Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe’s review of “The Diary of Dr Chaloner Clay” edited by Robert Snow (Dr Clay’s Great Grandson)
The best fiction involves a realistic plot, a believable setting and characters that become meaningful to the reader as the story proceeds. The best non-fiction has all of these factors plus the underlying assurance that the reader is privileged to look into life itself, often life as it was lived in the past.
When we have a diary or journal – like that of Samuel Pepys – to study and examine, we have the very best of non-fiction. Robert Snow is a first class writer, editor and proof-reader, and in transcribing Dr Clay’s Diary he has produced an historical journal which is very readable and enjoyable.
The work covers every detail of a momentous voyage to Australia in the Hesperus, a magnificent vessel of nearly 2,000 tons GRT, launched at Robert Steele’s shipyard in Greenock in 1873.
Dr Clay was a very observant man, with an eye for detail that must have made him a successful physician who was a great benefit to his patients. His observations throughout the long voyage were wide-ranging: various types of wildlife seen in sea and sky; the weather and the ways that the Hesperus responded to it; the programme of entertainments that helped to make the long voyage enjoyable.
The journal is also enriched and enhanced by Dr Clay’s forthright pragmatism and directness. When he finally reached home again on May 10th 1882, he wrote: “…enjoyed my voyage very much and has done me good. Left Waterloo by 2-30 p.m. train for home where I arrived about 5 p.m. The end of my jolly voyage.” We recommend Dr Clay’s Diary unreservedly: an enjoyable and informative read.