Guide to the Diaries and papers of Sir John Thurston (as filmed by the AJCP)



National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Created: 2018

Collection Summary

Thurston, John Bates, Sir
Diaries and biographical papers of Sir John Bates Thurston (as filmed by the AJCP)
Date Range
Collection Number
18 items
Language of Materials
Australian Joint Copying Project
The Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) online portal was created with the assistance of the Australian Public Service Modernisation Fund, 2017-2020. The National Library of Australia gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the other foundation AJCP partners, the State Library of New South Wales and The National Archives of the UK, and all other organisations which supported the work of the AJCP, the world's most extensive collaborative copying project, operating from 1948 to 1997.


Scope and Contents

1. Biographical papers, including manuscript biographical notes and newspaper obituaries collected and compiled by various members of the Thurston Family.

2. Diary of a voyage from Sydney to England 1854-55 with descriptions of Australia and New Zealand, and a diary February-March 1863 of a trip to the Swan River, Western Australia, and Mauritius, with a short description of Perth. There is also an account of a 'Ramble on Rotumah' 1865, and various other notes on that island.

3. Commonplace book 1840s-1860s including remarks on primitive man, apparently written by Thurston, and a diary of his voyage from Rotuma to Fiji in 1865.

4. Diary and notebook 1874 concerning the cession of Fiji.

5. Diary 1894 with comments on law cases and referring to the murder of Bishop J.C. Patteson.

Conditions Governing Access

Available for Access.

Conditions Governing Use

Many of the records digitised as part of the AJCP are still in copyright. Readers wishing to publish or reproduce documents should seek permission, in the first instance, from the owner of the original material.

Preferred Citation

Acknowledgement of use of this material should refer to the location of the original material and to the Australian Joint Copying Project.

Items from this collection should include references to the location of the original material and to the AJCP nla.obj number, which serves as the online identifier for the digital copy.

Example: M Series: Journal of Capt. James Cook, 18 February 1770, British Library Add. MS 27885 (AJCP ref:

Archival History

Filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, 1967 (AJCP Reel: M691) filmed at the private residence of Mr J. Millington, Roger Manwood School, London. Original microfilm digitised as part of the NLA AJCP Online Delivery Project, 2017-2020.

Existence and Location of Originals

The Thurston Papers filmed by the Australian Joint Copying Project were acquired by the National Library of Australia. Collection reference: MS 1914. For further information, see Sir John Thurston at the National Library of Australia (

Existence and Location of Copies

The original AJCP microfilm of the records filmed from this collection is available at the National Library of Australia [] as well as other institutions holding AJCP microfilm.

Finding-aid Notes

This finding aid is a revised online version of the original finding aid prepared by the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), published by the National Library of Australia in 2018. The original AJCP finding aids were unpublished typescripts or photocopies available from libraries that held copies of the original microfilm.

Dates used in this finding aid refer to the date range of the reords selected for filming rather than to the date range of the Series or Files.

Obituaries and other articles about Thurston are listed, but were not filmed. They are among the original papers now held in the National Library of Australia.


Anthropology; Fiji; Governors and Governors General: Fiji; Linnean Society of New South Wales; Mauritius; New Zealand; Officials; Patteson, John C., Bishop; Perth, Western Australia: visits to; Rotuma Island, Pacific Ocean; Sydney, New South Wales ; Thurston, Sir John B.; Western Australia; Western Pacific High Commission


Originally cited in Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook. Part 8: Miscellaneous (M) Series. Third Edition, published 1998. Entry 461, p180.

Biographical / Historical

Sir John Bates Thurston (1836-1897) was born in London and spent his early years in London and Jersey. His father died in 1847 and in 1849 he was apprenticed to Liverpool shipowners and went to sea. He made voyages to India and Australia and in 1853-54 spent a short time on the Victorian goldfields. He was subsequently a mate on a Sydney schooner trading in the Pacific Islands. In 1865 a botanical voyage to Rotuma ended in shipwreck and on arriving in Fiji Thurston found work as a clerk with the British consul. Within a short time he took over as the consul and soon became involved in disputes between the Indigenous Fijians and the growing number of European cotton planters. In 1872 he joined the government of Ratu Seru Cakobau as chief secretary. He played a central role in the negotiations that led to the Cakobau Government making an offer of cession to Britain, on condition that Fijian land ownership was protected.

Fiji became a British Crown colony in 1874 and in 1875 Sir Arthur Gordon arrived to take up the position of governor. From 1877 onwards Thurston was Colonial Secretary of Fiji and Assistant High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. He was knighted in 1887, having acted as governor in the previous two years. In 1888 Thurston was appointed Governor of Fiji and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific and he remained in those positions until his death in 1897. He was the longest-serving governor in the history of the colony.

Reference: Deryck Scarr. The majesty of colour: a life of Sir John Bates Thurston, 2 vols. (Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1973, 1980).

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Biographical papers

4 items

Notes on the life of J.B. Thurston (ms, 14pp) (File)

Book containing genealogical notes on the Thurston Family by Eliza Morton, sister of Thurston, written in 1926, with additional notes on J.B. Thurston's life by his daughter Alys Thurston. (File)

'Sir John Thurston in Fiji'. (ms, 5pp) (File)

Genealogical table showing descendants of Robert Turstain, half-brother of Rollo, 1st Duke of Normandy, compiled by Alys Thurston. (File)

Series 2. Diary of a voyage from Sydney to Mauritius, 1863

In the same volume is an account entitled 'Ramble in Rotuma'. (15pp)

Diary kept by Thurston on a voyage on the Kestrel from Sydney to Perth and Mauritius. The entries are intermittent., 3 February 1863 - 17 May 1863 (File)

Series 3. Diary of a voyage from Sydney to England, 1854 - 1855

The volume is a mixture of shipboard diary and notebook, recording conversations, historical accounts, anthropological notes and other reflections.

In the same volume are notes on Rotuma Island, the government of Rotuma, Benai Littoral, and the 'respect entertained by most natives for the posts of their houses'.

Diary kept by Thurston on a voyage on the Arabia from Sydney to England, via New Zealand, Cape Horn and Bahia, Brazil, 20 September 1854 - 5 March 1855 (File)

Series 4. Commonplace book, 13 March 1865 - 1 August 1865

10 items

The book contains short diaries, essays, poems and extracts from publications.

The coconut tree (File ff. 3-16)

The midnight encounter: a legend of New South Wales (poem) (File ff. 17-23)

Diffusion of animal creation (File ff. 26-29)

Notes from Rev. John Williams's narrative (File ff. 39-40)

Remarks on Polynesian pronouns etc. (File ff. 41-42)

How I spent Christmas (File ff. 48-56)

The wreck and plundering of the brig Star of Eve at the island of Rotumah, South Seas, 13 March 1865 - 18 March 1865 (File ff. 57-75)

Extract from Richard C. Trench on the language of savage tribes (File ff. 78-82)

Archbishop Richard Whateley. On the origin of civilisation (File ff. 86-118)

Diary of a passage from Rotuma to Fiji on the brig John Wesley, 14 June 1865 - 1 August 1865 (File ff. 119-[28])

Series 5. Diary of the cession of Fiji to Britain, 1874

A Letts diary (three days per page) for 1874, with detailed entries for January-April and occasional entries for April-July. The entries in the first four months record the negotiations and deliberations of Thurston and the Cakobau Government, the Fijian chiefs, and the British commissioners, Commodore J.G. Goodenough and E.L. Layard, concerning the annexation of Fiji by Britain. Cakobau made a final offer on 21 March, which the British accepted. The discussions ended in unconditional cession on 30 September 1874.

A Letts diary (three days per page), 1874 (File)

Series 6. Diary of a cruise to the Solomon Islands, 1894

The southern Solomon Islands had come under the jurisdiction of the Western Pacific High Commission in 1893 and Thurston undertook the cruise in his capacity as High Commissioner. He visited many islands including Guadalcanal, Savo Island, New Georgia, Russell Islands, Santa Cruz Islands and Tikopia. The diary, which is quite detailed, records his meetings with chiefs and other Islanders, traders and missionaries and also Cecil Wilson, the Anglican Bishop of Melanesia. Thurston wrote about conversations, such as an account of the murder of Bishop John Patteson in 1871, disputes and litigation, and his observations of villages, houses, churches, boats and crops. He also made notes on his reading, including G.L.D. de Rienzi's Oceanie (1836-37), Hernan Gallego's account of the voyage of Mendana in 1567-68, and Peter Dillon's Narrative and successful results of a voyage in the South Seas (1829).

At the end of the diary are notes of an inquiry by Thurston into the actions of Peter Edmund Pratt, a French trader based at Simbo Island, who was accused of shooting an Islander.

Diary kept by Thurston on a cruise on HMS Ringdove from Fiji to the Solomon Islands, 8 September 1894 - 8 November 1894 (File)