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The William Bowie Story Part 2.


No information about William' situation over the next few months has survived although, from the level of correspondence between father and son, it is clear that they would continue to keep in touch. The next letter from William is dated 25th November 1827 and is about his return from Glasgow. It is more than likely that he would also have had a trip home to Stirling at the same time. Portpatrick via Northern Ireland certainly seems an unusual way to travel and, from the letter, it would seem that the reason was a shortage of money. The T Finlayson referred to would undoubtedly be a relation of the Muthill cousins of Alexander Bowie on his mother's side.

Portpatrick 25th November 1827

My dear beloved Father I am happy to inform you of my safe arrival. I arrived yesterday about three o'clock. I had obliged to take one of the Steam Boats that sail between Glasgow and Belfast on Friday morning. I then came to Donaghadee par Coach which is a distance of 16 miles from Belfast and then had just to cross the channel I would have taken the mail from Glasgow but I found that even after getting the loan of two pounds from T Finlayson I ran a risk of running short --by the way I expect to hear from you very soon letting me know whether you received my letter from Glasgow and if you have sent the two pounds to T Finlayson. I am just going to church and the bell has been ringing With kind love to brothers sisters etc

Love Dear Father Your Affectionate William Bowie

PS I forgot to mention that everything has been going on well WB

From the surviving correspondence from August, when William took up his post in Portpatrick, until November everything seemed to be working out well. From January 1828, however, a different story begins to emerge. One where William is not coping well and might even be ill, indeed one that has fatal consequences. The first hint comes, in this letter, with Alexander's comment about William's cough. On the 3rd of January 1828, in reply to correspondence with William, Alexander Bowie writes ;

Dear William

I am happy to learn by your last letter that on that day you were better than you had been since you had last written--am I to infer from this that your complaints are completely subdued--the cough away--and your appetite good. I am not much uneasy about the frequency of the pulse because of the way in which your mind seems to be harrassed with those silly thoughts and fears. I believe about perfect bugbears in which you ought not to indulge yourself. I have not the least doubt the moment you overcome this your health will be as it ought .

You must be particularly careful for some time till your health is re-established and should you happen to be called to wait on any more patients where there may be dampness and want of fire you must order fire immediately and don't endanger your own health and I have no doubt if you take a little precaution for some time you will be no more troubled with it. I know a number that never had an attack but once and you are younger than many of them I have alluded to being still more in your favour.

Mr Robert Nancy has been here twice at tea--once when your Aunt Hill presided Aunt Forrester could not attend---Aunt Hill invited him to a family dinner, Aunt Gillies to tea none of which he could accept owing to previous engagements but he called at both houses but not at the Captains. I expected to have seen him on Tuesday but he did not call and I believe he left the Crook for Glasgow yesterday morning. I was much pleased with his manner and conduct. he appears to me to be all together a most active clever boy but I am yet to learn the cause why he didn't call the day before he went away according to promise.

Write me as soon as you can as to the state of your health and how business is getting on with you. We are all pretty well blessed be God all of us joining in wishing you a happy New Year with all the compliments of the season.

A. Bowie Footnote Robert Nancy? Contemporary of William's at Univ? Crook= Cottages at Millhall near Stirling--now demolished. Aunt Hill Agnes Hill who brought up Helen and Margaret Aunt Forrester Christian Hill/ Mrs Capt. Forrester. Aunt Gillies Robert Gillies' wife


William also wrote to his father on the 3rd of January 1828 and the letters of father and son must have crossed in transit because, on the 5th, Alexander Bowie writes ;

Stirling 5th January 1828

My Dear William

I am sorry to learn by yours of the 3rd that you are not quite so well as when you last wrote me. I beg of you once more to take care of yourself for some little time-- whatever should become of your business Your health is of all others your first objective you must therefore give up everything and take care of it. the world is nothing without health I urged the necessity of this in my last letter and I now insist upon it as you value your own and my comfort I beg you will sacrifice everything .......... for this for some time to come.

Your shirts are promised to be ready next week when I will send along with them 2 jackets and 2 pairs of drawers. I have..... ..... ..... of any ..... ..... but we are all pretty well we have all cold and for myself I have had it less or more all winter but thankfully I am going about. Alexander has entered with Dr Monro I hope he will do well what think you of this..

I have received ..... ..... ..... ..... it is said he will ..... ..... out the journal You have ..... .... nothing of Mr Blair this same .... .... I would like to know all your complaints if you have any and the reason for you feeling rather dull. If you feel disagreeable in your present situation you are welcome home as ever so that do not allow your spirits to ..... ..... on that account and perhaps something may ..... ... up that you may like better you are but young and there are will be not much lost by your coming home if your situation does not please you but this may not be the cause of your distress. Write me immediately and let me know everything about you that I may have it in my power to speak to the point in tendering my advice to you-- therefore miss nothing ..... .... and be assured of my affections to you.

This day just now at 2.0'clock Aunt Annie died.

I am etc.

A Bowie

Clearly from this letter Bowie is starting to think that it must be William's situation in Portpatrick that is seriously affecting him and that he might be better out of it. Some letters that have not survived between father and son must have been sent between the 5th of January and the next from William dated 22nd January says;

22nd January 1828 Portpatrick Monday noon My Dear Father

I received yours of the 19th yesterday evening. I should have got it much sooner but it was missent to Ireland. I am happy to inform you of my being a good deal better and of the cough of being not half so severe whether it may continue or not I cannot say. I feel myself week no doubt from so much bleeding and blistering but I am spared to get out of bed I will soon make it all up again. I expect my box on Friday or Saturday. I should have had it last Saturday had Wordie delivered it in time in Glasgow. I would have asked the collector to have written you but I thought you would like fully as well if I could do it myself.

I am Your affectionate son William Bowie

I imagine that the high level of correspondence that we have seen so far between father and son was kept up. From William's, side because he was not well and struggling to keep his new business going, and, from Alexander Bowie's side because of his concern for his son. There is a gap in the correspondence that has survived until 3rd of March when we read in a letter from William :

Portpatrick Tuesday 3rd March 1828

My Dear Father

Intended to have written you much sooner but wished to delay until I would see Mr Blair which I only did yesterday for the first time since he returned. He was afraid to call upon me for fear of getting Typhus Fever as my landlady is being very ill with it at present. Mr Blair said he saw Mr Bell in Edinburgh who mentioned to him that I thought Portpatrick did not agree well with me and that it was his opinion that that I should not remain if I was in the least ill by it and as for myself he said I would be the last person to ask you to remain one minute however sorry I may be to part with you. I have done everything for the best and trust there will be no reflections. If the weather is at all favourable I intend leaving this either the end of this week or the beginning of next. I am much in the same way as to health as when I last wrote.

I am Dear Father William Bowie

NB I opened the letter after it was sealed so do not blame the post.

PS I do not require any money.

From this letter we can infer that, as an immature nineteen year old William clearly couldn't make the decision to leave Portpatrick and head for home. When he was in Edinburgh Mr Blair obviously checked with Mr Bell who had arranged the job for William in Portpatrick only some seven months before.


The following Sunday, the 8th, William writes ;


8th March 1828

My Dear Father

I received yours of the 5th and would have answered before had I known upon the day I meant to leave PortPt. but this I did not do until today. I propose leaving Stranraer on Tuesday morning par Steam Boat provided the day is good and my health no worse than it is. I have been remarkably well the last few days i mean as to my strength I find nothing troubling me now but that tickling cough and I think if the day is at all good I will be the better of the sail.

I think the Stranraer steam boat usually completes her voyage in one day I think I should be in Glasgow on Tuesday evening if the day is fine. With regard to sending anybody to meet me you may do as you think proper I think I could manage well enough and it would save expense and the uncertainty of me coming on Tuesday really puts me in that state that gives me no opinion

If Robert likes to run the risk I would like very well he would come and should you think of sending him tell him to take Wilson's coach and stop at the Caledonian Hotel where Wilson's coach stops as I intend stopping for a day or two rather as go to Mr Brown's. I have troubled him so often of late and given him nothing for it. I am glad to say I think I will part good friends with everybody and they only regret my going away to leave them. I trust you will keep your mind perfectly easy about me till I come home. I will cover myself up the whole journey. I am Dear Father Your Affectionate Son

William Bowie

So William's attempt at setting up on his own as a Surgeon came to a fairly abrupt end. Clearly, from the way he describes himself in relation to his impending journey, he was pretty ill and, from the symptomatology sparsely provided in the above letters, it would seem that he was suffering from tuberculosis or 'consumption' as it was then called. a condition that we can be fairly sure killed his mother only some eighteen months previously.

After returning to Stirling William consulted Dr Bell in Edinburgh. This we can gather from a letter written by one Mrs Hanney writing on the 16th May 1828 from Portpatrick on behalf of her husband who, she claims, is not a very good letter writer and has left William's letter unanswered too long. After this preamble she says ;" I am living in hopes to hear that the summer has had good effect on your health and that the blister you mention having been obliged to apply was the last of these uneasy processes you have had to go through as I hope your worthy frienf Dr Bell has been right in his calculations of leisure and attention ..... ..... .... .. you ..... ..... again.

Mrs Hannay gives us further cause for concern about the family when we learn for the first time that Alexander Bowie is also not well. She says, referring to her wishes for William "Also this I desire most sincerely to hear as also that your father has regained his health again as he must be a material ? personage in his family at their time of life". A fortelling of problems to come.


The change of air and Dr Bell's treatment was not sufficient to save the young Surgeon and William Bowie died on the 18th November 1828. The following notice of his death appeared in the Stirling Advertiser on Friday 28th November 1828; "Here on the 18th inst. at the early age of 20, William Bowie, surgeon, son of Mr Alexander Bowie, Architect and Builder, Stirling. Mr Bowie was a young man of amiable dispositions, of great promise in his profession, and deeply lamented by his friends and acquaintances."

Given that the death notices of the time rarely gave more detail than name, place and date of death the above comments show the standing, in the community, of both William and Alexander Bowie and clearly indicates the level of loss that both the family and the community suffered.

The comment by Mrs Hannay about William's father was indeed a foretelling of events for, as we saw in an earlier chapter, Alexander Bowie was indeed ill and he died in seven months later in July of the following year.