From Log of a voyage around the world in the years 1890-1891.Vol. 1: England to Australia (London to Melbourne) round the Cape of Good Hope in the clipper ship 'Sobraon' / Thomas Parkin (Bax Collection).

Besides keeping written journals, drawing and painting were equally popular ways for travellers to record the scenery and events unfolding around them, as demonstrated in the above photograph from Thomas Parkin's journal of his round-the-world voyage. The man with the easel in the centre is none other than Parkin himself, sketching a 'heavy rain squall in The Doldrums' (a colloquial term for a notoriously calm area around the Equator, where sailing ships could be trapped for weeks on end due to the lack of wind).

Thomas Parkin's journals of his round the world voyage are perhaps more akin to scrapbooks than traditional diaries; they document his travels through text, photographs and pasted-in items of ephemera, as well as sketches of vessels, objects and scenery, such as the below pen miniatures.

Parkin_ship sketches.jpg
From Log of a voyage around the world in the years 1890-1891/ Thomas Parkin (Bax Collection).

Sketches and illustrations, ranging from faint pencil outlines to accomplished watercolour paintings, appear in many of the travel records featured in Circumstances of Interest. Louisa Jenner, for instance, tried her hand at a pencil sketch of the Cape de Verde coastline, depicted below. This was one of several prominent landmarks on the ‘Great Circle’ route, taken by most sailing ships that travelled from England to Australia in the latter half of the 19th century, and described in most of the diaries featured in this exhibition. Vessels taking this route sailed down the coast of South Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope, before turning east at about 50 degrees latitude in the Southern Ocean, and using the strong prevailing westerly winds known as the ‘Roaring Forties’ to propel them to Australia.

From Diary of a voyage from England to Australia on the ship 'Asia', 1871-1872 / Louisa Jenner (RB Add. Ms. 393 Deane)

While some passenger's artistic efforts are limited to quick sketches in their diaries, some clearly took their art quite seriously. Evelyn Nicholson's account of her honeymoon voyage to Australia includes a large velvet-bound volume of watercolours, painted by herself and her husband Charles, of the places encountered along the way. The below painting of Sydney is one of these.

From book of watercolour paintings accompanying Diary of a trip to Australia, c.1897 / Evelyn Nicholson (RB Supp. Ms. 28).

William (‘Billy’) Lang, son of the Rev. John Dunmore Lang, was another traveller who chose to record the highlights of his journey in pictorial form. Included in Circumstances of Interest is a sketchbook belonging to William, who made the journey to Australia with his family in 1849 at the age of 15, along with approximately 270 English and Scottish migrants (as part of his father's Protestant migration scheme).

An inscription on the rear endpaper records some particulars of the voyage: ‘William Lang, North Atlantic Ocean, November 1849, On Board the Ship Clifton, 867 Ton Register’. The pencilled text is surrounded by what can best be described as doodles: faint sketches of boats, animals and flowers, and, endearingly, numerous practice signatures.

From Sketch book, c. 1849-54 /William Lang (Lang Collection).

It appears that the sketchbook provided a source of amusement for William during the three-month voyage. He passed the time composing coloured pencil sketches of the scenery encountered along the way, including the coastline of Trinidad, Martin Bay Rocks, and Kent’s Group of Islands (in the Bass Strait).

From Sketch book, c. 1849-54 /William Lang (Lang Collection).

The title page of William's sketchbook bears an inscription to the boy from his art teacher at the high school that he attended in Glasgow, dated October 1849, just before he departed for Australia: ‘With best wishes for his happiness’. Tragically, William' died only five years later at the age of 19 after a lengthy period of illness, apparently induced through overwork in a post as a bank clerk in Brisbane.

Getting up to no good

19 October, 2015

This is the second in a series of companion posts to the current Fisher Library exhibition Circumstances of Interest: Travel Diaries, Journals and Logs from Rare Books & Special Collections.

Three months into a voyage between England and Australia, an unidentified diarist wrote:

‘'the sea is very still. There is nothing to do but sit about. The books are all read that the passengers had with them…not an hour passes without a row…the children on board are the only ones who seem satisfied with their life on board’.
-Diary of a voyage from England to Australia on board S.S. Haverton, January-April 1884.(RB Add.Ms.285).

His journal entries tell of a long, uncomfortable and frustratingly slow voyage, plagued by engine trouble and uncooperative weather. It appears that he traveled in second class, sharing a cabin with 100 other passengers: ‘Jews, German, Poles, Scotch, Irish and English’. In such a crowded environment, it seems that the escalating boredom became a somewhat destructive force. In the below entry, he describes the frustration of being cooped up inside the cabin during a period of heavy rain, which apparently drove a passenger in a nearby berth to set his own bed alight.

Anon_rain,noisy,bed fire.jpg
From Diary of a voyage from England to Australia on board S.S. Haverton, January-April 1884.(RB Add.Ms.285).

Incidences of theft and fights in the second class cabins were frequent, increasingly so as the voyage progressed. Particularly dramatic was a raid on the bakehouse by 7 men, in which 46 loaves, a goose, some mutton and a pie were stolen. Food was a precious resource, and emotions surrounding it apparently ran high; here, the diarist describes a fight between two men over a piece of pudding.

anon_pudding fight.jpg
From Diary of a voyage from England to Australia on board S.S. Haverton, January-April 1884.(RB Add.Ms.285)

James Murgatroyd describes a similar predicament for second-class travellers, almost 30 years earlier in 1856. He matter-of-factly recounts numerous fist fights, including two involving the cook and head steward, and one between two men over some ladies on board. Even the animals on board were at loggerheads, it seems; below, he describes a fight between a dog and a pig.

Murgatroyd_pig vs dog.jpg
From Diary, c. 1856/James Murgatroyd. (RB Add.Ms. 192)

According to James, consuming 'bottles of Grogg' was another popular way to make the time go faster. This frequently resulted in wild scenes like that described below, key phrases from which include 'bottle of Wiskey [sic] in his trousers' and 'began to make water against one of the Births [berths]'.

Murgatroyd_whiskey trousers and lady fight.jpg
From Diary, c. 1856/James Murgatroyd. (RB Add.Ms. 192)

Playing pranks on one another appears to have been a favourite pastime for James and his circle of acquaintances. While this may have provided considerable amusement for the pranksters, the fear of retribution apparently took its toll, with James noting that 'you dare not sleep a moment for fear of a prank being played with you, you must keep a good look out'. He himself fell victim to several pranks, like the one described below involving a string being tied to his leg.

Murgatroyd_hair prank.jpg
From Diary, c. 1856/James Murgatroyd. (RB Add.Ms. 192)

This particular style of prank must have been all the rage at the time, as James describes at least two more involving strings or ropes being attached to various parts of his body. Other pranks recounted (somewhat gleefully) by James include drenching two ladies with buckets of water, and hurling an object at an unsuspecting man in the dining room, 'upsetting his dinner'. According to his own accounts, James was remarkably adept at derailing would-be 'larks' directed at him. It is also entirely possible, however, that he was somewhat selective in his recording of these incidents.

This is the first in a series of companion posts to the current Fisher Library exhibition Circumstances of Interest: Travel Diaries, Journals and Logs from Rare Books & Special Collections.

In May 1841, John Hood left England for Australia aboard a ship named the Lady Kennaway. At the start of this epic five-month voyage, he summed up the complex shipboard social world thus:

"We are as yet all on our good behaviour, and cautious and wary as to whom we shall enter into friendly intercourse with. There is also, it is quite evident, a little anxiety in some to be considered leaders; but, like people in a crowded omnibus, we shall all very soon shake into our right places."

- John Hood, Australia and the east: a journal narrative of a voyage to New South Wales in an emigrant ship . London: John Murray, 1842, p. 9.

His description calls to mind an almost Survivor-esque battle for supremacy; however, unfortunately for everyone, the less successful didn't have the option of leaving the 'island'. They were trapped with each other, day in and day out, for months on end.

Considering the relatively limited entertainment options available on board, it is hardly surprising that observing and describing each other appears to have been a popular pastime for the diarists featured in Circumstances of Interest. While flattering descriptions do appear, several writers devoted considerable effort to documenting the less desirable traits of their fellow passengers. Evelyn Nicholson, for instance, concluded in the below entry that ‘the nicest passengers on board were a race-horse and 19 mules which were going to miners in New Guinea’.

From Diary of a trip to Australia, c.1897 / Evelyn Nicholson (RB Supp. Ms. 28).
Read entire diary online:

Evelyn's amusing, astute and often highly critical descriptions of fellow travellers are complemented by the collection of assorted ephemera that accompany her diary, including menu cards, official stationery and passenger lists. Most of these items are adorned with pencil sketches of numerous people, presumably fellow passengers. The identities of Evelyn's subjects in the below example are unfortunately a mystery, as is the source of the mysterious stains on the front side of the menu card (remnants of the compote of pigeon perhaps, or the saddle of mutton?).
Annotated menu card from RMS Gothic, 22nd June 1897. From ephemera collection accompanying Diary of a trip to Australia, c.1897 / Evelyn Nicholson (RB Supp. Ms. 28).

Louisa Jenner travelled to Australia almost thirty years before Evelyn, reaching Melbourne in December 1871. Her diary entries paint a vivid picture of life on board the Asia , the vessel upon which she and her family travelled. In the entry featured below, she describes a rather genteel squabble over a drawing-room piano belonging to a French fellow passenger; as was often the case in the event of disputes between passengers, the Captain was called in to mediate.

From Diary of a voyage from England to Australia on the ship 'Asia', 1871-1872. / Louisa Jenner (RB Add. Ms. 393 Deane).

As will be explored in next week's post, disagreements between passengers in second and steerage class were often settled in a much more direct manner. Without the luxury of being able to remove themselves from tiresome fellow passengers, grievances and frustrations often spilled off the pages of travellers' journals and into beds, cabins and dining-rooms.


‘Journalising, be it laughed at as it may, has two undeniable advantages attending it: it serves to fill up not unpleasantly many an hour which else would drag on heavily; and it enables us to recall in after years a thousand circumstances of interest which even the most retentive memory would have lost.’

- John Hood, Australia and the east: a journal narrative of a voyage to New South Wales in an emigrant ship. London: John Murray, 1842, p. 9.

For long-distance travellers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, keeping a journal was a popular method of keeping oneself gainfully occupied during long months spent at sea. Through a selection of manuscript travel diaries, journals and logs from Fisher Rare Books and Special Collections, this new exhibition provides a window (or, a porthole) into the 19th century shipboard experience.

The authors of this collection of travel diaries were, for the most part, journeying from England to Australia, a voyage that usually took up to four months. Whether their authors travelled for business, emigration, or for pleasure, or in first or second class, certain common preoccupations emerge across these accounts. Fellow travellers (particularly criticism thereof), sickness and health, the food, the weather, exotic wildlife and scenery: these fundamental elements of the passenger experience appear as universal themes. Their treatments are of course as varied as the passengers themselves, ranging from dry, factual accounts, to lively, emotional descriptions of the minutiae of shipboard life.

These diaries are revealing not only of the details of daily life at sea, but of how travellers coped with spending months at a time in a state of suspension – removed from their usual lives and routines, and confined to a highly artificial environment where all were, ultimately, at the mercy of the weather, not to mention their fellow passengers.

For further images and insights on the items in this exhibition, don't miss our upcoming series of companion articles. Each week on this blog we'll feature a different item and diarist. Stay tuned!

Agatha Christie (15th September, 1890 – 12th January, 1976)

15 September, 2015 is the 125th anniversary of the birth of one of detective fiction’s greatest authors, Agatha Christie. Known affectionately as the “Queen of Crime”, Christie reinvented and redefined the classic puzzle mystery.



You are welcome to attend a talk being given by Professor Frédéric Billiet on his involvement with the MUSICONIS project.

When: 10th July; 10:00 – 11:00 am
Where: Fisher Library, Seminar Room Level 2
The title of the talk "Representations of sound and music in the Middle Ages" will allow Professor Billiet to talk about his work on the MUSICONIS project using examples of music from liturgical manuscripts.


Professor Frédéric Billiet
Délégué Vie étudiante à l’Université Paris-Sorbonne
Professeur musique médiévale – Institut de recherche en musicologie (IReMus UMR 8223)

Contact: Julie Price
+61 2 9114 2321

On this day in 1687, Isaac Newton's great work Principia Mathematica, was published by The Royal Society in England.


The University of Sydney Library has one of four copies in the world of the first edition, which were used to eliminate the mistakes made in the first edition (only 250 copies printed) before the publication of the second edition.