‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
‘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.
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.
Let me introduce myself, I’m Margaret a third year undergraduate student in Information Studies. In order to graduate at the end of this year (fingers and toes crossed that I will) I’m required to do a three week library placement. After much consideration I thought it would be worthwhile for me to work in a research library in order to gain skills and experiences in a library very different to my current position working in a school.
After contacting Frances Prentice at the Vaughan Evans Library I was pleased to hear that I’d been accepted. During my three weeks I was given a number of wonderful opportunities to enhance my skills and experiences by performing a number of tasks. These have included original cataloguing, indexing and abstracting journal articles, writing a detailed summary of an oral history and my favourite researching enquires from family historians who had contacted the library to find information on voyages taken by particular vessels or passengers who had emigrated from the United Kingdom.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Museum for giving their time in order to help me understand how the Museum functions and uses the library’s resources and services. Finally I’m very grateful to the staff of Vaughan Evan’s Library for mentoring and supporting me to further develop my skills and experience in a research library.