Author(s): Roslyn Russell
‘The rats I frighten away by throwing books or anything hard at the spot at which they commence their gnawing,’ wrote emigrant Janet Ronald in her journal kept aboard the Invincible in 1857.
Packed in cheek by jowl with fellow passengers and crew, life on board the ships transporting convicts and free settlers from Britain and Ireland to Australia in the nineteenth century was rigidly defined by social class: lower-class passengers dined on homemade concoctions of mutton fat pudding and preserved potatoes, while those travelling first-class enjoyed elaborate multi-course dinners, including fresh meat, slaughtered on board.
Navigating the social mores on these giant floating microcosms was only half the story. Amid the chronicles of flirtations and hijinks, odours and rats, nineteenth-century diaries capture tales of despotic captains, disease and domestic discord. From those sailing under servitude to emigrants seeking a new life, the people who braved the journey changed Australia.