And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

7 March

1726
John Byrom,
poet and landowner

‘Empson and Butterwick came this morning and had their first lesson in shorthand, and paid me each five guineas.’

Byrom’s universal shorthand

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1821
Benjamin Haydon,
artist

‘Sir Walter Scott breakfasted with me with Lamb, & Wilkie, and a delightful morning we had. I never saw any man have such an effect on company as he; he operated on us like champagne & whisky mixed. It is singular how success & want of it operate on two extraordinary men, Wordsworth & Walter Scott. Scott enters a room & sits at table, with the coolness & self possession of conscious fame; Wordsworth with an air of mortified elevation of head, as if fearful he was not estimated as he deserved. Scott is always cool, & amusing; Wordsworth often egotistical and overbearing. [. . .] Scott’s success would have made Wordsworth insufferable, while Wordsworth’s failures would not have rendered Scott a bit less delightful.’

Thirst after grandeur

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1835
Edmund Franklin Ely,
missionary and teacher

‘As an example of Indian providence - I will note a statement just made me by Osana Amik. Two or three lodges hunted - together. There were 5 Men - 6 Women & 6 Children (mostly small). Between the 15th Nov. & 15th Jan they have Killed 13 Moose 9 Bears & 2 Deer - not Counting Hedge Hogs - Rabbits & pheasants & furred Game.

13 Moose - Equal to 13 Common horses

9 Bears [ - Equal to ] 9 Small-Hogs

2 Deers [- Equal to ] 1 large do [hog]

when I passed them (to Yellow Lake) I bot some meat at one lodge - but at another of the lodges found them hungry & gave them part of my Meat, & other things, on my return I bot more meat. They came in from their hunt hungry & are now at the Lake depending on the fishing.’

Not counting hedge hogs

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1848
William Jackson Hooker,
scientist

‘Left my kind friend Mr. Felle’s house for Amoee, en route for Miraapore, myself mounted on an elephant of the Rajah’s, and my goods on Mr. Felle’s camels. Passed through Goorawul, a large village twelve miles due west of Shahgung. The road to it lay over a very flat monotonous country. Thence turning north, in a direction crossing the table-land, the country began to undulate and become more barren, with noble Mahoua trees and a few Fici, the former resembling oaks; and with the sandstone cropping out on the surface, I was occasionally much reminded of scenery in the forest of Dean. Sterile tracts, with their typical trees, alternate with cultivated fields, whose accompaniments are the Tamarind and Mango.

Many of the exposed slabs of sandstone are beautifully waved with the ripple-mark, like small specimens seen at Rotas.

Amoee, where I arrived at nine p.m., was an open grassy flat, about twenty miles from the Ganges, along whose course the dust clouds were coursing.

Mr. Monney, the magistrate of Mirzapore, kindly sent a mounted messenger to meet me here, the finest-looking fellow I had seen for a long time, wearing a brilliant scarlet surtout and white turban. He was a very active fellow, equally proud of his master (with good reason) and his horse; but he had vast trouble in getting bearers for my Palkee, which, after being carted for so long, was now to take its turn in carting me. Those he did procure (eight) carried me (for the greater part of the way) and the Palkee the whole twenty-two miles in eight hours, over very bad and stony paths, and down the ghaut, which is, however, an excellent road.

To the top of the ghaut the country was nearly level (and here called the Bind hills). There I saw for the first time the Ganges, rolling along the plains, through a forest of green trees, among which the white houses, domes, and temples of Mirzapore were scattered in every direction.

Unlike the Dunwah pass, this, to the level of the Ganges, is wholly barren. At the foot the sun was intensely hot, the roads rocky or smothered with dust by turns, the villages crowded with a widely different looking race from those of the hills, and the whole air of the outskirts, in a sultry afternoon, far from agreeable.

Mirzapore is, however, an exceedingly pretty, a moderately cool, and very pleasant station, especially the geographically east, but socially speaking west-end, which runs along the banks of the Ganges, and whither I proceeded to the house of my friend Mr. Claude Hamilton, where I received a most cordial welcome.

Mirzapore is celebrated for its manufactory of carpets (of a kind like our dining-room one), which are admirable looking, and in all respects save durability I am told are equal to the English. Indigo seed from Bundelkund is also a most extensive article of commerce, the best coming from the Doab, and lac. For cotton, sugar, and saltpetre, it is the greatest mart in India. Bundelkund indigo seed is good and larger but not equal to the Doab. The articles of native manufacture are brass washing and cooking utensils, and stone deities worked out of the sandstone.

There is little native vegetation, the country being covered with cultivation and extensive groves of Mango, and occasionally of Guava. English vegetables are abundant and excellent, and the strawberries rival in size the European fruit, but hardly in flavour.

The atmosphere is extremely dry and electrical, the hair constantly crackling when combed. Further west, where the country is still drier, the electricity of the air is even greater. Griffiths mentions that in filling his barometer tubes in Affghanistan, he constantly experienced a shock.

Here I had the pleasure of meeting Lieut. Ward, one of the assistant suppressors of Thugge (Thuggee, in Hindostan, signifying a deceiver, fraud, not open force being employed). This gentleman kindly showed me the approvers or king’s evidence, of his establishment, belonging to those three classes of human scourges, the Thug, Dakoit, and Poisoner. Of these the first was the Thug, a mild-looking man, who was born and bred to the profession: he has committed many murders, sees no harm in them, and feels neither shame nor remorse. His organs of observation and destructiveness were large, and the cerebellum small. He explained to me how the gang waylay the unwary traveller, enter into conversation with him, and have him suddenly seized, when the superior whips off his own linen girdle, throws it round the victim’s neck and strangles him, pressing the knuckles against the spine. Taking off his own cummerbund, he passed it round my arm (not neck) and showed me the turn as coolly as a sailor once taught me the hangman’s knot. The Thug is of any caste, and belongs to any part of India. The profession have particular stations, where they generally murder, throwing the body into a well. The Dakoit (dakhee, a robber) is one of a class who rob in gangs, but never commit murder - arson and housebreaking are also their profession. These are all high-class Rajpoots, originally from Guzerat, who, on being conquered, vowed vengeance on mankind. They talk both Hindostanee and the otherwise extinct Guzerat language. This latter the Dakoit spoke to me: it was guttural in the extreme, and very singular in sound. These are a very remarkable people, found all over India, and called by various names, as Buddacks (butchers), Sear Marwa, or Shighal Khof (jackall-eaters in pure Persian, i.e., a barbarian with no prejudice against the unclean). The women dress peculiarly, and are utterly devoid of modesty. The specimen I examined was a short, square, but far from powerful Nepalese, with high arched eye-brows, and no organs of observation. These people are great cowards. The poisoners all belong to one caste of Pasie, or dealers in toddy: they go singly or in gangs, haunting the travellers’ resting places, where they drop half a rupee weight of pounded or whole Datura seeds into his food, producing a twenty-four hours’ intoxication, during which he is robbed, and left to recover or sink under the stupifying effects of the narcotic. He told me that the Datura seed is gathered at any time, place, or age of the plant. He was a dirty, ill-conditioned looking fellow, with no bumps behind his ears, or prominence of eyebrow region, but an undeniable cerebellum.

As you may care to hear more of these celebrated Thugs, I will give you what information I picked up. (All this and better, too, you will find in Sleeman’s Reports). Though now all but extinct (except in Cuttack), through ten or fifteen years of increasing vigilance on the part of our Government, and incredible activity and acuteness on the officers employed, they were till then a wonderfully numerous body, who abstained from their vocation solely in the immediate neighbourhood of their own villages. These villages, however, were not exempt from the visits of other Thugs; so that, as Major Sleeman says, “The annually returning tide of murder swept unsparingly over the whole face of India, from the Sutledge to the sea-coast, and from the Himalaya to Cape Oomorin. One narrow district alone was free, the Concan, beyond the ghauts, whither they never penetrated.” In Bengal, river Thugs, of whom I shall tell you hereafter, replace the travelling practitioner. Khandush and Bohilcund alone harboured no Thugs as residents, but they were nevertheless haunted by the gangs.

Their origin is uncertain, but supposed to be very early, soon after the Mahommedan conquest. They now claim a divine original, and are supposed to have supernatural powers, and to be the emissaries of the divinity, like the wolf, the tiger, and the bear. It is only lately that they have swarmed so prodigiously, - seven original gangs having migrated from Delhi to the Gangetic provinces about 200 years ago, and from these all the rest have sprung. Many belong to the most amiable, intelligent and respectable classes of the lower and even middle ranks: they love their profession, regard murder as sport, and are never haunted with dreams, or troubled with pangs of conscience during hours of solitude, or in the last moments of life. The victim is an acceptable sacrifice to the Goddess Davee, who by some classes is supposed to eat the lifeless body, and thus save her votaries the necessity of coucealing it.

They are extremely superstitious, always consulting omens, such as the direction in which a hare or jackall crosses the road; and even far more trivial circumstances will determine the fate of a dozen of people, and perhaps an immense treasure. All worship the pick-axe, which is symbolical of their profession, and an oath sworn on it binds closer than on the Koran. The consecration of this weapon is a most elaborate ceremony, and takes place only under certain trees. They rise through various grades to the highest of strangler; the lowest are scouts; second, sextons; the third are holders of the victims’ hands.

Though all agree in never practising cruelty, or robbing previous to murder, - never allowing any but infants to escape, and these are trained to Thuggee, - and never leaving a trace of such goods as may be identified, - there are several variations in their mode of conducting operations. Some tribes spare certain castes, others none: murder of woman is against all rules; but the practice crept into certain gangs, and this it is which led to their discountenance by the Goddess Davee, and the consequent downfall of tbe system. Davee, they say, allowed the British to punish them, because a certain gang had murdered the mothers to obtain their daughters to be sold to prostitution. [. . .]’

The Hookers of Kew

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1856
Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff,
politician

‘Looked over the old betting book at Brooks’s. It is not very interesting, but here and there is a curious entry. On the 11th March 1776, for example, Mr. Charles Fox gave a guinea to Lord Bolingbroke, on the understanding that he was to receive a thousand guineas from him when the National Debt amounted to 171 millions. He was not, however, to pay the thousand guineas till he was a Cabinet Minister. In 1778 he gave Mr. Shirley ten guineas, on the understanding that he was to receive five hundred whenever Turkey in Europe belonged to a European Power or Powers.’

Good-natured books

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1881
King Kalakaua,
sovereign

‘Early at 9 1/2 H. I. H. escorted us to the Arsenal. General Oyama Gan General Murata were presented and with them we were lead to the various departments. Guns of the most improved patterns were orderly placed on racks in tiers from the ground to the Sealing as well as the upper second story. We went through the machinery, gun & cartridge Rooms and small gun factories, where they were making a new gun of their own invention. The piece was somewhat similar to the Hotchkiss American small arm and the test of the Arm showed great precision with low trajectory. . . . The breech lock is simple containing but 5 pieces to the whole mechanism.’

The king of Hawaii in Japan

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1948
Johann August Sutter,
mill owner

‘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 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.’

Sutter’s Gold Rush

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1976
Tony Benn,
politician

‘Dinner at the Foots. There is a very strong rumour that Harold Wilson is about to retire. Nobody knows where it comes form except some funny things have evidently been happening. There is a possibility that some papers which were stolen from Harold’s desk may envelop him in some way in a scandal. Jill [Foot] is very much in favour of Harold going and I have little doubt that she, Michael and Peter would all support Denis as leader. But if Roy stood, as I think he would have to, and Denis, Jim and Tony Crosland, but Michael didn’t stand, then it would be a very curious line-up. Whether I stood would depend on whether I was nominated and by whom.’

The hopes of the Left

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2003
Clare Short,
politician

‘Had a couple of days feeling gloomy and sleepless nights writing my resignation statement in my head. It seemed they were into military action whatever Blix said, we are arm-twisting Security Council non-permanent members and don’t seem to care that they can’t reconstruct the country without a UN mandate.’

No. 10 hostile to me

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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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