A world to discover: travel memoirs and memorabilia in Trinity College

Viewing other places as a resource to be used. 17th century Journey to Namaqualand (MS 984)

As the students return to College, albeit virtually, the ‘Trinity electives’ are getting underway to entice students to engage with scholarship outside their core disciplines.

These electives are one of the many new developments made over the last few years in how Trinity College seeks to engage its students with wide-ranging scholarship. The University invites students from all disciplines broaden their intellectual experience by encountering ground-breaking research, exploring languages and cultures, or considering key societal challenges. This is possible by choosing a Trinity Elective, a stand-alone 5 ECTS module outside of each student’s core discipline.

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Passport control: or, one woman’s visit to Italy in 1819

Among the collections of family letters in the Library is a small amount of correspondence between the Chapman family and Sir Walter Synnot (1742-1821) and his second wife Lady Anne Elizabeth Synott (née Martin, 1769-1850); Sir Walter and Lady Anne and their three children were residents of Ballymoyer House, County Armagh. Sir Walter was appointed High Sheriff of Armagh in 1783 and was knighted in the same year.

Cover of letter to Sarah Chapman, at Stephen’s Green, 1801 (MS 6444)

One of the most interesting correspondents in the collection is Anne’s sister Selina Martin (c.1781-1859). Selina makes an appearance in the correspondence when aged possibly in her late teens or early twenties.  She is described by her sister Anne in one letter as a ‘saucy’ girl, that is, cheeky and impudent, and this is confirmed by the tone of Selina’s own letters.  In a letter to Sarah Chapman in August 1801, Selina complains of loneliness and predicts that she is likely to ‘die of the mopes’ while her sister is away on holiday with her family. She also shows a self-conscious side, worrying about how her letters may be ‘as good as a dose of laudanum’ in helping their reader to sleep.. In another one of the letters from 1807, Walter Synnot writes to a lazy correspondent that Selina (sarcastically!) has received her letter, but requested that she not write in invisible ink! 

Letter from Selina Martin to Sarah Chapman, 1801 (MS 6444)

In 1819, after a long period of ill health, Selina bravely embarked on a solo trip to Italy to join her sister and her family who were living there since 1816. It was not all plain sailing. Delighted to be on terra firma after an arduous passage involving contrary winds, treacherous tides and sea-sickness, Selina arrived in Genoa, Italy. All seemed well with the world, until the intrepid traveller realised that she could not get very far without a crucial object for foreign travel – her passport! – and was almost returned to England by the authorities. Dependant on the kindness of strangers, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, she was eventually reunited with her family. It must have been very unusual for a crew to have a lone female on board a ship in the early 19th century. The Captain and his crew behaved kindly towards Selina but, in Narrative of a Three Years’ Residence in Italy 1819-1822, which is a published account of Selina’s voyage and her time in Italy, Selina recalls him informing her that women were unlucky passengers. Poor Selina. Selina’s book is available to consult in the Early Printed Books Department. It is a very straightforward account of a woman’s experience of international travel in the early 19th century, everyday life in Italy and personal tragedy; Selina’s little niece Anne Elizabeth died in Rome in 1821 aged only 13 years.

Selina Martin wrote a second book, for young readers,  in 1844: Sketches of Irish History. 

The original letters (TCD MS 6444) can be consulted in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, and a transcription will be  available on our online catalogue shortly after the post Covid reopening of the Library..

Aisling Lockhart

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