My Great Grandfather
James Stuart Eldridge
- an American Physician practising in Japan at the time of the Meiji Restoration
A few years before she died, early in 1996, my late fathers
cousin, Karin Warming, gave to me the two volumes of the journals of Stuart Eldridge. He
had written these in the early years of his life and work as a doctor in Japan.
Karins mother Frances was the daughter of Stuart Eldridge and Frances sister
Beatrix was my fathers mother. Both were born to Stuart and Frances Eldridge in the
1870s in Japan. It would seem likely that Stuart Eldridges wife had handed the
volumes on to her daughter after they came to live in Surrey following their evacuation
from Yokohama in the wake of the disastrous earthquake of 1923 (the family home was
destroyed by the tsunami that compounded the awful destruction that was witnessed by Karin
and her mother).
Although referred to as "journals" it quickly became apparent during my
transcription of them that the fine script was in fact not in pencil, but carbon copy:
Eldridge wrote frequently and at length to his wife, Frances, whom he had left behind in
the United States and who did not join him in Japan until 1873, almost two years after he
had docked in Yedo. So these records are in fact not true diaries, but copies of letters
written by a young man (he was 28 years old when he first arrived in Japan) who was
clearly homesick and missing keenly the loved ones he had left at home, at a separation of
some 8000 miles . They are perhaps all the more interesting for that.
Eldridge was in every sense a remarkable man, as may be gathered from his obituary, and
his biography. In addition to his achievements in the fields of medicine and
administration, his journals contain a series of charming drawings and water colours,
skilfully made. He had an eye for strange and beautiful things and was painstaking in his
descriptions of them.
Transcribing the journals in the last year of the second millenium has been a fascinating
and absorbing task. The probability that I, his great grandson, am the first to have read
them in depth since his wife, Frances, opened the original letters in Philadelphia some
one hundred and thirty years ago, has added a sense of awe. I am mindful, too, of the
privilege afforded to me by my cousin when she handed the two volumes to me for safe
keeping, in the knowledge, perhaps, that she might not have very long to live.
Link to the Biography and Obituary of Dr Stuart
Eldridge and to Trascriptions of his Journals