Thursday, 6 August 2009

A day in the life of a Scottish businessman in the early 19th century

Do you want to know who was shopping for what in Dundee in the 1820s? Staff in Archive Services have recently transcribed two diaries written by Thomas Handiside Baxter, a grocer and dry goods merchant in Dundee in the early 1800s. The diaries cover the years 1810-1811 and 1820-1830 and give us a fascinating insight into Scottish life during the early 19th century, particularly from the point of view of a Dundee businessman.

They record a multitude of details including daily weather reports, the best pub for gambling and drinking and the latest political gossip in the local coffee shop. The juxtaposition of tales of daily life and international events can be seen from the following two entries from 1830:

‘to the Inn by Nine where I anticipated a comfortable glass of Todey over some cigars J Geddes had with him but the Blockhead never came in altho I sat anxiously waiting him ¼ past Eleven - he stopped about J Davidsons played cards & staid all night’

‘…in France the Elections having gone against the Government – the King has Issued several Decrees which in fact changes or rather abolishes their Constitution altogether – abolishing the liberty of the Press – dissolving the newly Elected members of the Chamber of Deputies – prohibiting any others from being elected except from Counties and Several other despotic & arbitrary changes which I have not got time yet to understand, but which its said will bring back the old French Despotism – the news only came yesterday & it remains to be seen whether the French people will Submitt to Such Tyranny after having tasted the Sweets of freedom – our Papers are Indignant at Such proceeding even the Courier condems it’.

The photograph, from the mid-19th century, is almost certainly Thomas Baxter and is from the James Rorie collection.

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