'Whoever reads this lot of scribble please excuse my bad writing, for I must own that I have very often got tired of my task ...'
- W. H. Tinsley, Diary of a Voyage on the ship Cardigan Castle, MLMSS 7941
Passengers travelling to Australia during the late 19th century formed entertainment committees to provide public amusements. Among the more private ways for emigrants to pass the long months at sea was the writing of a journal. These journals provide an insight into everyday life aboard an emigrant ship, while their content and style reveal conditions experienced by different classes (and sexes) on board.
To keep a journal throughout the voyage, passengers needed a supply of stationery as well as the space and time to write. Of the shipboard diaries that survive, two thirds were kept by cabin class passengers who (with the assistance of stewards) had ample free time for journal writing while the diaries of steerage passengers were more routinely filled with details of their chores and activities. Through these journals we can discover much about the development of shipboard communities and social hierarchies.
Unlike private diaries, many emigrant journals were designed for sharing with family members or friends while others are fair copies prepared with a view to publication (a bit like the modern blog). As many diarists encountered similar experiences during the voyage, 19th century emigrant journals often follow the same formula and set of themes. In this way, a journal could take on the tone of a travel guide for others who might make the same journey.
Shipboard journals vary in personality as much as their authors. Some are dry and focus on recording the ship’s log and weather observations with simple statements of daily events; while others provide great detail about traditions and conditions on board, health, illness, births and deaths, daily entertainment, fellow passengers and emotions throughout the momentous voyage.
As portrayed through these journals, the voyage to Australia included common experiences and events. Diaries were often begun in one of the UK's large emigration depots where emigrants were inspected by the ship’s Surgeon Superintendent and organised into their messes for the voyage. Once on board, emigrants describe seasickness, whether their own or their fellow passengers. As the voyage progressed, passengers record sighting islands, phosphorus water, the heat, crossing the equator, being stuck in the doldrums and, as they head south, freezing weather and icebergs, sharks, flying fish, and birds. Emigrants recount concerts, dancing, religious services, shipboard newspapers, but most often they write about food.
Arthur Wilcox Manning
Arthur Wilcox Manning (1819-1899) left England in 1839 with his first wife, Frances Lake, for a new life in New South Wales. The fourth son of John Edye Manning, who had travelled to Sydney in 1829, Arthur Manning went on to have a distinguished career as a government official in New South Wales and Colonial Secretary in Queensland.
In his journal Manning records life on board the Earl Grey from the perspective of a first class passenger, distinctly aware of the frictions between the different classes of emigrants. Manning's journal also includes a plan of the ship, a list of passengers and officers, a compass rose, occurrences on board, ship's log, and two pages of coloured illustrations of flags and signals.
... was caught at the stern of the vessel. Dear little Fanny was very much interested and amused at the sight, as it was the first we have seen hitherto - in all probability we shall catch another ere long as we are coming into the latitudes honoured by the habitation of these open mouthed gentry. They like warmth and constant sunshine, and are therefore seldom seen without the Tropics or in their neighbourhood. We might have expected to have had one or two Tropical showers before this, but a few smart showers are all the wetting we have had. Today we have had a good deal of small rain, with light winds. I am delighted to say, the Fever has not spread any further than yesterday, but the same two women are still in the Hospital, and in a very dangerous state from the Fever. One of the poor creatures has, at the same time, had a miscarriage, which has rendered her case the more desperate, and has excited the sympathy of all on board.
28th. This is my birthday, and I am now 21, the age at which I escape out of infancy into manhood; and the period so long wished for by all who are to inherit at that age. My inheritance! alas, alas! I have none! So no more about it. Another year has thus rolled over my head, and I am still in existence, well and happy - possessing all I want. What changes have taken place since I entered upon my twentieth anniversary! I have travelled no less than 25,000 miles on the boisterous ocean, have seen Europe, Asia, and America, besides many islands scattered both in East and West Longitude, North and South Latitude; have formed many acquaintances, and lost others; and, though last not least, have taken a wife to myself, and become a respectable married man - and behold me now, wending my way to the transporting climate of the famous Botany Bay for the third time! - But trifling is ill-accordant with the solemnity of the occasion. Let me rather ask myself, how many mercies have I received during the twelvemonth just elapsed! From how many dangers have I been rescued! And how many sins have been permitted to pass unpunished! And still I find my heart as little sensible to the Divine goodness and mercy as it was at this time last year. How little progress have I made in goodness or any Christian virtue, and yet I am aware that each day brings me so much nearer to my end! My time,
too, how wasted! How mispent! And my talents unimproved! - I will go no further, for if I am to give a faithful account of the way in which the past year has been spent, it would only exposure more dirt and still greater neglect. I can only pray to God to pardon me, and to vouchsafe unto me His Holy Spirit that I may serve Him more acceptably during the year on which this day I have entered and that, being one day nearer to my grave, I may be every day one day nearer to eternal life beyond the grave. May the Lord hear me, and assist me, for the sake of His dear Son and my Blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Amen.
30th. This day commences with beautiful weather and a fresh breeze - A public auction was held on board this morning, consisting of the property of our poor Steward, and the Emigrant Mahi who died two or three days ago. It is an old and regularly established custom at sea, that when any body died on board or deserts his ship, all the property of which he may have been possessed is sold by auction to the highest bidder - the Captain of the vessel being accountable for the proceeds of the sale to the lawful inheritors at home - A sale under such Circumstances is known by the name of “Deadman’s Sale”. Mr Dale, the chief mate was Auctioneer. The Cuddy passengers subscribed to buy the Steward’s violin and music; intending to give them to one of the Emigrants, at the end of the voyage, on the condition that he is to play to us whenever we may choose to call him. Poor Hart, the Steward, was a first rate musician; and I heard him playing on the violin most exquisitely only one or two nights before his death. The man to whom the violin is to be given is by no means a bad performer. Things sold by auction in this manner generally fetch much higher prices than would have been obtained for them had they been sold on shore. A man at sea wants an article which cannot be had till the “deadman’s sale” - and rather than go without it he will bid over another person continually, and give far more money than it is worth, as he knows that is his only chance of suiting himself. Many of the Cuddy passengers were purchasers of trifles. I bought some Eau de Cologne, a belt, and a Journal Book, for all which I paid 8/-: on shore they would not have cost five shillings. Upon the whole a very
fair price was gained for the things sold. It was an amusing sight, but I could not help remembering the event that led to it. About five oclock this afternoon we crossed the Equator. Some years ago this was an eventful period in a voyage, as it was customary to dip and shave every man who had never been in both latitudes in his life - the face was well tarred, and the man, blindfolded, was seated upon a plant placed across a large tub, filled with water. At a signal, the plank was jerked away and the unfortunate fellow floundered in the tub, a most pitiable sight! If he became restive, and attempted to speak, the tar brush was dabbed into his open mouth, by way of a Silencer! A man having once gone through this operation was considered free of the ocean, and never again molested, though he should cross the line a dozen times again. On these occasions the sailors dress one of their number in sheepskins etc] to represent Neptune, riding on the carriage of a cannon for his Car of State. Another is dressed in old canvass to represent Mr Neptune’s wife! And great respect is paid to these people who are “dressed in a little brief authority”. This practice is now generally abolished, as it invariably led to rioting and drunkenness amongst the sailors, and quarrelling amongst the passengers who were shaved. Some few ships continue the custom, but these are of inferior classes. I have never seen it, although I have crossed the line five times. Captain Surflen refused to permit it, although pressed to allot it even by some unwashed and unshaven greenhorns of our party! Neptune, however was dressed up, and paraded about the decks, attended by his “Mace-Bearer” - i.e. “Tar-and-brush carrier”! Mrs Neptune did not show herself, being highly offended at the neglect of old customs! A subscription was raised to smooth His Majesty’s temper - all gave five shillings apiece to be divided between Nep and his crew! - We are now making south Latitude fast - Several nights ago we lost sight of the “North-Star” which is only visible to a certain degree of Northern latitude.; and now we may shortly expect to get the first sight of The “Southern Cross”, which is considered by far the most brilliant and beautiful constellation in the Heavens. It is mainly composed of four large stars in the shape of a cross - hence the term “Crux Australis”. So long as the “Great Bear”
was visible to our sight at the same time that our dear friends in England could see it, we seemed to have still one link connecting us with the land we had left behind us; and it was a pleasing fancy to think that a dear friend in England might be gazing at the same object as ourselves and at the very same moment, our eyes meeting as it were at the apex of the angle. But now this gratifying fancy is done away with, and “the last links are broken “. We are in different hemispheres, and gaze on different Heavens at night. There is certainly something melancholly in the idea, although I am going to my home, where I know I shall be happy. I know not how it is, but I feel that I have no business to be where I am, and a small still voice tells me that I ought to be in England, pursuing the plans for which I went there: and frequently I cannot help wishing that I had not left it so speedily. My conscience does not accuse me of rashness or interest, for I know not how I could have acted otherwise. My situation was one of difficulty and responsibility. My own secret illness and disturbed state of mind rendered me unfit for the arduous studies of a college; and dear Fanny’s delicacy of constitution and overstretched nerves made it dangerous to delay any longer bringing our engagement to its final issue, that she might speedily settle down into a quiet undisturbed life, and bid adieu to that false state of existence in which she had been so long wrapped. These considerations are not without force or claim, and yet I sometimes feel a kind of remorse as though I had slighted my Maker by relinquishing the plans I had formed for devoting myself to His peculiar service. ‘Tis true, it is but for a season, but still I have avoided a good opportunity, and have left it now to chance of circumstances whither I be able to become a Steward of God’s Mysteries or not. These occasional twiches, however, have the effect of making me more than ever determined to enter the Church so soon as my age will permit, if God will permit me to enlist myself. My parents do not like the idea of my receiving Ordination at the hands of a Colonial Bishop; but I consider his Ordination as valid as when conferred by the Bishop of London. I dread any interference on the part of my family - some of them, at least: but I trust they will permit me to choose my own profession according to my own dis-
disposition, and leave me to the undisturbed performance of my ministerial duties.
Dec. 1st. This is Sunday. How different from our last Sabbath day! This day-week we first heard that Typhus Fever had shown itself among the Emigrants, and we were all in dread of its spreading. Our minds were in a state of feverish excitement at our alarming position; and depressed from the fear of being the next victim to this Scourge. The whole day was spent in consultations and complaints, and private speculations; and, when we retired to rest, it was without the satisfactory testimony of our hearts and consciences that the Lord’s day had been set apart peculiarly for His Service, and His alone. The case is very different now, for, by the Blessing of God, we have been enabled to serve our Creator on His own day in a manner more in accordance with His ordinances. Divine Service has always been regularly performed by Mr Simpson, but today we have, many of us, partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ in His Holy Sacrament. Our little cabin was selected for the Service, on account of its privacy and other conveniences, and the “elements” were placed upon our table. The party consisted of Mr & Mrs Vidal, Mr George Vidal, Mr & Mrs Simpson, Captain and Mrs Bonham, Mr Payne with dear Fanny and myself. The Captain had intended communicating but a squall happening to catch the ship immediately after the Sermon, he was obliged to remain on-deck and look after the ship, till the service was commenced; so he did not like to come in during the Service. Mr Vidal consecrated the elements as Mr Simpson was only in Deacons’ Orders, and therefore not authorized to officiate alone. A priest must always consecrate. I admire Mr Vidal’s mode of delivery - it is exceedingly impressive and solemn, and I regret that he does not intend placing himself on the establishment immediately on arriving at Sydney. He anticipates beneficial results from our genial climate, and perfect quiet in the country, and hopes eventually to do duty in the Colony - Mr Lunn has given a very favourable account of the two invalids - He says that the Fever has left them, and that the only danger now arises from the great exhaustion consequent on the attack, and the remedies applied for its cure. I do not hear of one else coming ill,
or even complaining, and we have every prospect of shortly getting rid of this terrible sickness. How thankful ought we to be! Such a weight is taken from my mind by the news.
2nd. This has been a beautiful day; and the weather has been much cooler, as we have had a nice breeze, though not quite fair. We have been driven considerably further to the Westward than we had intended, owing to the prevalence of Easterly and South-Easterly winds, as may be seen by my “Log” at the beginning of this book. Today, while the ship was tacking, one of the Emigrants was badly hurt by a rope, which swung with great violence against his face. The poor man’s lips and face were very much lacerated, and three or four of his teeth were actually knocked out! Mr Lunn was obliged to sow up his lip - He seemed in great pain, and his very much disfigured. He is Mr Simpson’s clerk; but the poor fellow will not be able to do his work for some length of time. This is the first accident we have had. I only wonder we have not had many cases, as the decks are so crowded - not even a child has been hurt on board. I hear there was a fracas yesterday between Mr Simpson and Doctor Ross, the dissenting Minister. It appears that Doctor Ross had been preaching between decks to the Emigrants and others who follow him. Mr Simpson very properly construed this into an infringement of his privilege. Captain Surflen had once already forbidden it on board his ship; but Mr Lunn, in his wonted officiousness, has told Dr Ross that he would give him permission to preach every Sunday. The Surgeon had no manner of right to do this, as the Captain is the only person authorized to act in the matter. He intends noticing it to Mr Lunn, I believe; and will absolutely a repetition of it. I fear we are likely to have some unpleasantness out of this affair. The two men cannot agree. Mr Simpson is “High Church” in his sentiments, newly ordained, and a busy kind of man. Dr Ross is a man who is very likely to do things of this kind merely from a desire to tease and thwart the opposite party and to gain to
himself credit as a zealous and clever missionary from his own peculiar party in England. Mr Vidal always keeps quite aloof in these matters: so shall I, although Mr Simpson seems to consider it necessary to consult me before he will venture to do anything in his clerical capacity! How he has taken such a fancy to me I cannot imagine, but a fact it most assuredly is. How this matter between himself and Dr Ross will terminate I know not. The Captain appears to me to be a conscientious and religious man, and an Episcopalian. He has declared himself in favour of Mr Simpson; and, I have no doubt, will conduct the matter properly. During the day I have been reading Dr Lang’s History of New South Wales. I must try to forget the man before I can judge the author.
4th. This afternoon a ship passed within two or three miles of us: - an Englishman, homeward bound. When one vessel meets another at sea, it is usual to hoist the national Ensign at the “Peak”, astern of the vessel - to denote what country she belongs to - this is immediately answered in a similar manner by the other vessel; otherwise great offence is given. Captain Marryatt, the great novel writer, had invented a code of signals, consisting of thirteen flags by means of which any question may be asked when vessels are too far off to speak each other. For instance, I want to ask another vessel at sea “What ship is that”? I hoist three flags, Nos.: 8,5,4 - The other vessel refers to is signal book (for it is in general use) and seas what I ask. He immediately hoists his number, by which, on reference, I discover the answer; for every ship is entered at Lloyd’s and has a particular number, which is put down in Marryatt’s code. Our number is 7689 - i.e. we hoist the flags 7,6,8,9 - By means of these signals you may hold any conversation, as every flag has a particular letter attached - you may ask the Captain of the vessel signalized to lower a boat and come to dine with us at such an hour! How many days he has been at sea - where from, and to what port he is bound. The vessel that passed us today was a Liverpool ship, and therefore could not answer our signals; for the Liverpool Traders, in true Yankee fashion, have a code of their own, and will not use Marryatt’s. Our surly friend today
hoists the “Holyhead Signals” so we wish him better manners and a pleasant voyage. Liverpool is always considered half a Yankee town. Had the weather been more calm the Captain would have lowered a boat, and taken our letter for England on board, but it was blowing too fresh, and the ships were going too fast. It is an interesting sight to see vessels recognize another by their signals when they meet on the wide ocean. Dear Fanny was much delighted. It was a fine afternoon, and the sun shone bright on the ship’s sails, which made look very pretty. In the evening I read to my little wifey.
5th. Read Dr. Lang’s “History of New South Wales” before getting up - rather a lazy mode of reading, but better than being in bed doing nothing. This is certainly a well written book; and as such does credit to the author’s talents. But I cannot help observing a great deal too much spleen and bitterness towards individuals in almost every section. Dr Lang has evidently been much disappointed in his private as well as political schemes in New South Wales; and from what I know of the man, it seems to me fortunate for the Colony, in general, that he did meet with such opposition on the part of the Government, as well as from private individuals. He would gladly make out his own case to be a most pitiable one, and tries to gain the sympathy of his reader by a recital of his alleged grievances. No one would deny that Lang has considerably benefitted the Colony by inducing many people to emigrate to it; but who has been most benefitted by that immigration? Lang has been amply remunerated in more ways than one and he cannot have such extensive claims on the Government as he sets forth. And, I am very sure, he has forfeited all claim upon the public favour and sympathy by his malevolent and ungentlemanly conduct as Proprietor and Editor of the “Colonist” (a newspaper which he started) as well as subsequently to his abandonment of the paper in favour of a man no less virulent than himself. This Lang is a Doctor in Divinity(!) and was at the head of the Presbyterian clergy in the Colony, but ha since seceded from the body
from secular motives, and drawn others with him. He is a man universally disliked - had always been in hot water from his determined political opposition to all governments - and does not maintain a character consistent with his station. He is in England at present, for the fifth time during fifteen years, on some scheme which will explode on his return to the Colony. He is most inveterate against the Episcopalians and their “Prelate” Broughton, as he ironically terms our mild and good Bishop.
6th. All this morning I was employed in drawing a plan of our ship and a compass at the beginning of this book - I did it for dear Fanny, who had intended commencing to keep a regular daily account of occurrences and reflections - At the dinner table today, Captain Surflen announced his intention of taking the ship to the Cape of Good Hope, for supplies of every kind, etc. We are all delighted at the idea of touching Terra Firma so shortly. In three weeks we may hope to be on shore, enjoying ourselves, and stretching our cramped legs. This break in the monotony of a voyage will do us all a great deal of good, as none of us are particularly healthy. Our learned doctor says we have not a single case of regular fever on board at present, although there are a great many invalids in hospital. There is, however, so much of the mysterious in Mr Lunn’s manner that we never know how far to rely on what he says. He has a particular objection to be asked how the sick are going on, and in more than one instance, he has either evaded the question or given an impertinent answer. We have reason for believing that there is fever on board, but it is impossible to come at the truth. The poor people themselves do not know what is the nature of their illness, and the only person who could tell will not. I only trust we shall be able to make affidavit to the Health Officer who will board us at the Cape that we have had no death or contagious disease among us for the last forty days: If we cannot do this, we shall be put in Quarantine, and not allowed to go on shore, although everything we may require would be sent off to us. Our live-stock is running short; and there are many other articles ...
'We are divided on deck from the married people by a wooden fence, and a constable stands by the gate to see that no one talks to their friends.'
- Fanny Shorter, Diary of her voyage as an unmarried immigrant on the ship S. S. Duke of Buccleuch from Plymouth to Brisbane, MLMSS 5003
34-year-old Fanny Shorter made the voyage on the S. S. Duke of Buccleuch from Plymouth to Brisbane as an assisted immigrant in 1884. Her diary describes the life of a single female travelling from the UK to Australia on an emigrant ship during the late 19th century.
Written to ‘John’ with direction to make a copy for her Aunt Charlotte and lend it to 'Alfred' to copy for his mother, Fanny recounts her daily life on board. While 'one day is very much like another', her time is taken up with tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and assisting to cover library books, as well as entertainment in the form of concerts and dancing.
'We have got just enough light to make everything look ghostly; some snore, some grunt, some stalk, and all are restless these hot nights. Here and there is one sitting up, some have got out of bed and are lying on the benches. We must not talk to each other.'
- Fanny Shorter, Diary of her voyage as an unmarried immigrant on the ship SS Duke of Buccleuch, MLMSS 5033
Thursday, April 3, 1884
Lovely morning but rather too rough. The first day I have felt equal to writing. We are in sight of land and the ship flying signals. The engines are stopped for some reason or other unknown to us.
We left Plymouth about midday on Sunday. We had dinner on board after which we were all sick. On Monday Jessie and I stayed in bed all day, also most of the other girls. Tuesday it rained all day. The matron asked the Doctor for some arrowroot which was very nice.
Wednesday was fine generally but a few storms. The mothers were allowed to visit us in the afternoon. Elizabeth came. John and Elizabeth had been sick but were better. Fanny not sick but had a very bad cold. The others had been a little
sick but were better. Whillie had been very sick.
We are all getting pretty well now. We are only 32 single women, a very agreeable company. I am captain of No. 5 mess. I have to get up at 6 o'clock, give out the watercan for the constable to fill for us. We all have to wash and get out on deck about 8 o'clock. Then comes breakfast. I have to put the things on the table. We had porridge and treacle this morning - very nice, but I could not eat it. Jessie has eaten nothing. We are waiting an opportunity to get some cocoa meade. We get coffee for breakfast and tea at night.
We are divided on deck from the married people by a wooden fence, and a constable stands by the gate to see that no one talks
to their friends. Most of the girls have their mother and fathers on board. Then we have several mothers who have sons and daughters among the married people. We have one lady here over 60 years of age.
The girls have to scrub our floor with sand and holy stone makes them dry and white. Our berths are nice and clean and open, much nicer than in the City of Richmond, but his Old Duke of Buccleuch rocks all the time like a cradle. It is never steady.
We are 12 miles off Lisbon with 3 steamers standing by. They want 3,000 pounds to tow us to Lisbon; will now do it for 1,500 pounds. The Captain will only give 1,000 pounds.
I have seen John Whillie and Ernest on deck, also Aggie and Jack, who look merry enough. They say the engine is disabled. The delay is
Saturday, April 5, 1884
Could not write yesterday. It rained all day - did not get on deck at all. It was very rough all day and all night. We are still rocking about but expect to be taken to port by tonight.
Matron says we shall have to go to another ship. It will make our voyage the longer but will cost us no more.
We felt very anxious last night. We drifted very near a rock. We are still near it. We can make out a flag flying on it, but do not know what rock it is. We are off the coast of Portugal.
We had to hold on with our hands yesterday to keep up. Several of the girls had bad falls. Jessie was one. We slipped off the benches one after the other on the floor. I did not undress last night it was so rough. We have had a steamer standing
by us since Thursday morning.
We have lots of rats on board; the Sub-Matron killed one Tuesday. Yesterday she had one on her head; she very pluckily knocked it down and put her foot on it. One of the girls had one scratching her ear in bed. She felt its little cold nose smelling about her face.
This is a lovely day - very warm on deck. I am sitting one side of the fence, John and Elizabeth and the children on the other. I have just given them our spare bread as they do not get enough. We have not found our appetites yet.
This has been a busy morning, scrubbing, scraping and rubbing with holy stone and sand, and now that we have got it all nice we shall have to go through the same process on board another ship. It is rather
too bad, but I feel very thankful we are so far safe. One feels so very helpless on the sea. There seems to be nothing but a little water between us and God I could do nothing but think yesterday.
Some of the girls were playing cards - the ship lurched; away went girls, cards, stools and all about the floor. I was obliged to laugh. Then we sang some hymns at night, but we were all very flat.
Our voyage to Australia by W. S. M.
'... to those who have never made the watery element their home for a lengthened period the following diary may be entertaining and will give them some faint idea of an every day sea life'
- W. S. M., Our Voyage to Australia, DLMS 168
'Our voyage to Australia: a brief sketch' by W. S. M. describes a passage on the screw steamship Harbinger, under Captain John Lane, bound for Melbourne from Southampton. The author is most likely William Strother Medlicott, who arrived in Melbourne on the Harbinger in 1853. The writer enjoyed the benefit of having a berth in a family cabin with stewards in attendance. His diary records life as a cabin passenger, with days spent with time to write, pursue entertainments, and speak with fellow passengers.