So you’ve trailed through immigration indexes and passenger lists and found your ancestor arriving into Australia. You may have discovered their age, their occupation, their nationality and possibly even details of their impending employment. But what was the voyage actually like? How do you find out more information about this ship? A few months ago I blogged about the Instructions for the Surgeons Superintendent, as a great resource for researching life on board a migrant ship. Continuing on from this post, I thought I’d have a look at some additional resources you can use to research your ancestor’s journey to Australia.
First you may wish to find out if there was a diary or narrative written about the voyage. A favourite resource of library staff is 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. This book will tell you if a diary or narrative is known to exist and what repository holds it. As other shipping diaries may have been discovered after this book was published, try searching the Library’s Manuscript catalogue or Trove for additional results.
Newspapers often hold a wealth of information. Try searching Trove’s historical Australian newspapers for any remarks made on the ship and its voyage. Events such as illnesses, deaths, storms, shipwrecks, custom problems, arrests and intrigues may be reported on. Sometimes the social activities on board also get a mention. An article published on the 1877 voyage of the R.M.S.S Clyde (see second column) includes information on the activities organised by the “committee of amusements” (including a fancy dress and powder ball!).
To find out more about the ship itself, you can’t look past Lloyd’s register of British and foreign shipping. You can find details such as when it was built and by whom, tonnage, registered dimensions, the line, owners, port of registry and flag (eg. British).
Pictures are a great addition to any family history. To find a picture of a ship, start with our online catalogue. You may also wish to search the Library’s in-house Shipping index (available in card format in the La Trobe Reading Room Reference area), which indexes illustrations in published sources. Other resources you could try include Trove and Nick Vine Hall’s Ships’ pictures index, 1491-1991 : an index to ships’ pictures in print. Keep in mind that if it was an early voyage, a photograph or drawing of your ship may not exist.
For more information on how to research a ship, you may be interested in viewing the Library’s Ships information research guide.