Fourteen page, handwritten diary written by Walter Dutton on board the 'Sarah Dixon', during his migrant voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne in 1858. Walter was born in Huddersfield in west Yorkshire, England, around 1826, the son of John and Elizabeth Dutton and had at least one brother Charles and a sister Hannah. He married Jane Sykes and they had two surviving children, Alfred (born in 1853) and Earle (born in 1855). In August 1858 Walter left Liverpool seeking his fortune on the Victorian goldfields. He landed in Melbourne and the family believe he made his way to the diggings. Family lore states that Walter remained prospecting for some time and did make a strike with a partner. What happened to Walter after this is the cause of conjecture with one story believing his skeleton was discovered in a remote location, identified by initials on a personal item. The inference is that he was the victim of foul play but this cannot be verified.

The diary demonstrates that Walter was evidently a literate man with some education, unlike his wife Jane back in England, who signed their marriage certificate with a cross. Walter sent the diary back to his family in England - perhaps one of the children read it aloud to Jane. The diary contains observations about shipboard life and the cultural diversity of the passengers, as well as alluding to the incompetence of the medical staff and the passengers' plans to lodge an official complaint off-shore. The Duttons and their descendants all resided in and around Huddersfield in west Yorkshire, England and most were woollen weavers.

The 'Sarah Dixon' was built at the Dixon shipyard on the Tantramar River in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, and launched on 18 September 1856. It made only two voyages to Australia. The first left Liverpool on 13 June 1857 under W. Salt as Master and arrived at Port Phillip Bay on 12 September 1857, returning to Britain via Guam. The second voyage, on which Walter Dutton travelled, departed Liverpool on 29 August 1858, again under W. Salt, and arrived at Port Melbourne on 6 December 1858. It was carrying nine first-class and 190 intermediate and steerage class passengers and a cargo of machinery. The 'Sarah Dixon' departed Melbourne on 17 January 1859 bound for Bassein under ballast. In March 1859, the ship struck Baroguy Shoal in the Gulf of Marinban, near Rangoon, Burma and was totally lost.

Physical Description

A5 sized diary with fourteen, double-sided pages, handwritten in black ink on pale blue paper. The book is string bound along left hand spine and there is no cover. The script is close written and divided into daily accounts, marked by dates and a horizontal line.


Diaries such as these offer an invaluable insight into the migrant experience. They represent an important memory tool for the people who create them and a sense of the historical importance of their undertaking. They record the freshness of the personal voice at the time of the experience, rather than the retrospective recollections after many years past. Walter Dutton's experience represents the experience of thousands of nineteenth century migrants and provides an invaluable research tool in terms of his descriptions of shipboard life, other passengers, navigational details and first views of Melbourne.

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