Fonds CHIL - Papers of Erskine Childers

Identity area

Reference code



Papers of Erskine Childers


  • 1880-1922 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

4 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Robert Erskine Childers was born in 1870, the son of Robert Caesar Childers, a Pali scholar, and was educated at Haileybury and Trinity College, whence he graduated BA in 1893. From 1895 to 1910, with a period absent to serve in the South African War, he was a clerk in the House of Commons. During this time he made a number of voyages in sailboats, and in 1903 published 'The Riddle of the Sands', an espionage novel about German preparations to invade England.

In 1910, he resigned his position to pursue his Irish interests, having become convinced of the arguments for Home Rule, and was involved, briefly, in running guns to the Republicans. On the outbreak of the First World War, Childers was drafted into the Navy, owing much to his knowledge of the German Coast, and later into the Royal Naval Air Service as an intelligence officer. After the war he was decommissioned with the DSC and rank of Major.

In 1919 he moved to Dublin. He was one of the envoys sent by the Irish to the Versailles Conference and in 1921 was elected to the Dáil Éireann. He accompanied Éamon De Valera on the first delegation to London after the truce and was principal secretary to the delegation that negotiated the treaty with the English government in late 1921.

He was, however, unsatisfied with the outcome and when the Irish Free State was established, Childers joined the Republican army. On 10 November 1922 he was captured by Free State soldiers, court-martialled, and shot on 24 November.

Archival history

A box list was created in 1977. This is accompanied by an undated box list for the material that arrived in 1981.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Gift of Col. Robert Alden Childers, June 1977. The reviews of 'The Times History of the War in South Africa', 'The HAC in South Africa', 'War and the Arme Blanche', and 'German Influence on British Cavalry' which had been intended to be part of the gift in 1977, was given in February 1981.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The papers consist of correspondence, printed material, writings, personal papers, and photographs documenting the English life of Erskine Childers. The correspondence includes incoming letters to Erskine and to Molly Childers, copies of letters sent by Erskine, and a large number of letters written to others from others.

There are over 75 letters from Erskine to Molly dated 1903-1913; Erskine's other principal correspondents include Ian Hamilton, Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, and Basil Williams. Molly's principal correspondents include Benoît-Constant Coquelin, Kate Courtney, and John Singer Sargent. The collection includes letters from a variety of other correspondents, among them Edward Arnold, Julian Corbett, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James, William James, Lord Kitchener, J. Ellis McTaggart, Walter Runciman, George Bernard Shaw (to Emily Ford), and G. M. Trevelyan.

Printed material includes cuttings of reviews for 'The H.A.C. in South Africa', 'The Times History of the war in South Africa', 'War and the Arme Blanche', 'The Riddle of the Sands', and 'The German Influence on British Cavalry'; cuttings of articles on cruising printed in 'The Times' from 1907-1913; as well as two issues of 'Poblacht na hÉireann' from 21, 23 October, 1922.

The collection also includes a holograph poem apiece by Bronson Alcott and William Ellery Channing, photographs of Benoît-Constant Coquelin, and a signed photograph of Sarah Bernhardt.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

The collection has not yet been catalogued, and items may be arranged in a different order in future.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

    Script of material

      Language and script notes

      Physical characteristics and technical requirements

      Finding aids

      Allied materials area

      Existence and location of originals

      Existence and location of copies

      Related units of description

      Letter from Robert Erskine Childers to Ivor Lloyd-Jones, with provenance letter, ADD.Ms.a.599, Trinity College Library, Cambridge.
      The Papers of Robert Erskine Childers (1870-1922) and of his wife Mary Alden Childers (née Osgood), MSS 7781-7931, Trinity College Dublin.
      Yachting journals (1895-1914), The Caird Library, Manuscripts Section, National Maritime Museum, London: RCC/1-7.
      Diaries, 1914-18 (8 vols), The Imperial War Musem, London: 471 80/36/1 & PP/MCR/C28.
      Correspondence and papers (c1920-4), The National Library of Ireland, Dublin.

      Notes area


      Cite as: Trinity College Library Cambridge, Papers of Robert Erskine Childers, CHIL.

      Alternative identifier(s)

      Access points

      Subject access points

      Place access points

      Name access points

      Genre access points

      Description identifier

      Institution identifier

      Rules and/or conventions used


      Level of detail

      Dates of creation revision deletion




          Archivist's note

          Collection level description created by Diana Smith in June 2019, using the preliminary box lists.

          Accession area