Archivist projects: Cataloguing the papers of Wellington and Palmerston

Tace Fox worked as an archivist in the Special Collections Division from October 2013 to June 2014. In the passage below, she describes her experience cataloguing the papers of the Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, and Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston.

“My main project since becoming an archivist at Southampton University Special Collections has been to catalogue Wellington Papers from 1815, part of a project to mark the Battle of Waterloo next year. This has involved creating descriptions for correspondence leading up to the battle and those directly after. These are both letters to and from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. I can’t really say there were any downsides to this project, although there was a lot of French translation involved which has been a challenge at times for me (I would like to be able to claim fluency now but unfortunately…). A lot of contextual research was necessary to understand the history surrounding the Napoleonic Wars and the early nineteenth century. Also training in relation to the peerage system and military ranks was undertaken to ensure we captured the correct position and titles of the individual we were discussing from the letter at that point in history. This project has been a fascinating learning curve and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m glad to have played a part in bringing this information to the public through our catalogues and database.

Signature of the first Duke of Wellington

Signature of the first Duke of Wellington

Before working on the Wellington project however, I was introduced to the Special Collections procedure for cataloguing through a smaller project working with the Palmerston papers. I was introduced to the collections by cataloguing the naval defence papers of Lord Palmerston from the mid-nineteenth century. This involved cataloguing about two boxes of material and initially asking my boss to decipher illegible handwriting (it took a little while for the paleographical skills to kick in). I was given around six weeks to familiarise myself with these papers and to write the descriptions. The collection itself consisted of a number of letters, rapports, lists and maps directed to or from Lord Palmerston. The letters were sent from a variety of sources and as a result the clarity of the handwriting differed on a grand scale. Some were beautifully written whilst others seemed almost illegible at times. However, this was a great way to introduce me to the Wellington project as the Duke of Wellington has famously terrible handwriting! Again this project was an interesting and engaging activity to be involved in and I feel I have learnt a lot from the experience.”

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