Between 1787 and 1900, over 1.6 million immigrants, including around 160,400 convicts, travelled to Australia by ship in search of a better life. Nearly half of these were government assisted emigrants, mostly from the British Isles, who were offered free emigration to the expanding Australian colonies.
Many of these journeys lasted more than 100 days, non-stop, and the men, women and children onboard endured raging seas and temperature extremes en route to their new lives.
Passengers formed social communities, putting on plays, developing lasting relationships and taking part in wild nautical rituals. Many also kept diaries to chronicle life on board.
In High Seas & High Teas: Voyaging to Australia, historian Roslyn Russell uses passenger diary entries and shipboard newspaper clippings from various vessels to provide a fascinating insight into what it was like to leave one life for another and sail across the world into the unknown.
The book looks at the reality of life on board, from cramped conditions, convict companions, unpalatable food, disease, rough weather and boredom, to the community and relationships established on a life-changing journey.
High Seas & High Teas provides a compelling look at the sea voyages of migrants who shaped Australia.
Dr. Roslyn Russell is a historian and museum curator who has written and edited books and articles on Australian and Caribbean history and museology. She has published previously with NLA Publishing, releasing The Business of Nature: John Gould and Australia in 2011. She currently chairs the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Committee.
High Seas & High Teas
Author: Roslyn Russell
Question: What originally inspired your interest in history?
Roslyn Russell: I have been interested in history from my primary school days onwards, and was awarded a First Class Honours in Ancient History in my Leaving Certificate examination. I majored in history at the University of Sydney and was awarded both Bachelor and Master Honours degrees in that subject. I have taught history at secondary and tertiary levels, as well as writing history books and curating history exhibitions. While I have other designations - museum curator, exhibition developer, and author among them - I am first and foremost a historian.
Question: When and why did you decide to write High Seas & High Teas?
Roslyn Russell: I was commissioned to write High Seas & High Teas by the National Library of Australia in 2013, after I had published another book with them, The Business of Nature: John Gould and Australia (NLA Press, 2012). The National Library had been advised by their distributors that there was interest in this subject in the community.
Question: How did you go about collating real diary entry reproductions?
Roslyn Russell: With the assistance of two researchers, Dr Michael Jones and Mr George Nicholls, I combed through the National Library's collection of shipboard diaries and newspapers to identify the diaries that best illustrated the book's themes. The National Library's staff then arranged for them to be digitized and the designer did the rest.
Question: How long have you been conducting researching for High Seas & High Teas?
Roslyn Russell: The book took approximately two years to research and write.
Question: What's next, for you?
Roslyn Russell: Contributions to a What If? book of counterfactual histories of Australia for the National Library and, I hope, writing another novel to follow my first fictional work, Maria Returns: Barbados to Mansfield Park (Bobby Graham Publishers, 2014). The next novel is set in Australia and deals with a mystery in a country museum.
Interview by Brooke Hunter