Travel diaries reveal the experiences of 19th-century ship's passengers.
27 May 1849
They have forgotten about Cape Horn. The pleasant, warm weather is bringing the green out of some of the cornfield boys we have on board. They carry it out high evenings with their singing, dancing, fiddling, etc. On the whole rather a hard set of boys to manage. There have been very few hard words spoken between them since we left Boston. A few blows have been struck, but one who had been bragging before, bragged no more afterward. Jumping, fencing, singing, cheering, and general skylarking enliven the dullness, now and then. Sometimes an argument is got up. One, if not more, is sure to be on the opposite side from reason and good sense. Pretty sharp work, sometimes, among the Pauline lawyers. The great question now is, how long shall we be from here to the port of San Francisco.
» from The Life of Captain Stephen Palmer Blake
From His Journals by Elizabeth Hurst Ellwood
Not every westward-bound American joined a wagon train. Like the passengers on the brig Pauline, some sailed from the east coast, all the way around the tip of South America’s Cape Horn, then north again to join in the California Gold Rush in 1849.
What was the overseas voyage like? Passengers had plenty of time to kill: Prior to the age of steamships, travel around Cape Horn to California lasted from four to eight months. It was common for both passengers and crew to keep journals as they passed the time, offering us rich detail about their travel experiences.
Descendants have published many of these works, as in the case of Capt. Blake’s journal. Check library catalogs, bookstores and Google Books
for transcribed diaries and journals. Use search terms such as maritime journals, travel diaries, travel logs and ship diaries.
Other books that can shed light on your oceangoing ancestors’ experiences include The Minerva Journal of John Washington Price: A Voyage from Cork, Ireland, to Sydney, New South Wales, 1798-1800 edited by Pamela Jeanne Fulton (Melbourne University Publishing); Robert Whyte’s Famine Ship Diary: The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship edited by James J. Mangan (Irish American Book Co.); and William Woods’ Diary: A Story of Nineteenth Century Emigration on Board the Sailing Ship “Constance” in 1852 by Peter Pennington (Ardnamona Publishers).
From the July-August 2012 Family Tree Magazine