June 27, 2012, by Linda Shaw
Doctors, Diaries and Descendants
Perusing the diaries written by a doctor serving with the British Army in the Crimea and in India in the 1850s is a fascinating experience for anyone, but there is an added thrill when those diaries were written by your great great grandfather! This was the case for a recent visitor from Wales to Manuscripts and Special Collections, who came to see diaries, letters and photographs of her ancestor, Edward Mason Wrench, 100 years after his death. After leaving the army, Wrench settled in the village of Baslow, Derbyshire, becoming medical practitioner to residents in the surrounding area. He also attended upon the Dukes of Devonshire and their guests, on occasion including royalty, at the nearby Chatsworth House.
Dr Wrench amazingly wrote in his diary almost every day from 1856 until his death in March 1912. There are very few dates he missed even when travelling, suffering from illness or coping with family bereavements. These daily writings, together with other papers in the Wrench Collection, provide insights into many aspects of Victorian life, particularly family relationships and patriarchal responsibility. They also concern education, travel, social, cultural and sporting activities and provide comments upon local and national events. Moreover, many of the daily reports concern the ailments of his patients and the treatments he administered. They demonstrate the demands upon a country doctor at this time, travelling considerable distances by horse and cart to visit the sick, in all weathers and at all hours, particularly in crises such as the influenza epidemic of 1891.
Interestingly, several of Dr Wrench’s descendants have followed in his footsteps and pursued careers in the medical profession but it is assumed that none have surpassed his achievement of recording their lives in around 18,000 daily diary entries!
The catalogue to the Wrench collection is available to view online and the collection can be viewed in the Manuscripts and Special Collections Reading Room at the King’s Meadow Campus.