England, France, Scotland, and the United States: 1826-1861. The archive includes 35 items written to and saved by Dr. Nairn. All but one are stampless folded letters or covers sent to him between 1826 and 1861 from family, associates, and creditors in England, France, Scotland, and the United States. They bear a wide variety of postal markings, some scarce. Partial transcripts will be provided.Nairn was beset by financial problems throughout most of his adult life, and newspaper articles (not included) show that he twice faced debtors prison, once in England and once in United States.
Letters from his frustrated, but ever-devoted, wife indicate that for a three-year span, he left his family to face creditors in Baltimore while he attempted to raise funds in England through land speculation and questionable schemes including becoming a daguerreotypist and an importer of lady’s fashions. The letters also include considerable information on social life in Edinburgh and then current events including the near war with Great Britain over the U.S.-Canadian border dispute, the Black Tariff of 1842, the catastrophic explosion of the Steamship Medora at its dock in Baltimore Harbor, a Scarlet Fever epidemic, pandemonium surrounding the Presidential election of 1844, and the last days of Millerism as its adherents awaited the Rapture.
Most importantly, however, a number of letters discuss Nairn’s involvement as a young doctor in 1828 when he testified as the principal examining surgeon during the infamous Red Barn Murder Trial of William Corder for the cold-blooded killing of Maria Marten the year before. Nairn destroyed Corder’s defense with his testimony.
The Red Barn Murder, one England’s most notorious crimes, captured the attention of the entire country due to its scandalous nature that included the seduction of a poor molekiller’s daughter by a deceitful country squire, a mother’s paranormal revelations that led to the discovery of her daughter’s corpse, the murderer’s capture at a ladies’ boarding house he ran in partnership with a woman he met through a lonely hearts club, and the violence of the crime. Nairn’s testimony regarding the victim’s sword and pistol wounds, sealed Corder’s fate. After Corder was hung, his body was dissected by medical students and his skin was used to bind an early printed account of the murder which is held by the Moyes Hall Museum of Bury St Edmunds. Fascination with the murder has continued from 1828 until today, resulting in Staffordshire pottery souvenirs, numerous ‘true crime’ accounts, fictionalized novels, songs, puppet shows, theatre plays, radio dramas, and five films and television programs. As recently as 2016, a successful play was performed in Australia, and in 2018, a documentary film was released in Great Britain and the United States.
A few of the Red Barn highlights from the archive include:
“I am . . . interested in knowing the particulars which have transpired respecting the causes of death of the unfortunate Maria Marten. I understand that . . . shot had been detected passing from the angle of the Lower Jaw to the orbit. Of course you were examined, & if you can furnish me [with] particulars of new evidence . . . I shall feel particularly obliged. . ..” (Bury St. Edmunds, 6 June 1828: Patrick MacIntyre, a physician)
“I am sure you would wish to know what fell from Corder respecting the manner of the death of Maria Martin . . . a few days after the Body was disinterred He learnt the rumors of the wounds and that they were supposed to have been inflicted by the Sword. . .. He then stated that the story of the sword and the stabs wou’d go near to hang him, but they had nothing to do with her death, that he had not the sword with him therefore cou’d not use it, that she received no stabs, but died instanteously from [a self-inflicted shot from] the pistol. . .. Even after his confession was taken [he persisted and] said ‘why shou’d I have used a Sword, I had another loaded pistol in my pocket’ and he then Exclaimed ‘O Sir the mistaken opinion of the surgeons about those wounds might have hanged an innocent man. . ..’” (Bury St. Edmonds, 18 August 1828: George Orridge, the prison governor at Bury St. Edmonds)
“I have to congratulate you upon the very respectable appearance which you made on the trial of the unfortunate wretch Corder. It was a disagreeable task, but not unworthily performed. I think no one can doubt the full justice of the verdict. [Regarding] the wound in the heart [it is] the main feature in the case, & that the other wounds were merely accessories. . .. (Kelso, Scotland, 30 November 1828: George Wilson, a physician and former roommate, perhaps at the Edinburgh Medical School)
“Dispose of [your concoction] to some respectable apothecary, who will give you a proper price for it; & should you wish to have the credit of the invention, if it be really an useful one (for I profess entire ignorance of the properties of the Essence of Camphor, & have not much confidence in Camphor itself) the most becoming way of doing so is to draw up a memoir on the subject, & send it to some respectable journal. Am I not right in suspecting that your compound contains more Turpentine than Camphor? . ..” (Kelso, Scotland, 30 November 1828: George Wilson, a physician and former roommate, perhaps at the Edinburgh Medical School)
Border Dispute with Canada:
“Lord Ashburton arrived a few days ago. Now and previous to his coming there was much talk of [the Patriot] War. I endeavored to drive all idea of it from my mind.” (See item 15 in this catalog for more information.)
Black Tariff of 1842:
“It is difficult, no business is doing, and young men are shipping to Texas, and [joining] the Navy. The Ladies cannot buy their spring dresses, when this is case you may judge how hard they are. Several thousand persons met at the exchange, and passed resolutions by that tariff now placed on all articles of foreign luxury, and manufacturers for the protection of home trades &c, that the Senate be made to hear the will of the people. . .. I have not been able to pay any rent, keep no servant, and have done a great deal of washing. . .. I gave 87½ c for 25 lbs of cornmeal, some flower, tea, sugar [so] you may judge [the] economy. . .. Proslair is in prison for stealing. . .. Nicholson has been nearly murdered, waylaid and robbed. . .. All exchange brokers have to pay a sum of 3000$ a year and shavers much more by a new law that has passed. . ..” (Baltimore, Maryland, 10 April 1842: Catherine J. Nairn, wife)
Steamship Medora Disaster:
“We had a terrible steamboat accident . . .. on its 2nd trial the boiler burst, and in two minutes the boat sunk; 38 have died from this dreadful explosion and several others are lying in excruciating agony. Mr Noale, his Son, and Mr Henderson . . . were on board of her and are both dead. Watchman’s escape is miraculous. . .. Wilson was going, but the boat had pushed off in the stream to prevent the deck from becoming crowded and he was unable to get aboard. The Mayor, Major Hillen, has been indefatigable in obtaining relief for the sufferers. I believe there were 60 persons more or less injured. . ..” (Baltimore, Maryland, 20 April 1832 (sic, 1842): Catherine J. Nairn, wife)
Scarlet Fever Epidemic of 1844:
“We are in great affliction having lost our Ada. I had looked forward with pride to the time when I should present her to you, but Alas! You may not ever see nor know what she has been. God be praised Augusta is recovering. Frank and myself have had the Scarlet fever sore throat from the effects of which we have not yet recovered. Frank is very wee and looks badly. Charles has it at present. . .. My dear husband I cannot express the deep trouble which has near overwhelmed me. For a time I forgot that there was a God above, who ruled o’er our destinies, so wretched and lonely was I. . ..” (Baltimore, Maryland, 12 August 1844: Catherine J. Nairn, wife)
Presidential Election of 1844 and Millerism:
“We have had very exciting times from Politics, and Millerism, the illuminations by the sights exceed any thing I have ever seen, in consequence of this excitement several murders have been committed . . . between the contending parties. . .. Millerism has been carried to such a pitch that men sell all they have and leave their families destitute. A jury is formed today to endeavor to put a stop to their proceedings by declaring them to be a nuisance; it was the opinion of judges that it was the only way the fumbling authorities could succeed. In yesterday being Sunday there were 5000 persons to witness the Rapturing. . ..” (Baltimore, Maryland, 14 October 1844: Catherine J. Nairn, wife)
Dr. Nairn, apparently was able to raise enough cash in England to return to Baltimore and settle his debts as he is listed in the 1850 census as a physician, living in Baltimore with his wife and four children. The last two dated items in this archive are from the 1860s, and online genealogical records show that he died in 1866.. Very good. Item #009849
A wonderful collection of first-hand accounts of significant early 19th century events with exceptionally rare first-hand letters regarding the Red Barn Murder Trial. At the time of listing, no first-hand manuscript items related to the Red Barn Murder Trial are for sale in the trade. Neither are there any auction records for similar items identified at the Rare Book Hub, ands OCLC show none being held by institutions although there may be some at the Moyes Hall Museum in Bury St Edmund:.