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Digital Subscriptions > History Scotland > March - April 2018 > FROM LOG-BOOK TO E-BOOK The farm diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston

FROM LOG-BOOK TO E-BOOK The farm diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston

Marie Robinson uncovers the fascinating story of a log book kept by one Fife farmer in the 1820s and 1830s, an invaluable source of information about life on a 19th-century farm which has recently been published in electronic form
Photograph of a page from the Greigston diary, 14 - 21 April 1827

Farming in the 19th century

The e-book of the title is the story of a diary – in both senses. It comprises the transcript of this pre-Victorian farm diary, and an introduction aimed at setting the journal into its context of place and time. The diary is owned by Mr and Mrs Tom Grant, who farm Greigston today. It is a record of practices and procedures on the farm, but also offers glimpses of family joys and sorrows, the social networks and the wider issues of the time – from agricultural improvement to a cholera epidemic. In this article I will briefly describe what sort of things the diary tells us, focusing on the entries on the illustrated page (figure 1) opposite as examples.

The diary was kept from September 1824 until December 1833 by Thomas Graham Bonar, a landowner in east Fife (figure 2). Twice each day for over nine years he recorded what was happening on his farm, part of Greigston estate near Peat Inn, five miles south-east of Cupar. He noted what visitors came and any social calls made, and what the weather was like. During this period agricultural improvements were continuing at Greigston as a peat moss was drained and brought into cultivation, trees were planted and new implements used – iron ploughs, a turnip barrow, a cradle scythe. The period covered by the diary saw the cholera epidemic and the Reform Acts of 1832.

Greigston was an entailed estate, as many in Scotland were at that time. The laird’s name, Graham Bonar, was inherited by the children in each succeeding generation. In the absence of a male heir of entail or tailzie, the name was appended to the surname of a married daughter, her husband then becoming laird. Two gravestones at St Andrews Cathedral graveyard relate to some of the diarist’s family (previous and subsequent generations), though Thomas Graham Bonar and his wife Mary and son William were buried in Cameron Parish kirkyard (figures 3 & 4). The diary and many other family and estate documents were handed down until Greigston was sold in 1919, five years after the practice of entail became incompetent. The family who would have been next in line to inherit the estate (a daughter of Frank and Margaret Graham Bonar commemorated on the marble cross gravestone shown in the illustration) took the archive to Malaysia. After returning to England, it found a home in South Africa, then in the 1980s it was brought back to Fife by the late Peter Bridges, great-great-greatgrandson of Thomas the diarist.

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About History Scotland

The March/April issue of History Scotland is packed full of history, heritage and archaeology news, opinion, in-depth features and events. Highlights include: * Farming in 19th-century Fife * Mutiny in the East India Company * Medieval fishing rights on the River Forth * Splendours of the Subcontinent - new exhibition * Excerpts from a World War I diary

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