Journeys To Australia Captured Through Photos, Sketches And Menus In Circumstances Of Interest Exhibition

21/11/2015 7:31 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
University of Sydney / Fisher Rare Books & Special

At 15, William Dunmore Lang boarded a boat bound for Australia, clutching a sketchbook that had been given to him by his art teacher.

In 1849, the trip between Europe and Australia took at least three months, and Lang filled the pages drawing the scenes, practicing his signature and recording little details.

The pages of his book are now part of an exhibition of previously unseen mementos documenting the journey to Australia between 1823 and the early 20th Century.


Pages of William Dunmore Lang's sketchbook.

lang painting

Circumstances Of Interest curator Fiona Berry said she discovered Lang's sketchbook among the University of Sydney's Rare Books and Special Collections.

"It really spoke to me, I think because he was quite young," Berry said.

"There is an inscription in the book by his art teacher from when he left Glasgow, and then on the voyage, there are indicators of his age -- like practicing his signature over and over.

"The thing that made it extra meaningful, though, was that I discovered he passed away soon after arriving in Australia.

"It was apparently a mysterious illness, it said 'overwork'."

Berry said other travel diaries in the collection told stories of crew catching albatross and sharks "to supplement their diet" and of fights breaking out below deck over a serve of pudding.

"One book has photographs pasted all the way through, like a sketchbook," Berry said.

There were also tales of not-quite romance on the high seas.

"One diary spoke of a woman who embarrassed herself with her flirtatious nature," Berry said.

"You would be spending a few months with people on your voyage, so you had to live with whatever took place."

You can see it at the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney or online.

Previously unseen travel diaries and mementos

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