Helen Duff

Although Helen began life in the shadow of her beautiful elder sister Mary, she married an Edinburgh solicitor and flourished in that role. By the end of her long life almost all her nine children were married and prospering with children of their own, so in her will she could bequeath them keepsakes to remind them of their happy childhood in her house, saving her practical help for loyal servants and generous charitable bequests.

Lived
1789 - 22 September 1873
Origin
Hatton
Father
Alexander Duff of Hatton, Aberdeenshire
Mother
Mary Leslie of Glenmyre, of the family of Melross (5 p.246)
Address
From 1809-1813 the Tods lived at 43 Castle Street, when they moved to 46 Charlotte Square
Religious views
Her will has a practical opening: 'being desirous to provide for the management and disposal of my moveable or personal estate after my decease', but it includes some of the most generous charitable bequests of the group: Royal Infirmary £100, Edinburgh City Mission £60, Society for the relief of Incurables £60, Edinburgh Magdalen Asylum at Dalry £25, Senior Female Society for aged and indigent females 19 guineas, to the Junior Female society for aged and indigent females 19 guineas.
Profession
Helen's will depicts her as the mistress of a happy household. She mentions servants who had become part of it: 'my Butler Herman Wislink who has been a faithful servant and many years in our service' and father of 'my name child, Helen Wislink'; and 'my old coachman John Ross' whose pension was to be continued. After bequeathing various pictures, items of jewellery etc she concludes,
'in naming different articles for my daughters and a few for my sons some of these things are in fulfilment of old promises & none are of any intrinsic worth, but I think my children will kindly value them as remembrances from me and associated with their early, or home recollections. Regarding these small matters I shall leave notes to the care of my dear Joanna, who I a sure will attend to all my wishes whether written or verbally expressed but I do not wish any thing sent away which woud alter the general appearance of the rooms while Joanna remains in Ainslie Place her comfort and convenience is my first consideration.'
In 1914 the historians of the Duff family said her 'descendants are now very numerous'. (5 p.248)
Story
Helen appears as a figure in the background in the childhood love affair of Byron with her sister Mary, 'in the children's apartment, at their house, not far from the Plainstones, at Aberdeen, while her lesser sister, Helen, played with the doll', Mary 'pitying her sister Helen, for not having an admirer too'. (7 p.29)
Chapel connection
1810 (baptism)
Married
1808
Spouse
John Tod
Children
Thomas (1809, m. Amelia Cumming), Alexander (1810), Helen Clementina (1812) married David Mure, advocate depute for Scotland, John Robert (1814-1856 m. Jemima Wharton Duff), Mary Jane (1821-1901 m. G. Ross), Charlotte Joanna (1828-1901 m. J. Maonochie), Caroline Jane (1823-1901 m. Thomas Graham Murray), Louisa Garden (1828, m. Charles Fellowes), and Joanna Helen (1871, unmarried during her mother's lifetime but m. Thomas Abdy Fellowes in 1876), four others who died unmarried.
Related to
Mary Duff, sister.
Connected to
Her neighbour Isabella MacDowall, another Whig lawyer's wife, who mentions her as a best friend. Their wills reveal a similar worldview.

Sources

  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Register of The Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet ed. Ronald K. Will (Edinburgh, Clark Constable, 1983)
  4. Will, National Archives of Scotland SC70/4/147/159
  5. Alistair and Henrietta Taylor, The book of the Duffs (Constable and co, Edinburgh, 1914)
  6. Inventory National Archives of Scotland SC70/1/164/755
  7. Thomas Moore, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (J.J. Harper, New York, 1830) vol.1

Back to index