Thursday, December 27, 2018

Such interesting anecdotes

‘At court on the Queen’s birth-night, her Majesty dressed in buff satin, trimmed with the sable just made her a present of by the Empress of Russia. The Princess of Brunswick was there, coming on a visit to her mother, then ill. We used to think her, though not handsome, a good figure, but she is now grown so fat and plain, that, tho’ cover’d with jewels, I never saw a woman that look’d more unfashionable.’ This is from the diaries of Caroline Powys, born 280 years ago today. The diaries, which were published at the end of the 19th century, are considered by some to be a ‘fascinating record of upper-class life in the second half of the eighteenth century’ and to be rich in ‘such interesting anecdotes of royalty’.

Caroline Girle was born on 27 December 1738, the only child of a surgeon and his wife in Beenham, Berkshire. They moved in 1754 to Lincoln’s Inn Field where Powys’s father had built a house. When he died, she moved to Caversham, Oxfordshire, with her mother. In 1762, she married Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House, Whitchurch, Oxfordshire, thus becoming mistress of the house that had been in the Lybbe family since 1526. Caroline and Philip had two sons (one who was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards, and the other who became a clergyman) and two daughters, though one died in infancy. When their sons left home, Philip and Caroline moved, in 1784, to Fawley rectory, Buckinghamshire, to live with her bachelor brother-in-law. Philip died in 1809, and their son Thomas (who had been given the living at Fawley in 1810) died in early 1817 leaving a widow and 11 children. Caroline, herself, died later the same year. There is not very much information about Caroline available online. Wikipedia’s entry is very short, but there is a little more detail in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB - log-in required).

Caroline started keeping a diary when on holiday at the behest of her father, but continued the habit for most of her life, until rheumatism made it difficult to write. According to the Powys/Lybbe ancestry site, ‘the Diaries give a warm and detailed account of eighteenth century life as a country lady’. There were about 20 volumes, distributed round the family. In the late 19th century, Emily J. Climenson was able to reassemble them and produce an edited version for publication, in 1899, by Longman, Green, and Co - Passages from the Diaries of Mrs. Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House, Oxon, A.D. 1756 to 1808. The full text is freely available online at Internet Archive. Half of the diaries subsequently disappeared, while the remainder were eventually given to the British Library. According to Anne Pimlott Baker’s bio for the ODNB, the diaries provide ‘a fascinating record of upper-class life in the second half of the eighteenth century’. See also Eighteenth Century Recipes for more about a manuscript recipe book Caroline left behind.

The ODNB gives a summary of some of the more interesting content of the diaries: ‘While still living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1761 she saw Earl Ferrers being taken from the Tower of London to Tyburn to be hanged for murder, and saw the hearse return; also in 1761 she describes the coronation procession of George III. After her marriage the diary records social life in the country, with visits to neighbouring country houses, often newly built, with gardens laid out by Capability Brown, such as Caversham Park; assemblies and balls during the Henley winter season, with lists of those attending; visits to Bath and London, with plays and concerts, including performances by Mme Catalani in Bath and Mrs Sheridan in London; travels, always in England, including a visit to Ramsgate in 1801, where she could hear Nelson bombarding French ships off Boulogne; local events, as when she watched Cliveden burn down in 1795; details of alterations to the gardens at Hardwick, with lists of fruit trees planted; recipes, including one for lavender drops, a cure for the palsy; and menus, including that for a dinner given in 1798 by her brother-in-law in Canterbury for Prince William of Gloucester. After a ball in the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath in January 1791 her list of all the members of the nobility there fills more than a page, ‘besides baronets and their wives innumerable’.’

In her introduction, Climenson explains why she chose to edit and publish the diaries: ‘[They] present such an accurate picture of life, manners, and customs of the upper class of that period, that though my work of collating, noting, and linking together the many, some twenty books, lent to me by various members of the family, was chiefly undertaken on their account, I feel that they cannot fail to interest the general reader, containing as they do such interesting anecdotes of royalty, and other notable people, descriptions of country seats, places, towns, manufactures, amusements, and general habits of the period which now form history, and that, comparatively little studied; for the immediate century beyond our own days, I fancy, is more often ignored, and less understood, than the more distant periods of time, at whatever period we live.’

Here are several extracts.

13 July 1771
‘Being at my brother Powys’ at Fawley, one I suppose of the most elegant parsonages in England, commanding from a very good house a prospect uncommonly noble, he took us to Mr. Michell’s new house, which makes so pretty an object from his own place. The house was not finish’d, stands in a paddock, rises from the river on a fine knoll commanding a view which must charm every eye. The hall, and below-stairs, if we could then judge, seem too minute, the plan of the bedchambers exceedingly convenient and pleasing, kitchen offices are all very clever. About a mile from the house, through a sweet wood, you mount a vast eminence which brings you to an exact Chinese house call’d Rose Hill, from being built in the centre of a shrubbery of roses, honeysuckles, &c. The situation of this commands what some call a finer prospect than the other house, but the variety of each is pleasing. A poor woman lives here, and ’tis a sweet summer tea-drinking place inside and out, in the true Chinese taste.’

18 January 1772
‘At court on the Queen’s birth-night, her Majesty dressed in buff satin, trimmed with the sable just made her a present of by the Empress of Russia. The Princess of Brunswick was there, coming on a visit to her mother, then ill. We used to think her, though not handsome, a good figure, but she is now grown so fat and plain, that, tho’ cover’d with jewels, I never saw a woman that look’d more unfashionable.’

28 January 1772
‘This week the town was in a vast bustle at the opening of the Pantheon, and Mr. Cadogan was so obliging to send me his tickets for the first night. As a fine room I think it grand beyond conception, yet I’m not certain Ranelagh struck me not equally on the first sight, and as a diversion ’tis a place I think infinitely inferior, as there being so many rooms, no communication with the galleries, the staircase inconvenient, all rather contribute to lose the company than show them to advantage.’

12 August 1778
We went to pay a visit to Mrs. Annesley, Bletchingdon House, Oxon. In this part of our county there are more fine houses near each other than in any, I believe, in England. We were reckoning nineteen within a morning’s airing worth seeing. I must say something of that we were at, as Mr. [Capability] Brown would style it, “A place of vast capabilities,” stands high, the ground lays well, and the views round it far preferable to most in that county. Mrs. Annesley’s is large, tho’ only seven windows in front, the present approach thro’ a fine stone gateway with iron rails, you ascend a large flight of steps into a large hall, opposite you a second flight carries you into a second or larger hall, in which fronts you by far the noblest staircase I ever saw. ’Tis of Manchineale wood, and after going up about twenty steps it turns to the right and left, making a gallery at the top which looks down into the hall, this gallery leads to all the chambers. On the ground floor are four parlours, library, and state bedroom; many rooms were fitted by the Lord Anglesey who built it, but which Mr. Annesley was going to finish, but his sudden death prevented, and as his lady justly observes, it would be absurd in her to lay out money there, as her eldest son will have so immense a fortune, it would only be injuring her younger children, and she is too good a mother to do that; indeed, hers and their happiness seem’d centr’d in each other. I think I never felt more for any one than I did for her at hearing an account of his death (tho’ now years since), from a lady who is there every year, and was at the time. I own I am always foolish with regard to dreams, and now from these worthy good people, whose veracity I cannot doubt, I fear I shall in future be still more superstitious.

Mr. and Mrs. Annesley were a most happy couple, had known each other from childhood, had been married, I suppose, about ten years, had two sons and two daughters. She waked herself and him one night with crying so violently in her sleep that he was quite alarm’d. He insisted on knowing what dream she had had; she only said she had dreamt he was not well, but it was, that he fell down in a fit. He laughed at her as she lay crying for an hour or two, and going to sleep again, she again dreamt the same. ’Tis impossible, the lady says, to tell her anxiety the whole next day, he laughing it off, and at dinner he said, “Well, my dear. I’m not sick yet, I think, for I never was so hungry in my life;” she answered, “Indeed I am very foolish, but I shall be better in a day or two.” That night pass’d over, but, poor man, next day at tea-time he was nowhere to be found; when she heard this, she flew about like a wild creature into every room. Going into their bedchamber and not seeing him, she was running out of it when the youngest child says, “Mamma, perhaps papa is in the closet,” and throwing open the door, there he lay dead; she immediately fainted, and what she must that instant have felt is hardly to be imagined. She has never been in that room or the library since, and if anybody mentions dreams, only says, “Pray don’t talk on that subject.” We spent a most agreeable week there, there being a good deal of company, fourteen of us in the parlour, but tho’ our party was large, it did not hinder our seeing places every day we were there, and the first place, as the nearest, we went to was Blenheim. . . . The environs of Blenheim have been amazingly improved by Brown since I was last there, many rooms furnish’d and gilt, and as there are many fine pictures, must be always worth seeing. A fine ride round the park of five miles which we went, and afterwards three round the shubbery. The Duke, Duchess, and many of their children, with other company, were driving about in one of those clever Dutch vehicles call’d, I think, a Waske, a long open carriage holding fifteen or sixteen persons. As forms are placed in rows so near the ground to step out, it must be very heavy, but that, as it was drawn by six horses, was no inconvenience, and ’tis quite a summer machine without any covering at the top.’

30 December 1785
‘We have now confined ourselves fifteen weeks with our dear son Philip, nor paid one visit but of a morning. You have not heard of his unfortunate journey here, as his tedious illness was owing to that. I’ve often told you what a good young man he is, and that he always chooses to be with us in the country except the four days at a time when he is upon guard. On the 15th September we had a letter to say he would come down the next day, as he believed something had flown in his eye as he was walking in the Park, and it gave him great uneasiness. He had shown it to the surgeon of his regiment, who said he would bleed him in the morn, gave him a cooling mixture, and desired him to go into the country; not on horseback, but in a chaise, keeping his eye from the air, and it would soon be well. All this was done; but it being a very dark, rainy evening, that, tho’ the postboy and himself knew the road perfectly through our wood, they lost it, and found themselves in a horse-way of Mr. Freeman’s, near the root-house, where they knew there were many pits. Phil got out; they put the horses behind, and with much difficulty dragg’d the chaise down again into the coach-road; but he had not gone above ten minutes when he was overturn’d over a stump. The chaise, glasses, &c., were now broke. They did not attempt to raise it, but each took a horse, and at last reach’d home, and found they had been about an hour and a half in the wood, when twenty minutes is the usual time! Poor Phil went immediately to bed, being greatly fatigued, and the pain in his eye vastly increased, as he had lost his bandage, and his arm, too, had bled again; in short, he was a most miserable object, and gave us all infinite anxiety, and for many days the inflammation increased. He was in too much pain to return to London, but fortunately a Mr. Davenport, an eminent surgeon, has bought an estate near Marlow, and retired from town, and he was so kind as to come immediately, and has order’d our surgeon here how to proceed, and is so good as to come to him every two or three days. He now mends amazingly, as all the faculty tell us. Time and warm weather only can make a perfect cure; but as for many weeks we were apprehensive for the sight, we are most thankful. ... It is hardly possible to imagine with what fortitude he bears the sufferings he has gone through, though he has not since the accident tasted a bit of meat or drunk a drop of wine, had a perpetual blister ever since, and blooded every three or four days for many weeks. His health is certainly better than even I knew it, most probably from the discipline, some of which might be necessary for a young man in full health with a good appetite, and who never minds over-heating himself in shooting, cricket, &c.

Truly, Mr. Powys’ enduring this treatment was a survival of the fittest!’

28 August 1805
‘We set off to walk all round the environs of Matlock; ascended the rock call’d Matlock, 120 yards high; on each side a row of lofty elms, call’d the “Lover’s Walk.” We crossed the river Derwent in a boat kept for that purpose, and ascended by a winding path up the rocks to the finest natural terrace, call’d the Hay Rock, from whence you have a perpendicular view down a vast precipice to the river.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Crispness!

‘It is no exaggeration to say that Quentin Crisp could well be the wittiest man alive. For that very reason, unfortunately but understandably, he is often spoken of as the Oscar Wilde de nos jours. [But] whereas Wilde was reduced to wallowing in lachrymose self-pity and writing mawkish verse until his lonely death at the age of forty-six, Quentin at the age of eighty-six is still cheerfully holding the door open for latecomers to his party. Do come in. I promise you a good time.’ This is from an introduction to Quentin Crisp’s New York Diaries, written and published only a few years before his death. Crisp, born 110 years ago today, was one of the 20th century’s more eccentric artistic and literary celebrities.

Denis Charles Pratt was born in South London, on Christmas Day 1908, to a lawyer and his wife, a former governess. He went to Kingswood House School, Surrey, and won a scholarship to Denstone College, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, in 1922. From 1926, he studied journalism at King’s College, London, but failed to graduate, switching to art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic. Already, by this time, he was frequenting cafes in Soho, meeting rent boys, and wearing women’s clothes. For a short while, he worked as a prostitute. From 1930, he lived in central London, settling in a Pimlico bedsit, where his extravagant appearance led, mostly, to hostility from neighbours. He worked as technical drawer. Around this time, he changed his name to Quentin Crisp.

With the outbreak of war, Crisp tried to join the British Army but was turned down for ‘suffering from sexual perversion’. In 1940, he moved to a flat in Chelsea where he remained until the early 1980s. He gave up office work, preferring to earn money as a life model, and by writing. A breakthrough came in 1975 when he published his autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant. It was soon turned into a television film starring John Hurt as Crisp, transforming both into celebrities. In the book, Crisp famously explained why he never bothered to clean: ‘After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse’. Crisp also developed a one-man theatre show, with which he toured the country. In August 1979, he performed this show for a couple of weeks during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (In fact, at the time, I myself was working with a theatre group (The Phantom Captain) that was renting the venue hosting Crisp’s show. One of my duties was to stage manage his show, and another was to run screenings of The Naked Civil Servant - there’s a brief mention of this in my own diaries.)

In 1981, Crisp emigrated to the US, settling in New York’s East Village area. He continued to tour his one-man show and to write books, but he was also in demand increasingly for television and as an actor in films - a part in Orlando, for example, took him back to the UK in 1992. Despite his effete personality and evident homosexuality, he never identified with the growing gay movement - he called AIDS ‘a fad’, and homosexuality ‘a terrible disease’ - nor did it embrace him. Nevertheless, by the time of his death in 1999, he had been famous for years, as a much loved and eccentric individual. Further information is available at Wikipedia, the Crisperanto website, Pink News, The New York Times or The Independent.

I have no idea if Crisp kept a diary regularly, but a few years before his death, in 1996, HarperCollins published Resident Alien: The New York Diaries. Some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks. It doesn’t look or read like a diary (though the content inside is titled ‘The Journals’), since the diary entries are only dated by year and the season. Crisp reported - in an interview with Spike Magazine - that he only wrote diary entries at the end of each month. He also complained that the publisher had removed all the dates. It’s also worth noting that six of Crisp’s monthly diary entries from 1997 are available online at Crisperanto.

In his introduction to Resident Evil, Donald Carroll writes: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that Quentin Crisp could well be the wittiest man alive. For that very reason, unfortunately but understandably, he is often spoken of as the Oscar Wilde de nos jours. The comparison, however well-intentioned, does Quentin a disservice. For Oscar Wilde, wit was a weapon, a duelling sword with which he could take on all comers and defeat them with his swordplay. For Quentin, wit is more a magic wand of revelation - no less rapier-like than Wilde’s, no less glinting in the sunlight of retelling, but waved gently rather than brandished. Because Wilde never came to terms with the truth about himself, because he was for ever trying to graft his persona on to his person, he used his wit to score points off those who would challenge him. Quentin, on the other hand, with no secrets to keep from himself or others, no territory to defend, has always used his wit to embrace the world that now, at last, so enthusiastically embraces him. As a result whereas Wilde was reduced to wallowing in lachrymose self-pity and writing mawkish verse until his lonely death at the age of forty-six, Quentin at the age of eighty-six is still cheerfully holding the door open for latecomers to his party. Do come in. I promise you a good time.’

Here is the last paragraph of Crisp’s own foreword to the same book: ‘Those who are compelled to work do not deplore the changes that have come to modern life. They welcome fast transport, immediate communication, universal hygiene, modern medicine and the fact that now justice reaches into the smallest pockets of society. But I, who have not worked in many a long year, do not notice these improvements. I am concerned with the high gloss on society, not with its inner machinery. I am a free-loader, a dillettante, a butterfly on the wheel. And that’s putting it nicely.’

And here is the start of his diary entry dated by the  publisher as Spring 1992.

‘To hell and back. On March 9th, I set out timorously for England; I returned home in a state of total nervous and physical collapse on the 24th. The purpose of this misguided journey halfway across the globe was to make a minuscule appearance as Elizabeth I, in a movie to be entitled Orlando and made from a novel of that very name by the very Mrs Woolf of whom the Burtons were so afraid. All her books were highbrow, and this was certainly the most highbrow. It concerns a young man whom we first meet at Hatfield House in the middle of Hertfordshire (where the young Elizabeth spent much of her childhood), and who lived through the centuries until the present day, incidentally changing his sex on the way, sometime during the seventeen hundreds. This fantastic tale was said to be a tribute to Vita Sackville-West, with whom prurient literary historians claim that Mrs Woolf conducted an illicit liaison. (I personally, don’t think Mrs Woolf believed in sex; she was too much of an aesthete.)

On arriving in London, I went to stay at the Chelsea Arts Club where, at breakfast the next morning, everyone cried out in tones of deepest reproach. ‘Thought you were never coming back.’ I was truly ashamed, because a farewell party had been given for me there two and a half years ago. I could only bow my head and offer, as an extenuating circumstance, that I had returned for the money.

After a day or two, during which I had been fitted for a dress and a wig, Miss Tilda Swinton, the star of the film, arrived to welcome me to England with a bouquet of roses and a gift. Her most recent role was that of Queen Isabella in Edward II, a film directed by Mr Jarman: we can therefore assume that she is accustomed to appearing in unabashed festival material and, indeed she seems to prefer it to real movies.

Once my part in Orlando began in earnest, I left the club and moved to Bush Hall, a small hotel in Hatfield, so as not to rise at five in the morning on the days when work began at seven. There I was given a room so large that I could have a party for twenty people in it, and was treated with such deference that, on the occasion when I ate lunch there, the proprietor himself served me with his own two hands.

On my first day of work, I realized instantly that I was doomed to a life of agony. Two amazingly long-suffering dressers wedged me into a costume in which two padded rolls forming a kind of bustle, a hooped skirt, a quilted petticoat, another petticoat, and finally an outer skirt were all tied round my waist before I was laced into a corset so tight that it raised a blister on my stomach. Over all this, I wore a cloak that trailed the ground behind me and on which two elk-hounds and Miss Swinton occasionally stepped, causing me to utter a cry of apprehension and to totter about the lawn. Never in the history of dress design has so much glass been affixed to so many yards of tat.

Apart from all this, I was made up clown-white with a dusting of rouge on my cheeks and eyelids and clamped into a huge red wig at times surmounted by a tiara. Apparelled thus, before I could leave the trailer, called a ‘relocatable’, a gentleman, appropriately named Christian, had to hold up my skirts and, watching my feet, utter instructions such as ‘One step down. Now the other leg. Right. You’re on level ground.’ Carrying all this haberdashery caused my back to ache ferociously, and that was before I had fallen back in a high chair so that my skull crashed against the opposite wall of the make-up room and my back muscles were stretched out of shape.

Sometimes I worked in one or the other of the vast rooms of Hatfield House, sometimes in the grounds, and once, in the middle of the night, on a lake that was really more like a pond. For this scene, real men were employed to row a small boat back and forth several times while, in another boat, a charming young man called Mr Somerville sang in a falsetto voice a song telling the world that I was ‘the fairest queen’. What he thought of this assignment I did not dare to enquire.

During this ordeal, Miss Potter, the director, Miss Swinton, the star, and everyone concerned were all most solicitous and kind, but I cannot deny that I am heartily glad that it is over.

Although I try never to read books, I am now perusing two concurrently, dipping into whichever happens to be on hand when a spare moment occurs. One of these is Mr Cocteau’s diary, entitled (in translation) Past Tense, and the other is called Final Exit, by a Mr Humphry, a journalist who used to write for The Sunday Times in London and the Los Angeles Times, chiefly about civil liberties, radal integration, and voluntary euthanasia.

I have now forgotten who lent me the former of these two volumes, but doubtless he will reclaim it one fine day. It has a foreword by Mr Ned Rorem, which by itself is worth the price of the entire book. He was with Mr Cocteau at most eight times during the thirteen years of their acquaintance, but says that to meet him once was to know him. He writes, ‘While you were with him, you were seemingly the sole beneficiary of his charitable flood of fire. I have known few people with such infectious charm. It may be opportunism, but it can’t be faked, and it can’t be bought.’

Final Exit is a handbook for anyone wishing to commit suiride. This was sent to me by a Mr Hofsess who, some years ago, came to New York, like the rest of us, in the hope of ruling the world. He stayed at least long enough to do most of the work on a book of mine, entitled Manners From Heaven. He then returned to Vancouver and, to my astonishment, has become king of the local branch of the Hemlock Sodety. He wishes me to write something about this book and I will. I have always liked death, especially other people’s death, but have recently been contemplating my own with a certain amount of relish. Not long ago, during a television interview, I was asked if I was worried by the idea of mortality. I replied that I was not and added that next Tuesday would do fine for my own demise. This remark caused a concerned citizen to ask how I could possibly be so bored that I was eager to die. The question was natural because he was a young man. Ennui is the disease of youth. The prevailing malady of the old is fatigue. I have never been bored since I came to live in Manhattan, but, inevitably, I am gradually becoming permanently tired.

Even before senility set in, my views about death were sanguine, or, to put the matter another way, I have never shared the prevailing opinion that life is wonderful come what may. I have often been surprised when someone who has suffered a permanent injury in some disaster, says, ‘I’m lucky to be alive.’ If I were in a plane crash, for instance, and all my luggage - let alone one of my limbs - had sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, I would not consider myself lucky to be alive. So, if told of someone’s death, I will say, ‘How terrible —’ and look at the floor for an appropriate interval, but I can’t really feel it is terrible because in my view death is the least awful thing that can happen to someone.

It is our bodies that want to live for ever, but surely we ought to be in control of our physical appetites. However, this is a state that it is easier to praise than to achieve. Nobody wants a violent or a painful death, and this is where Mr Humphry’s book comes in so handy. It is totally unsentimental, absolutely free from religious bias, and admirably practical. My only divergence of opinion from that of the author is that I do not think that the relatives of the person committing suicide should be consulted or involved in any way. They may have something to gain from the proposed death and may therefore feel guilty. In all other respects, I am full of praise for Final Exit and for its author.’

A vicious feast

‘A vicious feast, wherein I exceeded in meat and drink, for want of circumspection and prudence, a sin against God. . .’ This is from the spiritual diary of the Dublin-based physician John Rutty, born 320 years ago today. He wrote several medical and nature books, but is best remembered for his spiritual diary. James Boswell and Samuel Johnson found the latter somewhat ‘laughable’ but also ‘a minute and honest register’ of the state of Rutty’s mind.

Rutty was born in Melsham, Wiltshire, into a Quaker family on Christmas Day 1698. He attended various schools, and went abroad, to Leyden in Holland, to conclude his medical studies. He settled in Dublin, Ireland, working as a physician - and remained there all his life. He was actively involved in the city’s intellectual life, and published numerous books, often with a medical or environment focus, such as A Methodical Synopsis of Mineral Waters, and Chronological History of the Weather and Seasons and of Prevailing Diseases in Dublin. He also wrote A Natural History of the County of Dublin, and finished The History of the Quakers in Ireland, which had been started by Thomas Wight. He died in 1775. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Library Ireland, and Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900.

In 1753, Rutty began to keep a spiritual diary and continued making entries till a few months before his death. In his will, he left instructions for it to be published unedited. A first edition - A Spiritual Diary and Soliloquies by J. Rutty, etc - appeared in 1776. This is freely available online at Googlebooks. Also available at Googlebooks (and Internet Archive) is Extracts from the Spiritual Diary of John Rutty, M.D. published in 1840. The biographer and diarist, James Boswell, showed a review of Rutty’s diary to his friend Samuel Johnson, and briefly mentions their conversation about it in his Life of Johnson. ‘[The diary] exhibited, in the simplicity of his heart, a minute and honest register of the state of his mind; which, though frequently laughable enough, was not more so than the history of many men would be, if recorded with equal fairness.’

Here are several extracts from Rutty’s diary.

7 October 1753
‘Two precious illuminations. First, of the necessity of preparation for death brought closer to my view. Second, of the necessity of maintaining an equal degree of spiritual indignation against other superfluities, as well as those that strike common sense and observation.’

28 October 1753
‘Poverty of spirit in a sense of my own vileness in God’s presence; yet humbly hoped for the blessing annexed to them that hunger and thirst after righteousness.’

20 November 1753
‘A sweet time, and humiliation; but accompanied by a false vision, prompting to an imaginary duty, from pride.’

30 December 1753
‘ “Is not my word a fire?” O that I might find it so in consuming sensuality, and particularly in eating, drinking, sleeping, smoking, to be used not as ends, but as means of health; not to live to eat, drink, &c. but the inverse. Here is purgatory.’

12 October 1754
‘One sacred, solemn lesson has been learnt from my late severe three afflictions, and which, I humbly hope, will more than compensate for all, viz. To drink little as sufficient - a lesson, wherein are deeply interested soul, body, and temporal estate.’

18 October 1754
‘Tyranny over inferiors is injustice, and the genuine offspring of inordinate self-love. A pretty free access by prayer, for a considerable time past.

22 October 1754
‘Visited my grave-digger, on a just commemoration of my wonderful deliverance from the grave.’

3 October 1759
‘At the school meeting, spoke to the children in a spiritual capacity; but Satan buffeted afterwards, prompting to pride: but light and truth triumphed. Thou art to rejoice in no gift, but this only, that thy name is, or may be, written in the Lamb’s book of life.’

28 December 1762
‘Attended a burial, on principle, where I trod on the graves of several of my associates. Surely, the sight of one corpse is a stronger argument than any words can possibly be! even of thy own mortality, and of the necessity of a preparation for it.’

23 August 1765
‘A vicious feast, wherein I exceeded in meat and drink, for want of circumspection and prudence, a sin against God, the framer of the constitution, and not less than defiling his temple: O God, in the name of thy beloved, pardon this sin, and prevent for the future, I beseech thee: give more of thy fear!’

26 June 1773
‘Now finished the fair transcript of my Materia Medica, the principal work of my life; a work of no present advantage to me, but I hope will prove so to others: but still, this far inferior to the spiritual medicines, and the labours in the gospel, as body is to soul, and earth to heaven. Lord, grant to pursue these matters in the holy subordination.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Diary briefs

Gran’s sledging journals fetch £150k  - Christies, Fine Books Magazine, The Guardian

WWI diary of British POW - Chronicle Live, Great War Forum

Man charged over sale of Lennon diaries - Reuters, The Guardian

Diary of climber Anatoli Boukreev - The Astana Times, Wikipedia

Murdered US missionary kept diary - The Washington Post, Irish Times

Newly released diary from Nanjing Massacre - Xinhua Net

US pilot’s WWII diary - Argus Leader, Amazon

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Not particularly exhilarated

‘I don’t feel particularly exhilarated - rather the reverse. Just as, during the election, when I was being mobbed in the market & found myself thinking ‘It was roses, roses all the way’, so now I can’t help being most impressed by the fortuitous & insubstantial nature of these political promotions.’ This is Sir Kenneth Younger, born 110 years go today, writing in a diary about his promotion to ministerial status in Clement Atlee’s government after the 1950 election. Although he served briefly as acting Foreign Secretary, and then, after the 1951 election, in the Shadow Cabinet, he had tired of party politics before the decade was finished, and stood down from his Parliamentary seat not long after turning 50.

Younger was born on 15 December 1908 into a Conservative family living in Gargunnock, Stirlingshire, Scotland - his grandfather having been a Conservative Party chairman. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford; after reading for the Bar, he was called to the Inner Temple in 1932. In 1934, he married Elizabeth Stewart; they had two daughters and one son. During the war, however, he served in the Intelligence Corps in several capacities, rising to the rank of Major. After the war he was adopted as Labour candidate for Grimsby. Biographers suggest that he may have turned away from his Conservative background partly because of the Conservative-led appeasement policies in the 1930s and partly because of the Spanish Civil War. In the 1945 general election, Younger won his seat easily, and was appointed PPS by Philip Noel-Baker, Minister of State for Air in Clement Atlee’s government.

Younger was briefly involved with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and with the British delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, but after a reshuffle by Atlee he became Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Office. Following the 1950 general election, he was promoted to Minister of State at the Foreign Office, deputy to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. When Bevin fell ill, Younger took on the role of acting Foreign Secretary, at a time when the Korean War had started, the Communists had taken hold in China, and the European Coal and Steel Community was being created. Bevin resigned because of ill health in 1951, but Atlee deemed Younger insufficiently experienced to replace him. In any case, Atlee called a snap general election that year which he lost. From 1955, Younger was Shadow Home Secretary; but he was becoming disillusioned with party politics, and he resigned his seat in 1959.

Younger continued to serve in public life, though, as Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and as chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform. He chaired the Advisory Council on the Penal System in 1966, the Committee of Inquiry on Privacy from 1970 to 1972, and Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority for two years. He was appointed KBE in 1972; and he died in 1976. There is surprisingly little biographical information about Younger online other than at Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Although there is no evidence that Younger was a diarist by nature (there is no mention of diaries, for example, within his National Archives entry), he did keep a detailed political diary for about 18 months in 1950-1951. This was edited by the historian Geoffrey Warner, and published by Routledge in 2005 (part of its ‘British politics and society’ series) as In the Midst of Events: The Foreign Office diaries and papers of Kenneth Younger February 1950-October 1951. The book can be previewed at Googlebooks, or the full text can be freely downloaded from EPDF. By the evidence of Warner’s book, Younger’s diary entries were usually rather long and often separated by a week or two. Warner’s approach to the diary is to embed extracts (always dated) into his own narrative, sometimes splitting them into several sections.

Here is part of the preface by Peter Catterall (the book series editor): ‘Kenneth Younger never quite attained the first-class political status which goes with Cabinet rank. However he was able, during the eighteen months or so covered by this edition of his diaries, to influence the conduct of British diplomacy, particularly during the lengthy illness that marked the closing stages of Ernest Bevin’s tenure as Foreign Secretary. In their course, as well, he proves an acute observer of the difficulties facing the Attlee government at that time, not least in the international arena. Naturally, the problem of confronting or containing the communist threat looms particularly large in his account. It is interesting to observe that Younger, after discussing the Schuman Plan for a European Coal and Steel Community and the British alternatives to it, soon notes that “The Korean situation has now knocked Schuman right into the background of public consciousness”. Other foreign policy problems are certainly mentioned, particularly the lengthy Abadan crisis in 1951, occasioned by the Iranian attempt to nationalise the British oil assets in their country. But the theme which dominates these pages is the Cold War and the question, made more acute by the Korean War, of how the western powers should respond to both the Soviet Union and China. [. . .]

The dispassionate flavour of Younger’s diaries partly derives from their method of composition. As Geoffrey Warner points out, in a sense they are not diaries at all, being written up only once every few weeks. These entries are reflective musings, rather than real-time accounts. This poses particular problems for their editor. A diary which offers a daily account can form a continuous, internally coherent narrative. One as discontinuous as this requires instead that the editor must, perforce, provide linking text in order to contextualise the original account. Doing so is a delicate task. The editor must avoid being overly intrusive, whilst also striving not to go to the opposite extreme and becoming merely dull. Warner admirably succeeds in this balancing act. Younger’s original entries are illuminated by appropriate commentaries and enlivened by a leavening of quotations from contemporary letters and documents, or from subsequent interviews. These very much add to the value of this text and the light it casts on the foreign-policy dilemmas of the period. Whilst the Cold War dominates the landscape, as Younger’s comments show, there was nevertheless a lively internal and inter-allied debate about how that Cold War should be handled. In the critical account it offers of Anglo-American relations in a crucial period, however, it is also an important contribution to the study of alliance diplomacy, and in particular to the understanding of this significant, if often fraught, partnership.’

Here are two extracts.

28 February 1950
‘The P.M. spent yesterday and to-day in forming his government. At 3 o’clock I was sent for and told that he wants me to be Minister of State [at the Foreign Office] in succession to Hector McNeill who is being promoted to the Scottish Office or some other cabinet post. I hadn’t expected promotion, and I hadn’t really wanted it, but I can’t help being gratified at having got it. I know Chuter is largely responsible, as he told me had recommended me for promotion. It appears that I am also well thought of by Ernest Bevin - why, is something of a mystery. It is a big promotion for me. My reaction is partly incredulity & partly nervousness. I hadn’t really thought of myself as getting above the general run of parliamentary secretaries so soon. I think I have done well at the Home Office, both administratively and in the House [of Commons], but it has all been on a rather pedestrian level. Reliability rather than brilliance must certainly be what recommends me to the P.M.

I don’t feel particularly exhilarated - rather the reverse. Just as, during the election, when I was being mobbed in the market & found myself thinking ‘It was roses, roses all the way’, so now I can’t help being most impressed by the fortuitous & insubstantial nature of these political promotions. However it is a grand job, & will extend me to the full. I can only do my best & hope that things will go all right. It is not at all clear how much I will have to go abroad, but now that we have this tiny majority, I may not be able to go so much. . .’

5 August 1950
Parliament rose a week ago. Ernie Bevin is due back in the office on Monday and I am due to leave for three weeks’ holiday on the same day. I am hoping not to have to put my feet inside the office from now to 1st September. That probably ends the long period during which I have in effect been continuously ‘in charge of the office’, and as continuously overworked. It has been a great experience and on the whole I have come through it with reasonable credit. I do not think I have made many glaring mistakes and I think I have taken as much of the burden off Ernie [Bevin] and the P.M. as was practicable. Obviously with matters like Korea & the Schuman Plan, many of the decisions could only be taken by senior ministers acting together if not by the whole cabinet. I am not able to sway the cabinet as Ernie might, & I would have been wrong to try. All I could do was to know my stuff, put my points clearly & persistently & rely on the P.M. to handle the Cabinet if necessary. In point of fact there has been surprisingly little disagreement over most of the issues of recent weeks. . .

I shall not trouble to write much about the substance of the work I have been doing. Much of it has related to Korea, which is a matter of history. With most of the decisions being taken in Washington, & with the Security Council sitting in New York [,] there has been a daily rush to clear and send out urgent instructions almost every day. Often we have had to face situations caused by the hamhandedness & excitability of the Americans who are, understandably, in an emotional and difficult state. At the present time they are engaged in a desperate effort to stabilise a front which is little more than a bridgehead around Pusan.

It is not sure that they will succeed and their prestige is of course very much involved. In consequence they are not inclined to pay much attention to the longer-term issues arising from their lack of policy in the Far East, and we are fighting a constant battle to prevent them from deliberately courting trouble with China, over Formosa and other matters.

Underneath what often seem petty disagreements and misunderstandings there is I think an important difference of viewpoint between us. The Americans, with only a few exceptions[,] seem to have decided that a war with ‘the communists’ is virtually inevitable & likely to occur relatively soon, say within 3-5 years. They regard all communists alike, no matter what their nationality[,] and assume that they are all dancing to Moscow’s tune & are bound to do so in future. It follows from this that the main problem is how to win the war when it comes, & there is no room for any subtleties in dealing with the Chinese. They are enemies & must be recognised as such.

We on the other hand, despite growing pessimism, still give first place to the effort to prevent war. We do not accept it as inevitable, & we are therefore unwilling to prepare uninhibitedly for an early war if by so doing we make war more likely or seriously impair our ability to raise our own & other living standards over a longer period of years. I do not suppose the Americans would admit to the point of view I have mentioned. They may not even be conscious of it. But most of their soldiers act on it & it is only upon that assumption that US political behaviour makes any sense at all. This applies particularly in their attitude to China. They are simply not interested in our view that China, if properly handled, could in the long run be separated from Moscow. Because such a development does not seem likely to happen quickly, the Americans discount it. There will, they argue, be a war anyway before anything useful can happen.

All this is very dangerous. We now have the two great powers both apparently believing, for different reasons, that a major war is bound to come, & that in itself makes war much more likely.

When I left the office today William Strang said ‘I do not suppose things will have changed much by the time you get back.’ I can certainly see no prospect of a change for the better. The most likely changes, if there are any at all, would be the defeat of the Americans in Korea & their complete evacuation (which is still a possibility) and a Chinese attempt to take Formosa, which the Americans would resist. Either of these events would lead to a serious deterioration of the whole Far Eastern position.

I made a vain attempt to get the Cabinet to discuss the consequences of a US-Chinese clash over Formosa, but Ernie wouldn’t have it. He was afraid of some decision which might tie his hands when the time came. My view is that by backing the Americans we would endanger everything that we have achieved in Asia by our forward policy in India, Burma etc. and that we might split the Commonwealth irretrievably into white and coloured. All the same, refusal to back the Americans would be a great shock to the worldwide alliance, the Atlantic Pact and the collective effort against Soviet communism. Faced with the choice, my own very reluctant view is that we would have to go with the Americans. Either way the prospects for world peace, let alone progress, would be immensely bleak.

Already unpleasant results of this are making themselves felt in the shape of increased arms production, and the prospect of having to renounce further progress on the economic & social front for some years. Such a situation may well put an end to social democratic parties in the west, including even the Labour Party. If our main effort is to be military, and everything else becomes almost stagnant, it is hard to see how our policy can differ from the Tories[’] except perhaps in ensuring somewhat greater equality of sacrifice. Moreover rearmament & large armed forces arouse enthusiasm among the Tories and nothing but despondency among us and our supporters. It is doubtful whether we can in such circumstances maintain national leadership for more than a limited period. If things get worse, coalition will loom up, official Labour & the Tories will get identified, and the communists and fellow travellers will get a big chance to take over the leadership of the opposition. I cannot foresee what I might do in such circumstances. I might easily find a coalition policy impossible, but whether I should find any more acceptable political resting place I do not know. I have a feeling that I should be obliged to rethink my basic position all over again in terms of the new situation.
I do not find much comfort in most of my colleagues on such subjects. Very few of them are, I think, interested in first principles at all. Their approach is pragmatic, and anyway they are mostly too busy to go in for political philosophy or ideological thinking. I have been too busy myself in recent months. Nye Bevan is, of course, an exception. I usually agree with him in Cabinet, though he occasionally goes off on a wild tangent. His position is none too strong just now & he is not a member of the inner circle who really decide things. If therefore there should be any spiritual crisis within the [Labour] movement or the government, Nye would probably take a line of his own and I should be very tempted to follow him.

I admire both the P.M. and Cripps in their different ways. Intellectually Cripps is really remarkable, & Attlee certainly has an authority which would surprise outside observers. It is true that he does not frame policy personally. He leaves that to Cripps, Morrison & Bevin. He is however a very good coordinator & executive, and his detachment from personal relationships makes him quite formidable within his well recognised limitations. I can’t say the rest of the Cabinet impresses me much. As a body the Cabinet shows little cohesion or basis of common thinking. Many members would be at least as happy in a Tory government, and happiest of all in a coalition. The younger members - Harold Wilson, Hector McNeil & Patrick Gordon Walker - are very competent in their jobs, but politically I don’t warm to any of them. The two latter are too obviously on the make. It appears that they have been grooming themselves to succeed Ernie if he has to pack up! It looks as though he will disappoint them for a while at least. Equally Herbert Morrison is waiting impatiently for Clem Attlee to go. At present I think he would be bound to succeed to [the] leadership, but I should be very sorry to see him there. He is a very astute politician but in my view lacks real stature. Although in many ways he is far abler than Clem, I do not think he has as broad or as elevated a conception of national & world affairs as Clem. As P.M. I believe he might let us down badly. . .’

Monday, December 10, 2018

Early days in west Australia

The Irishman John Fletcher Moore, a colonial administrator and an early sheep farmer in Western Australia, was born 220 years ago today (the day after, in fact, John Benn Walsh who would become an important landlord in Ireland - see An infinity of petty squabbles below). Moore kept diaries during his first ten years as a colonist with the express purpose of mailing them home to Ireland for friends and family. Some of them were first published, astonishingly, without his knowledge; it wasn’t until 50 years later, at the end of his life, that he himself approved publication of a more extensive set of the diaries. They are now considered an important primary source of information about the early years of colonisation in Western Australia.

Moore was born on 10 December 1798 in Donemana, County Tyrone, Ireland, the second son of Joseph Moore and his wife Anne, née Fletcher. He was educated at Foyle College, Londonderry, and at Trinity College, Dublin. After being called to the Irish Bar he practised for six years; but, seeing little prospect of promotion, he decided to seek a legal post in the colonies. Armed only with a letter of recommendation to the then Governor of Western Australia, he arrived at Fremantle, Australia, in October 1830, to find the governor had been replaced and his letter, therefore, worthless. However, he obtained a land grant, which he called Millendon, on the Upper Swan river, and set about developing it as farm land. In early 1832, he was appointed a Commissioner of the Civil Court. For the next 20 years or so, he combined various administrative duties (including, later, a seat on the colony’s legislative council) with expanding his farm interests, becoming one of the largest sheep farmers in the country.

Moore is particularly remembered for his interest - unusual at the time - in indigenous Australians. He took a scholarly interest in their language and customs, he advocated compensating them for the loss of their land, and he promoted the idea of converting them to Christianity. He also compiled and published a dictionary of their language. In the mid-1830s, he went exploring inland, making various discoveries, and was responsible for confirming that two named rivers - the Swan and Avon - were in fact one and the same. Moore returned to Ireland for two years (1941-1943), and then in 1846 married Fanny, stepdaughter of Governor Andrew Clarke. When, later that year, Clarke fell ill, Moore was appointed acting colonial secretary, and remained in that position until the new colonial secretary arrived in early 1848. But the colony was suffering hard times, and its leaders hitherto, including Moore, were unpopular.

In 1952, Moore again returned to Ireland, ostensibly to visit his father, but, it is also thought, he had serious concerns about the mental health of his wife. She then refused to return to Australia, and Moore, wanting to extend his leave, fell into a conflict with the colonial office, one which ended with his resignation. He never returned to Australia, and subsequent years were blighted by his wife’s illness. After her death, he moved to London. He died in 1886. Further information is available at Wikipedia or the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

From the moment Moore left Ireland for Western Australia he kept a journal with the aim of sending the entries, in batches, back to his friends and colleagues in Ireland. Here is Moore’s own explanation: ‘My friends were doubtful as to the prudence of such a hazardous step [i.e. going to the colonies], but I reconciled them to it by a solemn promise that I would keep them fully informed, by each available opportunity in my power, of every incident and circumstance of my position and life there, whether good or bad, and leave them to judge of my success or failure. This was the cause of the “Diary or Journal” [. . .]. It was written solely for the information and satisfaction of my father, brothers, sisters, and immediate friends in this country. It was commenced soon after my embarcation from Dublin, and was a great source of relief and consolation to myself during the voyage, as well as through all the difficulties, dangers, labours, and eventful incidents.’

Intriguingly, as early as 1834, Moore’s journals, covering the first four years of his colonial adventure, were published in London, but without Moore’s knowledge or approval. This came about because Rev. William Hickey, an Irish writer and philanthropist, met Moore’s brother in Dublin, and was shown the diary extracts. He subsequently edited them for publication (using the pseudonym of Martin Doyle) as Extracts from the letters and journals of George Fletcher Moore, now filling a judicial office at the Swan River Settlement. The work can be read freely online at Internet Archive, Wikisource or Googlebooks. Hickey’s explanation, in the preface, as to how he came to the decision to publish the diary extracts is no less than flabbergasting.

‘In short, I suggested the publication of them, to which my host reluctantly assented, waiving a very serious obstacle, viz. the probable displeasure of the absent brother, at the publication of letters solely intended for his own family-circle. This objection I over-ruled by the assurance that they contained nothing discreditable to the head or the heart of the writer. If, therefore, they prove deficient of interest and neatness of arrangement, the blame consequent on their failure will be solely attributable to my want of judgement, and clumsiness of connexion. Should the emigrant himself be much offended at the unauthorised liberty now taken with his name and papers, I have the comforting consideration that he is too far off to quarrel with me in a very personal way; and that if ever he should return to this country, his resentment will have had sufficient time to evaporate altogether.’

A couple of years before his death, M. Walbrook published Moore’s own version of his Australia diaries as Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also a Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language of the Aborigines. (Moore only wrote his journal for about ten years, until his first trip back to Ireland.) This can be found online at Internet Archive or Wikisource. Moore’s preface explains how he came to publish: ‘The history of the original letters may possess some little interest. They were from the first carefully preserved by those to whom they were sent in this country. But, after the lapse of many years, they were confided to the care of a near relative in the colony, who had expressed a great desire to see them. This lady was well acquainted with Sir Thomas Cockburn Campbell, the able Editor and owner of the paper called “The West Australian.” The letters were shown to him, he begged to be permitted to publish extracts from them seriatim in his paper, according as space would admit of. He sent to me a copy of each paper which contained an extract. I cut out those extracts and gummed them into an album. This has enabled me to publish them all here afresh.’

An annotated new version of the diaries, edited by J. M. R. Cameron, was brought out by the Australian publisher Hesperian Press in 2006 as The Millendon Memoirs. The publisher says: ‘This is probably the most important colonial work to be published in WA. There are no other diary or letter sequences of such content from such a central figure in the early colony. Dr Cameron has assiduously bought together the documents that were omitted from the “Diary of Ten Years”, together with that material, to form an altogether different volume, with three times the content of “Ten Years”. The correct order and full expression of the letters gives quite a different picture to that previously portrayed. This is an absolutely essential volume for anyone interested in, or studying, colonial history,  policy, or the lives of the colonists and the land around them.’

Here are a few extracts from the Diary of Ten Years.

24 February 1835
‘Went to Guildford to examine a bridge, and took the opportunity of visiting my flock, which is now there. Some are affected with a blindness of the eyes. A person called Solomon has a small establishment now near my grant, on the other side of the hills. I think of sending a part of my flock there. He proposes to take them at the rate of £25 per hundred for the year. He has just imported some sheep, and a fine-wooled ram. I have my men busied in planting potatoes. It is an experiment to put them down at this time of the year on dry ground. I have made use of the natives in breaking the hard clods with mauls. Two boys, rejoicing in the euphonious names of Tunagwirt and Manyumerra, have been quartered here by their father, with a sort of hint that his family was large enough without them. I think I shall try to keep the first of them. He tells me that white men call him “Tommy,” which is certainly more familiar and easy than that long native name. Just after I returned from Perth, Letty came with a face of woe to tell me there were but two pieces of beef in the barrel. Awkward announcement!’

31 August 1835
‘We have had much rain during all the last week and strong winds. Two blind sheep have been turned out daily for some time on the plain to graze; one of them was furnished with a bell, by the sound of which the other became accustomed to guide itself. Some days ago, the one with the bell was killed, and the other poor thing wandered about, went astray, and could not be found readily. James armed himself with the bell of the dead one, and went ringing through the bush. The lost one answered the signal immediately, and so we found a new way of catching sheep. Planted yesterday a number of cuttings of vine, peach, and fig trees. It is rather late, but I got them from the Governor’s garden, and will give them a chance. I have heard that the packing in which I was obliged to put my wool last year, went all to pieces at the Isle of France, in transhipping it. There are Indian gunny bags to be got here now at 7s. 6d. I am in doubt about buying, as I make sure of your sending some by the first vessel. When is it to arrive?’

28 January 1839
‘Yesterday one of my boys succeeded in catching a young emu alive. It is a wonderfully tame, even silly thing - like a young turkey; by the way, the same boy also succeeded in shooting a turkey, which I had to-day at dinner. It was delicious. I intended to have devoted this day to writing letters, as the mail is to be closed to-morrow, but here came Mr. Shaw with complaints about natives and other things, and I had to mount my horse, and I have been out all day. Have been making an experiment in wine. Have made five bottles just to try it. I have nearly written my eyes out in answering 33 questions about natives, to which the Governor has required replies. I think I may send them to you at some time. Baptist Noel would be glad to get the sketches I sent, if you do not wish to make any use of them.’

13 July 1839
‘I have fallen out of my habit of regularity, and find it difficult to recover it. We have advanced here to such a pitch of civilization, as to have private theatricals. The play of “Love, á la militaire” was performed on Tuesday night to a fashionable audience, among whom not the least delighted spectators were the young folks of the town and vicinity of Perth. Most of them having never seen a play, were wonderfully amused. On Thursday a rumour arose that fifty sheep or upwards had been driven away from a flock near Guildford by the natives, and there was great excitement in consequence. A party is gone out in pursuit, but what is the result I know not. It is singular that not one of the murderers of the woman and child on my farm has been taken or met with since the occurrence, and yet parties have been out frequently. We are no match for them. They can hide in a manner that baffles all our search. The only way to match them is to make use of them against one another. I did not get home from Perth before Friday night. We are here still busy getting wheat into the ground, and also some potatoes. Only think we have to give £2 a cwt. for potatoes for seed.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, December 9, 2018

An infinity of petty squabbles

‘All these arrangements gave birth to an infinity of petty squabbles, extremely difficult to settle or even understand. However, I am sanguine in my expectations that a little time & perseverance will compose all the jarring elements. Everything confirms my first opinion that setting to the occupying tenant, though more troublesome, is in the end much more advantageous to the landlord. I am well persuaded that if the times continue tranquil & the prices as at present, this portion of my property will gradually rise most considerably in value - if I continue to visit & superintend it.’ This is from the journals of John Benn Walsh, the first Baron Ormathwaite, born 220 years ago today. He was an English politician and landowner, having inherited vast estates in England, Wales and Ireland from his wife’s uncle. The extensive journals are held by the National Library of Wales, but only a small fraction of them - concerning his regular trips to Ireland to oversee his property and tenants - have been published.

Benn Walsh was born on 9 December 1798 at the family home of Warfield Park near Bracknell in Berkshire. His father, originally called Benn, had inherited large estates in England and Ireland from his wife’s uncle, Sir John Walsh (who had also required his father to assume the Walsh name). John was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He married Jane, daughter of George Grey, 6th Earl of Stamford, in 1825. They had two sons and two daughters. Also in 1825, on the death of his father, he inherited the family estates. He entered Parliament for the borough of Sudbury in 1830. After losing that seat and campaigning unsuccessfully for others, he was elected, in 1840, for Radnorshire, a seat which he then held for nearly 30 years.

Benn Walsh was a noted advocate of social and parliamentary reform. He also acted for a while as a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff in Berkshire and later for Radnorshire. He regularly visited his estates in Ireland, where he was considered an exacting landlord, though he saw himself as benevolent and progressive. He was created a baron in 1868 (Baron Ormathwaite). As a writer he published various pamphlets, such as one comparing astronomy and geology, and another on the lessons of the French Revolution. He died at Warfield Park in 1881. A little further information (but not much) is available at Wikipedia, Royal Berkshire History, and Cracroft’s Peerage.

However, Benn Walsh was a committed diarist, and many of his manuscript journals are extant, and held by the National Library of Wales. Indeed, the library provides, on its website, this summary of the journals: ‘In many respects the diaries are similar in contents to his mother’s (i.e. personal and domestic) but with more emphasis on the London season and politics and they are, in general, far more detailed. The earlier diaries are dominated by his obsessive ambition to make a mark in society. By endeavouring to create a web of connexions he sought to become known to the most powerful and fashionable aristocratic families in England. Such connections would, he hoped, fulfil both his marital and political ambitions. He has some very pertinent things to say about the closing down of the avenues of advancement after the end of the Napoleonic wars when the aristocracy closed ranks. After his marriage in 1825 the diaries, naturally, are more domestic: the pleasures and pains of parenthood and later of grand-parenthood, family holidays, his wife’s relations, etc.’ (Further information about his mother’s diaries can also be found on the same website here.)

There are no printed biographies of Benn Walsh, nor have his diaries been published, except for those concerning his near-annual trips to oversee his estates in Ireland. These were edited by James S. Donnelly, Jr. and appeared in successive volumes (1974 and 1975) of the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (volume 79, pages 86-123; volume 80, pages 15-42). Both parts of The Journals of Sir John Benn-Walsh Relating to the Management of His Irish Estates, 1823-64 are freely available on the Society’s website. Here is an extract from Donnelly’s introduction.

‘Not only was Benn-Walsh a great landowner in Great Britain and Ireland, with some 26,300 acres altogether by the 1870s, but he regarded his estates very much as a business enterprise and constantly strove to increase the profitability of his landed investments. His keen interest in superintending the development of his properties prompted him to make repeated journeys to Ireland. Between 1821 and 1864 he visited his Cork and Kerry estates in twenty different years, usually during late summer and for a period of about two weeks on each occasion. While making these tours of inspection, he either wrote a daily journal or made entries as regularly as possible from notes and from memory. The volumes of his journals for the years 1821, 1825, and 1829 are missing from the collection. [. . . The] surviving records constitute an unvarnished, wonderfully detailed, and invaluable account of an absentee proprietor’s relations with his tenants during a momentous epoch in Irish agrarian history.’

And here are several extracts from the journals. They include references to the impact of the potato famine, and to the benefits of the new railway connection to Holyhead.

16 September 1824
‘We left Limerick by the steamboat, which took us down the Shannon to Tarbert - from whence we took a chaise to Listowell, where we found Mr Gabbett busy receiving rents for me. I did not keep my journal regularly during my stay at Listowell, which I left on Wednesday 22nd. I was occupied while there in arranging the affairs of Tullamore, which is now set for the six months, & as Julian has no intention of redeeming it, I ordered it to be surveyed & valued by Kane & McMahon. I likewise allotted the new divisions I have caused to be made at Derrimdaff, & the tenants are to take possession of them in March next. All these arrangements gave birth to an infinity of petty squabbles, extremely difficult to settle or even understand. However, I am sanguine in my expectations that a little time & perseverance will compose all the jarring elements. Everything confirms my first opinion that setting to the occupying tenant, though more troublesome, is in the end much more advantageous to the landlord. I am well persuaded that if the times continue tranquil & the prices as at present, this portion of my property will gradually rise most considerably in value - if I continue to visit & superintend it. This is absolutely necessary. Gabbett is in many respects a useful agent. He is a good lawyer, a man of excellent understanding, good disposition, & integrity. His practice at the police office & his naturally conciliating character gives him a great readiness in managing the (205) lower orders, & he is a ready accountant & man of business. But he is a nonresident, he is not deeply interested in the business, he has many partialities in the country, & he would go over the business in a very slovenly, negligent manner if I were not to accompany him.’

14 August 1834
‘This morning I went to Tullamore & inspected the banks & road. I also visited Julian’s house, which seems to want repair, & as he has been a punctual tenant lately, I determined to allow him a gale’s rent. The banks are all to a trifle completed & the road is made through three-fourths of the farm. These are great & real improvements, & I think that Tullamore is now very moderately set. But on some of the divisions, Shronoun & Shronedrislig, there are far too many tenants. Mr McMahon, the surveyor or land valuer recommended by Spring Rice, came to meet me today; he has lately mapped & surveyed Ballyhaurigan &Ballyrehan, the two farms Mr Hilliard holds upon a very old lease. Date, I think, 1773. He now pays £220 a year & McMahon computes the rise at £447; when out of lease, they will set for £687. I have a good opinion of his fairness & integrity.’

24 August 1844
‘We went with Mr & Mrs Gabbett & their family on the lake in a boat. I once before visited this lake with poor Digby in 1824. We had a fine day & enjoyed our excursion very much. In the evening we heard a singular concert, a blind Irish piper of the name of Gantsey & his son accompanying him on the violin. He was really a wonderful performer & drew sounds from his Irish pipes which quite surprised us. He was a fine old man, full of taste & enthusiasm in his art, & put me quite in mind of Wandering Willie in Redgauntlet. But Gantsey is a celebrated person in his way, & two years ago he travelled to Edinburgh & gave a concert at which he realised £50. The Irish bagpipe is far softer than the Scotch.’

3 October 1848
‘I went off by the express train at 9 & arrived at Holyhead by 6 [the station at Holyhead had opened two months earlier]. Here I embarked in a fast new steamer, the Scotia. It blew a gale of wind, but we made our passage to Kingstown by eleven & I got to Morrison’s Hotel, Dublin, by twelve. Mr Matthew Gabbett met me at the station & we agreed to set out for Limerick by the 10 o’clock train.’

2 September 1851
‘I left Cork with Mr M. Gabbett by the 9 o’clock. We arrived in Dublin by four & I went down to the hotel at Kingstown. . . . Mrs Gabbett sent me an invitation to dinner & I had the pleasure of another evening with my old agent, for whom I have a real regard. However, his son Matthew is a much more active & efficient agent than he ever was & enters far more fully into all my views. I think that it is greatly owing to his good management that I have a chance of getting through the crisis which has been fatal to so many Irish proprietors. I leave Ireland with far more hope & in better spirits than on any of the three former occasions since the potato failure. First, I see that the poors rates are diminished owing to our having got rid of outdoor relief & diminished the size of the electoral divisions. Between Matthew Gabbett & Captain Larcombe, my farms have been put into the best electoral divisions of the union. Secondly, my own estates have been very much weeded both of paupers & bad tenants. This has been accomplished by Matthew Gabbett without evictions, bringing in the sheriff, or any harsh measures. In fact, the paupers & little cottiers cannot keep their holdings without the potato &, for small sums of 1£, 2£, & 3£, have given me peaceable possession in a great many cases, when the cabin is immediately levelled. Then, to induce the larger farmers to surrender their holdings when they became insolvent, I emigrated several, either with their whole families or in part. This was expensive, but it enabled me to consolidate & make comfortable sized farms of from £30 & £40 up to £140 per annum. Then, the improvements I have carried on have greatly increased the value of the farms & given the tenants courage. I have introduced some good new tenants of a solvent description. From all these causes I see the estate coming round, the tenantry more comfortable, & though there are still great fallings off in the receipts, yet things are righting themselves.’

17 October 1852
‘Mr Gabbett came into town early & took me to his parish church at his new purchase about 8 miles from Limerick. The farm he has bought under the Encumbered Estates Court is in the centre of the property of his family. We passed a little stone tower, something like a martello tower . . ., which this Mr Matthew Gabbett’s uncle (whom I remember meeting at Rome in 1819) built as a fort & place of refuge in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. After church we drove again into Limerick. Mr Gabbett returned to his farm. He goes by an early train to Dublin & we meet at the Dublin terminus at 4. I dine with my old agent Mr Gabbett, Senior, at Bray, & on Tuesday I cross the water. . . .

So ends this visit to my Irish estates. How easily is the communication & transit made now, compared with what it was. My first visit to Ireland in 1821 was in the first year of the establishment of mail steam packets. I well remember the alarm felt when, about mid channel, something in the machinery broke & we were left floating without any progress for about an hour. It then took three good days to travel from London to Holyhead, one to cross, three to get from Dublin to Listowel. Now I get easily from London to Dublin in one day, from Dublin to Cork or Limerick in another. I can visit all the estates & return to London in little more time than it took me then to travel to and fro. But even the facilities I then enjoyed were very great compared with those which existed when my great uncle Walsh made the purchases in 1764 & subsequent years. His motives for his Radnorshire investments were intelligible enough. Its contiguity to Shropshire, where the first Lord Clive had established himself, & the smallness of the county, giving him a prospect cf acquiring parliamentary influence, explain this selection, but what first led him, an Englishman returned from India, having no Irish links or associations that I ever heard of, to select such a remote county, the very ultima Thule of Ireland itself, I have never heard explained. I don’t think that my dear mother had ever heard of it. She often spoke of his love for scattering his investments & mentioned that he had even bought an estate somewhere in Scotland which he subsequently sold. She quoted a criticism which her father Mr Fowke passed upon him. “There’s Walsh now has bought land in Ireland, Scotland, & Wales & has ended in seating himself down at Warfield where he can’t shoot a partridge.” Yet I have always great respect & regard for the memory of my great uncle, who died before I was born, but to whom I am so largely indebted, & who may be considered the founder of our family. His Irish investments, though singular, were not unwise. He bought very reasonably in those days what has turned out a valuable and improving estate &, now that the famine crisis is past, promises still to prove so.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sutter’s Gold Rush

One hundred and seventy years ago today, President James Knox Polk confirmed to the US Congress that there was an abundance of gold on the west coast, in California. In fact, gold had been discovered nearly a year earlier at a mill owned by Johann August Sutter, a German immigrant. Sutter’s diary provides an interesting account of those early gold rush days.

It is widely accepted that the California Gold Rush began on 24 January 1848, when the metal was discovered by James Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator at Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, some 130 miles northwest of San Francisco. Rumours about the gold began to spread, first being published in a West Coast newspaper in March. Later that year, in August, the New York Herald, on the East Coast, reported that there was a major gold rush.

On 5 December 1848, the gold rush became official, as it were, when President Polk wrote to congress as follows: ‘The accounts of abundance of gold are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service.’ And the news continued to spread so that eventually some 300,000 men, women, and children travelled to California - from the rest of the US in covered wagons, and from overseas by boat - often undergoing great hardships on the way. At first, the prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning, but more sophisticated production methods evolved over time.

The effects of the California Gold Rush were substantial, Wikipedia says. San Francisco grew from a hamlet to a boomtown, while roads, churches, schools and other towns were built all across the area. By 1850, California had been admitted as a state, and soon new methods of transportation, such as steamships and railroads, were being developed, as was the land for agriculture. The rest is history - today California is the richest of the United States, accounting for 13% of the US’s GDP.

There are many first hand accounts by forty-niners (the name given to those who made the journey to California in search of gold) in letters and diaries. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco is a good place to start, as is The California Gold Country - Highway 49 Revisited. Gold Rush Saints: California Mormons and the Great Rush for Riches by Kenneth N. Owens, which can be previewed at Googlebooks, uses a lot of original diary material.

To return to Sutter, though, the mill owner. He was born in 1803 in Kandern, southwest Germany, but was schooled in Switzerland, and joined the Swiss army rising to the rank of captain. However, in 1934, he left Europe for the New World to escape creditors. After extensive travels in North America, he settled in California in 1839, then part of Mexico, where he founded New Helvetia colony near the Sacramento river. Although the discovery of gold happened on Sutter’s land, it was eventually to ruin him. His land and property were over-run and destroyed by gold diggers, and thereafter he spent many years and much money on legal battles trying to defend his ownership or in seeking compensation. He died in Washington in 1880, apparently a poor and embittered man.

Excerpts from Sutter’s diary first appeared in 1878 in the San Francisco Argonaut, and were then published by the Grabhorn Press in 1932 as The Diary of Johann August Sutter (with an introduction by Douglas S. Watson). This is freely available to read online at the Library of Congress website book, and many extracts can also be found at The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco website (which notes that the entries were probably written retrospectively).

28 January 1848
‘Marshall arrived in the evening, it was raining very heavy, but he told me he came on important business. After we was alone in a private Room he showed me the first Specimens of Gold, that is he was not certain if it was Gold or not, but he thought it might be; immediately I made the proof and found that it was 44 Gold. I told him even that most of all is 23 Carat Gold; he wished that I should come up with him immediately, but I told him that I have to give first my orders to the people in all my factories and shops.’

1 February 1848
‘Left for the Sawmill attended by a Baquero (Olimpio). Was absent 2d, 3d, 4th, & 5th. I examined myself everything and picked up a few Specimens of Gold myself in the tail race of the Sawmill; this Gold and others which Marshall and some of the other laborers gave to me (it was found while in my employ and Wages) I told them that I would a Ring got made of it soon as a Goldsmith would be here. I had a talk with my employed people all at the Sawmill. I told them that as they do know now that this Metal is Gold, I wished that they would do me the great favor and keep it secret only 6 weeks, because my large Flour Mill at Brighton would have been in Operation in such a time, 45 which undertaking would have been a fortune to me, and unfortunately the people would not keep it secret, and so I lost on this Mill at the lowest calculation about $25,000.’

7 March 1848.
‘The first party of Mormons, employed by me left for washing and digging Gold and very soon all followed, and left me only the sick and the lame behind. And at this time I could say that every body left me from the Clerk to the Cook. What for great Damages I had to suffer in my tannery which was just doing a profitable and extensive business, and the Vatts was left filled and a quantity of half finished leather was spoiled, likewise a large quantity of raw hides collected by the farmers and of my own killing. The same thing was in every branch of business which I carried on at the time. I began to harvest my wheat, while others was digging and washing Gold, but even the Indians could not be keeped longer at Work. They was impatient 46 to run to the mine, and other Indians had informed them of the Gold and its Value; and so I had to leave more as 2/3 of my harvest in the fields.’

19 May 1848
‘The great Rush from San Francisco arrived at the fort, all my friends and acquaintances filled up the houses and the whole fort, I had only a little Indian boy, to make them roasted Ripps etc. as my Cooks left me like every body else. The Merchants, Doctors, Lawyers, Sea Captains, Merchants etc. all came up and did not know what to do, all was in a Confusion, all left their wives and families in San francisco, and those which had none locked their Doors, abandoned their houses, offered them for sale cheap, a few hundred Dollars House & Lot (Lots which are worth now $100,000 and more), some of these men were just like greazy. Some of the Merchants has been the most 49 purdentest of the Whole, visited the Mines and returned immediately and began to do a very profitable business, and soon Vessels came from every where with all Kind of Merchandise, the whole old thrash which was laying for Years unsold, on the Coasts of South & Central America, Mexico Sandwich Islands etc. All found a good Market here. Mr. Brannan was erecting a very large Warehouse, and have done an immense business, connected with Howard & Green; S. Francisco.’

21 May 1848
‘Saml Kyburg errected or established the first Hotel in the fort in the larger building, and made a great deal of Money. A great Many traders deposited a great deal of goods in my Store (an Indian was the Key Keeper and performed very well). Afterwards every little Shanty became a Warehouse and Store; the fort was then a veritable Bazaar. As white people would not be employed at the Time 50 I had a few good Indians attending to the Ferry boat, and every night came up, and delivered the received Money for ferryage to me, after deduction for a few bottles of brandy, for the whole of them. Perhaps some white people at the time would not have acted so honestly.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 5 December 2008.