Revisiting Persuasion: Jane Austen’s naval novel

Woodcut by Joan Hassall illustrating a pivotal scene from the novel, an accident in Lyme Regis. Anne Elliot is third from left and Captain Wentworth kneeling at centre. From the 1975 Folio Society edition of Persuasion, reproduced with permission.

Woodcut by Joan Hassall illustrating a pivotal scene from the novel, an accident in Lyme Regis. Anne Elliot is third from left and Captain Wentworth kneeling at centre. From the 1975 Folio Society edition of Persuasion, reproduced with permission.

If, like me, you’ve been meaning to reread Jane Austen, among other classics you first read long ago, then this year is the time to do it — the 200th anniversary of her death in July 1817. And if, like me, you weren’t sure which one to begin with, let me guide you as a reader of Signals to Persuasion, with its splendid central characters drawn from the Royal Navy at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s not just chick-lit for the literati. You can read it, if you like, as an adjunct or appendix to the well-thumbed maritime classics of C S Forrester and Patrick O’Brian, most likely sitting on your bookshelves already.

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The Shipwreck Hunter: An interview with David Mearns

Much of David Mearns work as a shipwreck hunter is the analysis of images and sonar scans. Image: David Mearns. 

Much of David Mearns work as a shipwreck hunter is the analysis of images and sonar scans. Image: David Mearns.

“People think ‘That was it, the deep oceans became accessible to man with Titanic in 1985’. Well, that’s completely false.”

David Mearns is one of the world’s pre-eminent shipwreck hunters. His company, Blue Water Recoveries, has an 88% recovery rate. He discovered the HMAS Sydney, and the Kormoran, the HMS Hood, the Royal Navy flagship sunk by the Bismarck, Vasco da Gama’s Esmerelda (which sunk in 1503), the Lucona a cargo ship sunk by a time bomb that murdered its crew and the Rio Grande, the deepest shipwreck ever found – at 5,762 metres.

But Mearns wasn’t interested in history at University. He actively avoided it, instead, he concentrated on getting degrees in marine biology and later, marine geology. He found work in the offshore industry, helping search and recovery for the US Navy. This is what sparked his now lifelong obsession as a shipwreck hunter: part detective, part archaeologist, part deep ocean adventurer – and historian.

His passion for the stories of the past drives him thousands of metres below the waves.

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Ships’ diaries – The blogs of yesteryear

‘Ships’ diaries’, by former technical services librarian Jan Harbison. From Signals 104 (Sept-Nov  2013).

This narrative is dedicated to my dear wife and children for their amusement and my employment and as it is most agreeable to me to sometimes hold converse with them, it is only intended for their eyes or those akin to them.

So begins the diary of Captain John Buttrey of the brig Dart in 1865. He could not know that nearly 150 years later, his diary might be accessed by a worldwide audience through the Internet, as are the blogs of today.

Pages of the Terror Diary, by Captain Henry Downes.

Pages of the Terror Diary, by Captain Henry Downes.

The museum’s public research facility, the Vaughan Evans Library, has many diaries written by travellers, immigrants, crew members, sea captains, naval men, ships’ surgeons, whaling captains, a captain’s wife, a matron and a convict. Some are very brief and factual, while others are beautifully descriptive and often very personal accounts revealing emotions and humour. Some have been donated by family members who might have found the diary in an attic; others have been purchased by or donated to the museum.

The diary quoted at the beginning of this article is a wonderful one. Captain Buttrey commanded a brig that travelled to the South Sea Islands in 1865 to collect bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers) and tortoiseshell. As well as writing letters home to his family, he kept the diary, which gives an insight into life at sea, interactions with the islanders, and his life at home, with frequent references to what his wife and four boys would be doing at that time of day. It is a diary full of affection for his family. He looks at their ‘likenesses’ every day:

I have [been] looking at your likenesses again today and have been pictureing [sic] you all at home. Our time is about 10 minutes in advance of Sydney so I say now they are at breakfast. Baby looks as if he was trying to imitate Lister with his mouth – Bateson looks as if he were brim full of mischief … Marshall appears as a staid gentleman & one of deep thought. The principal one Mama looks indescribably loveable.

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Charity begins at home for Cutty Sark book

Simon Malcolm donating the book to Museum Librarian Frances Prentice

Simon Malcolm donating the book to Museum Librarian Frances Prentice

The Knox Grammar School Bookfair Committee have generously donated a copy of Alan Villier’s Cutty Sark to the Vaughan Evans Library.

Eagle eyed committee member Simon Malcolm spotted the volume amongst the many boxes. Signed by the officeholders of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society and accompanied by a selection of photographs relating to the vessel’s restoration in 1953 and a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Ironically this is one of the few volumes by Alan Villiers not in Vaughan Evans possession when he donated his collection which was the foundation of the Museum’s Research Library so we were delighted to receive this special copy from Simon.
Conservation volunteer Jack McBurney has been tasked with making a tailor made archival box for the volume which will be included as part of the Library’s rare book collection.
The Annual Bookfair happens on the 11-14 July, at Knox Grammar School, Wahroonga.

Behind the scenes – Cataloguing a captain’s diary

As a Librarian, my favourite job is cataloguing diaries written by sailors or passengers. Often these diaries are of a very personal nature, and I feel I’m being transported back to the 1800s.

One such diary is that of Captain Buttrey of the brig Dart, which sailed to the South Sea Islands in 1865 to collect bêche-de-mer and tortoise shells. It’s a wonderful diary, written, he says, for his wife and four boys, and “it is only intended for their eyes”. I love to picture him writing this diary to them, while he looks at their “likenesses” and imagines what they are doing at that moment. I was wondering whether these “likenesses” were drawings or photographs, as at one point he doubts the accuracy of the colour of his wife’s eyes. But later in the diary he mentions that his wife had to hold her breath when her likeness was taken, so they must have been hand-coloured photographs.

Sketch of canoes from the diary ANMM 00048022

Sketch of canoes from the diary ANMM 00048022

In the diary he mentions that he is collecting specimens for his “good friend the Curator of the Museum”. Detective work came into play when trying to establish which museum this was, and a search of the Trove database came up with an article from the Sydney Morning Herald listing the donations to the Australian Museum in January and February 1866, including reptiles, fishes, molluscs and crustacea from the South Sea Islands, donated by our Captain Buttrey –

His descriptions of the natives of the islands are fascinating – especially his observation of small children being given cigarettes to quieten them, and babies given pipes for the same reason.

Pressed leaf accompanying the diary ANMM 00048026

Pressed leaf accompanying the diary ANMM 00048026

He returned to Sydney as a passenger on the schooner Chance, all the way hoping to be home in time for his wife’s birthday, and he expresses the hope that the pilot will be able to drop him off near his home in Manly.

Further research found them moving to England in 1868; the family having expanded to 5 children, and another born in England, as shown in the 1871 census. He is listed there as “retired merchant”.

I’m sure when he sent his daily allocation of kisses to each of his children he never imagined a Librarian would be reading about it almost 150 years later.

What’s new in our digital library

Cover. Handbook of information for the Colonies and IndiaThe Library has recently added some new book titles to our digital library collection. There’s a British India Steam Navigation Co. guide, a New Zealand Shipping Co. pocket book and an AUSN Co. time table and fare guide.

We hope that you’ll find these hard to find shipping company publications useful for all sorts of research from historical research to getting those little details right in your latest novel.

New in the Vaughan Evans Digital Library

Handbook of information for western Pacific Islands 1899. [Vaughan Evans Library collection]

 As part of our library preservation program we’ve added several new books to our digital library collection. Dating from the era of steamship travel and published between the late 1880’s to the early part of the 20th century.

You’ll find traveller’s guides for the Australian coast and the Pacific from companies such as Howard Smith, Burns Philp and the AUSN. With lots of illustrations and advertisements these are well worth a look. There’s also a mercantile atlas from 1899 showing world shipping routes and a  guide to maritime house flags and funnels from 1903.

We hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

New addition to our digital library

The Mercantile Navy List is the latest addition to our digital library archive at

Hard to find and not well known in Australia this is the most comprehensive listing of British registered merchant ships. It’s also a really good place to look for official numbers and signal letters.

The earlier volumes are part register and part directory. Issues up to 1869 have lists of master mariners with certificate numbers.  Other useful information to be found in these older volumes include lists of pilots, port and maritime officials and also advertisements.

Illustrated London News archive

The Illustrated London News Historical Archive is now available online in the Vaughan Evans Library.  Covering the entire run of the ILN from 14 May 1842 to 2003.  Each page has been digitally reproduced in full colour and every article and caption is full-text searchable.  This illustrated newspaper is a key resource for historical research and  is also a good source for  illustrations of ships and maritime scenes.

Keep up with what’s new in the Library

Want to know how you can keep up with new items added to the Library collection ?

Follow the link  to WorldCat where you can view or subscribe to our monthly new titles list and tag or share books with others.

via New items available at Australian National Maritime Museum Library [].

For regular blog readers there’s also a link on the blogroll in the bar at the right of the screen.

Happy browsing

Library treasure trove

The National Library of Australia has launched their new discovery service called Trove .  Designed to help researchers browse and discover material about Australians by Australians through a simple search with clustered results.

You’ll find our own library collection and those of many other Australian memory institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum Library, State, University and public libraries.  Books, images and Australian digitized newspapers are just some of the sorts of resources available. Trove gives researchers easy access to information resources from the deep web for family history, school assignments and academic research, supplementing what you can find using search engines.

Try it out now

Titanic anniversary

This week marks the 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on the night of the 14th April1912 on it’s maiden voyage to New York.

A subject of great fascination for many people in Australia and overseas this recent news item from the National Archives in the UK  highlights some interesting and important records  in their collection to explore online.

If you’re luck enough to be going to the UK for holidays you might want to catch the Titanic honor and glory exhibition the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

Or check out some Titanic books available from our Museum Store.

New library research guide – HMS Beagle

We all know about Charles Darwin but what about the Beagle we hear you ask..

Most people know the HMS Beagle as the ship on which Charles Darwin’s sailed on his world famous voyage that was a catalyst to developing his theory of evolution.  At the Vaughan Evans Library we thought it was time that the Beagle emerged from Darwin’s shadow.

HMS Beagle is a new library research guide for those who would like to find out more about this small survey vessel which played such an important part in Australian and world history. The guide covers printed and online sources and also includes information on crew,  logs  and accounts of voyages,  Darwin’s voyage  and recent archaeological expeditions to find it’s final resting place.

Find it and other research guides in the Library pages on the Museum’s website.

Making HMS Beagle – see the construction of a model for the Museum here on the Museum blog.

Library reopens to the public

Library compactus under construction

Library compactus under construction

The Vaughan Evans Library reopened today after a temporary closure with a slightly new look.

The book collection has been rehoused into an electronic compactus unit. Not only is our storage space more efficient but an unexpected bonus is it’s now easier to locate books on the shelves. No more cramped aisles and bookshelves and automatic lighting above each bay.

The Library is open to researchers by appointment 10 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday and the first Saturday of each month. To make an appointment contact Gillian Simpson our Public Enquiries Librarian on 02 9298 3731 or email

Library shares bookmarks with you

The Vaughan Evans Library is now publishing bookmarks on the museum blog.

“The Library’s Bookmarks” section at the right hand side of the screen contains the most recent bookmarks we’ve added to social bookmarking site

As Australian’s we’re aware that to access many of the primary resources used for maritime and related family history research can often involve people in long and expensive journeys. Either here or to their state libraries. Sometimes even interstate or overseas. So we began by seeking out digital versions of some of those hard to find texts and reference books for you.

We’ll be adding to our bookmark collection regularly and hope to share with you sites that we work with all the time.

We hope you’ll find them a useful and convenient research tool too and want to share them with others.

So visit the velibrary at