For a bird’s eye view of life at court and on a Russian country estate, and for records of society in France, Italy and Russia in the early 19th century, the Wilmot-Dashkova papers are a mine of information.
The Wilmot sisters ─ Martha, 1775-1873, and Katharine, 1773-1824 ─ were brought up in Glanmire, Co. Cork. Princess Ekaterina Dashkova, 1743-1810, met the girls’ father, Capt. Edward Wilmot, during her tour of Ireland in 1779-80. She was greatly taken with the family and extended an open invitation to them to visit her in Russia. Martha took up the offer in 1803 when she was grieving the loss of her younger brother, Charles. She spent five years with the Princess Dashkova and had an opportunity to meet with members of the Russian aristocracy and intelligentsia. She stayed in St Petersburgh and Moscow and on the Dashkova country estate. She learned Russian and informed herself on Russian history and the Orthodox church as well as immersing herself in the life of the estate and taking an interest in the lives of the Russian serfs. She noted songs and verses from the Russian as well as keeping meticulous diaries relating to all that she observed and participated in during her time in Russia.
Katharine Wilmot had travelled to the continent with the Mount Cashell family (1801-3). Her letters recording the many places visited, encounters with a wide circle of high-ranking society members and her impressions of all she witnessed were copied by Martha into a leather-bound notebook (MS 12 L 32). Katharine was sent to Russia in 1805 to take Martha home to Ireland but Martha wanted to stay with Dashkova and the two sisters remained in Russia for another few years. Katharine also kept diaries during her stay in Russia and her letters were copied by Martha and their younger sister, Alicia. Of the two sisters, Katharine was the more critical observer. Her papers include letters from her maid, Eleanor Cavanagh (not separately recorded). Katharine returned to Ireland in 1807 and Martha in 1808.
Martha married Rev. William Bradford, who later served as chaplain to the British Embassy at Vienna. The Bradfords toured Italy with their family (1820-1), Martha keeping a record of the trip in a journal, again demonstrating her acute powers of observation in relation to all the events and encounters along the way, the conditions of the peasantry etc.
Katharine later settled in France for health reasons and died there in 1824.
Catalogue, Special list A022, can be downloaded here.
Angela Byrne, ‘Princess Dashkova and the Wilmot sisters’ in B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy library (Dublin, 2009), 248-55.
The Marchioness of Londonderry and H.M. Hyde, eds., The Russian journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot ... (London, 1934).
Elizabeth Mavor (ed.), The Grand Tours of Katherine Wilmot: France 1801-3 and Russia 1805-7 (London, 1992).