High Teas and High Seas – stories of emigrants sailing to Australia

This looks interesting and fun (in parts) – a book just out from the Australian National Library about the history of emigration to Australia: High Seas and High Teas: Voyaging to Australia, by historian and curator Roslyn Russell. My thanks go to Chris Brady for alerting me to this one.

Here’s the press release:

‘The rats I frighten away by throwing books or anything hard at the spot at which they commence their gnawing.’

Emigrant Janet Ronald wrote this in the journal she kept on board one of the ships transporting free settlers from Britain and Ireland to Australia in the nineteenth century.

On journeys lasting more than 100 days non-stop, our forebears endured raging seas, the dazzling heat of the tropics and freezing temperatures as ships journeyed far into the southerly latitudes. They also formed social communities, putting on plays, developing sometimes lasting relationships and taking part in wild nautical rituals.

Packed in cheek by jowl with fellow passengers and crew, life on board was rigidly defined by social class. Lower-class passengers dined on homemade concoctions of mutton fat pudding (‘clammy to the mouth when eaten cold’), preserved potatoes and experimental stews, while those travelling first-class enjoyed elaborate multi-course dinners, including fresh meat, slaughtered on board.

Navigating the social mores on these giant floating microcosms was only half the story. Amid the chronicles of flirtations and high jinks, odours and rats, there were also tales of despotic captains, severe water rationing, disease, domestic discord and violence, fear of enemy ships and violent storms. From those sailing under servitude to emigrants seeking a new life, the people who braved the journey changed Australia.

Using diary entries and shipboard newspapers, author Roslyn Russell gives a vivid sense of what it was like to leave one life for another and sail across the world into the unknown. In the foreword, Kerry O’Brien writes about his Irish ancestors’ perilous voyages to Australia in the nineteenth century—as both free settlers and guests of Her Majesty.

Roslyn Russell expertly curates the travellers’ personal diaries, allowing the reader to hear directly from 19th-century men like Joseph Pettingell, who lost a beloved child on the journey from London to Hobart in 1834, and women like Annie Gratton, travelling solo and determined to stay ‘respectable’ on the trip from London to Melbourne in 1858.

Background feature pages reveal the colonies’ desired emigrants (‘free from all bodily or mental defects’), answer the delicate question of how men and women relieved themselves on board, list the basic rations doled out to each passenger, and much more.

Other highlights include shipboard newspapers, which appear here in full-page images of front-pages and choice extracts, including an unsolicited advice column on how ladies should behave on board, circulated on the Great Britain in 1861, and a lost and found article appealing for someone to come forward with information about a lost ‘recollection of how I spent the night before last; how I found myself under the table, who picked me up and put me to bed with my boots on’.

Many of the diarists were skilled artists and the book is full of sketched landscapes, birds, people and nautical scenes.

PS – Check the comments below for a fabulous quotation from Henry Lawson.

PPS – The folks at the Australian National Library have kindly sent me some photos of spreads from the book for those who are interested. See below…

22-2330-3192-93High Seas and High Teas 100-101 152-153 212-213



Two formidable women of Stromness

Mrs Humphrey’s House from Openplaques.org, Eliza FraserHouse licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

Margaret Humphrey in 1836 set up her home as a hospital for a group of whalermen who were left scurvied and frost bitten after a winter of being trapped in the ice of Davis Straits.

In the 18th and 19th centuries whaling ships from east coast ports like Hull and Dundee called at Stromness to take on water, provisions and also crewmen, and the trade made the port a busy place.

At an earlier stage of her life she was married to Stromness teacher George Humphrey, and was mother of 13 children between 1792 and 1815. However, a letter from John Baikie to Thomas Balfour MP, dated 24 Feb 1836, reveals that the whalers Lady Jane and Viewforth had been stuck in the ice in the Davis Straits over the winter, and that some of the crewmen were taken to Mrs Humphrey’s house, which was fitted up as a hospital and housed 26 or 28 of the patients.

The account is corroborated by another reference, this time to letters written by Mrs Humphrey to her son in 1837, in which she said that in order to support herself, she had leased the house for use as a hospital for 26 scurvy-ridden whalers.

Her letters added that they were the survivors of a disaster when not two but 20 ships were caught in the Arctic ice and became stuck for the winter.

Another reference has eight ships caught in the ice, of which at least two were crushed.

Why were the vessels caught in the ice? We’re told that falling numbers of right whales had forced whalers to travel further in search of their prey, and this meant whalers voyaging travelling to hazardous Arctic seas – interestingly, in the same era that explorers such as Parry, Ross and Franklin were struggling to find a North West passage.

The 1821 census lists Margaret Humphrey as a sick nurse, while the the 1851 census describes her as a widow and a midwife, aged 74.

My guess is that she was likely a little older – if she was 20 or so when she married (my guess) she would have been at least 80 by the 1851 census. That would have been a very good age at that era… Was she really still working, or was it that she self-identified as a midwife because that had been her last job?

Read about what is known of Mrs Humphrey here and here.

The story of Eliza Anne Fraser is a quite different and still controversial one – the Wikipedia has the story, though it is difficult to decode.

Fraser was a Scottish woman who had the misfortune of being shipwrecked with her husband Captain James Fraser off the coast of Queensland, Australia – again in 1836.

Some 18 people aboard the ship, which struck a reef. The ship’s company launched two boats, one of which landed at Waddy Point on what is now Fraser Island – which is named after Eliza.

Here she was captured by Aborigines, and stripped of her clothing – her husband died, though it is not clear whether this was from starvation or whether he was because he was unable to work.

What happened next is also somewhat unclear. Eliza is said to have been found and rescued by John Graham, an escaped convict who had lived with the Aborigines, and is said to have gone naked during that time.

However, another story was that she was rescued by another escaped convict, David Bracewell. Bracewell is said to have led Eliza overland to the outskirts of present-day Brisbane.

Official records are said to show that Graham walked with her from a corroboree ground on Lake Cootharaba north of present-day Noosa onto the ocean beach near present-day Teewah, where they met the Lieutenant Otter and his small band of soldiers and convict volunteers.

They then travelled north along the beach to meet a rescue party at Double Island Point, from where Eliza was taken by boat to Moreton Bay, site of a well known penal colony.

Eliza then remarried and travelled to England, and for a time became a celebrity for here sensational experiences, and got involved in another controversy, this time about money.


Veteran and vintage dinghies sailing in the Australian sun

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It happens every year. Just at the moment when our English winter starts to get me down, someone sends over a couple of fabulous photos that make me sigh and wish I could be somewhere else, and out on the water.

This time it’s the turn of Jeff Cole, intheboatshed.net regular (see these posts) who has sent over a couple of shots taken by HS (Hans) of the Woodenboat forum.

Here’s what he says:

‘Hi Gavin, I’ve been busy restoring boats for a local wooden dinghy regatta. The Iain Oughtred-designed Macgregor canoe needed some serious attention and an Australian Sailfish that my cousin and I built in 1963 had to be completely restored as it had had a hard life through various branches of the family and always leaked through a badly underbuilt centreboard case. But she came up well, and dry!

‘My cousin Andy had not sailed the boat for at least 35 years, but on the day I couldn’t get him off it!

‘Most of the boats were older racing class boats, but mine was unique. The oldest was a Sydney 15 footer, an open clinker built boat nearly 100 years old and another from the 1950s in rather delicate condition but when they got it going it stormed through the fleet, including the modern boats.

‘The rest were mostly John Boats, Jolly Boats, Moths, Mirrors and Herons.

‘The regatta was at the Victorian coastal town of Inverloch. Due to changes to the estuary the water we were sailing on was very narrow and shallowed abruptly at the edges of the sandbars at low tide. What with the vintage fleet swanning about and the normal club races and a fleet of personal water craft buzzing around it got quite crowded. But it was a fun weekend, with 2.5 days of sailing and half a day of show and tell in the park.

‘There are more pics on Woodenboat forum Antipodean Boats Connection thread, people and places, page 309.


Thanks Jeff!

Jeff that his part of Australia has fires and no rain at all as is becoming usual – although his local area has not had fires, they’re getting thick smoke from all of 200kilometres away. That’s quite a contrast to the succession of storms we’re seeing here, but may well be due to the same cause. And yet we go on consuming and flying… I guess folks don’t see an alternative.