Home > View & Discuss > Uncovering the Shenandoah diary

Uncovering the Shenandoah diary

  • Date recorded: 9 Jun 2016

  • Duration: 48:25

'History can be a bit dry unless you put flesh on the bones, and Dabs' story does that – it's really valuable and very rare.'

– Terry Smyth on Dabney Scales' Shenandoah diary

About this video

In January 1865, the Confederate ship Shenandoah arrived in Melbourne in need of repairs. Her request to use Melbourne port facilities vexed local authorities because the British colony of Victoria was bound to impartiality in the American Civil War. Nonetheless, the ship's officers were feted by Victorian society and tens of thousands of locals came to see the ship while it was docked in Hobson’s Bay.

Fascinating details of the Shenandoah’s Melbourne visit – including the 40 stowaways who left with her – come to life in the recently discovered shipboard diary of Lt Dabney M Scales, one of the Shenandoah’s nine naval officers.

Robyn Annear MCs this lively panel discussion about the Shenandoah's visit to Melbourneinterspersed with readings by actor James Saunders from Scales' diary and historic newspapers.

Jo Ritale describes how the Library, through its current collection appeal, has the opportunity to purchase Dabney Scales' diary. She explains why the item, being a personal account written at the time from an American perspective, is of great significance to the Library's collection and to the people of Victoria.

Dr Angus Curry brings to life the diary's author, Dabney 'Dab' M Scales. One of seven children from Mississippi, Dab had commanded gun crews and been recognised for bravery in the Civil War before joining the Shenandoah. Angus describes how Scales' diary broadens our understanding of shipboard life and reveals that the ship's officers were aware of the presence of stowaways on board.

Terry Smyth talks about the Shenandoah's impressive technology for its time. He conveys the attraction and novelty of the ship to Victorians who were politically naive about the issue of slavery but supported the underdog, and identified with the north-south rivalry. He discusses the appeal that stowing away on the Shenandoah must have held for Victorian men when the Gold Rush was over, and offers an appreciation of the revelations within Scales' diary, even for American Civil War experts.


  • MC: Robyn Annear is the author of the critically acclaimed Fly a rebel flag: the Eureka Stockade and Bearbrass: imagining early Melbourne. Her book A city lost and found: Whelan the Wrecker's Melbourne grew out of her 2003-04 Library Creative Fellowship. Robyn was also guest curator of the Library's exhibition Naked democracy: governing Victoria 1856-2006.
  • Jo Ritale has worked in public, university and state libraries for almost 20 years. As Head of Collections at the Library, Jo develops the Australian Manuscripts, Rare Printed, Pictures, Art, Australian History and Literature collections and supports their discovery through digitisation, programs and service delivery.
  • Dr Angus Curry is the author of The officers of the CSS Shenandoah. The book examines the ship’s diaries and logs of the Confederate officers who served on this commerce raider from 1864 to 1865, and appraises the manner in which they recollected their experiences after the War. He was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy in History at La Trobe University in 2002.
  • Terry Smyth has written extensively on historical, social and cultural subjects during his 25-year career as feature writer and columnist with Fairfax Media. He is also co-founder and editor of the Australian history online magazine The forgotten times. Terry has a longstanding interest in colonial Australian history, British and Irish history, and in American history, particularly the American Civil War.
  • Readings by James Saunders. Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000, 2014 Creative Fellow James Saunders has voiced an array of characters on stage, film and television. He has performed for most major Australian theatre companies and his TV credits include City homicide, Wilfred, Stingers and Blue heelers.