Colonial Thought-Lines #5: Emigrant ships

Emigrant Ships

1. The CATARAQUI Tragedy 1845

1.1 Jackson's Oxford Journal, January 1845
To sail on the 1st of March, for Port Philip, a first-class Vessel, A1, 800 tons burthen, with full poop, and every accommodation to secure the health and comfort of the passengers, and will carry an experienced surgeon.
For terms of passage apply to William Smith and Sons, Liverpool, or Wm. Hatton, Kingston, near Tetsworth.
N.B. Farm labourers, female domestic or farm servants, and shepherds, with a few smiths, carpenters and wheelwrights, masons, and bricklayers, may obtain a free passage by applying as above."
[Andrew Lemon & Marjorie Morgan, 1995, Poor souls, they perished: The CATARAQUI, Australia's Worst Shipwreck, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Collingwood VIC, p44.]

1.2 Liverpool, 20 April 1845
"The Cataraqui sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne on 20 April 1845 with 367 assisted emigrants under the care of surgeons Charles and Edward Carpenter, and 41 crew under the command of Captain Christopher William Finlay...Cataraqui was a ship of 802 tons, 138 X 30 X 22 feet, built at Quebec in 1840 by Williams Lampson, and was registered in the name of William Smith & Sons."
"Sixty-one families embarked on the Cataraqui - some with as many as nine children, others newly married. The ship would have been swarming with children. Nearly half the passengers were fourteen years or less; and of these, twenty-two were babies under one year. Besides the families, there were about fifty single men and women on the ship. By our reckoning, and excluding the crew, there were some 367 souls...Of the 367 emigrants on the Cataraqui, 102 were aided under the provisions of the Poor Law Amendment Act...The Commissioners felt that, on the whole, they could be pleased with their efforts in helping many parishes to relieve themselves of their surplus population...while lamenting that there were no plans apparent for the resumption of bounty emigration after the sailing of this last ship."
[Lemon & Morgan, Poor souls, they perished, pp. 32, 52.]

1.3 King Island, 4 August 1845
"At half-past four, it being quite dark and raining hard, blowing a fearful gale, and the sea running mountains high, the ship struck on a reef situate on the west coast of King's Island, at the entrance of Bass' Straits...Up to the time the vessel began breaking up it is supposed that between three or four hundred were got on deck by the extraordinary exertions of the crew...About five a.m, the ship careened right over on her larboard side...As the day broke we found the stern of the vessel washed in, and numerous dead bodies floating around the ship...Several of the passengers and crew (about two hundred altogether) were still holding onto the vessel...until about four in the afternoon, when she parted amidships, at the fore part of the main rigging, when immediately some seventy or a hundred were launched into the tumultuous and remorseless waves...The fury of the waves continuing unabated, about five o'clock the wreck parted by the forerigging, and so many souls were submerged in the wide waters, that only seventy survivors were left crowded on the forecastle...Thus the sea breaking over them, the winds raging, and the rain continuing heavily all night...As the day broke the following morning it discovered only about 30 left alive...As the morning rose the sea was making a clear breach into the forecastle...Mr Thomas Guthrie, the chief mate...was driven to a detached part of the wreck...['he saw the captain and second mate and steward clinging at the bow, with about 18 or 20 only left alive, amid a host of dead bodies on the fragment of the wreck']...seized a piece of plank under his arm, and leaping into the water was carried over the reef, and thus got to shore. He found a passenger who had got ashore during the night, and one of the crew who got ashore in the morning...[Six] other seamen followed, and got ashore dreadfully exhausted. Almost immediately afterwards the vessel totally disappeared. Thus, out of four hundred and [nine] souls on board, only nine were saved."
[Summary: The ship took a long 36 hours to die; a day, a night, and another day, as those sections most exposed to the ocean's force were each demolished in their turn. She disintegrated in quarter segments, first the stern on the morning of the 4th, then the section from the mizzen mast to the main mast on the afternoon of the 4th, then the section from the main mast to the fore mast in the evening of the 4th, then the bow or forecastle on the morning of the 5th, the remnants of which finally disappeared on the afternoon of the 4th. So too were the survivors whittled down, from 350, to 200, to 130, to 70, to 30...]  
[From the 13 September edition of the Port Phillip Herald, whose source was the surviving chief mate Thomas Guthrie. This account, along with a list of all known passengers on the vessel, was reproduced by Hobart's The Courier on 20 September 1845.]

1.4 Chocolyn Station, 29 November 1845
"My dear Mother It is now sometime since I wrote home & what is more it is still longer since I heard from thence but perhaps some letters were lost in the Liverpool ship Catarqui that was wrecked on King's island not long since under such distressing and heart-rending circumstances. How inscrutable are the ways of Providence. That illfated vessel was anxiously expected here by all hoping that the females on board would prove of valuable service as house servants which have been very scarce of late. The wages of men servants too were rising rapidly and many settlers were hanging about town expecting their arrival. Under such circumstances you may fancy the sensation caused by the appearance of the few survivors. All this soon passed away & while the bones of the sufferers lie bleaching along that rugged coast things pursue their ordinary course & they will be no more thought of till they are collected in one common resting place & a slight memorial erected commemorating the sad catastrophe. This I hear is the intention of government so soon as the state of remains will permit..."
[William Adeney, Letters, SLV, MS 9111, MSB 453, 29 Nov 1845
 Chocolyn, PB No 6, 5948 acres, 7000 sheep, sole licensee 1842-1867]


2.1 Charles Edward LABILLIERE on Yallock Vale
2 March 1840 "The greatest annoyance we experienced is from our servants these fellows get 35-40 pounds per annum and rations consisting of as much meat, tea, sugar, bread etc. as they can consume, three times each day. The other evening we had an entire good sized leg of mutton cooked for supper for 5 of them, they had previously had as much meat as they could use twice that day before. When they saw their supper they sent us word we were starving them. This impertinence did not arise from any deficiency in their meal, but from rage that we had put any restriction on them. The late proprietors allowed them to kill whatever sheep they pleased and they seldom used less than 4 or 6 each week...we made two per week answer; this excited their deep displeasure and they tauntingly told us that in other establishments more food was wasted than we consumed altogether...One thing will show you what scoundrels they are, last week I hired a shepherd in Melbourne this man had left [Stieglitz's] employment the week before, and he acknowledged to me that during that week in Melbourne he had spent 40 pounds. Another man we had could never be persuaded to get comfortable clothing, openly remarking that his wages of 40 pounds per annum, was quite little enough for the Publicans...As to bringing out servants I scarce know what to advise. They rarely turn out well. You must on arrival give them the highest wages they could obtain, and they are in general dissatisfied with the want of accommodation...If steady sober workmen could be induced to come out in numbers what a blessing it would be for themselves and the country. Instead of toiling for wages barely sufficient for their support they would at once receive as much as with frugality would soon enable them to become independent and instead of being obliged to seek work they would be eagerly sought after. Even the poor [Irish] would be a desirable race. Those who perhaps don't touch meat twice in a year would here get  as much as they could eat three times each day and high wages into the bargain."
[Charles Labilliere, Letter, SLV, MS 5586: H13850, MSB 42/1, 2 March 1840
 Yallock Vale, PB No 170, 17,755 acres, 8,000 sheep, sole licencee 1839-1859]

2.2 Dr David Henry WILSONE on Upper Wirrobbie
18 April 1839 "There is a very bad spirit amongst all classes of labourers and stock servants here, & with a few exceptions of highlanders and low country shepards, an extraordinary vitiation of morals or principle is prevalent, being mostly all free convicts or ticket men they are up to all manner of black guardism and cannot be for one minute trusted, so that I do not see that any settler can ever wish to make this country his permanent abode."
16 December 1839 "Let me assure you my dear George what betwixt Natives and Dingos and our Shepherds we have a most anxious and active life. I am sorry to write that at the very first commencement of our 2nd year with John and Donald, they both have agreed to leave as asking 45 pounds wages and rations equal to as much more. I do not yet know what Allan will do, but suspect it will be likewise yes, he leaves us also most ungrateful for all we have done for them (but that word has no meaning here). Wages I trust will come down as I expect a number of emigrants as servants to come out; we had to pay for extra hands at the clipping season 17 shillings per week & rations...clippers 1 pound per 100 sheep..."
18 June 1840 "We are expecting every day a number of migrant ships, which are much wanted, labourers being in great request & very high wages."
20 July 1841 "...yesterday we had nearly about 600 good Emigrant arrive her in 2 London ships, which has most opportunely brought down the price of labour, and we can now catch one or two for 25 pounds per annum."
[Dr Wilsone, Letters, SLV, MS 9285, MSB 267/1-3
Upper Wirrobbie, PB No 149, 14,400 acres, 8,000 sheep, licensee in partnership with John Campbell 1839-1841]

2.3 Mrs Katherine KIRKLAND on Trawalla
January/February 1839 "I felt distressed to see so much waste and extravagence amongst the servants. Many a large piece of mutton I have seen thrown from the hut door that might have served a large family for dinner: and unfortunately there is no remedy for this. If the masters were to take notice of it, it would only make them worse, or else they would run away, or, as they call it, bolt. I saw plainly that there would be neither comfort nor economy to the masters so long as the country was so ill-provided with servants; they were the masters; they had the impudence always to keep in their own hut the best pieces of the meat, and send into their masters the inferior bits. I was sorry my servant Mary should have so bad an example, but hoped that she had too much good sense to follow it, as she appeared as much shocked at it as myself."
July/August 1841 "I had great difficulty in getting a servant when we came to town; indeed I was without one for some weeks...[Then] an Irishwoman came to the door asking me if I required a servant. She had landed from an emigrant ship three days before...her wages were twenty pounds a-year. Several ships arrived soon after this with emigrants, and servants began to find great difficulty in getting situations; they were to be seen going about the streets inquiring of everyone if they wanted servants. Of course the wages came quickly down: men were now hired for twenty and twenty-five pounds a-year, and women from twelve to fifteen. One man I know, who a month before would not hire under seventy pounds, said he would be glad of a situation at twenty-five; which he could not get. The servants seemed astonished at the sudden change of things, for which they were not at all prepared. From compassion we allowed a number of female immigrants to live in a detached kitchen we had, until they could find situations as servants. They had little money, and lodgings were very high in price. These girls had come out with the most magnificent of notions, and were sadly disappointed when they found that situations were so difficult to be procured."
[Katherine Kirkland, memoirs, Life In The Bush By A Lady, 1844, Chambers (Miscellaney of Useful and  Entertaining Tracts, Vol 1, No 8),
Trawalla, PB No 115, 40,000 acres, 2000 cattle, 20,000 sheep, Kirkland and Hamilton Bros 1839-1841]

2.4 James Robinson UNETT on Anakie
4 August 1840 "With regard to the immorality etc amongst the lower classes here, it certainly does exist to a great extent, owing chiefly to high wages, but do not fancy this is not the case also in Adelade. Numbers of convicts that have served their time go also to that quarter from V.D.L and go backwards & forwards with cattle. What difference...can there be in this respect? It is a fortunate thing they are so corrupted...Suppose all, no we will say, the greater part of the working men of this Country were to save money,in lieu of all away, as quick as they get it, what wd. the consequence be? Labour would be impossible to be had unless at ruinous terms, for those very men would in a short time become Masters, & be themselves in want of extra hands to assist them. The Emigrants that come out here are equally as good as those of S.A...."
8 August 1840 "It is the very worst speculation anybody can make to buy estates now in England - England's mainstay now is in her Colonies. Let her look well to them, & they will keep the loom as also all manufacturies in activity, but to do this properly she must take off the duty on Corn...Why is not Emigration more encouraged? Here is a country that could support ten times the number of people in Gt. Britain. I will say no more about it, as I have no patience to see it..."
[James Unett, Letter, SLV, MS 11257, MSB 393
 Anakie, P.B. No 21 & S.D., 36,000 acres, sole licencee 1839-1841]

3. The Mundys from Buckinghamshire: An Emigrant Family 1844-1848

March/April 1844 "...near the advent of spring in the year 1844 when emigration agents were ranging the agricultural counties in quest of suitable emigrants for Canada, Sydney and Port Phillip. They had to be of good character, strong and healthy, must have had the small-pox or have been vaccinated. The inducements were a free passage, two suits of clothes, boxes for clothes, cooking utensils on board ship, all free, in fact all expenses paid from home till landing in work at the end of the passage."
September/October 1844 "The cable ran out and we were anchored at Williamstown, Port Phillip, about 22nd September 1844...Squatters from the backblocks and other employers came on board to engage servants of their various capacities. The squatters chief demand was shepherds and hut-keepers. Father in the old country had had considerable experience in sheep, was interviewed by a squatter named Sprott, a young Scotchman who owned a sheep station far away back in the Western District on Muston's Creek (now called Caramut). Father telling him he was a married man and exhibiting his two boys John [9 yo] and myself [13 yo]. Mr Sprott made him an offer of twenty five pounds a year with free conveyance from the ship to the station with all his luggage and supply us with rations for twelve months. The offer at the time was very small pay, but considering all things it was for the best...When we had been at the home station for a week, we were sent to the contained the woolshed and two huts. Three flocks of sheep were kept John and me was allotted a flock of sheep to shepherd together, so that the two did one man's mother had two shepherds to cook for besides ourselves, father had to look after the folding yards and act as flour miller...mother learned off the overseer's wife, Mrs McVicar, how to manufacture yeast and made excellent bread in the camp oven. Meat was plentifull enough, so was tea, called posts and rails, and very black, sugar. These items made up the bill of fare with the exception of plenty of salt...John and I appreciated our position, our care was 1500 sheep let out of the fold at sunrise, feeding at will to the boundary of the run, which was known only by a simple ploughed furrow...We had an old Smithfield sheep dog given to us...Boco...blind of one eye."
September/October 1845 "In the meantime a year had rolled past, our year's engagement was complete, we were hired again for another year for 50 pounds, being double the amount of last year. My brother [10 yo] and I [14 yo] were each entrusted with a flock of 1500 sheep, there was another shepherd with another flock, being 3 flocks altogether on the station. Mother kept hut for us, father tending to the shifting of the sheepyards daily."
September/October 1846 "...father bargained with Mr Sprott for a splendid cow, just calved so we had plenty of milk and butter. Father also bought a mare...These purchases made a hole in our 55 pounds for the second year. I am not certain but I think we got 60 pounds for the third year, but I had no [5 pound] bonus as a scab inspector."
September/October 1847 "Father had shopped away the stallion for another cow and sold the second mare. He bought and purchased an unbroken chestnut filly. We possessed 2 horses, 2 cows and 3 calves...our belongings including about 50 fowls...Our twelve month service was near the end again, when father fell in with a squatter named John Brown who owned an extensive run near Mount Elephant, and offered us 60 pounds a year for our next year's services, which offer father, after consulting with us boys, agreed to accept. So he bought a dray, put a tilt on it and got ready for a shift. The place we were going to was 50 miles from Geelong called Brown's Water Holes [now Lismore]...Somewhere about this time, happened the wreck of the ill-fated emigrant ship Cataragui on King's Island bringing to Port Phillip 400 souls out of which only 9 escaped. For several years the proceeds of land sales had been utilised by the authorities in Melbourne in bringing out from the old country, picked lusty men and women and their families to colonise Port Phillip. At various times, ships safely arrived, bringing altogether 22,000 safely over without any accident, but the unfortunate Cataragui at last was lost. One of the survivors called at our hut and told the sad tale."
[Note: Henry Mundy's recall of dates is a little hazy here (perhaps not surprising as he wrote up his memoirs as an old man in the years 1910-1912). The wreck of the Cataraqui actually occurred in 1845, but the Mundy family may well have not heard the tale from the survivor until late in 1847].
[Henry Mundy, memoirs, A.D. Reid (ed.), 1999, The Land of Their Adoption: Henry Mundy's Diary From England  to Australia 1838-1857, Kialla VIC (pp. 54, 69, 79, 87, 101, 108, 110)
Employers: Alex. Sprott, Caramut, PB 224, 17,000 acres, 300 cattle, 6,000 sheep, licensee 1843-1846; John & Thos. Brown, Mount Elephant No. 2, licensees 1840-1853]

[Concluding note: The Land and Emigration Commission (in their 1846 report after the Cataraqui disaster to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies), may have been technically correct when they claimed a total of 208 vessels containing 41,842 passengers had been sent out to Australia under their supervision since 1837, and all these without a similar loss of life. Nevertheless, every emigrant embarking on the voyage risked death by drowning. The entrance to Bass Strait was particularly hazardous. No emigrant ships had foundered there before the Cataraqui. But ten years before, on 13 May 1835, the convict ship Neva, sailing from Cork for Sydney, had struck reefs off the northwestern tip of King Island and broken in two. On board were 150 female convicts with 33 children, nine free women (the wives of transported convicts) with 22 children, along with their naval surgeon John Stephenson and 26 crew members under Captain Benjamin Peck. Of 22 who managed to get ashore, only 15 remained alive to be rescued by the Sarah Ann late in June of that year.]


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