RETURN TO BRITAIN AND END OF STORY
William returned to London in September 1775.
Mr William Mylne
Mr Molhorst,1 Cabinet maker
Little tower hill
Edinr October 3 1775
Welcome my Dearest Willy—most sincerely welcome, your arrival has removed every disagreable fear the horrid situation of affairs in America kept me in on your account. —But good God how am I astonished at your silence on my late important change of life, a long and distinct account of which I wrote the begining of May and went in the June packet. —O my Dear Willy rejoice with me in that change, that at least one of your troubles is removed, in no longer being distracted with my future provision; and that I am placed under the most generous and affectionate of protectors.
I write this half an hour after the receipt of yours so that I have had no time for the latest information. —Livingston I met in the street eight days ago. The result of the squire2 visit here in August was a promise from Lord Elliock, to pronounce his determination before the end of September, that and Octr is gone, and yet nothing is done. He was most liberal in his promises of being very much your friend—but heaven defend me from such an indolent, unsteady man.
Whatever little money came into Livingstons hand, he told me, had been given to John Nicoll,* whose account is considerable reduced. All here remain (except myself) just as you left them. Tho I long most earnestly to see you, I make you sole judge of how your [sic] to act. I would earnestly wish you were with my mother in these long nights. Willy is at the Latin and is a fine boy. But my mother will not allow him to call of me [sic], because I am too grand—O my dr Willy, fall not into this weak minded error, only consider me still your bosom friend—the same sympathising affectionate sister. Sir John3 is prepared to receive you, as your most sincere friend as [sic] is most seriously interested in your welfare.
If money is required draw upon me directly, do not I intreat you scruple about this. As I am pretty sure that there is nothing done by Elliok, I shall keep your arrival a secret from all but our own mother, who from your last I prepard to expect you. I shall wait impatiently for your next. God bless you and preserve you,
your sister Anne Gordon
Direct Lady Gordon, St Andrews Square, Edinr.
Mrs & Miss Strange are here, but set out on Monday for France. They have given up house in London, are to settle in Paris. Once more God bless you. The Selbys are well, the whole girls are at a Yorkshire boarding school.
Remember I await your orders and till then am silent.
Mr. Willm Mylne
Mr. Molhorst, Cabinet Maker
thursday 16 of Novb
. . . Livingston I sent a note to, to know if he had received any letter from you—his answer was that he had—and was just going to wait on Lord Elliok to know if he required your presence perhaps this may rouse him. At all events let me beg of you to come down. Whatever plan you may have, if it is unconected with London, why would you stay an hour where your expence, however sober, is reducing your ready money still lower. For the same reason let me conjure you to give up the thoughts of taking a room4; seting aside the odd apearance it would have, why would you grieve your mother by doing so? The reason you give is I allow a most feeling one, but as you come to settle maters, you apear here in the honourable light of relieving the Bashaw, which in a letter of his to you (which you missed, and was returned by Mr. Mackay to me) he says he is left to wind up this troublesome business alone.
Besides my dearest Willy you can at Powder Hall digest & settle any future plan of operations; if any money will be got of this cursed affair, you can think how to turn it—a desperate disease requires a desperate remedy, something must be done or imediate want will insue. . . .
. . . By this post you probably will get Livingston answer; at all events come down; this house5 and its owners are equally at your command, we have decent ease, now and then a little show. . . .
. . . God bless you—do put your things on board of a London ship, & take out a ticket in the fly, & come down—and make happy
your affectionate sister
Anne was married, probably early in April 1775, to Sir John Gordon, Baronet, of Earlstone in Galloway, a district in the southwest of Scotland. Anne had only about £200 to offer him as dowry, and half of that was on loan to William—money that she insisted she could not recall until his financial difficulties were resolved. Clearly the family properties at Powderhall and elsewhere were going to pass to Mrs. Mylne’s sons, and probably the majority to Robert. Sir John, however, was unworried as long as Anne consented to live on his own modest income. He was nearly fifty years old and a military captain on half pay (that is, retired), a gentleman who wished to settle quietly, but with dignity, in Edinburgh. Doubtless Anne made him an ideal wife, with the liveliness of mind that shows in her few surviving letters, her fine looks,6 and the experience of caring for her mother, brother, and nephew, and overseeing one or two servants.
The wedding took place in the dining room at Powderhall. Without nuptial feasting, the couple left immediately for a stay of several weeks with friends of Anne’s at Durham, returning only when the house they had rented in Saint Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh’s New Town was ready for occupation. This was necessary because Anne thought Powderhall unfit for entertaining her husband’s relatives. One month after her marriage she wrote to William a long description of her circumstances before she received Sir John’s unexpected offer, of her acceptance when the offer came, and her arrangements for the wedding; but the letter never reached him and when she discovered this she wrote it all again in her letter of November 16, 1775, quoted above.
Sir John and Lady Gordon had no children. From 1780 onward they lived at Number 2, Thistle Court, Edinburgh, a small court near Saint Andrew’s Square. Sir John carried on some correspondence with William for a few years and clearly respected him. When differences arose between his wife and other Mylnes, chiefly Robert but also her sister Elizabeth Selby,* he seems to have been distressed and he tried, rather unsuccessfully, to act the part of peacemaker. The differences were overcome at least to the extent that Lady Gordon became trustee for Elizabeth’s will after her death—probably in 1797–and, on her own death in 1822, left some money and effects to two of Robert’s daughters and arranged for the silver left her by William to be passed, as he had wished, to Robert’s son and heir, William Chadwell Mylne.* The latter also owned a portrait of Lady Gordon that he had loaned to her but was returned to him after her death.
Lord Elliock’s delay in ruling on William’s dispute with the town council, so long bemoaned by Anne, continued until nearly a year after William’s return from America. Between December 1771 and September 1772 he had received £2,500 in the form of so-called “loans” from the council; but these were actually payments on account against a total that was yet to be determined. For work he had done that was extra to his original contract, Lord Elliock found that £4,187 was due to him, but against this charged him with £420 of the cost of rebuilding of unsatisfactory walls by the council’s overseer after William had left Edinburgh. The council accepted the arbiter’s ruling but charged William interest on the loans; their final payment was then £957, paid on April 14, 1777.
William had various debts to settle, but it seems that the money he had received was sufficient. Robert wrote to him in September 1777: “You are out of debt now, or thereabouts,” and this included his debts to Robert Selby* and to Anne. William’s debt to his brother Robert, which had stood at £765 15s. at the end of 1776, was reduced before mid-1778 by Robert making a “contribution” of £500 to his loss—fulfilment of the intention to which he alluded in his letter to William on March 7, 1774.
In the city of Dublin* there was a piped water supply that caused the town council a considerable amount of trouble from complaints about breakdowns in the supply and about the collection of dues. A large increase in the supply was made possible in the 1770s by taking some of the water that was brought to the city by the Grand Canal of Ireland, built for navigation from the River Shannon to Dublin. While considering their plans for extension in 1776, the council’s “pipe water committee” took advice from several people including Thomas Cooley, architect of the new Exchange (now the City Hall) and a former assistant of Robert Mylne; and it was doubtless Cooley who advised them to write to Robert after their advertisements in Dublin had failed to find a person “skilled in water works” to direct the new works. Robert had been engineer to the New River Company, which supplied the majority of London’s water, since 1767, in addition to practicing as an architect; he was therefore likely to find an adequate water engineer for Dublin, if anyone could. Dublin was at that time the second largest city of the British Empire.
Robert’s answering letter said that he could send an appropriate man but apparently did not name him. The Dublin town council then asked him to send them the man and offered a salary of £140 per annum and a house to live in. They had made this decision by the middle of October and the man, William, left Edinburgh—how long he had been there is not known—for London at about the middle of November. On arriving in London from America a year earlier, he had lodged with a cabinet maker, keeping his presence a secret, it seems, from his brother; but now he stayed at Robert’s house in Arundel Street. He doubtless spent time viewing all of the London waterworks and learning about them from Robert. By January 1777 he was at work in Dublin and on February 3 presented his proposals for a new water main and branches in the southern part of the city—the area south of the River Liffey. On April 7 he produced a plan of supply for the area north of the river. He had already achieved a position of respect and comfort, which drew some teasing remarks from Anne.
To Mr William Mylne
St Thomas Street No 9 Dublin
Edinbr March 9 1777
. . . I am extremly happy to find that everything in Dublin pleases you so well, but could not help smiling when I recolected your former philosophick airs to find you now enumerating the comforts of a good bed, and of different people being at your comand—what an honest soul I have been who never denyed all this.
. . . Willy must go to writing and arithmetic we shall see and get the master as good as we can. . . .
. . . in all changes and chances your sincere friend
William’s employment in Dublin lasted thirteen years, during which the supply of water to private premises was greatly extended and improved, and his direction of the undertaking was praised repeatedly by the council in the warmest terms. Many new lines of supply were laid in the city; most pipes were of elmwood bored to various diameters in William’s own workshop, but the largest mains were of cast iron. Contrary to Anne’s gentle taunt, William was neither seduced by newfound comforts and authority nor deflected from his simple-minded integrity of purpose. He deliberately ran the risk of losing both his status and livelihood several times in battles with the pipe water committee and council for money and staff for the service. As early as September 1777 he made up his mind to resign, but then, as on various later occasions, he was persuaded to continue. On more than one of these occasions he was allowed some weeks or months of leave to visit friends and family in England and Scotland, and he also liked to visit Buxton Spa for his health. He provided sums of money, which over a number of years totaled about £600, in support of his son Willy, who in the middle 1780s was serving on ships trading in the East.
In a letter to Robert in 1784 William expressed some satisfaction with his personal circumstances, but real enthusiasm only bubbled over when he wrote of practical success in his waterworks.
New River Head, Islington,
Dublin 4th Octr 1784
. . . I have no cause to complain either of my health or stomack these some weeks past; the last has been greatly mended by eating great quantitys of ripe fruit, of which I have great plenty in my little garden. . . . It has likewise removed a giddiness in my head, which had greatly hurt my eye sight.
My cock is the cock of all cocks and beats every thing of that kind that was ever applied to water works. It, and the idle time the turncocks have on their hands by its operation, with the aid of whiskey makes them cry Cock a Liralu. . . .
I am now erecting conduits or . . . fountains for supplying the poor with water. . . . The fence of the first one will be knocked down in a few days when I shall send you a description of it and the opinion of the public . . . the people here think I can do anything in water works. . . .
Yours ever affectionately,
When William was again ready to resign less than two years later, he showed his frustration with his masters in the committee.
Robert Mylne Esqre
New Riverhead, Islington
Dublin 3d May 1786
I was much surprised by your last of the 28th of April, you would have me act so mean a part in asking for a pension. However poor I may be, I spurned the idea; to have made the proposition to such men as these are, would have hurt me more than the loss of my place.
After giving notice in writing I should resign my appointment . . . I was much sollicited to change my intention. To try them to the utmost, I offered, if they would manfully oppose every encroachment on their works . . . I would stand by them to the last moment. I could get no satisfactory answer, some saying it was in vain to oppose Government, that is to say they were afraid of their places and pensions. . . .
. . . they voted me a most honorable testimony of my conduct during the many years I have had the management of the works, with the City Seal to be affixed to it. They voted a piece of plate to be given me value thirty pounds with an inscription on it. . . .
Ever sincerely yours
When he wrote Robert his last surviving letter, William was not threatening to resign and his mood had shifted nearer to sorrow than anger.
Dublin 4th Janry 1789
. . . Our new works has answered every purpose I could have wished for . . . yet I find it will be at least two years more before they are compleated, God send it was over, for I am heartily sick of business. . . . I have some money that lies in our Treasurer’s hands, where it is safe, I wish always to let these people see, that I am not a needy man. I have an old and faithfull servant who has attended me during all my illnesses from time to time, for her I wish to make some small provision, as she is now getting past her labour; this will make me continue longer in my employment than I should wish for, she has lived these ten years with me. . . .
Ever most sincerely Dear Brother
Yours Willm Mylne
William never reached his retirement. He died in Dublin in March 1790. Only a very brief abstract of his will survives. It was dated March 6 and proved on June 19, and the two names mentioned, presumably as chief legatees, were his brother Robert and nephew, who, as William Chadwell Mylne, was to succeed Robert as engineer to the New River Company. William was buried in the churchyard of Saint Catherines Church in Dublin and in due course Robert had a fine memorial to him carved and erected in the south aisle of the church. It is still there and well preserved, though the church is now disused. The office, yard, and workshops of the water undertaking were in Saint Catherine’s Parish.
Memorial to William Mylne in St. Catherine’s Church, Dublin.
William seems not to have written much to Lady Gordon or to Sir John after his first two years in Dublin. But his silver, including the fine salver engraved and presented to him by the city of Dublin in 1786, was sent to them when he died, though intended ultimately for William Chadwell Mylne. A memorial set in the wall of the churchyard of Cramond Kirk, then just outside Edinburgh but now within the suburbs, records the death of Sir John Gordon in 1795, and a second stone commemorates “Anne Mylne, relict of Sir John Gordon,” who survived him by twenty-six years and died on October 27, 1822, aged seventy-seven.
2. Robert Mylne, who was in Edinburgh August 14–21 and August 30–September 7.
3. Sir John Gordon.*
4. William must have suggested renting a lodging instead of staying at Powderhall.
5. Sir John and Lady Gordon’s house in Saint Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh.
6. A half-length portrait of Lady Gordon, attributed to Romney, was sold in London in 1978.