Mathewson Collection

The Mathewson collection includes hundreds of letters by members of a far-flung family to each other. It is a window into the lives of Shetlanders over 140 years ago.

Andrew Dishington Mathewson, pictured right (1799-1887), is the best-known of early 19th century Shetland teachers. A precocious talent, he was teaching fellow pupils at 14. He was also a meticulous surveyor and map maker, and the registrar in East Yell. He and his wife Barbara Robertson had a family of twelve children.

Walter Mathewson joined the Northern Lighthouse Board as a light-keeper; Arthur worked as a shipping clerk in Granton for the company serving Shetland; Margaret, although trained as a teacher, escaped domestic drudgery at home and worked in domestic service at Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Edinburgh.

Margaret’s letters and journals provide unique and insightful descriptions of the treatment and care of her tubercular shoulder in hospital in Edinburgh. She was a patient of Professor Lister and surgeon W. W. Cheyne.

Their brother Laurence left Shetland in the 1850s as a mariner, arrived in Australia in 1854, where he prospected in the goldfields north of Melbourne; his elder brother Andrew visited him in 1857-8, but returned to Shetland, and ultimately succeeded his father as teacher and registrar.

Every member of the family was an active letter-writer, and the collection is full of information about their adventures all over the world.