Historisches Seminar



Experiencing Transit - Long-Distance Ship Passages on British Emigrant Ships to Australia in the 19th Century

Dissertationsprojekt von Daniela Dyck, ehemals Egger

Betreuer: Prof. Dr. Roland Wenzlhuemer


Although a re-occuring keyword in global and migration studies, 'transit' is lacking a differentiation as a research concept yet. This project therefore takes various perspectives on ‘transit’ as it unfolds itself in an exemplary laboratory setting: The 19th century emigration to Australia in the realm of the British Empire. Thousands of men, women, and children arrived as immigrants in Australian ports, having left the surroundings they were familiar with to exchange them for unknown sites on the other side of the globe. They all shared a transit period on board that is reflected on and documented in diaries, letters, emigrant guides, government publications, political debates, newspaper articles, and ship surgeons' journals. Each migrant had to navigate closeness and separation, boredom and excitement, life and death, while questions of power, responsibilities, and authority were omnipresent. Seasickness, hurricanes, and interpersonal conflicts contributed to the passengers’ lived and felt reality, as did theater plays, sunsets, and friendships. What did they expect when paying for a cabin on board an emigrant ship or applying for an assisted passage to the Antipodes? How did individuals cope with monotony, stress, and fears? In which way did the transit experience shape and challenge private lives and communities during the voyage? Based on various case studies, this project is inspired by and derives ideas from the fields of migration history, the history of emotions, and global history. As part of the SNF-DFG project 'Lives in Transit' in cooperation with the University of Zurich, it thus tries to sharpen the analytical concept of 'transit' by adding emotional, experiential, and mental aspects that have been neglected in historical research so far.