Gurney Shorthand

I noticed that Charles Dickens was a shorthand reporter before becoming the famous author we all know. It normally took a student of Gurney three years of study and practice to meet reporting standards of those days, 140 wpm. The article on Dickens said he met that requirement in three months! The Gurney method predated Pitman by 3/4 of a century. I looked up an online copy of the system book published in the early 19th century. Gracious! Examining the alphabet and wordsigns, Gurney appears to be incredibly difficult to learn let alone memorize. Is anyone on this board familiar with this method? Does anyone alive today use it? (Apparently Gurney was still used by reporters in the Old Bailey until the early part of the 20th century, despite the Pitman claim to being THE finest and most widely used English language shorthand system.)

One wonders, without “modern” typewriters or computer equipment in the early 1800’s, how court records and transcriptions were kept and maintained. If only a speed of 140 wpm was required to be an official reporter, just how accurate could the transcripts have been?

When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, the popular novel was in the format of selection from journals, letters, and newspaper articles. Jonathan Harker’s diary was reportedly written in shorthand. Do you believe he used the Pitman or the Gurney system? LOL

(by Philip for group greggshorthand)

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6 comments Add yours
  1. As a matter of fact, Thomas Gurney played a very important role in the History of Shorthand, mostly because he was the first parliamentary stenographer and also the first stenographer to work as a Court reporter (at Old Bailey) in our “modern times”.

    In 1750, Thomas Gurney published his shorthand system, titled “Brachygraphy, or Swift Writing, Made easy to Meanest Capacity”, based upon the systems of William Mason and Jeremiah Rich.

    His shorthand system was learned not only by Charles Dickens (he writes about that in “David Copperfield (chapter 38), but also by Erasmus Darwin.

    Once Thomas Gurney was called by the House of Commons to read out loud what he had written down in shorthand. This was the first recognition of the authenticity of a stenographer’s writing.

    We can say that with Thomas Gurney has begun the relationship of the Parliament with shorthand. After him, more and more stenographers were called to work at the Parliament, at the plenary sessions and the committees as well. The system then used was Gurney’s.

    Thomas Gurney was the first to work at a Parliament as a stenographer, followed by his elderly son Joseph and his grandson William.

    The Gurney’s system was then completely modified by W.H. Gurney Salter, parliamentary reporter, with the title “A Text Book of the Gurney System of Shorthand”.

    On my website, I have included a special page about Thomas Gurney. It is in Portuguese, but there are links to websites in English, as this one:

    The page on my website with the links in English:

    I have read Dracula in English. And I could not find a mention to the system of shorthand used by Jonathan Harker. The book begins: “Chapter I, Jonathan Harker’s Journal (Kept in shorthand)”.

  2. Prof. Cury, I've been reading your website since several months (it is not easy to read in portuguese using just a google translator ;-)), the material collected there is very interesting, but this linked article I haven't find yet. Could you publish link to your collection of articles, perhaps google translator doesn't translate the original link the proper way and I will never get there.
    Thanks in advance.

  3. I came across upon something which one of the Gurney's described.  He was taking notes of a parliamentary debate, but after a while he (at least he said this) drifted off to sleep, however he woke up only to find that he had continued writing and that what he had written was a correct account of the debate.

    It is amazing to think that that can occur.  It requires a lifetime of dedication to one's craft.

    Although I use Gregg myself, I do rather like the appearance of the Gurney system.  It's horizontal line.  It is very angular compared to Gregg but must have been sufficient for the task.  And although Gregg himself said that angular forms were not "cursive" I am not sure I completely agree.  (Italic handwriting has been said to be more "truely" cursive than the so-called cursive styles of the times.)

    The Gurney family was very dependable and had a great influence (though, as I think you alluded to, it was geared to parliament and legal terminology with many dedicated 'brief forms').  The "Gurney girls" were something of an institution.


    1. I cannot fault him for falling asleep: most of those parliamentary debates are really boring, unless they have to do with current events or if the discussion is lively.

      From a shorthand point of view, that kind of material provides excellent vocabulary practice.

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