Friends of Duff House

Library Stories

Duff House houses an extensive Library – part of the Dunimarle Collection.   In recent years this has not generally been accessible to the public so regular “Stories” are published here to share some of the splendour of what is a really fine library.    The Stories will share some of the background, details of some of the books, information about those that made the collection, their bookmarks, their scribbles – in fact anything and everything to do with the Library!

With many thanks to Historic Environment Scotland and the Trustees of the Erskine of Torrie Institution (SC002440) for their support for this project, and especially to Sandra Cumming for all her ideas and her direct contributions of several of the stories below.  Many of the photos in these Stories have been taken by Sandra and her permission to use them is really appreciated.



The recent ‘Library Story’ Sturgeon and Sturgeon from the 14th century centred around an early printed work “The Lawes and Acts of Parliament, maid be King James the first” [DH LIB 1719].  There are a number of other legal books in the Dunimarle Library, and another of the most interesting is a manuscript, ie handwritten, ref DH LIB 2154.  It is a slightly battered volume that might be described as a legal common place book as its owner has copied various legal texts into his own notebook.

The link between the two above books is in the various provenances – or owners’ names – inscribed in the works.  In this case the name is “Halkerstone”, the printed book belonging to “Joannes Halkerstone” in 1731, and the manuscript initially belonging to “Guliolmi Halkerstone” in 1703, but John Halkerstone is also mentioned.

A number of books from the Halkerstones have found their way into the Dunimarle Library, seemingly via a family they were related to by marriage, the Kers.

There is reasonably good evidence that this group of books was donated to Magdalene Sharpe-Erskine, the last surviving member of the Erskine family who created the Dunimarle library, by a neighbour, one Captain Ker, in his will of 1848. The will was subject to a very tortuous court case in which Magdalene was the defender as the will was contested by Ker’s family.  Ker, through a series of codicils, and ‘death-bed revocations’ basically created an unholy mess. We know all this as the case, held in 1851, was printed in a volume of Scottish legal cases.
oak galls    medieval scribe       Isaac Newton      Jane Austen

Eighteenth century handwriting is not always the easiest to read, so this Library Story looks at just one page from the manuscript book!  And it is this page that leads to the link between the above four pictures: oak galls, a medieval scribe, Isaac Newton and Jane Austen.

What links this happy band is that they all used the same ink recipe – an essential precursor to written work into the 19th century.  Perhaps that is why the first page of this Dunimarle Library manuscript is that ink recipe:

Ink recipe

To make good Ink

Take one pound weight of the best gall nuts beat into powder as small

as can be  Item: halfe an pund of Coperass   Item: three Chopings  of … 

moss or Spring water:  Put  the galls into a bottle with the water Stirring it

together.  Let it Stand four days near a fire in which time Stir it often

Then put in the Coperass and stirr all well together and let it Stand 24

hours Stirring it now and then about.  Then put to it an ounce of Gumm.

arabick dissolved in vinegar and stirr all well together. Then put to

halfe an ounce of the finest loaff Sugar & stirr all weel together

And let it stand half a day stirring it now and then well about …

let it stand unstirred 24 hours and then strain it carefully of

the dreg into a very clear bottle and Cork it closs and it will keep

without mouling or losing its colour.

Note the gumm.. arabick will take 24 hours steeping in

vinegar near a fire to make it dissolve.


Today the ingredients might not be immediately familiar but each provided a key element of the ink.gall nut

“gall nuts” are oak galls or oak marbles (sometimes referred to as oak apples, but these are generally less spherical and larger, and no good for ink making!), naturally arise on oak trees, a reaction to chemicals injected into the twig by a small wasp.  They are typically half to one inch (2.5cm) in diameter.  The gall is used by the wasp larvae to protect it and feed it.  They are key for ink as they rich in tannic acid;

“Coperass” is ferrous sulphate (ie iron sulphate, not copper as the word suggests!). coperass Also known as green vitriol;

“Gumm Arabick” came from the dried up sap of two types of Acacia trees found mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Arabia, that is water soluble.  The Levant was also said to be the source of the best oak galls.  Gum Arabic is perhaps the most interesting of this list for its sheer versatility and long history.  Used in the textile industries of the 17th and 18th century, it is still in use today in a range of industries from pharmaceuticals, food,gum arabic paints and printing to photography.  It was once an important and controlled export from various European powers’ colonies and is still an important export for Sudan.  It provides control of the surface tension of the ultimate ink making it flow off the nib better, as well as stabilising the colour over time.

Loaf sugar and vinegar would have been readily to hand.


Most of the measures are quite familiar but the “chopin” may not be – an old Scottish measure equal to about a quart (ie two imperial pints or just under one litre).  Interestingly a “chopin” equalled two of the delightfully named “mutchkins” – another old Scottish liquid unit of capacity.

When it came to preparation of the ingredients, a helpful note by a physician in 1619 tells us that the process of getting the tannic acid from the galls can be speeded up by boiling the galls for as long as it takes to repeat the Pater Noster three times!

In Martha Lloyd’s ‘Household Book’ (Martha was Jane Austen’s closest friend after her sister Cassandra), we can also find the recipe for ink that Jane used.  In Isaac Newton’s laboratory notebook, we find his recipe.  They are almost identical recipe to Halkerstone’s – centuries apart – the only difference is that they both have ale in their mix rather than water and vinegar.


One slight puzzle is why were Isaac Newton and Jane Austen making their own ink?  By the 18th century stationers in Britain sold paper, quill pens and ink.  Three centuries earlier, scribes copying manuscripts in that hive of intellectual activity, Florence, could buy ink.  It seems some writers not only made their own ink, they also cut their own pens. Were they just better quality?

Next time we write a letter or note (a rarer activity these days) we might reflect on how much more complicated it was in days gone by.



This title is reflective of both the fish and the First Minister – there is a legal connection!  And with a link to the Library in Duff House – the earliest book in the Library in the English language (albeit not modern English!), rather than in Latin is “The Lawes and Acts of Parliament, maid be King James the first” [DH LIB 1719].

DH 1719

King James the First of Scotland was born 1394, and became King of the Scots at the young age of just 12.  Scotland was of course a completely separate country to England until the Act of Union in 1707.  But by then James was being held as a prisoner in London.  Although nominally King from 1406 when his father Stephen died, he was held prisoner in London until 1424.  Scotland was not a settled and unified country at the time, but once back in Scotland James 1 did much to regulate the laws and became a very popular leader with the general people, if not the Lairds!

He produced many laws and history reports he was generally found to be very fair.  These laws were published for wider view in 1597 by John Skene; his family’s land was at Bandodle (southwest of Inverurie) in Aberdeenshire.  He later settled south of Edinburgh after a much travelled career in the legal profession.  The copy in Duff House is one of these first editions.

The book is over 900 pages – representative of the many laws of James 1st.  Nearly everyone of these has been repealed or changed over the years, but there is at least one that is still valid today – and that is where the Sturgeons are relevant!

The fish, the Sturgeon, is not a well known fish nowadays around Scotland, but clearly in the fifteenth century it was more common.  But the law as written by James 1st also applied to whales, and whales are certainly no uncommon around our waters.  What James actually did was repeat a law of King Edward 1st (of England 1272 to 1307), but who tried to claim sovereignty over Scotland resulting in opposition by William Wallace, leading to the reign of Robert the Bruce in Scotland – as referred to in the Duff House Mausoleum.

Putting into more modern English, the 14th century law reads:

“The King should have the wreck or gift of the Sea, throw-out the realm, of whales and great sturgeons taken in the sea, or elsewhere within the Realm.”


In the centuries since there have been some modifications, defining the whales as those that could not be pulled by six oxen.  In July 1999 as part of the Scottish devolution, this was again defined as whales of 25 feet (7.6m) or more belong to the Crown.  The Scottish Government currently led by Nicola Sturgeon, on behalf of the Crown, has first claim on such Royal Fish of sturgeon and large whales.  The last Royal Whale locally is believed to have been the Minke Whale on Boyndie Beach in 2014.

Today it is a requirement that all whale strandings in Scotland when found should be reported immediately.  If dead, a whale, any cetacean, should be reported to SMASS (07979 245893); and if live to the BMDLR (01825 765546) or SSPCA (03000 999999), who will try to provide rescue for the animal.





DH1288 is a small book and it has no pictures; nevertheless it is one of those books that is actually quite gripping. The title belies what is inside: “Prospectus of A Plan for the Building and Equipment of a Frigate” to sail between London and Calcutta.

Most people may associate the word “frigate” with a warship, but in reality is just means a fast ship of a certain size. In this case this Prospectus is aimed at carrying only passengers, by trying to cash in on the growing trade with India.

Black and white image

Title Page

The book is dated 1824, a time when trade with India and the Orient is starting to show signs it could blossom. In 1824 a total of ten ships sailed from the UK to various Indian ports; each of these would take about five or six months to get there – the only route being round the bottom of South Africa; and the passengers probably had a few more weeks after that to reach their destination. This was not an easy journey, and the duration clearly was acting as a brake on rapid expansion.

To set the scene, but of course unknown to the author of this Prospectus, a number of technological developments would happen over the next three decades or so, allowing the trade with India and the East to balloon from the 1850’s onwards:
• starting in 1834, mail and passengers could instead travel through the Mediterranean, 84 miles across the desert to the Red Sea, and then by ship to India;
• the first oceangoing steamship – a paddle steamer – went into service in 1838; although long voyages were difficult due to the limitation of the amount of coal that could be carried, plus piracy in the area. So in 1839 Aden, at the southern end of the Red Sea, was established as a supply and defence port;
• the first propeller driven commercial vessel – widely attributed to the Scotsman James Watt – was in 1847;
• but the big innovation was the Suez Canal, opened in 1859 after building for 10 years.

So the Prospectus, dated 1824, not being away of what was going to happen, was proposing to build a fast ship, imitating the best of the then Royal Navy ships, but built solely for passengers, to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and save time on the passage. The book describes, in words, the features the frigate would have. These included being built in one of the foremost shipyards on the Thames. She was designed with 60 passenger cabins, with a ship of 1200 “tons” (in shipping parlance this is actually a measure of volume, not weight) that would have been about 46m long, and 12m wide – tiny compared to today’s standards of course. The total crew was going to be about 200, plus up to about 200 passengers; although this did not include the twelve envisaged musicians that would provide some of the entertainment on the voyage! Other attractions included a top chef, baths, fencing lessons, recliner chairs – in fact as many comforts as the author could envisage to attract passengers.

One of the comforts the author seems proud of, is that the ship will be fitted with fixed iron tanks to be filled with fresh water to last the duration of the voyage (rather than the more traditional wooden barrels for water). The tanks could be filled from the deck (hence avoiding a lot of handling barrels), thus minimising the time needed to fill with water. From these tanks a piping system and pumps are to be fitted; what sounds old to us, but was the latest technology at the time, was that the piping system would be made of lead; as indeed many later Victorian water systems were!

The design of the ship was intended to be very advanced for it’s time based on the verbal description. The fastest and safest Royal Navy vessel at the time was HMS Unicorn – whose restored hull can now be visited in Dundee. To be correct, it wasn’t the Unicorn that was the fastest, because she has never sailed under her own power, never having had masts, but her close sister ship HMS Trincomalee (now fully restored in Hartlepool). So it is envisaged that the ship described in this Prospectus would closely resemble these fast frigates, minus of course the guns and gun ports and other military fittings! This image is by a modern copyist.Colour image of a modern painting

There are just two known copies of this Prospectus; the one now in Duff House, and one in the Illinois Centre for Research Studies. The original print version leaves various blanks, mostly as to what the income and expenditure are expected, and hence the profit that investors could envisage. For whatever reason the Duff House copy has several of those blanks filled in with handwriting; the Illinois copy is blank. With a total build cost of £32,000, 64 shareholders were sought. The annual expected return per share of £500 was forecast as a minimum of £156 after voyage costs; a return of over 30% obviously meant to sound attractive!

For interest, the best cabins were envisaged would be charged at £600 (per cabin) for a trip, the not so good ones at £200; both all inclusive fares. With two trips a year that equates to £48,000 income.

No record however can be found of what might be considered such an attractive business proposition actually taking place. Perhaps investors realised that sailing ships were being superceded, perhaps the Suez Canal plans, that started in 1799 with Napoleon Bonaparte, had recently hit the news (NB it took so long – 50 years – to negotiate a Concession with Egypt as poor calculations initially showed the Red Sea was 30 foot higher than the Meditarranean!)

Neither do we know who the author of this Prospectus is. Clearly he was a man of means as he was willing to immediately advance a sum towards the project – unfortunately that is one of the blank spaces in both copies! It might just have been John Drummond Erskine – one of the Dunimarle family. He had worked for the East India Company until 1812 and clearly retained a continued interest in all things Indian. Perhaps he thought he could see an opening in the market, perhaps he was just asked to be an investor, there is no indication.

For a sailing ship idea, in hindsight, it was probably a few years too late!



17-Aug-21 PARIS – WE’RE HERE (Paris part 2)

Back in 1815/16 obviously many visitor attractions that people go to Paris for today did not exist.  But many did and are described in Planta.  A selection includes:

The Catacombs were a relatively new addition to the tourist experience in Magdalene’s day. It was only in 1809 that they were opened to the public by appointment. A register was placed at the end of the circuit, where visitors could write their impressions. It was filled very rapidly because these visits had

Picture from Planta 1814 DH 1234

Picture from Planta 1814 DH 1234

quickly become a success with both the French and foreigners.  Today’s guidebook fairly briefly describes it as a “a 2km walk through the creepy ossuary and definitely not for the faint-hearted” while Planta gives them considerable space. He seems to swing from the quite callous description of bones as a feature of interior decoration “This avenue conducts to several apartments resembling chapels, the walls of which are lined with bones, variously and often tastefullyarranged … and others [altars] are ingeniously ornamented with skulls of different sizes” – yet with reference to an inscription further on relating the 87 cubic metres of bones removed from one cemetery to the Catacombs, he comments “That man must have been utterly destitute of taste, and feeling, who suggested the record of this disgusting admeasurement of the perishing remains of the human frame”.



Notre Dame Cathedral.  The oldest religious edifice in Paris and the mother church of France.  The picture in Planta is not all that inspiring,

Picture from Planta 1848 DH1234

Picture from Planta 1848 DH1234

but is quite surprising, almost as though the artist had not see the real thing.  There is no sign of the huge rose window, the rest of the cathedral behind this west front appears to be no more than a single storey – yet the drawings of Napoleon’s “coronation” in 1804 clearly show the bulk of the building as the core is today, before and after the 2019 fire; and no sign of the famous flying buttresses down the sides.


2-Notre Dame 2009 B









The Menagerie  was another new experience for the Paris visitor of 1815, although it was formally called “Jardin Royal des Plantes” because of it’s botanic garden.  There were – and are – numerous halls showing exhibits from every branch of natural history – each affording “inexhaustible amusement and information”.


From 1798 onwards some large animals arrived – elephants, lions, tigers, panthers, hyenas, wolves, camels, ostriches, bears, buffaloes (animals requisitioned by the armies of the National Convention, then by Napoleon, gifts from monarchs and animals brought back from expeditions, among others).

2-sad looking wolf (1860) 2-Paris menagerie

[Wolf and Menagerie pictures are not from Planta but other contemporary books]


The Paris aviary “contains a collection of every bird known in France and the neighbouring kingdoms, arranged according to their species and habits”.


The equivalent in London at the time was the menagerie at the Tower of London which had a very similar list of animals [picture not from Planta].2-tower of london menagerie



Unfortunately in 1870 during the siege of Paris by Prussian forces, many animals were killed by the bombardments, and others were slaughtered to feed the population.



1812 saw the inauguration of the rotunda, built in the shape of the Légion d’Honneur cross, which had been established in 1802 by Napoleon.   This picture also shows elephants and giraffes [taken from Album du Jardin des Plantes de Paris, 1838]

Picture from Album du Jardin des Plante de Paris 1938

Picture from Album du Jardin des Plantes de Paris 1838

Today the emphasis is on smaller animals and the protection of endangered species such as red panda and the binturong or bearcat – but this is not what what Magdalene would have seen.

Red Panda

Red Panda

Binturong (Bear Cat)

Binturong (Bear Cat)





Planta promises much about the Paris menagerie.  There would have been plenty to “amuse or terrify the spectators by their howling” Lions, tigers, panthers, hyenas – and even kangaroos.  Some aspects seem quite enlightened for example “where it could be accomplished, the trees and shrubs of the animals’ native climes, or the vegetables in which they most delight flourish within their enclosures” – being a camel was less fun “Two camels are perfectly domesticated, and more than earn their subsistence by turning the wheel of the machine which supplies the gardens with water”.   And for a rest from all the excitement, he commends   “… at the foot of the hill are several little casernes, at which he [the tourist] may be supplied with fruit, eggs, milk, coffee and tea” which does not sound so much worse than the modern equivalent “ …. fast food stands offer a range of snacks to take away (sandwiches, crêpes, drinks, etc.) or eat in”  [Menagerie’s current website]


Slaughterhouses may not be on the ‘must see’ list today but bizarrely they really were in Magdalene’s time. This was not a one-off quirk of Planta’s as they feature in Magdalene’s other contemporary guidebook of Paris by Galignani – [Paris Guide 1821 DH848]. Montmartre’s was considered a fine example.

Montmartre Slaughterhouse

Montmartre Slaughterhouse

Here is Planta  “On entering it [the slaughterhouse of Montmartre] , the stranger perceives no disagreeable smell; he witnesses no disgusting sight; and often he would not suspect the purpose to which the building is devoted. The English traveller should not fail to visit these useful edifices. He will return with a wish to reform those nuisances, and abodes of cruelty, filth, and pestilence, which disgust him in the capital of his own country” [p.314]  Galignani is similarly enthusiastic about the new abattoirs of Paris and at even longer length and stronger language compares London’s facilities very unfavourably with them   “These magnificent establishments, which were open for the public service in October 1818, amply deserve the intelligent traveller’s notice” [p.219]



Versailles – the ‘must see’ parts of Versailles have changed little except that Planta’s description are more detailed especially of the main Salons but he does warn that the 1815 tourist will miss some of the former glories as not only have certain works of art gone to the national museum (Louvre) others have been returned ‘to those to whom they rightfully belonged’ [p.486]. However he does reassure that there are still some of ‘the best works of the French school’ on view.


Eating out – this is a modern guidebook must and Planta was no different in 1814. He has many positive suggestions but also a grim warning [p. 113] “Some restaurateurs profess to furnish four dishes, half-a-bottle of wine, a dessert, and as much bread as the guest chooses to eat, for 30 sous (1s 3d) They likewise add, as an inducement to the Parisian, that their saloons are gilded and decorated with mirrors – I would not, however advise the Englishman to venture into those abodes of splendid filthiness. The almost ochre-coloured table-cloth; the rusty fork; the prongs of which are half filled up with dirt; the greasy plate, the yet greasier waiter, and a complication of villainous odours, will render it impossible to him to eat one morsel …. He may be assured that there is nothing in the vilest eating-house, in the worst part of London, half so filthy as the cheap restaurateurs or traiteurs in Paris.”  London’s abattoirs may have been found wanting but Planta is prepared to be even-handed about London/Paris comparisons!

To illustrate the frog's legs "tail piece" in Paris Here We Are.

And Planta does not rate frog’s legs either – totally overpriced!  The traveller “would no doubt be astonished to find that a small plate, at a first rate hotel, would cost him a guinea” (about £800 today!).

A tail piece

Fabric samples in back of Planta 1814 [DH 1234]

Fabric samples in back of Planta 1814 [DH 1234]

One final intriguing element of Magdalene’s Planta is the little fabric samples pinned into the inside back cover with annotations

Duke of Wellington

Duke of Wellington

of prices and ideas on use -– the first being labelled ‘Long Gloves’ [left above]. Planta does not give huge coverage to the business of shopping but he does note the price of Wellington boots ie 16 francs [p115] and indicates that while men’s clothing is reasonably priced, women’s ‘may be considered dear’ – clearly this does not put Magdalene off.  Wellington boots (as portrayed here by the man himself in a portrait by James Lonsdale, 1815) were only a very recent name in the footwear world – perhaps of more interest to Magdalene’s army general brother James!








3-Jul-21  PARIS HERE WE COME (Paris part 1)

While we all wait for the lights to change from red to amber to green in this time of a pandemic so that travel can be opened up, there are clear reflections on a similar time in the past about the opening up of travel opportunities.

A_New_Picture_of_Paris_Or_The_Stranger_s_1Even as Napoleon escaped from Elba and fought his final battle at Waterloo in June 1815, the writers of guidebooks were ahead of the game.  The dust had hardly settled after the Napoleonic Wars before a flood of English language guidebook writers descended on the cities of Europe. These new guidebooks aimed at a broader market than the grand tourists of the previous century and in the travel section of the Dunimarle Library there are the very latest travel guides for Paris, Geneva, Florence, Siena, Rome and Naples, all published within a short period just after the year of Waterloo.  Of particular interest, and published with the expectation of peace, is Edward Planta’s A new picture of Paris; or, The stranger’s guide to the French metropolis; … to which is added, a description of the environs of Paris, with correct maps and an accurate plan of the city, 1814. [DH LIB 1234]


The youngest of the Erskines, the family who created the Dunimarle Library, Magdalene, (1787-1872), had been prevented travelling in her early years by revolution in France and then war.  With her father and two brothers all senior army officers and on campaign in Europe and America, and a third brother in India, she would have been very much aware of a wider world than that of her home in Fife.  No doubt this awareness was heightened by her brother James, who had married into the Paget tribe – whose published letters are awash with reports and comments on events on the Continent.  We can imagine that by 1815 Magdalene would have been desperately keen to explore – and all the evidence is that she did just that. Planta in hand, she was off to Paris.

Magdalene was clearly taking it seriously. We find in the Library along with those latest guidebooks,plan routier a wonderful fold out map of Paris [DH LIB 2143]

a trusty French-English pocket dictionary and a  quite formidable grammar  – “When son, sa, ses, les, leurs, are preceded by a substantive of inanimate things, they cannot be joined to a second substantive in the nominate or accusative; but when that second substantive is in the same part of the sentence, and relates to the same verb as theManuel de voyageur first ….”  [ from Magdalene’s copy of Alexandre Scot’s Rudiments and practical exercises for learning the French language … 1815; DH LIB 285].

Somewhat more familiar to today’s tourist’s would have been her multi-lingual phrasebook, Manuel du Voyageur [DH LIB 335], its topics bringing alive some of the trials of contemporary travel e.g. Conversations on the Post Coach – “No , I do not object to the smell of tobacco”  (though maybe tobacco was not the worse you faced?) and at the Inn Might I have a tub for bathing or at least a bucket? Warm my bed and put a little coarse sugar into the warming-pan;* I have my own sheets; but I always have sheets from the inn, in order to spread them over the mattress, afterwards I spread my own over them”.

But back to the guidebook. picture of paris book cover

This little Planta guide may not look the most exciting book as it sits on the shelves of Duff House, but it repays a closer look.  We know Magdalene is in Paris because of a note “Magdalene Erskine Paris Feb. 16 1816”.

A further couple of pieces of evidence add to the picture. An insignificant bit of paper, part of a small group of Erskine family letters and personal papers which have survived with the library, turns out to be an invitation to dinner, dated 16/ 1/1817, to Miss Erskine, from Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838) seen here in a portrait by Prud’hon dated 1817:talleyrand

The invitation is just a small single sheet folded; one side having the invitation, seal and address; the other Magdalene’s acceptance.  Talleyrand was a name to be reckoned with – a major player in the European diplomatic manoeuvrings of the period. It is not surprising that Magdalene was keeping such company – she had all sorts of connections in that world through her own family and those Paget in-laws.

And speaking of the Pagets brings us to another little snippet of gossip which placed Magdalene in Paris around the period.  The Divorce.  This involved her brother James, his wife Louisa Paget and Sir George Murray, with whom Louisa was having an affair by 1815, and whom she eventually married.  When James sues Sir George, in 1824, the graphic details of the goings on in Paris, where they all were, are spread across a whole page of the Times and the Morning Chronicles of July 23rd.  Magdalene gave evidence on her brother’s behalf.

So what might Magdalene have seen when not following the antics of her wayward sister-in-law?  Comparing it with a modern guidebook’s ‘must sees’ Planta reveals both similarities and some obvious and less obvious differences.  Magdalene’s Paris had no Eiffel Tower, no Sacre Coeur, Pompidou Centre or Arc de Triomphe and the entrance to the Louvre looked very different.

But two sights she could have seen are still on today’s tourist list, The Catacombs and The Jardin des Plantes Menagerie.  These are well described in Planta; as of course is the Palace de Versailles.

Interesting snippets from these will be in Part 2 of this Library Story later this month!




The Duff House Dunimarle Library was a family library, collected by several generations; and most importantly it was clearly used by the family members, and not just a set of books for show.  This can be readily seen from the sketches and hard-writing found in various books, but also from the other items found within them, presumably used as bookmarks.

One of these seems quite innocuous, but serves as an example of how a small reference can lead a researcher down an interesting path.

Duff House Library reference 236 is an 1830 copy of John Burke’s “A general and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the British Empire”; this is the third edition now of course a well known reference work.  Within the pages of the Duff House copy is a handwritten letter:

Colour photo of hand written letter

1832 letter about a Cholera committee meeting to discuss “police”

“The Convener of the Committee for administering the General Subscription for prevention of Cholera in the Cupar District requests a meeting of the Committee in the Court Room Cupar on Thursday first at 12 o’clock noon, on the subject of police.


23rd April 1832”

The signature is just initials and is not clearly decipherable.

Balgarvie House was just outside the town of Cupar, and it’s occupant at the time was believed to be Major General Webster – a rank that seems to fit with the title of Convener.

But the references within the letter to Cholera, and to the police, perhaps need explanation.


— — —

Cholera was first identified in Bengal in about 1813, but it did not spread to Europe for several years.  Medical science was of course not as developed as it is today, and the causes of cholera – and what made it so contagious – were not understood.

Today we know that cholera is an infectious gastroenteritis bacterial disease transmitted from human to human by ingesting contaminated water or food. The bacteria produces a toxin that acts on the lining of the small intestines to induce massive diarrhoea.  In its most severe forms in the 19th century, cholera was one of the most rapidly fatal diseases known and infected patients could die within three hours if treatment was not provided.  More commonly death occurred after 18 hours to several days without therapy.  Cholera spread quickly through germ-infected bedding or personal touch contact with infected victims.  It was one of the most feared diseases of the nineteenth century, perhaps not least because the mortality rate of those that caught it was 50%; the newspapers often referred to the disease as being “virulently contagious”.  By the end of the 1832 outbreak the cholera death toll in Scotland was about 10,000.

Once the disease became prevalent in north west Europe, the UK Board of Health at the time ordered that all ships arriving from the continent should be quarantined for 10 days before being inspected by a public health official.  For whatever reason the officials in Sunderland didn’t apply this, and some infected sailors passed it to the local population in October 1831.  From there it started to spread north and south.

The first case reported in Banff and Macduff was 30th July 1832 (according to the Annals of Banff, Mr Robert Barron of Macduff).

The Edinburgh Journal of 25th February 1832 provides an article that clearly states that “dirty” locations where people of “intemperate habits” tend to live, are most at risk.  It is of course now known that it is passed on in dirty water or contaminated food and therefore can – and did – affect any person, but it wasn’t until 1855 – after a second cholera wave in 1848) that Glasgow became the first city in the UK to have a proper clean water supply and started building miles of sewers.

Until then the government issued guidelines about cholera.  A Scottish one reads:


  • Be clean in your person. Wear flannels next the skin.
  • Keep the bowels well defended from cold, and never sit down with wet or cold feet.
  • Abstain from small beer, and use spiritous liquours very moderately.
  • Use no water that is not pure.
  • The use of strong broth and butcher meat is salutary.
  • Avoid raw vegetables, and boil well what you eat.
  • Do not go out in the morning without breaking your fast.
  • Avoid getting wet, or going out at night.
  • Avoid also large towns, infected places, and public houses.
  • Piggeries, Dunghills, and Cess-pools ought to be at some distance and frequently cleaned.
  • Let the house be regularly ventilated, and well swept. When you wash it, choose a sunny day, and do it in the morning, so that there may be no damp when you shut up at night. Keep your doors dry.

Symptoms and treatment

Cholera generally begins with giddiness, languour, and uneasiness in the bowels, accompanied by looseness more or less. When such symptoms appear, no time ought to be lost in sending for medical advice – but in the mean time, 30 drops of Laudanum, and 3 teaspoonfuls of Castor Oil may be taken in a little hot brandy and water. Go to bed immediately, and keep yourself warm. Heated bricks or hot bottles may be applied, or bags of hot bran or salt. Place a mustard blister on the stomach. Let your drink consist of warm barley-water in small portions. Cold water is dangerous, and Salts must on no account be taken.

Should the Castor Oil &c be thrown up, take 30 drops of plain Laudanum.

Families ought to provide themselves with Laudanum and the other articles, as all depends on taking the disease at the first.

18th February 1832.”

— — —

The reference to police is also relevant.  Further south, near Glasgow, in March 1832, records that a Constable was hired “to patrol the road to keep strangers out”.  And then further, roads had manned barriers:

At the Schooolhouse, met this day the members of the Committee of health, and appointed Mr Gibson & Mr Willm Killoch to employ and station a Constable at Walkinshaw Bridge to prevent beggars & unlicensed hawkers from passing out from Paisley. Mr Lockhart & James Snodgrass to arrange with the toll keeper at Inchinnan Bridge so as to prevent vagrants from getting into the Parish by that quarter.”

So by April, further north at Cupar, it seems that the local board were about to discuss doing the same sort of thing to try to keep the disease out.  They had already had at least one case, and had burnt all his belongings and his lodgings!

— — —

One little letter, left inadvertently in a book used for another purpose, has led to insights into a piece of history and the actions government and local authorities took within a pandemic.



20-Apr-21  TAKE 5 OUNCES – how a Dunimarle recipe ends up in the Times

Black and white image of a page from a handwritten recipe book

Page from the 18th century manuscript recipe book, Orange Pudding starts at the bottom of the page

Orange Pudding

Take 5 oz of butter, melt it in a pan without oiling & add to it whilst warm 5 oz of pounded sugar & yolks of ten eggs* beat them a little first & after all is mixed together beat it till it turns white have the bottom of yr. dish covered wth. puff paste & spread it pretty thick wth. orange mar-malade & pour the rest of the ingredients on it – Bake it in a moderate oven & when it goes to the table slip it out of the tin it was baked in.    Dunnikier and Abercairney”

Transcribed from DH LIB 59 Vol2

*It really is 10 eggs – apparently they were only about half the size of todays’ eggs.



In the Times of 2nd October 1866 there appears, with some light editing, the above recipe under the title ‘Dunnikier Orange Pudding’.  Mrs Oswald of Dunnikier is the source of several more recipes in the 2 volume cookery book, of just under 250 recipes, which is part of the Dunimarle Library at Duff House.  As can be seen from the photos this book is a collection of handwritten recipes.

Bllack and white image of page 188 of the book Dainty dishes showing the Dunnikier Orange Pudding

Recipe 513 – Dunniker Orange Pudding from the book Dainty Dishes

The journey of the recipe to the august pages of the Times is not as odd as it seems.  The link is down to two women: shown below on the left, the doughty Magdalene Sharpe-Erskine [1787 – 1872] the last surviving member of the Erskine family who are so important to the story of the Dunimarle Collection in general and the library in particular – the photo below is taken from Duff House; and to her right, her great-niece Harriet – Lady Harriet Elizabeth St Clair Erskine, Countess of Munster, 1831-1867 – and author of a published book, Dainty Dishes.  The interesting image of the painting of Lady Harriet is her preparing some baking on board “The Ladye“, a boat owned by the artist Katherine Jane Ellice.


Colour image of a lady preparing baking ingredients on a table, and most notably with a fez!

Lady Harriet St Clair, originally painted by Katherine Jane Ellice on board the cabin of her boat “The Ladye” in 1863, reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holder from the National Library of Scotland, MS 15172 no 93.

Colour photo of stern looking Victoria lady

Madeline Erskine Sharp, portrait in Duff House











Colour image of the front cover of the book Dainty Dishes by Lady Harriet St Clair

Cover of the 6th Edition of Dainty Dishes by Lady Harriet St Clair


First published in 1866 Dainty Dishes went through many editions including a couple in America and Germany – the latter through the offices of Harriet’s husband, Count Munster (later to be Prussian ambassador to Britain).

A methodical check reveals that over 50% of the recipes in the manuscript have been included in Dainty Dishes.  Plus, it becomes obvious that great-aunt Magdalene not only contributed many recipes but also some stalwart words of wisdom (in the preface to the first edition):

A near relation of the Compiler’s, and one who thoroughly understood and enjoyed good living and from whom she acquired many receipts and much culinary lore, once said to her, – ‘Original English, or what is called plain cooking, is the worst, and most ignorant, and most extravagant in the known world!”’

It was not only great-aunt Magdalene who was critical of contemporary English cookery -– Harriet includes in the same preface:

What can be more unpalatable than the horrible attempts at entrees, dignified with some high-sounding French name, made by the general run of English cooks? The sodden pieces of meat, soaking in a mess of flour and butter, commonly called a roux, which, with the addition of a little melted glaze, forms the English cook’s universal idea of a sauce, and which they liberally and indiscriminately bestow of fish, flesh and fowl”  

Harriet much favours German cooking – influenced by her country once married – and includes many German ideas in the book.

Given her views it is curious to see just what Harriet selected for publication. In fact though no detailed analysis has been done yet, a brief scan of the database of those that made it in and those that did not, does not reveal any instant pattern.

The recipes Harriet did include in Dainty Dishes are a large variety, from M. Bonard who was “French Cook to Genl Campbell of Monzie” and his somewhat prosaic White Sauce; to the slightly dizzier heights of  M.Boucher “Cuisinier to H.R.H. the Duke of York”’s   ‘Poulet a l’Estragon’. Then there is Lady Preston’s instructions for preserving currants, Lady Thomond’s for Veal Cake and Mrs Bates at Weymss Castle’s for ‘Preserved Cucumbers’.

There is so much still to be discovered about the cookery manuscript, its sources and this later partial appearance in print – and of Lady Harriet in that wonderful red Fez!


But this blog ends with one little puzzle and asks for your help.  Has anyone ever come across ‘Habberbrie of Herring’, a recipe from Torrie – the Erskine family home?  So far it has not been traced anywhere else.

Black and white image of a hand written recipe

Page from DH LIB 59 showing the first part of the Habberbrie of Herring recipe

Habberbrie of Herring

Take about ½ lb butter, melt it in a sauce pan, put in 2 handfuls of oatmeal, put the pan over a clear fire, keep it continually stirring till you see it of a yellowish colour, then put in 2 or 3 ladle full of strong broth made of beef, veal or mutton – Skim off all the fat & let it boil till it becomes pretty thick, then take 6 or 8 herrings, score them on each side, turn them over in melted butter, then strew them all over wth. crumbs of bread – put them in the oven & bake them, when they are baked enough, crisp & of yellowish colour – then dish yr. habberbrie wth a rim of paste round the dish & put yr. baked herrings out of sight & garnish wth. 3 or 4 round the dish.                              – Torrie


Researched and drafted by Sandra Cumming




31-Mar-21   The GRAMPUS !

If you look up “Grampus” today you will be referred to “Grampus Griseus”, a cetacean better known today as the Risso’s Dolphin – a very, very rare visitor to the Moray Firth.  However, one of the joys of a library with old books is being able to research the history to certain animals – and in the eighteenth century, the time of the start of the Dunimarle Library and Duff House, a Grampus was most definitely not a Risso’s dolphin!

DH 601 is a 1779 edition of an 8 volume set of “A History of the Earth and Animated Nature”.  The first version of this was published in 1774, with many new editions over the next 200 years.  Oliver Goldsmith was a novelist (best known book perhaps “Vicar of Wakefield”), poet and journalist, but he also published several books on natural history.

One of joys of this book is it’s illustrations, some of them resembling the animals we know today, others a bit different.  But this Library Story is focussing a bit closer to home on a beastie he called the “Grampus”.  This word has a different derivation to “Grampian”, but the Grampus, or “grand fish”, can be seen from our coasts.  Unfortunately Goldsmith doesn’t include a picture, but describes it can be distinguished “by the flatness of it’s head, which resembles a boat turned upside down”.  Still not making it clear which animal he is describing — today’s Risso’s dolphin, or something else?

One of Goldsmith’s contemporaries however was, Thomas Pennant, well known for his “Voyage to the Hebrides” (DH 2050) which took him through Macduff, Banff and Duff House, but he also wrote “Pennant’s British Zoology”, published in 1776.  For the Grampus he quotes “the color of the back is black, but on each shoulder is a large white spot, the sides marbled with black and white”.  As they can be today, he describes them as sometimes appearing on our coasts – clearly the animal we know today as the Orca, the Killer Whale (killer that is of porpoise and seals, no recorded humans!).  He also describes them as having both upper and lower teeth – the Risso has no teeth on the upper jaw!

The first picture of the original “Grampus” appears a few years later, in a letter written to Sir Joseph Banks in 1787 by John Hunter.  Joseph Banks – who does feature in the Dunimarle Library – was a key figure in the study of natural history.  A 24 foot Grampus had been caught in the mouth of the River Thames in 1759, and clearly studied in some detail, which John Hunter describes in terms of it’s skeletal resemblance to other mammals, how it’s pectoral fins resemble a human hand, how it has the same internal organs as a human.  This is a copy of the first known drawing of a Grampus – with many thanks to the Royal Society Philosophical Transactions.

210323 1787 Grampus drawing1




28-Feb-21   Duff House Library Background

There are at least two meanings of the word “Library”.  The first meaning is a room where books are kept.  At Duff House there were very grand plans for what would have been a truly wonderful library space.  The East wing, part of the original William Adam design, was to have it’s whole top floor, 80 feet by 60 feet, designated as the Library.  Of course this was never built due to the dispute between William Adam and his client, William Duff, who later became the 1st Earl Fife – who never lived at Duff House anyway!

210228 East Wing 1st Floor with note

The 2nd Earl Fife, James, was however clearly – from references in his letters many of which still exist – a very well read gentleman, and he designated what we know today as the Long Gallery in Duff House to be his Library.  He certainly tried to look after his book collection and, for example, in February 1789 he instructed that the windows and bookcases be thrown open, and his large books of prints laid out for airing.  The 4th Earl was an equally avid book collector and by the end of the 19th century the Duff House Library held 15,000 volumes.

Today, the designated “Library” is two rooms on the second floor, which contains a number of glass fronted bookcases with a very fine collection within them – but not the original Duff Library!  This is because the 1st Duke of Fife gave Duff House and it’s estate to the people of Banff and Macduff in 1907 and the collection of books was taken out of the House.  When the restoration, completed in 1995, was being planned Duff House was very fortunate to get permission from the Dunimarle Trustees to allow it’s collection of furniture, artefacts and books to be installed.

The Dunimarle Library – now stored in various places in Duff House – has over 4,500 volumes collected by members of the Erskine family from Torrie House in Fife.  The Erskines thrived at much the same time as the Duffs and shared many parallels; this even extended to their names, such as William and James!  Both families were avid collectors, of artefacts, paintings and books.  The subjects covered by the Dunimarle Library are similar to those known to have been in the original Duff House Library, classics, history, geography, news, law, economics, heraldry, travel; typical subjects for serious libraries of the 18th and 19th centuries to include.  One clear – and interesting – difference was that the original Duff House Library included many Spanish books – because of the 4th Earl Fife’s travel there; and the Dunimarle family library instead has a major section on India and the far east because of John the 4th Baronet of Torrie.

Some of the key books were, perhaps not unexpectedly, the same in both Libraries.  A 17th century Bible, Hume’s 1786 History of England, 18th century works of Shakespeare, Bartolozzi engravings.  While enquiries continue for a complete list of the original Duff House collection, the Friends of Duff House many years ago completed a full catalogue of the Dunimarle Library – which can be viewed in the Study inside the House (once it re-opens) and which it is hoped will go on-line in the future.  Meanwhile all 929 Dunimarle Library books published in the British Isles before 1801 are listed on the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).