Diary of a Welsh swagman
Joseph Jenkins (1818–1898), an itinerant farm labourer from Wales, kept a diary throughout his life, including during the quarter-century he spent in Victoria. The 25 volumes provide one of the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of early Victorian working life.
Born at Blaenplwyf, Cardiganshire, West Wales, Jenkins’ family were farmers and Joseph moved to his own farm at Tregaron when he married. An unhappy marriage may explain his departure at the age of 51 for a life as an itinerant worker in Australia. Between 1869 and 1894, Jenkins lived much of his life in central Victoria, between Maldon, Ballarat and Castlemaine. He returned to his home in Wales in 1894 at the age of 76.
Jenkins' achievement – making daily entries in his diary while working up to 16 hours a day as a manual labourer – was nothing short of a calling. He also wrote poetry, specialising in the englynion, a Welsh verse form.
His diaries provide a rare glimpse into the nature of the society in which he worked. While they describe a working man’s life in a young colony, Jenkins was also an astute social commentator. He had a keen interest in land management and sustainable agriculture, an empathy with Indigenous people, and an interest in world affairs. The diaries also contain observations on human nature, Jenkins’ poetry, and provide an indication of his reading habits.
The diaries were discovered 70 years after Jenkins' death in the attic of one of his descendants in Wales. The Library acquired these volumes in 1997. Published in 1975 as Diary of a Welsh swagman, Jenkins’ writings have become widely read and admired.