Diaries, and the Stories They Can Tell!

Diaries are a wonderful thing. They can tell you about day-to-day life, and people and places the diary writer interacted with. They can show emotion and they can have give personality to a name – depending on the writer of course. But diaries are a seriously great resource for historians.

Now I am fortunate that over the years quite a number of my family members have kept diaries, and even more so that many of these have survived, some dating back to the 1800s. In time I’ll take a look at some of these, but there is one particular one that I want to share with you today, and that is a snippet from the diary of William Beavis Randell who together with his wife and young family emigrated from Devon, England in 1837, and set up on land that became known as Gumeracha, in the Adelaide Hills.

So you know who is who, here is a small chart which hopefully makes it easier to understand.


The few entries I’m writing here ‘were printed in the ‘Gumeracha 1839-1939’ book as “extracts from the Diary of W.B. Randell”. This is around the time that eldest son, William Richard Randell was building his first ever paddlesteamer.

Thursday, September 2nd, 1852
Elliott left this morning at 10 o’clock with the Mill team of bullocks with materials for the steam boat at the Murray.

Friday, September 10th, 1852
Elliott returned last night from the Murray, to take down a load of deals, left about 10 o’clock with our bullock team.

Wednesday, October 6th, 1852
Elliott gone to Murray with steam engine.

Wednesday, December 15th, 1852
William (W.R.) has returned, very poorly from the Murray, and is completely sickened of his steamer building job in hand there.

Monday, February 28th, 1853
Self (W.B.R.) picking fruit. One box of choice for the steamer “Mary Ann” excursion to the Lakes to meet the Governor and Lady Young (D.V.).

Friday, March 18th, 1853
[this is a big long entry that I have cut down, and it was the day of the first trial run of the paddlesteamer]
Elliott, Samuel, Jamieson, Allan, Mrs. Randell, Hannah Swaine, the Misses Rowlands, Bessie, William (W.R.) and self, with one map and a boy, took a pleasure trip in the ‘Mary Ann” down the Murray about 12 miles to Mr. Baker’s station …  and returned home to tea. At night we united in prayers on board the “Mary Ann”. Mr Lillecrapp led them, and earnestly prayed the Father of Mercies to bless the young man in this undertaking at large, which he so courageously engaged in – namely, to be the first navigator of that beautiful River, the Murray; although, I see myself, very little chance for his remuneration and requite to the immense outlay of time and money etc. … He has won to himself (under God’s blessing) laurels which no man can deprive him of, inasmuch as he must stand to all posterity, “The First Navigator of the Great River Murray”.

Friday, March 25th, 1853
William (W.R.) started on his trip up the Murray about 12 noon to-day.

Tuesday, April 12th, 1853
William (W.R.) has returned this morning from his Murray trip, having discovered that there was not sufficient depth of water at this season of the year. He has been absent about three weeks.

Captain William Richard Randell

Captain William Richard Randell

What can I say? From these diary entries I get a little insight into my great great grandpa’s (William Beavis Randell) personality, which would be impossible from documents, photographs or the odd article if he made it into the newspaper.

So if you are lucky enough to have family diaries, treasure them!!

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