Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

Diary of John Marfell

John Marfell left for Melbourne on November 8th, 1870.  He records that a tug boat took them to Sheerness then left them to navigate under their own power. By the next morning, several passengers were already sea sick. Less than a week into the journey, the Clarence encountered such bad weather that strong winds and large waves caused water to flood Marfell's cabin and soak the bedding. Marfell alerted the captain, who then ordered the carpenter to build a bunk for Marfell. 

The real entertainment began on Sunday the 13th. In the morning, a sailor came into Marfell's cabin and was calling for Bill, Joe, and Harry. He climbed into the water closet and caused such a ruckus as to awake the other passengers. The passengers got out of bed and helped the sailor return to the deck. Later, the passengers found out that the sailor had been drinking heavily before embarking and was now suffering from delirium tremens. It caused a general feeling of uneasiness amongst the passengers.

Each day, the ship's position, marked by latitude and longitude, was written on the blackboard at 12:00. One of the passengers had a chart so they were able to calculate the position without the help of the crew. Marfell begins recording the latitude, longitude, and day-to-day progress in his diary.

Later, Marfell provides an insight of the general health of all the passengers on the ship. He mentions that he is feeling more like himself but that several other passengers are certainly suffering from sea sickness. He describes it as "a good deal worse than the morning after a drunken bout." Sea sickness not only caused physical suffering, but also mental. Marfell mentions that sea sickness puts you into such a state of mind that being thrown overboard wouldn't be the worst thing to happen. Maybe this is a slight exaggeration for him, but suicide was a common theme among international sea voyages. In a comical side note, Marfell notes that even the fowls, ducks, geese, sheep, and dogs on board are seasick but is not sure of the cockroaches.

One of the most important highlights of this diary comes on the 12th page. The author writes that he is beginning to enjoy his voyage and that the rest of the journey will be a pleasure cruise. He marks a beautiful day with good spirits on board and appropriate entertainment to end the day. A.W. Maytum sang the song "Robinson Crusoe" which caused much laughter and was well received.

The morning of November 18th, 1870 was rough aboard the Clarence. The waves came "creeping up, like the motion of some monstrous reptile." Marfell must have been proud of the ship because he boasts that the Clarence was a gallant barque that would rise, "buoyant as a swan on the water" and that it was the "grandest sight that is possible for a man to behold." The power of the waves were impressive to Marfell and not as intimidating as one might think. His thoughts turned philosophical. Marfell claimed that even Man's intelligence and skill is nothing compared to God.

For the next several weeks, Marfell's enthusiasm wavers but he remains fairly optimistic. He describes the daily life such as the betting of beer on card games and the divine services held every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.  The passengers collectively decide to run a newspaper called the Clarence Chronicle. Marfell is invited to contribute to the writing, but does not mention if he does participate. Perhaps out of boredom or curiosity, Marfell includes that he saw several flying fish and devotes nearly an entire page describing them. The next day, he sights several birds flying southward. The passengers watched for hours and were very fond of them because they served as a link to the mainland.

Fast forward several weeks through the monotony and you find the excitement of Christmas. Marfell recounts that the sailor's idea of enjoying Christmas is getting as drunk as possible and many passengers followed suit. The captain declared a treat for the crew and passengers: a dinner of mutton, pork, and poultry. However, the cooks were untimely so everyone had to wait until the next week. Marfell welcomed the New Year with optimism and joy. He was finally able to enjoy the captain's promised meal and it was a feast. Courses included roast goose, green peas, potatoes, carrots, plum pudding, gooseberry tarts, and mince pies. For dessert, almonds, biscuits with sherry, port, and beer were served.

A month later, we find Marfell at the end of his diary. He is glad to be in Australia and expecting to land soon. The last few days seem to take longer than expected that results in disappointment. The weather is calm and Marfell is ready to be off the ship.

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