[MANUSCRIPT] “Barque Gipsy Queen” Journal of a Passage from Liverpool to Port Philip [sic] & Sidney [sic], New South Wales in the years 1848 & 9. By William Dickinson, Cabin Passenger. David Roy, Commanding.
An important, unpublished eyewitness account of life in Port Phillip and Sydney just prior to the gold rushes of the 1850s.
[1848-1851]. Oblong octavo, contemporary full sheepskin, manuscript ownership inscription to upper board ‘W. Dickinson, 1851′ (the inscription is inverted; boards rubbed and ink-stained); marbled endpapers, marbled edges; manuscript in brown ink on unruled paper,  leaves, with  leaves at rear containing additional entries in pencil; [together with] a second journal of the same type, identically bound (spine lacking leather), filled in the same hand with excerpts from English historical works; with several leaves of business accounting, including a list of current prices of beer, wine and spirits in Sydney in 1851 and a list of Dickinson’s personal items sold by auction in Sydney; the leaves in both volumes with toning and scattered light foxing, otherwise clean and legible throughout.
William Dickinson, whose diary reveals him to have been a literate and reasonably well-educated member of the English middle classes, emigrated to Australia with the hope of starting a new life and career as a merchant. He arrived in Melbourne in April 1849 at an inauspicious time, when all of the colonies were still recovering from the economic depression of the 1840s. He spent two years in Port Phillip (which would remain part of New South Wales until July 1851), but after his attempts in business failed both there and subsequently in Sydney, he returned to England via Cape Horn in February 1851, thus completing an interrupted circumnavigation. The timing of his departure was, like that of his arrival, unfortunate to say the least, as it came just two months before Hargraves’ momentous discovery and the commencement of the gold rushes that would lead to an extended period of wealth and prosperity for people of all occupations in New South Wales and Victoria.
The first part of the manuscript is a detailed diary of the voyage out as a cabin passenger on the barque Gipsy Queen, from Liverpool to Melbourne via the Cape of Good Hope, which lasted from 7 December 1848 to 7 April 1849. In his outward bound journal Dickinson provides us with a thorough description of the weather, winds, navigational bearings, and the main occurrences on board. He also shares his expectations for a new life in the colonies: ‘I little thought 12 months ago such would be my fate, however my intentions for undertaking this voyage were not altogether selfish, although I expect to meet with brighter prospects for ultimate successful business in the land of my adoption, than in my native country which I leave with regret perhaps never to see again’ (1 January 1849).
The Gipsy Queen arrived at Hobson’s Bay, Port Phillip, on April 7 1849: ‘Royal Hotel. In Australia. Came on shore with the Mate at 8 a.m. We landed in a boat at the Beach which is about 2 miles from Melbourne. The walk is along a flat sandy road, the country here is not very prepossessing and is liable to floods. There is a wooden erection near the Beach which is converted into a Hotel and is kept by a very eccentric character called Liardet. This spot I am informed was originally a grant from the Crown and the proprietor has been in the Colony some considerable time … Had a stroll around the City of Melbourne … One feels very lonely and a gloom of despondencies apt to come across one’s mind being left alone in a Country where your future prospects are in the dark and not a face you know … This is the first time I have felt homesick and really my heart is almost ready to burst partly from disappointment in the reception and also from being left alone in a strange Country.’
The next twenty pages, filled in almost a year later, give an overview of Dickinson’s pursuits in Port Phillip for the previous year, with descriptions of the young settlement of Melbourne, his attempts to find a job and travels through the bush to Mount Alexander, where he visited a sheep station, as well as observations of Australian farming and agriculture. These notes were made in Geelong in March 1850 where the author had come from Melbourne to restore his health.
The next section of Dickinson’s journal contains ‘Remarks and Narrative of my career in Melbourne from March 1850’, and is written during January 1851 on board the brig Freak en route from Melbourne to Sydney. It is a continuation of his notes written in Geelong, and constitutes an important first-hand account of life in pre-gold rush Melbourne. Dickinson arrived in Port Jackson on 26 January 1851: ‘This has been a general holiday and is strictly observed by all classes being the 63rd Anniversary of the founding of the Colony. A splendid Regatta comes off on this day which forms the principal amusement of the day and from the natural beauty and safety of the harbour it isa highly delightful sight. The races commence at 10 a.m. and continue throughout the day, the competitors are from the smallest boats to largest coaster in the Harbour’ (27 January 1851).
Detailed descriptions of Sydney and Botany, and Dickinson’s last unsuccessful attempts to find employment, occupy the next ten or so pages. Dickinson sadly observes in his diary that ‘such was not my fate to settle in this colony at present’, and the last part of the manuscript documents his return to England on board the ship Agricola (February-May 1851). The diary ends in the South Atlantic Ocean at the latitude of Brazil (Lat. 30°46’S, Long. 31°7’W). The second journal, which was kept by Dickinson on board the Agricola, contains extensive excerpts copied by him from English historical works, as well as a few leaves of his business accounting and a list of prices for wine and spirits in Sydney which were current during his visit.