Journal of a Voyage to Australia, 1881-82. S.S. Sorata, Orient Line.
Lined notebook, 20 cm. Unpaginated, about 200 pp manuscript entries.
Sorata, a 4000 ton steamship, was built in Glasgow in 1872, expressly for the London-Australian run on the Orient Line. She ran aground off the Australian coast just a year before the voyage recorded in this journal. A detailed account of that event can be found at http://mlssa.org.au/2021/05/26/the-stranding-of-the-steamer-sorata/ It took more than a month, but she was finally freed and towed to Melbourne, where repairs were accomplished. On this voyage, “Sorata” departed London on September 15th, 1881. As they approached Cape Town early in October, the writer notes “a great deal of sickness on board.” The passengers decide “to undergo quarantine at the Cape.” Once there, they are declared “All well!” and proceed to the Royal Hotel, “all the previously long faces assuming an expression of bliss!” where they remain for several weeks, taking in the sights, suffering through the intense heat (in the company of tigers and poisonous cobras – worried about but never encountered) and visiting the “King of the Zulus” whose expression, on recounting the recent Anglo-Zulu War “changed to one of the utmost sadness.” They were back underway by October 25, departing Africa aboard “SS Cuzco,” where, the journalist reports, “the cooking is not so good as that on the Sorata.” He also adds amusing anecdotes about the eccentricities of fellow passengers. They reach Adelaide in mid-November, just in time for more hot weather. At this point the journalist departs on a tour of Australia, reaching Ipswich early in December, touring Darling Downs, arriving in Sydney on the 15th, and then, on December 20, Melbourne, a place he pronounces “One of the most wonderful and grandest cities I ever saw.” Balarat two days later, Christmas in St. Kilda, “a fashionable watering place,” and New Year’s day in Ferntree Gully, east of Melbourne, then further east to Brisbane, back south and “across the Bay” to Tasmania, where he spends a couple of weeks, ending his journal, “Our vessel, the Rotorua came in this morning + this afternoon we saw Tasmania disappear in the distance.” This is definitely a tourist’s account, and this particular tourist pays particular attention to climate, topography, social mores, and unusual characters, as well as his fellow travelers. As a result, we get a broad view of Australia in the 1880s, and deeper sense of the tourist experience of that exotic-seeming land. Probably in keeping with middle-class values of his day, he has little good to say about Australian aboriginals. “The aboriginal is the most diabolical looking creature imaginable, without any of the pleasing traits of the African black, with long shaggy hair on both head and face + I believe nothing good could possibly be said of him.” The book is in fine condition, bound in black Morocco over pebbled green boards.