Search the Collection
Advanced Search

Reproduced Courtesy of John Joseph Kelly and Alan Adrian Webb

Diary of James Phillips and Family

Date: 1850
115 x 100 x 15 mm
Medium: Leather, Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Kelly Cynthia
Object Copyright: © John Joseph Kelly and Alan Adrian Webb
Classification:Books and journals
Object Name: Diary
Object No: 00040910
Related Place:Jervis, Cape, Liège, Livorno, Melbourne, Gravesend, Noremburg, Port Phillip Bay, Kangaroo Island, Plymouth, Aachen, Antwerpen, Würzburg, Mainz, Verona, München, Otway, Cape, Innsbruck, Lazio, Williamstown, Bressanone, Oostende, Bruxelles, Trento, Frankfurt, London, Napoli, Falmouth, Weissenberg, Köln, Bologna, Adelaide, Firenze, Sydney,

User Terms

    This handwritten leatherbound diary details the journey of James Phillips and his family from England to Australia in 1850. Sometime in the late 1840s or early 1850 the Phillips family consisting of James Phillips, his wife Eliza Phillips, his mother, and six children (Walter, Mary, Jane, Sarah and Charlotte and Rosalie) made the decision to leave Europe - at the time they were living in France - and migrate to Australia. James Phillips purchased tickets on board the recently built ship WILLIAM STEVENSON and the family embarked at Gravesend in May 1850 for what turned out to be a nightmarish journey to Melbourne enduring a difficult captain, a near mutiny, appalling weather and drunken passengers and crew.

    The wooden, 729 ton, three-masted sailing ship, WILLIAM STEVENSON was built in Quebec, Canada in 1849 for George Gibson and Company of Leith, Scotland and Registered at London, England. At 141.6 x 29.9 x 21.6 the vessel was exceptionally large for the times. (Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping, 1850)

    The rating of 5 A1 at Lloyds in 1850, a surprisingly low survey rating for a vessel only one year old, is no doubt a reflection of Lloyd's bias against colonial-built vessels using foreign timbers such as beech, hackmatak and pine and the use of iron bolts rather than copper or bronze under the copper sheathing. (Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping, 1850)

    On its 1850 voyage to Melbourne, via Port Adelaide, the WILLIAM STEVENSON carried 79 cabin and intermediate passengers (including the Phillips family) to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and 62 Irish needlewomen in steerage along with a mixed general cargo.

    George Gibson and Company can trace its origins back to 1797 when the company was originally involved in ship broking. In 1844 the company decided to buy and operate its own vessels and established regular sailings to European and Australian ports. The company continued to operate to those ports until the mid to late 1960s when the company made the transition into the carriage of liquefied natural gas. (Somner, Graeme. 1988, World Ship Society)

    Diary of James Phillips

    Sometime in the late 1840s or early 1850 the Phillips family consisting of James Phillips, his wife Eliza Phillips, his mother, and either five (Walter, Mary, Jane, Sarah and Charlotte) or six children (+Rosalie) made the arduous decision to leave Europe - at the time they were living in France - and migrate to Australia.

    The decision to remain in Europe or to migrate to the prosperous colonies of Australia or the new countries of the Americas was one faced by millions of migrants in the 19th century. Although the reasons behind the Phillip family's decision to migrate to Australia is unclear from the diary it could have been based on one of many reasons including a quest for religious or moral freedom, better health, financial well being or a sense of adventure.

    The diary commences on Monday 13 May 1850 with James Phillips paying half of the passage money into a bank in Europe - possibly France although this is unclear - and the family boards the WILLIAM STEVENSON in the afternoon of the following day.

    The diary then follows the day to day activities of those on board - detailing sickness amongst the family and the other passengers, divine services on Sunday led by the ship's surgeon or by one of steerage passengers a Mr. Huntingdon. The vessel arrived in Plymouth on 21 May 1850 and remained anchored in Plymouth Sound until 27 May taking on additional passengers and cargo.

    By early June shipboard confinement was taking its toll on the passengers with Phillips recording in his diary that he had taken exception to five or six gentlemen and had spoken to them several times regarding improper conduct. Phillips also reports that Captain Williams had also spoken to some of the passengers, had imposed a 10 o'clock curfew, put one of the needlewomen on a bread and water diet and told the passengers the crew will compel passengers to behave onboard ship. The passengers' committee, of which Phillips is a member, resign on masse in protest against the Captain's actions, and the Captain has one of the passengers - a Mr. Linthorn - placed in irons.

    Tensions between the Captain, crew, the ship's surgeon and the passengers remain high for the next few weeks with several written formal protests being made to the Captain on behalf of passengers.

    As the voyage continues the diary records Phillips falling out with several passengers, including Mr. Huntingdon, whom he calls a 'fat martyr' and 'much disliked by the passengers in general' and John Cope whom he calls the 'runaway bankrupt Copes'. Phillips describes a 'tempest' on the 21st July off the Cape of Good Hope, the continued sickness of his younger children, tooth extractions performed by the surgeon and increasing problems between passengers and crew and between the crew and the Captain.

    Further storms were encountered in early August which brought down the main top mast yard, mizzen topmast and top gallant mast along with several seas washing over the vessel and getting below into the sleeping compartments.

    The vessel arrived in Holdfast Bay (Adelaide) on Thursday 5 September 1850 after a voyage of 102 days from Plymouth. Although desperate to get off the ship Phillips reports that he found Adelaide very disappointing and because of the fleas and bugs decided to remain on board the vessel, despite the drunkenness of the crew.

    On Wednesday 2 October Phillips records that his wife, Eliza, had given birth to a daughter; on 25 October that they were finally leaving Port Adelaide for Melbourne; on 27 October that the Doctor had jumped ship in Adelaide leaving his wife on board and on the 13th November the Phillips family had safely arrived in Melbourne.

    Manuscript accounts, journals and diaries of sea voyages to Australia in the 19th century are rare. Although several thousand are known to exist most of these date from the late 1800s and tended to be written after the events with the contents modified to placate family members back home, where many of these passenger accounts ended up.

    Phillips' diary is significant in that it was written at the time and provides a rather personal window into life on board a crowded immigrant ship on a voyage to Australia in 1850 with a difficult captain and crew and several difficult passengers.

    Related People

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.