NCO193417 Mr James Gillray (1756-1815) engraved by Charles Turner, published by G. Humphrey in 1819 (hand-coloured etching) by Gillray, James (1757-1815) (after) hand-coloured etching © Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford English, out of copyright

NCO193417 Mr James Gillray (1756-1815) engraved by Charles Turner, published by G. Humphrey in 1819 (hand-coloured etching) by Gillray, James (1757-1815) (after)
hand-coloured etching
© Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford
English, out of copyright

This is the third instalment in what is shaping up to be a short series of posts about the family of the famous eighteenth-century caricaturist James Gillray (pictured).

The surviving remnants of Gillray’s papers contain only a handful of references to the caricaturist’s family. These mostly relate to his father James, although his brother John and mother Jane also feature to a far lesser degree. Hannah Gillray, the younger sister who was baptised in 1759, is the only member of the immediate family not to be mentioned at all and this is presumably because she died while she was still a baby.

The only reference to the existence of an extended family comes from a single letter written by Gillray’s uncle Thomas. Thomas Gillray had evidently stayed on in Scotland after his brother James departed to fight in the Wars of Austrian Succession during the 1740s. His letter is addressed from Balerno, a small town some ten miles to the south west of Edinburgh, which was known for producing flax, paper and snuff, and is full of concern for his ailing brother’s health. It also reveals something of the family’s Scottish roots, with Thomas’s phonetic spelling of words such as breath [“braith”] and took [“tooch”] indicating he still possessed a strong Lowland accent.

It’s not known whether Gillray’s father had time to pen a reply before his death sometime in March 1799, and it’s possible that these were the last words to pass between the two brothers.

My Dear Brother James,

You will receive this with my sincere love to you & your son James. Hoping you are in ordinary health. I received yours dated the 31st Oct last, which I sent an answer to you immediately. Mr dear brother, you told me of your frailty & that your strength was fast decaying. I am sorry for’t, but we may lay our account every one of us to meet with the like if it pleases the Lord to spare us. To your time of life is my sincere wish that the Lord may preserve us every one for the enjoyment of Him in time & through eternity & remove all impediment out of the way that may hinder us from Him. This was a sentence of our dear mother’s prayer which I remember well my dear brother. I am desirous to hear how you are & what condition you are in. If you be able to walk out or if you have any appetite for your vittels & what vittels agreeth best with you, & what your complaint is of trouble, or if you be troubled with a shortness of braith [sic] my dear brother. If you be not able to write, desire your son James to write and let me know if there be any thing here that you would choose that I could afford and I would be very glad to send it to you. I tooch the opportunity to write with Mr Ogle, though not acquaint[ed]. I saw Mr Denholm their clerk, & he told me that he saw you at your house. All our sincere love to you & your dear son James & may God the Father, Jesus Christ his son and the Holy Spirit the comforter, be with you all hence for & for ever. Amen.

Balerno, 29th January 1799.   Thomas Gillray.  Write soon.

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