Source material

This website is built around journals, logs, diaries and letters written by people aboard the nine ships which left Britain for South Australia between February and July 1836. They document the journeys first-hand, and provide us, 175 years later, with glimpses into the writers’ worlds: their experiences, relationships, feelings and fears.

Historians call these first-hand documents ‘primary sources’, and value them highly because they were written as the events they describe unfolded. They don’t include  judgements or understandings based on later events, so they can show us how people in the past understood what was happening at the time it was happening.

These sources only give us the perspective of the writer, and sometimes read as if they were written to justify the writer’s actions. So a step back, a little critical distance, can be useful in understanding the writer in his or her context. Similarly, reading different accounts of the same events can provide a fuller picture of the past.

The journals, logs and letters, even when collected together, can’t tell us the whole story of the journey. Only some of those on board kept a record, and only some of those written have survived. Not everybody could read and write. We don’t have the perspective of a sailor – or of one of the Aboriginal people on shore whose lives the arrival of the ships were to alter so radically.

Writing conditions on board ship were far from ideal. Writing on a rolling ship with a pen dipped in ink can’t have been easy, and the results can be hard to read. Sometimes the writing on the page has faded in the intervening decades.

The logs, diaries, journals and letters on this website are accessible to us 175 years after they were written because they have been recognised as historically significant, preserved, and made available in a library or archive. Researchers have transcribed the handwriting of the original, sometimes having to make an educated guess about what a word or phrase says. The transcriptions used on this website are as accurate as possible, which means that the non-standard spelling or idiosyncratic expression of the writer is captured, not corrected. A question mark or word in square brackets [] indicates uncertainty about the accuracy of the transcription, and three dots … indicates a missing section of a page or illegible words.

You will be able to find separate source notes page for each vessel as they are published in the weekly posts:

There is also a bibliography of other  reference sources used in research for this website.

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