Shipboard newspapers

With a sea voyage to Australia taking up to four months, 19th century emigrants formed committees to organise shipboard entertainment and amusements. One such activity was the production of a ship newspaper. Following in the fashion of satirical journals of the day, and with their main purpose being to entertain, these shipboard newspapers were full of jokes, witty poems, and puns.

‘ is desirable to observe that very small things cause great interest in the monotony of a long sea voyage’ - The Massilia Gazette, Q910.42/M

Travelling on the ship Parramatta, John Maffey writes extensively in his ‘Diary from London to Sydney’ about his time as editor of The Petrel Papers. He describes a meeting presided over by the Captain which resulted in the formation of the newspaper committee (comprising an editor, sub-editor, illustrators and printers) although Massey claims they offered him no assistance at all.


Newspaper content often varied from paper to paper (and edition to edition) and frequently included illustrations, caricatures, passenger lists, poetry, prose, letters to the editor, riddles, local news, announcements, shipboard sport results, accounts of births and deaths, reviews of entertainments as well as details and advice about the ship’s destination. They provide a rich resource for discovering details of life on board a 19th century emigrant ship.

Ship newspapers can also expose shipboard class distinctions – the Zealandia Free Press started as a rival to the Zealandia Look-Out which was not allowed to circulate amongst steerage passengers. While the Southern Cross newspaper produced different editions of differing qualities for passengers in first, second, and intermediate class cabins.

During some voyages, passengers paid a subscription towards the reprinting of their shipboard newspaper on arrival in port. These reprinted newspapers provided a well-documented souvenir of the journey to Australia for circulation amongst family and friends. Much of what is known today of life on board 19th century emigrant ships is due to the survival of these reprinted editions of shipboard newspapers.

> View a selection of pages from the Massilia Gazette
Massilia Gazette

> View a selection of pages from the Zealandia Free Press
Zealandia Free Press

> View a selection of pages from the Petrel Papers
Petrel Papers

> View a selection of pages from the Illustrated Iberian
Illustrated Iberian


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