The Willison Papers - John Willison (1806-84) and Isabella Campbell Willison (l817-87)

John first met Isabella Campbell at Hamilton in 1843. She was one of the daughters of Duncan Campbell (younger son of the laird of Inverneil in Knapdale) and of Agnes Colquhoun of Luss.
John was attracted to Isabella but decided to think the matter over before proposing marriage. He set off for Parish Holm from Hamilton on his horse, wondering what to do. He then decided to leave the decision to his horse. If, when they reached the top of the hill, the horse looked back, he would return to Hamilton and propose marriage to Isabella; otherwise he would forget her. The horse did look back; John proposed marriage and was accepted.
This story may have a grain of truth in it. John and Isabella were married in the same year (1843) but we have no letters before 1862.
On 9th May of that year Isabella wrote to her husband, who was probably in Glenlochay:The wine and whisky has come with Maxwell’s servants, Parish Holm, Douglas, 9th May 1862


Isabella's Letters


My dear Willison,

I received your letter this morning and glad to hear you were better. I went down to Douglas yesterday and called at Castlemains where I got a very pressing invitation to late dinner as the Fergusons were coming, but Hrs Meikle and Mary were going up to tea so I declined. The old gentleman and Mrs Scott were both l wondering what had become of me and were glad to see me, both very kind. We were pressed to take tea there next week. I saw Carrier Bannatine he told me the whisky and wine had been held there – so Maxwell's servants were to be up today. I told him to send them round and they could bring them up. What a magnificent day this is. I scarcely ever saw such a growth - slight warmth… We went to Carmacoup to tea. Kennox and the old lady were the only strangers. I have got no letters for you, but will send the Agriculturalist today. I am writing Mrs Gordon today accepting the invitation. There has been; they are to be dug out today, I I believe. I am very busy today getting the kitchen cleaned. Mr Tweedie has just called to invite us down on Tuesday but I have declined as I am to be very busy cleaning all next week. So you think it is poor sand that farm you were looking. You will be better without it if that is the case. Be sure and call and ask for Mrs McCallum of Duncroisk. Kinox was telling me that old Henderson at Greenburn was like to go deranged; he is in bed and mourning for ever that has to.
I remain yours truly,
The writing of this letter is not easily read and interpretation has not always been possible. Castlemains was the home of the lalrd, Lord Douglas. Kinnox presumably refers to the farmer at Kennoxhead, which lies about a mile north-west of Auchendaff. Greenburn is also nearby. Duncroisk is a farm in Glenlochay.
The following year Isabella wrote to her husband John Willlson ln Luing:
Parish Holme, Douglas, May 8th 1863
My dear Mr Wlllison,
Enclosed is a bank order for £210 which along with the note came this morning from Walter Scott Esqr. You just write your name on it and return it to me when I shall give it to Mr Arch. Scott. I sent you a letter from Alexr Gillespie yesterday and today the enclosed has come which speaks for itself. You will require to write and thank him for all the trouble he has taken. I am much afraid you have frightened Mr Raffles much, so exacting as you are generally - he has never wrote yet. My reason for writing you ...... was to tell you about a gentleman who has just called wanting your wool; enclosed is his card. He told me to tell you that he would give you a shilling a stone above the market price and pay ready money; he said it will be seven or eight shillings above last years prices. I asked him what he gave last year for black-faced: twenty two and sixpence, he said - he said he had got a larger order from abroad and must have wool. That day I was in Douglas I saw Duncan HcMurtrie working blankets which was for sale nineteen shg a pair. So you must not buy yours below a pound or else they will just be trash. I never in all my life saw such uncomfortable trash as you have at Glenlochay; there is no heat in them. All this I knew before you left, but I dare not tell you what I thought at the time as I knew well you would get into a towering passion at me, as you too often do when I give my opinions, which I must say is very ungrateful of you, considering all things. I have no doubt by this time you will be missing me for all the ill tongue you have given. Hoping you reached Luing well and nothing the worse of the sail.
I remain, your silly-minded, vain wife ISABELLA WILLISON
PS: I sent the Agriculturalist yesterday. What a splendid...we are getting for our beds and blankets.

Another letter from Isabella in Parish Holm to her husband John in Glenlochay told of her doings and gave instructions for the well-being of their son John (1844-89), then with his father:

Sabbath morning, 13th March 1864

My dear Mr Willison,
`Yours of the 13th has just come. I was glad to hear you were both in the land of the living. What a day of storm we had here that day you left and ever since the ground has been covered with snow. These two days past we have had a little thaw which has blackened the ground a little and today it looks better as Mr Hunter says the wind has shifted and all will be right soon again. There has not been as deep snow for years. Tem Coulthard was over on Wednesday to see when he would take his sheep. But now they will all have get relief less or more. A letter has come from Agnes Rich and wanting her money the end of next week as she is going to be married to a farmer near Lochgilphead so mind you and see about it don't forget. I had a letter from Agnes yesterday; she is to be home on Tuesday and her Aunt...with her. I am glad to say big Duncan is quite well: his stomach has been out of order a little. Uncle James says all that is ever wrong with him is a hole in the bottom of his stomach. I have had a lonely week of it with the storm, but I need net complain as I had your friend Kinnox one afternoon to tea and today both the Dr another Dr Munroe also so you see although you are not here I am well attended with the Gentlemen. As to Mr Hunters order I gave it to Arch Scott. I thought it is a pity to be losing interest so gave it into him. I will go down to church and see him today and see about sending lt. I am afraid you wont get this letter before Friday. As to a boy, we will soon get one at the Fair. You need not come for that. Everything goes on very smoothly here as much so as if you were at home. I have written to Mr Hunter acknowledging his letters. I must call a halt as it is near church time. Did ever John get his dog. No steeping in cold water will take salt out of meat unless there is some warm put in amongst it. And tell them to parboil the meat slowly for an hour and then change the water. If you do that there is not the least danger of the broth being salt. We never have salt broth in the kitchen and have nothing but salt meat now. See that you get a sheep killed before you leave as it is very bad for John growing so fast nothing but salt meat its what he hasn't been accustomed with.
I remain, ever your sincerely, ISA C. WILLISON

(Young John, the eldest son, was aged nearly twenty. Duncan, the second son, was aged sixteen. )

We have seen that John Willison (1806-84) spent much of his time at the Glenlochay farm, as did his son John and his brother Alexander. In the meantime John's wife Isabella ran the household at Parish Holm. The two places were separated by about 100 miles, and in the days before the railways the journey would have been long. An even longer journey was entailed in traveling from Parish Holm to Luing in Argyll.

The Census report for 1851 for Douglas Parish gives the following description of Parish Holm:

John Willison, aged 44 Farmer of 400 acres, employing 2 boys, and 9 laborers also 4600 acres of mountainous land.
Isabella, wife, aged 34, John, son, aged 6,  Agnes, daughter, aged 5, Duncan C., son, aged 3, Alexander, son, aged 1 and George, son, aged 1
Also in the house on census night were George Hetherington, aged 18, private tutor, Anne Steele, aged 21, dairy maid, Margaret Watson, aged 18, house servant, Margaret Bonlngton, aged 13, nursemaid, James Johnston, aged 13, cowherd, John Hamilton, aged 18, shepherd and laborer and Charles Lindsay, aged 28, labourer.