The News from Waterloo

The Hoax Diary

Published in Britain in 1914, A Great Peace Maker: The Diary of James Gallatin contained thefollowing lines under the date June 18 1815:

'Great anxiety. Consols have fallen terribly. I have never seen greater depression; everybody one sees seems frightened. A rumour today that a battle had been fought and that the Duke of Wellington was crushed; tonight that is contradicted. One cannot believe anything. They say Monsieur Rothschild has mounted couriers from Brussels to Ostend and a fast clipper ready to sail the moment something is decisive one way or the other . . .'

James Gallatin was an American, and and was both son and secretary to Albert Gallatin, a diplomat specialising in finance who was part of a US mission to Europe at this time. On 18 June the mission was in London, and this quotation purports to describe the mood in the city.

Taken at face value it appears to provide impressive contemporaneous evidence confirming the story told by Lucien Wolf, that Nathan Rothschild had taken special measures to ensure that he would be the first to hear of the outcome of the fighting in Belgium. What could be better than a diary entry written in London on the very day of the battle?

In fact few historians seem to have cited it. One who does is Derek Wilson in Rothschild: A Story of Wealth and Power (First published 1988; revised edition 1994; London, Mandarin. P58), declaring that it showed ‘everyone in the diplomatic community knew about the great banker’.

In 1957 an article entitled ‘The James Gallatin Diary: A Fraud?’ appeared in American Historical Review (LXII July 1957 pp 878-885) . The writer, R. Walters Jnr, discussed and examined the content of the diary and its relation to events (mainly in the U.S. rather than Europe). He wrote: ‘. . . I reached the conclusion that the diary is a complete fraud.’

The perpetrator, according to Walters, was presumably the editor, James Francis Gallatin, the grandson to the diplomat and son of the supposed diarist. James Francis styled himself Count Gallatin, though his right to the title was disputed, but he was known to his own family as ‘bad Jimmy’. Walters notes that no manuscript for the diary has survived or was ever known to have been seen by anybody other than Jimmy.

Demonstrably false

The entry for Sunday 18 June is demonstrably false, as this examination shows:

‘Great anxiety. Consols have fallen terribly. I have never seen greater depression; everybody one sees seems frightened.’ – Consols had not fallen in the previous days, indeed the Observer of that day reported strong buying of stocks, and on the Sunday London did not even know that hostilities had broken out.

‘A rumour today that a battle had been fought and that the Duke of Wellington was crushed; tonight that is contradicted. One cannot believe anything.’ – No such rumours were reported in any of the newspapers of Sunday 18th or Monday 19th, as they would have been if they had existed.

‘They say Monsieur Rothschild has mounted couriers from Brussels to Ostend and a fast clipper ready to sail the moment something is decisive one way or the other…’ – As shown in The News From Waterloo, the correspondence in the Rothschild Archive in London strongly suggests that no such arrangements were made. Instead, Nathan Rothschild was writing impatiently to his agent in Ostend asking him if he knew what was going on.

In short, no one who was really in London on 18 June 1815 could or would have written these words.