Nineteenth-century travel to Australia

20 December, 2010

Ally Heathcote's shipboard diary, SS Northumberland, England to Melbourne, 1874
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’.

Comments (12)

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mervyn reger 7 January, 2011 14:22
Elizabeth Barr married John Ramsay in South Melbourne early 1872. Can you tell me how and when she travelled to Victoria - originally from Dublin Ireland?
Discovery Centre 9 January, 2011 14:06
Hi Mervyn, You will need to search the Public Records Office of Victoria website for Elizabeth Barr, you can find the details here.  Good Luck!
Mary Fiegert 14 January, 2011 16:46
Please advise how to have an ancestor's name entered on the migrant memorial wall in Melbourne, Thank You, Mary
Discovery Centre 15 January, 2011 10:14
Hi Mary. The Tribute Garden was a project designed in stages and was completed in 2002. We no longer take names for the walls but if you see our Question of the Week on Tribute Walls and Gardens, you will find other suggestions for commemorating your family's immigration.
Sharon Burton Fletcher 5 October, 2012 09:51
I have just been loaned a diary from the SS Potosi from 1883. The author (S Clarke Good) talks of other vessels making the trip that he tried to get berths on around that time too... I've only just got it today and will read it and hope to learn more soon, it's wonderful to dip into the day of someone undergoing such a voyage! My son lives in Melbourne and hates the journey to and from as it's so long but I reckon this would be a good read for anyone on those flights! :D
David brown 6 December, 2012 08:30
I have just discovered I have an ancestor who travelled to Australia in 1885 on the SS Potosi. Anything you can share from the diary would be very interesting.
Justin LeSueur 30 September, 2014 18:08
Hi. My great grand father travelled from uk to Melbourne with his family on the potosi in 1883 arriving in Melbourne approx June 1883. Is there any mention of "LeSueur" in the diary?
Discovery Centre 6 December, 2012 14:24

Hi David, I have checked the Log of Logs and cannot find a reference for a diary from a voyage in 1885. Perhaps try contacting the State Library of Victoria and see if they can provide you with some further information.

Sharon Burton Fletcher 14 June, 2013 12:33
Sorry it has taken me so long to reply.. the diary I have starts November 16th 1883 and logs distance, lat and long up to 26th December arriving at Williamstown Habour, calling on the 13th December at Melbourne. I would imagine then that in 1885 there would have been a different passenger list.. however it does give an insight into the kind of journey it might have been for others. I am reading it onto tape and typing it, I have only just started the project but hope to get it done over the coming weeks.
Philip Mosely 5 March, 2015 02:01
Hi Sharon, I am investigating John and Agnes Wallace, with 10 year old son John, who were on the SS Potosi out of London arriving in Melbourne on 26 December 1883. They went onto Sydney on the Potosi, arriving 1 January 1884. Would your diary of that trip mention the Wallaces? The Wallaces were Scots from Kilmarnock, Ayreshire.
Sharon Burton fletcher 19 February, 2017 09:09
Sorry I didn't see this reply until now. I still haven't finished transcribing the diary but I when I do I will check these questions and let you know. I haven't noticed that name yet but I'm afraid I stopped a quarter of the way through as my time became very limited fir the project. I hope to be able to return to it soon. All the best :)
Hi 14 March, 2017 23:22
I am looking for any relatives of Elizabeth nee Matthews and John Pratt who went to Australia apprx 1860s. They had daughters one was Eleanor who married George Huchinson and had 14 children. 1 Thx linda in the Uk
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