Social media 1860s style – The logbooks of Joseph Munnings

You might have heard of people who keep a diary of their daily lives, recording their thoughts and special occasions. Some of us still do, and have little interest in using social media to share our most intimate thoughts and what we had for dinner with friends, workmates, friends of a friends, and that random stranger who you talked to once and ‘friended’.

I’m fairly certain that when Joseph Munnings wrote an account of his daily life he couldn’t foresee that it would be available for public scrutiny 150 years later – or that it would be of interest to anyone else. But it is. We are very fortunate to have the digitised copies of his ‘Log Books’ that date from May 1862 to November 1866 available for us to have a sneak peek into his world.

Diary, May 1862 to May 1864, Joseph Munnings. ANZC Archives. CCL-Arch971-01-002
Diary, May 1862 to May 1864, Joseph Munnings. ANZC Archives. CCL-Arch971-01-002

Joseph’s Log Books served to answer some questions that I didn’t know that I had. Like how did people of the time spend Christmas and New Years? Strangely he didn’t mention that he liked one particular gift over another and there were no plans to return unwanted pressies on Boxing Day! Maybe it was because he had to work – his shop was open six days a week and he was busy on Sunday teaching Sunday School before he went to evening services. He did however mention that he spent Christmas day with the Harringtons and some time at the Lunatic Asylum and there was preaching involved – his words not mine! Okay so that poses more questions than it answers.

I particularly enjoyed his account of the post-Christmas 1865 Bazaar that he both worked at and patronised in a paddock at Governors Bay. There was casual mention of his soon-to-be-betrothed being in attendance and a marquee was erected to house the food, refreshments and Christmas tree. Some 400 people were brought out to the event via Cobb and Co. coach or cart as well as numerous trips from Lyttelton by the steamer Betsy Douglas. They ate well – fowls, ducks, pigeon pie, ham, beef, mutton, lamb and spiced beef. Well, that kept all the carnivores happy but they also had salads, cucumbers, cakes, fruits of all kinds – and it was all washed down with ginger beer, lemonade, tea or coffee. “Sixpence if you please” for your cup of tea. Sounds divine – I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Amusements were provided, balloons sent up, quoits were played and “kissing in the ring – a favourite with the young”. No doubt!

My romantic side has read between the lines on this occasion and decided that as his ‘beloved’ was also in attendance. I think it’s possible he proposed marriage to her as he was asking for her father’s consent to marry her by the 4th of January 1866. Next question: A Saturday wedding in spring with a honeymoon to Kaikoura or Akaroa? Time to put aside such romantic notions … how about a midweek ceremony in late July instead – and they were by all accounts still entertaining guests past midnight. Well, at least there was the honeymoon to look forward to … except Joseph was back working in his shop by Friday. However, I think we can rest assured that there was romance between them because his wife featured quite regularly in his log and they had 11 children over the years.

Maybe this is where we get the impression that they lived a simpler life back then. Joseph was simply grateful to have made it to the year’s conclusion and then wondered if he would see the new year through to its end. A noble aspiration methinks.

You can read more about Joseph in the The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District] available on NZETC.

Joseph Munnings
Joseph Munnings The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], NZETC
So, if you’re like me and would prefer to read about historical life events rather than how someone else had a better weekend than you, then make sure you have a look at:

For those of us that like pictures because it makes it brings it alive on a different level – Geoffrey W. Rice has some amazing books to take a look at.

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