Mary Mathew keeps a diary and household accounts

[Mary Mathew (1724-1777) belonged to a famous and wealthy Tipperary family. She kept a diary and household accounts for thirty years. She was a single woman who led an active social life in Dublin and subscribed to female charities such as the Rotunda Hospital and the Magdalen Asylum in Leeson Street. Her private income seems to have been in the control of her brother Thomas Mathew who often kept her waiting unfairly for her money.]

21 January 1772: I got £215.15s 0d, a legacy left me by Lady Fitzwilliams my aunt. My brother Tom Mathew owes me for the interest of £1,700, that is £103 ... and he owes me a year's interest money last November ... the injustice I am done by Tom Mathew and his son.

2 August 1772: I am ashamed to say, though Sunday, I did not go to church. I had a slight cold but not enough to excuse me from that duty. I had brought from Dublin the pictures of many of my friends which I was impatient to see put up which took up an hour. The day windy and dry but so disagreeable that I did not go out but amused myself with my book the whole day.

15 July 1777 ... Seven years interest due to me on the Annefield estate upon £3,200 and six years and a half interest upon £700 left me by my uncle Edmund Mathew besides several other demands as may be seen by my paper in this book.

1 November 1777: £20 15s 0d. Mrs Mathew made me a present to put me in mourning for my brother Thomas Mathew who died the 28 of October 1777.


June ye 1 1763 £ s d
Play Much Ado About Nothing  0 7
Paid the washerwoman 0 6 6
Play The Conscious Lovers 0 6 6
Gave away 0 2 2
Gave the doctor 1 2 9
Gave the surgeon 0 11
For a gallon of German Span (?) 0 2
  2 18 11½


Other purchases selected at random £ s d
For a [sedan] chair 0 9 1
To the washerwoman 0 4 4
For a lottery ticket number 31569 0 3
For a mantua and petticoat 29 0
For a flowered tabby [gown] 14 0 0
For two pair French plate candlesticks 5 13 9
For snuff and making a shift 0 2 2
To Rose the cook 0 11
To Mr Shields for a black silk negligée 11 7 6
To Mrs Piggott for the Magdalens 0 11
For a pair of stays 1 4 0
For dressing my hair 0 1 1
For setting round my diamond ring 7 10 0
For Rotunda Ball, for chair hire 0 13
To Doctor Barry 11 7 6
Gave Ally Doyle[Mary's housekeeper] 0 11
For a bottle of tincture of rattle snake root. Began it. 0 4 4

Extract from Maria Luddy (ed.), The diary of Mary Mathew, Thurles, 1991.


  1. What kind of source is this?
  2. With particular reference to the above extract, discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of diaries as historical sources.
  3. What inferences may be drawn from the above diary about the lives of single women from wealthy families at the time?
  4. Comment briefly on any two aspects of Mary Mathew's diary and accounts that interest you.
  5. What is your overall impression of Mary Mathew?
  6. Mary Mathew received £103 interest on the sum of £1,700. Calculate the rate of interest she received in 1772.
  7. Suggest three reasons why Tom Mathew often failed to pay his sister her own money on time.
  8. Mathematical exercise: see if you can add up parts of Mary Mathew's accounts. a) Calculate what she spent on plays in June 1763. b) Calculate what she spent in total on the Rotunda and Magdalens charities. c) Calculate the total for the mantua and petticoat, flowered tabby gown and black silk negligée. Note: There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. Decimilisation was not introduced to Ireland until February 1971 and the Irish punt was later replaced by the euro in January 2002.
  9. Method: Mary might add: 


    as follows: 

    Starting at the right: 8+6=14.
    Divide 14 by 12 = 1+2 [12 pence = 1 shilling].
    Put down 2 and carry 1.
    Divide 32 by 20 = 1+12 [20 shillings = £1].
    Put down 12 and carry 1. 

    Answer = £4 12s 2d.

    Next we might convert £4.12s 2d to punts in order to find the equivalent in euro.

    £4.12s 2d = IR£4.61
    £1 = 20 shillings
    1 shilling = 12 pence
    So £1 = 240 pence

    12s 2d = 146d
    146/240 = 61

    Divide IR£4.61 by .787564 to convert to euro.

    Answer = €5.85.

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