a calm again.
We are to remain here today to get the sail repaired, and as there are a few houses and a post office, I thought I would embrace the opportunity.
The dear Children love this life and are so good and uncomplaining. I think I have seen the best and worst sides of yachting. It certainly is lovely in fine weather, such wild grand Mountains, and at every turn they seem to break out into fresh beauty. And in stormy weather it is grand in its terrible majesty. The wind comes rolling down the sides of the Mountains and the Yacht, like a thing of life, just mounts up on the crest of the waves and dashes down again into the trough of the sea, and you feel that if it would stop for one moment, you would be quite well.
By the end of September Maria tells her mother:
I have enjoyed it so much and feel so much at home here now that I don’t care to go and live on land again.
Meanwhile back in Chitterne Maria’s son, 13-year-old Jimmy, is about to start a seven-year apprenticeship with Mr Exton of Boreham, Warminster, as a wheelwright. She has some words of advice for her son on 9 December 1870:
I need not tell you how glad and thankful I was to get your welcome letter and to hear that you think you shall like your place. I hope you will and get on well in every sense of the word. It is very good of you to give your Grandmother something regularly. By doing so, you are helping her and me and it is a great comfort to us both, and you may depend upon it, it will not lose its reward.
It’s a great mistake to think a young person will be any the worse off for what they do for their parents. As well may you say that a Father would be ruined by providing food for his helpless children. If all would do it, there would be much more happiness and greater prosperity in households, and in the country at large, but apart from all this, what a pleasure and comfort it is to oneself to know that we are adding but one crumb of comfort to those who have done so much for us, especially when we do it in a spirit of thankfulness to the giver of the health and strength and kind friends.
I am sorry to hear the water is so high (a reference to Chitterne’s problem with the winterbourne that runs through the village). I do hope you will be able to go home nearly every week, as you are all the comfort dear Mother has got, as Walter (Walter Isaac Windsor 1854-1921 youngest son of Issac Windsor) is only a trouble to her, who does your washing. I am glad to hear you have such good wages and I am sure you will be as careful as you can. You don’t know what is before you, but whether it is prosperity or adversity, you will find that it’s a good thing to know where to lay your hand on a pound, and if you don’t begin to lay by now, you will find it more difficult bye and bye.
I was very much interested in reading that account of the Rifle supper (Jimmy became a keen member of the Wiltshire Volunteer Rifle Corps) in the paper, and trust that whenever your name appears in print, it will always be in connection with something honourable.
The last two paragraphs show Maria’s concern that her son should not turn out like his father James Feltham, who spent his earnings on alcohol and as a result was often in court and in the newspaper. At this point in Maria’s story we have no idea where James Feltham is. He does not appear in the 1871 census as far as we can see and Maria makes no mention of him, but he is due to turn up in Chitterne again in the 1880s.
Maria’s mother Euphemia and her second husband Isaac Windsor were living on the St Mary’s side of Bidden Lane at this time, next door to the shop run by Thomas and Lydia George. This shop appears to have been directly behind The White Hart Inn and no longer exists. Maria frequently asks about the George family in her letters to her mother.