The collection consists of a brief diary kept in 1771 by Harriot Clinton, the wife of Sir Henry Clinton, and a 12-volume journal composed between 1774 and 1795 by her sister Elizabeth Carter, who oversaw the Clinton household during much of this time. Most of Elizabeth’s diary relates to household and farm management, health and medicine, leisure activities, and social life among the English gentry, with occasional references to political or military developments.
Harriot Clinton's diary is a small leather-bound volume of The Ladies New and Polite Pocket Memorandum-Book that consists of brief financial accounts and entries that she composed in Weybridge and London in 1771. She noted information about her children and their health (including Henry's birth), social activities and visits, and goods that she had purchased. A number of the acquaintances she listed, including the Duke of Newcastle, Lord and Lady Milsingtown, the Bulls, and Mr. Jenkins, reappear in her sister's diary.
Elizabeth Carter's 12-volume journal stretches from 1774, when the four Clinton children were young, to their father Sir Henry Clinton's death in 1795. With the exception of gaps in the diary during family disruptions or personal illness, Carter wrote brief entries daily during this 20-year time span.
During Sir Henry Clinton's time away in 1774 and for much of 1775-1782, Carter kept track of when she or her sister wrote to or received letters from "the dear Genl." and additionally noted any intermediary parties involved in handling the correspondence. Most of these intermediaries were members of the military. In addition to overseeing the General's papers and sending him supplies during this time, she occasionally remarked about military developments, including the British defeat at Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), the trial and execution of Major John André (November 15 and December 3, 1780), the capture of Saint Eustatius (March 13, 1781), and the British surrender at Yorktown (November 1782). Upon Henry Clinton’s return and residence with the family, she recorded his outings and activities, including the hours he kept while serving as a member of the House of Commons.
The bulk of the diary, however, pertains to the daily life of the Clinton household as the four children grew up and as the family followed the seasonal shifts between town and country, which were fashionable among the English gentry.
Carter regularly reported on the health and activities of the household. She listed daily social visits, walks or rides out, and guests that came for tea. Over the course of the diary, she remarked on a variety of medical ailments, including rheumatism, sore throat, chicken pox, measles, and sprains, as well as treatments, including cupping, bleeding, emetics, rhubarb, and being "electrified." She also noted the first time that Harriot had her hair shaved (July 5, 1780) and that Henry first dressed and powdered his hair (January 29, 1786). In entries from the 1770s and early 1780s, she remarked on the progress of her nieces' and nephews' education, including the boys' matriculation at Eton, the girls’ attendance at a dancing academy, as well as the visits to the Clinton home of several music and art instructors, including painter Noel Joseph Desenfans, composer Dr. Charles Burney, and naturalist James Bolton. Eventually, her accounts shifted to record the Clinton offspring's entry into formal society, outings, and, for William and Henry, professional pursuits.
The journal also offers brief glimpses into the lives and activities of the Clinton family's servants, most of whom Carter only referred to by their first names. She often noted when servants went on special errands, accompanied one of the children for a ride or walk, or traveled between the family's residences. The journal also includes a few scattered notes about servants' wages, dismissals, or health.
The content of the diary reflects the household's seasonal residences. The entries from Weybridge convey details about farm laborers, the crops (hay, oats, barley, wheat, and rye), and stock (horses, cows, pigs, and chickens), along with notes about social calls and leisure activities (cricket matches, fishing, horse races, and hunting). When Orwell Park in Ipswich replaced Weybridge as the family's country retreat around 1785, Carter continued to record leisure activities but no longer mentioned farm concerns, with the exception of the care of horses.
In entries that Carter wrote from London or Bath, she mentioned trips to the theater and opera, concerts, assemblies, card playing, and private parties. She also noted her father and male relatives frequenting coffee houses. Some outings and events of particular note include:
- An encounter with the King and Duke of Gloucester in the park (April 26, 1775)
- The Duchess of Kingston's trial for bigamy (April 1776)
- Organ performances by Samuel Wesley (June 17, 1778)
- The Newgate Prison riots (June 1780)
- Augusta’s presentation at St. James Palace (March 1787)
- The trial of Warren Hastings, governor general of India (May 1789)
- The marriage of the Prince of Wales (April 8, 1795)
- Harriot's introduction to the Princess of Wales at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (October 1, 1795)
Finally, the diary sheds light on the Clinton household's extensive connections among the English gentry, as Carter consistently named the men and women with whom she, Sir Henry Clinton, or her nieces and nephews socialized.