Jackson, born on 26 January 1736, was one of nine children in a modestly wealthy family of Richmond, North Yorkshire. In his 13th year he was taken to Newcastle upon Tyne to undertake a seven year apprenticeship with a member of the town’s Company of Hostmen. The fraternity, a group of men who acted as hosts to visiting merchants, had received a Royal Charter in 1600, but, by this time, had also acquired exclusive rights to trade coal; and since coal had become more or less the lifeblood of Newcastle, Hostmen enjoyed an elevated social status occupying most positions of authority in the town.
While working as an assistant to his master, the young Jackson was also tutored privately. By his final year as an apprentice, he was already undertaking most of a Hostman’s roles, with the exception of finalising coaling agreements with ships’ captains. On completing his apprenticeship, rather than seeking to become a member of the Company, he returned to Cleveland, in North Yorkshire, to live with his uncle, and help him with his business. When his uncle died, Jackson inherited nearly all his property and business interests. In 1776, he married Mary Lewin. After giving birth to four children, three of whom died in infancy, she also died, in 1781.
Jackson continued to live a relatively uneventful country squire life, becoming a magistrate in 1769, licensing pubs, supervising highway repairs, as well as presiding over criminal proceedings. He died in 1790. He is only remembered today because he kept a regular diary for four decades, full of details about mid-18th century life and society. His brother, George, however, rose to a senior position within the admiralty and became an MP.
There are at least four significant sources of information about Ralph Jackson and his diaries (held by Teeside Archive). Two of these focus on the information his diaries provide about Newcastle upon Tyne and the coal trade; another focuses on Jackson’s contacts with the famous explorer James Cook; and the fourth is linked to the North Yorkshire area in which he lived.
In 2000, the Company of Hostmen of Newcastle upon Tyne published Bound for the Tyne: Extracts from the diary of Ralph Jackson - Apprentice Hostman of Newcastle upon Tyne 1749-1756, as edited by Clifford E. Thornton, ‘to commemorate its quater-centenery 1600-2000 A.D.’ According to Thornton, Jackson’s journal ‘provides an invaluable insight into eighteenth century life in the North-East’. He also adds this comment: ‘Little did Ralph realise when he started his humble diary, that in time it would bring him more fame and attention than he ever received during his life!’
More recently, in 2014, Ashgate has published Peter D. Wright’s book Life on the Tyne - Water Trades on the Lower River Tyne in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, a reappraisal. This is available to preview at Googlebooks and includes a chapter on Jackson and his diary, with many quotes.
The Captain Cook Society hosts a website with a huge amount of information about James Cook, his ships, crews, journeys as well as other ephemera including several extracts from Cook’s journals (see also The Diary Junction). Jackson, it seems, was acquainted with Cook, who also came from Yorkshire, and some of his associates. The website explained, in an introductory blog post, in 1997: ‘During his life Ralph Jackson never achieved anything spectacular, certainly nothing to compare with Cook’s discoveries, however, in the past decade, Ralph has come more and more into prominence in modern Cleveland thanks to the meticulous diary which he kept throughout his life. His hand-made journals, written in his neat copperplate style, provide a unique insight into life in Cleveland in the eighteenth century. The diary describes his personal interests, his business dealings, and his social contacts with people throughout the region. It is these latter entries which reveal many details relevant to James Cook and his associates.’ Several further blog posts followed, all still available on the website, which provide many extracts from the diaries, as well as explanations on Jackson’s links with Cook and his associates.
Finally, the most detailed biographical information about Jackson and the full text of all his diaries can be found on the Great Ayton History Society website - Great Ayton being a village near where Jackson himself lived, and where several of his relations resided. The Society’s introduction to Jackson and the diaries, with portraits of he and his wife, also explains how a group of volunteers transcribed all 600,000 words of the diary, as authentically as possible.
The following extracts are taken from the pamphlet, Bound for the Tyne.
15 October 1750
‘In the forenoon Mr Presswick came up, & I went to the Hill for some potatoes & Horseradish. In the Evening Mr Charlton & the Master that he had built the Ship called the Fame for, sat the Evening. I gave on the Ship for Tamfields Coals, when the were gone we retired to bed betwixt Ten and Eleven.’
11 April 1752
‘In the morning there was a great many Ships sending up, so I went upon the Key and my Master sent me to pay Mr White for putting an advertisement belonging to Sir Ra: Milbank and ask Thompson why he did not put it into his Paper, then I went down to Winkhamlee. In the afternoon I came home, got my dinner and my Mas’ gave me leave to go to the Shd Fd [both ds superscript] with Mrs & Miss Hudspeths to drink Tea at Nellys the Milk wife, came home and play’d at Shittle cock in the Trenity with Billy & Lewis Hick, came home and retired to bed a little after ten.’
22 May 1752
‘In the morning I cleaned my Shoes, after Breakfast I took a walk with Billy & R. Morton upon the Moor and saw soldiers reviewed By General Camdbell, after dinner I drew out the April Vend and carried it to Mr Featherston’s Office. I called at the Post house an at Doctor Hallowell’s Shop where I saw Dicky Cotesworth and he told me his Bror. & Sisters was gone down to Winkhamlee, came home I saw the Man that made Paper cake mix his Paste in the Burnbank, came home and sat in the House till Eleven o’Clock and my Master did not come in, so I retired to bed at ye time.’
28 May 1752
‘In the morning I went upon the Key & saw a fight between 2 or 3 women against one man. Went into my room & got my clean Shirt on and rode down to Winkhamlee upon my Masrs Mair and from thence to Shields & went on board Mr Gallon, the Mary & Jane, to desire he would come up and Clear today, for Friday and Saturday were two Holidays. He came up with me as far as the Waggon way and then I rode down to Winkhamlee. In the evening I went to the Stables with Billy to tell Geo. Wardell’s lad to go down to Shields and then I fetched Billy’s Galloway down for Capn. Clifton to ride on. After I took a walk with Billy and some more to Elsick and got every one 1⁄2 of New Milk.’
1 March 1753
‘In the morning I went to Mary Davison’s and got my Sassifras Tea then I came to our house & got a little milk. After breakfast I went into the Office and wrote some Receipts, ordered the fire Coal deliver’d to sundry people. I took a walk upon the Key & sat in Mr Akenheads shop awhile, after this I went for some fish herbs upon the Sandhill to Mrs Barfields for some Vinegar, I also went into Office and wrote over Mr Cuffley’s Accot., Mr Cuffley & Jno Campion dined at our house. . .’
3 March 1753
‘In the morning I went to Mary’s and got my Tea, then I came in & Copyed over 3 bills into the Books, after I carried them to my Master. He let some ink fall upon one of them and spoiled it so I rode down to Shields upon my Master’s mair, I got Jno Campion to go with me on Board his Bror. where I got the Bill renewed, it was for £30-12s-4d. I came from Shields as I cou’d and got back against dinner time, after dinner I went to old Mr Ackenheads & passed the above Bill to him, I brot. the money to my Master and went down to the Cann hos. till Jno. Paid the Keelmen, then I came away and came into the Office were I did a good deal of my Master’s business . . . I sat up with Billy till my Master came in, after he came in he smoaked a pipe for he was a little in Liquor . . .’
4 December 1756
‘This day my Seventh years Bond expires allowing the Eleven days also for the Alteration of the Stile in 1752 [change in the calendar]. I went with Mr Ord to Mr Winds in Pilgrom Street & bespoke a Supp: for Seven of my Acquaintances against Monday night first. I finish’d copying out my Masters Cash Book into that I keep. I walk’d to Elswick with the two Miss Hudspeths & Miss Meuris where we drank Tea, this is my foye with them.’
21 April 1763
‘London - my Bro. Geo. Jackson went with me to Mr Geo. James’ Limner in Dean Street. I sat to him at my Bro. Wilson’s request for my picture.’
The Diary Junction