Ann’s People

John Walker Sutherland

Shortly before the birth of John, Ann wrote to encourage her sister, with an enthusiastic hope that the birth of Elizabeth’s baby – and future children – would be easier than the last.

“I sincerely trust dearest Elizabeth, that you will have quite as good a time as the last, […] you know it is always said that every successive confinement becomes less and less painful and God grant you may find it so”

AW to ES September 1st 1834, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/27. Transcription by Leila Straub

John Walker Sutherland was then born on the 16 September 1834, the fourth child of the Sutherland family. He was born at 9:30pm, according to a letter between George Mackay Sutherland and Ann, as recorded in Anne Lister’s diary of 21 September 1834.

“A- had letter from Captain Sutherland to say ‘a fine thumping boy’ born at 9 ½ pm on Tuesday (the 16th instant) to be called John after his grandfather and uncle Walker – mother and child doing exceedingly well – A- wrote 3 pages + in answer of compliments and congratulations from herself and us all – never recollected till the letter was sealed that she had taken no notice of the intended name”

West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, SH:7/ML/E/17/0087. Transcription by Francesca Raia

This snippet also shows the thought both Captain Sutherland and Elizabeth gave to the baby boy’s name, and a moment of heedlessness from Ann Walker.

Given he was the baby of the family at the time, little John is affectionately referred to as “Baby” by both Elizabeth and Ann in their correspondence, rather than by name, until his younger brother Evan is born in 1835.

Baptism (October 1834)

John was baptised on 12 October 1834. The baptism and its preparations must have kept both George and Elizabeth Sutherland particularly busy, which Ann notes in her letter to Elizabeth on 15 October.1 Yet despite the excitement of another baby in the family, and the plans for his baptism, Elizabeth and Ann are far more interested in the colour of the baby boy’s hair.

His hair is discussed in several letters between the sisters. Often, Ann mentions her wishes that the baby’s hair might change colour. At one point, she even suggests that Elizabeth begin oiling the baby’s hair in the hopes that it may alter its hue.

“I should have been glad if his hair had been any other color, but never mind, we shall not like him a bit the less for that, and if you say not a word about it, perhaps few will discover it whilst he is a baby and it may perhaps change, particularly if you put plenty of Russia Oil on”

AW to ES, October 15th 1834, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/29. Transcription by Leila Straub

Given Ann’s remarks, it is fair to assume that little John had red or lighter hair. Much to Ann’s delight, the baby’s hair fell out, or was cut, a few months later.

“I am glad to hear of baby’s hair coming off and I hope it will be a darker color the second time”.

AW to ES, December 2nd 1834, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, CN:103/4/32. Transcription by Leila Straub

Teething Pains (Spring 1835)

Although John was thriving in November 1834,2 the first signs of failing health began in spring 1835. Illness seems to be a major preoccupation of Ann and Elizabeth’s thoughts towards the children, with most mentions of the children by name being when they are ill or recovering. Sadly for little John, it was largely the former. 

Baby John had started teething by January 1835, and Ann feels particularly sorry that her baby nephew has to deal with the discomfort amidst the cold. “I am sorry poor little baby should be cutting teeth in this wintry weather”.3

The baby’s teething pain became severe enough to warrant several mentions in Ann and Elizabeth’s letters in the following months.

Shortly after, the entire Sutherland household becomes afflicted with terrible colds which lasted until the end of the month.4

Vaccinations (Early 1835)

Little John was vaccinated in early 1835, and Ann is glad that the baby “bore the vaccination so well”.5 Despite how well the baby acted, Ann is concerned he might catch a cold after his vaccinations.6 These were likely smallpox vaccinations, as at that time, it was still the only human vaccination in existence.7

Smallpox was a worry for any family, and Ann specifically hopes that the children “escape the contagion of small pox”.8 And while Ann hopes all the “dear little pets” are well, she does make a point to ask “how is baby?” so John’s wellbeing was acutely on her mind, or Elizabeth’s.

Continued teething and illness (1835 to 1836)

Despite his vaccinations, John appears to have been troubled by illness throughout his short life.

By May, the teething pain and crying of the baby boy had become dreadful enough that Elizabeth and George worried that John might have convulsions, and sent for a doctor.9 The pain the baby is suffering seems to be explained by the fact he has four teeth erupting at once. Plus, the little boy can’t get a wink of sleep. (And presumably, neither can anyone else!)

“last night Baby slept a little better and to day is much in the same state he was last week – I fancy his being so young to cutting the four teeth at once must be the cause of his extreme sufferings as he was a stronger child than any of the others”.

ES to AW – 19 May 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/47. Transcription by Leila Straub

Despite Elizabeth’s thoughts that John had been a “stronger child” than any of her other children, John would sadly pass away within a year of this letter being written.

Three days after the above letter was written, the baby’s poor health was given by George Sutherland as one reason why he could not visit Ann Walker to conduct the division of the Walker estate.

“I regret to say that the state of health of poor John is still [bad] and has been such for several weeks back as to preclude the possibility of my leaving home with any degree of comfort and as postponing the division of the Property even for a few weeks seems so contrary to your wishes we must adopt Washington’s scheme of division with some but probably unimportant exceptions which I will print out by tomorrows Post –”

GMS to AW (draft) May 22nd 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/48. Transcription by Leila Straub

Whooping cough and other illnesses (June 1835 to 1836)

While John has been ill for several weeks, he is recovering by 13th June. Yet within the same line of the letter, all of the Sutherland children are coming down with whooping cough.

“I am glad to hear a better account of John, but sorry that the children are threatened with hooping-cough; tho’ I hope they will get well thro’ it, the weather being so favourable -“

AW letter to GMS (draft) June 13th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/52, Transcription by Leila Straub

The bout of whooping cough persists for a few weeks. Persistent whooping cough or its lasting effects may then explain a worrying incident a few weeks later when John coughed up some blood.

“I was very much concerned to find by your kind letter on sunday, that the children have suffered so severely from the hooping cough, it is indeed a distressing complaint and often very tedious; but I hope they have, at least, got over the worst, and that John’s having brought up a little blood with the phlegm was merely accidental, and has not occurred again”

AW letter to ES July 4th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/53. Transcription by Leila Straub

The baby boy continues in poor health throughout summer, as in late August Ann writes to Elizabeth that she “was very much concerned and surprised to hear your two boys had been so very ill”.10 In the same letter, John is of particular concern, “I am very sorry to find from your letter that baby has had so bad a relapse. he must of course be very delicate.”11

Baby John endures another run of ill health in early 1836, as noted in Anne Lister’s diary on 25th March 1836, “A- sent off her letter, written this morning, to her sister – 3 pages and ends and crossed,  – glad little John is better – the rest amusing chit chat”.12 Interestingly, the note about John appears to have been added afterwards, as it’s cramped in above the line.


John’s apparent recovery was not to last long. John sadly passed away in late March 1836, aged just 18 months old.

John’s death occurred as Ann was writing her gratitude for her nephew’s recovery, or in the following four days. We know he died before the 29 March, as on the 30th Anne Lister notes that Ann replied to the letter informing her of John’s death the night before.

“sent off her letter written last night in answer to short letter from Miss Sutherland received yesterday afternoon to say poor little John (A-‘s nephew) was dead”

West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, SH:7/ML/E/19/0020. Transcription by Francesca Raia

The cause of death is not clear, but according to a letter written by Ann Walker to Captain Sutherland, it may have been a serious illness or accident. One that according to Ann, would likely have caused John significant pain or disability had he survived. Or she is making a passing comment on the apparently frail nature little John seems to have had in his short life.

“poor dear little boy! After such sufferings as he had endured, I fear, if he had been spared, he would not have had health; and I am sure you would not have desired his life prolonging, to be only one of suffering –”

AW to GMS, 3rd Apr 1836, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:107/2. Transcription by Leila Straub

In either case, little John Walker Sutherland had a tragically short life, blighted with frequent ill health.

Images from Kirkmichael, Rosshire, courtesy of Diane Halford

He was buried in Kirkmichael, Rosshire, where his older brother Sackville would later be buried. Like Sackville, John is also named on the Walker memorial plaque erected in St Matthew’s Church in Lightcliffe.


  1. AW to ES October 15th 1834, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/29. Transcription by Leila Straub
  2. AW to ES November 11th 1834, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/30. Transcription by Leila Straub
  3. AW to ES January 17th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/33. Transcription by Leila Straub
  4. AW to ES February 2nd 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/35. Transcription by Leila Straub
  5. AW to ES February 3rd 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/36. Transcription by Leila Straub
  6. AW to ES February 25th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/37. Transcription by Leila Straub & AW to ES March 8th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/40. Transcription by Leila Straub & Kerstin Holzgraebe
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  8. AW to ES April 25th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/45. Transcription by Leila Straub & Kerstin Holzgraebe
  9. ES to AW 19 May 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/47. Transcription by Leila Straub
  10. AW letter to ES August 25th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/58. Transcription by Leila Straub
  11.  AW letter to ES August 25th 1835, West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, CN:103/4/58. Transcription by Leila Straub
  12. West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale, SH:7/ML/E/19/0017. Transcription by Francesca Raia

Special thanks

Diane Halford and Deb Woolson

Leila Straub – Editor

Wellcome Collection

In Search of Ann Walker’s research into Ann’s life is ongoing, therefore new discoveries may change the way we chronicle her life in the future.

How to cite this article:

Quilliam, Erin. “John Walker Sutherland”, In Search of Ann Walker,<>. Accessed [add date].

Erin Quilliam

Used to tread the boards a bit, now writes about dogs for a living. Passionate about storytelling, whether it’s reading, D&D, video games, or putting historic people in the spotlight.