Over the many weeks undertaking long-distance ocean voyages in the 19th Century, newspapers were published to provide amusement for and information to passengers during the journey. The Marco Polo’s journey from Liverpool to Melbourne in 1854 produced the Marco Polo Chronicle, a two page paper, of which the Library holds 10 issues.

Marco Polo by Thomas Robertson,
Marco Polo / Thomas Robertson, H306

The paper is a weekly journal of events on board, and provides information about the journey and destination, and features the Captains’ report, which includes detailed weather updates- particularly about the wind.

Not long after departing Liverpool, the first edition of the Chronicle (July 29) reported the discovery of stowaway Josiah Thomas- ‘a slender youth about 18’. He was to be transferred to the tug boat which was then towing the Marco Polo- but soon to return to Liverpool. However, a second cabin passenger who had ‘left his wife and family “in a huff” and was desirous of returning to Liverpool’, gave up his position on the boat and the ‘repentant husband left the ship’, allowing Josiah to continue his trip to the antipodes.

The embarkation, Waterloo Docks, Liverpool
The embarkation, Waterloo Docks, Liverpool, H31719

The August 5 edition saw Captain Wild provide a wind update: ‘For some days after we departed from the steam tugs the winds were decidedly adverse; so much so, indeed I almost despaired for the laurels of the Marco Polo.’

It was also reported that a Mr Johnson ‘anxiously expects’ the return of his blue beaver overcoat.

The Marco Polo chronicle : a weekly journal of events arising during a voyage from Liverpool to Australia.

Whilst there was plenty of entertainment on board with ‘singing, dancing, gymnastics’, the sighting of any wildlife saw hunters clambering for a shot … ‘two or three immense shoals of porpoises were seen sporting in the water on Wednesday. Some of the sportsmen on board prepared their firearms, but the game were too many for them.’ Though it was okay to use a firearm onboard- if you were caught with a ‘naked light’, as one passenger was, the Captain could decree you spend 48 hours in irons, with only bread and water.

Meanwhile on August 19 … ‘the Marco Polo lay, like a huge log, upon the waters, rising and falling with the swell, but making scarcely any perceptible progress toward our destination.’

But the smooth sailing probably helped the dancing at the fancy dress ball- the band was … stationed on the quarter deck instead of the poop desk- where the dancers most do congregate …The programme of dances gave the following… quadrille, polka, lancers, waltz, schottische … gallope … The dancers were “tripping it on the light fantastic toe” as late as five o’clock on Tuesday morning.’ (Aug 19)

The dog watch by J. Macfarlane
The dog watch / J. Macfarlane, IAN06/01/86/12

Provisions carried on board included 926 pounds of mock turtle, 5602 gallons of molasses, 15 sheep, 60 pigs, and upwards of 100 barrels of ale and porter. The Chronicle also advises the ‘six or seven hundred souls’ of the fine dining awaiting them in Melbourne … ‘Wild duck and other game fowl were often hawked in the streets. I remember seeing a boy with a brace of black swans. But almost everything, animals as well as vegetable … has some little oddity about its shape, as if it had run wild in this new continent.’ (Aug 19)

A considerate partner
A considerate partner, Accession no: MP00/00/56/138

Predictably, as the journey lengthened, some of the passenger’s behaviour deteriorated… ‘John Dooley in a state of intoxication and John Dooley sober are two distinct specimens of creation.’ Upon being refused whiskey, Dooley ‘made a blow at the head of Mr Birkett with a metal teapot’ and then aimed a blow at the Captain using his ‘manacled and clenched hands’.

Then on August 26: … ‘We have passed the Rubicon and I anticipate but little further difficulty during the few remaining weeks.’ (Captain Wild)

Yet the porpoises continued to thrive (Sept 16): ‘a number of porpoises playing about the ship’s bows on Sunday, but they were proof against an attempt to harpoon them.’

By September 9, Captain Wild was sounding a bit forlorn ‘ … during the whole of Wednesday the ship might be considered as almost stationary, the sails lazily flapping against the masts from morning till night…’

In the last of the Chronicles, Captain Wild declared, ‘Our passage has been the longest the Marco Polo has yet made.’ There had been little sickness during the journey but some deaths- a mother and infant in childbirth, and a young man fell overboard. Eventually the Marco Polo docked in Melbourne on October 23- having left Liverpool on July 22.

The City of Melbourne, Australia by N. Whittock,
The City of Melbourne, Australia by N. Whittock, H34147

The 10 issues of the Marco Polo Chronicle are on display in the Library’s Changing Face of Victoria exhibition.

Written by Paul Dee, Librarian, Collection Development & Description.

Introductory text by Ross Lowe.

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Seems like a typical cruise ship holiday…

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