Joseph Terry (1816-1889): Researching Writing Lives


The many pages of Joseph Terry’s memoir were initially quite daunting and yet, once I began reading and immersed myself in his unpredictable life, it became hard to tear myself away from his influential words. All the memoirs on this module were written by real people with real lives and this authentic aspect made them far more captivating and intriguing. At times, I often found myself forgetting that it was a memoir I was reading as Joseph’s climactic experiences Power of Wordsdid not fail in leaving me entertained. However, alongside this intrigue came an added pressure as I gained the responsibility to relay Joseph’s experiences as accurately as possible; not wanting to deviate from his intent. Accuracy was vital when writing my blogs as I am not using a fictional story, but instead have the honour of working on the autobiography of someone who lived a tumultuous life. Joseph dedicated time out of this life to recall his memories, the hardships as well as the successes, so it could be shared with others. Therefore, I had a sense of duty towards him to ensure that my blogs lived up to the standard that he set.

As well as this responsibility, I felt a relationship flourish between myself and Joseph as I had read (multiple times) such personal incidents of his life. I got to know him, and his family, and this made the task of writing blogs seem less of a chore, a compulsory part of the of the module, and instead a pleasure. The enjoyment of writing helped in adapting that blogging style as I desperately wanted the readers to appreciate and think as highly of Joseph as I do myself. This style differed greatly from the typical essay as you need not sound overly formal and should instead write with the intent of drawing the reader in; they should always be craving more. When reading Joseph’s memoir I was always eager to find out where each emotive tale was going and I wanted other people to feel that level of captivation when reading my blogs.

Prior to this project, I gained experience writing blogs with the Prison Voices module last year which focussed on crime and punishment. However, by now concentrating on one particular person it has encouraged me to work harder on my posts and put intense effort into my writing. If I were to compare last years posts with this years, I’d like to think that there would be a stark difference between the two (I hope!)and perhaps a reason for this was the passion it ignited. When writing of Joseph’s mother I felt obligated to ensure the blog was worthy of her and took pleasure in the privilege of writing about such a remarkable woman. I do feel as if I have contributed to public history as the blogs on the Writing Lives website enable people to access these memoirs more readily and gain a deep insight into tiny fragments of Joseph Terry’s world. As well as this, before knowing of Joseph I was extremely unfamiliar with the waterman’s trade and had no idea of the tribulations and dangers that ensued and therefore, these blogs could also assist in initiating a greater awareness on this perilous field.

A crashing wave by Mary Rogers. Joseph would have encountered many of these during his time as a waterman.

The research that surrounded the blogs enabled me to gain context on Joseph’s life and the reality of his situations. Moreover, it being a collaborative project meant working alongside peers and this definitely assisted with the research as you can help one another, share secondary sources, and bounce off each-others ideas. Proof-reading enables fresh eyes to read your writing and potentially pick up any minor errors that you may have missed. I also used social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook, to share my own blogs and the work of fellow peers. Being proactive on the ‘Twittersphere’ is vital if you wish to create a following and for your blogs to be viewed by a wider audience, possibly even from other countries! It is quite exhilarating to imagine your blog being read by people across the world and this excitement provoked motivation which continually encouraged me to propagate my virtual footprint. Following and retweeting other people may induce them to do the same for you, thus proliferating your audience and the amount of people reading your blogs.

From this project, I have taken away the ability to read between the lines as Joseph was not always straight forward with his writing and meaning. He would often allude to an opinion rather than abruptly stating it and, on occasion, I was able to find information regarding his life from what he did not say rather than what he did. For example, he says very little concerning contemporary schools, especially compared to Sunday Schools, and from this I was able to decipher an aversion towards them. In addition to this, Joseph does not reveal his mother’s name or specify all of his children’s names (only disclosing Louisa and George) and this exposes an adoration for his family as he would rather conceal their identities and keep some aspects personal. In his memoir, Joseph bravely divulges many intimate experiences, such as his money troubles, and therefore it is quite touching and natural that he would want to withhold some information.

Furthermore, I learnt how blogs consist of more than just mere words as they must contain elements of entertainment for the reader; this is why I added pictures alongside the writing, introduced hyperlinks to other blogs and attempted to write in a compelling manner. I very much enjoyed writing in an aesthetic style, being able to add my own personal touch, and I hope I can do this again in the future! Writing my blogs on Joseph Terry has roused an appreciation for writing and awoken a meticulous side to me which endeavoured to do Joseph Terry’s ‘Recollections of My Life’ justice.



Works Cited:

Terry, Joseph. ‘Recollections of My Life’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection

Image Cited: Fountain Pen

Image Cited: Wave Crashing 

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