The whaling voyage of the Diana occurred in 1866-67, during which the ship was trapped in the ice during the winter. Smith was surgeon aboard the whaler, and something of a puritan. In the words of the editor: Here we have an account straight from the pen, while the heart was still palpitating from some narrow escape or from what seemed at the time certain destruction.
p. 7-8: After writing yesterday’s diary I lay upon the sofa reading the Life of the Rev. John Newton till about 10.30 p.m., when I fell asleep. Being very weary, I did not awaken till 2 a.m., when I found the ship in violent motion.
p. 93, while drifting in the ice: With very little to do during this period but await whatever Fate had in store for him, Dr. Smith spent more time than ever at his diary. He assiduously wrote down the various yarns, accounts of adventure, and whaling lore and history heard by him in the "Diana’s" tiny cabin or in the men’s mess deck. The captain provided much interesting information on the habits of whales, seals, walruses, etc., and flatly contradicted many of the statements made in the Natural History books. He had a poor opinion of the "discovery men" (as the Arctic exploration expeditions were dubbed by the whaling fraternity), and made sundry acid comments on the ways of ship-owners—a favourite subject of conversation amongst sailors.
p. 110: In addition to the daily prayer meeting amongst the men, a Bible class was started on November 18th.
p. 124, during temporary abandonment of Diana: I left him and returned aboard for my books, which had been carefully collected by Byers and Reynolds and placed upon the ship’s rail. Made them up into a big bundle, and returned to the boats, where I found the captain walking up and down some flinching boards which had been laid upon the snow for his accommodation.
p. 166, during very difficult times aboard the ship: Our daily prayer meetings have been discontinued. Those that once took the leading part in these simple services have disgusted the men by their perpetual squabbles and want of concord amongst themselves. Some of those whose voices once were raised in prayer now blaspheme openly. The Bible is a closed book. We are a miserable company of most miserable men, wretched, perishing with cold, half-famished, with no prospect of breaking out of the ice till late on in the season, with scurvy aboard, and every man wretched in himself. To sum up all in the words of the Apostle, we are "hateful and hating one another."
p. 178: Afternoon.—Engaged in the cabin making up the leeway of this log. In other words, I was copying on to the pages that now meet your eye the contents of a "pocket-book and cedar pencil " log which I have kept when fingers were too numbed, ink frozen solid, the fireside too near and dear, and perhaps the heart too sick and heavy, to make the necessary effort with pen and ink. This log has been the great bore of the voyage. It has been abandoned again and again, yet resumed again from a sense of duty to myself and more so to my friends. Ah! there’s where the shoe pinches. Thoughts of home and anxious, sorrowing friends, and the great improbability of these pages ever reaching them; the heart-sickening feeling of mistrust, despondency, and despair of ever seeing home or friends, father, brothers, sisters, or old college chums, uncles and aunts, relations, acquaintances, and neighbours any more; the reluctance to sit down to record one’s miseries and privations in black and white, to chronicle the poor events of each miserable day as it slowly drags itself along after its equally miserable predecessors; the deadening, numbing influence of cold, privations, discontent, and despondency falling like a deadly blight upon one’s mental faculties; the weary, weary life one leads—all these tend to make log-keeping and journalling (to coin a word) fearfully uphill and distasteful work.
p. 196: In the afternoon, whilst sitting reading in the cabin, the steward came running down in great haste. "Oh, doctor! doctor! get your gun!" he exclaimed; "there’s a black fox on the ice close against the ship."
p. 202-03, when escaping from Frobisher Bay: Afternoon.—I took out a bundle of letters and sat and read them over the fire. I read every one of them through from beginning to end, and when I had finished the last one I was quite surprised to find ’twas five o’clock. Thanks to the kind thoughtfulness of my various friends, I received a good supply of letters at Lerwick. These, with a few that I brought away with me from Edinburgh, make quite a respectable bundle. There were letters from father, Ellen, Louie, Harry, Alfred, Fred . . . ; from my various medical friends, Drs. Thyne. Davidson, Fothergill, Simpson, Campbell; also the "medical fellows" (as Bob Sawyer termed them when he invited Pickwick to supper at his lodgings in Lant Street), Messrs. McKen, Taylor and Co.; with letters from old Stephen Overdale, Miss Otto at Pathead, little Jane Mitchell, and others.
These letters formed a most delightful medley, and brought back old faces, old times, old thoughts, affections, and feelings in a way that quite moved me. I assure you I rose from their perusal with a softened, saddened, yet happier feeling in my heart. I went forward and talked to the poor scurvy-stricken fellows, and endeavoured to cheer them up, even as the " old news from home " that I had just been reading had cheered me.