The Diary of James Ritchie (1822-1913)

Among the Nancy Prescott Forrest archives were some excerpts from the diary of James Ritchie.  James was my 1st cousin, 4x removed.  He was a civil engineer in Perthshire, Scotland, and the nephew of my 3x great-grandfather Rev. William Duff.  His mother was Rev. Duff’s sister Marion “May” Duff Ritchie.  The diary is just wonderful.  I wish I had access to the whole thing.


James Ritchie, courtesy of Catherine Duff.

The first two entries tell of James dropping off his cousins Margaret Charlotte “Maggy” Duff (1853 – 1939) and Isabella Catherine “Bella” Duff (1854 – 1951), daughters of his Uncle Rev. William Duff, on the steamer “Cuba” from Liverpool, England to go back home to Nova Scotia.  It’s not clear why the girls were in Scotland for three years (1862-1865), but it might not be a coincidence that the American Civil War was raging during that period.  After his cousins are seen off, he takes a thoughtful walk in Wales.

Sept. 15, 1865

With Maggy and Bella Duff traveled to Liverpool to see them off by the Cunard steamer on their return home to Nova Scotia, after a stay in Scotland of three years.  Left Perth at 8:00 a.m. and without any noticeable incident arrived in Liverpool about 5:00 p.m, and proceeded to Laurence’s Hotel, in Clayton Square.  It is the best Temperance hotel in Liverpool, but what a pity temperance hotels are as a rule almost always dirty and ill-managed.  Total abstinence from alcoholic liquors and the quiet and peace accruing from it, have to hide a multitude of objectionable concomitants in those dirty places of entertainment.

Clayton Square, Liverpool.  Laurence's Hotel is barely visible to the far right.

Clayton Square, Liverpool. Laurence’s Hotel is barely visible to the far right.

[Image from ]

Maggy and Bella go out under the charge of Mrs. and the Revd. Professor King, of Halifax.   After a good wash and tea I went down to D & C McIver’s, on Water Street, and paid the passages to Halifax, per the “Cuba”, of Peg and Kate, ₤22 for the two, i.e. half fares, both being considered under age at 12 and 11 respectively, then returned and called for Mr. and Mrs. King at the Queen Hotel, missed them – they had gone out.  We then visited two exhibitions of wax figures in that neighbourhood, with which my young friends were much astonished and delighted.  After our return to Laurence’s, Mr. King called.  He seems over 60 years of age, a kindly-looking little, old gentle-man.  This has been an oppressively hot day.

Water Street, Liverpool, showing the Cunard Lines office

Water Street, Liverpool, showing the Cunard Lines office

[Above photo from]

Sept. 16, 1865

Last night very hot and sultry.  Got up early and roused the girls, breakfased and drove off to St. George’s landing stage about half past seven a.m.  Got aboard the Satellite tender, on which we were soon joined by Professor and Mrs. King.  Mrs. King is a precise looking old lady, but intelligent and kind.  Her object in coming to Britain this season was to consult medical men about her eyesight, one of her eyes being blind through cataract.  She was advised to let it alone, the other being good and unaffected, as any operation on the blind eye might injure the sound one.

St. George's Landing Stage, Liverpool

St. George’s Landing Stage, Liverpool

We steamed out to the “Cuba”, where I had just time to see the little stateroom set apart for Peg and Kate, containing two tidy little berths, when the bell rang for return to the tender of all persons not going across the Atlantic.  I had fortunately therefore, but a moment for saying adieu, just time to shake hands, kiss and run.  Poor Peg and Kate waved their handkerchiefs to me from the bridge, so long as I could see them, looking disconsolate enough, poor lassies, – two sweeter or more affectionate girls I never knew.  May our father who is in Heaven have them in his holy keeping, bless them and shield them from much sorrow all their lives, and at last may we all meet at his right hand where there will be no sorrowful partings like this one, no griefs, no pain, and where all tears shall forever be wiped away.

The SS Cuba of the Cunard Line, 1865.

The SS Cuba of the Cunard Line, 1865.

Margaret Duff with nieces Bella and Maggie Duff c1856

Margaret Duff with nieces Bella and Maggie Duff c1856

Returned to Laurence’s, got my luggage and once more drove down to St. George’s landing stage, this time seeking the railway boat, crossed over to Birkenhead and took the train to Llangollen…. walked up the valley to Valle Crucis Abbey, smoked a pipe sitting on the base of Eliseg’s Pillar, returned past the ruins of the Abbey, never can admire the west gable and window enough, climbed the hill to the west of the Abbey, above the public road, and sitting on a rock there had another long pipe, looking down the vale of Llangollen, lying calm and beautiful under the level rays of the setting sun, and musing on my young friends now steaming down the Irish Sea, thinking too, mayhap, of those they have left behind them, but with the happy bouyancy of youth, no doubt, already beginning to think quite as much of the joyful reunion with older and nearer friends that awaits them on the other side of the Atlantic.

Valle Crusis Abbey

Valle Crusis Abbey

Eliseg's Pillar

Eliseg’s Pillar

Vale of Llangollen

Vale of Llangollen

The next entry captures his thoughts after a visit to London with his Uncle, Rev. William Duff.  The description of my 3x great-grandfather is lovely.  I saw him as a sort of stern fellow, but this shows a much softer side of my grandfather.

October 25, 1866 (After a visit to London with Uncle William)

Saw Uncle William [Rev. Duff] off by train to Edinburgh.  He goes thence tomorrow to Liverpool and next day sails for Halifax by the [Cunard Line SS] Java.  Very sorry to part with him, in all human probability will never see him again.  He is one wholly after my own heart.  One of the most loveable creatures I ever knew, gentle, gentlemanly, pious, wholly unselfish and unaffected, with a rare fine racy sense of humour, most intelligent and affectionate, but undemonstrative, both in his affection and goodness.  He is much stronger in his general health since he came home, but his bronchial complaint is not removed.

SS Java, 1866

The SS Java of the Cunard Line, 1866

The next entries concerns James’s final visit to his aunt Jean Duff Kilgour [1796-1867], and include some wonderful reminiscences of his time at Berryhill Farm, the Duff family homestead in Perhshire, Scotland.

Nov. 22 1867 (At the time of Mrs. Kilgour’s death)

Went out to see Aunt Kilgour, found her sinking very fast.  I bade her goodnight, she answered “Goodnight, James, goodnight”.  I left her knowing I would never see her in life again, leaving with her her sisters, Aunts Margt. and Charlotte, and Jeannie Duff.  As I walked home I pondered on the long and close relationship.  Running over in review our whole past intercourse, beginning with my earliest recollections of Auntie in the old kitchen in Berryhill, as I used to sit by the wide fireside and see her before her marriage, bustling actively about, directing household matters, or occasionally joining the maids at the old spinning wheels, and almost invariably at those times humming on a favourite tune.  The many hundred times I have walked to Scone… never without pleasure and a certainty of the warm, kindly, true-hearted greeting and affectionate goodbye.

Berryhill Farm about 1913

Berryhill Farm about 1913

Nov. 23, 1867

Heard this morning that Aunt Jane had passed away.  She was out of all comparison my favorite.  I liked her independent spirit, her shrewd strong commonsense, her invariable straightforwardness, truth and honesty, and hatred of hypocrisy, duplicity and shams.  She has borne her long trying illness of over three years duration with great Christian patience and fortitude.  Not a single murmur was ever heard from her lips.  Her fine manliness of character, if I may so speak, made her quite above all complaining and grumbling about an ailment which she had long known to be beyond human skill to cure.

Stormont Cottage, home of Jean Duff & Thomas Kilgour

Stormont Cottage, home of Jean Duff & Thomas Kilgour

The final two entries concern his last visit with his uncle William Duff and his subsequent death.  They are almost 10 years apart.  Unfortunately they are the only two entries that I have at this time.

Sept 16, 1878

Saw my Uncle William off to Liverpool on his way home to Nova Scotia.  Very sorry to part with him.  I don’t know a truer Christian gentleman than my Uncle William.

May 26, 1888 This evening heard from Dr. John Forrest, Principal of Dalhousie College, Halifax, of the death of his father-in-law, and my uncle, the Rev. William Duff, of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, who was born at Berryhill, Auchtergaven, in 1808.  My Uncle William was one of the best men I ever knew.  My mother and he – the eldest and the youngest of the old family of Berryhill – (the last of the Duffs there after a tenancy of some 200 years) – were more like each other in their sympathies dispositions and temperaments, and on that account, probably, I have always felt greatly attached to him, and have sent him papers every week and regularly corresponded with him for over thirty years.  He has done a great and good work in Nova Scotia, and now he has gone to his reward.

Rev. William Duff c 1880

Rev. William Duff c 1880



About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

One response to “The Diary of James Ritchie (1822-1913)

  • Diana

    I got shivers reading this. Nice to hear that Grandfather Duff had “a rare fine racy sense of humour.” 😉 What a fantastic job you are doing unearthing our family’s history!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: