From the Archives: Mystery Diary


By Sylvia Lassam

Last year a set of three diaries were given to Trinity College by William and Sandra Lovering, and have found a home in the archives. The diaries were written between 1913 and 1916 by John Corbett (c.1855-1934), an Englishman who made his career in Australia as a bank manager. He had no known connection to the Lovering family, and due to how common his name was, he has so far eluded a specific definite identification. Nevertheless, his diaries provide a unique first-hand account of a notable period in history. Corbett returned to England on his retirement but did not put down roots, apart from membership at the Oriental Club in London. In 1913 he traveled to Venice with the idea of renting a yacht to tour the Adriatic. When this plan fell through, he traveled alone to Trieste, down the Dalmatian coast, to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Herzegovina, where Volume 1 ends with the visit of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in May 1914.


Volume 2 deals with the Siege of Durazzo, which he endured from the Hotel Europa, often in the company of the noted anthropologist EdithDurham. In Volume 3 he is mostly in Brindisi, Italy, hoping to obtain a volunteer position with the British War Office, the British Red Cross, or the Serbian Relief Fund. Waiting in his hotel he intersects with a large cast of international characters. The diaries contain newspaper clippings in several languages, photographs, postcards, maps, and calling cards. He describes the diverse range of people he encounters, which includes refugees, doctors, Austro-Hungarian businessmen, members of the demi-monde, Canadian soldiers, and literary figures. He describes the movement of troops and the sinking of submarines, provides an account of the Serbian War of 1912, and writes of the Italian intervention in the Balkans.


In 1914 he is visited by his friend ‘Eve’, the Edwardian novelist known as Elinor Mordaunt.

The diaries await the attention of a researcher with excellent skills in deciphering a difficult script. Corbett states that he writes to remind himself of the people and events he witnesses when he re-reads the diaries later in life. They offer very little in the way of personal reflection or reminiscence, so he remains a mystery, but they do offer extraordinary insight into a fascinating time and place.

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