‘Keep up with jargon in four languages’ – a Greg summer holiday

Our cataloguing project is still under way and we are still discovering new information about the Greg family and the workers. One of our archive volunteers, Ian, has been working on the letters relating to a family holiday taken by Robert Hyde Greg and his family in the 1850s…

In the summer of 1857, Robert Hyde Greg, his wife Mary, and their children Sophy, Caroline and Henry, were on holiday in Austria. There are 8 letters in the archive, written between 11 July and 28 August 1857 relating to this trip. Most were written by Robert to his eldest son Robert Philips Greg and refer to an  illness that befell Mary and Henry.

Robert Hyde Greg as a young man
Robert Hyde Greg as a young man

On 11 July 1857, the family was in Salzburg and Mary and Henry were already ill with a fever, for which the only local treatment was “to drink slops”. Caroline noted that Henry “does not mind light and noise as much as he did in Ischl, which is fortunate as soldiers are drumming all the time“.

Caroline Greg was worried about her mother and brothers
Caroline Greg was worried about her mother and brothers

Communication was difficult. Robert referred to his valet translating in broken Italian, the doctor speaking French but only in medical terms and others using broken German. He had “to keep up with jargon in four languages”.

On 29th July, Robert wrote that Mary and Henry were out of bed but were in separate rooms; they had not seen each other for 3 weeks. Robert also noted that Arty, his youngest son who had not travelled with them, had smallpox, despite having been vaccinated. Caroline expressed hope that Arty would not be scarred.


Henry recovered faster than his mother. Robert  noted on 19th August that Henry had walked 2 miles to the shooting ground. Mary was confined to bed and the doctor thought she had had an ‘internal derangement‘ for a year or more and that the fever brought things to a crisis point.

Robert’s wife, Mary Greg (nee Phillips)

Robert had clear views about their accommodation and the people of Salzburg and Innsbruck. They stayed in an inn in Salzburg that had stables and coach houses on the ground floor and abounded with bad smells. He was critical of the beds (“anything more miserable than the German bed establishment cannot be conceived”) and observed that it was impossible to buy a blanket in Salzburg. Women in Salzburg seemed to be more industrious than the men; “men are all either soldiers, officials or loungers and smoke all the time“. The effective labour of England, even unaided by machinery, surpassed anything Robert had seen on the Continent. He thought the people of Innsbruck to be “a finer race of men and the women less ugly than in Salzburg. There were fewer smokers and a great diminution of beards and moustaches.

There are no descriptions of what they saw in Austria apart from having had a good view of the eclipse of the sun on 28th July.

Robert referred to the lack of news from England – he requested copies of The Guardian in several letters and complained when the newspaper had not been sent. He offered Robert Philips business advice and, in one letter, criticised him for not acknowledging receipt of letters clearly and for writing “epistles on scraps of paper”.

When the family arrived in Innsbruck, they received 36 letters from Robert Philips and Robert noted that the previous day, he had paid a postage charge of 35 shillings (equivalent to approximately £75 today).

On 28th August, Robert Hyde wrote to Robert Philips that Mama was quite lively, her pulse was down to 60 and she was ready for dinner.


It seems then that even the Greg’s couldn’t avoid a holiday bug, at least nowadays we can escape the unpleasant treatment of drinking “slops”!

You can subscribe to the blog and keep up to date with all the latest archive finds, by entering your email in the “Follow” box located at the top right of the page.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s