The University Archives were recently donated a letter from Midway Village, a museum and archive in Rockford, Illinois. The letter was written by a Hugh Martin to his family in Prince Edward Island, Canada, dated 25 November 1851. It demonstrates yet again the connections that the University has forged through its alumni. The University of Glasgow has helped shape the world we live in not just through its most famous alumni – the Nobel Prize winners and Prime Ministers – but through the educating and equipping ordinary men and women drawn from all over the globe. Such is the case with Hugh Martin whose personality shines through in this letter:
“I am now situated like yourself, far from acquaintances and relations, surrounded on every side with dangers and difficulties, but God who is all powerful can preserve me through all, and I have great reason to thank and praise him for his special care over me since I left my parents. But more especially for his presence and cheering influences upon my soul. Yesterday in reading a fraction of His word I was as excited by his cheering of love so that I was forced to give public vent to my feelings…”
As his letter shows in the most personal and endearing terms, Hugh was a man of strong faith and was evidently drawn to Glasgow in pursuit of training in Divinity. He relates the network of connections that brought him to Glasgow in his letter too, explaining that “I had letters of recommendation from… McNair to Dr Hill the Divinity Professor and to the Rev Norman McLeod who was once in the Island.” There was a Reverend McLeod who we know was involved in efforts to create a community in Nova Scotia and then later Australia; while not definitively proven, it does seem likely that this again shows the influence Scotland and it’s universities had on the nascent Canada. That Glasgow University plays a prominent part in doing so is evidenced by the direct mention of Doctor McNair.
The second reason that I wanted to share this letter is that I feel it’s genuinely easy to relate to, and shows that today’s international students faced the same experiences as their nineteenth century counterparts.
“It was a trying thing to leave my mother. I think sometimes that her cries and groans are yet in my ears,” he writes, movingly. “My whole mind was wrapped up I sorrow on leaving them although I made the utmost endeavour to subdue it. I could not at this time when I think of my mother withhold my tears.”
He also has an altogether familiar gripe about the cost of his student experience: “I have paid 5 pounds for my passage to Liverpool and it cost me 23 shillings more before I settled in Glasgow… I had to pay 12 pounds 7 shillings already for college fees and books and I soon will have to get more books.” He also writes that “I used always to be at my studies but I never had such as I have now. I must be up to 11 every night and in the morning at 5 in fact I am intruding on the time now by writing this… I go to college in the morning at day light for an hour, then at 11 another and at 12 a third which finishes my time in college for that day but I get very long lessons to learn.” It is impossible for any university student not to sympathise.
Hugh Martin, unfortunately, disappears from University records two years after his 1851 arrival in Glasgow. Any information on Hugh, his friend Malcolm, or how the letter arrived in Illinois would be greatly appreciated. Nontheless his letter is, I think, a valuable contribution to the University’s International Story. Hugh’s own words describe best his time as an international student in Glasgow:
“I entered the college on Monday. I have no time to tell you of the great wonders I saw.”
By Lawrence Mills, MA History