And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

27 July

1726
Benjamin Franklin,
politician

‘This morning, the wind blowing very hard at West, we stood in for the land, in order to make some harbour. About noon we took on board a pilot out of a fishing shallop, who brought the ship into Spithead off Portsmouth. The captain, Mr. Denham, and myself went on shore, and, during the little time we stayed, I made some observations on the place.

Portsmouth has a fine harbour. The entrance is so narrow that you may throw a stone from Fort to Fort; yet it is near ten fathom deep, and bold close to; but within there is room enough for five hundred, or, for aught l know, a thousand sail of ships. The town is strongly fortified, being encompassed with a high wall and a deep and broad ditch, and two gates, that are entered over drawbridges; besides several forts, batteries of large cannon, and other outworks, the names of which I know not, nor had I time to take so strict a view as to be able to describe them. In war time, the town has a garrison of 10,000 men; but at present ’tis only manned by about 100 Invalids. Notwithstanding the English have so many fleets of men-of-war at sea at this time, I counted in this harbour above thirty sail of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Rates, that lay by unrigged, but easily fitted out upon occasion, all their masts and rigging lying marked and numbered in storehouses at hand. The King’s yards and docks employ abundance of men, who, even in peace time, are constantly building and refitting men-of-war for the King’s Service.

Gosport lies opposite to Portsmouth, and is near as big, if not bigger; but, except the fort at the mouth of the harbour, and a small outwork before the main street of the town, it is only defended by a mud wall, which surrounds it, and a trench or dry ditch of about ten feet depth and breadth. Portsmouth is a place of very little trade in peace time; it depending chiefly on fitting out men-of-war. Spithead is the place where the Fleet commonly anchor, and is a very good riding-place. The people of Portsmouth tell strange stories of the severity of one Gibson, who was governor of this place in the Queen’s time, to his soldiers, and show you a miserable dungeon by the town gate, which they call Johnny Gibson’s Hole, where, for trifling misdemeanors, he used to confine his soldiers till they were almost starved to death. It is a common maxim, that, without severe discipline, ’tis impossible to govern the licentious rabble of soldiery. I own, indeed, that if a commander finds he has not those qualities in him that will make him beloved by his people, he ought, by all means, to make use of such methods as will make them fear him, since one or the other (or both) is absolutely necessary; but Alexander and Caesar, those renowned generals, received more faithful service, and performed greater actions, by means of the love their soldiers bore them, than they could possibly have done, if, instead of being beloved and respected, they had been hated and feared by those they commanded.’

Founding Father Franklin

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1775
Nicholas Cresswell,
tradesman and farmer

‘Went shooting and knocked down a Young Turkey. Nothing but whores and rogues in this country.’

Whores and rogues

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1902
Victor Trump,
sportsman

‘Left for London. Done out of compartment by women. All have sore heads.’

Ran about all day

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1920
Earl Mountbatten of Burma,
sailor and viceroy

‘A scout, and a girl - presumably his sister - arrived with a large hamper containing a native bear to be given to H.R.H. They were shown into the sitting room, and most of the members of the Staff collected to watch the presentation. Presently H.R.H. came in, and the basket was opened, revealing the most extraordinary animal imaginable. In general appearance it certainly bore a striking resemblance to an ordinary toy teddy bear; standing about one foot high on all fours, and being about eighteen inches long. Its fur was soft, and grey in colour, and its paws had sharp claws for tree climbing. The face, however, was most ridiculous; it reminded one vaguely of a Jew’s face with a hooked nose, and had the stupidest possible expression, with a pair of tiny eyes set rather close together. It climbed up and all over the girl, who had had it for five years; and after H.R.H. had inspected it and left, she broke down and sobbed, while the bear cried like a baby. The bear spent the day in the Flag Lieutenant’s room, crawling about and leaving an odour of gum leaves everywhere, these being its staple food. In the evening compassion was taken on the little girl who had given up her pet, and the native bear (or ‘koala’ as it is more properly called) was sent back by an orderly with a letter explaining why.’

Mountbatten - young and lighthearted

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1945
John F. Kennedy,
politician

‘The overwhelming victory of the Left was a surprise to everyone. It is important in assaying this election to decide how much of the victory was due to a ‘time for a change’ vote which would have voted against any government in power, whether Right or Left, and how much was due to real Socialistic strength.

My own opinion is that it was about 40 per cent due to dissatisfaction with conditions over which the government had no great control but from which they must bear responsibility - 20 per cent due to a belief in Socialism as the only solution to the multifarious problems England must face - and the remaining 40 per cent due to a class feeling - i.e.; that it was time ‘the working man’ had a chance.

For too long a time now England has been divided into the two nations as Disraeli called them - the rich and the poor. The Labor Party will stay in for a long time if the conservative wing of that party men like Attlee and Bevin remain in office.

But if the radical group like Laski, Shinwell and Cripps become the dominating influence in the party, there will be a reaction and the Conservatives will come once again to power. In my own opinion Attlee will remain in office for the next year and a half, but if there is much dissatisfaction, which there may be, he will go; and as a sop to the radical Left wing, Morrison or Bevin will take over. Labor is laboring under the great disadvantage of having made promises to numerous groups whose aims are completely incompatible. The Conservatives may pick up some of these votes, at least those of the middle class when conditions make it impossible for Labor to implement many of its promises.’

JFK‘s diary strikes gold

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1994
Alastair Campbell,
journalist and political aide

‘TB called me and asked me to go and see him in the Shadow Cabinet room. I arrived at 1:30 and into the kind of turmoil you normally associate with moving house. Boxes and crates of John Smith’s papers and possessions on the way out, TB’s on the way in, and nobody quite sure where everything should go, and all looking a bit stressed at the scale of the task. Anji Hunter and Murray Elder were in the outer office, and I got the usual greeting from both, Anji all over-the-top kisses and hugs, Murray a rather distant and wary smile. He said Tony was running a bit late. He went in to tell him I was here. A couple of minutes later John Edmonds [General Secretary of the General and Municipal Boilermakers Union] came out, and looked a bit miffed to see me. Tony’s own office was in even greater chaos than the outer office so he was working out of the Cabinet Shadow room. He turned on the full Bunsen burner smile, thanked me for all the help I’d given on his leadership acceptance/speech, and then, still standing, perched his foot on a packing case and got to the point, rather more quickly than I’d anticipated. He was going on holiday the next day, and he still had a few key jobs to sort out. He was determined to get the best if he could. He needed a really good press secretary. He wanted someone who understood politics and understood the media, including the mass-market media. They don’t grow on trees. He said it had to be somebody tough, and confident, someone who could make decisions, and stick to them. Historically the Labour Party has not been blessed with really talented people in this area of politics and political strategy but I think we can be different. Gordon is exceptional, so is Peter, so are you, and I really want you to do this job.’

A good press secretary

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In general, these diary extracts are quoted as given in the published (book or online) source referred to in the reference articles. Each extract may be all, a large part of, or a small part of the complete entry for that day. I have tried to indicate where text has been removed from within a quote by the use of trailing dots in square bracket.

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