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‘I hope it will be a lesson to me…the last such wine party I shall ever go to’

Confessions of a Trinity Fresher, 1831

More than 180 years ago, 18-year-old George Ferguson, of Houghton Hall, just north of Carlisle, set off for Cambridge to begin his studies at Trinity. We might imagine that he carried with him the small red notebook in which he soon began his diary:

‘Arrived at Cam Oc[t] 12th 1831 at ½ past 12 o’clock – went into Hall. Had tea at Carus’s [a Fellow of Trinity] – ordered crockery and linen. Slept at Sun.’ The Sun Inn was opposite Great Gate, on the site of Whewell’s Court.

Like many other well-intentioned diarists, Ferguson only kept his for a matter of months, but this short record provides us with some fascinating and often humorous detail of his life at Trinity and his escapades in Cambridge and beyond.

Along with describing daily student activities, such buying books and attending ‘delightful’ lectures, Ferguson reveals his pleasure at fox hunting, trying to buy a gun, and how he lost his cap and gown…

‘I hope it will be a lesson to me, and that as it was the first, so it may be the last such wine party I shall ever go to.’

Below are extracts from Mr Ferguson’s diary. The diary remains at Trinity, where it can be viewed in the Wren Library and online

The Sun Inn, opposite Great Gate. © Cambridgeshire County Council


Arrived at Cam Oc[t] 12th 1831 at ½ past 12 o’clock. Went into Hall. Had tea at Carus’s. Ordered crockery and linen. Slept at Sun.

15th        Had a grand dispute about candles.

21st        Very fine. Attended my first lecture. Went to Henry Fawcett [a private tutor], he drank tea with me. Saw Willy Ward. Left off college bread, thereby saving 1½ d per diem.

23rd: Sunday.    Went to chapel. Went St Mary’s, King’s Chapel, Trinity Chapel. Called on Wauchope. Ward called on me. James called on me.

24th:      Studied 11 hours. Saw Mr Hough. Had sore throat.


The Boat Race, 1838


5th          I went to see Osbaldeston ride 200 miles in 10 hours, which he did in 8 hours and 50 minutes, tumbled off once, horse broke down once. I rode beside him now and then, being myself mounted on almost thoroughbred mare … Being the 5th of November, I went out at night, and got a most dreadful cold …

14th        Matriculation day. I was matriculated. I kissed my thumb when swearing, on which account, the oath won’t count … Bought some books at a sale … Delightful lectures.

17th        Went with Knox to a sale of books … Mr Hough, John, and myself went to Mr Drawbridge’s to tea, where we met 4 gownsmen, and we had a chapter read and each made he remarks upon it… Thick fog, very cold.

18th        Took lunch with John. Went to the river, but did not go on it … Mr Farish’s lecture today was upon gold … Most wonderful.

19th        Had the window broke and the front door smashed [to] pieces last night, by a party of larking fellows. Had wine with Grey, where there was a party of 14 to 18 of which I knew [nothing?] until I arrived. They went on from bad to worse, got very drunk, drunk about 12 bottles of wine … I made off, but not without the loss of my cap and gown, which were kept from me, and which cost £4 10s. I hope it will be a lesson to me, and that as it was the first, so it may be the last such wine party I shall ever go to.

21st        I hunted, had a run of 5 miles after a fox. One horse was killed, a whipper-in and gentleman tumbled, horses and all. I leapt a double railing with double ditches and a hedge in the middle. I was in such spirits I would have leapt or swam anything…

22nd       Called on Knox. Had coffee with John, and went with him to the Union, which was very amusing. I was obliged to go incog[nito], not being a member of the club, but intend to be one next term.

25th        Called at Grey’s about my cap. Met the fellow there who had taken it. He said he had gone to another party, and got it exchanged again. I told him it was a very ungentlemanly thing … I went to bid for a gun, but it was sold for about £30.

28th        I have lost a silk pocket handkerchief between the washerwoman and myself.

29th: Tuesday.    … Rode out with Wauchope to see the boat race, but there was none … The Vice-Chancellor would not let them have the boat race for fear they should get the cholera from the sudden chill after so much exertion. The steady, reading Trinity crew are called the Hallelujah boat crew.


Silhouette of a Trinity student in George Ferguson’s era


3rd: Saturday      … I asked for an order to get some college ale and got it.

5th: Monday       … I asked Mr Whewell if I could have rooms in college next term, which he said he would let me know about in a few days. He said he could give me my exeat to leave Cambridge on Tuesday 13th … A person came on Saturday to buy a print of the dining hall of Trinity for £1 10s 6d, which I refused.

9th: Friday           … I went to M. Fawcett to the hospital to see the operations. When we got [there], there was a man being operated upon for the stone, a most dreadful operation. I just gave one glance, and grew quite faint, being myself very poorly and not having had food for a long time. The operation lasted ½ an hour. A man had also his leg cut off and another man his lip.

13th: Tuesday     … Became acquainted with a fellow called Bawling, who invited me to have a beefsteak with him as we were too late for Hall. We had a very good dinner: soup, beefsteak and chickens, ale and wine, grapes, oranges, apples and biscuits … I then paid 2 or 3 bills and began packing about 12 o’clock at night, and now I am writing this at ½ past 3, and my packing not near done, and myself fit to drop, my fire gone out, &c &c &c &c


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