The History Of The Telfer Family at Tarbet Manse 1897 - 1925
Margaret Sinclair, Mamie’s daughter
with vital input and
support from Alastair Cuthbertson, Jean’s son
This document tells something of the story of Telfer family life in
the Tarbet Manse, Loch Lomond, from 1897- 1925. Much of it draws on
surviving correspondence between members of that family,
particularly the oldest daughter of the Manse, Mamie, and her lover
Jack Martin. It includes an interesting insight into the impact of
the First World War on family and community life.
The Appendix contains background notes on the family consisting of
the Reverend and Mrs. A P Telfer and their four daughters: Mamie,
Jean, Margaret and Florence.
In 1897 Alexander Prentice Telfer was called to Tarbet United Free
Presbyterian Church, after eight years of teaching in Duff Free
Church College, Calcutta.
This Church was built in 4 months in 1844 after the Disruption broke
up the Arrochar Parish Church congregation.
The oldest daughter, Mamie, was born in
India and was five years old when their life in Tarbet began. The
next child, Jean, born in Girvan, was then only a year old. Two more
girls were born in the years following his induction to Tarbet.
The Ballyhennan U F Church at Tarbet
The Telfer household in Tarbet was a lively one, brimming with life
and over-run with visitors, during the 28 years it occupied the
Manse. The whole family engaged with the congregation and the wider
community of Tarbet, Arrochar, Ardlui and Luss.
In a memoir, Margaret’s son, John Monteith, quoted from her
childhood letters to give some idea of life in the Manse. As
education was a top priority, all four daughters attended school in
In winter this meant starting off by lamplight to walk the
mile to Arrochar Station and then on the homeward way picking up the
lamp from the Station and walking back home in the dark.
In summer the Manse was full of young families and missionaries on
leave, arriving sometimes unannounced, and there were always village
and church events to support, as a very young Margaret described in
a letter to the Maybole Aunts, in 1908.
On Friday night there was another concert given by Mr. Wilson, the
headmaster of one of the Alloa [visiting]
schools . Florence, May and I were the housekeepers and
Mother, Jean and Mamie went to
it. Daddy was busy in his study with a paper which he has to read
tomorrow at the Zoological Club [No, Mother says it is the
Theological Club]. Mother was playing Mr Wilson’s accompaniments on
Friday night. Instead of going to the concert Florence and I went
over to Arrochar on Saturday with Mother and we made a good many
calls. We were late in getting home and I was very tired and went to
sleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
The “family” nature of what is now called the Ministry Team in
Tarbet Church is described in a tribute from the Dumbarton
Presbytery to celebrate Alexander’s fifty years of ministry.
Assisted by his like-minded and devoted wife,
[and his daughters, they might have added] he dispensed a
gracious hospitality in the Manse, visitors from the Mission Field
being specially welcome. He communicated to his own people something
of his own enthusiasm for Foreign Missions, with the result that
their contributions were generously maintained, year after year.
This tribute ended with a quotation from one of his sermons. The
theme was commitment to Christian Faith.
Here then is something that it is worthwhile to give ourselves to.
It is no passing gift, no ephemeral virtue. It is eternal. It will
never fall out of date. We shall never wish to undo it, never wish
to unlearn. It is a treasure now, both to the possessor and to those
around him in a world of need and sorrow; and it will remain with
us, beautiful and a joy forever to God and his redeemed children
after all earth’s needs are over and God has wiped all tears from
There is a studio photo taken in 1911 that the Telfer daughters
called, “The Four Disgraces.” Mamie, twenty, was the oldest
of the four Telfer girls, small, sparkling and challenging - a word
probably not much used then, but it sums her up. She was not allowed
by her sisters to be too often on her dignity. Jean was fifteen, her
mother’s right hand in keeping house. Then there was Margaret,
thirteen, showing, as Jean did, the promise of remarkable dark-eyed
beauty. Florence, eleven, was a dainty Dresden shepherdess waiting
to catch up. The older folk of Arrochar Parish still remember tales
their grandparents had been told of the four beautiful daughters of
Margaret, Mamie, Jean and Florence Telfer.
Just before this photo was taken, the Telfers had invited the Martin
family to share a picnic by Loch Lomond, on 15th
September 1911. The Martins were holidaying in Arrochar and this
getting together had been suggested by mutual friends. The two
families had much in common. Both fathers had served in the
Missionfield in India, and had had to return home because of ill
There were four Martin sons and these word pictures of life in the
Manse that we can enjoy come from letters written from Mamie to Jack
Martin the eldest, over the years 1911-1921. Jack was nineteen on
that picnic day, studious and shy. He had eyes for no-one but Mamie.
He always remembered that she wore a dove grey dress with a lace
collar. It was the age of love at first sight and these two young
people were steeped in the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson and
“Lorna Doone.” There must have been a lot of laughter and nonsense
with eight high-spirited young people, “playing the goat,” as the
younger Martin boys were apt to do and “teasing,” which the Telfer
sometimes ruthlessly. The younger ones, still children, sharing a
day of holiday, were perhaps hardly prepared for what must have been
visibly happening to the two older ones.
They were only three years away from the Great War.
Jack and Mamie discovered that they were both enrolled as students
of the Arts Faculty of Edinburgh University. Jack felt it seemed
almost too good to be true. One wonders if the student year started
in January because letters were exchanged early in 1912. Although
they must have at least seen each other in the distance, almost
daily, during the student years that followed, they wrote frequent
notes and letters, while playing the game of pretending not to know
each other, when they were in the same classes!
In August 1913, Mamie was in the Lennox family home in Maybole
staying with Aunt Anna, the younger Lennox sister, while Aunt Flora,
the older sister, helped their sister Margaret Telfer with the
Church’s dreaded Annual Sale of Work in Tarbet, on which the
Stipend, the family income, for the following year, to a great
extent depended. Collecting all the goods for sale took weeks and
the day itself always seemed more than 24 hours long. The challenge
of it cast a shadow over the whole year.
Mamie wrote from Maybole to Jack.
On Saturday we got a great surprise. Just as we were setting out to
see a new baby [6 days old, a dear wee thing] a telegram arrived
from Tarbet saying “Probably visitor this evening.” We expected
Auntie Flora but who should appear but Father, very tired after all
the hurry and worry of the Sale week and badly needing a rest.
On Monday, Dad took me to Ayr and we went out to the
[Burns] Monument. On Tuesday he went back home and I suddenly
felt very lonely.
Mamie and her Father were kindred spirits, though all his daughters
deeply loved him. Mamie, however, had been an only child for her
first five years in India and, during the months when she and her
Mother were in the hills to escape the heat, her Father received
almost daily letters from there, which shared with him all the
little girl’s sayings and doings. He copied these, in his beautiful
script, into an exercise book, which is our kind of family heirloom.
The Manse family felt that they lived under scrutiny and Mamie was
in the habit of walking a mile or more to the Post Office in
Arrochar when she was posting postcards or letters to Jack! When
Jean was in the same predicament a year or two later, she did the
same - And now I’m going over to Arrochar to
post this, but I’m afraid I won’t get over in time for this
evening’s post. This was at a time when both sisters were
writing three times a week to their young men, which we can believe
that everyone in Tarbet knew all about anyway!
As well as sharing friends, Jack and Mamie were more and more drawn
into one another’s families, as 1913 went on. In one note she told
him, Willie (Angus,) a Telfer Cousin, and an
international rugby player, treated Peggy and me to tea down
town. Willie and she are sensible lovers.
Reading the letters, we have to wonder how these two intelligent
people (Jack and Mamie) took so long to accept what was happening to
them. How can lovers be “sensible”? Mamie was more restrained but
Jack’s diary speaks the language of love every time her name is
mentioned - how beautiful she looked and she had smiled at him and
gradually the language became more lyrical….. She is such a
Mamie used the letters to send Tarbet news also.
The only items of interest have been a. A Children’s Treat [Lady
Colquhoun of Luss] b. A picnic with Kingstons, Griersons and Us. c.
Tarbet School Prizegiving. It made me feel very old because it is
now ten years since I left d. Return of the Bride and Bridegroom .
These were the Winchesters, back from honeymoon. He was the Minister
of the Established Church in Arrochar. There was never anything but
goodwill between the Arrochar Church and the Telfers’ United Free
Presbyterian Church in Tarbet. This was very different from what
happened in Scotland in some parishes, after the Disruption had
split them into two warring factions.
Winchester seems to have made a good first impression, which is
lucky for herself, poor thing. She told me she was terribly afraid
of offending someone in some way without meaning to. It is bad
enough to be a Minister’s daughter but I swore long ago that I would
never be a Minister’s wife.
Jean, the “home bird,” as her sisters called her, was accustomed to
being chief helper to their Mother. The Manse family managed on the
minimum stipend, with a lot of hard work, to provide meals for
sometimes sixteen to eighteen visitors at a time, who often arrived
without warning. It was what they spoke of as “The loaves and fishes
thing.” Fortunately there was a village shop and the farm families
of the parish were generous with gifts. There is a lot of cooking
and multitude-feeding mentioned in the letters and no-one can ever
have gone away hungry.
Jean had been accepted for nursing training but could not start in
hospital till she was 22, so she was her Mother’s mainstay. She
finished her education (thanks to the generosity of Miss Dodds, one
of the Telfer circle of close friends), in “Queen Street,” Ladies’
College, Edinburgh, studying music and art and then had the
opportunity to study music further in The Domestic Science College
and also for brief spells abroad. She played the organ on Sundays
in Tarbet and Ardlui while her sisters led the singing.
August 1913: Mamie wrote to Jack, giving some idea of what it
was like to keep house in the Manse.
I have really been rather busy. It is not easy to combine the duties
of housekeeper and student at one and the same time. Suddenly in the
middle of a Latin sentence or a passage of History, I remember what
is to be for tomorrow’s dinner. Yesterday after reading history
notes in the sun, I was picking berries for jam.
Still I do get a good deal of time to stew [slang
Jean takes by far the greater share of the housekeeping burden when
she is at home.
Excitements were not lacking, such as a (Religious) Revival
Meeting, in Glasgow, attended by Jean and Margaret. “It
must be a terrible strain to go on like that week after week,”
was the comment. They had managed to combine this with a
shopping expedition - a new costume for Jean. They all loved
clothes. The great excitement was arriving home at
midnight, Mamie explained, also, presumably,
walking the mile home from the station as usual in the dark.
In spite of the hard work, there does sound through these earlier
letters a contentment with the rhythm of Manse life.
My time here is divided between Spring Cleaning,
Mamie wrote, Sick Nursing, and last but not least, essay writing.
Today I am in full charge. Mother has gone to Glasgow and Nurse
always sleeps through the day. Aunt Bess is keeping very much better
I am thankful to say, but she is a caricature of her former self.
Still, in some ways she is more lovable. She used to be so stately
and dignified that I rather stood in awe of her. But now she is so
helpless and dependent, just like a little child and I can pet her
her to my heart’s content.
Aunt Bess, a half sister of Margaret Telfer’s, had come for refuge
to the Manse and stayed on. Elderly single women were dependent on
family support, as they grew old. As she became increasingly frail
she remained, as a not entirely comfortable family member, but there
was never any suggestion of moving her anywhere else. The cost of a
nurse must have been borne by some other family member, perhaps
another Lennox half sister.
While Jack and Bruce Martin explored Europe, in 1913, Mamie wrote to
describe life in the summer in Tarbet Manse. All the Tarbet young
folk were home.
The frivolities have not yet quite ceased. We have been up at
Blairannich [The Powells’] the last two Saturdays and are hoping to
go up again tomorrow. If it is fine, we are to have a picnic on the
“steep, steep side of Ben Lomond.” But I am afraid that, after all
the rest of the week has been fine, the weather will break on
Saturday. Tonight there is to be a dance at the Hedderwicks’ and
Jean and I are going – much to my disgust. I have refused the last
two invitations, so I really had to go this time. It begins at 9
o’clock, just when I’m beginning to go to bed usually.
(The Manse family coined the expression “Hedderwickery.” which meant
that these occasions were grander and more formal than the others.)
Here Honor Mitchell came in and I didn’t get this posted in
time. We went to the dance and came home at 12 like Cinderella. How
much longer they went on I know not. What I enjoyed most was
watching Honor and Alfred Ernest. She was the Belle of the Ball.
In August 1914, a year later, Mamie, like so many, did not see the
war clouds gathering. She was planning a Ben Lomond picnic, the
annual challenge; taking the steamer to Rowardennan, spending a
night on the top and then hurrying down to catch it back home.
27.7.14. I’ve been breathlessly busy since I last wrote. 1.
Getting the family out of the house. 2. Keeping house. Perhaps the
Kingstons may be coming up the Ben on Friday too. I do hope the
1.8.14 : I wrote my last letter in a fearful hurry and forgot one
of the principal things I wanted to say. Maggie (the “extra”
Telfer daughter, adopted daughter of close friends) has got an
invitation to go to Islay and she may be going on Saturday. In that
case she couldn’t very well climb the Ben the day before; she would
be too tired to start on such a long journey without a day to rest
in between. So, I wanted to ask you if it would be possible for you
and Wedderburn (a University friend)
to come a day earlier, on Wednesday evening and climb the Ben on
Thursday [which happens to be Maggie’s birthday] and then you will
get a bit of her cake and mine. I know it is frightfully short
notice and I am sorry to hurry you. The only way you could manage to
let us know would be to write to Mr Wedderburn
on Monday evening if you are not too tired. He would get it on
Tuesday morning and you would have his answer on Wednesday morning.
Then if you still can’t come on Thursday, could you wire [I’ll
refund the 6d because it’s all my fault.] If you can come on
Wednesday, just come. We’ll expect you for a meal of sorts.
The reason I want to know is because there will be quite a big party
and I want to let them know……the Kingstons, the Winchesters, Mother,
Auntie Anna and the kiddies – not Jean of course, as she is still
away. I’ll be glad to see them back because I have been so busy.
I’ve only just managed to finish Horace
There was to be no Ben Lomond expedition that year, for the world
was about to change, with the declaration of a War that many people
had believed could not happen. The young men were ready to join up
Powell is in a fearful state just now, for Ronald wants to be off.
Ronald was one of the many young men who frequently visited the
Manse. The good folk of Tarbet paired him off with Jean.
Willie Angus is awfully keen to go. I quite expect he will.
Arrochar and Tarbet families were hard hit in the early months of
the War, as the Scottish regiments bore the brunt of the German
offensive. Mamie wrote:
Nearly all who have gone from here have been wounded: the 3
boys, Mr Workman and Hugh Hedderwick. The lot with whom Captain Law,
Helen Hedderwick’s husband, went out, have lost 25 out of 28
officers. He is one of the three remaining. The slaughter is just
too terrible to think of.
The War and the threat of parting forced Jack and Mamie to abandon
the myth of being “sensible lovers” and to face up to the true
nature and depth of their “friendship.” The process was a painful
one, because of the social restrictions of the time. Engagement,
when there was no marriage date, was frowned on and students were
expected to postpone marriage till their studies were complete. They
measured all bad times afterwards by the darkness of that Black
October. They had been trying to deal with the situation by not
meeting or writing, for a time. It was to be a four week parting and
then it stretched to five and then….
3.10.14. Mamie wrote to Jack from 202 Morningside Road, Edinburgh,
her Telfer Grandmother’s home, where she had lodged during the
University years. …
I didn’t half thank you for the book.
This was R.L. Stevenson’s Collected Poems – inscribed. When
you gave it to me I felt so bewildered I couldn’t think. But I can’t
pretend that I didn’t understand what you wrote in it.
What was written was a quotation from “Catriona,” sequel to
“She came between me and the sun. We said what a fine thing
friendship was and how little we had guessed of it and how it made
life a new thing.”
The last sentence was underlined. Judging from the dog-eared,
insect-eaten state of the wee book we have now, it was in Africa
with them. So it was precious. From then on, pretence was dropped.
They met again, on 8th October.
remembered, always, a long, long walk by the canal while they tried
to make sense of what was happening to them. The Blackness of
October must have been during these days of emotional stress and
uncertainty. From where we are now, it is hard to understand fully
the real and painful problem they were struggling with. They were
surely carried away by feelings that could no longer be denied. From
what they wrote afterwards in their love letters to each other we
can imagine the passion they discovered. In a letter of 12.11.14,
Mamie describes how she had been “struck dumb,” with the happiness
of being with him; something she seldom was! In another letter of
after spending a Saturday together, as they were wont to do, she
writes, Yesterday was just glorious. Oh Jack, my own dearest
love, how I am looking forward to next Saturday. This
was in her more restrained mode!
They kept the powerful love-letters they wrote to each other, then
and in the years that followed, and carried them to Africa with
them; treasure that they could not be parted from.
As 1914 came to an end, and 1915 told the same story of death and
destruction, the love-story unfolded against a background of
continuing loss, as friends and family were taken by war. Mamie
I can’t understand why we are allowed to be so happy at a time
like this when there is so much sorrow all around. Mrs Grierson’s
poor young sister-in-law - one of the first to be bereaved -
has been here several times. She looks so sad and tries to be so
brave. And I heard the other day that Honor Mitchell’s Laddie has
been killed at the front – “died of wounds.” The engagement was made
public just before the War.
Honor had been the “Belle of the Ball” at the Hedderwick’s dance in
1913. Mr. Grierson was Head Teacher of the Tarbet School and the two
families had grown up together.
Some things inexorably did not change. There was, as always, the
Sale of Work, the annual nightmare, Waterloo and Bannockburn rolled
into one. They never expected to survive it, the family knew they
had to do it and almost always it was a resounding success, thanks
to the enthusiastic support of the congregation; and the Manse
family were assured of their livelihood for another year.
Mamie to Jack; 16.8.15. Home.
We have scarcely time to breathe. The Sale is on Wednesday and we
are busy packing things tonight to be taken over tomorrow. Heaps of
things I would like to say, but no time.
I am in a tearing hurry again, getting things ready for the concert.
To make matters worse I put my foot through the only skirt that is
suitable for the occasion. It is a navy blue silk that has been in
the house for years and is very wide and therefore fashionable once
However I have got a little quiet time now. The others have all gone
up to bed and I’ll have to go soon or they’ll be shouting down to
know if I have gone to sleep here in the dining room. But I felt I
must have a talk with you. I have been just longing for it.
The small church at Ardlui had services only in the summer and
students usually helped out.
Mr Winchester’s Ardlui student called on Monday. Jean said he had
been greatly excited to hear there was a sister coming home from
Edinburgh. Mother shook her head in mock pity afterwards and said,
“Poor Mamie, what a pity you are not in a position to accept his
This was teasing, as they all knew Mamie’s antipathy to the idea of
marrying a Minister. Jack at this time was more interested in
training as a teacher.
The Ben Lomond Expedition did take place in August 1915 and Mamie
wrote a full account.
I herewith enclose a sprig of white heather which I found about
halfway up the Ben. We have really done the feat at last; it was all
arranged very hurriedly. Mr Jubb of Luss wrote up to us on Sunday
and we went on Monday. We all, except Father and Mother, went
[including Auntie Flora] and met Mr Jubb and party in Rowardennan.
The party consisted of Mrs Torrance of Tiberias Mission and her two
daughters and three friends. Dr Torrance meant to come too, but he
was too busy. He is helping at Stobhill just now.
We were oppressed with heat all the way up; I thought we were never
going to get there. But we did and it was worth it all. The warm
sunshine didn’t last long and we saw the storm clouds gathering at
the foot of the Loch and the water turning a lurid red. Then the
thunder began to growl, first in the distance and then nearer and
nearer. Gradually it got darker and the mist closed in round us,
cold and clammy, shutting out everything. The reverberations swept
around from the South, West and North, then over to the East and
back to the South. Our hair was curling with the electricity. I
actually heard my hair sort of frizzling on my brow; it was an
uncanny experience. Florence took off her hat and her hair stood
straight up on end! I suppose it really was dangerous to be so high
up in a thunderstorm but it was magnificent. It was an experience I
shall never forget.
I seemed to get so near to all the Big Things, the Things that
really matter. The grandeur of it was awesome but it made me realize
as never before the greatness and majesty of God. I do wish you
could have been there. I was wishing that all the time. I don’t know
how other people felt and I don’t think they knew how I was feeling.
But you would have known. I think you yourself would have been
feeling much the same. I couldn’t help thinking of last year and of
what might have been. Poor Wedderburn. I wonder if he knew we were
there and that I was wishing he could have been too. He was one of
the early casualties.
In the next letter, Mamie was down to earth again, writing about
making jam with her Mother and sewing.
We weren’t in bed till midnight. Then this morning I got up with the
kids so that I could write to you and give it to them to post. But
Jean was sent on an urgent message to Arrochar and I had to do
everything about both breakfasts myself. This afternoon, Jean and
her friend Ada Hain have gone out a cycle run and though they had
promised to be back to make tea they are not back yet and I have to
get it myself and it’s close to post time.
Mother goes away tomorrow, Mr MacPherson(
an elderly locum minister) has arrived. He seems
a genial old man with a strong sense of humour and a great fund of
stories. I think we shall get on well. But how I wish you
were coming tomorrow.
Mamie complained at a later time that elderly Ministers were not
always regarded as suitable chaperones. Were chaperones expected to
be bodyguards as well?
There is a record, in one of Mamie’s letters, of their father, the
Minister himself, being involved in the heavy spring cleaning. It
says something about the kind of man he was.
When Father and I came home on Wednesday, we found Jean and Mary
[our occasional home help], spring cleaning so we had to set to at
once. Thursday was a lovely day but we spent it beating the stair
carpet at intervals. None of us could go on long without blistering
our hands. However it is safely laid now and Mother was delighted to
find how far things were on, when she came home.
DAILY LIFE DURING THE WAR
By the time Mamie and Jack graduated in 1915, the War, with a rising
toll of dead and wounded, was a year old. Like so many young men,
Jack was not sure of the way to go and it was complicated by the
shame of being rejected as medically unfit for front-line service.
He said in a letter that he wished he could wear a badge to explain.
However, by the end of that year he had been accepted for the Royal
Army Medical Corps. In 1916 he applied to the Seaforth Highlanders
and after officer training in England he ended up serving in the
trenches in France.
During the fighting in France, The Scotsman published daily
the names of the dead and wounded. In 1917 when the big push was
launched on the Western Front, Mamie wrote to Jack
There is such a long list of Seaforth names today. I think you must
have been up at the Front.
There would follow an agonizing day or so of waiting for the vital
postcard. Express Post printed postcards were provided for the
soldiers in the front line to send home and they came home fast.
Soldiers could summarise the news by ticking a box. Mamie describes
the relief on the days the card arrived with a tick in the I am
well box. Casualties were heavy and inevitably the families
waiting at home found names they knew in the paper and that darkened
these days with sadness for the families whose names they saw there.
When Jack had his own platoon, he had the duty of writing to each
widow after her husband’s death and returning the letters she had
sent him. He described the task as Awful.
During these war years, the Manse was as full of people needing
comfort as it had ever been. Gone was the chatter, laughter and
argument of previous years. The daughters were too much absorbed in
their own lives to recognize how worn out their Mother was by the
war years, sharing the sorrow of the families in Tarbet who were
struggling with loss and uncertainty. Mr Winchester, friend and
colleague, the Minister of Arrochar, was in France for much of the
war as a chaplain with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Jack’s brothers had been wounded in 1917, Bruce at the Front and
Frank, shot down in his plane. Jack himself was wounded in 1918. A
bullet had broken a bone in his knee and his war was over. His
mother and Mamie visited him together in hospital, carrying the
volumes of Shakespeare’s comedies to cheer him.
At long last in November peace was declared.
Margaret Telfer’s Armistice Day lettercard to her Mother postmarked
Nov12.18, tells how it had been in the University.
Friends! Friends! Isn’t it just too good to be true? We were
just wishing we could fly home for the night. Oh what a day it’s
been. Witness the enclosed cutting
. Florence was going to stay in the house today but I went
out as usual not intending to come home till the usual time. I
didn’t hear anything till the bells began to ring, just as Dicky
began his discourse and the annoying man kept us scribbling the
whole hour though we were not taking in a word he was saying.
When we came out at 12 the Quad was full and the matric office
packed. Somebody was delivering a speech in there but it was
impossible to see who it was! I wish you’d seen the men calmly
unhooking the boards off the cars and simply commandeering all
cabs, motor lorries etc we happened to meet. However nobody
minded because everybody was in the same state of excitement and
the ring-leaders among the students were the ex-servicemen.
Another procession was arranged for 3.30 from the old Quad and
the ex-servicemen were all to appear in uniform. Well, I dashed
home, found Aunt Agnes and a neighbour eating a mundane dinner
and quite oblivious of the fact that peace had been declared.
Following recovery from his injury, Jack and Mamie had to decide on
their future together. While Mamie taught at her old school in Helensburgh, Jack, who could now be called Reverend, was looking for
a Kirk and Manse and doing pulpit supply work. There were many young
men with the same ambition and understandably the experienced older
men were first to be considered. In the end in 1919, he opted to
accept a short-term post in the Headquarters of the Free Church,
organizing conferences and courses for young men.
For a time the way ahead was uncertain; whether to accept the offer
of the HQ post which had now been offered on a permanent basis or to
continue the search for church and manse.
The future became clear when Jack and Mamie met Dr Turner, friend of
the Martin family, Senior Missionary in Livingstonia, Nyasaland,
(now Malawi) who was home on leave. He spoke to them of the
desperate need for missionaries and teachers in Livingstonia. They
both had missionary blood in their veins, as he pointed out, and
they suddenly realised that of course Livingstonia was where they
should go. Mamie was glad to think of being able to assist in Jack’s
work and use her teacher training.
The serious problem that had to be resolved was that Mamie’s
earnings were the main support for the continuing education of
Margaret and Florence and Alexander’s failing memory meant that
plans for retirement would have to be made. Worry about money, they
knew, was responsible for a lot of the stress Margaret Telfer
suffered. For a time Mamie wondered about Jack going out to Africa
alone and she would continue working for a time and follow later.
Jack refused to consider that. They had waited for ten years.
There was however a way out of the dilemma.
Jack had received a generous war gratuity which was still intact and
they took the decision to give it to Alexander to help with the fees
for Margaret and Florence.
Rev. Telfer with his wife outside Tarbet Manse
After supporting so many anxious and bereaved folk of both parishes
throughout the war years, Mother Margaret was showing
symptoms of near breakdown. Mamie was anxious about the effect the
threat of parting and separation would have, but they both knew it
was for them the right thing. They were after all planning to
celebrate their wedding at home, whereas both mothers had gone out
to India to be married there! Even when the seven year term, first
suggested, was reduced to three years, the thought of the long
parting was still painful, for Margaret. She was of the generation
of women who used their rich natural gifts in the home and the
thought of parting was agony. It made everything harder. They had
hoped that “tact and love” would triumph and it did in the end when
August 3,1921 was finally agreed, for the wedding date. The three
sisters were to be bridesmaids and the way ahead seemed clear at
It was inevitably a stressful time leading up to the wedding with
the immediate departure for Africa hanging over everything, the
young couple excited and looking forward and Margaret struggling
with the pain of parting.
Wedding presents arrived in abundance as both families had wide
connections and of course the Tarbet folk were glad to be able to
show their appreciation of the Telfer family’s years of service.
Jack pointed out the wisdom of holding back from their own purchases
till they saw what was finally still needed! They were practical as
well as visionary!
Decisions were difficult. Surely they consulted Mother Margaret, who
had been this way before them, for advice which would help them to
know what just had to be go with them and what could be left at
Jack and Mamie had been gathering bed linen and small furniture for
a Manse, already. Jack had made a revolving book case, which was
much admired. Such skill was to be useful in Nyasaland. 80 cubic
feet was the space allowed for luggage and Jack had to have his
motor cycle and side car, Huzz and Buzz. For the first time they
argued, but not too bitterly. They were in agreement about the books
….We must have Stevenson and Dickens and the International
Library of Short Stories and Poetry of course and some History and
After all the uncertainties, the wedding day went smoothly. Mamie’s
sisters wore ankle length muslin dresses and wide brimmed hats to
match, each of the three in a different pastel shade. She wondered
in a letter to Jack, describing the dresses and hats, if the small
bride would be noticed in the midst of all the magnificence!
a burst of extravagance, for the honeymoon, Jack had booked a week
in the Loch Awe Hotel. He harked back to that time – and to his
extravagance - every time we drove past this magnificent Hotel in
its spectacular setting, in the decades to come. It had clearly been
a fitting climax to the decade of waiting. He had justified the
extravagance to Mamie by pointing out that for the next few years
they would be living very simply indeed, in material terms.
Livingstonia Mission 1921-25
The Livingstonia time more than fulfilled the promise Jack and Mamie
had sensed when they decided to go there. They were appointed to
Bandawe by the Lakeshore. Their letters describe a full and busy
life, immediate “bonding” with the Tonga people and enjoyable
co-working with Dr Burnet, Head of Station and Mrs. Treu, the South
African nurse. Mamie’s dream of sharing Jack’s work went beyond the
instruction of the girls and women. She wanted them to feel more
confident of being able to make a full contribution to the life of
the Station. “We are only women,” was an expression that was not
Mamie’s letters describe the fulfillment of this time of shared work
and also their pleasure in the beauty of the Lakeshore and the
mountains. From the first day, they were at home.
In 1925, Mamie and Jack went home on furlough. She was desperate to
reach home, after the four years in Africa. She had hardly reached
Edinburgh, however, before she became seriously ill and had to be
admitted to hospital. Her Mother, longing to see her, could not wait
and made the journey from Tarbet several times to visit her in
hospital. Mamie’s letters describe how they found again the loving
understanding they had known, which had been threatened during the
high stress of the wedding and the departure to Africa, in 1921.
The shadow of losing their home was however hanging over the family.
Precarious health but, more importantly, his failing memory made
inevitable Alexander Telfer’s retirement. There would be another
family living in their Manse. A small house had been found in
Edinburgh, but the Manse chapter was at an end. Mamie’s frustration
over the delay in reaching Tarbet bursts from the letters from her
hospital bed. Jack in fact reached Tarbet before her.
19th September, 1925: Mamie wrote…TARBET AT LAST AFTER MANY
DAYS –CAPITAL LETTERS are hers!
Can’t believe I am here at last. Left Edinburgh at 10.5 [Mother
Martin saw us off] and arrived here between 12 and 1 and Dad met us.
Rested in the afternoon and Dad and Jack went out. In the evening I
explored the near neighbourhood of the Manse – garden, green etc.
Also examined every nook and cranny of the house and noted all the
changes. Feel as if I am in a dream or Africa was a dream.
Comfortingly, the life of the Manse was going on as though they had
never been away and as though it always would go on. Of course there
were extra visitors coming to hear about Africa but Mamie still made
time to visit beloved places. Soon she was helping Mary, who must
have been with them for fifteen years, to “redd up” the house, as
though the last four years had never been.
Margaret arrived with a friend, and so did Jack’s youngest brother
Henry, soaked and ravenous, having cycled from Stornoway. Henry had
attached himself to the Telfer family since the 1911 picnic and
remained attached, as young people did. He had a special affection
for Florence the youngest of the daughters, but it is believed he
just enjoyed joining in the bustle of the family life. He was apt to
arrive at the Manse without announcement, as so many did, confident
of the unfailing welcome that was there for everyone. He and
Mamie enjoyed walks along the shore or into the hills and his
bagpipes made music that, he always remembered, she had enjoyed.
During that September, Mamie must have been re-living many glad and
painful times chronicled in her decade of letters to Jack from 1911
-1921. She was feeling all the comfort of homecoming, even while she
braced herself for the farewell to the Manse.
Somewhere there is a full account of the Minister’s last sermon in
the church he loved delivered to the congregation who loved him and
the family so much. It is thought that all the daughters were there.
Regular news came from Dr Turner and others in Nyasaland and all the
family shared the excitement. The posts were good in those days.
12.11. Jack went to new house where he helped mother to stain the
floor. Sent off Xmas stuff to Nyasaland.
22.11. Dad’s last sermon was wonderful. No-one would ever
suspect he needed to retire………
Farewell to the dear old Manse.
and Mamie were moving to St Aidan, Edinburgh, for the final
months of their leave, and the Telfer family were moving to the
little new house in Plewlands Terrace.
Mamie’s Diary. 26.12. 25
.We had a great evening altogether and All Together. The Four (Dis)
Graces of Tarbet Manse sat down to a meal in Plewlands Terrace,
together for the first time since August 1921, certainly for the
only time till next furlough.
can be sure there was a lot of laughter as well perhaps as some
tears. It is good to know that this last time “All Together”
was so happy.
Margaret and Jean Telfer’s wedding that took
place at Ballyhennan Church, Sept 1928.
Photo outside Tarbet Hotel
MAMIE AND JACK, LIVINGSTONIA 1926 -1928
When they returned from furlough in 1926 Mamie and Jack were
disappointed to be posted to Ekwendeni, though Mamie did manage to
do some teaching and encouraged the women there to value learning.
For the birth of their first child she had to make the difficult
journey to Livingstonia, where nursing and medical care was
available. There was a great welcome for baby Margaret throughout
the mission but Jack and Mamie were home sick for Bandawe.
They were therefore delighted when plans were made for them to
return to Bandawe in 1928 for the birth of their second child. Dr
Burnet and Miss Patrick, the Nurse, were there and their friend
Berita could take over the care of Margaret. Her own son Morca was
the same age and the two little ones played happily together. The
Bandawe people were delighted to think of another child being born
to Jack and Mamie there by the Lake.
Tragically, in spite of the first class medical and nursing care
both Mamie and a baby boy died. Mamie had contracted the deadly
At the graveside service, Yoram Mphande, their friend, spoke not
just about how Mamie had taught the women but also how she had been
like a mother or sister to them.
After taking Margaret home to his parents in Edinburgh, Jack
returned to Bandawe to finish his term. He writes, in a letter to
his parents, how hard it was for him to make the decision, when his
term was finished, to go home for Margaret’s sake and leave Bandawe
where “every tree and flower” brought back memory of
Many years later, in 1997, the third generation of the Manse had a
re-union weekend in Tarbet. This get together marked the centenary
of Alexander’s Tarbet induction. These are some reflections from
As well as all the talk nowadays about Team Ministry there is
enthusiasm also for Community Involvement, Outreach and Pastoral
Care. Margaret and Alexander, our grandparents, just did them and
more. The Manse is still full of all of them, as we found when we
had that cousinly re-union; Bed and Breakfast in the Manse and the
Sunday Service in the Arrochar Church.
It was easy to imagine them all. Data (the name the Rev. AP Telfer’s
grandchildren gave him) in his study, compass-setting for them all
with his commonplace book of quotations from the literature of the
world’s religions and its poetry, ranging from Rabindranath Tagore
through the classicists, including Buddha, to Stevenson and
Meredith. Grannie, the Team Manager, with her warm welcome for young
and old, sick and sad, troubled and merry. “Seventeen to
lunch and fifteen to supper,” Mamie complains in a
letter to Jack, “And we have a mother and her
little sick daughter staying. They are home from India and it
is thought that Loch Lomond air may work a cure.”
Margaret Telfer worried about young men far from home and
single lady missionaries and asked them for week-ends and Christmas
so that they would not be lonely. There’s a lot to live up to.
There was no diminishing in the loving support from the congregation
showing an almost family-like closeness. Indeed it was still there
for me (Margaret) as a child, in the 30’s. All of us of the third
generation have lived with something more than history. We took this
profound long-lasting relationship with people and place for
granted. From Tarbet shoals of letters - even legacies - arrived.
Florence, the Tarbet daughter I was most close to, once said to me
when I suggested she worked too hard “We all have so much to
live up to. It can’t be any other way.” Interestingly, she
was the one who also said she could not bear to revisit.
One wonders just how many folk all over the world have cherished
memories of the Tarbet Manse.
Reverend Alexander Prentice Telfer’s (APT) Parents, Siblings &
Alexander Telfer was born in Carluke, Lanarkshire in 1855. His
father, also called Alexander, was the son of John Telfer, a farmer
in Carnwarth, Lanarkshire. APT’s mother was Jane Prentice, the
daughter of a sawyer.
father was a miner in Carluke in the 1860s but later became a master
dairyman in Edinburgh. APT had two younger sisters and a younger
father died in 1889 aged 59 and his mother died in 1917 aged 84.
of APT’s sisters emigrated to Australia and had sons, one of whom,
Willie, later became a Scottish rugby and cricket international
her husband’s death, APT’s mother continued to live in Edinburgh
along with one of her daughters. It was to this home that APT’s
daughters would later visit and sometimes stay during their
on APT’s Training and Ministry
APT graduated with an MA from Edinburgh University and then trained
as a teacher at the Free Church Training College at Moray House. He
distinguished himself there before adding a divinity degree to his
MA. He taught at Edinburgh Ladies’ College (Queen Street) where he
met his future wife, Margaret Lennox, who was a pupil there. She was
the daughter of an Ayrshire farmer. There he fell in love with her,
though like Jacob in the Bible they had some years to wait before
her family welcomed the union. The other two Lennox sisters were
also educated in Queen Street and Anna then taught secondary pupils
in Maybole, a rare opportunity for a woman at that time.
was ordained into the ministry in 1888 and that same year was
appointed to the chair at the Free Church Missionary (Duff) College
in Calcutta. The following year he married Margaret in Calcutta and
they had one daughter, Mamie, while living in India. By 1896, while
still in his early 40s, ill health forced him to retire from India
and return to Scotland where he took up his ministry centred in
continued to serve the churches in and around Tarbet until 1925 when
loss of memory led him to retire to Edinburgh where he died in 1938.
Notes on APT’s Four Daughters
Following on from Mamie’s birth in India, APT and his wife had three
more daughters: Jean, born in Girvan in 1896, and then Margaret and
Florence born after the parents moved to Tarbet.
four daughters in the Tarbet Manse, there was never any suggestion
that girls need not be educated. After initial schooling in Tarbet,
all the girls travelled to St Bride’s School in Helensburgh.
went on to take an Arts degree in Edinburgh and then a teaching
qualification before teaching in her old school in Helensburgh.
1921 she married the Reverend Jack Martin, the man she had fallen
deeply in love with in her student days. They went out to Central
Africa as missionaries returning on furlough in 1925. They returned
to Africa and a daughter, Margaret, was born there in 1927.
Tragically, Mamie died in 1928 after giving birth to their second
child who also died. Tarbet and Loch Lomond held a special place in
the hearts of Mamie and Jack.
Following schooling, Jean wanted to train as a nurse but in those
days she could not start until she was 22 years old. Pending her
training at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI), a kind benefactor paid
for her to study music and art at Queen St in Edinburgh and she
played the organ for services in Tarbet and Ardlui. In the time
leading up to her training to be a nurse, it is clear that Jean was
a huge help to her Mother in running the very hospitable Manse.
There was cooking, cleaning and helping to entertain the almost
endless stream of visitors. This hospitality had to be achieved when
there was little money to pay for it. After her nursing training she
rose to become a Sister in the GRI. There she met and married in
1928 Dr (later Sir) David Cuthbertson a rising star in the medical
firmament. They had a daughter and two sons: Lilias, Iain and
Margaret graduated with Honours in English at Edinburgh University
in 1922 and did what her sisters vowed they would never do. She
married a minister, John Monteith, another rising star, but in the
Church of Scotland. She and her sister, Jean, had a double wedding
in Tarbet Church in 1928 taken by their Father. The Monteiths
carried on the family tradition of open house and community
involvement in their two parishes of Fairlie and Bridge of Weir.
They had one son, John. Following her husband’s early death in 1941,
Margaret became Home Organising Secretary of the Church of Scotland
Women’s Foreign Mission Committee, a post she held until retirement
Florence secured a place to study medicine in Edinburgh at a time
when women medical students were few. After some years in General
Practice, she moved to London to take up a career in the pioneering
field of Child Welfare. Then, in middle age, she took further
training and became a Radiologist. She married in 1948 Ludovic
McWhinnie Steele, an engineer, known to us of the younger
generations as ‘Uncle Mac’. In all the years in London, he never
lost his pronounced West of Scotland accent. He complained about the
closeness of the family he had married into and about the Tarbet
Manse tradition of hospitality being carried on in their London
flat, but truly we believe he enjoyed it.
The Rev. Telfer
with his family outside Tarbet Manse. Daughter Jean second from the
left and wife Margaret extreme right.