Sailing to Australia: Shipboard diaries by nineteenth-century British emigrants
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‘There was nothing in particular to write about either yesterday or the day before, as, indeed, there is not today.’ Fifteen-year-old Arthur Clarke speaks, in 1868, for many of us whose diaries didn’t live up to our hopes of them. Why do we write them?
Andrew Hassam’s researches into the diaries of nineteenth-century emigrants to Australia yield a lot of small answers and one big one. To let the folks at home know you are alive and in good spirits (the diary would be read out to family and friends after tea); to leave a lasting token of yourself in the homeland, a memorial; to keep a promise to a mother or a father or a sister; to while away the hours of a hundred-day voyage; to pretend you hadn’t left at all (apparently a sort of ‘chauvinism’ wouldn’t let an Englishman admit his domain had limits); to advise and instruct those coming after you – what to bring, what to watch out for or simply what to expect; to practise the habits of self-discipline and self-improvement: James Espie White in 1862 told his mother:
There were in our cabin five who commenced besides four who fully intended to have commenced and kept journals hut there were only two who stuck to them and I am happy to say that I was one of their number, there being a great number of journals dying throughout the ship besides.