Patrick didn’t exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1842. He gave up his lodgings near Euston Square and came back to Arbroath. Why? He had a commission from Robert Cadell, who owned the copyright to the literary estate of Walter Scott, and The Antiquary, the third book in the Waverley series, was set in Fairport in the north east of Scotland. It was obvious to many that Fairport was based on Arbroath, which made it the ideal place to produce illustrations for the book.

P6032271 - Version 2

An aside: Sir Walter Scott and JMW (Joseph Methuselah
Wunderkind) Turner dominated the literary and visual arts respectively in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. Scott did so at the time, and there is the amazing statistic (I’ve lost my source for this but will try to retrieve it) that by 1850 half of the books that had ever been printed were written by one author, WALTER SCOTT. While Scott’s fame has faded over the years, Turner’s has risen. His work wasn’t reproduced in vast quantities during his lifetime, as Scott’s was, but thanks to the Turner Bequest of hundreds of oil paintings and thousands of sketches, and the eventual adding of the Clore Gallery to what is now called Tate Britain, he now ‘bestrides his time like a colossus’.

Turner travelled to Scotland to meet Scott near the end of the latter’s life and made a six-week sketching tour relating to Scott’s poems. Then, with Scott dead and his novels still in great demand, Cadell persuaded Turner to again come north and produce sketches which would be the basis for illustrations of a new edition of Scott’s prose works in general and the Waverley novels in particular. A reconstruction of his tour itinerary, reveals that the artist’s schedule for his three-week visit to Scotland in September–October 1834 was extremely demanding. He travelled to around twenty-five locations in connection to the Waverley Novels, and various sites associated with the life of Sir Walter.

But back to Patrick Allan. Did Robert Cadell contact him or
vice versa? I will have to make enquiries. Suffice to say for now that Patrick Allan returned to Arbroath with a lip-smacking opportunity to practise his profession.

The Antiquary, the third novel in the Waverley series, was first published in three volumes (see above image) in 1816. At that time the novels were published anonymously. That is, the title page was as below, with no sign of the words WALTER or SCOTT. Robert Cadell was not mentioned either, though he was the partner of Archibald Constable in 1816.

So many of these books were printed at the time that even I’ve got a copy, a 197-year-old cultural construct which kicks off like so:


Patrick Allan was three-years-old when that book came out. He’s unlikely to have read the ‘author of Waverley’ until his teens, but then he would undoubtedly have soaked up the unique brand of romance and realism, writing that brought history and geography to life for everyone that could read.

I guess Patrick, at sixteen, still living in Arbroath, would have been excited by the new edition of the Waverley Novels that Robert Cadell published in 1829 with introductions by ‘The Author’ (although by 1827 Scott had owned up to the authorship of the novels) and with two illustrations per volume. In this edition,
The Antiquary was published in two volumes, the first on 1st October and the second on 1st November as part of the one-volume-per-month-for-40-Waverley-months scheme, which ended with Woodstock. Below is the title page of the second of the volumes, volume six of the whole series, if that’s not confusing. The other illustration in this volume was adjoining and has left a black imprint on the facing page of my copy, particularly visible between the lines of the title and the print of the image:


If Patrick was excited by that publishing event, he would have been all the more so to learn that a future edition of the book was to feature illustrations based on sketches by himself. How many illustrations? It’s possible that Robert Cadell had quite a few in mind, as the visual component of these books became greater over the years in order to entice both new and repeat purchasers.

Of the 64 paintings by Patrick at Hospitalfield, at least 12 are painted sketches relating to the commission. Two of these are of Arbroath fishermen, whose titles feature the names of characters in the book, that is Steenie Mucklebackit and Saunders Mucklebackit. Here is Steenie, who is a man of violent action one day, and who dies in an accident at sea the next:

Patrick Allan-Fraser, Steenie Mucklebackit, 1842

There are another 22 paintings that depicts fisher folk, the interior of their houses or their coastal setting. (So that more than half of all the PAF paintings at Hospitalfield are of this motif.) These might also have been part of the
Antiquary project but have not been explicitly titled in such a way. In any case, when Patrick came back to Arbroath in 1842, what he did was to depict in a direct way the simple lives of these people. The painting below would seem to be a variation of the above Steenie Mucklebackit, minus fishing boat for the leaning against, and lobster pot for the sitting upon.

Patrick Allan-Fraser, Forfarshire Fisherman, 1842

These images remind me of the van Gogh painting
The Zouave, though that wasn’t painted until 1888. Zouaves were a division of French-Algerian soldiers billeted in Arles while Vincent was soaking up sunshine and sunflowers. The Zouaves were notorious for their recklessness on and off the battlefield. Steenie Mucklebackit was reckless on and off the fishing boat, so there’s a parallel. Here is a third image of Steenie, though again the title just refers to a fisherman:

Vincent van Gogh, The Zouave, 1888

Sorry, that’s the wrong image. Below is Steenie, ready for a battle with the elements. A battle that could only ever have one winner, something that, deep down, you feel poor Steenie knows.

Patrick Allan-Fraser, Forfarshire Fisherman Wearing Tackle, 1842

Below is a reproduction of
Saunders Mucklebackit Mending His Nets. When Jonathan Oldbuck, the antiquary of the book’s title, visits the Mucklebackits, whose house is on his land, to pay his respects following the death of Steenie, he is surprised to find Steenie’s father working. Saunders Mucklebackit expresses the situation like this:

“And what would ye have me to do,” answered the fisher, gruffly, “Unless I wanted to see four children starve, because ane is drowned? It’s weel wi’ you gentles, that can sit in the house wi’ handkerchers at your een when ye lose a friend; but the likes o’ us maun to our work again, if our hearts were beating as hard as my hammer.”

Patrick has portrayed the old fisherman with his nets on either side of him, resembling nothing less than open graves. I imagine the one on the right going straight to the bottom of the ocean.The sea could emerge at any moment and drown any or all of the Mucklebackits. Or maybe not Saunders, who seems to have the power to float a few inches above it all, whether solid ground or obliterating sea.

Patrick Allan-Fraser, Saunders Mucklebackit Mending His Nets, 1842

The fishing community is an element of The Antiquary, but not the main one. Jonathan Oldbuck lives in a grand house called Monkbarns where he exercises his curiosity into all things antiquarian, especially local archaeological matters and Scottish historical ones. As William Payne says in his introduction to Hospitalfield: Patrick Allan Fraser and his art collection: ‘Walter Scott was aware of this layering of time when he introduced his readers to Hospitalfield, under the guise of Monkbarns, in The Antiquary.’ Payne goes on to say that a monk’s barn can still be detected in the foundations of the present structure at Hospitalfield. He tells us ‘The eighteenth century Frasers [of Hospitalfield] were great bookworms, especially for historical subjects and for poetry, factors which might have attracted Scott to visit Hospitalfield during the early years of the nineteenth century.’

The biography of Walter Scott, written by his son-in-law J.G. Lockhart, came out in 1837. And if 24-year-old Patrick Allan had looked in the index he would have come across a single entry for Arbroath. Lockhart includes a transcription of the journal that Scott kept in 1814 when, on sailing around Scotland, he stopped in the area to visit the Bell Lighthouse, which is twelve miles south of Arbroath (and mentioned once in
The Antiquary by the feisty Maggie Mucklebackit). According to The Book of Hospitalfield by George Hay, published in 1894, it was during this 1814 visit that Scott stayed at Hospitalfield. In his diary Scott wrote: ‘I visited the abbey church [Arbroath Abbey] for the third time, the first being - eheu! - the second with T.Thomson. Dined at Arbroath, and came on board at night, where I made up this foolish journal and now beg for wine and water.’

What is the ‘eheu!’ about? Lockhart provides a footnote which states ‘This is, without doubt, an allusion to some happy day when his first love was of the party.’ More on that soon, as it’s a way into the romance of Patrick Allan and Elizabeth Fraser.

Elizabeth was born in 1805 in Hospitalfield but brought up at Hawkesbury Hall, near Coventry. She married Arthur Baker, a young soldier in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, at Aberdeen when she was only eighteen, and they travelled to Arbroath to claim Elizabeth's inheritance. The trustees were unimpressed by the claim, and refused to transfer Hospitalfield House, left in trust to Elizabeth, to the newly married couple. Instead, the trustees 'bought off' Arthur Baker with a sum of money for a commission in the army. However, he disappeared soon afterwards with the money, leaving Elizabeth behind, and was found dead in strange circumstances at Dover four years later. The young widow Elizabeth and her mother spent time at both Arbroath and Coventry.

How would Patrick and Elizabeth (aged 29 and 37, respectively, in 1842) have first met? As William Payne says, Patrick may have called round to ask permission to sketch in the grounds of Hospitalfield in fulfilment of his commission. More realistically (continues Payne) is the following scenario. The Fraser fortunes were at a low ebb, Elizabeth was a widow and Patrick’s uncle (the one he didn’t pursue a law career with) was Clerk to the trustees of the Fraser Estate. This John MacDonald was also Secretary to the Dundee and Arbroath Railway Company whose lines crossed the lands of the Estate. So Patrick’s Uncle John could have been the cause of Patrick meeting the English-educated Eliizabeth who may well have found Patrick as charming as the artists of The Clique did. At Hospitalfield there is an edition of Byron’s Works which are inscribed ‘
To Patrick Allan, Esq. from a Sincere Friend, Arbroath, Nov. 25th 1842.’ William Payne tells us that the writing is unmistakably that of Elizabeth Fraser of Hospitalfield.

In any case, the book,
The Antiquary, must soon have become an important link between Patrick and Elizabeth because of the parallel that exists between the book’s essential set-up and their own. That is, a young man comes to Arbroath and falls for a local woman. In the novel, the mysterious young Lovel comes to Fairport because he’s already in love with Isabella Wardour whom he met and fell for when she was visiting relatives in England. Lovel visits Monkbarns and has to put up with the insatiable curiosity (about life in general and his mysterious visitor in particular) of Jonathan Oldbuck. Both the lead male characters are based on Scott himself, though at different ages in life.

In another grand house in the locality, Isabella Wardour lives with her impoverished father. It’s to respect his wishes, that she feels she must marry a rich man. And so Isabella tried to make it it clear to Lovell, when they first met in England, that he shouldn’t pursue his suit. Obviously, the pair were meant for each other, just as Patrick and Elizabeth turned out to be a solid partnership, despite their difference in age and social class.

But in order to say more, I need to set out the geography. The map I’ll put together will have marked on it Hospitalfield in the south and Ethie Castle to the north. These correspond to Monkbarns and Knockwinnock, respectively, as W.S Crockett states in his
Footsteps of Scott, published in 1908. In 2013, Ethie Castle offers B&B, and its website states: ‘Sir Walter Scott, a friend of the 8th Earl [of Northesk], often stayed at Ethie. During one of his visits he wrote the novel The Antiquary, where Ethie is reputedly depicted as the legendary Castle of Knockwinnock with the central character based upon a neighbour during that period.’

Hmm, I’m not sure that Scott wrote
The Antiquary when he was in the area, I think he knocked out the story in the early months of 1815 at Abbotsford, his glorious home in the Borders. But I’ll follow up the claim at some stage. Perhaps I’ll take a walk to Ethie Castle, seen below, during my residency. So what I’m writing now is just a preliminary account of the case and I may have to fine tune it.


Perhaps the most dramatic scene in The Antiquary, comes when Isabella - who has just been reintroduced to Lovel at Monksbarn - chooses to return to Knockwinnock on foot and via a coastal path. She walks with her father (Sir Arthur, intellectual adversary of Jonathan Oldbuck), dispensing with the carriage they came in, as using it would mean Isabella coming into close proximity with Lovel again. A high-tide and a sudden storm combine to put the young woman and her father in difficulty. But here’s the map I mentioned:

Screen shot 2013-05-28 at 15.06.42

The two houses are about ten miles apart, a bit far for strolling home with an elderly father, so it’s really just a structure that was in Scott’s mind and he makes it three miles in the novel. Isabella and her father are walking north along the seashore where the coast has a rocky cliff, when they realise that the tide is dangerously high. They must hurry to get to the next bit of headland before they are cut off by the sea. They’re met by Edie Ochiltree, a wise tramp, the bearded individual who features in the title page of the 1829 edition that’s pictured near the top of this page.

I can imagine Patrick and Elizabeth walking out from Hospitalfield together towards the end of 1842, making their way north along the cliff-top path in the evening sunshine while discussing the fate of their
Antiquary counterparts at sea level. Perhaps they would be carrying a copy of The Antiquary between them, so allowing either Patrick or Elizabeth to quote from the novel from time to time. Here’s a quote that either might have brought to the other’s attention:

“Turn back! Turn back!” exclaimed the vagrant; ‘Why did you not turn when I waved to you?”
“We thought,” replied Sir Arthur, in great agitation, “we thought we could get round Halket-head.”
“Halket-head! The tide will be running on Halket-head by this time like the Fall of Fyers! It was a’ I could do to get round it twenty minutes since - it was coming in three feet abreast. We will maybe get back by Ballyburgh Ness Point yet. The Lord help us it’s our only chance. We can but try.”
“My God, my child!” “My father! My dear father!” exclaimed the parent and daughter, as fear lending them strength and speed, they turned to retrace their steps, and endeavoured to double the point, the projection of which formed the southern extremity of the bay.

Perhaps Castlesea Bay? At least that gives the sort of scenario Scott had in mind. Tides, shore, cliffs...

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Isabella, Sir Arthur and Edie Ochiltree don’t make it back to safety. Instead, the threesome climb as far as they can up onto the rocks where wise Edie knows they will not be safe for long. Happily, Lovel comes to their rescue, bravely and skillfully climbing down from the cliff-top and steering them to a point above which the water is likely to reach. But Isabella and her father are still in danger because they are freezing and exhausted, not in a fit state to stay out in the open air all night. Happily again, the fishing community have sensed the danger, and with the aid of the mast from a boat and a pulley system, all four are pulled up to safety via a suspended chair.

Here is Patrick’s oil sketch of the scene. The viewpoint is from the north. Just visible on top of a very distant cliff is the mast, below which a tiny figure is suspended. The sketch gets more marks for atmosphere and geography than it does for plot or characterisation, but that’s OK.

Patrick Allan-Fraser, A Scene from the Antiquary (Red Head, Arbroath), 1842

Here I should say that the only illustration that Turner provided for
The Antiquary is shown in its final engraved form below. It appeared in a book called Landscape-Historical Illustrations of Scotland and the Waverley Novels which was published in 1836-8 by a rival of Cadell’s. Obviously, given the date of publication relative to his own commission, Patrick Allan would have been aware of the book and the engraving. He would have been aware too that the sun setting where it did (right hand edge of the composition) didn’t make much sense. The scene shows the three unfortunate figures down at sea level, before they’ve climbed up onto the rocks in order to escape the waves.

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 11.23.40
JMW Turner / E.F.Finden, Ballyburgness Point, 1836

Patrick: “Turner may have made a good job of painting the sun setting over Venice, but he botched this one nearer to home.”
Elizabeth: “We must bear in mind that Turner didn’t come up here himself. What he concentrated on was illustrating a particular paragraph of Scott. May I?”
Patrick: “Please do.”
Elizabeth (reading): ‘
The disc of the sun became almost totally obscured ere he had altogether sunk below the horizon, and an early and lurid shade of darkness blotted the serene twilight of the summer evening. The wind began next to arise; but its wild and moaning sound was heard for some time, and its effect became visible on the bosom of the sea before the gale was felt on shore. The mass of waters, now dark and threatening, began to lift itself in larger ridges, and sink in deeper furrows, forming waves that rose high in foam upon the breakers, or burst upon the beach with a sound resembling distant thunder.’
Patrick: “Imagine how my own sketch will look when a master engraver gets a chance to draw it with a pen of steel.”

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 11.26.32
JMW Turner / E.F.Finden, Ballyburgness Point (detail), 1836

In fact, Patrick’s oil sketch of the stormy coast never made it into a published book. Robert Cadell was always amending his plans for editions of Scott’s work, trying to keep up with the market and remain one step ahead of the competition. But two other oil sketches by Patrick eventually did become the basis for vignette and title page to an edition published by Cadell, which I’ll get to in due course, though maybe not on this page. The ultimate engraving of the storm and rising tide scenario in
The Antiquary didn’t appear until the library edition of 1876, by which time Patrick’s Elizabeth had died and Patrick was building a monument to her in Arbroath Cemetery. But the image in question also works as a male monument to the whole female gender, so I’ll include it here.

B. Foster / W. Richardson, The Antiquary, 1876

It’s a vivid passage in the book even without this particular image. So I can imagine Patrick and Elizabeth enjoying volume one (of three) together on the cliff-top path just to the north of Arbroath:

Patrick: “Shall I do the honours, this time?”
Elizabeth: “Please do.”
Patrick (reading): “
‘She gave the signal to Lovel, and he to those who were above. She rose, while the chair in which she sat was kept steady by the line which Lovel managed beneath. With a beating heart he watched the flutter of her white dress, until the vehicle was on a level with the brink of the precipice.’”
Elizabeth (teasing): “Marvellous! Can you see yourself doing the same for me, Patrick?”
Patrick (bowing): “I like to think that come the hour I will not be found wanting, Elizabeth.”

Actually, I shouldn’t make too much of the parallel between Patrick and Elizabeth on the one hand and Isabella and Lovel on the other. The night of the storm is the closest Lovel ever really gets to his would-be lover. Lovel departs Fairport in chapter 21 and only returns in chapter 45, the book’s last. He has newly inherited high status and wealth, and he is now in a position to marry Isabella. They don’t actually meet in the last chapter, the subsequent marriage is baldly announced in a single, unconvincing line.

So what’s going on? The plot is unsatisfactory because the writer cannot but stay faithful to his own experience The book is biography-driven and therein lies much of its best qualities.

The Antiquary, written in 1815, deals with a month in the summer of 1794. This was roughly when Walter Scott made a particular trip north from Edinburgh. Ostensibly he had some court business in Aberdeen. But he took a holiday as well (he was away from Edinburgh for nearly a month) and was hoping to visit Fettercairns, the house where Williamina Belsches lived. He had met her coming out of church onto the streets of the capital five years before (he was twenty, she just fifteen when their paths crossed). It was raining and he offered her shelter under his umbrella. Love at first sight? Certainly, he was soon courting her. Lockhart does mention the affair in his biography, so it’s quite possible that Patrick and Elizabeth knew that it was Scott’s reworking of what was a deep disappointment in love that was driving/stalling the narrative in The Antiquary, the book that had brought Patrick back to Arbroath and into Elizabeth’s orbit.

However, it wasn’t until a hundred years after Scott’s death, when his correspondence was published in full, that the story of Scott’s unhappy love affair became clearer. Here is a quote from a letter that the 24-year-old Scott wrote to a friend in April 1796:

‘Like a Cloud upon a whirlwind did I pass through the fat Carse of Gowrie, thro Dundee, thro Arbroath, thro Montrose. At Benholm I was most cordially received by George Robertson Scott, who is a devilish good fellow, aye and a moderate thinking rational man too. For a thousand reasons I referred any stay in that neighbourhood till my return southwards so I tore myself from that quarter of the country and sad and slowly trotted on to Aberdeen with many an anxious thought upon the shadows clouds and darkness that involve my future prospects of happiness. I must not omit to tell you that Benholm consists of an elegant modern house built close to an ancient and venerable Tower. You will guess that I was often found upon the Battlements straining my eyes towards the distant Grampians.’

Again, what’s going on? Well, hopefully the map below helps. Scott, alone on a horse, rode north, stopping at Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose, Benholm and Aberdeen, but all the time his thoughts were with lovely 19-year-old Williamina at Fettercairn (the blue tack furthest inland).

Screen shot 2013-05-29 at 11.40.28

Walter had plenty time, trotting up the coastal road, to work out a scenario whereby he saves the life of his beloved from murderous seas. Hooray for wishful thinking and for a real-life umbrella that had morphed into an imagined chair suspended from a mast and raised on high thanks to a home-made pulley system! He also suffered frustration at post-offices along the way, calling in on each in the vain hope of an invite to Fettercairns. Scott later turned the exasperation of this into comedy. Chapter 15, the final chapter in the first volume as the book was originally published, shows the inner workings of Fairport Post-office, the workers constantly trying to resist opening the mail to satisfy their curiosity about the private lives of their customers.

Scott did get an invite on the return journey. Apparently, Williamina had been ill. But Walter suspected he had a rival. And it was later that year he heard that she had become engaged to William Forbes, a rich banker, who was to become Sir William. A year later, Scott courted and married someone else. In other words, he got on with what was to become his brilliant life. But before moving on he did pen these lines:

antiquary - Version 3
B. Foster / W. Richardson, The Antiquary (detail), 1876

Apologies, it’s the following lines he penned, though indirectly they do conjure up the above engraving, especially once you get into the rhyme:

By a thousand fond dreams my weak bosom betrayed
Believed thee for love and for constancy made,
Believed that Indifference never could be
When gentle Compassion had pleaded for me.

The phantom swift flew, the Delusion is plain,
Delusion too lovely alas! and too plain,
Too late ’twas revealed and with anguish I see
No comfort from love, no pity from thee.

Ah fool to exult, as wild fancy has done,
While she dream’d such a conquest by thee could be won,
Ah fool, to imagine such graces could be
By Nature formed only for Love and for thee!

I should just mention that these lines aren’t quoted in Lockhart’s bumper biography of 1837, but other similar lines are. Patrick and Elizabeth had the opportunity to be aware of the sad story behind The Antiquary, and, hopefully, it made them treasure their own happiness all the more. But back to Scott’s self-pity, something he is not known for in his maturity:

For grandeur, for wealth your poor friend you resign,
If Bliss they can give you, O may it be thine.
Farewell to the raptures of lowly degree
You might have enjoyed with Love and with me.

Unfriended by Fortune, untutored by Art
I gave you my all when I gave you my heart,
But many a gallant of higher degree
Has none, Williamina, for Love and for thee.

Too proud to solicit, too weak to contend,
That heart can but break, for it never shall bend,
Nor bear the cold glance of Acquaintance to see
In the eye which once softened with friendship for me.

Ah ne’er will that heart the last agony bear
When envy must add to the pangs of despair,
When forgot each fond tie that once bound thee to me
Thy charms the dear price of vain splendour may be.

O then ere the turf o’er these limbs has grown green,
Will my favourite forget that I ever have been?
No gentle remembrance will whisper in thee
“He fell a sad victim to Love and to me.”

If the rawness of the above poem indicates that it was written soon after the actual event in Scott’s life, the lightness of The Antiquary is an indication that twenty years had passed from the unhappy love affair in the north-east of Scotland before Scott wrote the story set in Fairport. By then his own character had evolved into something not unlike Jonathan Oldbuck’s. The antiquary is curious about everything, proud of his wide knowledge yet faintly ludicrous in his own eyes. Oldbuck looks kindly on most of the people he comes into contact with and that is his saving grace.

What about Williamina? We don’t know her side of the story at all. But we do have a single letter she wrote to her husband-to-be in December of 1796, a month before her marriage:

‘I wonder if our difficulties and anxieties will ever have an end. I was reading your letter of Friday for about the tenth time, perfectly pleased and happy when father returned from Balgonie and his countenance instantly informed me that his sensations were very different from mine. I do not know with what he is dissatisfied I only know that it is in consequence of a letter from Mr S____.’

This letter is printed in
Sir Walter Scott by Sir Herbert Grierson, published in 1938, well after those concerned’s limbs had been turfed over. In his commentary, Grierson suggests that the Mr S_____ is unlikely to be Scott. Anyway, Williamina goes on:

‘I am teased with this endless hesitation and feel that my spirits cannot much longer support this continual anxiety. If I am happy and comfortable for one day, the next never fails to bring with it new cause of uneasiness. In what state of agitation has my mind been for nearly four months. I think it will require almost as many years of peace to restore its former tranquility. Nothing on earth could induce me to pass such another period except for your sake. You have suffered as much as myself but you have never complained. I am very far short of you in everything and in nothing more than in patience and strength of mind. However, I am conscious of my inferiority and will try to do better.’

A person of emotional intelligence wrote this letter. At least that’s what I think.

‘I am perfectly conscious of what is due me from my father - and to his will I must submit my conduct tho my affections are no longer in my power. From what a dream of happiness this has awakened me. From remembrance of the painful past I did but more enjoy the present and I now find myself (if possible) more anxious, more distressed than ever - even the meeting which I have looked forward to with so much pleasure will now be accompanied with doubt and anxiety.’

She means a meeting with her husband-to-be.

‘What a sad return is this for the dear kind letter I yesterday received. Of one thing however, be assured, it is not in my power of chance or change to deprive you of my regard. Should I even never again repeat this assurance believe that it can end but with the life of your W. B.’

In the short term, things worked out for Williamina. She married her chosen man in January of 1797. They had one child, who went on to be a well-known naturalist. However, Williamina died in 1810, aged just 34. In
Walter Scott by Hesketh Pearson, published in 1954, Pearson tells us that among some unpublished papers written by Miss Russell, a relative of Scott’s, it is stated that Walter was rejected by Williamina in person and left her presence in a rage. It is also stated that Williamina’s marriage to Forbes was extremely unhappy and that her family knew there was something wrong.

What can one say about all that? A person’s life condensed into an ambiguous sentence or two can seem both unsatisfactory and chilling. Still, I’m glad that Pearson’s book includes an image of Williamina:


Let’s return to Elizabeth Fraser, not when she was in her late thirties and had just met Patrick Allan, but back when she was Williamina’s age and had married Arthur Baker.

How would she have felt when she discovered that the trustees of Hospitalfield had bribed her husband and that he had left her to take up a commission in the army. Obviously, she would have been devastated. I’ll just borrow this from Williamina’s letter to suggest what she might have written to Arthur Baker, who, let’s face it, might have been stringing along his wife somewhat:

‘I am teased with this endless hesitation and feel that my spirits cannot much longer support this continual anxiety. If I am happy and comfortable for one day, the next never fails to bring with it new cause of uneasiness. In what state of agitation has my mind been for nearly four months. I think it will require almost as many years of peace to restore its former tranquility.

Funny thing is, at the time of my writing this, just a few days before the start of the actual residency at Hospitalfield, I have access to just one letter written by Elizabeth Fraser. It’s reproduced in
The Book of Elizabeth by Andrea Stokes, who was in residence at Hospitalfield in 2006 and who had the foresight to have a book published by The Hungry Dog Press as a way of marking her stay.

The letter is written to Patrick, though Elizabeth addresses him as Peter, as was apparently her custom. It’s undated as to month and year, but may be from 1851, as in February of that year, on the death of her mother, Elizabeth inherited Hawkesbury Hall and Oldbury Manor. The letter starts off:

‘Wednesday 8th,
My dearest Peter,
I was very glad to receive your letter yesterday morning and to find that you had arrived all safe notwithstanding your shaking - I hope you will find things as well at Hawkesbury and be able to (illegible) Oldbury today.’

The content of the letter is everyday, she tells Patrick about an invite that she hopes he’ll be back in time for on Friday the 17th of the month. She hopes that his meetings with the family’s solicitors have gone well and to get news of those meetings. Her letter ends:

‘We are all (pets and all) well and I hope you are the same. I send my very best love to your precious self and believe me my heart, Peter. Ever your affectionate wife, Elizabeth Allan Fraser.’

What pets did Elizabeth mean? Well, in the letter she writes: ‘We took the dogs out for a short time yesterday and we found it windy but did not stop so much to play as we have some snow.’ But I guess she may have meant cats as well, bearing in mind this portrait, painted by Patrick in an unknown year:

Patrick Allan-Fraser, Elizabeth Allan Fraser, Seated, Reading, with a Cat.

What book is Elizabeth reading in the above image? Let’s suppose it to be the first volume of
The Antiquary. Scott’s pen-portrait of Isabella Wardour - sitting in an armchair, being hoisted out of the reach of waves by her husband-to-be, thanks to a do-it-yourself pulley system - was one that I feel she might have identified with, ironically or otherwise.

Oh dear: this page of mine has spiralled out of control. I embarked on my study of
The Antiquary, knowing it would lead me to Patrick Allan’s sketches for the commission. I didn’t know it would take me to the centre of Walter Scott’s personal life. Or to Williamina Belsches of Fettercairns. Or to Elizabeth Fraser of Hospitalfield. Is it too late to redirect this page back to Patrick?

I don’t think it is. Directly behind Elizabeth in the above image is a cabinet. It is old, dark, carved and very similar to the old cabinet that Patrick painted in a sketch for
The Antiquary, reproduced below:

Patrick Allan-Fraser, Old Cabinet, 1842.

Why am I keen to introduce the above image? Because, unlike the five other sketches for
The Antiquary that I’ve reproduced above, this one made it into a published book. Yes, the 1848 edition of The Antiquary, published by Robert Cadell, boasts this for a title page:

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Patrick Allan-Fraser/ Thomas Witby, Cabinet of Mr Constable, 1848.

Why does it say ‘Cabinet of Mr. Constable’ under the image? Because, in the retrospective introduction that Walter Scott penned in 1829, he admitted that the portrait of Jonathan Oldbuck owed something to an old family friend. That family friend was subsequently identified as George Constable. Of course, this was just Scott trying to throw the reader off the real scent. The man who collects books and memoribilia; useful and useless objects, facts and poems; was Scott himself in middle age. He doesn’t mention
that in any introduction. Nor does he mention that Isabella Wardour and Lovel’s relationship owed so much to his own with Williamina Belsches. Or that his acquaintance with Ethie Castle and Hospitalfield provided a setting for the book.

Which reminds me. It’s June 4 and my residency starts in a few days time. I wonder how this website will progress when I’m on the spot. I mean, I wonder what I’ll write about when I’m wading in the actual footprints of Patrick Allan-Fraser.