This looks interesting and fun (in parts) – a book just out from the Australian National Library about the history of emigration to Australia: High Seas and High Teas: Voyaging to Australia, by historian and curator Roslyn Russell. My thanks go to Chris Brady for alerting me to this one.
Here’s the press release:
‘The rats I frighten away by throwing books or anything hard at the spot at which they commence their gnawing.’
Emigrant Janet Ronald wrote this in the journal she kept on board one of the ships transporting free settlers from Britain and Ireland to Australia in the nineteenth century.
On journeys lasting more than 100 days non-stop, our forebears endured raging seas, the dazzling heat of the tropics and freezing temperatures as ships journeyed far into the southerly latitudes. They also formed social communities, putting on plays, developing sometimes lasting relationships and taking part in wild nautical rituals.
Packed in cheek by jowl with fellow passengers and crew, life on board was rigidly defined by social class. Lower-class passengers dined on homemade concoctions of mutton fat pudding (‘clammy to the mouth when eaten cold’), preserved potatoes and experimental stews, while those travelling first-class enjoyed elaborate multi-course dinners, including fresh meat, slaughtered on board.
Navigating the social mores on these giant floating microcosms was only half the story. Amid the chronicles of flirtations and high jinks, odours and rats, there were also tales of despotic captains, severe water rationing, disease, domestic discord and violence, fear of enemy ships and violent storms. From those sailing under servitude to emigrants seeking a new life, the people who braved the journey changed Australia.
Using diary entries and shipboard newspapers, author Roslyn Russell gives a vivid sense of what it was like to leave one life for another and sail across the world into the unknown. In the foreword, Kerry O’Brien writes about his Irish ancestors’ perilous voyages to Australia in the nineteenth century—as both free settlers and guests of Her Majesty.
Roslyn Russell expertly curates the travellers’ personal diaries, allowing the reader to hear directly from 19th-century men like Joseph Pettingell, who lost a beloved child on the journey from London to Hobart in 1834, and women like Annie Gratton, travelling solo and determined to stay ‘respectable’ on the trip from London to Melbourne in 1858.
Background feature pages reveal the colonies’ desired emigrants (‘free from all bodily or mental defects’), answer the delicate question of how men and women relieved themselves on board, list the basic rations doled out to each passenger, and much more.
Other highlights include shipboard newspapers, which appear here in full-page images of front-pages and choice extracts, including an unsolicited advice column on how ladies should behave on board, circulated on the Great Britain in 1861, and a lost and found article appealing for someone to come forward with information about a lost ‘recollection of how I spent the night before last; how I found myself under the table, who picked me up and put me to bed with my boots on’.
Many of the diarists were skilled artists and the book is full of sketched landscapes, birds, people and nautical scenes.
PS – Check the comments below for a fabulous quotation from Henry Lawson.
PPS – The folks at the Australian National Library have kindly sent me some photos of spreads from the book for those who are interested. See below…
2 thoughts on “High Teas and High Seas – stories of emigrants sailing to Australia”
From someone who undertook the 19th-century voyage a couple of times in chasing his life’s love (sadly, that was not to be), ‘For’ard’ by Australian federation era literary great Henry Lawson in 1893 begins:
It is stuffy in the steerage where the second-classers sleep,
For there’s near a hundred for’ard, and they’re stowed away like sheep, —
They are trav’lers for the most part in a straight ‘n’ honest path;
But their linen’s rather scanty, an’ there isn’t any bath —
Stowed away like ewes and wethers that is shore ‘n’ marked ‘n’ draft.
But the shearers of the shearers always seem to travel aft;
In the cushioned cabins, aft,
With saloons ‘n’ smoke-rooms, aft —
There is sheets ‘n’ best of tucker for the first-salooners, aft. …
That is just wonderful! Thanks Graeme!