'Brief Sketches of Life onboard a Steam Vessel'

Detail of diary, 21 September
Extract from Ally Heathcote's diary: Monday, September 21st 1874.
Source: Museum Victoria

Extract from transcript of Ally Heathcote's diary:
Monday, September 21st 1874

We came on board with our relatives at noon, a little after them as we had to pass the Doctor, I suppose to ascertain whether we were bringing any contagious disease on board. We went below to see our future home for the following two months, the first look at our berths was not so favourable as we would have liked but we must put up with inconvenience on board a vessel like the one we had chosen for the means of transport to our adopted country. We had left our native town amid the prayers and blessings of our dear relatives and friends, and I am sure no one left their country with more prayers than did my parents, brother and sister and I. We are leaving one home to make another in the opposite extreme of her Majesty's dominions.

At the appointed hour for starting, the bell was sung for the visitors to leave the ship, we had to bid farewell to our dear relatives for a time at least and as soon as possible the anchor was drawn up and our good ship, amid the cheers of the crew and the firing off of a gun, glided elegantly out of the harbour at Gravesend.

Smoothly she sailed down the Thames and we stood on the bulwark and viewed the scenery which was fine, we passed several vessels in and about the harbour, some were coming in from their outward voyage. The scenery was quite new and interesting to me but still in the midst of it my thoughts wandered to the dear ones I had just bid good-byes to. We retired to our berths at half past eight, very tired and sleepy.

Ally Heathcote's diary
76 page hand-written stitched journal, densely written in ink on front and reverse pages. Sheets are faintly ruled, no cover; includes loose sheet with list of Sunday services. Diary commences with a 'Preface' and then continues 'Steamship Northumberland – passage to Australia in 52 days – Brief sketches of life onboard a steam vessel'. Narrative divided into dated, day by day descriptions.

The diary has been written with a sense of audience - near the beginning is an undertaking to her uncle to keep a diary. At its conclusion there is a letter written by Ally from 88 Drummond St Carlton to her aunt and uncle which implies that she sent it to them in England. It invites them to circulate it and even to perhaps get printed in the Times.

Ally's experience represents the experience of thousands of late nineteenth century migrants and provides an invaluable research tool in terms of her descriptions of shipboard life, other passengers, navigational details and first views of Melbourne. The diary concludes with a fascinating glimpse into the initial landing, Yarra Yarra and Hobsons Bay, train journey from Sandridge to the Pier and then on through Brunswick St Fitzroy to Northcote. Her style is very engaging, light, heartfelt, and sometimes humorous.

This diary was written by Ally Heathcote, from Preston in the North of England. She came out to Australia at the age of nineteen with her parents and, we think her siblings, Willie and Maggie, whom she states 'had for years thought of visiting Australia at length'. Ally also states that she had often thought of immigrating but that she 'never had the remotest idea that my dreams of travelling 16 thousand miles would ever be realised.' They left on Monday 21 September 1874, travelling on the steamship Northumberland (have considered travelling by clipper but due to her mother's health, wanted the shortest journey possible). Ally details the route, shipboard life, food, illnesses, navigational details such as longitude and latitude, distances and speed, first impressions of Australia and general feelings of excitement, the sorrow of separation, the joys and relief of arrival.