State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 58 Spring 1996


Illustrated Diaries in the Australian Manuscripts Collection

Among The Many Hundreds of diary keepers who lived in or visited Victoria in the 19th century were a few who chose to embellish their work with sketches, photographs and valued pieces of ephemera. A number of these illustrated diaries have found their way into the State Library of Victoria's Australian Manuscripts Collection. One of the most elaborate, the Australian diary of Edward Snell, has been published. There are others of great interest, however, which deserve to be better known.1
George Moore Sinclair, a Scotsman who settled in Melbourne, was the second son of Robert Sinclair and Helen Moore. He was christened at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands on 1 October 1852. Both he and his father were interested in and knowledgeable about the folklore of the Shetlands. A volume of his writings held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection contains notes, poems, stories and other material relating to this subject.2
Much of the volume is filled with an account of his experiences as a seaman on the “County of Peebles” on its voyage from Gravesend to Dunedin in New Zealand, 2 November 1877 to 25 February 1878. Beginning with a portrait of his dog Prince, “the little friend I left behind me”, Sinclair illustrated his diary with charming pen and ink and watercolour sketches. His fellow seamen are portrayed, often with an interesting anecdote or wry comment attached. Many of the illustrations have a comic edge. A picture of two pigs, for example, is captioned “First class passengers”.3
The diary is also peppered with tiny images of ships encountered on the voyage and views of coastlines which evoke the beauty of the changing colours of the sky and landscape. A larger view of the “County of Peebles” herself is painted with careful attention to detail.4
Perhaps most interesting of all are the depictions of the small details of shipboard life. Two seasick dachshunds sitting outside their kennels say to themselves “We do hope she won't move so much to day”.5 The untidy boatswain slumbers in his bunk and we see Sinclair's neatly arranged possessions on the wall of the bunk below.6 As part of the strange ritual of the crossing of the equator, “Neptune” and a pair of assistants dressed as sharks capture and shave an unwilling passenger. Other passengers also received rough treatment from “Neptune” but Sinclair, anxious to save himself from a similar fate, decided that he was an artist first and a gentleman second:
The gentle reader may naturally ask where George Sinclair was all the time, & why, if upon the Ships articals, he did not get shaved. Bless you my friend, no body ever offered to shave him & having a strong love of the beautiful he didn't see his way clear to go and offer himself up.
I stood sketching the whole on the greater part of the time & as soon as the general ducking of everybody began I rushed into our house, got out my colours, Chips shut the door, and told me I was all right. I heard the shrieks of the fair Miss Morgan but my art was so dear to me that I could not think of going to the rescue. The greater portion of passengers got their clothes spoilt.7
On 28 November 1879, a 20-year-old Englishman named William Van Sommer

Detail from diary of George Moore Sinclair 1877–1878. (MS 8166, Box 966/5. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria).

disembarked from the “Shannon” at Sandridge Pier with his brother James. The illness which had plagued William for some years had worsened and his doctor had recommended a long sea voyage to restore him to good health. He kept diaries throughout the trip, one volume on the outward voyage, another during his three month sojourn in Australia, and the third on the voyage home. The second volume is held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection. The others remain in family hands in England. The volume held by the Library contains 37 delicate pen and ink sketches, almost all of which are detailed exterior views of buildings William visited in Melbourne, country Victoria and Tasmania.8
The Van Sommers settled into lodgings in East Melbourne and began to explore the city's museums, markets, hotels, gardens, and institutions, both public and private. They were given guided tours of the Observatory and the Mint, paid regular visits to the Turkish baths and sampled church services of various denominations. William was impressed by the Public Library's collections but not by its catalogue. This was not long before Dr T.F. Bride took over as Chief Librarian and instituted some vital reforms.9
Then I went to the Public Library which is a splendid institution. Anyone over 14 is admitted free & may go and read any book
but may not take it away. There are nearly 100,000 volumes, arranged according to their subject matter. They are not very well catalogued, as the books have the works arranged under the names of the authors and are not alphabetically according to their matter, so the catalogue is no good unless the name of the author is known. This makes it difficult to find a particular book; I wanted one on the Natural History of Victoria but failed to find such a one; the librarians did not seem very well informed as to what books there were, owing, I suppose to people being allowed to help themselves.10
James attended YMCA meetings and made numerous social calls to friends and former shipmates. The Dean of Melbourne, the Reverend H.B. Macartney, and his family were particularly hospitable and the Van Sommers spent Christmas Day with them in Caulfield.11
William accompanied his brother on some social visits but often preferred to venture out by himself to the Botanical Gardens or to Studley Park where he was fascinated by the flora and fauna, especially the insect life. Unlike Edward Snell, Van Sommer does not demonstrate his interest in natural history in his diary illustrations. He never attempted portraits and there are few landscapes. However, his range was evidently wider than the diary alone would indicate. A pencil and wash view of Melbourne from the Yarra bank is among a small body of papers accompanying the volume held by the Library.
Van Sommer seems to have lacked confidence as an artist for he often talks of being unable to decide on a subject, of attempting something but finding it too difficult, or of being unable to finish. He tired easily and ill health may have affected his ability to bring his work to a satisfactory conclusion.
I went to Studley Park to try & finish a sketch I had begun there; but gave it up after an hour. I wish I could paint a bit faster, as I take such a long time to get any colour on the paper; yesterday afternoon for instance, I began at 3 & by 5 had done but very little, & at that time the colouring had quite altered & the lights and shadows changed their positions so that the general appearance was quite different.12
The brothers received an invitation to visit the pastoralist Niel Black at his property in the Western District. On New Year's Eve they travelled by boat to Geelong, spent a few days there, and then went on by train to Colac. From there, they travelled by coach, arriving at Mount Noorat on 6 January 1880. This visit proved to be the highlight of their Australian holiday. The good food and fresh air of the country helped William to put on weight and gain strength.
While James went out horse riding and kangaroo shooting with Black's sons, Niel and Steuart, William stayed close to the house and engaged in quieter pursuits. In his neat hand, he labelled the younger Niel Black's egg collection and sketched in his diary.
As the roads are very rough & they drove in a kind of cart, I thought it better not to risk spending the last few days of my stay here in bed, so I consoled myself in the kitchen gardens among the gooseberries & strawberries until that grew monotonous, & then took a ramble over the hill. In the afternoon I made a sketch of the house and country from a little way up the hill behind.13
Some subjects defeated him. Another day he “went up the hill in the afternoon & tried a sketch across the crater but found it difficult”.14
The Van Sommers began their return journey to Melbourne on 17 January. They toured Tasmania and spent a pleasant few days with the O'Connor family at Connorville,
their rural property. William spent a morning there “under a tree on the lawn painting up some of my old sketches”.15 On 12 February, after a few days saying goodbye to friends in Melbourne, they sailed for home on the “Sobraon”. William's health was much improved and he lived a further 61 years, practised as a solicitor in London, travelled extensively, and developed his skills in watercolour painting and colour photography.
Alexander Goodall, also in delicate health, was not so fortunate, although he made the most of his short life. Born in Mortlake in Western Victoria in 1874, he documented his life in a series of four distinctive diaries held by the Library, covering the years 1892–1893, 1895, 1896 and 1897. Goodall left school in 1888 to work at the Post and Telegraph Office, firstly in Mortlake, then in Rochester and Geelong. He contracted tuberculosis and married his nurse, Marguerite Helene Favarger, in Geelong in October 1900. Just five months later, he succumbed to the disease and died in Bendigo on 28 February 1901.16
The volume for 1892–1893 appears to be the first he wrote. It begins with an account of his life up to that date, particularly after he left home to work in Rochester. His strong ties to his family in Mortlake are evident throughout the diaries. He left the town in 1890 for a warmer climate when his lungs began to cause trouble. He was unhappy in Rochester at first: the town was bleak, he was homesick and disliked his boss. This part of the volume is not illustrated at all. The sketches, executed in pen and ink, begin tentatively on 6 March 1892 with an image of Alex receiving his first shave from a “boarding house barber”.17
The more practised a diarist he became, the more Goodall represented his experiences in visual form. In the later diaries, comic portraits and scenes from his busy life are interwoven with the text. He attended lectures and participated in debates at St Paul's Church Union in Geelong, read a good deal, and looked for his father's long lost relatives in the English post office directories at the Public Library in Melbourne. He drew pictures of the books he was reading with author and title on the front cover.18 Each time he received a letter from his uncle in London or sent one in reply, he drew an envelope complete with address and stamp. He enjoyed going to the Geelong docks to sketch the ships and was fond of using nautical expressions, referring to his father as the “skipper”. He attended night school to learn book keeping and depicted himself sitting studiously at his desk. On the lighter side, he enjoyed playing cards, watching football matches and entertaining friends. Late in 1896, he acquired a bicycle and the diary for 1897 shows him cycling long distances on his days off, sometimes as far as the family home in Mortlake.19 The weather played such an influential part in his activities that it became a character in the diary: in summer, the sun is depicted as a round faced man with sweat on his brow; in winter the rain is shown beating down.
In his quieter moments, though, the illustrations cease and the volumes end with a few pages of reflections on the year that has passed, particularly as it has affected himself and his family. He expresses regret at having to finish the volume which has been his close companion for so long. Diary keeping was so important to him that it seems likely that he continued after 1897. However, the whereabouts of any later volumes are unknown.
These are some of the most delightful illustrated diaries held in the Australian
Manuscripts Collection. Changing technology may make them more widely known to researchers. Automation of the Collection's catalogue has only just begun and the first priority is to prepare entries in which each collection of manuscripts is described in its entirety.20 In future, though, it should be possible to include entries which describe parts of collections. The automated catalogue allows us to establish links between the pictorial holdings of the Manuscripts and Picture Collections. An illustrated diary, for example, will be described in general terms in the Manuscripts section of the computer catalogue and entries describing the individual images it contains, particularly those of relevance to Victoria, will be added to the Picture section. It is conceivable, too, that these diaries and other illustrated manuscripts may be included in one of the Library's future electronic imaging projects. Copies of the illustrations themselves would then be accessible to a wide audience via the computer catalogue and the Internet while preserving the fragile originals by avoiding extensive handling.
William Van Sommer would surely have applauded our efforts to improve the catalogue. Knowledgeable staff will always be needed to acquire, arrange, describe, and conduct research on collections of rare and original material. The more comprehensive and widely available the catalogue becomes, however, the more researchers will be able to help themselves to the information contained in those collections.
Shona Dewar
Librarian in the Australian Manuscripts
Collection of the La Trobe Library


Illustrated diaries in the Australian Manuscripts Collection
MS 6219. George Frederick Belcher. Diaries, 1 May 1873–4 November 1909. 16 vols. Original ms; photographs; printed ephemera and press cuttings. Boxes 231–236.
MS 13029. Alexander Goodall. Diary, 1892–1893. 1 vol. Original ms; pen and ink sketches. Box 3719/5.
MS 12075. Alexander Goodall. Diaries, 1895–1897. 3 vols. Original ms; pen and ink sketches. Box 356/11–13 (originals); Box 356/15–16 (photocopies).
See also: Tony Marshall, “Travellers: Alexander Goodall in Geelong”, La Trobe Library journal, vol. 44, Spring 1989, p.8.
MS 12591. Laurence E. Hervey. “Diary of a tour round the world”, 1889–1890. 1 vol. Original ms; photographs; printed ephemera; pen and ink, pencil and watercolour sketches. Box 3420/2.
MS 10718. John Mills Hughes. Diaries, 1867–1891. 14 vols. Original ms; pen and ink sketches. Boxes 2707–2709.
MS 10071. Alice Panton. Diary of a trip to New Zealand, 10 January-13 [March] 1888. In J. A. Panton papers. 1 vol. Original ms; pencil, watercolour, and pen and ink and wash sketches. MSB 504.
MS 8166. George Moore Sinclair. Diary and notebook, 2 November 1877–25 February 1878. 1 vol. Original ms; pen and ink and watercolour sketches. Box 966/5 (original); MF 524 (microfilm).
MS 12812. Edward Snell. “The life and adventures of E. Snell, 1842”, 16 March 1842–18 May 1849. Describes his life in England. Photocopy of original ms; pen and ink sketches. Folio Box 3575/2.
MS 8970. Edward Snell. “The life and adventures of Edward Snell from 1849 to 1859”. 1 vol. Original ms; pen and ink and watercolour sketches. MS Safe (original); Box 14/1 (photocopy); MF 166 (microfilm).
Published as: Edward Snell, The life and adventures of Edward Snell: the illustrated diary of an artist, engineer and adventurer in the Australian colonies 1849 to 1859, edited and introduced by Tom Griffiths with assistance from Alan Platt, North Ryde, NSW, Angus & Robertson and the Library Council of Victoria, 1988.
MS 9898. John William Springthorpe. Diaries, 1883–1931. 14 vols. Original ms; photographs; printed ephemera; and press cuttings. MS sequence.
MS 12753. William Van Sommer. “Diary during a trip in Australia”, 28 November 1879–13 February 1880. 1 vol. Original ms; pen and ink sketches. Box 3530/4.
MS 8989. Anne Sanders Wilson. Diary of a continental tour, 8 September-4 October 1838. 1 vol. Original ms; pencil and wash sketches. MS Safe. See also: Mary Wilson, A European journal: two sisters abroad in 1847, with illustrations by Anne Wilson; edited and introduced by Jennifer Simpson, London, Bloomsbury, 1987.
MS 7646. Edward Young. “Out and home: a trip from England to Australia and back: a collection of pen and pencil memoranda”, 2 April-25 November 1861. 2 vols. Original ms; watercolour, pencil, and pen and ink and wash sketches; photographs; and printed ephemera. Box 647/5–6.
Extract published in: Tony Marshall, “Out and home: a trip from England to Australia a collection of rough pen and pencil memoranda by Edward Young”, La Trobe Library journal, vol. 8, no. 29, April 1982, pp. 13–20.


See appendix for details of these diaries.


MS 8166. George Moore Sinclair. Diary and notebook, 1877–1878. Box 966/5 (original); MF 524 (microfilm). Biographical details were obtained from the International Genealogical Index and from family history information contained in the volume itself.


Sinclair, 6 November 1877.


Ibid., 5 January 1878.


Ibid., 14 November 1877.


Ibid., 9 December 1877.


Ibid., 12 December 1877.


MS 12753. William Van Sommer. “Diary during a trip in Australia”, 1879–1880. Box 3530/4. Biographical details were supplied by the donor. The nature of William's illness is unknown.


The Public Library of Victoria, 1856–1956, Melbourne, [The Library], 1956, p.38.


Van Sommer, p.8.


Ibid., pp.64–66.


Ibid., pp.59–60.


Ibid., p.95.


Ibid., p.97.


Ibid., p. 127.


MS 13029. Alexander Goodall. Diary, 1892–1893. Box 3719/5; MS 12075. Alexander Goodall. Diaries, 1895–1897. Box 356/11–13 (originals); Box 356/15–16 (photocopies). Biographical details were obtained from Terang and district pioneer register pre-1900, Terang, Vic., Terang and District Genealogical Society, 1996, pp.61–66. The photograph on p.62 is not, as stated, a portrait of Alexander Goodall but of a relative. I am indebted to the contributor, Mrs Lola Goodall, for this information.


Goodall, 6 March 1892.


See, for example, the pages for 23–29 September 1895 reproduced on the cover of this issue.


The distance between Geelong and Mortlake is about 150 kilometres.


The Manuscripts section of the Library's computer catalogue will probably become available to the public in the latter half of 1997. It will not be comprehensive, however. Researchers will need to check both the computer catalogue and the Collection's card catalogue for a complete record of holdings.