Ally Heathcote's shipboard diary, SS Northumberland, England to Melbourne, 1874
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: I am trying to trace records of my great grandmother, who was a famous English concert pianist and toured the world in the 1870s. She visited Europe, Asia, America and Australia, first coming to Melbourne and then touring many parts of the country. Where can I find more information about the ship that she travelled on, the conditions of travel and information about where she performed in Australia?
Answer: The first place to look for people entering and leaving Australia via Melbourne in the late 1800s is the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV) passenger lists. These don’t just record immigrants but anyone who arrived and left Victorian ports. You can search the indexes to them online to find your grandmother's name, the dates she arrived and left and the ships she travelled on. You can then visit PROV or State Library of Victoria (SLV) Genealogy Centre to view and print microfiche copies of the full passenger lists.
Information about ships can be found in a number of sources. Two of the most useful for your purpose are Shipping arrivals and departures, Victorian ports by Marten Syme and Log of logs: a catalogue of logs, journals, shipboard diaries, letters, and all forms of voyage narratives, 1788 to 1988, for Australia and New Zealand and surrounding oceans by Ian Nicholson.
For information about the conditions of travel during the 1870s some information can be found on our Journeys to Australia website, which also has good links to other relevant resources.
Personal diaries kept by passengers and ships’ logs also often give you further detailed information about shipboard life. The SLV has a large number of such manuscripts and books of this type in its collection, as do other libraries in Australia.
One resource that is of particular relevance is the online article, Recreating the Polite World: Shipboard Life of Nineteenth-Century Lady Travellers to Australia, which also gives other good references that you may want to explore.
You can also search the newspapers of the day, which will probably mention your ancestor if she was a well-known personality or may have information about the ships she travelled on. Many can easily be accessed online through the National Library of Australia’s fantastic website, Trove. This resource has dozens of digitised newspapers from 1803 to 1982 and is easily searchable by name.
All websites and online articles mentioned can be found at right under ‘Related resources’ and ‘External links’.