Here’s a nice little blog entry on Rick Smith’s Cryptosmith blog, talking about encrypted documents (rather than just encrypted messages), specifically the enciphered diaries of Charles Wesley (who co-founded the Methodist Church) and of Beatrix Potter.
The 2008 BBC article Rick links to also discusses a war diary made by RAF prisoner of war Donald Hill, and an as-yet-not-fully-decrypted shorthand diary kept by Lord Hailsham. If you want some juicy modern stuff to decipher, the Margaret Thatcher Foundation is looking for cryptological volunteers to decipher more of Lord Hailsham’s notes – there’s even an Excel spreadsheet there with words they’ve cracked so far. Hmmm… sounds like a job for the tireless Tony Gaffney. 😉
For the Beatrix Potter movie website Rick Smith linked to (discussing her diaries), the Second Law of Web Thermodynamics has unfortunately kicked in (“the fancier the website, the sooner it dies“). However, here’s what the Wayback Machine has recorded for it:-
Beatrix Potter’s diary is a true insight into her life. Written in code with the belief that it would never be read, the only surviving entries date from 1881 to 1897. At times she corresponds with a girl called Esther – an imaginary person in Beatrix’s life which perhaps points towards the inevitable moments of loneliness she must have felt, particularly whilst Bertram, her brother, was away at school.
Her diary takes us into her world and she writes not only of her day to day life – family visits, trips to art galleries and exhibitions, but also the turbulent side of the wider world – riots, mobs, murders and political and social upheaval.
It was not until 20 years after Beatrix’s death that the diary code was cracked by the tireless work of Leslie Linder. On Easter Monday 1958, through recognition of a date mentioned and a little more research the first word was deciphered – ‘execution’. This word marked the beginning of the enlightenment and Leslie eventually worked out the code, deciphering the symbols bit by bit.