John Baker, a barrister who lived much of his life in the West Indies, was born 300 years ago today. He kept a diary which is full of ‘small people and small events’, but, because he liked watching cricket, this record of small events is valued by historians of the sport. He did know some famous people of the age - such as Garrick and Hogarth - but only ever mentioned them in passing.
John, second son of Thomas Baker a grocer in Chichester, was born on 6 February 1712. He was schooled at Petworth, admitted to the Middle Temple in 1729, and called to the Bar in 1737. His first wife died young after giving him one son; and then, after moving to St Kitts, he married Mary Ryan, the daughter of a Monteserrat plantation owner of Irish origin, with whom he had several more children. He worked as a barrister there, and was one of the Assembly’s 24 Members. He served as Solicitor-General to the Leeward Islands from 1750 to 1752, returning to England in 1757.
After taking a house in Red Lion Square, London, he moved to Teddington being close to a circle of West Indian friends; but then continued to relocate his family fairly frequently - near Chichester for a while, in Horsham, back in London. He died in 1779, leaving behind a quarter century of short daily diary entries. These were published by Hutchinson in 1931 as The Diary of John Baker, barrister of the Middle Temple, solicitor-general of the Leeward Islands. The book contains an introduction and notes by Philip C Yorke.
Baker’s diary is, Yorke says, ‘a record of small people and small events, written down for future reference without any literary art, vivid descriptions or interesting self-revelations’. Although the book is not an interesting read, it has some points of interest. It is considered an important source for information on the early days of cricket (Baker was a fan of the sport - see The Diary Junction for diary links on this). Also, there is an occasional mention of society names since Baker knew both the famous actor David Garrick, and the famous artist William Hogarth. Otherwise, the diary is crammed full with abbreviated and pithy descriptions of his movements, often using French in an affected way for much-repeated words like ‘où’, ‘frère’, ‘ce soir’, and the Latin term ‘Uxor’ for wife. Here are a few extracts.
27 May 1758
‘Going along Mr Garrick called to me in Piccadilly on horseback, going to ride in Park.’
23 August 1758
‘I walked 3 hours in Bushey Park - dined home - afternoon I rode Wimbledon - saw only end cricket match between Wimbledon and Kingston - the latter beat.’
5 March 1770
‘We stayed from 6 to past 10, in which time Garrick came out 6 or 7 times and talked to audience, tho’ often 5 or 6 minutes before he could be heard. Once he said the author was willing to withdraw his play, but then the party for Kelly [Hugh Kelly, the playwrite] said he had no right so to do; they insisted on the play to be given out, one party calling out for the new play and the other against it. When King [Thomas King, the most famous actor of the time] came on, being called for to speak Prologue, the hubbub forced him back, and one or two oranges struck him. The people came away in great numbers after ten and we among the rest, and had our money returned.’
23 July 1770
‘I went see Cricket Match, Tothill Fields, Westminster, against Battersea and Wandsworth.’
2 June 1773
‘Saw ‘Beggar’s Opera’ at Drury Lane. Pit and gallery so full no place; went into front-box où much mob - low sort of people had tickets given them - side boxes almost empty.’
5 November 1773
‘Up Holborn and walked St James’s Park half an hour or more; on going out saw the King get into his chaise and 4 black horses. I went to Blue Posts - had beef steak etc. then to Covent Garden, ‘Beggar’s Opera’ and ‘Commissary’; found the Pit not one fifth full, and on the 4th bench from Orchestra orange woman showed me Pol. Kennedy alias Mrs Bivon [Irish actress successfully playing male parts], on which I went and sat immediately before her and talked with her much during the play.’
13 May 1775
‘To old Slaughters - to Westminster Hall. Stood some time at foot of King’s Bench - a little squeezing, but one fellow behind me seemed to press more than ordinary, which I even thought odd then, and soon after missed my Spa snuff box.’
23 May 1776
‘Went Old Bailey - heard the trial of one Storer, a farrier’s man, for poisoning a horse of Mr Whitebread, a brewer - (on the Black Act which makes it death). Jury went out. Little boy of 11 or 12 began to be tried for stealing 6 table spoons, but I came away. Charles and housemaid and cook to Sadlers Wells.’
12 June 1776
‘Going through streets leads out of St James’s Market into Haymarket, saw some ham at window in Royal Larder - went in and had some and some porter. NB: I believe this the same person kept house of that name 3 or 4 years ago in Jermyn Street, où many people caught gaming and seemed as if ham (for seemed to have nothing else) only a pretence.’
28 September 1777
‘My father died wanting 22 days of completing his 66th year I want more than four months of completing my 66 year which I think it utterly impossible I shall ever do, for I grow daily weaker. The sea baths nor sea air has any effect to make me better but all are flat and useless, and I have neither pleasure nor amendment from them. ’Tis a vain struggle to attempt to lengthen this poor remnant of life. Even if it could be prolonged it is not worth holding. I have no business above ground. I consume hourly and both my feelings and my countenance make me look upon myself as a dead man.’
29 September 1777
‘I believe the glass of milk and gin and the five or six glasses of arrack Punch I drank at Mrs Bell’s heated me too much, pains in hips, left thigh, and knee exceeding stiff. In night both knee bones ached. Left thigh aches and knee burns.’