Diaries online

Note: it wasn’t until I wanted to (re-)look up a diary site not used in quite a while that the idea popped into my head: WHY have you never collected ONLINE DIARIES onto one page in the Regency Reads blog? I have found these sites, passed along URLs, even contacted authors, but never have I said: Here are primary sources. Am making amends! And if any readers wish to see their favorite sites here, please feel free to contact me. Everyone who works on giving access to such materials deserve broad recognition.

NB: see also Online Letters. Blog posts that feature “online” journals are accessed through the link to your right: the category ONLINE.

Sites are listed alphabetically by last name of diarist. Click the accompanying picture to access the main website under discussion.

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Martha Ballard’s Diary


Original diaries: Maine State Library [MS B B189]
published as: A Midwife’s Tale: the life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785-1812, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (1990)
transcription published as: The Diary of Martha Ballard, 1785-1812, transcribed and indexed by Robert and Cynthia McCausland (Picton Press, c1992)
diaries cover: 1785-1812 

I have never forgotten finding the book A Midwife’s Tale. A local bookstore, with only one section that they called BIOGRAPHY (it was a small store; narrow, but long). The “title” called to me – and pulling it out, the subject spoke to me even more strongly. I count A Midwife’s Tale among the first diary or diary-based books I ever bought. That was more than 25 years ago; and a LOT of shelf space is now taken up with diaries – the fatter and more volumes, the better!

And yet I also remember passing up the purchase of the GIANT BRICK of a book (nearly 1000 pages) that the McCausland transcription became. That, too, seen in a long-lamented now-defunct local used bookstore…

So: thank goodness for online transcriptions! Now everyone can read the full diary of Martha Ballard of Maine – all about her spinning and weaving; her family; and her work at the sickbed, the deathbed, and of course the babies she brought into the world. At the same time, there’s a picture that crops up about the new country (the United States) in which the Ballards lived. Very close to my own home state of Vermont, Maine could be inhospitable in the winters, dangerous as spring waters rushed towards the sea, and their towns even harbored some tragedies and murders.


Lady Charlotte Bridgeman’s Journals


Original diaries: Birmingham University; private collection
diaries cover: 1848-1857

The link “ABOUT US” tells how the journals — three of them, from the years 1848 to the beginning of 1857 — came into the hands of the transcribers. Philip and Marianne van Dael even located an earlier journal at the Birmingham University!

This diary, too, mentions people in my own research, in this case the Gunning and Dickins families. The site has some problem (or is it just me?), for instance the ‘search’ never works; but a search engine does find pertinent diary entries. Often, the easiest way in is simply the “Browse the Journals” link.

Other than looking for the movements of my own characters, I’ve not read a lot of Lady Charlotte’s writings, but she moves in an interesting circle, and even hears Jenny Lind sing (1847). Readers looking to learn more about these earlier years of Victoria’s long reign will find much to savor.


The Diaries of Miss Fanny Chapman


Original diaries: National Library of New Zealand
page images available [URL to come]
diaries cover: 1807-1812; 1838-1841

Miss Chapman mentions Sir George and Lady Colebrooke (ie, my own research subjects) in her early diaries of living in Bath; existing diaries cover the dates 1807-1812 (inclusive) and then a further group towards the later years of her life 1838-1841 (inclusive)

The Chapman diaries are well illustrated, and have been lovingly transcribed by George and Amanda Rosenberg — who would LOVE to hear from anyone with further glimpses of their own Fanny Chapman and her relations & friends.

The Library link has images for family letters as well as diaries (warning: none transcribed on the site).

The daily life of a sociable woman has its own rewards. The Diaries of Fanny Chapman is HIGHLY recommended – and the Rosenbergs are commended for offering these transcriptions and elucidations to the public.


Emma Darwin’s Diaries


Original diaries: Cambridge University
diaries cover: 1824, 1833-34, 1839-45, 1848-96 (sixty diaries)

Born Emma Wedgwood (yes, of the pottery family), Emma (1808-1896) became the wife of Charles Darwin. The Darwin holdings online are more extensive, but it’s interest in EMMA in particular that I wish to point out.

This is a fine presentation of original images. A companion, if you wish, to the biography by James and Kent Loy.


The Diaries of Elizabeth Firth

Elizabeth Firth

Original Diaries: University of Sheffield
Transcription (PDF) online at the University of Sheffield website

diaries cover: 1812-1829

An account of a young schoolgirl’s life in Yorkshire; through her marriage and into motherhood.

Best known for giving insights into the comings and goings of the Brontë family, when they lived at Thornton. But it’s the life of Elizabeth Franks (née Firth) that comes to life in her near-daily accounts. Also contains financial accounts for some years.


The Journals of Henrietta Liston

Liston portraits

Original diaries: National Library of Scotland
published as: The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston (2014)

diaries cover: 1796-1801

Born on Antigua, Henrietta Marchant spent much of her life in Glasgow. Soon after her 1796 marriage, she and her husband – newly appointed as British minister to the United States – the Listons traveled to America. The diary holdings, now completely available online at NLS, document these years in the life of this diplomat’s wife.

Her letters to her uncle in Glasgow were the subject of Bradford Perkins’ article in William and Mary Quarterly: “A Diplomat’s Wife in Philadelphia: Letters of Henrietta Liston, 1796-1800” (vol. 11, no. 4, Oct. 1954: 592-632). [JSToR]


James Robertson Journals


Original diaries: Scottish National Archive (GD1/53)
diaries cover: 1842, 1845, 1848, 1851

James Robertson’s Mull Journals are only part of a fascinating family archive of letters & diaries. I first found it for the descriptions of meeting Mrs. Clephane (Lord Compton’s mother-in-law, friend of Sir Walter Scott) and her daughter Anna Jane Clephane. A useful “index” is included on the site. Roberson lived in an area that doesn’t get a lot of attention from journals, and therefore gives a real slice of life in Scotland in the mid-19th century.


The Diaries of Gertrude Savile


Original diaries: Nottinghamshire Archives [DD/SR/212/10-11]
edited: Secret Comment: the diaries of Gertrude Savile, 1721-1757 (1997)
diaries cover (book): 1721-1722; 1727-1732; 1737-1757

Published as part of the Thoroton Society “records”, and therefore hard to obtain on the used bookstore market, Secret Comment (edited by Alan Saville) is by far the best way to read these diaries, but the Twitter account should give a fuller picture (if backwards and in smaller “sound” bites), as it transcribed the extant diaries.

Gertrude Savile (1697-1758) has left us her impressions of coronations, servant problems, family strife. Hers is a fascinating journey through one woman’s life in tumultuous times and through a tumultuous mind. Gertrude’s “voice” is highly compelling. Now if only someone would edit and publish the FULL diaries – although, some have gone missing since an earlier transcription was made. Gertrude lived predominately in London, but travels to Bath and also her family’s home of Rufford (Nottinghamshire).


John Waldie Theatre Comments, 1799-1830


Original diaries: UCLA
excerpts published online through eScholarship (2008)
diaries cover: 1799-1830

How I’d DEARLY love to see the entire set of Waldie’s diaries and papers; alas, must be content with the truly fascinating (and highly useful) “Theatre Comments”. John Waldie (1781-1862) traveled widely, and LOVED to attend concerts and the theatre. If a singer was on stage, it’s probable that Waldie was at least once in the audience. The eScholarship site is easy to navigate and easy to search. The diaries are typescripts, which can be downloaded as PDFs.

Who can resist reading about the Kembles first-hand, or hearing about “Miss Fisher, a child about 6 years old” (January 1799), who was on stage reciting an epilogue?

Frederick Burwick, UCLA, has helped the British (especially) theatre-researcher immensely by providing this database of thought-provoking “audience” comments. A little bit of John’s life shines through, but these diaries were edited with a view to offering Waldie’s extensive (in terms and pages AND the years covered) theatre-going experiences.


The Journals of Gilbert White

Gilbert White Journals

Published as: The Journals of Gilbert White, edited by Francesca Greenoak (3 vols)
Print diaries cover: 1751-1793
Online diaries cover: 1768-1793

Highly recommended for natural history buffs. Gilbert White, who lived in Selborne, Hampshire, gives a glimpse of life in a rural Hampshire village at the time of the young Jane Austen.

The online edition is searchable to topic, year, etc.

See also my blog post from February 2019 for a fuller account of White, as well as useful links to his biography, location, and more.