‘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.
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.