And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

3 July

John Evelyn,

‘Sending a piece of venison to Mr Pepys, still a prisoner, I went and dined with him.’

A most excellent person


Philip Carteret,

‘We continued our course westward till the evening of Thursday the 2d of July, when we discovered land to the northward of us. Upon approaching it the next day, it appeared like a great rock rising out of the sea: it was not more than five miles in circumference, and seemed to be uninhabited; it was, however, covered with trees, and we saw a small stream of fresh water running down one side of it. I would have landed upon it, but the surf, which at this season broke upon it with great violence, rendered it impossible. I got soundings on the west side of it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore, in twenty-five fathom, with a bottom of coral and sand; and it is probable that in fine summer weather landing here may not only be practicable but easy. We saw a great number of sea birds hovering about it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore, and the sea here seemed to have fish. It lies in latitude 20° 2’ S., longitude 133° 21’ W. and about a thousand leagues to the westward of the continent of America. It is so high that we saw it at the distance of more than fifteen leagues, and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the marines, who was unfortunately lost in the Aurora, we called it PITCAIRN’S ISLAND.

While we were in the neighbourhood of this island, the weather was extremely tempestuous, with long rolling billows from the southward, larger and higher than any I had seen before. The winds were variable, but blew chiefly from the S. S. W. W. and W. N. W. We had very seldom a gale to the eastward, so that we were prevented from keeping in a high south latitude, and were continually driving to the northward.’

Since it’s discovery Pitcairn Island has had a chequered history. In 1790, it was populated by mutineers from the Bounty and several native Tahitians (most islanders today remain their descendants). Nearly 20 years were to pass before the island was visited by another vessel. The group of islands became a British colony in 1838. The population peaked at over 200 in the 1930s, and is around 50 today. In 2004, several men, including the mayor, were convicted of sexual offences against children, since when restrictions on children visiting have remained in place.

Discovering Pitcairn Island


Thomas Clarkson,
anti-slavery campaigner

‘In crossing the ferry from Mr Feast’s Yard, I saw a Boat painted Africa on her Stern coming to the same Landing Place. On inquiring of the Crew Whether they belonged to the Africa, a Vessel in the Slave Trade, they answered, yes - I told one of them that I wondered how any seamen would go to Africa, and if he was not afraid - To this he answered in the following Words - If it is my Lot to die in Africa, why I must, and if it is not, why then I shall not die though I go there. And if it is my Lot to live, why I may as well live there as anywhere else. The Same Person told me that the Brothers, Capt. Howlett, then lying in King Road?, could not get Men - that he was cruel Rascal - that a Party of Men had shipped themselves on board him, but that they had all left him on Sunday Morning - I cannot describe my feeling in seeing these poor Fellows belonging to the Africa. They were seven in Number - all of them young, about 22 or 23, and very robust - They were all Seamen; and I think the finest Fellows I ever beheld - I am sure no one can describe my feelings when I considered that some of these were devoted, and whatever might be their spirits now, would never see their native Home more. I considered also, how much the Glory of the British Flag was diminished by the Destruction of such noble fellows, who appeared so strong, robust, & hardy, and at the same Time so spirited as to enable us to bid Defiance to the marine of our Enemies the French’

Campaigning against slavery


Thomas Raikes
, businessman

‘This morning another attack was made on the Queen’s life as she was going in her carriage to the Chapel Royal. A humped-back boy presented a pistol at her, which only snapped in the pan; he was arrested by a boy named Docket, who gave him in charge to two police officers, who treated it as a joke, and the young rascal escaped. This may be imputed to the culpable laxity of our Government, who, on the preceding day, remitted the sentence of Francis, and condemned him only to transportation to a penal settlement in Tasmania. There seems to be a general apathy about everything in this country; there is no longer the same interest in politics, the struggle of parties seems finished; Peel is supposed to be in the ascendant, but the ultra Tories are incensed against him for his liberal tendencies. Though all around is a calm, it may be only that which portends a fatal storm.’

A mania for gossip


Cornelia Clapp,
scientist and teacher

‘The sensation to-day is the visit to the Steerage - The Capt. himself accompanied us - took us into the store room at the stern, & showed us the immense wine lockers, & the place where they carry the mails & money - This steamer is capable of carrying 1500 steerage passengers, but at present there are only about 300 passengers in all on board. (- cargo in steerage going East.)

This morning is the most beautiful one yet. Not a cloud in the sky, & the air so balmy & warm that not a wrap is thought of -

We are beginning to talk of land now. Next Monday even. at 9. P.M. we are expecting to see the Lizard light. There will be a crowd on deck then I surmise.

I found Mr. Williamson knew Brayton of Indianapolis & we have been talking him up this morning. He calls him a regular Bohemian - happy-go-lucky fellow - agrees with me in his ideas of him - I have been reading in “The Ocean Wave” this morn. and the following paragraph is awfully true - “Men of the highest genius seem to be transformed as soon as they get at a distance from land in a rolling vessel. There is an inability to control the mind while at sea, a difficulty in concentrating the attention on the task of even writing in one’s diary or reading even the most trifling fiction.”

No one of the party is the least big sea sick, and we now range over this great boat from stem to stern whiling the time away -

Last evening the regular dance on deck took place - gymnastic feats - leap frog & the like - a set of young men with the banjos have taken to serenading in the passage ways -, as it is difficult to get outside the windows!

The table waiter said to day that he never saw such a passage as this before - He has had us to wait on most regularly - not more than three have lost a single meal - It is simply delightful. (I repeat it again lest I should not have put it on every sheet of paper written.)

We sight ships occasionally - a single stroke of the bell in the bow gives the signal - but none have been within speaking distance. We take an extremely southern route - thus avoiding fogs off Newfoundland, icebergs and such! and certainly we must have struck one of the dry, still times in mid ocean -

At lunch to-day Miss Stevens gave me an account of the Reception at the Sem. I had not thought to ask her about it before & she told me of her pleasure in meeting my brother & Miss Metcalf - the first intimation that I have had that these persons were present in that occasion. What prizes were taken, I heard of some by a graduate of Ag. Coll. Stone remarked the other day that he wished my brother was aboard. He seems supremely happy - Miss Bartholomew has a fine sketch of him. A Wellesley teacher has turned up now on board - such a boat of school marms! -

We have just now come upon a steamer going the same way - It is about five or six miles away, I suppose but it seems quite like having company along - No. Ger. Lloyd. One week ago this hour we set sail - left the lovely New York harbor - on that charming afternoon.

The distance in the last 24 hours has been 335 miles. We have been guessing on it & Bryan & Carter hit it right -

Miss Hooker & I are talking of fees - We shall soon have to begin to live again - spend money that means - We take quite a rent [?] on ship board - Now I must start & read German with Miss Pettee - Clara Stevens talks of going to the German cities -’

Life on an ocean steamer


Victor Trump,

‘Match started. Made 1. Our chaps made 190 odd. Abel and Archie batted well.’

Ran about all day


Franz Kafka,

‘The broadening and heightening of existence through marriage. Sermon text. But I almost sense it.

When I say something it immediately and finally loses its importance, when I write it down it loses it too, but sometimes gains a new one.

A band of little golden beads around a tanned throat.’

I am entirely alone


Etty Hillesum,
young woman

‘Yes, I am still at the same desk, but it seems to me that I am going to have to draw a line under everything and continue in a different tone. I must admit a new insight into my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation, we can have no more illusions about that. They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there. Today I was filled with terrible despair, and I shall have to come to terms with that as well. [. . .] Even if we are consigned to hell, let us go there as gracefully as we can. I did not really want to put it so blandly.’

Let us go gracefully


Iris Origo,

‘My first air raid last night. The sirens began just after midnight; I was still awake and was joined by William Phillips [her godfather, and US ambassador to Italy]. We sat talking pleasantly in the dark for about one hour, heard one distant burst of fire and then the all-clear signal. Altogether a singularly unalarming experience, except apparently to the lions in the Zoo, who went on roaring all night. But, as the first wail of the sirens was heard, my thoughts went to England and France.’

A Chill in the Air


John F. Kennedy,

‘I attended a political rally this evening at which Professor Harold Laski, Chairman of the Executive Council of the Labor Party and erstwhile Professor at the London School of Economics, spoke ... Odd this strain that runs through these radicals of the Left. It is that spirit which builds dictatorships as has been shown in Russia. I wonder whether dictatorship of the Left could ever get control in England, a country with such great democratic tradition.

These Leftists are filled with bitterness, and I am not sure how deeply the tradition of tolerance in England is ingrained in these bitter and discontented spirits. I think that unquestionably, from my talk with Laski, that he and others like him smart not so much from the economic inequality’ but from the social.’

JFK‘s diary strikes gold


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And so made significant . . .
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Notes and Cautions
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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The Diary Junction is one of those wonderful privately maintained public resources for which the Internet is justly celebrated: a database of information about celebrated and obscure diaries[over 500] from all historical periods, with referrals to the dates the diaries cover, where the originals are held and bibliographic information on published versions.’ Laura Miller, Salon

The Diary Review, hosted by Blogger, publishes magazine-style articles on diaries and diarists, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.