Chart, David Alfred (1878–1960), archivist and historian, was born on 13 August 1878 in the Lucknow cantonment in north-west India, the second child of David Chart, a colour sergeant with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry regiment who was originally from Betchworth, Surrey, and Mary Josephine (née) Quigley, from Kilkenny. They had married in Lucknow in 1876 and David Alfred was baptised on 13 September 1878 in All Saints (Anglican) church, Lucknow. The family returned to England where a second son, Frederick, was born at Gosport, Hampshire (1882). David senior and Mary Josephine operated a small hotel at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.
David Alfred attended Pococke College, Kilkenny, before transferring to Kilkenny College as the two schools prepared to merge. From 1891 he attended Christian Brothers’ College, Cork, where in September 1895 he secured tenth place nationally in the intermediate examination, and an award of £50. In 1896 he obtained an exhibition scholarship to attend QCC where he studied Latin, Greek and mathematics; he also matriculated as a non-collegiate student at Oxford University (October 1897) but sat no exams and did not graduate from that institution. Chart was awarded a BA (1899) by the RUI, the awarding body for the Queen’s Colleges, and an MA (1904) from the same body in civil and constitutional history, political economy and political philosophy. Later while working in Dublin he studied history and political economy at TCD, receiving a BA (Moderatorship) in 1910. In 1920 he published An economic history of Ireland for which TCD awarded him a Litt.D. (1922).
Chart was briefly a private tutor in classics in Cork (1901–2). He joined the civil service in 1902 as a clerk in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) and took charge of the State Paper Office (1906–12), a division of the PROI based at Dublin Castle. From 1912 he was inspector of historical manuscripts at the PROI’s main premises, based in the Four Courts, Dublin, supervising the handling of public enquiries in the search room (1912–15 and 1918–21). In this same period he gave papers to the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland on economic history and contemporary social issues. He published an analysis of ‘The “General Strike” as a labour weapon’ a year before the Dublin ‘Lockout’ of 1913 (Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, vol. xii part xcii, 1911/1912, pp 559–68), and his work on ‘Unskilled labour in Dublin: its housing and living conditions’ (ibid. vol. xiii part xciv, 1913/1914, pp160–75) coincided with the tide of public outrage following the collapse of tenement houses on Church Street in September 1913, within sight of the PROI.
Aged thirty-six at the outbreak of war in 1914, Chart volunteered as a munitions worker at the Royal College of Science in Dublin. He was also a St John’s Ambulance Brigade volunteer, serving from May 1915 to January 1919 as a stretcher-bearer at Dublin Castle, which had been converted into a Red Cross Hospital. During the war he published ‘The Irish levies during the great French war’, its closing lines praising ‘That comradeship in arms of the fiery, dashing Celt with the stubborn and imperturbable Saxon [which] laid the foundations of mutual respect’ (English Historical Review, Oct. 1917, vol. 32, no. 128 (Oct., 1917)). In these years Chart lived in Rathmines, initially at 37 Belgrave Square and later 1 Belgrave Road.
Following the establishment of Northern Ireland in May 1921, Chart sought a transfer to Belfast. Herbert Wood (qv), deputy keeper of the PROI, consented to his being ‘lent to the Ministry of Finance, Northern Ireland’ (27 Feb 1922, NAI PRO 2/1/83, p. 453) and Chart was permanently transferred to the Ministry of Finance in Belfast on 1 April 1922. While a principal officer in the Ministry of Finance, Chart also established an embryonic record office for Northern Ireland. When the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) opened to the public on 3 March 1924 at Murray Street, Belfast – with a staff primarily drawn from the PROI in Dublin – Chart was appointed deputy keeper of the records.
The destruction of the PROI at the Four Courts in Dublin in June 1922, and the consequent need to find replacements for the lost records, prompted Chart to expand the normal remit of a state archive beyond purely official papers. Forming a network of contacts with the nobility and other prominent families in Northern Ireland, he secured extensive deposits of family and landed estate records for the new archive. Under Chart, PRONI evolved into a hybrid institution with the strengths of both a state archive and a county record office. His vision was for PRONI to be more than ‘merely a store, passively receiving such documents as come to it’, instead he hoped it would become ‘a means of gathering information and collating knowledge, of making access easy by lucid arrangement and the provision of well-planned indexes’ (21 Jan. 1925, PRONI, FIN 72/7/26). As deputy keeper in PRONI, Chart was also appointed, on a part-time basis, to oversee the Department for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments in Northern Ireland. He continued his academic work, addressing the Royal Irish Academy (November 1941) on ‘The break-up of the estate of Con O'Neill, Castlereagh, County Down, Temp. James I’, highlighting a recent archival discovery at PRONI (Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. 48 (1942/3), pp 119–51).
In December 1941 the Northern Irish government established the War Records Committee (later the War History Advisory Committee) to prepare an official history of the administration’s wartime experience. Chart considered himself the official author of the history, but a perceived excess of local loyalty in his approach led to John W. Blake of Queen’s University, Belfast, being appointed to lead the committee in 1945. After a career of forty-five years in state archives, and twenty-four years at the helm of PRONI, Chart retired on 10 April 1948.
In Belfast Chart first lived at 15 Donegall Square West, before moving to 12 Malone Park. His final address was at 29 Cambourne Park, the family home of his second wife. The probate record for his will gives Chart’s address as ‘Side Door, 29A Cambourne Park’ which suggests that the couple occupied only a portion of the house.
Throughout his life Chart maintained an active interest in social and scholarly matters, joining societies and delivering lectures. He sat on the council of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland (1911–21), was elected MRIA (1913) and was on the RIA’s Medical Research Committee (1919), serving as committee treasurer (1920–21). Elected a member (1918) of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI), he served on the society’s council from January 1921, resigning in May 1922 on his transfer to Northern Ireland. He was also a governor of the Linen Hall Library (1927–58), a member of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1929–59), a founder member (1937) of the Northern Ireland branch of the National Trust, a founder member and president (1950–59) of the Ulster Society for Irish Historical Studies, and a member (1955–6) of International PEN. Maintaining a connection with academic circles south of the border, Chart was a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission (1944–59). In 1934, in recognition of his long service, he was created a Companion of the Imperial Service Order (ISO) (Home Civil Service), an honour generally awarded to senior civil servants only on retirement. Noted for his strong devotion to the Church of Ireland, he lectured in 1932 at a conference in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, marking the 1500th anniversary of the arrival of St Patrick (qv) to Ireland. In the later 1940s he gave talks on BBC radio Northern Ireland on Ulster’s economic history and the monastic ruins on Devenish Island in Lough Erne.
Chart’s monographs included The story of Dublin (1907), Ireland from the union to catholic emancipation (1910) and A history of Northern Ireland (1927). He also edited Marriage entries from the registers of the parishes of St Andrew, St Anne, St Audoen, & St Bride (Dublin), 1632–1800 (1913); Londonderry and the London Companies, 1609–1629, being a survey and other documents submitted to King Charles by Thomas Philips (1928); The Drennan letters (1931) and The register of John Swayne, archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland, 1418–1439 (1935). From 1940, on behalf of the Ancient Monuments Advisory Council for Northern Ireland, he was general editor of A preliminary survey of the ancient monuments of Northern Ireland. He contributed regularly to scholarly journals such as the Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, the English Historical Review, History, Irish Historical Studies, the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, and his work also appeared in various edited collections.
Among Chart’s many archival outputs his calendars of late eighteenth-century state papers, and of the Memoranda Rolls of 1 Edward II, 3 Edward II, No. 1 and part of No. 2, and part of 1 Henry IV, earned particular praise. After the destruction of the PROI in 1922, his ‘Index to heads of household’ for the 1851 census for Dublin City, drawn up in 1915 to facilitate the growing number of old age pension queries, survived as the only comprehensive record of families living in Dublin city during the nineteenth century. It was published as a CD ROM (2004) entitled Irish Records Index, Volume 3: The 1851 Dublin City census: Chart’s index of heads of households.
At St Joseph’s Catholic chapel in Cork on 15 July 1903 Chart married Lily McCotter (d. 1935), daughter of his boarding house landlord William McCotter, a soldier living at Military Road, Cork, and wife Mary. He later married Florence Elizabeth Blair, daughter of the late Mr George Fawcett Blair of Belfast, proprietor of a successful firm of commercial travellers, and his wife Elizabeth, on 5 November 1946 at Holy Trinity (Church of Ireland), Glencraig, Co. Down. Neither marriage produced children.
Chart died on 9 December 1960 at his home in Cambourne Park, Belfast. His estate, valued at £8,914 3s. 11d, was left to his widow (22 Feb. 1961). Obituaries recalled his sociability, which was enhanced by a fine singing voice. A member of the Belfast Literary Society, he was admired as a cultured, witty but modest contributor, and gave the presidential address in 1929. A photographic portrait of D. A. Chart, taken during his time in Dublin, appears in the PROI Mills Album (1914), National Archives, Ireland.