The dataset records book-length narratives based on travellers’ experience rather than imagination or secondary sources. These include letters home, diaries, and journals that were later edited and shaped into an extended narrative and published as a discrete book. It records only Anglophone texts, although some influential works in translation are included, such as François Péron’s A Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Hemisphere (1809).
Early travel accounts by colonial officials such as Watkin Tench’s A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay (1789) preceded others such as Barron Field’s Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales (1825), which combined travel narratives with geological, meteorological, and botanical observations of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land by numerous contributors. Natural history enthusiasts such as George Bennett found Australia and Asia fascinating sources of knowledge that was new to European science, as evident in Bennett’s Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, and China (1834). As travel routes opened for more free settlers, and the Australian ports became central in Britain’s maritime empire, the number of travellers increased as did the number of published travel narratives.
As the geographical visualisation of the Nineteenth-Century Travel Writing dataset reveals, the earliest colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land attracted the most attention from travellers and thus the most travel writing. Tasmania remained fascinating to visitors, and some global travellers such as Jessie A. Ackermann apologetically glossed over the rest of Australia but found Tasmania essential to mention in her narrative. For this reason, Tasmanian travel writing is a fascinating regional subset as Anna Johnston explains,
Although the label ‘little England’ can be found in travel accounts of other southern colonies, it was Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania that most regularly attracted the epithet. Due to a cool climate, Georgian architecture, and the colonial gentry whose stone mansions and large rural estates–bounded with English-styled hedgerows–stretched along the central north-south transport route, Tasmanian environments were peculiarly conducive to claims of Englishness (Johnston, 'Little England', 19).
Jane Roberts reported on Hobart churches full of a general body of “well dressed people, of about the same style and appearance as a country town in England” in her book Two Years at Sea (1834), which also provided a rare, early account of the Swan River colony. Visiting military officers such as Captain Henry Butler Stoney described how he became deeply homesick when he heard the Regimental Band in Hobart in his A Year in Tasmania (1854): 'making the exiled soldier fancy, with but little stretch of the imagination, that he is still in his own dear native land, ’neath British skies and Britain’s brightest eyes around him'. In The Antipodes and Round the World (1870) Alice Frere declared: 'Were I obliged to live in the colonies, I should wish my lot to be cast in Tasmania. There is something homelike in the gentlemen’s places here; very different from the other colonies'.