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Reproduced courtesy of Margaret Williams

Corbett's journal from the sailing ship COMMISSARY

Date: 1872
Overall: 322 x 198 x 5 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Margaret Williams and Dr John Lovick Corbett
Object Copyright: © Margaret Williams
Classification:Books and journals
Object Name: Diary
Object No: 00034274
Related Place:Jersey, Gravesend, Plymouth, Lizard Point, Sydney, Rouen, Campbell Island, Isle of Wight, Falmouth, Islington, Guernsey,

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    This journal was written by Henry John Corbett, a 16 year old male passenger who was travelling with his mother Emilie and Aunt Theresa on board the wooden sailing ship COMMISSARY to see their families in France and England.

    Corbett's account of the 92-day voyage to Gravesend contains references to life at sea, entertainment and amusements, maritime events, diet and health. Corbett was also very interested in the working of the vessel commenting on different types of sailing rigs with sketches.
    SignificanceNineteenth century shipboard diaries of passages to England from Australia are quite rare, and very few have survived in Australia. This unique diary records a family’s trip back home, and is a wonderful insight into the conditions on board the COMMISSARY and the experiences of a 16 year old boy.
    HistoryThe 899 ton, wooden, three-masted ship COMMISSARY was built by Alexander Hall and Sons in Aberdeen in 1868 specifically for the Australian trade. Rated 14AI by the Lloyd's Register of Shipping this highest of rating would have been reflected in a tough, well-built and equipped ship. The COMMISSARY would be the last of the all-wooden Aberdeen clippers built by the well-known yard.

    The COMMISSARY arrived in Sydney, Australia in April 1872 after a fast and eventful voyage of 81 days from London. Under the command of Captain Wagstaff the ship with a large general cargo and 21 cabin passengers encountered a series of violent gales. These gales off the coast of Cape Finnisterre and again off Cape Leeuwin in West Australia resulted in the loss of a crewman, George Hoets, a racing mare, four rams, three sheep, 18 geese and dogs, and two boats.

    The ship arrived in Sydney, discharged its cargo, and advertised for a return voyage to England on or about the 4 May 1872. The advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald of 9 April 1872 for intending passengers to London described the vessel as an AI rated ship, with splendid saloon accommodation, an experienced surgeon and a milking cow for the use of the passengers. Rates of passage in the Saloon were as per agreement, and the Second Class fare was 21 pounds.

    On 11 May 1872 the COMMISSARY is noted in the Sydney Morning Herald as having cleared Sydney for its voyage to London. Listed in the cabin were Mrs Wynne and servant, Mrs Bellamy, Miss Bellamy, Mr and Mrs Corbett, Lieutenant Partridge, Mr and Mrs Coles and six children, Mrs Moreland, Mrs Gilbert, Messes Snell, Blackford and Murrey and 20 passengers in the steerage. As well as passengers, the vessel carried an impressive cargo of copper ingots, tallow, silver coin, furniture, meat, wool, coconut oil, cotton, tortoiseshell, leather and skins.

    The reasons behind the voyage of Henry John Corbett are unclear, but no doubt were based on the desire of his mother and aunt to take the children home to see family and friends. Mrs Williams in her preface of the diary notes that Henry refers to all ships they encountered during the voyage that were sailing to England as being Homeward Bound.

    The manuscript commences with the lead up to the voyage, saying goodbye to friends, packing their trunks and taking in the sights before boarding the vessel. On 11 May 1872, the vessel is towed out of the harbour and the voyage commences. Corbett writes little for the first three or four days suffering from seasickness but quickly recovered and is soon fishing, trying to catch seabirds and playing deck quoits and backgammon with his fellow passengers.

    In May, Corbett records the death and sea burial of one of the crew, plays quoits with Lieutenant Partridge and has almonds and raisins for dessert. A formal dinner with champagne is held on 24 May in celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday, and later that month the vessel encounters a series of gales and very cold weather. In early June they had their first snow storm and encountered an iceberg.

    During June the trials of a long sea voyage become apparent. Corbett records the severity of the rat infestation - running over his mother and aunt's faces in their sleep - and the leaking cabins during torrential rain. On a windy day a passenger, Mr Johnson, slipped on the main deck and broke his nose.

    In July they rendered assistance to the barque LADY BIRD - whose cargo had shifted and knocked down its foremast and injured one of its crew - on a voyage from Conception to Queenstown in Ireland. Later in the month Corbett records a shipboard dinner for all passengers and crew in aid of the Aged Seamen's Institute with raffles, auction sales and small displays, as well as a concert, minstrels and a play in the evening.

    In early August the passengers and crew started to get the ship ready for arrival in England. Corbett records the painting of the ship by the crew and the packing of trunks and boxes. Finally, on 12 August the COMMISSARY arrives off Gravesend and the Corbetts are taken ashore and take up residence in a hotel.

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