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Admiral Collingwood’s Diary is up for Auction, and I’m up for a Rant 20 October, 2012

Posted by Molly Joyful in Art, Books, Cuthbert Collingwood, Events, Letters, Menorca, Quotes, Royal Navy, things you don't need but probably want.
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The traditional October auction over at Charles Miller Ltd. is just around the corner. There’s always a wondrous plenthora of Maritime and Scientific objects and works of art on offer, but this year, one very special object caught my eye:

A PRIVATE AUTOGRAPH JOURNAL KEPT BY ADMIRAL LORD COLLINGWOOD (1750-1810) WHILST COMMANDING THE BRITISH FLEET IN THE MEDITERRANEAN DECEMBER 1807-JUNE 1810

This diary is not only of greatest interest to paranormal researchers (having died on 7 March 1810, Collingwood must have added entries from the afterlife), but also to anybody with even a remote interest in naval history. All political and military information aside, this diary might also give us more insight into the last months of Collingwood’s life.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could read this diary? If a transcript was available? Or a book? Powerpoint Presentation? Anything?

Alas poor Yorick! I knew a collector, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy…

I don’t really mind items like this diary going to private collectors.  The state doesn’t have the money to buy all items of historic importance; taxes just barely cover the essentials like MPs’ expenses for duck houses, toilet seats, moat cleaning and kitty treats for Larry the No. 10 cat (I don’t object the latter, though). When it comes to funding, history and heritage have been hung out to dry on the governmental washing line along with the unemployed, disabled and disadvantaged, the NHS, the arts, education and science.

But I digress. My point is that private ownership of historic documents is not the problem; the attitude of some collectors is. It’s all about owning. It’s all about “me me me”. And, who would have guessed, about money. That’s the only explanation for the request of the Navy Records Society to transcribe the diary before the auction being turned down by the owner. No transcript = exclusivity = higher price. Simples!

If we’re lucky, the new owner will be willing to share this important historic document and help adding another piece to the jigsaw of our history. If not, the diary will end up in a tresor and on an inventory list. And there is not a thing you can do about it. Except, maybe, pushing for a law which makes it mandatory for historic documents to be transcribed before they can be sold off. As things are, the main sources of historical information left for future generations might soon be digital copies of “Antiques Roadtrip”. A comforting thought, indeed.

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Comments»

1. Jen - 22 October, 2012

I’m pretty sure it says Jan 1810. But then the word they describe as illegible clearly says ‘Amazonian’ (and the enemy might have part of the earthworks), so maybe they just can’t read :)

(That led me off into one of my strangest sidetracks ever – the Swallows were based on the grandchildren of W G Collingwood, while the Amazons’ surname was Blackett. But even if the Collingwood families are connected, and I’m not sure they are, I can’t imagine that Ransome would remember Sarah’s – or her father’s – surname!)

2. ShipRat - 23 October, 2012

(First off…. I’ve got a consolation prize to offer in lieu of this – to follow when I get a little more time.)

Remember the “patent eyes” Lord C. wished some clever inventor would send him? IIRC that was about all we could read in the teaser image of an unpublished letter auctioned a year or so ago.

As for this journal, surely its contents are part of the British patrimony.

“… pushing for a law which makes it mandatory for historic documents to be transcribed before they can be sold off. ”

Are you just wishing it were so (as I do), or has such a law actually been proposed?

When one starts to think about the nuts and bolts of how such legislation would be written, and how documents would be assessed, it’s a daunting prospect.

But it’s a lovely thought too.

Meanwhile I share your hopes for the generosity, historical awareness annd public-mindedness of the new owner.

P.S. The fact that the auction house staff couldn’t read the word “Amazonian” (and didn’t trouble to check the writer’s death date) makes me feel… quaint.


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