Born on the voyage: Inscribing emigrant communities in the twilight of sail

Peter Hobbins, Anne Clarke, Ursula Frederick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From the 1830s to the 1880s, non-stop voyages from the United Kingdom to the Australasian colonies created highly structured and insular shipboard communities. Emigrant experiences were shaped by the social spaces aboard sailing vessels, alongside layers of formal superintendence and informal communitas. While these increasingly literate travellers commonly recorded their passage in diaries and letters, other means of marking the journey are less well documented. Detailing the voyages to Sydney of sister clipper ships Samuel Plimsoll and Smyrna in 1874–83, this article explores two complementary maritime textual traditions. One practice saw newborns named after their vessel or – in a singular instance – detention in quarantine. Another enduring tradition entailed emigrants carving mementoes of their voyage into the sandstone at Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station. In contrast with written narratives that often concluded upon arrival, we argue that these informal commemorations kept voyages and vessels alive through the ensuing decades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)787–813
Number of pages27
JournalThe International Journal of Maritime History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


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