Through the Revolving Door: The Fisher Library Blog

The Diaries of Caroline Louisa Lock

Date posted: Wed, Jul. 22, 2020

Each year the library puts out an issue of The Halcyon: The Newsletter of the Friends of The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (the most recent issue was released a couple of weeks ago) dedicated to items and collections purchased by the library in the previous year. Not all items make it to the newsletter - not surprising given that the Fisher typically purchases hundreds of new items every year - but they are interesting nonetheless. One of my personal favourites is a collection of diaries that was kept by Caroline Louisa Lock from 1865-1872.

Caroline Louisa Lock begins her diary in January of 1865 in Lahore, India, where her husband Lieut. Edward Lock of the 82nd regiment was stationed. They were in India in the first years of the British Raj with the Indian Rebellion having just ended in 1858, and this was a rather tense period of British rule. Caroline’s husband and his regiment took part in suppressing the rebellion, receving a medal for his role. They remained in India until October 1865 when they began the long journey back to England, arriving on December 27th. She continued writing her diary in England until 1872.

There are five notebooks, labeled in gold on the spines respectively as: Visits & Addresses, Memoranda, Daily Journal, Personal Expenses, and Cash Account. Despite the labels, Caroline used three as diaries, one to list expenses, and another remained unused. They come in a charming polished wooden box with three blue-and-white Wedgewood style plaques. The box is hinged at the top, and when one inserts the skeleton key that accompanies it, the clasp opens and the volumes spring up.  Also accompanying the volumes is a cased ambrotype photograph of Caroline at the time of her marriage in 1859, as well as 2 paper packets of her hair, one labelled "Carry’s first grey hair."

Her entries are often brief in the extreme; for instance in January 1865, “10th, 11th, 12th, archery,” with many other days being summed up in less than a line. She writes about balls and parties, games of croquet and archery, a very wet picnic in the Shahlamar (presumably the Shalamar Gardens), and the rounds of social calls of those in her milieu. Some of her entries are deeply personal, such as those dealing with death of her child, Edward, on May 14, 1865. Others are dramatic, such as the description of her voyage home to England where on one leg of the journey aboard P&O Carnatic, her friend Mrs. H. at 11pm “was astonished by seeing a man half way in at her window she made a mad dash at him, but he had taken a boot & some under cloths!” Nonetheless one gets the flavour of the social circuit and lives of a British army family at the time.

The portion of the diaries from her time in India are particularly interesting as they offer a tantalizing glimpse of the life of an English military family in this tumultuous and formative time in Indian history. One of the consequences of the Indian Rebellion was that it was determined that there needed to be greater fellowship between the British and Indian populations. At first glance one is stuck by the exceedingly English nature of these diaries. Caroline’s social circle, their pastimes of croquet and archery, the excitement over mail arriving from Britain, to her spending time reading Tennyson in the mess of her husband’s regiment, all speak to a decidedly British lifestyle. One salient example of Caroline’s engagement with local culture is when a she, along with a large party, visit the Golden Temple, then move onto the gardens where they enjoyed tiffin (referring to the custom of having a light meal in the afternoon which had superseded the notion of afternoon tea)  and croquet. Even the box itself is telling of the relationship between British and local cultures. Adorned with Wedgewood style plaques, the box was made in Lahore of coromandel wood, a wood so prized, particularly by the British, that it was nearly extinct by the 20th century.

- Andrew Stewart, Reading Room Coordinator, Fisher Library