Blanche Mitchell (1843-1869) was the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, explorer and Surveyor General of the Colony of New South Wales. Blanche was aged fifteen at the time of the visit of the Novara to Sydney. A full transcription of her personal diary is to be found in Blanche: An Australian Diary 1858-1861 (John Ferguson, Sydney, 1980), edited by Edna Hickson. The original diary is in the Mitchell Library collection (MSS 1611, with a typescript copy at MSS3738. Microfilm copy of original diary at CY461). With regards to the Novara visit, the Diary covers only 11 of the 33 days the vessel was in port, with Blanche too busy between 8-28 November to record any entries. However her account of the last nine days of its stay (perhaps the most social period) is full of detail.
Saturday 6th November 
Saw in the papers that an Austrian man-of-war forty-four guns came in yesterday, also a French man-of-war three guns. German will now come into fashion, all the ladies will be anxious to learn it.
Went early this morning to the Isaacs's where I found Mr Rolleston, Mr Hodgson, Mr Isaacs, all to whom I had to say how do you do, also a Mr Bayly, who came out in the La Hague, to whom I was introduced. There is to be a grand cricket match, held between the Phoenix and Garrison Clubs. These gentlemen are all cricketers who have met at Mr Isaacs's, to proceed with him to the cricket ground, which is the Barrack Square.
At ten started with Tchi Tchi, Emma and servant in the steamer. Mrs Allen and Susy Bettington also accompanied us. Enjoyed myself very much. Landed at Wooloomooloo at six. Had tea at Mrs Allen's, and was home by nine. No vessel had arrived. Found all busy writing home.
Sunday 7th November
This morning very dark and lowering, expect rain. Started for St Mark's and were caught half way by a shower which came down in earnest. Were obliged to run home as fast as our poor legs could carry us. Men meanwhile grinning at our capers. As soon as the rain ceased, and we got dry, we went to St John's, where we heard a very good sermon.
At one dined. The sky became one leaden mass of heavy clouds, and in some places appeared to touch the earth, darker and darker it became, till distant thunder, faint flashes of lightning and the moaning that goes before rain warned us of a storm, which by two occurred in earnest. Oh, it was such a glorious storm, such splendid lightning, seeming to divide the heavens in its fiery zig zag transit, the rolling thunder slowly gathering, till it breaks in one loud crash over our heads, and then dying away, the pelting rain that for a full quarter of an hour, cut off from our view every house and tree about, and left us in a perfect mist and the driving wind breaking in at the windows, and dashing everything about. Oh, it was magnificent! The grandest thing on earth is to watch a storm, to see God moving in awful magnificence in the clouds. Oh it is a holy feeling that comes over one at the moment, when the storm is loudest, when the fatal lightning is most vivid, to feel there is One that protects you in all this, who is master of all these contending elements. To look and ponder over Nature, is the best book that one can read on a Sunday.
Monday 29th November
It is with a heavy heart that I now write this, because I have allowed so much time to pass away without writing in my journal, an occupation which I dearly love, and would never leave off, if not compelled by idleness, or on the contrary having other things to do. But Livy's arrival, which took place on the 8th November, has driven everything out of my head. It is with great sorrow and shame, that I cannot here indulge in my favourite occupation of describing the how and the when Livy and family came, of our feelings at that exciting moment how after waiting for anxious days, our wishes were at last fulfilled, or of describing the persons of the different individuals. Suffice it to say that Livy is altered for the better, Catherine exactly the same as ever, and little Poddy, dear little Poddy, has not improved, but is a very darling little fellow. Livy and Catherine have brought all sorts of things out with them, very nice indeed, and Livy has given me a bracelet made of his hair.
We have also during this long silence on my part, been enjoying ourselves greatly, having been to the Mann's and seen the Austrians. We have been to three parties at the Mann's, and each time six Austrians have attended, and I for the first time in my life, enjoyed being paid attention to because I spoke German, which delighted these poor foreigners, and Alice and I were all the rage.
We have been on board their frigate, the stately Novara, have been out in the gondola rowed by real Venetians, and have danced to their band. All my adventures, my fun, my happiness I cannot here describe, as part I have forgotten, but it shall never be so again. I shall never forsake my journal.
Tonight I was to make my first appearance in public at the grand Austrian Ball, but it is pouring unceasing rain, and we have been sent word that it has been put off till tomorrow. All this day have done nothing, in fact I have not looked into a book since I last wrote in this journal. Oh, I am so sorry I have neglected to write! But it shall never occur again. What a pity it is raining, but tomorrow, oh tomorrow! at seven what shall we be doing to a beautiful band, and with a delightful partner?
These Austrians are the nicest fellows I have ever seen. And they know who we are, and are so gentlemanly. They do not, like the Sydney people, only count money, they respect name and family also, but perhaps they suppose we have the needful also. When they find out their mistake I fancy a little coolness will ensue. But I never spent happier moments in my life, than when I was with them.
Not thinking of clearing up. Catherine has been ill in bed for more than a week, attended twice a day by Dr Alloway. At eight undressed Poddy and put him to bed, which is my duty every evening, in the morning it is Alice's. After that went to bed myself as I shall be so tired tomorrow. Jessie awfully sour, because she can't get anybody to take her to the Ball, pretending, like sour grapes, she could go if she wished. The locusts' singing is a good sign, but an early frog has commenced its ominous croak, which is a bad sign.
Tuesday 30th November
Beautiful morning, but rather hot, jumped out of bed to the tune of the locusts, which appear to be giving thanks for the hot weather. They make such a noise, quite deafening. Again the cocks crow, dogs bark, horses canter, carts and carriages roll, bells ring, and man again goes forth to his daily labour. Got my dress from Miss Burnill, it is very pretty, being tarletan trimmed with blue. Took Poddy to school. He is to go every morning till one to Miss Thompson's, a Dames School in Wooloomooloo. This is the first time he has ever been anywhere by himself Poor little fellow, obliged to fight all his own battles at that mini-world, a school. No big brother to stand up for him. But this is only a preparatory school. Only four children attend. After that went down to different shops, and bought white kid boots. Insufferably hot, all the sky seeming covered with dark and lowering clouds. Ah, I am afraid the Fates will be unpropitious to us again.
At five dressed, and the evening turned out beautiful. At seven the cab rolled up for us, and after leaving Jessie at Lady Forbes's to go with them, we arrived safely at Mr Mann's office, where we found all dressing in various stages of excitement. Some half dressed, screamed to each other in the agony of despair, to assist them, others dressed out in the whole gay attire, now eyed themselves and the scene, with the utmost satisfaction. At length, all attired, and each complimented, we went down to the first steamer, which was just starting.
While we are waiting here, I shall take the opportunity of describing some of my thoughts at the prospect of going to my first ball. Minnie and I now make our first appearance tonight; this is my first ball, and my first introduction is made on board of an Austrian man-of-war. No mean ship, but a forty-four gun frigate containing an illustrious lot of officers, the highest being a prince, and the lowest a count. Will he be there, I thought? Will the Pole seek me and talk to me? But here, just as I fell into a train of most delicious thought, we were interrupted by Mrs and Mr Allen, coming on board, and various other friends, and the steamer starting at the same time, my soliloquy was stopped by seeing with rapture the light glancing of the waters as the steamer cut through, ploughing up the phosphorus, and leaving a lightning wake behind it.
The whole scene was most romantic. The company on board, all dressed variously, chatting, laughing, the splendid German Band playing an entrancing air from some opera, the darkness of all around, while above, the clouds all gathered into a black mass shed their fitful shade on the calm water, which some poor star vainly struggled to reflect itself in. The heavy and distant meanings of an approaching thunderstorm, the frequent flashes of fiery lightning, which lighted up all around, all this inspired me with a calm delicious romantic feeling.
Soon the Novara burst upon our sight, and then what a rush to see the gallant vessel all decked out in her flags and lighted up with a reflecting brilliance! After having nearly run down a boat, but done no more mischief, we arrived safely on board the frigate, when a file of officers waited in readiness to conduct us to the cabin. Waited for us alone, as no other strangers enjoyed this honour. As we issued forth, after giving an additional pull to our dresses, and a long last look at the glass, each officer offered us his arm, and took us to the deck, where the dancing was to be, and before we had been there half an hour, every one of our cards were half-filled with names. They were so delighted to see all of us.
While the Band played more delicious operatic airs, we walked about surveying all the beauties of the deck. Each of us had our different favourites. I leaned on the Prince's arm (but he is not my favourite), till the first dance struck up, and then I danced with him. So on dancing the whole night, while plenty of girls sat down, we stopped till the very last, and even then the officers would not let us away, till we had danced six more dances than were marked on the programme.
It was not till half past five that we took our departure in broad daylight in the Victoria's boat, which Mr Wood brought for us, and when we arrived at Willoughby, the sun was up high in the heavens. We slept for only half an hour. Thus ended my first ball, and oh, how delightful it was! It feels now like a delightful dream that is past! Those moments may never return. The Pole came up to me in a great hurry, to say how sorry he was, that he was on duty, and unable to come. Going away he carried me almost down the ladder. I am so sorry he was on duty.
Wednesday 1st December
Can this be a new day? In what have we spent the night? Very sleepy all the day, helped to adorn the drawing room, as the Manns have another party tonight. At six dressed, and at seven these darling officers arrived. How strange it seems this very morning to have been dancing with the same people, and again tonight. Danced as usual.
The Pole came! He poor fellow, cannot dance, but he stands leaning up against the piano, the whole night, and each time I stop, comes and talks to me, and then when the dance goes on retires and comes again. His tall figure looks very well, with his bushy black whiskers, and soft drooping eyes. We danced the cotillion, such a delightful dance, after that the Pole came and asked me to walk with him, and soon afterwards we parted.
They left, and after talking over their respective qualities, and much screaming, shouting, and laughing, we went to bed. It was half past three before we went up stairs. Mr Woods has promised to bring his boat over tomorrow for us to pay a second visit to the Novara in it.
Thursday 2nd December
Went home this morning, told every body about the Ball. Went to Mrs Logan's, where we were scolded very much for losing so many lessons, and at two took our departure again. We waited at the office for two hours, waiting with Mr Mann for the boat to come and take us, but as none came Mr M. decided upon going in his own boat.
We started, and just off Billy Blues Point, met the Victoria coming down with full speed, just out of dock, with all the Manns on board. They waved and shouted, and Mr Wood screamed out, `My gig is just above there!' and we pushed on rather cast down, but hoping to meet the gig.
We hailed one boat, but the sailors would not answer, but we got into another and pushed off with ten hands on board and in a large man-of-war's boat, as big as a room. We soon got alongside the Victoria, and then were received on board, introduced to the Captain, and made to come down into the cabin and drink the Victoria's and the officers' health in sparkling champagne, while cake was handed round. After being shown all over this vessel, we started on board the Governor's barge, and proceeded on board the Novara, where we were received with loud acclamations of joy, and assisted up the ladder, surrounded immediately by all our friends, and shown everything a second time. The Pole again pointed out everything to me, and again I was happy. We were taken down into the midshipmen's room, and there drank lemonade in honour of the Novara and crew, while the gentlemen took champagne.
While in this cabin, we heard a call, and instantly after the Band played, `Ave Sanctisorima', oh, so beautifully and solemnly! They are strict Roman Catholics. Soon after they insisted we should have a dance, before we left, so the band struck up a polka, and we were seized upon and danced a most delightful polka. They begged and implored us to stay longer, but Mr Mann was inexorable, no power could shake him, so with deep regret, we went down the ship's side, and were safely on board the Victoria's boat. About 100 yds from the frigate, the band struck up in honour of us `God save the Queen' and instantly Mr Woods gave the order, and the oars were crossed, hats off, and all felt gratitude and loyalty. Afterwards they played their own National Anthem, and one loud and hearty English cheer responded, while the oars were dashed down with a sullen clash, and we rowed merrily homeward.
Arrived home at nine and did not go to bed till twelve. Surely this dissipation is very bad, my left side aches eternally, and I am so tired that I can hardly hold my head up. This pain got so bad at the ball, that I was obliged to retire for a few minutes gasping.
Friday 3rd December
Up early. Felt dreadful all day. Laughed till my sides ached, and then felt very miserable, when I thought how soon the Austrians would leave. Dressed to get ready for a ball at the Drews. At eight the large Victoria's boat came for us, and we all started off again. The water was dreadfully rough, and we sailed. The sails leaned to the wind, and the hoarse commands given by Mr Woods to the men, were highly interesting. At length we arrived safely at the Drews', and were received by the officers who ran down to the wharf to see us. And so we danced away, had tremendous fun, with the cotillion.
Several of them pay great attention to Minnie, her black eyes made great havoc amongst them. My shoe coming off, I went into the room to put it on, and coming out of the room, I met Herr Natti, who stopped me, and said to me in German (I always speak with them in German), `Miss Mitchell, I have something to give you. Herr Meder sent you this card, and hopes that you will always remember him.' It had written down in a corner of it `Pour faire mes adieus'. He continued `He was very sorry he could not come tonight, but duty prevented him'. I shook all over, and felt a sinking at the heart, which I could not refrain. I expressed my thanks in a rather incoherent manner, and he taking out his own card, said, `Will you accept mine as a remembrance of me?' I also took that, and thanked him. Then I went into the dancing room, and my joy was much damped, by hearing they were likely to sail tomorrow!
At four said an affecting adieu to all around, and after a tender parting, went off in the boat. The officers' boat accompanied us as far, where two bays separate from another, then when our paths lay in different directions, and we were about to separate, the hoarse voice of Monfroni de Montfort, was heard giving the command, and the oars were immediately raised, and the men and officers gave one loud hearty cheer, to which our men responded with oars also raised. At five we arrived home, and the sun began to shew its face as we laid down in our dresses to snatch an hour's sleep.
Saturday 4th December
This cannot be another day! Surely this is one continual round of dissipation! Rose at seven, and felt very tired all day. Went out to the Point and sat there reading. At eleven went to bed, where after teasing Alice Mann for a few minutes I tumbled off asleep - But oh! how soon we will have to part with the Austrians, it is quite maddening. To make friends, and then so soon to separate.
Sunday 5th December
Rose very early, and at the usual time, went to church. Mr Clark preached a pretty good sermon. When crossing home in the boat, we saw the Austrian man-of-war boat coming up in our direction, and soon afterwards in walked Monfroni. He had come to spend the day. Oh, the fun we had would be perfectly impossible to describe! We asked as many of the officers as could come, to come over tomorrow evening, and we marked them all down on a piece of paper. He joked me about Herr Meder, and altogether we had immense fun. At ten he took his departure with a strict injunction to come over tomorrow night. And so we said adieu, and retired to bed, after reading a chapter in the Bible, during which Leslie fell fast asleep and snored, which made us all laugh.
Monday 6th December
Rose and anxiously waited for the evening, as I hope the Pole will come - If not, I do not care for the others. But alas! at twelve we heard a knocking at the window and the Pole entered. He was frightfully nervous, a great vein on his forehead had swelled into a knotted cord, and his hand shook as if with an ague. His message was this. He had come in the name of the Captain and officers, to say how sorry they were, not being able to come tonight, as the Commodore had accepted an invitation from Mr Kirchner for them to spend their last evening there. With what sorrow did we hear this! He left all the officers' cards, and went away. No word or look did he give me. He went away as one in a dream, and I was left alone. They laughed, they quarrelled over the cards, but I was miserable. I took a book, and pretended to read, but my mind was far from the book. They joked me, but I did not care. I was trying to recollect what it was he had said, over and over again, I pictured to myself him standing there. I answered their jokes with a smile, but they were even as the wind, they passed by me unfelt. Oh, how miserable I felt! To think that I had said goodbye to all for the last time, for they sailed tomorrow, was dreadful, and him, whom I wanted more especially to say goodbye to, he was gone, and never perhaps shall I see him again.
At dinner a walk of six miles was proposed to see Mrs Whitton, I gave my veto against it, but I was passed unheeded, they went, and I accompanied them. But I was too miserable to think or do anything, in fact, I was perfectly wretched. Came home, perfectly dead with fatigue, having walked six miles, but near the door met Mr M. coming to meet us. `They are come', he cried. For a moment faces grew bright, hope was raised, but a treacherous smile on his face, warned us of the veracity of it, and hope rushed down, slain back again. We entered the house, and Mrs M. met us with `Mr Kirchner met your Papa at his office, and has asked us all to attend his party (then to us). Mrs Kirchner called on your Mamma, and asked her consent, for you to go to the ball'!
No restorative in the world could have brought back to our faces their usual colour more effectually than did this piece of welcome news. Instantly petticoats were all the cry, for it was past six, and Herr Meder would arrive in the Novara boat at half past six. Dresses were pulled off, hair was done, rushing and screaming was prevalent everywhere, and as I was the first to be dressed, I went down to the drawing room, where I found Herr Meder, who complimented me on my appearance, as I entered the room. Mr Mann insisted upon my wearing a shawl, Herr Meder said to me in German I must wear one, and he had his large coat ready for me in the boat.
We waited for some time afterwards till all were assembled. Fred gave me a very pretty bouquet, and when they were all ready, we went down to the boat. Herr Meder offered me his arm, which I took, but he seeing Mrs Mann behind, all the rest had gone on before, stopped and wanted to wait till she would pass. But she kept behind, so on we went and got into their splendid boat. I sat up in the bow and Herr Meder in the stem, so we were far away from each other. And thus, manned with ten oars, we cut through the waves, on the last night the Austrians were to be in harbour. We passed the dear old Novara, and took in two more officers, the rest had gone on in the big boat with the band, and then we went cheerily on.
As soon as we landed at Mr Kirchner's wharf Herr M. made me take his arm, and took me up the green, where all were going, but instead of taking me in the same direction as the rest, he wanted to take quite away, but I said No! and quickly followed up. When inside, we went up to the dressing room, and coming down, some of the officers were waiting to lead us in, Herr M. amongst them, at the foot of the staircase, and taking his arm I went into the ball room. There he left me, and I felt miserable. Every dance we danced, and it would be too much trouble here to narrate all the sorrowful things that were uttered at parting. They told me they knew Alice was engaged, and asked me if I was. The last polka I danced with Herr Calman, and in parting all were very much affected.
The party was got up with splendid style. Gold spoons in the teacups etc. As soon as we came down to the boat all said goodbye. It was the last we were to see of these dear officers, and the parting was very sorrowful. I gave Monfroni a piece of my fan, and all crowded round us asking for some remembrance. Minnie etc. gave pieces of flowers, ribbon etc. They themselves felt very very miserable. Had nothing to give away. The bouquet I had given to Miss Finch, as she asked me for it, on the plea that she had nothing to take into the room, so I parted without leaving any remembrance to the other officers.
Herr Meder and Natti came into the boat (Natti is very fond of Minnie, and she is desperately fond of him). In taking their seats Herr Meder sat beside me, and as I was rising to give place to Alice, he just put his arm round me, and said No! you sit here. And then as we got under weigh, all the officers remained standing on the side of the wharf, and as the men gave way and the boat shot forward all the officers took off their hats, and bowing as they uttered it, said, `Dieu vous benisse' - It looked so very nice, and touching, and we shall remember it as long as we live.
And so we came on. While in the boat, all loaded Natti with flowers as remembrances. I gave him a piece of my bow, and Meder also. The latter asked me if I had received his card, and I said `Yes', but he said `Did you not also receive a blank one?', and I of course answered in the negative. He appeared surprised, and gave Natti a scolding in Italian, and then he told me that he had also wished Natti to give me a blank card, on which I was to have written my name and sent it back to him, and that Natti had brought him back a card with `Danny' written upon it. What a trick for Natti to play. I felt so angry. It was very wrong of him to do so.
Meder asked me what I had done with the bouquet of flowers I had and said that it had grieved him very much to see I had given them away, and asked me to which gentleman I had given them, I told him the truth, and he appeared satisfied. Soon we landed, the time appeared so short while we were in the boat, although it was a long way from Mr Kirchner's wharf, but dawn is just breaking and we must land. Ten more hours where will the Novara be?
The boat having been rowed alongside the wharf, the hawsers thrown out, and the two front oars men standing ready with their boat hooks to lay hold of land. I, being the first to move, was handed out by Meder, who escorted me over the stones, and offering me his arm, he ordered the man with the lantern to proceed in front, so as to throw the light in our footsteps. He spoke to the man in Italian, but he told me he did this in German. We then went up followed by others, and soon we all reached the garden, where Meder, observing the road leading up to the fence, asked me to walk there with him, so retaking his arm, I walked up there with him. Away from all the others, quite alone, he told me that he would never forget me, and asked me repeatedly never to forget him. That he would try and return so as to see me again, that never, never, should I be out of his memory, and begged me never to forget poor Meder. That if ever I went to Vienna, I had only to mention his name and I would find out all about him, as his family was well known in Vienna. This and a lot more he told me, and I wished to have said a lot to him, for he seemed so melancholy, but seeing others following, he turned back, and I again gave him flowers, but such flowers, so scraggy and ugly, while they gave Natti beauties. But the dawn had already broken and cocks began to announce the approaching day. Time would not wait, we all must part. We all shook hands and Meder and I shook hands, and held my hand a long time, and then said adieu to all around. Again he shook hands with me, and Natti having bid a farewell he called out, `Come, Meder, we must go!' and with one more adieu the gate closed upon them. And we went to bed.
Tuesday 7th December
Rose at seven. Very anxious to know if the Novara had gone out. The wind was very high and boisterous, and the rain came down at intervals in drizzling showers. Such a gloomy morning. Gloomy in every respect for hearts were all sorrowful. Joked about all the officers, at breakfast everyone talking at once, one extolling another contending, all making such a fuss. I was so tired and sleepy and miserable, trying to recall the events of the past night. Hoping that perhaps the Novara had not yet gone out, and we might still see some of the officers. Minnie and I each made a beautiful bouquet, mine I intended to present to Herr Meder. But all out trouble in vain. When the boat came back in the evening Mr M. told us they had gone. Oh we were so miserable. Went to bed at eleven.
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