The collection comprises letters, mainly to Dawson Turner from members of his family (A1–MM1), an engraving (NN1), a poem (OO1), three albums of ‘Etchings and Autographs’ (PP1–3), and notes and illustrative material made or collected by A. N. L. Munby (QQ1–4).
The correspondence in files A1–OO1 consists mainly of personal letters to Dawson Turner from his family and a few friends. Besides a wealth of domestic detail, the letters from Mary Turner and her children contain vivid accounts of their travels in Britain and abroad, including a stay in Rouen shortly after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Harriet Gunn’s impressions of Belgium (including the site of the Battle of Waterloo) in the 1840s, and a trouble-ridden tour in Germany and Switzerland by Dawson W. Turner. A letter from F. T. Palgrave from Paris in the spring of 1848 gives a fascinating picture of life there during the early days of the Second Republic.
Dawson Turner’s family lived variously in Yarmouth and rural Norfolk, Glasgow, London, and Oxford. Their letters describe personalities and events as well as the localities themselves, and contain observations on such disparate subjects as Queen Victoria’s coronation procession and Charles Macintosh’s newly-invented rubberised raincoats. Art and architecture are carefully documented. There are detailed accounts of private collections and exhibitions of pictures at the Royal Academy and elsewhere, besides the Norfolk church screens and wall-paintings—some of which are now lost—recorded and illustrated by Harriet Gunn. The artists Thomas Phillips and John Sell Cotman were known personally to the Turners and figure in some of their activities.
The only significant body of correspondence not connected with the family is a sequence of some ninety letters written by Turner’s friend and business partner Hudson Gurney (KK1–4). Gurney’s regular commentaries on local businesses and the state of the national economy are counterbalanced by discussions on books, manuscripts, and antiquities, his forays into Norfolk, and his abiding love of London life—the preoccupations of an urbane man who once reported that he had snapped a tendon dancing with 'smart girls’.
The albums of ‘Etchings and Autographs’ (PP1–3) contain prints, cuttings, correspondence, and other manuscript material. Several of the letters are represented by copies in the main correspondence sequence, with notes by Turner showing that the originals belonged at one time to his extensive collection of autographs (these are not at Trinity). The correspondents are, in the main, Turner’s academic acquaintances and minor public figures. Their letters range in content from brief formal messages to discourses on natural history, publications, business, and local affairs. Not all are addressed to Dawson Turner—a good many are to the Palgraves—and some were not written during his lifetime.