Skip to main content

Diaries of Sheena Tennant Kendall and Herbert Moorhouse Kendall written while in Japan and describing the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923

 Fonds — Box: CLX-A-768
Identifier: Coll-1746

Content Description

7 x diary volumes, bound by Asprey in dark green morocco, titles to spines and front boards gilt. Each volume with one page per day and additional blank pages at the rear.

The 7 x diary volumes, taken as a whole, present a vivid, evocative and informative picture of the life of the British expatriate merchant community in Japan in the period immediately following the First World War, brutally interrupted by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1 September 1923. The 1923 diary entries of Sheena and husband 'Ken' compliment each other well.

1919 - The earliest volume begins in London with Sheena working in Euston. Much of her spare time is taken up by socialising or in musical pursuits. She married Herbert Moorhouse ('Ken') Kendall on 31 July 1919, and after a honeymoon on Loch Goil, they set off for Japan from Purfleet on 2 October 1919 arriving in Kobe on 4 December.

1920 onwards - early entries are dominated by descriptions of the voyage and the ship and the new life among the foreign residents of Kobe. There is little interplay with the Japanese and socialising is only within the privileged community of colleagues and other expatriots, though there are excursions around Kobe, and to Osaka and Hong Kong. The architecture appeals to Sheena as is evident from an excursion to Nikko.

1923 - 'Ken' outlines his daily life touching upon work, social life, sports and music, and he indulges the latter interest by visiting concerts with his daughter. Life is brutally interrupted by the Great Kanto Earthquake, 1 September 1923. Sheena writes: 'Poured with rain all night and blowing pretty hard this morning. After breakfast the Tebbutts, Mrs Edgar and I struggled out and baled the boats and got the rowing boat and the canoe up on the beach as it looked very typhoony'. At this time she is at Hakone, close to the epicentre... 'The earthquake happened shortly after this - at 11.55 - in which the house collapsed and I nearly lost my life in it - The Tebbutts were both killed in the hotel to which they had gone to see someone'.

'Ken' offers a sense of the scope of the catastrophe. On 1 September he describes his experience in his office in Kobe...: 'Rose as usual - to busy morning in office - about noon I was standing talking to the shroff [i.e. cashier] when I suddenly felt faint and started to sway about for a few seconds - this was an earthquake...'. News of the disaster does not reach him until 2-days later. While onboard a train, he finds 'an atmosphere of panic about the earthquake - Japanese papers say Yokohama and Tokio totally destroyed, including Hakone...'.

1924 - On 1 January 1924, Sheena returns to her diary and writes...: 'After a lapse of four months in which I ceased writing this diary I must make a fresh start with a new year. My last entry was at Hakone at about 11 o'clock on the morning of September 1st. An hour later I came as near to a violent death as I trust I ever shall...'.

By early March 1924, the Kendalls are getting ready to leave Japan. The sail for UK end-March and arrive at Tilbury on 9 May 1924.


  • Creation: 1919-1924



0.16 linear metres (Box containing 7 volumes)

Physical Location


Processing Information

Catalogued by Graeme D. Eddie, 17 May 2016.

Diaries of Sheena Tennant Kendall and Herbert Moorhouse Kendall written while in Japan and describing the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379