Skip to main content

‘This strange little floating world of ours’: shipboard periodicals and community-building in the ‘global’ nineteenth century

  • Johanna de Schmidt (a1)

Publishing a newspaper was a popular undertaking for passengers aboard intercontinental vessels during the nineteenth century. Although in almost complete isolation for weeks or even months, many travellers saw the need to issue a regular periodical. This article sheds light on the functions that these publications had for the ships’ on-board communities. On the one hand, passengers used them to inculcate a sentiment of togetherness, no matter how ephemeral their community might initially appear. On the other, the periodicals also served to separate and create boundaries between different groups of individuals aboard. Focusing on these unique historical sources allows us to study the building and dissolving of a community feeling in transit in this era of globalizing intercontinental travel. This article shows that ship newspapers were simultaneously a space for social exchange and a means of establishing social boundaries at sea in an age of increasing global shipboard travel.

Hide All

1 State Library of New South Wales, Sydney (henceforth SLNSW), 910.45/195, Tasma [no initial], ed., The Sobraon Occasional, 5, Melbourne, 1875, p. 58.

2 See Epple, Angelika, ‘Globale Mikrogeschichte: auf dem Weg zu einer Geschichte der Relationen’, in Eward Hiebl and Ernst Langthaler, eds., Im Kleinen das Große suchen: Mikrogeschichte in Theorie und Praxis; Hans Haas zum 70. Geburtstag, Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2012, pp. 3747; Deacon, Desley, Russell, Penny, and Woollacott, Angela, ‘Introduction’, in Desley Deacon, Penny Russell, and Angela Woollacot, eds., Transnational lives: biographies of global modernity, 1700–present, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. 114.

3 See, among many others, Osterhammel, Jürgen, Die Verwandlung der Welt, Munich: Beck, 2009.

4 British Library, London (henceforth BL), 013918583 [no ed.], The Transatlantic Times, published on board the ‘St. Paul’ at Sea, en route for England, November 15th, 1899. See also Wedlake, G. E. C., S.O.S.: the story of radio communication, Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973, pp. 2526; Jolly, W. P., Marconi, New York: Stein and Day, 1972, p. 85. For changes brought about through the introduction of wireless communication aboard, see also Roland Wenzlhuemer, ‘The ship, the media, and the world: conceptualizing connections in global history’, pp. 163–86 in this issue.

5 For ships’ newspapers published after the introduction of wireless communication, see Möhn, Dieter, ‘Schiffszeitungen: Entdeckung eines Mediums’, in Dieter Möhn, Dieter Ross and Marita Tjarks-Sobhani, eds., Mediensprache und Medienlinguistik: Festschrift für Jörg Hennig, Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2001, pp. 263282; Arceneaux, Noah, ‘The ecology of wireless newspapers publishing on islands and ships, 1899–1913’, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 91, 2, 2014, pp. 562577.

6 See Wenzlhuemer, Roland and Offermann, Michael, ‘Ship newspapers and passenger life aboard transoceanic steamships in the late nineteenth century’, Transcultural Studies, 8, 1, 2012, pp. 77121; Shaikh, Fariha, ‘The Alfred and The Open Sea: periodical culture and nineteenth-century settler emigration at sea’, English Studies in Africa 57, 1, 2014, pp. 2132, both of which analyse two shipboard publications. Eight handwritten newspapers on Arctic excursions, on British naval ships, and aboard ships en route to the Californian goldfields are described in Atwood, Roy Alden, ‘Shipboard news: nineteenth century handwritten periodicals at sea’, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (80th, Chicago, Illinois, 1997), ERIC, 1998, pp. 431. For an analyse of poems published in shipboard newspapers, see Rudy, Jason R., ‘Floating worlds: émigré poetry and British culture’, English Literary History, 81, 1, 2014, pp. 325350.

7 National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (henceforth NMM), THP 3, [no ed.], The Challenger Gazette, 1828; SLNSW, 910.45/66, Ferguson, John, ed., The Lady Jocelyn Weekly Mail: a journal of a voyage from Melbourne to London, London, 1869, unpaginated; SLNSW, Q656.509/V, F. E. Baily, ed., The Vanguard Times: a weekly journal of amusement and instruction, 1, Brisbane, 1867, p. 1.

8 Auerbach, Jeffrey, ‘Imperial boredom’, Common Knowledge, 11, 2, 2005, pp. 283305.

9 NMM, PBA0222, Digby T. Brett, ed., The Maori Times: a paper containing the principal incidents which occurred on board the ship Maori, 1, 1, Auckland, 1868, p. 1; SLNSW, RAV/FM4/853, [no ed.], The Garonne Journal, 1, 1879, p. 2.

10 See Wenzlhuemer and Offermann, ‘Ship newspapers’, pp. 104–5.

11 Bell, Bill, ‘Bound for Australia: shipboard reading in the nineteenth century’, in Robin Myers and Michael Harris, eds., Journeys through the market: travel, travellers and the book trade, New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1999, p. 137.

12 Many individuals aboard also kept personal diaries or commonplace books as well as the newspapers penned during the passage: see e.g. Tamson Pietsch, ‘Bodies at sea: travelling to Australia in the age of sail’, pp. 209–28 in this issue; Blum, Hester, The view from the masthead: maritime imagination and antebellum American sea narratives, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

13 van Gennep, Arnold, Les rites de passage, Paris: Nourry, 1909.

14 Gilbert, Helen and Johnston, Anna, eds., In transit: travel, text, empire: travel writing across the disciplines, New York: Lang, 2002, p. 16.

15 Nash, Geoffrey, From empire to Orient: travellers to the Middle East, 1830–1926, London: I.B. Tauris, 2005; Robinson-Tomsett, Emma, Women, travel and identity: journeys by rail and sea, 1870–1940, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013; Morgan, Marjorie, National identities and travel in Victorian Britain, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.

16 SLNSW, DSM/042/P179, Vincent, H. D. and Townsend, W., eds., The Netherby Gazette: a journal published on board the ship Netherby, Melbourne, 1866, p. 12, emphasis added.

17 SLNSW, A 1681, J. R. Grumm und W. Welch, eds., The Zealandia Free Press: a mid ocean miscellany, 1884.

18 SLNSW, MLMSS 2716, Mabel Maffey et al., eds., The Parramatta Journal, 1882. For families ‘commuting’ between India and Great Britain, see Buettner, Elizabeth, Empire families: Britons and late imperial India, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

19 SLNSW, RAV/FM4/853, [no ed.], The Ligurian, 1, Cambridge, 1882, p. 1; SLNSW, DSM/Q910.42/C, [no. ed.], The Carthaginian: a ship newspaper, 1, Melbourne, 1885, p. 1. The latter quote is also an example to gloss the fact that not all newspapers refer to a British context but use the denomination ‘English’.

20 SLNSW, MJ3Q17, [no ed.], The Pioneer: a weekly newspaper published on board the S.S. Queen of the Thames, Melbourne, 1871, p. 1.

21 SLNSW, 910.42/S, [no ed.], The Sutlej Times, 1, Melbourne, 1887, p. 2.

22 National Library of Australia (henceforth NLA), 2095396, W. G. Roberts and E. Quayle, eds., The Cuzco Chronicle, Portsmouth, 1882.

23 SLNSW, Q910.42/W, Henry Davy, ed., The White Star Journal, 6, 1855, p. 15.

24 BL, YD.2011.b.1007, George Ritchie and Henry Davies, eds., The Great Britain Times, 3, 1865, unpaginated, emphasis in original. See also NMM, PBA0222, Brett, Maori Times, 3, p. 9.

25 SLNSW, RAV/FM4/853, [no ed.], The Garonne Journal, 1879; NMM, THP 3, [no ed.], The Challenger Gazette, 1828.

26 NLA, MS 4221, [no ed.], Monsoon Mail and Black-Ball Bulletin, 1858, cover page.

27 SLNSW, MAV/FM4/10750, Braidwood, Peter Murray and Cape, Alfred John, eds., Parramatta Times: issued on board the S.S. Parramatta during her voyage from Sydney to London, April 2nd to May 25th 1886, Liverpool, 1886, p. 8, emphasis in original.

28 NLA, NK726, [no ed.], British Empire Gazette, 1, Christchurch, 1864, p. 1.

29 Bell, ‘Bound for Australia’, p. 136.

30 Verne, Jules, A floating city, London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searl, & Rivington, 1876, p. 92.

31 Elce, Erika Behrisch, ‘“One of the bright objects that solace us in these regions”: labour, leisure, and the Arctic shipboard periodical, 1820–1852’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 46, 3, 2013, pp. 343367 (quote from p. 360). Indeed, newspapers on Arctic expeditions are an extremely well-researched phenomenon: see Coppinger, Eve, ‘Publishing on ice: personal experiences and incarnations of print culture aboard the HMS Hecla’, Constellations, 2, 2, 2011, pp. 118124; Leane, Elizabeth, ‘The Adelie Blizzard: the Australasian Antarctic Expedition’s neglected newspaper’, Polar Record, 41, 1, 2005, pp. 1120; Stam, David H. and Stam, Deirdre C., ‘The function of periodicals in nineteenth-century polar naval expeditions’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 41, 4, 2008, pp. 301322; Hoag, Elaine, ‘Caxtons of the north: mid-nineteenth-century Arctic shipboard printing’, Book History, 4, 1, 2001, pp. 81114.

32 There is an abundance of studies focusing on the social history of Victorian society: see, for instance, Harrison, John F. C., Late Victorian Britain, 1875–1901, London: Routledge, 1991; Gorman, Daniel, Imperial citizenship: empire and the question of belonging, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.

33 NLA, 2166147, Hosking, J. H., ed., The Himalaya Observer, 2, London, 1896, p. 22.

34 BL, 002826629, J. H. W. [no name beyond the initials], The James Baines Times, published on board Her Majesty’s mail ship ‘James Baines’, during the passage from Melbourne to Liverpool, 5, 1, 1856, Birmingham: J. Tonks, pp. 2–4, for a detailed description of this ship, mentioning the fact that not even the captain needed to enter the ladies’ cabins in order to communicate with the wheel-house, owing to the well-thought-out architecture.

35 Hassam, Andrew, ‘“Our floating home”: social space and group identity on board the emigrant ship’, Working papers in Australian studies 76, Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, 1992, p. 18.

36 BL, YD.2011.b.1007, Ritchie and Davies, Great Britain Times, 2, unpaginated.

37 For trench newspapers and their function for the soldiers, see Nelson, Robert L., German soldier newspapers of the First World War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. For family newspapers, see Alexander, Christine, ‘Play and apprenticeship: the culture of family magazines’, in Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster, eds., The child writer from Austen to Woolf, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 3150. One of the most famous examples is probably the family newspaper written by Virginia Woolf and her siblings in the 1890s: Woolf, Virginia et al., Hyde Park Gate News: the Stephen family newspaper, London: Hesperus, 2005 (handwritten in 1891–2 and 1895).

38 For shipboard encounters and communities on the route between Sydney and San Francisco, see Frances Steel, ‘Anglo-worlds in transit: connections and frictions across the Pacific’, pp. 251–70 in this issue.

39 Bell, ‘Bound for Australia’, p. 137.

40 See Pietsch, ‘Bodies at sea’.

41 See, for instance, NLA, 2511612, James Edward Alexander, ed., The Albatross: record of voyage of the ‘Great Britain’ steam ship from Victoria to England in 1862, 1, Stirling, 1863, p. 2; SLNSW, 910.42/P, Musgrave, George Arthur, ed., The Parramatta Sun: a serio-comic magazine, issued fortnightly, during the voyage of the ship ‘Parramatta’ from London to Sydney, 1, Sydney, 1879, p. 3.

42 NLA, 2200823, [no ed.], The Sobraon Mercury: an occasional journal published at sea during the voyage of the ship ‘Sobraon’ from Melbourne to London, 3, London, 1877, p. 43. See also NLA, 2896974, Robinson, Francis Whitfield, ed., The Marco Polo Chronicle: a weekly journal of events arising during a voyage from Liverpool to Australia, 3, 1854, p. 2.

43 SLNSW, RAV/FM4/853, [no. ed.], The James Baines Times, published on board Her Majesty’s mail ship ‘James Baines’, during the passage from Melbourne to Liverpool, 1, 3, Birmingham, 1856, p. 2; SLNSW, F656.505/J, [no ed.], The John Elder Times and General Advertiser, 2, 2, London, 1879, p. 5; SLNSW, DSM/Q910.42/C, [no. ed.], The Carthaginian: a ship newspaper, 3, pp. 31–2.

44 SLNSW, 910.42/O, [no ed.], Our voyage: extracts from the Sobraon Gossip: a weekly newspaper published on board the Sobraon during the passage from Melbourne to London, London, 1875, p. 60; NLA, 2200823, [no ed.], The Sobraon Mercury, 1, p. 9; NLA, 2166147, Hosking, Himalaya Observer, 4, p. 49.

45 For one quite special case of sea travelling and the notion of ‘home’, see Ryan, James R., ‘“Our home on the ocean”: Lady Brassey and the voyages of the Sunbeam, 1874–1887’, Journal of Historical Geography, 32, 3, 2006, pp. 579604.

46 NLA, 5299711, [no ed.], The Cuzco Torpedo: an explosive magazine, Sydney, 1885 (Christmas double number), p. 1.

47 SLNSW, RAV/FM4/853, [no. ed.], The James Baines Times, 1, 3, p. 1.

48 NMM, PBH3685, William A. Smith, ed., Sketches at sea: a periodical issued on board the ship ‘Young Australia’, 1, Brisbane, 1864, p. 1.

49 BL, YD.2011.b.1007, Ritchie und Davies, The Great Britain Times, 3, unpaginated.

50 Cuzco Torpedo, Christmas double number, p. 6.

51 See Pietsch, ‘Bodies at sea’.

52 SLNSW, 910.42/G, George Hodgson Wayte, ed., The Great Britain Miscellany, Melbourne, 1862, p. 25.

53 For the relation between physical and social space aboard emigration ships, see Hassam, Our floating home, pp. 4–8.

54 SLNSW, DSM/042/P179, Vincent and Townsend, Netherby Gazette, 1, pp. 7–8.

55 Ibid., 2, p. 13.

56 Ibid., emphasis added.

57 Bell, ‘Bound for Australia’, p. 137.

58 SLNSW, A 1681, Grumm and Welch, Zealandia Free Press, preface.

59 Ibid., 1, unpaginated, emphasis added.

60 Ibid., 2, unpaginated.

61 See, for instance, The Man at the Wheel and the Vanguard Times, both published during a passage from London to Brisbane in 1866 aboard the ship Vanguard: SLNSW, Q656.509/M, S. Pole, ed., The Man at the Wheel, Brisbane, 1867; SLNSW, Q656.509/V, [no ed.], The Vanguard Times, Brisbane, 1867. Or the Argonaut Times and the Argonaut Critic, both published aboard the Argonaut on a voyage from London to Adelaide in 1878: SLNSW, DSM/Q910.42/A, [no ed.], The Argonaut Times [n.p., n.d.], although there is no existing copy of the Argonaut Critic, so that we only know about its existence through the recurring mentions in the Argonaut Times.

62 NLA, SRq 387.54205 Y68, George Grimley, ed., The Young Australia Times, Brisbane, 1864; NMM, PBH3685, William A. Smith, ed., Sketches at Sea: a periodical issued on board the ship ‘Young Australia’, Brisbane, 1864 (issued as Etches and Sketches on board the Young Australia but as Sketches at Sea when printed because the printed version did not include illustrations).

63 NLA, SRq 387.54205 Y68, Grimley, Young Australia Times, 9, p. 21.

64 Ibid., 8, p. 22, emphasis added.

65 Grimley, ed., Young Australia Times, 3, p. 22 (announcement); NMM, PBH3685, Williams, Sketches at Sea, 3, p. 9 (mockery).

66 State Library of Queensland, TR 1815, William A. Smith, Diary 1864, p. 155.

67 NMM, NWT 5, R. J. Hough, ed., Sierra Cordova Magpie, 1901–02.

68 For the different meanings that the term ‘lascar’ could carry, see Balachandran, Gopalan, Globalizing labour? Indian seafarers and world shipping, c. 1870–1945, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012, esp. pp. 28–30.

69 SLNSW, DSM/Q910.42/C, [no. ed.], The Carthaginian, 3, p. 32. For the late nineteenth century, Steel, Frances, Oceania under steam: sea transport and the cultures of colonialism, c.1870–1914, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011, pp. 105125, speaks of 15% of the sailors aboard a British ship being lascars. See also Balachandran, Globalizing labour.

70 NLA, 1078016, Groom, S. R., ed., The R.M.S. Shannon Times and Maregraph: weekly journal during voyage from Sydney to Gravesend in April, May and June 1883, 3, London, 1883, pp. 1516.

71 See, for instance, an interview with the midshipman Gerald O’Brien about his career in NLA, 757455, Madden, Frank and Goodland, Gillmore, eds., The Ormuz Optic, 1, 2, 1895, p. 42.

72 Port cities and their role in processes of globalization have already been the topic of many historical studies. See, for instance, Vink, Markus, ‘From port-city to world-system: spatial constructs of Dutch Indian Ocean studies, 1500–1800’, Itinerario, 28, 2, 2004, pp. 45116; Basu, Dilip K., The rise and growth of the colonial port cities in Asia, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985; Broeze, Frank, ed., Gateways of Asia: port cities of Asia in the 13th–20th centuries, London: Kegan Paul International, 1997.

73 Huber, Valeska, Channelling mobilities: migration and globalisation in the Suez Canal region and beyond, 1869–1914, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

74 For a specific group of travellers – Australian women going to Great Britain – and their perception of ‘locals’ in port cities, see Woollacott, Angela, ‘“All this is the empire, I told myself”: Australian women’s voyages “home” and the articulation of colonial whiteness’, American Historical Review, 102, 4, 1997, pp. 10031029.

75 See Osterhammel, Jürgen, ‘Distanzerfahrung: Darstellungsweisen des Fremden im 18. Jahrhundert’, in Hans-Joachim König, Wolfgang Reinhard, and Reinhard Wendt, eds., Der europäische Beobachter außereuropäischer Kulturen: Zur Problematik der Wirklichkeitswahrnehmung, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1989, pp. 942.

76 SLNSW, MAV/FM4/10750, Braidwood and Cape, Parramatta Times, pp. 25 and 126.

77 See, for example, SLNSW, MAV/FM4/10751, [no ed.], The Oroya Times, Melbourne, 1889.

78 SLNSW, 910.42/E, Ashburner, B. and Taylor, P. S., eds., The Elderslie Lucifer: a weekly journal of facts and fancies, 2, 4, Oamaru 1887, unpaginated.

79 Said, Edward W., Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979, p. 332. Since the work’s first publication, countless scholars have reacted and responded to Said’s ideas.

80 NLA, 2166147, Hosking, Himalaya Observer, 4, p. 49.

81 SLNSW, PAM 89/1132, Gilbert Watson and Joseph Coats, eds., The Gothic Weekly Chronicle: being contributions on board R.M.S. Gothic, 1, Wellington, 1897, p. 13, emphasis added.

82 SLNSW, DSM/910.42/H, [no ed.], Horae Marinae: a journal issued on board the Queensland Steam Navigation Company’s steam ship ‘Lady Bowen’ on her voyage from Glasgow to Brisbane, Brisbane, 1864, Preface [no pagination].

83 Hassam, Our floating home, p. 20.

84 Ibid.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Global History
  • ISSN: 1740-0228
  • EISSN: 1740-0236
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-global-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed