Browsing through the collection of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute turns up many books which were donated to the Institute. One with a particularly personal association is “Rudiments of physiology, part one, on organism” by Dr John Fletcher.
The inscription inside the cover states:
“Presented to the Mechanics Institute by Mrs Rhind the author’s sister, 6th May 1861, Launceston”.
This simple inscription helped to uncover an interesting family story of misfortune and a successful return to fame and respectability.
The author of the book, John Fletcher, and his sister, Mary Catherine Fletcher were both born in London. Their parents, Thomas and Polly Catchlove nee Randell, were coal merchants and it was the intention that John should follow in their footsteps. His obituary states that such work did not satisfy a mind that hungered for knowledge and intellectual stimulation, and in 1813 John left for Edinburgh where he became a highly respected physician and lecturer. Perhaps his astute mind had also realised that business was a risky venture, because in 1822 and again in 1832 his mother’s business was declared bankrupt. On the first occasion John’s father Thomas, was still in business and in the second instance his brother Thomas had become a partner in business with their mother. All hopes of an inheritance for John, Mary and their siblings were lost.
|Bookplate of Sidney J Fletcher, from Rudiments of Physiology|
John Fletcher lived a successful life as a physician in Edinburgh, publishing two volumes of “Rudiments of Physiology” and preparing a manuscript of the third volume before his early death of illness in 1836. He had married Agnes Seton in 1821 and when he died intestate, Agnes was left with £127, a promissory note for £30, household goods valued at £382.14.00, and the copyright of the first and second parts of ‘Rudiments of Physiology’ “but upon which no value can be put”.
In 1845 The Cornwall Chronicle published a condensed version of an obituary for Dr Fletcher which had originally appeared in the ‘Edinburgh Evening Courant’ just after his death in 1836 and had also appeared in medical journals at that time. It was published in the Cornwall Chronicle under the heading ‘Biography’. Why it appeared in a Launceston paper so many years after his death is unknown, but a long paragraph at the end of the obituary, about the author’s “amiable” sister, Mrs Rhind, may indicate that she gave a copy of the article for publication.
The original obituary was written by Robert Lewins who was responsible for the posthumous publication of Dr Fletcher’s third volume of ‘Physiology’ which included a memoir on Dr Fletcher. In the obituary Lewins gives very high praise for Dr Fletcher’s personal and professional qualities. He sums up by saying, “… by Dr Fletcher’s death science has lost a most industrious and successful cultivator, and the medical school of Edinburgh one of its brightest ornaments.” Although John Fletcher wrote other books, it was Lewin’s opinion that on ‘Rudiments of physiology’ “… alone, his claim to professional distinction may be safely founded.”
John’s sister, Mary Catherine, having married William Rhind, Esq. in 1839, moved with her husband to Van Diemen’s Land where they settled in Launceston. William died in 1847 "At his residence, George-street, on Saturday, the 4th December, aged 40 years, … late of Forres, Morayshire. [To a richly stored and highly cultivated mind was united a most untiring disposition, which rendered him averse to everything approximating in the most remote degree to ostentation : to those who possessed his confidence, he was unreserved ; and to such will his loss be long severely felt.]" 
Mary Catherine was left to her own devices, and considered, by the editor of the Cornwall Chronicle, “a candidate for public patronage and support”. This public declaration of the need for patronage seems to have been nothing unusual in the nineteenth century. Mary had been running a young ladies’ school from at least 1842 and in her first advertisement for the school in the ‘Launceston Courier’ she “solicits the patronage of her friends”. By 1862 she was well-known and respected enough to be a referee for another lady starting up a school. In 1869 she attended a reception at the Town Hall given by the Governor’s wife, the Hon. Georgiana du Cane.
Mary Catherine Rhind died in 1884. Obviously family was very important to her, as in her will she left several family mementoes to family members. The fact that she had already donated her brother’s book to the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute honoured not only her brother’s memory but the Institute as well, as being a worthy repository for such a prestigious book.
 Cornwall Chronicle, 15 November 1845, p.334.
 Cornwall Chronicle.
 Launceston Examiner, 8 December 1847, p.6.
This post was contributed by FOLMI member, Sue McClarron.