Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shipping down to Oz

As I think I may have mentioned before, I did my master thesis at the University of St Andrews on the topic of 19th century Emigration from my home region of East Anglia to Australia. In writing this up I was able to rely heavily on the first hand accounts of emigrants who sent letters home from the colonies, which were then printed in local newspapers. Thanks to the herculean efforts of members of the Foxearth and District Local History Society, these are now all available online.

Hence I was intrigued to see this morning that a newly discovered journal has been discovered and put up for auction in London. The account, which was written by a junior officer named James Bell, was composed for his sweetheart back in Britain and documents a voyage from Deptford in east London to Adelaide in 1838. Whilst en route to Oz, the passengers and crew appear to have spent their time engaging in drunken debauchery. As the article I read related:

Diarist James Bell said there were 11 daughters of a Mr McGowan from Liverpool making the voyage as well as a party of women who were ‘natives of some obscene Alleyt’ – namely prostitutes.

Capt Beasley later ‘made love’ to two of the McGowan girls and shared his bed on deck with them. As Bell described:

"The captain was allowed to keep the daughters company at all hours and during the whole time of our being in warm weather our bed on deck sufficed for all three ... such an example was soon followed up by all the Ship's Co: but particularly the 3 Mates [who] carried immorality to a glaring height, particularly the first mate – whom I saw take farewell of a wife and child at Deptford – and who is a man of 40 or more.’

He also tells of how the chief mate ‘bloated with hard drinking’ was treated by the surgeon ‘himself flushed with drinking’ when he fell and ‘cut and mangled’ his head. Matters got progressively worse and the aforementioned surgeon later got into a drunken dispute with the captain. According to the account "the dispute ran so high as to provoke the former to knock the latter down with his fist."

The historian who analysed the text, Felix Pryor said that:

" I have never seen anything like it. I was expecting a gentle story of sightings of flying fish and the like and instead was faced with this extraordinary story of sex, drunkenness and fighting…….With all this whoring and drunkenness, it is amazing the ship ever arrived in Australia."

Mr Pryor has obviously never read 'The Floating Brothel'.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A sign saying "if this boat's a rockin, don't come a knockin" probably didn't do much good out on the high seas.