Rare Torres Strait 1881 diary travels to Ballarat

Guest Blogger: Patricia Tryon Macdonald, Co-Curator, For Auld Lang Syne, Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation; with contribution from C. Cottle, Digital Collections Curator, Queensland Memory

One of the rarest treasures to be included in the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s forthcoming exhibition For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation will be a fascinating illustrated journal kept by a young woman in the Torres Strait in 1881. The journal is on loan to the exhibition from the John Oxley Library.

Eliza Tait Scott was newly married when she travelled from Scotland to Australia with her missionary husband and stayed for two years on Murray and Darnley Islands. Eliza said that the Torres Strait was 'the most beautiful place I have ever seen, by a long way'.

The journal is certainly a unique object – Eliza’s clear handwriting speaks directly to us of her experiences and her detailed watercolour drawings show her fascination with nature whether under the water, on land and in the sky. When visitors to the exhibition encounter the album, they will see a snake winding its way around the edge of a page of text. If they buy the lavishly illustrated catalogue, they will see Eliza’s remarkable double page illustration of a colourful coral reef visible beneath the crystal waters of the Torres Strait.

The journal will certainly be a focus for the many visiting school groups and the exhibition guides are excited about having this rare and important object in the show. The John Oxley Library has been immensely generous to send this wonderful item to Victoria for our exhibition and has provided digitised images as well.

Sadly Eliza and her husband were fated not to stay long in the Torres Strait. Their baby son, Baxter, who was born while they were in the Strait, died while they were there and they returned heartbroken to Scotland.

For Auld Lang Syne will be on show at the Art Gallery of Ballarat until Sunday 27 July.



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