Malvina Wells

1805 - 22nd Apr 1887


Malvina Wells first appears in slave registers in 1817 on Grand Bay estate, Carriacou, "In lawful possession of George McLean, attorney to George G. Browne Mill and John Mill", age 13, "mulatto" (ie white father and black mother), no distinguishing marks. Details of her early life are sketchy. She does not appear in a complete list of enslaved people on Grand Bay in 1825.

Independent research by Frances Macdonald and others indicates Malvina was a nurse to the two daughters of John McLean, owner of Dumfries estate in Grenada and probably moved to Scotland with McLean's widow Jessie (nee Urquhart) and the two girls in 1817. Malvina and the girls, Dorothea and Joanna, were the subjects of a striking and extant portrait circa 1830. Jessie was very close to her sister Isabella, who was married to John McInnes, owner of Mount Rich estate in Grenada. In the Scottish census of 1841, Jessie, since remarried to Allan Field, was living with her daughters Dorothea and Joanna, her widowed sister Isabella McInnes and Isabella's daughter Agnes in Great King Street, Edinburgh. Malvina has not been identified in this census. Joanna McLean married John Anthony Macrae in Edinburgh in 1841 and Agnes McInnes married Edward Strathearn Gordon in 1845. Malvina was known to the extended family as "Mally" and oral history still records the family's emotional attachment to her.

In the census of 1851 she was listed as Malvina Walls, at 33 Great King Street in the household of John A. Macrae, a Writer to the Signet. Malvina was a lady's maid, a superior servant responsible for dressing Joanna Macrae and taking care of her clothes and jewels. Joanna's place of birth is given as Carriacou.

In 1861 Malvina was living at 42 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, head of the household, an annuitant, age 57, with a boarder called Mary Johnston, a dressmaker.

In 1871 she was at 2 Randolph Crescent in the household of Edward Strathearn Gordon and his wife Agnes; her occupation was given as domestic servant.

In 1881 she was recorded as Meleina Wells, at 14 Gloucester Place, age 75, once again a lady's maid in the household of Joanna Macrae, a widow and annuitant.

Malvina Wells died at 14 Gloucester Place, Edinburgh, 22/04/1887 age 82. Her death certificate gives her father as John Wells, West Indian planter (deceased); her mother's name is left blank. She died of heart disease; the certificate was signed by Joanna Macrae's son Horatio Ross Macrae, who was present at her death. Privately-owned family letters give numerous accounts of her kindness and her importance to the families of both Isabella and Jessie. Isabella's daughter Agnes wrote to Jessie's daughter Joanna following Malvina's death: "I send a few flowers which please have arranged round our beloved Mally. I would like the rose laid on her breast near her faithful heart! She was one of those who holds up my [sic] head amidst lifes bitterest sorrows."

Malvina's will gives some clues as to her early life. She bequeathed £5 each to Matilda Goulton and John Wells Goulton, the children of her sister Frances Goulton. No trace of the Goultons has been found in British records; presumably Frances was another daughter of the Grenadian planter John Wells. Further evidence of her continued interest in Grenada is seen in a bequest of £5 to "the [unnamed] young man in the Island of Grenada who sends me the newspapers periodically".

The probate inventory of her personal estate reveals she was able to put money aside and had probably been the beneficiary of previous bequests: she left over £650 including shares in the National Bank of India, the Scottish Assam Tea Company and the Manitoba Investment Association. A debt of £4 4s to "Dr Affleck for medical attendance" suggests she was treated by James Ormiston Affleck, a society doctor in Edinburgh's New Town. Her residuary legatees were three children of Joanna Macrae.

She was buried in St John's Episcopal graveyard, Princes Street, Edinburgh, an upmarket cemetery in the centre of the city. Her memorial inscription reads: "Malvina Wells born in Carriacou West Indies Died at Edinburgh 22 April 1887 Aged 82 years For upwards of 70 years A faithful Servant and Friend In the Family of Mrs MacRae Edinburgh. Faithful in all the house as a servant, Hebrews iii 5." Her grave is next to that of Joanna Isabella Macrae, who died in 1890.


Slave register - T71/267 pp. 227-230.

Alexander Macrae, History of the Clan Macrae, with genealogies... (Dingwall, Ross, 1910) p. 120.

Marriage of Agnes Joanna McInnes - Inverness Courier 13/08/1845.

Censuses online - 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881.

Death certificate - GROS 1887 685/1 401.

Memorial inscription: [accessed 05/10/2015].

Will and inventory: SC70/4/225 and SC70/1/259.

More details of the life of Malvina, an interview with Frances Macdonald, quotes from family letters, a watercolour painting by Malvina and the portrait of her with Dorothea and Joanna are available in Rachael Lloyd, 'Ancestry Research: Lightbulb Moments and False Trails', [accessed 09/08/2021]

Further Information

died unmarried

SC70/4/225 - precis.

Malvina Wells residing at 46 Cumberland Street, Edinburgh.

To Matilda Goulton, daughter of my sister Frances Goulton, £5.

To John Wells Goulton, son of my sister Frances, £5.

To the young man in the Island of Grenada who sends me the newspapers periodically £5.

All rest and residue to Colin George Macrae, Horatio Ross Macrae and Jessidora Macrae, children of Mrs Johanna Isabella Maclean or Macrae, and the the survivors or survivor of them equally.

Horatio Ross Macrae, presently residing at 14 Gloucester Place, Edinburgh to be my executor.

Signed 09/04/1873 before these witnesses George Brown and Alexander Roberts Forbes, both Clerks to Merrs Macrae and Flett, law agents and conveyancers in Edinburgh.

SC70/1/259 - precis.

Inventory of the personal estate of Malvina Wells.

Cash in the house £15 10s

Sum due to deceased on acount with the National Securities Savings Bank, Edinburgh, plus interest £177 14s

Sum on deposit receipt with the National Bank of India due to deceased payable at Edinburgh plus interest £50 14s 4d

Eight B. shares of the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company Limited plus dividend £90 2s

Fifteen shares of the Scottish Assam Tea Company Limited plus dividend £97 10s

Sum in Debenture No 149 of the Manitoba Investment Association now represented by the Dominion of Canada Mortgage Company Limited plus interest £103 19s 8d

Sum in Debenture No. 150 of said last mentioned company plus interest £103 19s 8d

Balance due to deceased on account current with Messrs Macrae Flett and Rennie WS £11 8s 1d

Total amount of personal estate £650 17s 9d.


Dr Affleck for medical attendance £4 4s

Sick nurses during last illness £7

Messrs John Croall and sons, undertakers (including £1 for shroud) £15 19s

Net value of personal estate £622 14s 9d

Lady's maid

Addresses (4)

14 Gloucester Place, Edinburgh, Midlothian (Edinburgh), Central Scotland, Scotland
2 Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh, Midlothian (Edinburgh), Central Scotland, Scotland
33 Great King Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian (Edinburgh), Central Scotland, Scotland
42 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian (Edinburgh), Central Scotland, Scotland