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Diary, 1847 September 1-1850 May 9

 Item — Box: 1, Folder: 1
Call Number: MSS 11, Series I

Scope and Contents

Holograph diary, including personal accounts of Norris' daily activities and observation of life in South Africa.

Several pages at various intervals appear to have been torn out of the diary. It is not clear whether they contained any portion of text.

The fly-leaf features a pen and ink drawing of a barking dog, along with Norris's name and regiment. It is dated August 22, 1846. "Cork Barracks" is listed as the location. Four graphite sketches, including one labeled "Cape Town" and another labeled, "Fort Albert from Camp," preface the diary portion, which begins in September, 1847. It tapers off in October, 1847 and then picks up January 1848. Norris resolves to write "more regularly than" before.

Norris records daily life at Fort Peddie, including "[p]arade in fatigue dress," and receiving orders for various companies to ready themselves to proceed to "undetermined places." Norris also notes envying other companies sent to King William's Town, which he regards as "the best post on the Frontier," although he does acknowledge that such a designation is "not saying much..." He helps to drive cattle (a resource much fought over during the Frontier Wars), writes of a horse race held between various officers, and records official treks to King William's Town and back. Norris writes of interactions with some locals, such as the buying of a pipe from a "friendly Kaffir," but tense relationships also are in evidence: "Brought a Kaffir boy...with a rope round his neck intending to take him a prisoner...but let him go as he returned the knife he had stolen." Life at camp appears fairly comfortable for an officer like Norris, although the South African frontier presents many hazards (sunburn and dangerous waters on the "Line Drift," a path on which Norris and others drive cattle frequently).

Norris writes of attending a court martial trial for theft in which the accused was found guilty and given "50 lashes & 6 months...hard labour." Norris's presence at other court martials is noted, including one for drunkeness. He also notes appearing in court to "give evidence on White- trial for the murder of Serg't Jelly."

Once he is transferred to Cape Town, Norris records frequent drills and parades, as well as an active social life. He seems interested, to a certain degree, in his surroundings and in South African culture. He sketches landscapes occasionally and at one point visits an acquaintance, "who shewed me some Bushman's poisoned arrows with a quiver and bow; a great curiosity being very hard to get them; the arrows are about 1 1/2 feet in length made of reed with about an inch of bone in which is beautifully set a small iron barb which has the poison on it; they are certain death. The Caffirs dread the sight of a bushman particularly when they utter their boar cry [?] on an ostrich feather. The poison which they get from some root is only known to themselves." Norris is so well integrated into the colonial culture, however, that he does not comment frequently on such matters. He longs for mail from home, recording letters, newspapers, and copies of "Punch" sent to him by his family. He writes to loved ones in England frequently and notes, in 1848, having his "portrait taken in daguerreotype" to send home.

Norris occupies some of his free time with reading, noting that Sheridan's "School for Scandal" is one of his favorite works. He also reads the work of Alexandre Dumas and Horatio Smith. Norris's journal records many dances and other assemblies at which the British and Dutch citizens of Cape Town are present. In particular, Norris grows close to a young woman named Annie de Smidt and remarks upon the occasions when he can dance with her or escort her home. Norris calls frequently on the de Smidt family. Annie was the fourth of six children of Johannes de Smidt, Esq., the Assistant Commissary General. Annie’s cousin, Abraham de Smidt, Jr., became a well-known surveyor for the Colonial government and a keen landscape watercolorist.

At the close of the journal, in May of 1850, Norris is ready to ship out on the "Hermes," and reflects on having to leave Cape Town. He seems to want to draw his relationship with Annie to a close, although he records giving her a brooch and confessing his feelings of love to her, shortly before his departure.


  • 1847 September 1-1850 May 9


Physical Description

182 pages ; 19 cm

Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection: The materials are open for research.

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

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