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Sketches on Board an Emigrant Ship 1875 Image IAN24-03-75-40 SLV 756KB.jpg

Leaving Devon 1853

 

Leaving Devon - Bound for South Australia

The White Cliffs of Beer pitched and ebbed as we forged toward the notorious Bay of Biscay. The heart wrench of leaving family and friends, our home and way of life was still raw and the numbing fear of the unknown that lay ahead slowly mounting.

We left behind an impoverished and tax burdened life in Budleigh Salterton, coastal Devon, lured by the promise of jobs and prosperity - the hope of owning a home and land, living in a classless society, free from political and religious persecution, a new beginning in a new land. So our exodus began.

Circa 1853 - The Colony of South Australia was on the verge of collapse and in desperate need of labourers, farmers, miners, servants, mechanics and tradesmen. The Governor of South Australia had commissioned agents to recruit and transport suitable individuals and families from around Britain. Their passage and keep would be paid and they would be indentured for an agreed period, typically two years.

We had travelled by carriage to Southampton docks to be accommodated in Government depots and to await passage to Port Adelaide. We lived in close proximity with hundreds of migrants, deliberately planned to prepare us for the cramped conditions onboard ship. Illness ran rife.

The day of embarkation arrived and carrying our few possessions we were welcomed on board the ship Calabar by Captain David Moodie and Surgeon Superintendent Edward Kearney. The Calabar was a new 3 masted wooden ship which had been fitted out with improved placement of berths amidships, allowing much greater light, and two Marston’s patent ventilators delivering fresh air between decks.

Being assisted migrants we were placed in the Steerage section between decks. My wife and I shared one bunk above and our son below with a curtain affording some privacy. Shared bunks were about 6 feet by 3 feet. Single men were separated from single women by the married quarters. Deck space was limited by the stowage of ships rigging, extra lifeboats, cargo, livestock for fresh meat and milk, fowls and fodder. Two water closets were provided for woman and children, flushed by saltwater and men used the heads or lee side situated in the bow of the ship. Bathing and washing was usually in saltwater as fresh water was scarce and reserved for drinking. On the occasions when it rained water was captured on deck to supplement drinking water. Food rations were dispensed to groups of people who rotated the tasks of preparation and taking food to be cooked in the galley on deck. Communal tables were provided along the between deck. Men and women were also tasked with duties maintaining and running the ship. Hygiene was difficult and disciplined housekeeping of living spaces an essential daily chore. Lice were unavoidable hiding in every nook and cranny and sea sickness a fact of daily life. Diseases such as measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and occasionally smallpox or dysentery, typhus, and cholera were common. There were 2 hospitals between decks one for men and one for women where the sick were isolated and treated.

Four weeks into the voyage we were fortunate to find favourable trade winds thereby avoiding the dreaded Doldrums in which many ships succumbed, becalmed for days on end in the humid heat of equatorial coastal Africa. Under these conditions the next few weeks of travel were most pleasantly warm and inviting. Our call at Cape Town provided much needed recuperation on shore and reprovisioning of ships supplies.

Since our departure on 4 May 1853 we have sailed a proven route around the Cape of Good Hope and followed the Eastings of the 39th parallel to engage the constant winds of the Roaring Forties which were to carry us to the south and west of the Australian continent.

Nearing Australia the ship took a more northerly bearing out of the Roaring Forties and conditions greatly improved for Steerage passengers. The windy stormy weather had meant days battened down between decks with water seeping into the freezing living space. Extra help was provided by the male passengers who manned the pumps to keep the hold free of water. Our first sighting of land was Kangaroo Island and Nepean Bay on Monday 1 Aug 1853 and just a few hours later Port Adelaide. The voyage had taken 90 days, a comparatively fast journey, delivering 311 souls to the Colony. There had been 6 births and 11 deaths, all deaths except one were children.

Prior to disembarkation at Port Adelaide, a Government Agent provided details of what was expected of new arrivals including where to seek work and lodgings. Thankfully we were allowed to stay on board ship for up to 14 days whilst we organised our new lives.

Captain David Moodie, Surgeon Superintendent Edward Kearney and Officers of the Calabar were warmly and publicly commended by all the passengers for their kindness and care during the voyage - published in The South Australian Register, Friday 5 Aug 1853.

Our farming skills were quickly put to use carting hay on the outskirts of Adelaide. As a day labourer I earned 3s and 9d. By the end of our 2 year bond we had saved sufficient money to lease grazing land and with that came the means to greater income and prosperity.

The family and subsequent generations were very successful pioneer farmers who owned land around Adelaide, Murray Bridge and in the Wimmera. Descendants continue to farm in the Wimmera to this day.

This story is based on actual ancestral family events.