The collection consists almost entirely of family correspondence, with most of the material falling into the period 1830 - 1850. The bulk of this relates to the life and career of Charles Arbuthnot (1767 - 1850), and his son, Charles G. J. Arbuthnott (1801 - 1870), but is interspersed with a varied and for the most part, interesting, mixture of domestic, social, and political commentary, characteristic of family correspondence of the period.
The main correspondents represented are Charles Arbuthnot (1767 - 1850), Harriet Arbuthnot (d 1834), Charles G. J. Arbuthnot (1801 - 1870), and Mrs H. Clapcott-Lisle, mother of Charles' first wife, Marcia (d 1806). The letters of Mrs H. Clapcott-Lisle (section 8) are of particular interest as they date mainly from the period 1802 - 1806, shortly after Charles and Marcia had embarked upon their life abroad, and shed some light on the family's activities at this time, of which little has been recorded elsewhere. The most substantial series in the collection is the correspondence between Charles and his eldest son, Charles G. J. Arbuthnot (in series 1/2 and 3/1). Some 800 or more letters survive, revealing what seems to have been an unusually close-knit family, into which young Charles's wife, Charlotte Vivian, was warmly welcomed in 1833, as the daughter of the Arbuthnot's old friend Sir Richard Hussey Vivian. The earlier letters in this series show the supportive role which Charles Arbuthnot played in his son's career, whilst later correspondence provides detailed observations of young Charles' life abroad, whilst working in Ceylon and British Colombo, and later, travelling on the Continent with his family.
The correspondence between Charles and Harriet Arbuthnot (sections 1/1 and 2/1) contains a mixture of domestic, political and social commentary. It testifies to the success of their match, despite their age difference, the initial reservations of the Fane family, and the rumours which were prompted by Harriet's close friendship with the Duke of Wellington. In particular, their letters demonstrate how close their political sympathies must have been and how fully they shared a concern with contemporary events. There are many references to the Duke of Wellington, with Charles' affection for him clearly evident at the time of the Duke's illness in 1831.
A small but interesting group of letters written by members of the Fane family is listed under Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1805 - 1849 (GB 231 MS 3029/10). The correspondents include Harriet's distinguished brothers, Sir Henry Fane (1778 - 1844), commander in chief in India, Robert George Cecil Fane (1796 - 1864), bankruptcy commissioner, and Louisa Fane, wife to Harriet's brother William, a civil servant in Bengal. The letters of Henry and George Cecil are full of politics and philosophy, whilst those of William Fane are less abstract and bring more practical news of his work, and of the political and social situation in the East at this time.
In addition to the family correspondence, there is a separate bundle of 41 letters sent to Mrs Arbuthnot by General Don Miguel Ricardo de Alava, a friend of the Duke of Wellington, 1824 - 1832 (section 9). Written in French, in affectionate terms, the letters appear to begin in 1824 after the general's return to the continent from a protracted stay in London. It appears that Mrs Arbuthnot kept up a regular correspondence with Alava, whom she describes in her journal as the merest sieve in all London , on account of his love of gossip (The journal of Mrs Arbuthnot, 1820 - 32 ed. by F. Bamford and the Duke of Wellington, 2 vols. (London, 1950), ii, p. 33). A further group of 29 (mainly draft and copy) letters from Charles Arbuthnot to various non-family correspondents is also of interest, in that it provides some further context of his business, political and social standing.
A detailed discussion of the papers will be found in Dorothy B. Johnston, Reports and Surveys of Archives in Northern Scotland, Northern Scotland, 6 (1985), 193 - 199.