Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Irish Manuscripts for Beyond 2022

March 17th, 2021

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week we are highlighting KU’s participation in Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. On June 30, 1922, in the midst of the Irish Civil War, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) was destroyed by an explosion and fire at the Four Courts in Dublin.  As the Beyond 2022 website explains, seven centuries’ worth of Ireland’s historical records were lost in this fire.

To overcome this harm to “Ireland’s collective memory,” Beyond 2022 is undertaking an international collaboration to digitize copies of records held across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and beyond in order to launch a “Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access, virtual reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922.” One particularly exciting aspect of the initiative is its work with Transkribus to employ HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) to automate the transcription of manuscript records.

Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury.  A short video about Beyond 2022, explaining the project. Video available at https://beyond2022.ie/?page_id=171#videos. Photo Credits: UCD Archives; National Archives of Ireland; Irish Architectural Archive; NoHo; Trinity College Dublin; ADAPT Centre.

To assist in this ambitious effort, Spencer Research Library is digitizing several manuscripts from its collections that Beyond 2022 has identified as pertinent to its treasury. These manuscripts bearing on Irish history include volumes containing civil and military establishments for late 17th and early 18th century Ireland (MSD88, MS B86, and MS A42), a “Galtrim Parish tithe composition book,” Co. Meath, 1825 (MS P403A), and a volume containing “Copies of informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal,” 1863-1901 (MS E109).  Such manuscripts are the types of records that might have once been held in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI). 

Image of five manuscripts pertaining to Ireland from Spencer Research Library's collections digitized for inclusion in Beyond 2022: Ireland's Virtual Record Treasury
Five manuscripts (MS A42, MS P403A, MSD88, MS B86, and MS E109) pertaining to Ireland from Spencer Research Library’s collections that are being digitized to contribute to Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury.

Of these, MS E109 is particularly intriguing. The manuscript volume contains copies of depositions, informations, statements, and declarations of complainants, witnesses, and occasionally defendants taken between 1863 and 1901 in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district of Co. Donegal, a county in the northwest of Ireland bordering the Atlantic ocean. Petty Sessions were “courts held by the justices of the peace to try minor criminal offences summarily—i.e. without a jury.”[i] More serious cases would also be referred to other court proceedings, such as quarter sessions and assizes. (For a brief overview of the legal system in Ireland during the 19th century, visit the “History of the Law in Ireland” page on the website of The Courts Service of Ireland.)

Manuscripts such as the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district copy book can be particularly interesting to historians and genealogists alike because they offer views of the experiences and conditions of individuals for whom other types of written evidence may not exist or survive. For example, a significant number of those providing sworn informations and depositions in the Dunfanaghy copy book are recorded as having signed with their mark—the x or symbol that individuals unable to write would use in place of their signature. Such individuals are unlikely to have left other written documentation of their lives, such as letters or diaries, so their statements (though filtered through the clerk’s transcription) may be all that survives of their voices. Of course, it is worth remembering that a volume like the copy book for the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district isn’t necessarily capturing everyday life, but the experiences of individuals—whether complainants/victims, defendants, or witnesses—as their lives intersect with the legal system and crime.

Image showing how the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109) records that James Gallagher signed with his mark (x)  Image showing how the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109) records that James Lindsay used a signature to attest to his sworn testimony (information)

Details from the sworn “informations” of James Gallagher (Item 5) and James Lindsay (Item 6) concerning the theft of clothes hanging in their respective gardens in December of 1863. The notations in the copy book suggest that Gallagher (left) signed with his mark, whereas Lindsay (right) used a signature. “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copybook, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109.  Click here to see the full page containing the sworn information of both Gallagher and Lindsay. 

The types of offenses recorded in the copy book include fights, theft (of clothes, of oats, of horses, sheep, and cattle, etc.), unlicensed guns, misappropriation of letters, threats of violence, and resisting the bailiff’s confiscation of a horse, to name a few. Occasionally the volume also contains accounts of more serious and violent crimes, such as assault and battery, murder, and rape. The witness and complainant statements for these matters can be quite harrowing to read. These cases would be referred to the assizes, the courts where the most serious offences (felonies) were addressed.

Several sworn statements offer glimpses into some of the difficult conditions of the lives of women. One example involves the case of Mary McBride, who in the spring of 1871 is accused of the concealment of the birth of a child. The sworn informations associated her case can be challenging to read, not only because of the difficult subject matter, but also because they make reference to no fewer than three Mary McBrides:  1) the woman who gave birth (sometimes referred to as Mary McBride junior); 2) that woman’s mother (Mary McBride senior); and 3) Mary McBride junior’s sister-in-law (Mary McBride, wife to Michael McBride). However, it is worth pushing through the confusion that the shared names might pose since the content of the statements is likely to hold much interest for researchers in the field of women’s history; women, gender, and sexuality studies; and the law.  

Detail showing the beginning of Item 76, the sworn information taken on May 27, 1871 of Mary McBride (wife to Michael McBride) concerning her sister-in-law Mary McBride (junior), who is charged with concealing the birth of her child. From: “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copy book, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click image to see full page.

Though most of the cases are non-political, a few have a larger political valence. One notable instance relates to William Harkin of Creeslough, who is accused of inciting a meeting (which some witnesses referred to as a Land League meeting) to violence. The Land League was political agrarian organization that campaigned against landlordism and its more predatory practices, seeking rights for farmer tenants, such as fair rents, rights to sale of occupancy, and security of tenure. The date of the incident recorded in the Dunfanaghy copy book, July 11, 1881, falls during a period of heightened agrarian agitation referred to as the Land War, and indeed, later that year, the Land League would be suppressed and several of its national leaders, including Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, jailed. The Dunfanaghy copy book contains witness statements of three members of the Royal Irish Constabulary against Harkin.  Constable Joseph Lougheed’s brief deposition reports, “In [Harkin’s] address or in the concluding words of it, he said ‘have no mercy on Landlords. Kill them, send them out of the country into Boersland.[’],” although he also notes, “When the word kill was used some voices in the meeting said, ‘no-no.’” News of the charges against Harkin reached as far as New South Wales, where Sydney’s The Freeman’s Journal reported on it a month and a half later as part of a section on the Land War, under the heading “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder.”[ii] The depositions surrounding Harkin’s case may appeal to students and scholars studying Irish nationalism, reform movements, and agricultural history alike.

Image of a detail from Constable Joseph Laugheed's deposition regarding William Harkin (Item 141) in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109)
Detail from Constable Joseph Lougheed’s deposition regarding William Harkin (Item 141). From “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copy book, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click image to see full page.

In the coming months, the five selected manuscripts will be made available online through Beyond 2022’s Treasury and in KU Libraries’ own digital collections, enabling researchers around the world to make new investigations into Irish history. On this St. Patrick’s Day, following a full year during which so many of our activities have migrated online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s exciting to think that students, scholars, and members of the public will soon be able to read (and make discoveries with) several of Spencer’s Irish manuscripts from wherever they can access a computer.  

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian


[i] Mulholland, Maureen. “Petty sessions,” in The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford University Press, 2015. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199677832.001.0001/acref-9780199677832-e-3360.

[ii] “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder,” The Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW). Vol. XXXII, No. 1958 (17 September 1881): 7. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/12664516.

Collection Snapshot: Late for Dinner?

November 29th, 2017

It’s that time of year when dinner parties and invitations of all sorts abound, so we thought it might be interesting to turn to a nineteenth-century etiquette book to explore its advice on the age-old question of when to arrive for dinner.

Stamped cloth binding of Etiquette for Gentlemen (1841 edition)  Title page of Etiquette for Gentlemen

Stamped cloth binding and title page of  and title page of Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Call #: A445. Click images to enlarge.

Of the numerous etiquette books in Spencer Research Library’s collections, Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation offers particularly unyielding guidance.  Its anonymous author advises:

If you accept [a dinner invitation], you arrive at the house rigourously at the hour specified. It is equally inconvenient to be too late and to be too early.  If you fall into the latter error, you find every thing in disorder; the master of the house is in his dressing-room; the lady is still in the pantry; the fire not yet lighted in the parlour.  If by accident or thoughtlessness you arrive too soon, you may pretend that you called to inquire the exact hour at which they dine, having mislaid the note, and then retire to walk for an appetite. If you are too late, the evil is still greater, and indeed almost without remedy.  Your delay spoils the dinner and destroys the appetite and temper of the guests; and you yourself are so much embarrassed at the inconvenience you have occasioned, that you commit a thousand errors at table.  If you do not reach the house until dinner is served, you had better retire to a restaurateur’s, and thence send an apology, and not interrupt the harmony of the courses by awkward excuses and cold acceptances.

Passage on arriving at the appointed time for dinner in Etiquette for Gentlemen

Arrival etiquette in Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Call #: A445. Click image to enlarge.

Etiquette for Gentlemen appears to have been first published in 1838, and the library holds the 1841 edition. The book’s advice, however, is hardly new as its preface confesses:  “It is […] scarcely possible that anything original should be found in a brochure like the present: almost all that it contains must have fallen under the notice of every gentleman who has been in the habit of frequenting good society.”  As with many etiquette books, the volume’s directives will strike modern readers as by turns sensible, humorous, odd, ill-conceived, and offensive. The volume itself is small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand (and certainly one’s pocket) for ready consultation whenever the need might arise. Although, isn’t it perhaps impolite to pause a social interaction in order to consult one’s etiquette book?!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Collection Snapshot(s): Victorian Fashion Edition

November 4th, 2014

One of the wonderful things about class visits is that they often send you hunting through the far reaches of the library’s collections in search of interesting and relevant holdings.  A recent visit from ENGL 572: Women and Literature: Women in Victorian England led me to happen upon two very rare Victorian fashion periodicals among Spencer’s collections. These British weeklies offered up the latest styles (hint: full skirts are in) alongside commentaries and entertainments that the editors thought might interest their nineteenth-century female readership.

The Ladies’ Penny Gazette (published 1832-1834) dates from the period just before Queen Victoria’s  ascent to the throne in 1837. Subtitled the Mirror of Fashion, and Miscellany of Instruction and Amusement, this weekly combined fashion with articles on subjects of interest to women, theater reviews, sheet music, and literary pieces. Subscribers were treated each month to a bonus sheet of “Coloured Fashions of the Lady’s Penny Gazette,” in which the dresses were hand-colored, even if somewhat hastily so.  For those interested in literature, the Gazette offers some finds as well.  Next to a discussion of lace and caps on one side and an article on “Bengal Marriages” on the other is “A Fragment”  by the poet L. E. L.  (Letitia Elizabeth Landon).

Image of coloured fashion sheet and first page of The Ladies’ Penny Gazette (1833)

Image of coloured fashion sheet and first page of The Ladies’ Penny Gazette (June 8, 1833)

Opening from the February 2nd, 1833 issue of The Ladies' Penny Gazette, featuring L. E. L.'s "A Fragment"

Top and middle:  the “Coloured Fashions” supplements and first pages of issues No. 16 (1833 February 9) and No. 33 (1833 June 8) of The Ladies’ Penny Gazette; or, Mirror of Fashion, and Miscellany of Instruction and Amusement. Call #: D4551.  Bottom: an opening from issue No. 15 (1833 February 2) featuring L.E.L’s poem “A Fragment.”  Click images to enlarge.

Though brief by modern standards–at a lean eight pages an issue–The Ladies’ Penny Gazette made the most of its allotted space, presenting pithy, sometimes biting, commentary between its longer pieces.  One such quip, titled “Small Talk,” gives a sense of how the magazine’s conceptions of womanhood are more complicated than a label like “Victorian fashion magazine” might immediately suggest:

Small Talk — Small talk is administered to women as porridge and potatoes are to peasants–not because they can’t discuss better food, but because no better is allowed them to discuss. (No. 42,  August 10,  1833, page 30)

Young Ladies of Great Britain (also known by the longer title, Illustrated Treasury for Young Ladies of Great Britain) ran between 1869 and 1871 before continuing on until 1874 under slightly different titles and formats.  Though each issue touched on the newest fashions (in England and in Paris), the first page of the weekly was usually reserved for one of the pieces of fiction serialized in its sixteen pages, accompanied by an attention-grabbing  (and often melodramatic) illustration.  Priced also at a penny, the magazine targeted a  younger readership than The Ladies’ Penny Gazette, and in its mission to divert and educate, lacks the edge at times found in the earlier magazine.  A piece simply titled “Characters; A Wife”  (see the middle image below) offers a discussion of three “types” of wives: the tawdry, careless wife; the domineering matron; and “the good wife,” whose character “cannot be delineated, she possesses so many minute, undeniable excellencies.”  Men aren’t entirely spared from this typology; the husband who is drawn to the “domineering matron” is described as an “easy-tempered simpleton, who lets her rule as she lists.”

Cover illustration for Vol. 1, No. 4 (March 13, 1869)

Opening from Young Ladies of Great Britain featuring a discussion of wife "types" and (on the verso) fashion design

Opening from Young Ladies of Great Britain, featuring New Shapes in Costume and Designs for Fancy Needlework

Fashion for Victorian Brits: Illustrated Treasury for Young Ladies of Great Britain. 1.4 (1869 March 13) and 1.5 (1869 March 20). Call Number: O’Hegarty D390. Click Images to enlarge.

Whatever their circulation might have been in their day, these magazines are now quite scarce.  KU appears to hold the only library copy of The Ladies’ Penny Gazette in North America, (with copies also recorded at the British Library, Oxford, and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands), and KU, New York Public Library and the British Library are the only places listed in WorldCat as holding physical copies of Young Ladies of Great Britain.  These weeklies are “rare birds” indeed, but the fascinating cultural texts they offer make them worth seeking out.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Collection Snapshot: Notes from Underground …

June 27th, 2014

If you’re interested in matters Polish and Russian or in travels in Slavic lands and in sights seen through western eyes AND if you can read this page from the manuscript diary of an Englishwoman traveling in the summer of 1828 (186 years ago!), then YOU may be the person to transcribe the contents of this little volume. You will get to know “Roberta” and “Mr. Sayer” (their real names), who were her companions on the trip. We can picture Ms. English Lady settling into the pension at night to write … Inside the front cover she begins, “The weight of the statue of Peter The Great …” You’ve seen the blurb; now read the book!

Image of a page from the diary of an English woman open to entry for Warsaw, June 22, 1828.

An English Lady: An anonymous manuscript travel-diary, a detailed account of the sights, costumes, social services, village and town life, war aftermath, travel mishaps in Russia and Poland. Warsaw-Smolensk-Moscow-Novgorod-St. Petersburg. 22 June to 21 July 1828. Call Number: MS B144. Click image to enlarge.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger

Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.

Counterparts and Crossed-out Prohibitions against Fornication; Or, Adventures in Indentures

September 26th, 2013

Anyone who has ever tried to read the fine print on a lease or an online click-through user agreement knows that contracts can at times be rather stultifying documents. Even in the early modern period, contracts used formulaic language that could be dry and impenetrable enough to put off all but the most dedicated reader. However the physical formats of these documents can be quite fascinating, especially to modern eyes.

An indenture is a legal contract between two or more parties which reflects an obligation or covenant between those parties. Common types of indentures include leases, bonds, apprenticeship agreements, and marriage agreements, to name a few.

Image of a lease indenture from the Kaye Family Estate Papers, 1639

Lease indenture between John Kaye of Denby Grange and lessee John North of Bankend for land in Almondbury in Yorkshire, 1639.  Kaye Family Estate Papers. Call Number: MS 240B: 111. Click image to enlarge.

The term “indenture” originally referred to the physical form of this contract. As a security and authentication measure, two or more copies of the deed would be written on the same piece of parchment (animal skin), usually head to head (i.e. with top of one copy facing the top of the other) and then the parchment would be cut in two in a wavy or zigzag pattern to produce the two copies of the contract. The authenticity of the indenture could then be validated by reuniting and matching its edges to those of its “counterpart.”

Image of an indenture and its counterpart matched along their serrated edges.

Indenture and counterpart matched along their scalloped edges. Lease between John Kaye, of Denby Grange and lessee John North of Bankend for land in Almondbury in Yorkshire, 1639. Kaye Family Estate Papers. Call Number: MS 240B: 110-111. Click image to enlarge.

In later years, it was not uncommon to see printed indentures–essentially “forms” in which the formulaic parts are printed and the particulars were added in stop-adhd-meds.com.  Spencer’s English Historical Documents collection includes many printed apprenticeship indentures from the 19th century.  It is fascinating to see how the printed forms (still on parchment, mind you!) can be tailored to cover the specific details of a given agreement.  A common stipulation of such agreements was that the apprentice agree not to partake in a variety of activities that might negatively impact his Master or divert the apprentice’s attentions (“he shall not play at Cards, Dice, Tables, or any other unlawful Games…” nor “haunt Taverns or Playhouses, nor absent himself from his said Master’s Service Day or Night”).  In the case of the apprenticeship indenture of young Thomas Inkpen (who, based on his name, clearly missed his calling as a scrivener) to the tailor Dennis O’Leary (below), we can see that the prohibition against fornication or marriage has been struck out, leaving him free to marry during his seven-year term of apprenticeship. Indeed, this stipulation may have been omitted because Inkpen was already married or engaged. (It’s also interesting to note that Inkpen signs his own name, but O’Leary, the tailor to whom he will be apprenticed, signs only with his “mark.”)

Image of an apprenticeship indenture with fornication/marriage clause struck out, 1821.

Photograph of a detail from an apprenticeship indenture with clause prohibiting fornication/marriage struck out, 1821

Apprenticeship indenture of Thomas Inkpen to tailor Dennis O’Leary. February 28, 1821. English Historical Documents Collection. Call Number: MS 239:3818.  Click images to enlarge.

Female apprentices might also occasion the alteration of the printed part of the indenture, which most often assumed a male apprentice.  In the 1834 indenture of eleven year-old Rebecca Dale to  Richard Gray, a Tambour worker and Dressmaker, male pronouns on the printed part of the form have been crossed-out and replaced with female ones.

Image of an apprenticeship indenture form modified by hand for a female apprentice, 1834.

Detail from an apprenticeship indenture form with manuscript modifications for a female apprentice, 1834.

He to She and His to Her: Apprenticeship indenture for Rebecca Dale to Richard Gray, Tambour worker and Dress maker . December 13, 1834. English Historical Documents. Call Number: MS 239:3823. Click images to enlarge.

 Female apprentices soon became common enough that some printers left blanks on their forms to allow for the possibility.  Though the following 1842 indenture is for a boy, William Hicks, to be apprenticed to John Weekes, a Tinman, Coppersmith, and Brazier, the blanks permit it to accommodate a female apprentice with equal ease and even allow for a “Mistress” rather than a “Master.”

Image of apprenticeship indenture with blanks to accommodate both sexes, 1842

Image of a detail from a printed apprenticeship indenture with blanks to allow for either a master or mistress or a male or female apprentice

Fill in the blank: M(aster) or M(istress)? Indenture for William Hicks, Jr. to be apprenticed to John Weekes, Tinman, Coppersmith, and Brazier. November 28, 1842. English Historical Documents Collection. Call Number: MS 239: 3787.

Spencer’s English Historical Documents collection, comprising over 7000 English deeds and manorial, estate, probate and family documents dating roughly from 1200 to 1900, offers a rich resource for investigating the changing face of the indenture.  It also offers insight into two prominent English families, the Kayes of Yorkshire, and the North Family, whose illustrious members include Frederick North, Prime Minister of Great Britain during the American War of Independence.   An online finding aid is currently in progress, but in the interim we encourage interested researchers to contact us with their queries.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
[With special thanks to Mary Ann Baker, processing archivist for the English Historical Documents collection, for locating and identifying the counterparts referred to in this post.]