Stephen Austin's Diary
Extracts from 1850 to 1888
By Jennifer Ayto
Stephen Austin (1804–92) was a member of a family of printers and was the third to have the name of Stephen. He was best known locally as the publisher of the Hertfordshire Mercury. Kelly’s Post Office Directory for 1869 describes him as ‘Printer, bookseller, bookbinder & stationer & proprietor, printer and publisher of the Hertford Mercury newspaper, Fore Street’. (The paper changed its title to the Hertfordshire Mercury in 1872.)
His obituary was published in the Hertfordshire Mercury for 28 May 1892 and noted that apart from initiating the Hertford Mercury (originally called The Reformer) in 1834 he was appointed printers to the East India Company’s college (Haileybury) and thus commenced printing and publishing at Hertford works in various Oriental languages.
He was elected to the Town Council in 1848, becoming Alderman for 12 years. In addition, he was a Trustee of the Hertford Provident Benefit Society, on the committee of the Hertfordshire Convalescent Home, and Secretary of the Essex and Herts Benevolent Society. He married Julia Freer in 1838; she died in 1886. They had five sons and four daughters.
The extracts from his diaries, 1850–88, are ‘written on foolscap paper, the extracts are vouched for as being in his own writing by his daughter, Mabel’. They are, in the main, just one-line statements referring to family and business, but further information on the man can be found in James Moran’s Stephen Austin of Hertford, published in 1968.
4 March 1850
Out with Mr B. Young’s Harriers.
8 March 1850
At Tewin. Mr Brand’s Hounds.
16 March 1850
Arnold born 4.30 am.
13 November 1850
Arnold died 8.00 am – 8 months old.
1 May 1851
To the Great Exhibition with Julia. Magnificent spectacle!
31 May 1853
Arnold (the 2nd) born 2.30 pm, Christened 13 August.
9 November 1853
Thundridge new church consecrated. Elected Alderman! Dined with Mayor.
9 July 1856
To Broxbourne. Home in a boat drawn by a Steam Tug.
15 July 1856
To Liverpool with Fred. Wonderful city! Dined at the Adelphi.
16 July 1856
To the Town Hall with Fred. Called on the Dean Bowers. Walked about Manchester with Fred and Julia who bought some clogs!
25 June 1857
Cricket match at Haileybury – ‘Old Indians’ v. Haileybury.
23 October 1857
Great Flood – The Bridge over the Beane in Cowbridge House garden carried away and much damage done.
27 January 1858
Hertford and Welwyn Railway opened! Mr Cowper, the Inspector, the Chairman and Directors of the Eastern Counties Railway Co went to Digswell and back by the Hertford and Welwyn Railway – all dined at the Town Hall – the Mayor in the chair.
20 February 1860
Horrible accident at Tottenham – Cambridge Express train – 6 people killed and many injured – I went to London by Hertford train – stopped at Waltham for 2 hours – walked on and saw the horrors.
14 January 1863
Took Mary and Emily to town. Rode in underground railway for the first time.
10 March 1863
Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Soiree at the Town Hall.
8 August 1864
Photographed the house and us in the garden.
5 September 1864
To Brocket Hall by invitation of Lady Palmerston to dine and sleep. Lord Palmerston, Hon Mr and Mrs Cowper, Count Strelezki, Mr Fleming, Mr Barrinton (Lord Palmerston’s P. Sec) and Miss Cuyler whom I took into dinner and I sat next to Lady Palmerston. Most pleasant, lively and agreeable evening.
6 September 1864
Breakfast – I sat next to Lord P and he talked cheerfully during the meal. Came home and stopped at Hertingfordbury ‘Harvest Home’ at the Rectory.
25 December 1864
All the children at home – 16 to dinner!
29 July 1865
To Knebworth for ‘field of Literature’. Charles Dickens there and a large party and I met Sir Henry Bulwer and had pleasant talk with him.
1 January 1867
In London alternate days to the 20th calling on heaps of people.
30 October 1868
To Waltham Cross called on Anthony Trollope but not at home, saw his wife.
16 June 1869
Grammar School prizes (Mr Cooper) Arnold got Greek prize.
14 August 1869
Arnold went to Haileybury College to school.
25 June 1870
To Panshanger with the girls to see Yeoman Cavalry drill with Light Horse.
29 April 1871
London. British museum – My estimate for Chinese Catalogue accepted!
4 May 1871
Wrote to Shanghai for Chinese type.
20 September 1874
Elsden photographed the whole family in a group.
20 March 1876
Coming from London – shabbily dressed fellow addressed me telling me he was ‘hard up and wanted something and intended to have it’. I got rid of him at Cole Green. [A full report of this incident appeared in the next edition (1 April 1876) of the Hertfordshire Mercury. The man behaved rather oddly on the journey from King’s Cross and asked for money, but as with many who travelled to and from London in one day, Austin had only a few shillings with him. The man was described as not having ‘the appearance of a ruffian but I fancied he was a dissolute fellow who had squandered his money (possibly by gambling)’.]
5 August 1877
Edward Sworder married at All Saints, the Light Horse formed an escort.
30 June 1878
A fearful storm! 12.30 am (last night). Thunder, Lightning and Rain. Castle Meads under water, Mill Bridge broken and Mill flooded, damage all around. July 1st – bridge made up for led horses. Road stopped at Horns Mill.
8 August 1883
Dog and Poultry show first day (rained all day) – 9th August second day (beautiful day).
3 January 1888
B. Young with Mr Cummings called and had a long talk on Panshanger 1841, Charles Bridgeman, Glee Society, The Queen and Prince Albert – gold Snuff Box! Decided that myself and B. Young should present it to the Corporation.
27 January 1888
The Sherriff’s [sic] Ball (at Shire Hall) Julia, myself, Beatrice and her husband there.
9 February 1888
Town Council meeting. I and B. Young gave the Mayor and Council the gold Box and Prince Albert’s letter expressing appreciation of the musical entertainment by the Glee Society at Panshanger July 29th and 30th  on the occasion of the visit of Her Majesty the Queen and himself.
8 June 1888
Carnegie (American) came on his way to Scotland (four in hand).