Robert Whyte’s 1847 Famine Ship Diary

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Early on the morning of 30 May 1847, the Ajax weighed anchor in Dublin harbour with the passengers facing a six-week crossing of the North Atlantic to what they hoped would be a land of promise somewhere in Canada. Within a year after landing in Canada one of the passengers of the Ajax published a diary that gives remarkable details about the voyage from Dublin to Grosse Île, the Canadian quarantine station. The passenger signed his name as Robert Whyte.Whyte was a protestant gentleman of good education and position as well as being a professional writer who intended to publish his diary. The diary appeared in print in 1848. It is signed in the authors own handwriting and features vivid descriptions of the spectacular scenery along the St Laurence River and striking delineations of the passengers, including the captain and his wife, the crew and the suffering travellers.Vessels constituting what has aptly been called the coffin fleet transported over 100,000 immigrants in panic flight from famine, fever and conditions involving deprivation of all human rights. Greedy captains and shipping agents were responsible for the crowding which resulted in much suffering and enormous loss of life on the ocean.

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