Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Today after writing, I read through a few 19th Century shipboard diaries kept by passengers on sailing vessels from England to New Zealand. I'm guessing most ships at this time to Australia were convict transports, where conditions were brutal, so I was pleased to find these diaries where the voice of the average person comes through (a little tougher to find in history books!).

What a wealth of material. People wrote about singing every night, dancing on the foredeck, whether church services were held or not (depending on weather), details on meals (people were grateful for fish after a steady diet of ship's biscuits and estatic when a passing steamer brought fruit). Passengers mutinied over food. Sailors fought over rum and were occasionally found in the women's quarters, and babies were born and died. Boredom was noted often.

Once the ship passed a certain point in the Atlantic, repeated storms and strong winds often made journal keeping nearly impossible. I notice a class difference between passengers (in cabins) and emigrants (down below in holds). I need to find some maps of ships to understand what parts are where.

One writer told of a passenger jumping up and climbing up the rigging with three sailors up after him, trying to catch him. Everyone watched with humor the young man's progress. When he was finally caught, the sailors bound him in irons unless he apologized -- and paid for some rum.

Today we go to the library. My African quilt is out of storage and I'm needing to come up with a design for the back. I read online that some original African designs avoided straight lines as evil spirits could then enter that way. So I'm maybe going to use the Fulani Star pattern that appears on the front (see pic). It would be wonderful to finish this, but perhaps like writing, the pattern will appear as I go.

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