Many families today like to keep a keepsake box or scrapbook of items that remind them of when their children were young, and over 100 years ago, Lady Frederick Cavendish, aunt of Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire was no different.


A young Victor Cavendish
An older Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire

Lady Frederick Cavendish is thought to have written a journal for her nephew that records his activities and feelings from the age of 2. The journal in question is an amazing insight into the life of the future Duke of Devonshire and his parents, capturing their lives through diary style entries, photographs and inserted greetings cards and letters.

The volume starts with a sad tale of the death of ‘Fiz’ a dog belonging to Victor’s aunt, Louisa Egerton. A further entry tells of Louisa’s sorrow at the death of Fiz and describes how she took the dog everywhere; ‘even to Portsmouth when she lived on board the Victory’ (Lady Louisa’s husband was Admiral Francis Egerton who was a commanding officer of the Victory). Further entries tell of the family’s trips to Chatsworth, Latimers and Eastbourne and also tell us about the times when Victor and his mother and father were staying at the Chief’s Secretary’s Lodge in Ireland with Victor’s uncle, the Marquess of Hartington (later 8th Duke of Devonshire) who was Chief Secretary of Ireland . Little details like this reveal how the family were living and give us a sense of their everyday lives.

Victor was photographed three times in the first two years of his life

The second entry of the journal notes that by 1870 Victor had been photographed three times and each of these photographs are actually pasted into the volume. As well as these wonderful pictures of Victor, the volume includes photographs of a variety of members of the Cavendish family and their extended relations which give a sense of the family orientated world that Victor must have grown up in. Christmas cards, New Year cards and a valentine sent to Victor also show us that Victor’s parents had a close family and friendship group.

Victor's Christmas cards

Many young children become jealous when a new sibling is born and Victor Cavendish was no different. When Victor found out that his younger brother was to ‘live in his nursery [..] he became very unhappy and did not at all approve of the arrangement; one day when baby was being attended to, and he thought himself neglected, he said “Mine would like to iron baby’s head flat”.’ Fortunately he didn’t go through with it and the author of the entry goes on to say that Victor began to like his new brother, referring to him as ‘Mine own darling little brother’.

Entry recording Victor's displeasure at having a baby brother

The volume ends with an unusual entry, a letter from ‘Dot’ a favourite family dog who signed his name and wrote that he was ‘quite well’ after his claw had been dipped in ink! This last entry of the volume sums up the whole journal, the quirky informal style of the whole book has made this item a brilliant rediscovery and a real treasure that shines a light on family life in the Victorian era, showing that the austere Victorians had a sense of fun and family spirit that makes their lives seem not so different to ours today.

Dot the dog sends Victor a letter

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