Emigrant Experience #5: Little Ship From Dundee


Little ship from Dundee


1.1 The private operators
'Large Scale Emigration to Australia after 1832', <www.electricscotland.com/.../scotaus3.htm.

"To the Scottish shipping interest, especially in the east coast ports, the bounty system certainly opened up pleasing prospects of employment for vessels...'the mercantile community of this quarter are taking a deep interest in the subject'...In 1840-1 an increasing number of Scottish shipowners and merchants were availing themselves of the licenses to bring in bounty emigrants granted by the Governments of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. ['In 1840 the system of government ships was abolished...its function transferred to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission...by which the selection of the emigrants was made by private operators.'] By 31 December 1841 no fewer than 71,315 bounty 'permissions' were outstanding for New South Wales and the government emigration agents were simply supervising the bounty operations, shipbrokers and merchants, both British and colonial."

1.2 A new-built ship
'Aberdeen Built Ships - Mathesis', <www. aberdeenships.com/...Aberdeen Register of Shipping>

MATHESIS: wooden barque, 3 masts, main deck & poop deck, female figurehead ['Mathesis' Gk. 'learning' or 'the acquisition of knowledge'].
Built by John Reid & Co., Aberdeen, 365 tons, Length 106 feet, Breadth 23 feet, Depth 17 feet, launched 24 March 1841.
Registered 12 April 1841, Master Alexander Gordon
Owners: James Gordon, Ship and Insurance Broker, Alexander Gordon, Shipmaster, Alexander Morice, Shipowner, all of Aberdeen.

1.3 Passing the official inspection
Historical Records of Australia, <arrow.latrobe.edu.au/...B13858427>

Report from Lieutt. Forrest, R.N., Emigration Agent at the Port of Leith, who "finally superintended the arrangements on board and the Dispatch of the Vessel" and written 7 December 1842 "from Memoranda taken at the time".
"The Flour and Salted Provisions had been prepared expressly for the voyage; they were surveyed in the usual way in opening every third cask, and I found them unexceptionable... The quantity of water put on board was 8,400 Imperial Gallons and the ship was bound under forfeiture of Bounty...to call at St Jago, or an intermediate port, to fill up. The numbers on board were 65 adult emigrants and 18 of Crew; in all 83. The supply of medicines was according to the Government Scale...The Medical comforts [alcohol] were, with the concurrence of the surgeon, left in possession of the Master as being safer and equally convenient, but always understood to be at the surgeon's disposal...The space between decks fitted for the Emigrants was 45 X 23 feet, being 1,036 superficial feet; there was not an ounce of Cargo or anything else in it when I left...I explained perfectly the necessity of keeping the 'tween decks clear; and that this would be strictly enquired into upon arrival. The crew were berthed under the forecastle, so as to have no communication with the Emigrants, and strict orders were, by my direction, issued that none of them should upon any pretence even in the daytime go into the 'tween decks, unless accompanied by an Officer of the ship...In conclusion, I beg leave to remark that the Mathesis was a fine new ship (first voyage), 365 Tons, and I considered, from the trim in which she started and the season of the year, that she would have made a fine passage out."

'List of Immigrants...in the Ship Mathesis', <srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/...NRS5316...4_4783...Mathesis>

2.1 The Immigration Board's List
This four page document is headed as follows:
'List of Immigrants, British subjects, who have been introduced into the Colony of New South Wales under the Regulations of 3d. March by J.F. Beattie, Esq., in pursuance of the unconditional authority granted to that Gentleman in the letter of the Colonial Secretary, dated 8th April 1840 and who arrived at Port Jackson in the Ship "Mathesis" Captn. Gordon from Dundee under the Medical Superintendence of Mr. Thomas Robertson.'
The first three pages of the document itemise the emigrants under the general headings of "Families", "Single Males", and "Single Females", with corresponding columns ruled to enter their respective "Age", "Calling" (or occupation), "Religion", capacity to "Read or Write", and their "Native Place" (Scottish Shire or Irish County). Columns containing information that was common to all were "Name of Ship" (Mathesis), "Date of Arrival" (30 January 1842), and "By whom Imported" (J.F. Beattie, Esq.).

2.2 A basic census of individuals
Lieutt. Forrest, the Scottish emigration official who inspected the Mathesis before she sailed from Dundee, records there were "65 adult emigrants" on board in June 1841. When the William Mitchell met the Mathesis at Rio de Janeiro, they reported that there were '86 emigrants" on the ship in August 1841. On the arrival of the Mathesis in Sydney in January 1842, the Sydney Gazette reported she had "81 immigrants" on board. However, the 'List of Immigrants....for the Ship Mathesis' nominates a total of 77 men, women, and children, including 3 infants born at sea. This discrepancy is difficult to explain, as only 6 deaths are reported for the voyage.
[One possible explanation is that the emigration officer's total of 65 adults was actually his own calculation of 'adult-equivalents'. That is, perhaps he calculated the necessary space fitted out in the hold for them by apportioning lesser areas per child on the basis of their ages. Another possible reason for the discrepancy in numbers is that an original 65 adults plus children was reduced at Rio de Janeiro by those too traumatised by their experience in the South Atlantic to face another 6 to 8 weeks at sea crossing the Indian Ocean.]
Of these 77 emigrants disembarking at Sydney in February 1842, 42 were adults and 35 were children (under 16 years of age). There were 10 family groups, made up of 19 adults (Anne Farquharson's "husband died on board") and their 35 'dependants' In addition, there were 13 unmarried men and 10 unmarried women. Overall, the 77 emigrants included 41 males and 36 females.

2.3 Place of origin
The majority of the emigrants loaded at Dundee, or 60 of the 77, were from the north-eastern shires of Scotland -- Aberdeenshire Banffshire, Forfarshire, Invernesshire, Morayshire, and Perthshire -- and 59 of these declared they were Presbyterian. A minority of the emigrants, or 17 of the 77, registered a "Native Place" in Ireland -- County Tyrone, County Clare, Londonderry -- predominantly in northern Protestant Ireland, as reflected in their denominational allegiances (9 Presbyterian, 7 Episcopalian, 1 Protestant).

2.4 Occupations and skills
The "Calling" of 21 adult males consisted of 6 skilled trades (4 carpenters, 1 millwright, 1 blacksmith) and 15 unskilled, rural, labour (14 farm labourers/servants, 1 shepherd). Surprisingly similar to male ambitions, the "Calling" of 19 adult females consisted of 4 skilled trades (1 French Teacher, 1 Needlewoman, 1 Dressmaker, 1 House Keeper) and 15 unskilled domestic and agricultural labour (6 House Servants, 1 House Maid, 8 Farm Servants).
In summary, of 40 nominated adult occupations, a minority of 9 formed a sort of aristocracy of skilled labour, while the majority of 31 were unskilled rural workers. For the women, it is noticeable that even the modest challenges of domestic service were beyond their experience, with 8 of them opting for the outdoor roles of "farm servant". It is also interesting that there is virtually no difference in this population profile between the Scots and the Irish. The background of poverty in northeastern Scotland and northern Ireland appears indistinguishable in its reality and effect for this small shipment of emigrants. 28 Scots were unskilled, as were 4 Irish, which is more or less in proportion with their nationalities. (As an educational footnote, 2 Irish adults were illiterate and 1 could "read only", and while no Scottish adults were illiterate, 6 of them could "read only".)


3.1 'Fire at Sea'
Port Phillip Herald, 24 December 1841, in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Tuesday 4 January 1842
Port Phillip Herald, in The Sydney Herald, Monday 3 January 1842
The following 'narrative' combines two separate accounts published by the Port Phillip Herald (and reproduced by two Sydney newspapers). The first of these is by Captain Harvey of the William Mitchell, who called in at Rio de Janeiro while the Mathesis was in dock there undergoing "necessary repairs". The second account, according to a reporter from the Port Phillip Herald, is "from the lips of two persons who were on board [the Mathesis] at the time of the accident". The extract below is an amalgamation of these two, with the first, briefer, 'story' in normal type, forming the basic core, and the second, fuller, version in italics, providing more descriptive information.

3.2 'Conflagration of the Mathesis'
"The Mathesis from Dublin [?], bound to Port Phillip with 86 emigrants [88 emigrants] on board, left Dundee on June 2nd, 1841. Between eleven and twelve noon on the 9th August, when in latitude 26 degrees 40 minutes south, longitude 20 degrees 30 minutes west, the store-room was discovered to be on fire. [the third mate was in the store-room getting out provisions, when some straw which was laying loose caught fire by a spark from his candle. The fire spread rapidly and when the alarm was given, great confusion took place - so much so that for some time little could be done] On the alarm being raised the seamen took to the boats, and in defiance of the captain's orders, refused to return to the ship. [The seamen were ordered to clear away the boats and keep them in readiness - but instead of doing so, they got into them and pushed off, leaving the captain, officers, and emigrants, on board ship] The emigrants immediately set to and drew water, which was poured into the hold and store room. [After order was restored to some degree, the emigrants passed along water with a will - all hatches were put on, and sails put over them to prevent ventilation. The tops were knocked off seven water casks, which were filled with water, and then the hatches were removed, and water passed in, and the hatches immediately put on again. This was repeated several times] At four p.m., when the fire was considerably got under, the seamen returned to the ship, and assisted in drawing water. On the 10th August, after incessant working for nearly thirty six hours, the fire was extinguished, the ship was then kept away for Rio de Janeiro, at which point she arrived on the 25th of August. [The cargo was very much destroyed and sold for very little; the ship had sustained great damage] the ship's lining and even some of her timbers were considerably injured by the fire [in one part on scraping a little of the inside we reached the copper]."


4.1 Potential Income Foregone

4.1.1 'List of Immigrants...in the Ship Mathesis' (as above)
After 9 adult emigrants deemed ineligible, Bounty of 710 Pounds assessed for 28 adults and 28 children, but "Bounty withheld in lieu of Report Book".

4.1.2 'Return of...Surgeons and Officers of Immigrant Ships', Parliamentary Papers, Vol. 34, p. 60
For 1 Surgeon, 1 Master, and 3 Subordinate Officers, the Mathesis was assessed at 48 Pounds 15 Shillings, but "Gratuities have been wholly or partially withheld".

4.1.3 'Dispatches to Governor Sir George Gipps', Historical Records of Australia, B13858427, S1, V22
"Lord Stanley, Downing Street, 2nd February, 1843. 'Sir, I have received your Dispatch No. 64 of the 27th of March last, with a Copy of the Report of the Emigration Board at Sydney, in explanation of the circumstances under which you have refused to pay Bounties on a party of Emigrants introduced into the Colony on account of Mr G.F. Beattie by the ship Mathesis'."

4.2 The Immigration Board Report
'Extracts from Reports From the Immigration Board', Parliamentary Papers: 1780-1849, Volume 34, p. 171
'The Mathesis'.
"...It is our painful duty, therefore, to report that we are not satisfied that the immigrants have been duly supplied with a sufficiency of wholesome provisions and water, and with reasonably comfortable accommodation; and we must add, that a want of order, regularity, and decency, appears to us to have existed in this ship, which is in the highest degree discreditable to all parties concerned. We cannot, therefore, recommend the payment of any portion of the bounties claimed.
We must further report our opinion, that the behaviour of the surgeon and officers of this ship has been so disgraceful as to render it a matter of regret to us that we cannot be the means of visiting them with a heavier penalty than the loss of their gratuities.
...We feel it unnecessary to bring prominently forward any other reprehensible points in the surgeon's conduct, but we must express our surprise that a person so ill-educated, and of so ill-regulated a mind, as his letters to us show him to be, could have been appointed to so responsible a situation, or that he could even have been in possession of such testimonials as would admit of his application for such employment being entertained.
(signed) Francis L Merewether; Arthur Savage, R.N.; J Long Innes, J.P.; WH Christie, J.P.; HH Browne, J.P."

4.3 Reasons for Refusal

4.3.1 Insufficiency of wholesome provisions
'Enclosure - Lord Stanley to Governor Sir George Gipps', Historical Records Australia, (as above)
"...I may, however, remark that, from the circumstances of the vessel having been on fire and a quantity of water pumped into her, the Flour and dry Provisions may have been damaged, and if not very carefully opened would acquire a musty taste; from the same circumstance if the salted Provisions, especially Pork, were removed from the ship while repairing at Rio, the heat of the climate and leakage of brine would damage them to a certain extent."

4.3.2 A want of order, regularity, and decency
'A List of Immigrants...in the Ship Mathesis', (as above)
'Single Females'
"Margaret Anderson, 19 yrs, Aberdeenshire, Married on board to 2nd Mate.
 Anne Bourne, 20 yrs, Aberdeenshire, Immoral character.
 Isabella Cooper, 18 yrs, Aberdeenshire, See Report Book Vol. 1, Page 324.
 Elizabeth Cumming, 26 yrs, Forfarshire, Married to the Boatswain.
 Agnes Langer, 21 yrs, Aberdeenshire, Not under proper protection.
 Agnes Stewart, 20 yrs, Perthshire, Not under proper protection."
These six women were rule ineligible because of their perceived 'immorality'.

4.3.3 Interpretive Note
The emigrants frightening experience of fire at sea is central to the story of the Mathesis. But more significant in my view is that 'private enterprise' proved incapable of performing the contracted task of safely transporting these emigrants to Port Phillip. Incapable, that is, of not taking 'short cuts' to minimise expenditure and maximise profit -- in this case, minimising losses by not replacing the fire damaged provisions, and keeping a rebellious crew quiet by access to the single women. 


Popular posts from this blog

American Story: Burwell Boykin

A Grandfather's Tale: Chapter 3, THE VIRGINIA TRADE