Skip to main content

'Grandfather Diary' in the form of 34 letters from Frederick John Rix, a British surgeon, mostly from Russian and British Naval vessels in the Mediterranean

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.10140

Scope and Contents

Comprises a volume containing [copies] of numbered letters sent to an unnamed friend, unsigned. The letters were sent from: Gibraltar, 11 Dec. 1805 (1); Cagliari, 8 Jan. 1806 (2); Messina, 27 Jan. 1806 (3); Messina, 30 Jan. 1806 (4); Corfu, 28 Feb. 1806 (5); Corfu, 6 Apr. 1806 (6); La Bocca di Cattaro [in Montenegro], 13 June 1806 (7); Old Ragusa, 16, 18 and 30 June 1806, New Ragusa, 26 June 1806, and La Bocca di Cattaro [in Montenegro], 3 Aug. 1806 (8); Old Ragusa, 24 Sept. 1806, and Trieste, 30 Nov. 1806 (9); Trieste, 12 Dec. 1806 (10); Trieste, 3 Feb. 1807 (11); Tenados [Bozcaada, Turkey], 22 and 24 Mar. and 4 May 1807 (12); Tenados [Bozcaada, Turkey], 10 July 1807 (13); Tenados [Bozcaada, Turkey], 30 July and 9 Sept. 1807 (14); Corfu, 20 Sept. 1807, Syracuse, 5 Oct. 1807 (15); Corfu, 27 Nov. 1807 (16); Adriatic, 6 Jan. 1808 (17); Trieste, 12 and 30 Jan. and 4 Feb. 1808 (18); Gliesdorf [Gleisdorf, Austria], 12 Feb. 1808, Vienna, 20 Feb. 1808 (19); Vienna, 23 Feb. “1812” [1808] (20); Gliesdorf [Gleisdorf, Austria], 27 Feb. 1808 (21); Trieste, 16 Apr. 1808 (22); Venice, 20 Apr. 1808 (23); Venice, 22 Apr. 1808 (24); Trieste, 24, 26 and 28 Apr. [1808] (25); Palermo, 9 May 1808 (26); Malta, 15 May 1808 (27); Malta, 20 May 1808 (28); H. M. Ship Repulse, Mediterranean, 1 June 1808 (29); H.M.S. Repulse, Mediterranean, 5 June 1808 (30); H.M.S. Repulse, Gibraltar, 10 June 1808 (31); H.M.S. Repulse, Cadiz, 24 June 1808 (32); H.M.S. Repulse, Cadiz, 30 July 1808, Gibraltar, 27 Aug. 1808, at Sea, 24 Sept. 1808 (33); and H.M.S. Repulse, Portsmouth, 16 Oct. 1808 (“24” [34]).


  • Creation: 1805-1808

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

John Frederick Rix (c.1780-c.1880) joined the Russian Uriil 84 battleship at Portsmouth in 1805 as an Assistant Surgeon. He stayed on the Uriil until April 1808, after which he travelled to Malta on a merchant vessel and joined the British Navy in April-May 1808. He spent 12 days on the H.M.S. Herald before being transferred (on Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood’s orders) to the H.M.S. Repulse. The Repulse arrived at Portsmouth in October 1808 and Rix was discharged from the Navy in November 1808 as being “unserviceable”. Records of the Mitford and Launditch Poor Law Union in the National Archives record Frederick John Rix living in North Elham, Norfolk and working as a surgeon in 1836.


1 volume(s)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

There are some mistakes in dates and numbering of letters in the volume, which indicates that this is a copy [probably made from the original letters] rather than a binding of the original letters.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by the Estate of the Revd Cyril Tomkinson.


This description was prepared in July 2017 from the volume itself and log books of the H.M.S. Herald and H.M.S. Repulse in the National Archives. Frederick John Rix’s name does not appear in the diary, but by cross referencing the diary with the logs books it is clear that he is the author. The log books consulted were Ships’ Muster Books (ADM 37/566: Repulse, July-Dec. 1808 and ADM 37/1629: Herald, Mar. 1807-Oct. 1808) and Ships’ Pay Books (ADM 35/2848: Herald, Mar. 1807-Aug. 1811 and ADM 35/3049: Repulse, Jan. 1806-May 1809). ‘Naval Wars in the Levant, 1559-1853’ by R. C. Anderson (Liverpool, University Press, 1952) was also consulted for information on the Russian Battleship Uriil (page 430).


The letters contain detailed descriptions of countries and people, a detailed account of a double murder at the opera in Trieste, and descriptions of Naval battles (mainly second-hand accounts). In the letters [John Frederick Rix] describes his experiences of the landscape, history and people of Cagliaria (Sardinia), Messina, Old and New Ragusa and Syracuse (Siciliy), Corfu, La Bocca di Cattaro (Montenegro), Trieste (including detailed descriptions of the coffee houses), Grätz and Vienna, Venice and Malta. He also gives his impressions of Turkish, Russian, French, German and Spanish people and culture. Additionally, the volume mentions other British surgeons working for the Russian Navy and British Royal Navy. These are Nathan Cox (on the Uriil from Nov. 1805–Sept. 1807), Mr Holbroke (on a Turkish prize boat [“Sedtte Bahahr”?] captured by the Russian Navy, c. 1807); Robert Cupples (Assistant Surgeon on H.M.S. Repulse until 11 Jan. 1806, Surgeon on the H.M.S. Herald), James Hall (on the Uriil from Portsmouth, and Acting Assistant Surgeon/First Surgeon’s Assistant on H.M.S. Repulse from 5 Oct. 1807). The Uriil was part of a Russian squadron that was fitted out at Kronshtadt, Russia, then anchored at Portsmouth in September 1805 on the way to the Mediterranean to complete stores and “make such other improvements as might be suggested by the English”. [Frederick John Rix] joined the Uriil at Portsmouth after answering an advertisement for English surgeons and assistants. He was ordered on board on the 27 Nov. 1805 and the ship left Portsmouth on the 28th. The Uriil sailed to the Mediterranean and was involved in battles against the Turkish forces in April and July 1807. In April 1808 Rix and Mr Holbroke (an English surgeon on a Turkish boat captured by the Russians in battle) left the Russian squadron at Trieste after hearing that relations between Russia and Britain were cooling. The British consul in Trieste (Edward Stanley) helped them to get passage on a Maltese Merchant vessel to Malta, which left Trieste on 27th April. They arrived in Malta on the 10 May 1808. Once in Malta, Rix joined the British Navy as a means to get passage home. He first accepted an appointment as Assistant Surgeon on the H.M.S. Herald, with the surgeon Mr Robert Cupples. 12 days after joining the Herald, whilst off the coast of Toulon, Rix was ordered onto the H.M.S. Ocean (Lord Collingwood’s ship) where he received an appointment to the H.M.S. Repulse as an Assistant Surgeon. Rix found that his friend that he had met on the Uriil, James Hall, was the First Surgeon’s Assistant. In the volume the date that Rix joined the Repulse is given as the 6th of June 1808, but ship’s log books (in the National Archives) state that he joined the Repulse on the 7th of May. It seems likely that the 7th of May is the correct date, as Rix writes that the Repulse was blockading Toulon (so he had little to communicate about their movements) and that they arrived in Gibraltar on the 8th June. Lord Collingwood (on H. M. S. Ocean) ordered H. M. S. Repulse to sail to Gibraltar with his fleet, where they arrived on 8 June 1808. The fleet then sailed on to Cadiz where they arrived on the 11 June (Rix’s letter from Cadiz describes the Spanish rebellion). H.M.S. Repulse set sail for Portsmouth from Gibraltar on 15 September 1808, and arrived 15 October 1808. According to the Repulse’s log books Frederick John Rix was discharged from the Navy on the 20 Nov. 1808.

Language of description
Uncoded languages
Script of description
Code for uncoded script

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom