to Isle of Wight History Centre

as recorded in

19th century journals are increasingly coming online. American universities are leading the way so most are USA publications. Unlikely as it may seem, American journals contain numerous references to the Island. This is partly because the resource is so vast and, in the second half of the century, due in no small part to the fame Tennyson and others brought to the Island.

This page contains a few extracts from these journals

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The Single Mother
Offending New England morality
The North American Review 1816
. . . The maid servant of our lodgings (a fisherman's cottage in the Isle of Wight) a simple, good natured, honest creature, who was born on this spot and was never out of sight of the landslip, has a child ; but it turned out on inquiry, that she never had a husband ; and I am informed, that the landlady, a very pretty young woman just married, has remarked on the occasion, that it was no uncommon case. She blamed the practice as unsafe, observing with great appearance of simplicity, that for her part she thought it was better to secure a husband first. We had much the same information in Cumberland, and in other parts of the country ; and I really think the facility of American manners, about which travellers have made ill-natured remarks, has a precedent here to go by.

Atherfield Landslip

The Living Age (New York) 1844
A LAND-SLIP has occurred at the back of the Isle of Wight, at Atherfield; where upwards of an acre of land has slipped into the sea. No one was hurt, but a cottage and its inmates had a narrow escape; the slip having extended to within a yard of the spot where the house stood. The cottagers were astonished, when awakened by the noise of the land-slip, to find themselves on the verge of a precipice.

Telegraph Development

Scientific American 1847
Telegraph under Water
The electric telegraph from Portsmouth, England, to the Isle of Wight, has been found to succeed admirably, on a trial, with even only one wire laid down under water. We heard that the telegraph on the Philadelphia and Baltimore line passes under the waters of Gunpowder river and operates also successfully.

Islander's Discovery

Scientific American 1849
Mr. J. Horsley, in the Isle of Wight, for substances to prevent incrustations. He employs for ordinary sea water, two drachms of the oxalate of potassa combimied with two ounces of ammonia phosphate of soda to each gallon of water operated on. This precipitates the adventitious matter in the boiler, and keeps it from forming on the plates in crusts. It is evident that this is far too expensive an anti- crustant ever to come into use; but he states that this mixture will render salt water fresh and fit for common cooking uses. This itself is a chemical fact of no small value.

Island Roads
Surprisingly good

Scientific American 1862
English Common Roads
The editor of the Wisconsin Farmer, who is now in Europe, gives the description of the common roads in the Isle of Wight, and these are no better than the rest of the highways in England, Scotland and Ireland. He says:- " Of all public improvements, the roads appeared to us the most remarkable. They are mostly narrow, but the smoothest and handsomest we ever saw, inclosed with beautiful green hedges all the way, substantially macadamized with a surface as smooth as any sanded garden walk, and furthermore without any of those miserable ditches which make most roads in America so unpleasant and unsafe, they afforded us constant pleasure and made our afternoon pedestrianation of 14 miles seem but a single hour's promenade in some delightful park."

Sandown Sewage
The town's importance as a sewage outlet spans the centuries

Scientific American 1868
UTILIZING SEWAGE-- At Sandown, Isle of Wight, the sewage is conveyed in pipes clear of the town into cesspits, where it is filtered and deodorized by a chemical process. The clear portion finds its way into the sea miles away from the town, and the solid residue is mixed with ashes and road sweepings, and forms good manure.

This encounter shows a lighter side of the great man

Harpers Monthly Magazine (New York) 1870
. . . I went to the door of Faringford with a letter from Robert Browning, and was received with cordiality. After dinner he [Tennyson] took me up to his study, where he sat smoking and talking in the frankest manner. Among other things, he told me of the people who waylaid him, the incidents being sometimes very amusing. Two men, for example, having got into his garden separately, one climbed a tree at the approach of the other. The other, seeing him, called out, softly, "I twig!" and immediately climbed another tree. And yet he declared that no man was more accessible than he to any one who had any good reason for wishing to see him, or had any introduction to him. So I, for one, certainly found it, the hospitalities of Faringford having been offered to me beyond my willingness to accept them. It had been a stormy evening, and the night was of pitchy darkness when I started out, against kind invitations to remain, to go to the 'Albion' inn near by. Tennyson insisted on showing me a nearer way, but amidst the darkness got off his bearings. Bidding me walk close behind him, we went forward through the mud, when suddenly I found myself precipitated some eight or ten feet downward. Sitting in the mud, I called on the poet to pause; but it was too late; he was speedily seated beside me. This was seeing the Laureate of England in a new light, or, rather, hearing him under a new darkness. Covered with mud, groping about in the darkness, he improved the odd occasion with such an incessant run of witticisms and anecdotes that I had to conclude that we had reached a condition which had discovered treasures of fun and humor in him before unsuspected. His deep bass voice came through the congenial darkness like a mirthful thunder, not without flashes of light; and the shades of all whoever stumbled in the night seemed around him, and to remind him of a whole literature of such emergencies. Vexation was at least not among the shadows that encompassed us, though for a time we were wandering in a muddy field, with no ohject, not even the sky, visible. "That this should have happened after dinner!" he exclaimed. "Do not mention this to the temperance folk." Tennyson's love of fun, his wealth of witty stories, were from the first a surprise to me. But, indeed, he is personally very different in every way from the man I expected to see. Tall, of dark complexion, with a deep and blunt voice and manner, almost Quaker-like in its plainness, fired of the homeliest Saxon words, he seemed to be the last person one would have picked out as the delicate and superartistic idylist. In conversation he never rose into any thing like the heroic strain, except when speaking of England. His pride in his country amounts to a passion. He had also a keen interest in all scientific subjects, concerning which he has evidently read a great deal. He spoke much of the philosophical questions of the day also, his interest in which has led to the formation of the meetings for discussion between Huxley, Tyndall, Dr. Manning, James Martineau, himself, and others. Next morning it was found that Mrs Tennyson had directed the gardener to make some improvements at that point which had not been completed. A walk was in existence there, however, at the close of the next day, to which was given a name commemorative of the catastrophe, which was happily without any unpleasant results.

Shanklin Chine
A view somewhat at odds with Victorian guides

Notes and Queries 1870
  There are waterfalls in the Saxon Schweitz of which the guides and innkeepers are proud. I have seen none ot them, and indeed l have kept sedulously out of sight of them, having been frightened off by the preliminary information that for a few groschen the torrent could be temporarily enlarged for the benefit of the visitor. I had a lively recollection of the shock communicated to my nerves by a visit to a dirty driblet in the Isle of Wight called Shanklin Chine. When its keeper or owner locked it up and took his fee my temper got the better of me, and I could not help observing, that if his waterfall were mine I would flag it over like an offensive drain. Still, though the admiration bestowed on this Chine is a touching testimony to the poverty of England in torrent scenery - perhaps the most refreshing and exhilarating of all - nature is there generally left in her own simplicity and poverty, and there is not the artificial manipulation of natural scenery which is often so odious in Germany.

Smugglers' Legend
Used as a metaphor in an article advocating disestablishment of the Church of England

North American Review 1870
. . . There is a legend in the Isle of Wight, of a custom-house officer who, having made himself very obnoxious to the smugglers, was carried off by them, blindfolded, and suspended over what he was told was a precipice, with a rope in his hands. He clung to the rope till his sinews cracked and he had suffered the agonies of death: then letting go, he found that he had been all the time hanging six inches from the ground.

Power of the Island Aristocracy
Conversation in a coach travelling to Yarmouth

Harpers Monthly Magazine (New York) 1870
. . . A scholarly-looking man grappled with Mentor, however, by repeating the old Arabic saying that a man who dug a well and planted a grove was sure to go to heaven. This suddenly plunged us all into a theological discussion, which our driver vainly endeavored to suppress. The orthodox and the heretical were about equally matched. Gradually the conversation veered from doctrines to the clergy, who evidently had fewer friends among us than orthodoxy. Much was said of an instance of clerical servility to the aristocracy which had recently caused a sensation in the neighborhood of Freshwater. A young India officer of high family had formed an engagement of marriage with a pretty servant-girl. The match was opposed by the colonel's family; but he was of age, and persisted. No clergyman in the island could he found to perform the marriage service, and one had to be imported for the purpose. There were circumstances in the life of the servant-girl which led the people of the neighborhood to take a deep interest in her. She was refined and educated, though poor, and the Tennysons acknowledged her as a friend, and were present at the wedding. The clergy had rendered themselves very unpopular by their course in the affair. Such, at least, was the gossip on our coach.

St Catherine's Lighthouse

Manufacturer and Builder (New York) 1888
A Powerful Electric Light on the English Coast
Saint Catherine's lighthouse, on the southern extremity of the Isle of Wight, now possesses the most powerful electric arc-light in the world. The carbon pencils are 2 ½ inches in diameter, the interval between them ½ inch, and the light developed equal to 60,000 candles. The lamp is a modification of the Serrin-Berjot type, and the carbons are fluted to promote centrality of the arc.The current is generated by two dynamos constructed by De Maritens, of Paris, the induction arrangement consisting of sixty permanent magnets, each magnet being made up of eight steel plates. The armature, 2 feet 6 inches in diameter, is composed of five rings, with twenty-four bobbins in each, arranged in groups of four in tension and six in quantity. The revolving lens is constructed so as to refract the light in sixteen radial beams, and this is actuated by a small vertical engine at such a speed that flashes of five seconds duration are given every half minute.

Local lad trounces the tourist

The Century (New York) 1892
. . . Even in England the boys are becoming wonderfully adroit, some of them. Last summer I played two rounds at Bembridge, in the Isle of Wight, with a tiny scrap of a creature whose head hardly reached my elbow, and who beat me without any trouble at all. And, lest anybody should imagine that this does not necessarily imply a high degree of proficiency, I may mention that his scores were 87 and 89. The Bembridge course is a somewhat "trappy" one, the putting-greens were at that time rather difficult to play, owing to a spell of dry weather, and a good player would have had no reason to be ashamed of such a performance.

Visit a major journal site

Most items on this page are taken from a collection of 19th century books and journals at Cornell University called Making of America. Pages are displayed as images but have also been converted to text via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) although the conversion of old print inevitably gives rise to many errors. However it does mean text can be copied and the entire library can be searched for keywords.

You can enter the site here. This will take you part way through a 20 page illustrated article entitled South-Coast Saunterings in England (1870) featuring the Isle of Wight. Whilst earlier pages divert into the re-telling of Island literary connections, some sections hereafter contain the contemporary conversation and gossip of ordinary Islanders. There is also an interesting Tennyson encounter from which the extract on this page is taken.

The pages load as images at 50% or 100% size, or as (rather messy) text. Use the next and previous pointers in the heading to progress though the pages, or enter the page number. It would be economical to save each page image and read offline.

You can access the main search facilities in the heading. This will search the entire library. Bear in mind that simply searching for 'Isle of Wight' will also collect hits on America's own Isle of Wight County (although, surprisingly, they appear to be in the minority). The Island crops up hundreds of times in these journals but many items will only be a passing reference. You may find it preferable to use a more selective search via the advanced boolean option.