The voyage to Queensland ports undertaken by so many of our ancestors represented a transition between one way of life into a totally unknown change in circumstances but was a challenge undertaken with optimism and a spirit of adventure. After December 1848 most were hoping for an improved standard of living for their families and for themselves especially after Australia’s newest colony was opened to migration. To assist genealogists locate details, many lectures and journal articles have indicated advantages in obtaining passenger lists (usually from the appropriate State archives or libraries) and also the valuable surgeon superintendent journals available on Trove (National Library of Australia) through the Australian Joint Copying Project [AJCP]. Also recommended to complement John Oxley Library’s excellent collections of photographs and shipboard diaries are newspaper reports published at local ports of arrival as well as the nearest capital city. Over the years another title of great utility has been the Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List on Trove from the 1820s and on film 90 at State Library of Queensland [SLQ] 1844-1860 then succeeded by the Sydney Mail, 1860-1938. Queensland remained the only Australian colony which used several coastal towns/ports as destinations for overseas incomers.
The colony’s foundation immigration laws were incorporated within the September 1860 Crown Lands Alienation Act as land sales were intended to raise the money needed to entice settlers to select Australia’s fast developing north-eastern emerging towns and wide acres. In October 1860 an Agent for Emigration, Devon-born dentist, Henry Jordan, was posted to London to establish an office to organize regular shipping arrangements for both cargoes and carefully selected passengers. Jordan had served on the committee formed to initiate basic frameworks such as age limits, intended to attract venture capitalists who might become potential employers of industrious incoming masses. His proposals, apart from land-order offers were comparable with arrangements established by the earlier New South Wales-inaugurated Emigration Commissioners, who had controlled all immigrant arrivals to the northern port of Moreton Bay between 1848 and 1859, apart from three shiploads inspired by the Reverend John Dunmore Lang in January, May, and November 1849. Jordan faced competition in gaining worthwhile citizens with Brazilian, North American and several other Australian colonies all intent on offering employment for potential residents.
The time spent on shipboard between English ports of departure and their Queensland destinations far exceeded travel days to the Americas so various activities, some generating further research documentation, were developed to engage voyagers as most journeys were direct sailings taking three to four months each way via the Great Circle Route, with no scheduled ports of call. Sailing vessels plied the route until 1881 when the Merkara inaugurated the British India Steamship Navigation Company’s faster mail route through the 1869 Suez Canal. Men were encouraged to write diaries and to observe wildlife or passing ships. Dolphins and sharks created great interest even if restricting swimming in nets while sighting an albatross, among other seabirds, always instigated recollections of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. Isolated sojourners readily identified with its three messages of loneliness, regret but acceptance of mistakes and admonitions to appreciate all life forms. Children on deck required careful supervision and constant distraction with many diverted to seeking unusual ‘fins or feathers’. Schools were conducted if a suitable teacher could be co-opted from among passengers and Queensland State Archives holds many of their reports, choice ones like that compiled by Ernest Kenway on the 1866-67 Royal Dane voyage named numerous students.
Church services were read on a Sunday particularly if clergy were travelling although each religion generally conducted its own worship, when enthusiastic groups indulged in rousing hymn singing. Further care extended to physical needs with a colonial-appointed surgeon-superintendent allotted to each immigrant ship. He was assisted by a matron who occasionally also submitted a report to the surgeon about assisting single girls venturing to new employment in the colony as well as caring for married women who often required confinements. New arrivals might be named for the doctor or captain with at least thirteen infants blessed to honour the shipname Merkara being registered with the Queensland Registrar General. Baptisms and marriages usually took place on arrival while funerals were organized at sea with as much dignity as possible.
Other valuable chronicles providing contemporaneous descriptions will be found in newspapers produced on board, some of which were printed on arrival in Queensland for sending to relatives and friends. For example, the John Oxley Library has filmed copies of the Black Ball Journal of the Prince Consort on its August-November 1862 voyage so check its holdings but also do look further afield such as the Fryer Library, University of Queensland, and the National Library of Australia [NLA]. Also surviving is the newspaper, The Southern Cross handwritten on board the Sunda during her voyage from London to Moreton Bay with its final pages dated 25 May 1865 committed to the Editor’s farewell. This intriguing reading experience, full of lame riddles, undistinguished verses dedicated to unattainable damsels or Mary of Ballyporeen, together with vivid descriptions of the New South Wales bush, is available at the NLA or on film at SLQ.
The editor may be identified as Algeron Lempriere (1836-1874) travelling in the first cabin. And this is where the story of following a source gets even better by providing other charming stories offering much contextual background to the Brisbane welcoming incoming Sunda settlers. From a Channel Island family this was a man of substance with strong connections to the newly emerging colony, being a cousin and school-friend of the first premier of Queensland, Robert Herbert. Perhaps exploiting these bonds Lempriere was appointed private secretary and aide-de-camp to Governor George Ferguson Bowen from 1866 onwards. Lempriere also was closely related to former New South Wales governor’s wife, Lady Darling’s Dumaresq family. In August 1865 within three months of the Sunda anchoring, the enterprising editor won the Corinthian Handicap Cup on Herbert’s Grasshopper at the initial Queensland Turf Club race meeting held in Brisbane. [Illus. JOL/SLQ]
In journals and newspapers details of games and Equator crossing ceremonies are explained confirming age-old sea entertainment. Also changing climate zones regularly necessitated drastic changes in daily clothing, with knees and elbows not usually displayed being reluctantly revealed. Often concerts or fancy-dress parties were arranged with some programmes giving details of songs sung, poems recited or music played on portable instruments such as tin whistles, mouth-organs, accordions and sometimes even bagpipes which encouraged Irish jigs, Scottish dances, Strauss waltzing or general mayhem. Fancy-dress costumes restricted by ready availability often generated imaginative adaptations or aroused wonder at the goods others had packed to travel half-way around the world.
Captain Flynn wrote for the Southern Cross’s first edition describing the vessel leaving Blackwall on 8 February 1865 with 111 souls including 97 adults. Following a snowstorm, the Sunda reached Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland where 373 adults and children boarded making a total of 510 souls. ‘Under the charge of Father Dunne’ representing Bishop Quinn’s Emigration Society, this last batch of their settlers sailed for Queensland. In his final editorial, Lempriere advised readers: ‘The rivers do not flow with milk for us all; nor does the land bring forth honey for us all alike, at any rate at first. It may be that long years of toil are in store for some of you before your expectations are realized’. These were wise words as the ship berthed at Moreton Bay to face an economic downturn with which many struggled over the following decade. Carrying so many diverse passengers, further Sunda stories must abound. Do you know any?
NLA, Ms.5846 Southern Cross newspaper; QSA, Kenway’s school report, Item 846819 Inwards Correspondence 01/01/1867-31/12/1867. 884/15 April 1868, Dr Cunningham, Surgeon Report “Royal Dane”.
Corinthian Cup held at JOL/SLQ, 27566.