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THE DIARY OF JOHN SPENCE

John Spence was my great great grandfather. He was born in Carnock, Fifeshire in Scotland. In 1859 he, his wife Jessie, and their one year old daughter Mary set sail for Australia on the sailing ship "Arabian".*

The ship sailed from Britain on February 20th 1859 and sailed round the southern tip of Africa to arrive in Port Phillip, Victoria, three months later on May 29th.

During the voyage John Spence made daily notes in his diary which reflect something of the conditions on board. Jessie was sick throughout much of the voyage and struggling to feed the infant.


DIARY OF JOHN SPENCE

ABOARD SAILING SHIP "ARABIAN", 1859

February 20th. Sunday.

Went out of dock and anchored in the river. Dancing and singing on board. No service* of any kind.

                                        (* meaning no Church service. This annoyed the stoutly religious Scot.)

February 21st. Monday.

Passed Doctor and Government Inspector. Two men put out. Trying to stow themselves away. Got a good drubbing before leaving.

February 22nd. Tuesday.

Steam tug left after tugging us 200 miles. Very wet in morning but clearer at noon. Jessie very sick. Nursing mother and child.

February 23rd. Wednesday.

Strong head wind. Making little progress. Jessie sick.

February 24th. Thursday.

Blowing very hard. Better sailing. Jessie sick.

February 25th. Friday.

Blowing a severe gale. Got up at 2 am. to see it. Sea running very high. Jessie sick.

February 26th. Saturday.

The gale increasing. The sea washing the deck. Life boat and two buoys washed away. Had to get doctor for Jessie, she being very sick. Received intelligence of second cabin passenger jumping overboard having been drinking too much and ill with horrors.

February 27th. Sunday.

No service of any kind.*  The storm a little abated. Jessie very sick. Ordered to wean the child and to get milk from the cow, she having no milk.

February 28th. Monday.

Losing ground with strong head winds. Jessie sick.

March 1st. Tuesday.

Head wind. Making very little. Jessie sick.

March 2nd. Wednesday.

Good fair wind. Ship making progress. Jessie little better.

March 3rd. Thursday.

Ship going at a fine rate with a good fair wind.

March 4th. Friday.

Sea very calm. Ship making little progress.

March 5th. Saturday.

Very calm. Making little progress. Dancing and singing.

March 6th. Sunday.

No service but a very good fight between two boys. Passed some vessels almost every day. Spoke to only one of them, a ship bound for Calcutta.

March 7th. Monday.

Becalmed. A fight on deck between a sailor and engineer. Separated with a lecture from the captain.

March 8th. Tuesday.

A fair wind. Going very hard.

March 9th. Wednesday.

Very warm and ship making little progress.

March 10th. Thursday.

Light sea wind. Sailor and one of the cooks fought. Captain going to lash them both.

March 11th. Friday.

Fair wind going at a rate. Getting very warm.

March 12th. Saturday.

Good fair wind. One of the sailors speared a porpoise and I had some for dinner.

March 13th. Sunday.

Ship going with a fair wind. Another fight between one of the sailors and the passengers' cook. The Captain took away the passengers' cook to his cabin and pressed a sword to his breast and said he would kill him. Very warm. No service today. Rioting of the worst description. The Captain said he was going to put some of them in irons. Drink is the cause of it.

March 14th. Monday.

Fair wind. Getting up more sails in the trade winds. A scuffle for a suit of clothes belonging to one of the sailors.

March 15th. Tuesday

Fair wind. Ship going hard. Wind sail put up to air the steerage.

March 16th. Wednesday

Ship going with a fair wind. The passengers drafted into messes to clear the berths. We are getting into very hot weather.

March 17th. Thursday.

Ship going with a fair wind. Spoke to a ship from Southburg to Rio (de) Janiero. Boatswain caught a flying fish. St. Patrick's Day kept with great life.

March 18th. Friday.

Ship going very slow. Spoke to another ship today. Hundreds of porpoises swimming alongside the ship. Getting very hot and very sultry.

March 19th. Saturday.

Very light wind. Passengers all had orders to get out of their clothes. A good many of the passengers decide to take a bath. They come out with a shirt around their middles and they play the hose that they wash the deck with.

March 20th. Sunday.

Becalmed and very hot. Service today for the first time since leaving home and a very good sermon it was. A bird seen in the rigging which caused great excitement. A very small thing causes a great stir aboard. A Sunday school was held by a Miss Anderson, female teacher. A young "Arabian" born to Mrs. Hay from Glasgow.

March 21st. Monday.

Light breeze. Ship making little progress. Bad conduct of women and sailors most disgraceful.

March 22nd. Tuesday.

Fair light wind. Rifle shooting on board at bottles suspended from a rope.

March 23rd. Wednesday

Wednesday. Good fair wind. A sail in sight. A sailor and the passengers' cook fell out. The cook drew a long knife and threatened to stab him. The cook put in irons.

March 24th. Thursday.

Light fair wind. Going about 6 knots an hour. Slept on deck all night with great heat.

March 25th. Friday.

Light fair wind. Spoke to a vessel from London to Calcutta. Great heat.

March 26th. Saturday.

Got up at 2 am. to see a thunder storm. The first rain since we left Liverpool. Some of the women stopping out with the sailors all night. Like to thrash them. Bathing every night.

March 27th. Sunday.

Ship sailing very slowly with light fair wind. Three ships in view. A very hot sun. Boatswain and cook's mate fought. One of the ships came alongside and the Captain spoke. She was bound for Calcutta. The sailors joked together with coarse jokes and when they parted we gave three hearty cheers. White squall.

March 28th. Monday.

Both ships keeping well together.

March 29th. Tuesday.

Good fair wind. Crossed the line about three o'clock. Fight between two of the passengers having a quarrel at cards.

March 30th. Wednesday.

Good fair wind. Ship sailing well.

March 31st. Thursday.

Smart wind. Sailing well.

April 1st. Friday.

Good fair wind. Not quite so hot. Ship in sight homeward bound. Find pleasure in lying out all night. It is a grand sight to see the sun rise in the morning.

April 2nd. Saturday.

Good wind. Better in the forequarters. Spoke with words*  the Bloamer from Buenos Aires to Rotterdam. Really we are all glad when we meet sail. The boatswain and one of the intermediate passengers quarrelled tonight and the Captain interfered.

* A phrase which is taken to mean the ships sailed close enough for the crew to converse verbally with each other.

April 3rd. Sunday.

Good wind. The Captain flogged the assistant steward for stealing some drink. A barque nearby. It ran into us about 12pm. and caused great terror amongst us, the watch having been asleep.

April 4th. Monday.

Very calm. Got a great fright by the breaking of the ropes of the main topsail yard; I being asleep outside at the mast.

April 5th. Tuesday.

Very calm for the greater part of the day but a breeze sprang up all in a minute and sent the ship pitching.

April 6th.     Wednesday.

Very calm today and warm. Chests brought up today before getting into cold weather. One of the passengers had a sovereign and a shilling taken out of his pocket.

April 7th. Thursday.

Very calm and hot, then stormy. Had to retreat during the night for the rain.

April 8th. Friday.

Very calm and hot. One of the sailors caught a shark.

April 9th. Saturday.

Had a piece of shark for breakfast. Tasted very well. Very calm in the morning but a great squall came on in the afternoon. Spoke a ship from London to Port Phillip. Out 49 days. Had lost part of her masts and rigging. Expecting to beat the Dutchman.

April 10th. Sunday.

Calm again. Captain dining with our Captain today. Our Captain paying them a visit in return. Got a spar from us to repair their rigging.

April 11th. Monday.

Good wind today. Sailing in company with the Dutchman with ships making much. Had Captain of Dutchman on board today.

April 12th. Tuesday.

Light wind.

April 13th. Wednesday

Good fair wind. Left Dutchman far behind.

April 14th. Thursday.

Good fair wind. Spoke a ship. We spoke before when she was bound for Calcutta. She is passing us. The Captain going to lecture the Welsh women for bad behaviour. One of the sailors threw one of them down on the sailmaker's chest and they fell through the gate.

April 15th. Friday.

Ship going well until 5 o'clock when a gale sprung up and raged with great fury all night, carrying away 6 of the sails. Heavy sea running. Jessie sick.

April 16th. Saturday.

Gale mastered. Ship plunging terribly and heavy sea running.

April 17th. Sunday.

Good wind and sea running high. Expect to pass cape.

April 18th. Monday.

Very calm today. Putting on heavy sail. One of the sailors tried to steal my trousers but I caught him in the act.

April 19th. Tuesday.

Good fair wind for Melbourne. Getting very cold.

April 20th. Wednesday.

Ship sailing well. The weather very cold. Most disgusting conduct of women.

April 21st. Thursday.

Ship making little progress today.

April 22nd. Friday.

Sailing well. Passing very near an island.

April 23rd. Saturday.

Ship sailing well. Caught an albatross. It measured 9 feet from wing to wing. A splendid bird it was.

April 24th. Sunday.

Light wind.

April 25th. Monday.

Good fair wind. The whole of the passengers' berth and chests searched in the steerage, some person having stolen some articles, but they found none of them.

April 26th. Tuesday.

Good fair wind but very cold. Ship going 24 knots an hour.

April 27th. Wednesday.

Good fair wind. Going 12 knots an hour. Fight between one of the sailors and a passenger. Very strong wind in the afternoon.

April 28th. Thursday.

Good fair wind. Very cold. Fight between the cook and a passenger.

April 29th. Friday.

Very calm. Whales sporting around the ship and blowing the water high in the air. One of the passengers caught a Cape Pigeon.

April 30th. Saturday.

Light fair wind.

May 1st. Sunday

Light breeze and a fine day. 500-200 miles from Melbourne. No milk here.

May 2nd. Monday.

A little stormy. Ship sailing well.

May 3rd. Tuesday.

Sailing well. Good stiff breeze. Jessie sick.

May 4th. Wednesday.

Sailing well. Stiff breeze.

May 5th. Thursday.

Sailing well. Very cold weather.

May 6th. Friday.

Very wet. Sailing well.

May 7th. Saturday.

Very wet. Calm.

May 8th. Sunday.

Fight between two of the passengers. Sailing very well. One of the studding sailyards carried away. Very stormy night, wind right aft.

May 9th. Monday.

Very stormy today. Shipping heavy seas. A good many passengers getting wet. Two men at the wheel. Broke a mast. Tremendous sea and nearly drowned us in steerage.

May 10th. Tuesday.

Stiff breeze blowing.

May 11th. Wednesday.

Fair wind.

May 12th. Thursday.

Good fair wind. Scotch sailor fought two other sailors and beat them.

May 13th. Friday.

Good fair wind. A deputation went up to present the Captain and officers of the ship with a vote of thanks for the kindness towards us during the voyage.

May 14th. Saturday.

Good fair wind. Great scarcity of tobacco on board. Risen to a premium of 12/- per pound.*

*12 shillings per pound ($1.20 in modern coin). A lot of money in those days.

May 15th. Sunday

Light fair wind.

May 16th. Monday.

Light fair wind. Fight between the boatswain and the ship's cook.

May 17th. Tuesday.

Good fair wind. Paid 1/-*  an ounce for tobacco. Great fight between passenger and passengers cook. The Captain threw the cook down on the deck and kicked him like a dog.

* One shilling (ten cents in modern coin) per ounce is 16 shillings a pound.

May 18th. Wednesday.

Very rainy, good fair wind.

May 19th. Thursday.

Good fair wind. One of the sailors put in irons for striking the boatswain.

May 20th. Friday.

Very calm. Greater part of the day, good fair wind. Tobacco still a shilling an ounce.

May 21st. Saturday

Good fair wind.

May 22nd. Sunday.

Good fair wind.

May 23rd. Monday.

Good fair wind. The tobacco up to 1/3 * per ounce.

    * one shilling and threepence (about 13 cents)

May 24th. Tuesday.

Good fair wind. The anchor chain coming up just now. Great rattlings on board.

May 25th. Wednesday.

Strong head wind.

May 26th. Thursday.

A strong head wind. Sighted land this morning.

May 27th. Friday.

Strong head wind. Getting near the Promised Land. Two sail in sight.

May 28th. Saturday.

Head winds. Very near land today and a great many sail in sight. Every eye beaming with joy.

May 29th. Sunday.

Got the pilot on board at 4 pm. to take us past the Heads with a strong head wind. Beat every ship that left at the same time. Before us hills appear very like the hills at home. The Doctor came on board and received a clean bill of health. Tacking every ten minutes. Cast anchor at 5 pm. 18 miles from Melbourne.

The voyage had taken 98 days.

Right: A photograph of Jessie Spence with Mary Spence - the baby on the voyage - shortly after their arrival in Victoria.

Mary Spence went on to have 11 children, 22 grandchildren and some 34 great grandchildren of which I am one.

She outlived several of her children and I remember going to see her, an old lady of 93, at her home in Moonee Ponds, Melbourne in 1951.

Ian McFadyen

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