On Monday 17th October the State Library’s From Ship to Shore travelling exhibition was launched at the Moranbah Library in the Isaac Region.
The exhibition includes panels featuring a selection of images and information relating to shipboard diaries from the 1860s to the 1940s held in the John Oxley Library collection. These diaries have all been digitised and can be read from via our online One Search catalogue.
I travelled to Moranbah with the original diaries to set up a white gloves talk and display at Monday’s opening ceremony. On the plane from Brisbane I was seated next to a miner from Sydney who was part of the fly in fly out workforce riding the resources boom sweeping Australia. While chatting he was interested to hear about the diaries and we both reflected on how rapidly we move around today in comparison with the age of shipboard travel. It takes us a matter of hours to fly thousands of kilometres through the air from one place to another. When we get to where we’re going, or stop off at various points along the route, we call, text, tweet, email, or send a Facebook message. And how many of us keep a diary while travelling with so many options open to us for spontaneous communication?
As a 15 year old assisted immigrant from Wales it took Maria Steley and her family from October 1863 to Februrary 1864 before they finally stepped off the Ariadne and onto the Australian mainland. The ship had been quarantined at Stradbroke Island on arrival in January due to an outbreak of measles.
Rereading a transcript of Maria’s diary, which is written as if she is addressing a long letter to her friend Elenor, I was struck by her excitement but also by the hard realities of life, and death, on board immigrant ships to Australia in the nineteenth century:
Monday 26 October we are sailing this morning 9 miles a hour if we go on at that rate we shall soone be ther I Don’t care how soon we get ther A child died to day it is a verry serrous thing they sowe the body up in a rug then they get a plank and let the body go down the Shool master reed the furnell service [sic].
Maria’s life would also be cut tragically short in a horse riding accident five years later as she was heading home after a visit to Agnesvale Homestead west of Maryborough where her father was involved with the Burrum Coal Mine.
Reading her diary from on board the Ariadne and holding it in my hand in another Queensland coal mining town 148 years later, knowing that she had held it in hers trying to write while the ship rocked to and fro, I was transported into Maria’s experience:
Saturday October 9 The ship is rolling very bad the tins and buckets and every thing that is lose is rolling from one end of the ship to the others…we could not stand nor sit without houlding something we Cant get our tables down to eat of we are Oblige to sit on the ground you would laught to seea us tumbling from one end of the place to the other [sic]
Thanks to Jo Coleman, Middlemount Branch Library Manager, for organising my stay and providing such great hospitality. Thanks also to Trudy and the staff at Moranbah Library and to Mayor Cedric Marshall and his staff. From Ship to Shore will be on display in the Moranbah Library until 25 Oct and then at the following places:
- Clermont Library 27 Oct-9Nov
- Middlemont Library 11-20 Nov
- Dysart Library 22-29 Nov
To experience the power and aura of the original diaries visit us in the John Oxley Library Reading Room. Open daily from 10-5.
Manager, Arts Portfolio – State Library of Queensland