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Jenkins, Joseph (1818 - 1898)

Blaenplwyf, Wales
Diarist and Itinerant worker
Alternative Names

'The Welsh Swagman'

Joseph Jenkins lived on his parents’ farm until the age of 28 when he married and moved to his own farm at Tregaron, Wales. Jenkins’ marriage was less than harmonious, which perhaps explains why he left his family and country for life as an itinerant worker in Australia. Jenkins wrote poetry (specialising in the englynion, a Welsh verse form) and kept diaries from the age of 21 until he died.

Between 1869 and 1894, Jenkins lived much of his life in central Victoria including the towns of Maldon, Ballarat and Castlemaine. His diaries record his experiences as an agricultural labourer and provide a rare glimpse into both his life and the nature of the society in which he worked. The diaries are a reflective view of Jenkins’ life and detail many of the day-to-day tasks necessary in a developing colony – splitting timber, digging ditches, hanging gates and fencing.

Astute social commentaries, his diaries offer invaluable insights into nineteenth-century rural Victoria and the problems facing the young colony. Particular features of his diaries are the acute observation of human nature, his empathy with Indigenous people, and his interest in world affairs. He returned to his home in Wales in 1894.

Keir Reeves

Jenkins, Joseph and William Evans, Diary of a Welsh Swagman, 1869-1894, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1975. Details