Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
'Our Voyage to Australia. A brief sketch by W. S. M.' Diary 6 October-23 December 1853
The Screw Steamship "Harbinger"
St Vincent from the Battery
A fine day in the Atlantic
Port Phillip Heads Lighthouse- from a porthole
No 5 also a drawing [indecipherable]
[Water colour Sketch of the steamship]
Our Voyage to Australia
A brief sketch
Reserves the right of translation.
[ Page 7]
A long sea voyage being at best a monotonous affair does not furnish much matter of an interesting nature from which to pen a narrative, but 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 our everyday sea life- (N.Sall)
Thursday 6th October 1853
Two oclock has struck and punctual to her appointed hour the screw steamer "Harbinger" Captain John Lane, 1000 tons, and bound for Melbourne, moves slowly from the Southampton Docks, with thirty five passengers and a full general Cargo- Weather moderately fine, sea calm, and little wind- Anticipate making the run under seventy days, calling at
St Vincent for coal-
After steaming for about three miles dropped anchor, the Captain not having as yet come on board- Took a survey of the vessel- ascertained that she had formerly been a man-o-war brig, but having been lengthened had been fitted with a screw capable of being raised from the water when not required. From her extreme length and little beam should think
her greatly given to rolling Half poop- Cabins for first and second class passengers only- My berth one of three in a family Cabin amid ships looking out on to the deck and though small apparently the most comfortable in the ship- Made all snug, and passed away time till 10 P.M. in conversation with some of the passengers. At that hour turned in for a first nights rest on shipboard- Could doubtless have slept immediately but for the constant
tramp of the watch overhead, however after a few hours cogitations fell off from sheer exhaustion.
Friday 7th October
Awoke about Ό to 8 by hearing a great noise and bustle on deck, dressed and went up- Small tug alongside- Captain just come aboard - 9 am. Anchor weighed - Steam up - 3 Cheers from the tug - ditto from Harbinger, ditto again from tug - Bang bang! !from our
two guns and now were fairly off - 16000 miles of water to be traversed ere we reach our destination.
Fine clear sky, scarce a breath of wind or ripple All the passengers on deck enjoying the fresh air - At ½ past 12 passed the needles, the pilot here leaving us - 4 pm Dinner Time - heavy ground swell rather unpleasant, causing some of the Ladies to seek their cabins - Gentlemen also. - Resolved
to keep on deck as long as possible, & managed to remain there till 10 pm at which hour all lights must be extinguished - so turned in-
Saturday 8th October
Another beautiful morning - land still in view - On going down to breakfast found the smell of the oil from the Engines sufficiently disagreeable to force me up again; had some coffee on deck. Made acquaintance with
more of the Passengers some of whom had been in Melbourne before - Spoke bad French to an Italian belonging to the second cabin who couldnt speak english, also, entered into conversation with a discontented sea captain travelling second class, but who talks of paying the difference of fare and coming into the saloon - Found very good company in two young men (1st cabin) from Yorkshire, going to Melbourne to open a branch house in
connection with their Fathers business in Bradford - 4 pm - Gong sounds for dinner, but as the smell of the oil preponderates greatly over the smell of the dinner shall go without - Portland Bay in view - Towards night left the Lands End -
"Farewell thou merry England
"Shall we ever see thee more?
"Neer can we forget the many
"happy hours spent whilst
"on thy shores, so fare thee -
"well and if for ever then for
"ever fare-thee-well" -&c &c
Sunday 9th October
5 A.M.- Just awoke-
Caught in a squall in the Bay of Biscay Vessel stumbling about almost on her beam ends - Sea, one sheet of foam, but kept down by the violence of the wind - All hands on deck - skylights battened - Running before the gale with close reefed foresail only, 12 knots - Engine fires extinguished by the sea, & cook washed out of the cuddy, consequently
got no breakfast - tried hard to get up but couldnt - felt very squeamish, head giddy &c - Stewardess services in great demand- Stewardess too ill herself to attend to others - Everybody poorly- "Theres no place like home"
No dinner - Towards evening wind abated & sea began to rise causing the ship to roll about terribly - About 6 oclock managed to crawl on deck- Had some tea there & began to feel well again,
attempted to walk about but after one or two spills thought better of it - Several broken spars lying about, fore & main top gallant sails blown to ribbons, all the while paint either washed, or blown, off the funnel; great loss amongst the poultry &c. - No ladies visible, and but half a dozen gentlemen -
10 P.M. Fine bright, starlight, night - sea running high.
Monday 10th October
The "Bay of Biscay O" -
still squeamish, especially on
endeavouring to rise - on deck at last - Sea pie for breakfast, food for fishes soon afterwards - Nothing to be seen but sky and wa - Yes! Positively a lady her first appearance - What a pleasure to perceive so unexpected a visitor - but no! alas! false hope, she disappears again - Two new sails fitted in place of the torn ones - Find Brandy not always efficacious in cases of sea sickness, but
full stomach better than an empty one - Tried to sit out dinner, but when pastry came thought prudence the better part of valor, and made a hasty exit - Comfortably stowed away in berth rest of day and night.
Tuesday 11th October
Delightful morning -
Dead calm - steaming 10 knots - Passed and hailed a small schooner homeward bound lying to - Wind freshening towards noon -
All the Gentlemen and three or four Ladies on deck - Gaining confidence rapidly & feel almost inclined to sing "I'm afloat", "A life on the Ocean wave" &c. In the afternoon screw raised and funnel lowered, mainsail set - sailing 12 Knots- ship very steady with wind on the quarter -
Overhauled a large barque supposed to be the "Nelues" with the October Mails for Australia. A Capital dinner, to which did justice for the first time - very pleasant evening on deck.
Distance run today 207 miles.
Distance run today 207 miles
Wednesday 12th. October
Slept capitally last night Fine morning, stiff breeze, running under canvas only Weather getting warm and can now do without an overcoat Hope to be able to get at our trunks in the hold tomorrow, for change of linen All the Ladies, save one, on deck - Getting used to ship's ways & good appetite for meals Fresh coat of paint put on the funnel Got an introduction
to a very interesting young Lady who goes out to Melbourne to marry a Solicitor; as she comes from London, have no difficulty in finding ample topics for conversation -
Music and Singing in the Saloon in the evening 1st. Officer played on piano & flute, & my new interesting acquaintance sang a very pretty song called "Weep for the love that fate forbids". Passed the time very agreeably till bed hour Distance run 215 miles Cloudy night with falling barometer -
Thursday 13th. October.
Have been at sea just a week. The Weather being unfavorable does not permit of our getting at our trunks today as expected, but must wait till Monday next. - This is very annoying and inconvenient as the time begins to hang heavily and the weather to get very warm, causing a demand for books &c. and light clothing A gentleman lost his hat overboard and very nearly his wig also, he declares he will not wear the later again in consequence.
After Tea played at Whist More music and singing -
Friday 14th October
Steaming along all day very hot, awning spread Passed the Islands of Madeira and Porto Santo but not sufficiently near to discern objects.
Light wind in the afternoon; foresail, foretrysail, mizensail and all topsails set scudding along before the breeze very pleasantly moonlight
Anticipate reaching St Vincent on Tuesday or Wednesday next.
Dead Calm, and screw working all day with light sails set no ships in view played Cribbage all the Afternoon, Music & singing in the Evening Favorite song "Ben Bolt" - nothing else worth noticing -
Sunday 16th. October
Ship's Bell rang for Divine Service at 11 O'Clock, to be held on the Poop All the Passengers and Sailors in attendance, the latter being clothed entirely
in white, with clean straw hats. Captain read prayers from Church of England Prayer Book After service, Dinner, - Rest of the day very dull from the fact of being unable to do anything Under steam all day Tea at six & shortly afterwards to bed -
Monday 17th October
Weather having moderated luggage was got up from the hold A short time only being allowed to overhaul Everybody very busy Took out so many things in case
of accident that was at a loss where to put them, & amongst other articles a straw hat, which promised to be of great service under a tropical sun, but which blew overboard almost immediately after putting it on Experienced immense comfort from the light clothing and found Books very acceptable Funnel lowered and mainsail set after lunch Flies appear.- Music and singing in the evening favorable weather likely to continue -
Thursday 18th October
Fine stiff breeze, running under Canvas only, about 10 knots 12 O'Clock Distance run since noon yesterday 241 miles Distance from St Vincent about 200 miles. If all goes well shall reach there tomorrow Reading and writing all day Played cribbage with Mr. R - in the evening -
Wednesday 19th October
8 A.M. Making good headway Everyone anx
iously on the look out for land Under steam and Canvas in the afternoon -
About 3 o"Clock sighted Cape Antonia & about 5 whilst at dinner entered and dropped anchor in the harbor of St Vincent.
The scenery is pretty, the harbor being a perfect bay; in resemblance a lake from fact of its being so completely landlocked, and surrounded by mountains &
hills all looking very fertile.
The town in situate on the shore and distant about two miles from us; it consists of a few straggling white houses and a small jetty running out into the sea - On a hill to the left stands what appears to be a dingy looking battery with a flagstaff & portuguese flag flying, whilst in an opposite direction and on the other side of the bay we catch sight of a rocky island whose peak runs
up to a pinnacle. This is called the bird rock from its being, I suppose, beseiged by a number of large birds.
Riding at anchor in company with our own vessel is a portuguese brig, and several smaller craft, apparently fishing boats
The water being extraordinarily clear enables us to discern innumerable sharks and dog fish, all ferocious looking customers This constitutes the general view as nearly as possible from
the deck of the "Harbinger"
Several boats have put off from the shore and are coming towards us The first contains the Health Officer and General Screw Company's Agent, who after a short conversation with the Captain, go below, and as I perceive through a skylight are finishing off the dessert. The second boat now approaches, it contains two "darkeys", an old man and a boy of about 9 years of age; the latter is compelled by the former to go through a series of
evolutions, such as standing on his head, throwing summersaults &c, then jumping into the sea and alternately swimming and diving (undeterred it would seem by the monsters of the deep just alluded to) - This performance being concluded to the satisfaction of, I may safely say, all parties, the old man commences a long harangue in which he particularizes the boys particular merits, & finally ends by offering him to
any buyers, for just five dollars, well, four, three, & eventually one dollar & a half. No one however seeming inclined to make so novel a purchase, he returns to the shore, looking greatly disappointed and disgusted -
Many of the Passengers express a wish to land, but as night is fast closing in are advised to wait till the following day, the native inhabitants being a treacherous people, making it unsafe to be shore after dark Under these circum-
[Watercolour sketch of bay and ships at anchor with fort and flag in foreground]
-stances it is deemed prudent to wait till "morning doth appear" - Tea being over thought to enjoy the pleasure of angling for an hour or two so having procured some hooks, line and meat as bait, commenced fishing from the stern cabin windows, but after losing repeatedly hook, bait, & all had the luck to pull up a ferocious looking creature, who exhibited such a formidable row of teeth as induced me to let go & abandon the sport altogether Afterwards
finished writing a letter to Old England Being a sultry night, slept on the lounge -
Thursday 20 October
On deck at 5.30 A.M. broad daylight water perfectly clear & very calm Rising sun very effective first striking on the mountain tops & gradually descending to the bay, lighting up intervening objects in its descent Prior to breakfast time took a sketch of the town and
adjacent scenery Coaling commenced immediately after breakfast &coal dust and grit became plentiful everywhere, causing everyone and every thing to look extremely "smutty", accordingly at about 10.30 am hearing that a boat was leaving for shore, and being curious to see the place and anxious to set foot once again on terra firma, took a passage therein with several other passengers (gentlemen only) and were landed safely at
the jetty in about half an hour afterwards, here we were met by a number of the natives of both sexes, the children being in a state of nature and performing all kinds of antics for "silver" - Having the entire day before us we determined to see everything Started therefore first to inspect the town, if such it could be called
The houses are mostly formed of portions of rock cut from the mountains & cliffs, and present a very rude & primitive style of
architecture a few wooden ones here and there for the grand folks help to relieve the monotony, other than these, all are alike In passing from house to house came across some bananas (a tropical fruit) imported from a neighboring island, tasting something like potato, but I believe from being over ripe and oranges also imported (very acceptable) price 1 dollar for hundred; These latter were very quickly all bought up and
as I afterwards ascertained not one being left on the island The only so called Inn in the place supplied us with a quart bottle of Stout & ditto of Claret, the price of the former being 2/6 & of the latter 1 dollar/4s/2d/ (the most atrocious compounds imaginable) After taking of this refreshment /?/ made off towards the battery & commenced a most fatiguing ascent Judge our astonishment on finding that the
apparent verdure of the hills was no more than a peculiar kind of sand, extremely disagreeable to walk upon from its giving way under the feet, and its excessive heat - however after much exertion succeeded in reaching the wished for goal -
Whilst there took the following Notes: " St. Vincent Battery" - "Small square stone building, half in ruins surrounded by dilapidated wall on which are mounted six cannons, three being
"composed of brass, one yard in length; and three of iron three yards long these appear to command the entire bay and town Two Soldiers only visible (in uniform) one on duty the other off both speak broken English but neither very communicative (the remainder of the Regiment are employed coaling our vessel) Fine view of the bay and surrounding country, comprising in the distance a cemetery and other objects of minor importance".
Having satisfied our curiosities we commenced a descent and reached the ship at about four o'Clock After dinner took another trip to shore in
Most of the Sailors have been ill all day, the effects of eating fish caught in the moonlight. - The necessary allowance of fuel having been shipped, the steam was got up and by 11 o'Clock we had bidden adieu to St Vincent and were once more on our way.
Friday 21 October
Still amongst the Cape - de-Verde islands, passed St Iago, Fago and St Nicholas. Under Canvas only Thermometer 89 ° in the shade. Distance run to day 104 miles.
Saturday 22 October.
Dead calm Screw working - In the tropics Everybody much too hot Reading all day Music and singing in the Evening - Bright moonlight night. Went to bed but could not sleep for the heat.
Sunday 23 October
Rain to day for the first time since leaving England Divine service held below in consequence. Reading all the afternoon Sacred music in the evening.
Monday 24 October
Ship ahoy! Spoke a large ship homeward bound Hamburg flag Captain threw some dispatches overboard which their crew picked up, promising to report us on arrival at her destination - Thermometer
95 ° in the shade Porpoises visible in the evening swimming round the vessel & throwing a phosphorescent light about resembling aquatic fire-works.
Tuesday 25th October.
More rain - Two small land birds alighted on the deck - very tame - stayed for a short time & then flew away again to sea (poor creatures) - Too hot to remain in the Saloon & too wet to be on deck so went to bed hoping for better weather -
[Watercolour sketch of people on deck of Steamer]
Wednesday 26 October
Becalmed - Rain all day, Screw working and all sail set - nothing worthy of note -
Thursday 27 October
Three weeks at sea. Everything same as yesterday.
Friday 28 October
Crossed the Equator but were not visited by Neptune, at all events at our end of the vessel - the Sailors however were in great glee at the other end, probably from an extra allowance of grog.
Shortly after this latter date a lottery was started - Tickets £1 each - and numbered from 65 upwards - the holder of the ticket corresponding with the number of days in which the ship makes the run & anchored in Hobsons Bay - Australia So to be declared the fortunate winner of £10. Tickets to be drawn from a bag - &c. &c. -
Later a weekly newspaper was started registering amongst other occurrences, all births deaths &c. (principally amongst the poultry) with occasionally
a few original poetical compositions, some of them very meritorious & diverting.
A Stock Exchange paper also came into existence which made known the value of lottery tickets &c.
Great dissatisfaction was shown about this time by the Passengers, (especially those whose tickets were low numbers) in consequence of the Coal running short caused by the constant succession of calms - And as a week elapsed, the monotony of ship life being a little relieved by these occurrences.
Friday 4th November.
Sighted a large barque distant about three miles homeward bound - signalled but received no reply - probably because they could not read our colours, the wind blowing them in that direction - This was a great disappointment as we wanted a fresh topic for conversation.
Saturday 5 November.
"Guy Fawkes Day" Excessively hot Snap-Dragon in the evening.
For some weeks after this nothing of great importance occurred, the usual routine of eating, drinking and sleeping - Reading, writing, talking, joking, & smoking, singing & playing being the order of the day & night.
A kind of jovial bachelors meeting &Choruses formed the chief entertainment. It was conducted in a very orderly manner and always terminated about 10 O'Clock.
The Ladies likewise had a kind of private entertainment in an adjoining cabin to the one we occupied - It also took place weekly but what the nature of it was remained a secret amongst themselves - That it was not a teetotal meeting we were convinced from the nature of the stores always conveyed there beforehand - Suffice to say that as the evening progressed so the laughing became more frequent and louder, till bed hour, when this mysterious assembly broke up.
On the 20th November we doubled the Cape of Good Hope when the weather became very unsettled, and as we ran into a southerly latitude very cold -
Overcoats came into demand and we seldom shewed our noses above deck unless indeed when we were smoked out by the stove in the saloon suddenly becoming unmanageable, which it frequently did & generally on very bleak days. Sometimes on stormy nights we would go down into the Engine rooms & watch the machinery, this was the
warmest place of all and was greatly patronised on these occasions - One cold night whilst sitting in the saloon listening to some very pretty vocal & instrumental performances, & whilst the passengers were amusing themselves in sundry ways we were alarmed by an explosion, & which was immediately followed by a roaring noise as the escape of steam. I afterwards ascertained this alarm was nothing less that the blowing off of the safety valve just in time to prevent one
of the boilers from bursting, the consequence of which would have been fearful - providentially no harm was done, although some of the passengers were in the engine room at the time.
That they were greatly alarmed need not be told. - Whilst the necessary repairs were being done we were unable to use but one boiler & consequently progressed at half-speed -
A good breeze soon afterwards sprung up, when the machinery was not required, and we went along a spanking rate, causing low numbers to look up again.
Thursday 1st. December.
Barometer has been falling fast for the last week - this is a warning for all hands to prepare for "dirty weather"
Orders were according given to take in all sail, close reef foresail, & fore & main topsail, and make all "taut" - Towards evening the wind increased and during the night we were in a heavy gale - The vessel rolled & pitched in the trough of the sea & strained sufficient to break her back - Just before daylight an immense billow broke clean over the ship, washing away every
moveable thing, breaking the skylight, extinguishing the lamp & nearly swamping us in our cabins - it was some minutes before the vessel could right herself - Was greatly alarmed & rushed on deck with some others "en dishabille" - Sea running mountains high at daybreak. Two men at the wheel - Was obliged to hold on by the gangway - Several spars broken & carried away &c.
The storm continued with less violence for two or three days when it gradually subsided, & was followed
by a dead calm - Getting into warmer latitudes again - Tickets with low numbers at a discount - high numbers at a premium - Speeding along capitally, made one day 272 miles, but could not possibly reach Melbourne now under the specified period.
One beautiful moonlight night was a lunar rainbow which during the short time it lasted was very beautiful, the colors being nearly as vivid as in the solar ones. Next morning descried two icebergs, but a considerable distance off.
Two species of birds have lately made an appearance in vast numbers - vizt. the Albatross, a large swan like bird generally entirely white; and the Cape Pigeon, a very pretty speckled pigeon - The movements of these creatures in the air are extremely graceful, the former will often remain for 10 or 12 minutes with wings extended, sailing very rapidly through the air round & round the vessel without the slightest apparent motion of their bodies.
Tuesday 20 December
A kind of farewell supper came off this Evening in the saloon - The table was loaded with good things comprising every kind of delicacy both eatable and drinkable to be obtained on shipboard, - & amongst the rest a live sucking pig was discovered on the removal of the covers, who no sooner saw the light and heard the noise than making a precipitate retreat down the table, capsized the Custards Creams & Cakes to the astonishment of the assembled guests.
Full justice having been done to the repast the following toast were drunk with immense enthusiasm - The Queen & Royal Family, The Captain & Officers of the ship - Ladies - Passengers generally and Old friends at home
The Captain voluntered and attempted a song but broke down after a few lines. A gentleman composed & sang a song impromptu, having reference to the little pig just mentioned. Another gentleman made an excellent speech, to which
The Captain endeavoured to respond but unfortunately broke down again - After this one of the Passengers sang a comic song called "The Calais Packet" and as an encore "The Post Office", both of which afforded much amusement, and brought rounds of applause - The Ladies having retired, joking was indulged in to a great extent and the entertainment was finally brought to a close a 2 o'Clock A.M. - the vocal powers of all present being strained to the utmost by "We won't go home till morning" &c.
[Water colour sketch of lighthouse]
Wednesday 21st. December
Soda Water & headaches -
Very limited muster at breakfast (10AM.) - Towards noon a few "more-dead-than-alive" looking individuals emerged one by one from sundry parts of the ship, only however to lie down and sleep under the awning; the conversation was consequently very dull and things in general beginning to look very melancholy when - hark! What cry was that? Land - Land - Australian Land -
just visible, far on the dim horizon - Picture then the revulsion from ennui to animation, from inactivity to life - What a general rush on the deck - How many questions has not the Captain to answer in one breath? How many telescopes & other magnifying optical instruments are pointed towards the indicated direction?
But to make matters short we gradually approach the shore until from seeing mountains & hills we can discern trees & scrub, and
are in fact beginning to look for Kangaroos when the order is give to "bout ship" and we are once more borne away far out to sea - Towards evening we ran into Portland Bay where we remained all night amidst the most vivid and continuous sheet lightning possible to conceive -
Thursday 22 December
No land in view till the afternoon when we sighted Cape Otway - Everyone very busy packing up all day - By 10 P.M. made the
revolving light at Port Phillip Heads and lied too for the night - This was our last night on board the "Harbinger" - Our joy at leaving her was not unmixed with sorrow for we had become attached to the craft which had borne us safely over so many miles & through many dangers.
Lovely starlight night, the Southern cross being easily distinguishable - No bed - No sleep -
Friday 23 December.
Entered the Heads at 5 AM. (Took a Pilot aboard previously) - Anchored in Hobsons Bay at 10 - Thus having completed "our voyage to Australia" in Seventy seven days.
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[Transcribed by Jacqueline Lamprecht for the State Library of New South Wales]