The notebook of Susanah WELLINGTON began as a diary and record of lessons kept in the early nineteenth century by a twelve-year-old girl from Yeovil, Somersetshire. The first page identifies the volume’s original owner with the name ‘Miss Susanah Wellington’ in Susanah’s neat copperplate, while the accompanying date ‘February 5th. 1832’ determines a probable beginning of the entries. The subsequent fifty-one pages are a miscellany of transcribed letters, family chronology, notes of lessons and even ‘a very nice Receipt for Rock Cakes given me by Elizabeth Neal, March 16th. 1837.’
When turned upside down and reversed, the book begins again from the back as a personal diary and family record. For reasons that will become obvious, Susanah did not write the diary’s last paragraph.
Throughout the 180 years since the notebook was first inscribed, additions in various hands have recorded family births, deaths and marriages. However, the primary interest is the extensive entries between 1832-1839. As records of middle-class life in Georgian England they are far from comprehensive but can best be described as honest, charming, and often sad fragments.
The language and tone of the diary conjures up thoughts of the novels of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. There are references to teachers and school days which remind us of the boarding school in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. There is a walk home from a country manor house in the cold and wet which illustrates the very real danger to a young lady’s health, as suffered by the eldest Miss Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and to a greater degree by Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.
There are journeys in coaches to stay with aunts and uncles in London; holidays to the coast and spa towns of Weymouth, Bath and Bristol; and church sermons, charity and large parties of visitors for Christmas dinner.
Susanah WELLINGTON was the second daughter of Yeovil ‘Chymist & Druggist’ George WELLINGTON and his second wife Elizabeth SAMPSON (SAMSON). Susanah and her family were Christians. They attended the parish church each Sunday and many of her diary entries reinforce Susanah’s belief that good deeds and words in this short life would be her salvation when she met her God in heaven. Susanah died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) on 6 June 1838 at Glastonbury, aged eighteen years and ten months.
The notebook was inherited by Susanah’s elder sister Jane Penelope WELLINGTON. Jane married William Henry SUTTON a schoolmaster from Devon in 1842. With their six children, they emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1854. This is apparently the way the journal arrived in Australia and it has now survived in the family for 180 years.
Australian families who can trace their ancestry to Jane Penelope WELLINGTON and William Henry SUTTON will find the information in the journal invaluable. Descendants include people with surnames of BUCK, CUNEO, HASTINGS, PICKERING, SUTTON and TAYLOR.
A note on provenance:
The notebook is a small (15 x 9.5 cm) volume with a scratched red leather cover. It was repaired in May 1995 because part of the spine had lifted and the original stitching no longer held pages intact.
Some leaves appear to have been torn out over the years. However, this has not destroyed the continuity of the letters or diary narrative. Sections of the old handwriting are faint, particularly on the first few pages, but the text is generally easy to follow.
The notebook was first owned by Susanah, and then by her elder sister Jane Penelope WELLINGTON. Jane’s daughter Rosa SUTTON became the next owner. She in turn, passed it to her daughters Winifred, Penelope and Gertrude PICKERING. The three sisters never married and in their later years they gave the notebook to cousins from the HASTINGS branch who are custodians of the notebook today.
The HASTINGS family are happy for extracts of Susanah’s journal to be published on our family history website. We hope you enjoy this little treasure.
If you subscribe to the Branches of Our Family website you will receive email updates when we publish extracts from Susanah’s journal as well as other family history articles.
Sources: Wellingtonia, The History of the Wellington Family, by John Evelyn; Death Certificate of Susanah Wellington, Pigot’s Directories of Somerset 1830 to 1840. I am especially grateful to Terry HASTINGS for his generosity in sharing Susanah’s journal with me. Terry has done a terrific job in transcribing the entries in the notebook and has provided his knowledge and insights into the life and times of Georgian England.