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CSS Shenandoah ship-board diary

Learn the fascinating details about Lt Dabney Scales' ship-board diary from the CSS Shenandoah's visit to Melbourne in 1865.

An extraordinary Confederate encounter

In January 1865 a surprise visit from the CSS Shenandoah touched the lives of Melburnians. Over 7000 people flocked to see the ship and 40 men stowed away and enlisted with the Confederates. This remarkable moment in Melbourne's history was Australia's only direct contact with the events of the American Civil War.

The ship-board diary of Lieutenant Dabney M Scales, an officer on the Shenandoah, teems with first-hand observations, sketches and candid accounts of officers and crew mixing with the people of Victoria. The diary includes photographs and a pamphlet, and also describes the extraordinary story of the Shenandoah’s journey after leaving Melbourne.

A significant and unique document for Victoria

While the Shenandoah’s controversial visit was well documented in local newspapers at the time, the handful of ship officers’ diaries that have survived are all held in North American public or private collections. No Australian collection holds any original materials from the vessel. This rare, unpublished primary document provides valuable insights into the military, diplomatic and cultural complexities of the time. It is of great significance for the study of Melbourne society in the mid-19th century, and understanding colonial Australian–American relations in that period.

'The Shenandoah diary is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the State Library to acquire a collection unprecedented in its scope and connection with one of the major historical events of the 19th century – the American Civil War. This untold story represents a key part of Victoria's history.'

    – Dr Kevin Molloy, Manager, Manuscripts Collection

More to explore

Uncovering the Shenandoah diary

The extraordinary story of Dabney Scales' diary and the Shenandoah's visit to Melbourne was discussed at 'Uncovering the Shenandoah diary', a lively State Library public talk. The event was chaired by author Robyn Annear, with speakers Jo Ritale, Head of Collections at the Library, historian Dr Angus Curry and author Terry Smyth, and interspersed with readings from the diary and historic newspapers by actor James Saunders.

ABC News video

The ABC aired this news story about the CSS Shenandoah and its links to Melbourne. See glimpses of the diary up close, photographs of Lt Dabney Scales, and commentary about the diary from experts including the State Library's Dr Kevin Molloy. Watch the ABC News video.