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The Diaries Described

The diaries laid out at Dorset History Centre. You are allowed to photograph documents but need to pay for a permit.


Presenting the diaries. How entries from the diaries are handled in the text.

A miscellany of Dorset Diaries Where do John Martin’s diaries stand alongside other Dorset diaries?

Just the start The significance of John Martin’s diaries

Ephemera A selection of ephemera taken from John Martin’s diaries.


As Joan Thirsk, a great agricultural historian has observed, “the routine of daily life leaves fewest documents, the daily and yearly round of work was so ordinary and so completely taken for granted but little was ever written down.” This creates a problem for anyone examining diaries containing entries which are little more than aide memoires. How to turn them into something more interesting? Some entries one can do little with; “At Home”, his most frequent entry on a Sunday, tells us little and our imagination can add little to it. Even though we know he was a long standing churchwarden he never mentions going to church. Then again consider this entry from 1854,

28th March 1854

At Home – Mr Crew Jennings was Buried at Evershot -Killed a Pig

There are in fact three points of interest here. The death of Mr Crew Jennings, the pig killing and is there just a hint that the two events may be linked? Was this a perverse form of celebration. Martin is matter of fact about both events but there are stories behind this entry. That of Mr Crew Jennings is told here but it would take the talent of Thomas Hardy, some 50 years later to describe the reality of what was then an every day event- the killing of a pig:

Arabella opened the sty-door, and together they hoisted the victim on to the stool, legs upward, and while Jude held him Arabella bound him down, looping the cord over his legs to keep him from struggling. The animal’s note changed its quality. It was not now rage, but the cry of despair; long-drawn, slow and hopeless….”make ‘un stop that!” said Arabella. “Such a noise will bring somebody or other up here, and I don’t want people to know we are doing it ourselves.” Picking up the knife from the ground whereon Jude had flung it, she slipped it into the gash, and slit the windpipe. The pig was instantly silent, his dying breath coming through the hole. “That’s better,” she said. “It is a hateful business!” said he.”Pigs must be killed.”…said she “Poor folks must live.” [1]

Well I cannot compete with Hardy but I have attempted to flesh out the entries as best I can. With nine diaries to survive over the fifty one years between 1810 and 1861 it is easy to forget that when the series opens Martin is already thirty years old. In the peak years of the Tithe Commutation Act, between 1838 and 1845, he is already of an age when, until recently, people today might be beginning to think of retirement.

This time line does not take account of the new diaries that have been found. As these have not been examined they are not included here.


To call them diaries is a little optimistic- indeed most are published under the title of ‘Pocket Book’. They are more accurately ‘journals’ in an accounting sense, indeed much of their interest comes from those pages where he records his income and expenditure. All the diaries of the same size being 15.5 cms tall and 10.5 cms wide. They are bound in a leather cover and Martin frequently writes on the blank pages underneath the cover. In times of idleness he doodled his name in the same area and in the 1821 diary he writes on the cover itself.

The series begins in 1810 with the ‘Daily Journal: or Gentleman’s, Merchant’s and Tradesmen’s Complete Annual Accompt-Book‘.[Price 2s 6d]. Martin bought from several different publishers;in 1821 he had moved to ‘Kearsley’s’ journal and in 1827, 1832 and 1838 he was using ‘Marshall’s’ pocket book.There is a typographical error in the 1832 diary which Martin noted and corrected. The last week in September is printed as October and he struck it through and entered the correct month. By 1845 he had returned to using the ‘Daily Journal’, then Marshall’s again in 1852 before settling on ‘Penny’s “Improved Commercial Pocket Book”’ in 1854 and 1861.

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Presenting the diaries.

A typical page from any of the diaries has on the left hand side of the book a week of dated journal entries whilst the opposite page is devoted to his accounts. The journal entries all begin on a Monday and end on a Sunday except for the 1854 and 1861 diaries which begin, for some reason on a Sunday and end on a Saturday. The small size of the books means that the individual journal entries are small. If the page zoom is set to 100% the entry below from the 20th February 1838 is representative of the actual size in the diary. Fortunately photography makes the entries much easier to read.

The accounts section in each diary conforms to the same pattern. A received column, a paid column and a bit in the middle for a description. There are running totals at the top and bottom of the page in some but not all of the diaries. The date of the beginning of the week is always given at the top but the accounts entries are not dated. Sometimes the spacing of the entries in relation to the journal entries indicate when the payment was made and on occasions he uses a line from the journal to the accounts to indicate it was paid on a particular date. At the end of the year the diaries often have a “monthly abstract of cash” – four pages divided into three month blocks- where he enters numerous accounts entries which appear unrelated to anything in the journal but probably represent him ‘saving’ up all of his outstanding bills and paying them at the end of the year.

In transcribing the diaries I have chosen to distribute these accounts entries across the period 6-9th of June in an attempt to mimic the pattern on the page but also to keep the tabular format adopted to a manageable size. A complete transcription of the diaries is to be found in the appendices and I have presented them in tabular form, written out in italics. All spellings are original and have been double checked and readers will note some interesting differences between historic and contemporary spellings. I started to use the Latin adverb [sic] to indicate that the quoted word has been transcribed as found in the source but I found that I was using it so often that sometimes I forgot. There is no grammar in his writing and any apostrophes or commas are a result of 21st century spell checking which, sadly, I found too useful to turn off.

A miscellany of Dorset Diaries

There may be more but I know of only three other diaries that have been published of people who lived near or during the period of John Martin’s life. In comparison to John Martin’s they contain a lot more information and detail.

James Warne 1758

If you believe in the notion of six degrees of seperation linking everything to everything else then there is an immediate link between James Warne and John Martin as Warne farmed at Woodstreet farm near Wool which Martin visited regularly in the 1820’s by which time it was being farmed by the Jesty family.

James wrote a diary – at least he did in 1758 – and it is a fascinating account of his life as a farmer. His father was a tenant of a large farm at Bovington, the tenancy of which James Jnr. would eventually inherit, but in 1758 he was to be found at Woodstreet renting a large farm there. At one time he owned nine horses so it was a substantial enterprise. Warne’s diary is much more informative about the way that life was lived in the 1700’s , full of detail , especially about the trials and tribulations that he had with his workmen. An interesting insight may be found as to the problems faced by land surveyors. There was much resistance to anything new amongst the agricultural labourers and one of his fields “Buckshill Six Acres” was to cause difficulties as it was not in fact six acres. Warne suspecting it was not measured it with one of the reapers who were paid 4d an acre to mow the field. When it turned out that the field was in fact 12 perches short of five acres the men were not happy. One can imagine that they had been used to being paid for six acres and were not happy at their wages being cut.

The diary, published under the title ‘Farming in Dorset’ by the Dorset Record Society,  is available through local libraries.

Henry Rolls 1803 – 1877

Henry Rolls was a shoemaker who lived in East Lulworth who kept a journal from 1824 until his death. The material is copyrighted but may be read on the East Lulworth website

The journal itself is an eclectic mix of entries. There is much mention of the marriages and deaths of local people and this is a feature of Henry Kaines’s journal as well. They appear to have been recorded assiduously in both journals and one wonders if there was a deeper psychological reason , common perhaps to the period, which impelled them to note them. Roll’s records a very wide range of unconnected events ; a man who had a 4lb tumour cut out in July [but who died in August] , of the display of an Eskimo at Wareham fair [complete with a ring in his nose] , the height of the spire of Salisbury cathedral and the fact that a new swarm of bees , was brought from New South Wales to Dorset in 1823 which had no stings. Like John Martin he too records the national day of prayer during the cholera outbreak of 1832 and, as with Kaines and John Martin, there are frequent references to the weather which was much more variable then than it is now.

Henry Kaines 1768 – 1840

Henry Kaines was baptised at Child Okeford in March 1768 . He lived in Manston, a neighbouring parish to Child Okeford , where his family had extensive land holdings and had farmed for over two hundred years. In 1810 he [and many others ] were dispossessed of their lands in Manston by the Earl of Uxbridge.

As the transcriber of the journal ,who is a relative, Peter Shirley has noted “The journal is, for the most part, not a diary. It is more in the nature of a memoir..”. Entries again concern themselves with the marriages, births and deaths of people he knew in the local villages and he too was concerned with the weather ; he noted that there was a hard frost from mid January to mid February 1816 – the year without a summer and had extensive records about flooding of the river Stour.

His entries are in many respects more interesting than John Martin’s. He relates ephemera such as two bare knuckle boxers fighting at Chichester for 77 rounds, but also notes more serious issues such as an outbreak of Smallpox at Child Okeford in 1813 and the anger of his father when he learned that Henry had been forced by Lord Rivers’s steward to vote for the Lords candidate Henry Banks. There is much more of interest and the journal has been very well annotated by the transcriber. The journal may be found at

Just the start.

At first sight the entries in John Martin’s diaries can seem rather unpromising if not to say boring.

8th August 1852

At Home

9th August 1852

At Home on Various matters

Some entries are enigmatic,

9th November 1810

Casting Bishopstone

5th February 1838

Went to Stratton with Edwin making Lines on Langford Farm Slept at Stratton

18th August 1821

Went to Dorchester upon Framptons Bastardy J Pettys Acct

4th October 1861

At Home & went to Ransom

[Finished taking in Windmows]

Others appear mundane,

9th May 1854

Do Finished Planting

Mangle Pd Horne Robins & Co 2 Bucklesbury for 15 lb of Tea 5 of which Mrs Jesty [18/4d] } £2 15s Chk May 17 Dorchester

and some appear hardly adequate to the occasion,

3rd November 1852

Putting the Office to rights and other matters in the office

My Brother George died at Oxford

As historical artefacts it is natural enough to feel that the diaries should somehow record and ‘be’ ‘history’, that they should enlighten us about past events. But history is a strange subject, for the present, the here and now, is not yet history whilst it is being lived. History is only written in what, in the here and now, is considered the future. Moreover history is more than a succession of facts, it involves interpretation of events, attribution of motives, seeking underlying causes and so on. History is a construct and John Martin did not write ‘history’. In fact it is clear from the entries that they are little more than aides memoires of the days events, to be referred to in the course of business and to enable a memory to be recalled from the subconscious. Most historical writing is general in its nature and there is no shortage of books that deal with subjects in a general manner, the consequences of inclosure is a good example, but very rarely do we get the opportunity to experience the lives of those who lived through the inclosure period or who were directly involved in them. Martin’s diaries even if they were not written as history serve a function, for they act as a skeleton upon which the history of the time can be hung.

We only have nine diaries and the question might be asked, were there others? The simple answer is-yes. The evidence for this comes from the accounts section in some of the diaries where the opening page of the new year has income brought forward from a previous year even though that diary has been lost. At the end of the 1832 diary he specifically mentions that he has carried his income forward to the “next book” which is missing from the series. How many diaries there were originally is of course not known but there are no days in any of the diaries where he has not made an entry of some sort and it is likely that the habit of keeping a diary was inculcated at an early age. My guess is that there were originally diaries for each year of his adult life. Why some have survived and others have not is conjecture. It might be thought that important life events such as the death of his wife [1838 diary] would cause that diary to be retained but he lost other important family members and the diaries of those years have not. Nor do those diaries that have survived appear to contain anything that might be considered noteworthy. The survival of some diaries and not others remains a mystery.

Since writing the above paragraph four more diaries have come to light in a private collection [15/03/2021]. I hope to learn more about these diaries in due course.


The diaries generally open with a number of pages that contain a wealth of ephemera. From the 1821 diary we learn that the total amount of government debt was £764,688,065 5s 8 3/4 d of which £5,181,804 3s 8d had been lent to the Emperor of Germany and £288,375 7s 9d to the Prince Regent of Portugal. If you want a list of the acts of parliament passed in the last year or the names of the peers of the realm, or who the justices of the peace are or the time of high water at various ports is….. the diaries will tell you.

Most of this, even then, was probably of little use to any one but some is of historical interest. Tax is an issue that appears periodically in the diaries a few of which appear in the table below. The land tax mentioned below will be considered in the section on farming but there was another group of taxes, known as assessed taxes, to which the Georgians and early Victorians were subject. In the absence of a professional accountant it was up to the individual to make his own assessment of his tax liability and the diaries contain tables of these taxes to help them. The first entry from 1827 is interesting as there is a specific reference to the tax on servants. This was levied between 1777 & 1852 on male servants at a variable rate each year. The rate of tax in 1838 was £1 4s 0d per annum for one servant, somewhat more than in 1827 and although he does not name any male servants in any of the diaries [female servants were exempt] we must assume that for a while he had at least one. The number of entries concerning these taxes is sporadic and yet the taxes were annual and it is not clear why they appeared in some diaries and not the others.

5th November 1827

Paid half a years assessed tax [servts] 5s

Do Composition £2 12s 4 ½ d

Land Tax 2s 7d

20th May 1845

Pd Mr Warden ½ yrs land tax due Ldy Dy 1845 2s 7d

Do ½ yrs Assessed Taxes £4 16s 2d

23rd June 1845

Looking over Bill &c and making out a/ how to make up my return for the income Tax from1845-1846 [Began Mowing Poor Close]

10th November 1845

Pd ½ Years Land tax 2s 7d

Do Assessed Taxes Check on Williams £4 16s 2d

The other entries do not specify which assessed taxes he was paying but there three others which might have been relevant to him. The first is that on horses. Much of Martin’s life was spent in the saddle and the 1838 diary lists the “Duties on Horses for Riding or drawing Carriages.” The rate per annum for one horse was £1 8s 9d but if you were fortunate enough to own ten it was only £3 3s 6d for the lot. If you were lucky enough to be a Clergyman earning less than £120 per annum your first horse was free with reduced rates for subsequent ones. As well as the tax on the horse there was a tax on the carriage it pulled. Maintaining a carriage was an expensive business as the diaries show, repairs in February 1838 to his own carriage cost him the equivalent of a months wages for an agricultural labourer. But this was not the only cost. The assessed tax on the carriage was £6 per annum. Another tax which Martin would have been liable for was that on dogs. He was keen on hare coursing and although he does not mention this particular tax he would almost certainly have had to pay it- as well as a game certificate

5th March 1861

At Home my Dogs went to Hardington I did not go [three Hares caught]

We don’t know what type of dogs he kept but for the privilege of keeping a greyhound the charge was 20s and for any other type of dog 14s a year. The tax survived [as a dog licence] until 1987 when it was finally abolished.

One curiosity found with the diaries is difficult to explain and that is the non recurrence of entries which we would expect to recur. A typical example is the game certificate mentioned below. It is clear that he would have had to have had a game certificate each year and we know from lists published in the newspapers that he did [2] yet this is the only entry in any of the diaries that records it.

5th November 1827

Went Rabbit Shooting at Wraxall

Paid for Rabbit Nets 3s

Game Certificate £3 14 6d

References to income tax appear on a couple of occasions but the earliest is from 1845. First introduced in 1799 by William Pitt to finance the war against France the tax was abolished in 1816 only to be reintroduced again in 1842. The entry appears to indicate that he was having some difficulties in calculating it. Luckily there was a handy table in the diary which helped him pay the tax at the rate of 7d in the pound on income over £150 from this we can extrapolate and assume he was earning about £300 per annum from his professional practice. Not bad for an 81 year old man.

23rd June 1845

Looking over Bill &c and making out a/ how to make up my return for the income Tax from1845-1846 [Began Mowing Poor Close]

2nd May 1861

Pd 2 quarters assessed Taxes due 20th March 1861 £2 19s 0d

Do 1 quarters income tax profession due 20th March 1861 £1 0 10d

8th September 1818 Henry Lear of Wimborne was hear to look round the windows No luck for the window peeper.

The Journal of Henry Kaines of Manston Dorset.

Perhaps the most famous assessed tax of the 18th and 19th century was the window tax the evidence of which can still be seen in the bricked up frames that adorn many old houses. It may seem to us to be rather a peculiar way of raising money but it was in fact incredibly well thought out and unusually for a tax it got cheaper as the years went by. In 1821 for example seven windows would cost you a pound but from 1840 it cost 16s 6d.

Male servants or carriages – both were taxed.

The diaries contain a number of blank pages and they are often written upon. Their meaning was lost long ago; some refer to important people, one a form of eulogy, another to agricultural jottings but the most interesting has to do with pigs. Martin refers on several occasions to slaughtering a pig but what do you do with a whole pig and no freezer? The answer is American Pickle.

To eight Quarts of cold spring water add Seven Pounds of Salt Ten ounces of Saltpetre & one pound of Treacle mix well together and let it stand till the next day it will then be ready to receive Pork Beef or Tongues. The benefit accruing from this pickle is that the meat never gets hard or too salt it will keep good from three to five months

Various other odd entries may be found some of which defy explanation.

Died July 7th 1779 Henry the Father of Henry Gearing the dearest of men I ever had in the world or ever shall He is gone a days Journey befoere all my hopes is to over take him speedily


These addresses do not relate to anything mentioned in the 1845 diary.


This is Furnivals Inn which has since been demolished.

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