Fanny Shorter

'We are divided on deck from the married people by a wooden fence, and a constable stands by the gate to see that no one talks to their friends.' - Fanny Shorter, Diary of her voyage as an unmarried immigrant on the ship S. S. Duke of Buccleuch from Plymouth to Brisbane, MLMSS 5003

34-year-old Fanny Shorter made the voyage on the S. S. Duke of Buccleuch from Plymouth to Brisbane as an assisted immigrant in 1884. Her diary describes the life of a single female travelling from the UK to Australia on an emigrant ship during the late 19th century.

Written to ‘John’ with direction to make a copy for her Aunt Charlotte and lend it to 'Alfred' to copy for his mother, Fanny recounts her daily life on board. While 'one day is very much like another', her time is taken up with tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and assisting to cover library books, as well as entertainment in the form of concerts and dancing.

 'We have got just enough light to make everything look ghostly; some snore, some grunt, some stalk, and all are restless these hot nights. Here and there is one sitting up, some have got out of bed and are lying on the benches. We must not talk to each other.' - Fanny Shorter, Diary of her voyage as an unmarried immigrant on the ship SS Duke of Buccleuch, MLMSS 5033


Transcript: Selection from Fanny Shorter - diary of her voyage ... on the ship s.s. duke of buccleuch ... , 3-9 april 1884 (MLMSS 5003)

Thursday, April 3, 1884
Lovely morning but rather too rough. The first day I have felt equal to writing. We are in sight of land and the ship flying signals. The engines are stopped for some reason or other unknown to us.

We left Plymouth about midday on Sunday. We had dinner on board after which we were all sick. On Monday Jessie and I stayed in bed all day, also most of the other girls. Tuesday it rained all day. The matron asked the Doctor for some arrowroot which was very nice.

Wednesday was fine generally but a few storms. The mothers were allowed to visit us in the afternoon. Elizabeth came. John and Elizabeth had been sick but were better. Fanny not sick but had a very bad cold. The others had been a little sick but were better. Whillie had been very sick.

We are all getting pretty well now. We are only 32 single women, a very agreeable company. I am captain of No. 5 mess. I have to get up at 6 o'clock, give out the watercan for the constable to fill for us. We all have to wash and get out on deck about 8 o'clock. Then comes breakfast. I have to put the things on the table. We had porridge and treacle this morning - very nice, but I could not eat it. Jessie has eaten nothing. We are waiting an opportunity to get some cocoa meade. We get coffee for breakfast and tea at night.

We are divided on deck from the married people by a wooden fence, and a constable stands by the gate to see that no one talks to their friends. Most of the girls have their mother and fathers on board. Then we have several mothers who have sons and daughters among the married people. We have one lady here over 60 years of age.

The girls have to scrub our floor with sand and holy stone makes them dry and white. Our berths are nice and clean and open, much nicer than in the City of Richmond, but his Old Duke of Buccleuch rocks all the time like a cradle. It is never steady.

We are 12 miles off Lisbon with 3 steamers standing by. They want 3,000 pounds to tow us to Lisbon; will now do it for 1,500 pounds. The Captain will only give 1,000 pounds.

I have seen John Whillie and Ernest on deck, also Aggie and Jack, who look merry enough. They say the engine is disabled. The delay is tedious.

Saturday, April 5, 1884
Could not write yesterday. It rained all day - did not get on deck at all. It was very rough all day and all night. We are still rocking about but expect to be taken to port by tonight.

Matron says we shall have to go to another ship. It will make our voyage the longer but will cost us no more.

We felt very anxious last night. We drifted very near a rock. We are still near it. We can make out a flag flying on it, but do not know what rock it is. We are off the coast of Portugal.

We had to hold on with our hands yesterday to keep up. Several of the girls had bad falls. Jessie was one. We slipped off the benches one after the other on the floor. I did not undress last night it was so rough. We have had a steamer standing by us since Thursday morning.

We have lots of rats on board; the Sub-Matron killed one Tuesday. Yesterday she had one on her head; she very pluckily knocked it down and put her foot on it. One of the girls had one scratching her ear in bed. She felt its little cold nose smelling about her face.

This is a lovely day - very warm on deck. I am sitting one side of the fence, John and Elizabeth and the children on the other. I have just given them our spare bread as they do not get enough. We have not found our appetites yet.

This has been a busy morning, scrubbing, scraping and rubbing with holy stone and sand, and now that we have got it all nice we shall have to go through the same process on board another ship. It is rather too bad, but I feel very thankful we are so far safe. One feels so very helpless on the sea. There seems to be nothing but a little water between us and God I could do nothing but think yesterday.

Some of the girls were playing cards - the ship lurched; away went girls, cards, stools and all about the floor. I was obliged to laugh. Then we sang some hymns at night, but we were all very flat.


> Read more of Fanny Shorter's journal, via the Library's online catalogue