Part One: voyage of the barque Charles Eaton

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Chapter One

by Veronica Peek

John Ireland went to sea and became a famous ship’s boy. For decades, seafarers resigned to the terrors of cyclones and shipwrecks linked his name to their worst nightmares and darkest fears. What happened to him had a tragic impact on Australia’s development as a nation, with frightful and bloody retaliation the inevitable consequence.

A 19th-century cottage in Barn Street, Stoke Newington. Demolished c.1930s. Photographer: Alexander Guttridge.

His story began to unfold in September 1833, when he set off through London’s streets to St Katharine’s Dock on the River Thames. At one of the dockyard’s moorings was a new ship in need of a boy to assist with the fit out and John had just been hired for the job. He was leaving behind his parents, George and Charlotte Ireland,1 at Stoke Newington,2 a village about three miles from the London post office on the verge of becoming a suburb. Wealthy merchants had discovered it as a rural retreat close to the city, and were lining its main roads with mansions. John’s parents, however, lived at 7 Barn Street,3 one of the oldest streets in the village. Their home near the corner of busy Church Street was part of a row of workers cottages. By 1832 the entrance to St Mary’s parish school was in Barn Street, a few doors from the Ireland house. It taught about 110 students at any given time, in an antiquated building shaded by trees.4

John should have received some education, yet his numeracy and literacy skills were poor. Dispatching sons of employment age to the merchant marines was a stock solution for cash-strapped parents, willing to ignore all that talk of savage beatings and watery graves. More often, the boys themselves had dreams of escaping quiet schoolrooms or raucous rookeries for a sailor’s life on the waves.

John was born on Christmas Day, 1818, and christened on 17 January 1819 at the old St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington.5 He would later describe his parents as ‘aged’ (Sydney Herald 27 Oct. 1836) but in 1833 they were still in their thirties.6 George was a bricklayer, making a living from the new housing estates springing up in the area. He had five surviving children to support, ranging in age from John, who was approaching 15, to baby Eliza.7 His oldest son, George Jnr, was already an apprentice printer.

Stoke Newington c. 1905.
By the 1830s Stoke Newington was being transformed from a rustic village into a suburb of London. Handcoloured postcard c.1905.

When John passed through St Katharine’s gate and saw the Charles Eaton for the first time, he had no reason to be displeased. She was a fine-looking barque, registered at 314 tons to carry 350 tons burden,8 and was about to embark on her first real trading venture to the Australian penal colonies, having just arrived from a shipbuilding yard at Coringa, near Madras in India. She was named after Captain Charles Eaton, a former port master at Coringa.9

The barque was lovely to look at and acceptable by the standards of her day, but she was not particularly seaworthy. British-designed merchant ships had deep, flat-bottomed hulls and holds capable of carrying cargo well in excess of their registration. When blown by the wind towards a lee shore or reef they responded slowly to any efforts to alter course, with potentially dire consequences for all aboard them.

St Katharine Docks c. 1830s.
St Katharine Docks on the Thames as it looked c. 1830s. Note the tall warehouses encircling the docks but also the rickety cottages of riverside Wapping. Steel engraving by Joseph Swain from an original study by William Henry Prior, published in Cassell’s Old and New London Illustrated, London: Cassell, 1880.

John was one of the first of the new crew hired for the forthcoming voyage, his wage being no more than a few shillings a week.10 Since her arrival from Coringa the barque had been without a master. Captain Frederick George Moore, ex-Honourable East India Company (HEIC), had now filled the vacant post. John was the apprentice steward but in the meantime, he had to run messages, scrub decks, stoke fires and fill water casks. As far as his employers were concerned, he was a cabin boy, with whatever additional duties that role entailed. The rest of the crew came aboard when departure was imminent. Tom Haviside was the shipping agent and he placed the following notice in the 5 October 1833 edition of The Times:

For Van Diemen’s Land. – To sail on the 1st of November direct for Van Diemen’s Land and Sydney, the fine new teak ship Charles Eaton, burden 350 tons, F. Moore, late of H.C.S., Commander—lying in the St. Katharine Dock. This ship has superior poop accommodation, and 6 feet 6 inches heights between decks, having been built expressly for passengers, is well manned and armed, and carries a skilful surgeon. For freight or passage apply to the Commander, on board; or to T. Haviside and Co., 147 Leadenhall street.…..

Gledstanes & Co., the barque’s owner, was a respected shipping company, with a merchant fleet servicing India and China.11 The Charles Eaton was its newest and smallest vessel and the right choice to test the Australian market.12 The broker began advertising her with great vigour but passenger bookings were slow.

Single poop deck or first class cabin in the 19th century
This 19th-century captain’s cabin is also a typical single poop cabin. Illustrated London News, 24 May 1845.

One cabin passenger who did book early was a young, London-based lawyer, George Armstrong.13 Irish-born Armstrong was about 25 years old and acquainted with Captain Moore through Gledstanes or a mutual friend.14 He was planning to set up a practice at Canton in China. Taking the long route via Australia aboard a potential client’s new ship was a smart move. Gledstanes was venturing into the lucrative Canton market and would need an agent there. Armstrong invested in a quantity of wine and added it to the cargo in the hold. He would easily sell all of it at Sydney and it would help defray the cost of his passage.15 He was adventurous and ambitious, with an interest in commerce. The cabin he was given was empty and he had to select and secure its contents himself.

Throughout October and November 1833, the broker received bills of lading for cargo booked to the barque. A large quantity of calico bales and 410 lead ingots came from Messrs Gledstanes, Drysdale and Co.,16 a merchant arm of the owner company. It was common for ship owners to top up their holds with their own speculative cargo when there were insufficient paid consignments. Gledstanes entrusted its cargo to Captain Moore, who would sell or barter it as the opportunity arose. His background with the HEIC’s merchant navy adequately equipped him for that role.17 Elsewhere in the hold were stacks of alcohol for Sydney – puncheons, cases, casks and hogsheads of wine, brandy and port.18 The rest of the space was filled with sundry cargo, ship’s stores and passengers’ goods, including quite possibly a piano. The Hull family of London had chosen the Charles Eaton for their emigration voyage to South Africa and Mrs Sophia Hull and her two oldest daughters were talented pianists.19

Then came the happy news that the Children’s Friend Society had booked steerage passages for 40 orphans to the Cape of Good Hope.20 It had already shipped six batches of children to Cape Town and was wasting no time in sending more.21 Only some of the children were orphans; many had one or both parents living. They had come to the Society because their parents were either destitute, negligent, or could no longer control them. Some of the boys already had convictions for petty offences, and the Society had rescued them from a reform school.22

Brenton Home for boys at Hackney Wick, run by Children's Friend Society.
Hackney Wick showing the old silk mill that became the Brenton Asylum for boys. Portion of a 19th-century Ordnance map for London and Surrounding Districts.

Many of the boys were coming from the recently established Brenton Asylum at Hackney Wick – a village adjacent to Stoke Newington – where they were given an elementary education, but also taught gardening, domestic chores and other useful skills such as basic bricklaying and carpentry. The Asylum also had ‘a rope-walk round the yard, and a mast; for the pupils were trained for sea’.23

One day in early December, John was climbing the barque’s superstructure of ropes and spars when he fell into the polluted waters of the dock. The chief mate, Frederick ‘Fred’ Clare, instantly dived into the water and saved him from drowning. John needed a hero and he got one. Thereafter he would never speak a bad word against the chief mate.24 Clare was 29 years old and a first-rate officer. He had travelled from India on the barque’s maiden voyage as the second mate, but since had a promotion to chief mate.25 His father was the Rev. John Clare, now widowed and semi-retired to the Wolverhampton Deanery in Staffordshire.26 The Rev. Clare’s loving influence made it inevitable that Christian faith would govern his son’s actions. One day the chief mate would make an excellent captain. In his present performance was that promise for his future.

The newly appointed second mate, William Mayor, was a Londoner with a sister who would soon be emigrating to Australia with her family,27 while the ship’s surgeon was listed on crew manifests simply as F. or R. Grant. Captain Moore, meanwhile, had been hiring his crew. Ten general hands signed on with their standard sea-kits – a pannikin, one or two utensils, a change of clothes and a thin straw mattress. Their identifying uniform was still their wet-weather tarpaulin, a tar-coated hat sometimes fashioned as a sou’wester. Their duck trousers were firm on the hips and loose at the ankles, while woollen pea jackets were comfortable for men who spent their working hours climbing rigging.28 Reputation branded them as uncouth. They had to put up with tough and tasteless rations and a fair amount of savage persecution from the captain and his mates on the quarterdeck. The cramped and crowded forecastle (fo’c’s’le) where they ate and slept was also a hotbed of gossip about the captain, the passengers and anyone who had some control over privileges. Shipboard journals, usually kept by passengers, have typically described ships’ crews as either decent enough as sailors go, or ‘as bad a set of lubbers as ever worked a ship’.29

In Leadenhall Street, not far from St Katherine’s Dock, there was at that time a wine shop and wholesaler partly owned by John Wardell. It catered for sailors and stevedores and Captain Moore was a regular customer. So much so, that John Wardell and his brother, William, were his closest friends. Ex-HEIC Moore was accustomed to private trading and may have encouraged George Armstrong to do the same. On the 13 December 1833, he entrusted his last will and testament to the Wardell brothers.30 In it he left most of whatever he owned at the time of death to his ‘excellent mother’ if then alive, otherwise brother James if then alive, otherwise his two sisters likewise.

One week later, on 20 December, Moore apparently wrote and signed a codicil appointing William Wardell and a business partner, Alex Gibbs, as the executors of his will. William Wardell would later say rather fulsomely of Moore that he was a man of ‘known intelligence and enterprise’.31 The image that emerges from Wardell’s own sworn version of events is rather that of a man who was occupied with finalizing a will and codicil, when he should have been preparing his ship for departure.32 Moore had formerly been a second officer aboard the East Indiaman King George the Fourth,33 but had left the Company’s service, voluntarily or otherwise. The HEIC was about to lose its trading monopoly over India and China, and was already selling off merchant ships and sacking their seamen and officers, in anticipation of the inevitable reduction in its trade. Moore had returned to London and taken rooms in Francis Street, Saint James Square. He was a middle-aged bachelor, and lived alone.

The Equestrian Coffee House was known for a time as Johnson’s and you can see it on the left in this advertisement, but under William Wardell it reverted back to its original name.

For a period of about 13 years, from 1830 till 1843, William Wardell was the proprietor of the Equestrian Coffee House at 124 Blackfriars Road, Surrey, usually with the help of business partners who seemed to come and go, doubtless taking what was left of their investment with them. Like most coffee houses of that era it was also a tea shop, wine bar, tavern and eatery. It was open for as long as there were customers, and that could mean past midnight, serving any theatre-goers or stray night owls who came in for the warmth of a fire, some congenial company and a tuppenny cup of tea. Like many coffee houses though, it was also run as a gentlemen-only club for its own regular clientele, with club facilities and private rooms. Captain Moore would have been a comparatively solitary figure, a stranger in his home city after so many long absences at sea. It’s easy to understand why he was attracted to Wardell’s coffee house and consisted its proprietor his best and most reliable friend.

The young Irish bachelor, George Armstrong, may also have been a newcomer to London in search of compatible company at the coffee house. His friendship with the older and more worldly ship’s master may have blossomed over pots of ale at ye olde Equestrian. In any event, all thoughts of a London practice were abandoned. Armstrong was about to embark on an exciting and life-changing adventure with dreams of amassing a fortune from China tea, perhaps with the help of a few hometown Irish investors.

It had taken Moore only a few months to find work as the master of the Charles Eaton. Ship owners were finding it difficult to hire experienced men to captain their ships on voyages to Australia and were snapping up ex-HEIC officers. It was a big promotion from second officer to ship’s master, albeit one who had never been to Australia. Moore did, however, buy a copy of Horsburgh’s 1832 chart Passages through the Great Barrier Reef. He was worried about the accuracy of some of the charts for his forthcoming route, hence the sense of his own mortality that had him writing a scrappy will. He listed no assets in it, apart from £400 to his brother, but the HEIC’s ships officers usually made a good second income from their private trade. The codicil seems dodgy and may have been dreamed up to expedite the will for the benefit of Moore’s aged mother. You could also argue that it simplified the payment of bogus creditor’s claims.

It was actually on 19 December 1833, with the winds finally favourable, that the Charles Eaton sailed. The waifs from the Children’s Friend Society had boarded at London on 10 December, presumably with Mrs Sophia Hull, who would supervise the girls. The barque reached the Downs on 23 December, where she collected the bulk of her passengers.

The rest of the passengers for Cape Town and Australia now embarked, bringing with them their portable trunks, bedding, washbasins and other items recommended by the booking agent, such as sand and sandstone bricks, used for scrubbing down steerage decks. The bulk of their larger baggage had been loaded at London. The waifs numbered 18 girls and 22 boys and they ranged in age from 9 to 14. At least an additional 13 steerage passengers, including children, were going to Australia, although the real number was probably higher. Published passenger lists for steerage were sketchy at best.34 Most of them had travelled to the coastal village of Deal, in Kent, booking into boarding houses until it was time to board their ship, lying at anchor in the Downs, the roadstead for the English Channel. On any given day, there were usually dozens – but sometimes hundreds – of masters and commanders patiently waiting for the right winds to blow their ships safely through the dangerous waterway.

Sophia Hull probably embarked at London, while her husband, Henry, their eight children and Henry’s sister, Katharine embarked at Deal.35 Sophia was supervising the female juveniles from the Children’s Friend Society and had already hired one of them as a servant, while another girl, having presumably just lost or given up her own infant, was engaged as a wet nurse for the Sophia’s baby.36

After a two-day stopover, the Charles Eaton weighed anchor for the Channel. Christmas day – and John’s 15th birthday – was passed quietly while they were still off the village of Deal, with many of the passengers too busy vomiting into their washbasins to care tuppence about special treats. They were too seasick to do anything at all, let alone cook and eat a rich pudding.37

On 27 December the barque arrived at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, but was detained once more by unfavourable winds. Eight days later she quit the port, and was passing by the rocky outcrop known as the Needles when she collided with a schooner, which struck her across the bow, breaking off the bowsprit mast. ‘This accident caused great alarm among the passengers,’ commented the cabin boy, John Ireland, many years later, ‘and more especially among the children.’38 Well yes but the news when they received it in London must have alarmed the Messrs Gledstanes as well. There was nothing they could do about it though, except cross their fingers and hope they had hired the right master.

Cowes, Isle of Wight, with the Needles formation.
The Needles, off Cowes, where the collision occurred. History does not attribute blame. Artist and engraver unknown.

The accident forced the barque back to Cowes until the ship’s American carpenter, 33-year-old Laurence Constantine, had repaired the bowsprit and replaced the jib boom. As for the schooner, she was beyond repair. She made it back to Cowes but never put to sea again. The unexpected delay made it inevitable that some of the passengers would make up shore parties and put one of the small boats to use as a ferry. Captain Moore came back one day with a Newfoundland dog called Portland. As ship’s dogs go, he was a good choice. Newfoundlands are large and shaggy, but also intelligent, docile, and outstanding long-distance swimmers, known to have saved people washed overboard. The ship carried the usual caged livestock, but Portland would have ranked much higher in the entertainment stakes with the children.

 Newfoundland dogs were good ship's dogs.
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802–1873), ‘Saved’. Oil on canvas. A good example of how Newfoundland dogs were viewed in the 19th century. They were considered ideal ship’s dogs.

For a vessel to have an accident while leaving port on a maiden voyage was a particularly bad omen. There is no reason to believe, however, that while the children were aboard her, the barque was anything other than a happy ship. The voyage was their last chance to savour the remnants of their childhood. Unfortunately for the young seafarers there were further delays when storms lashed England’s southern coast, forcing all ships to take refuge in ports.39 For the seamen, dressed in their waterproof hats and jackets, the daily routine of rotating four-hour watches continued unabated. For the passengers it must have been a torture of boredom and discomfort. Only when the swells had moderated would they have ventured up on deck, to stretch their limbs and blink at rain-drenched Cowes.

When John Ireland had hugged his baby sister, Eliza, before his ship sailed, it really was a last farewell. While he was still sogging it out in Cowes, Eliza died aged 16 months.40 Perhaps that drenching winter was the death of her. It would be many years before the cabin boy caught up with the news. His suffering parents had now buried two daughters called Eliza in the graveyard at Stoke Newington’s St Mary’s church.

On 1 February 1834, the barque finally got under way again. She arrived at Falmouth in Cornwall four days later and loaded more cargo, plus at least one more steerage passenger. Eight days later the barque was underway ‘with a good wind, and every prospect of a happy voyage,’ according to John.41 What joy and relief for everyone but especially for the captain, who had to account for expenses. It had taken his ship seven weeks to quit England’s shores and there were well over 100 people on board, rapidly eating their way through the ship’s rations.

Tom Allom, Falmouth in Cornwall c. 1832
Falmouth in Cornwall. For many emigrants it was their last glimpse of Britain’s shores. John Britton & E. W. Brayley, authors, Cornwall Illustrated, Thomas Allom artist. Hand-colouring added at a later date. London: Fisher & Co, 1830–1832. Copyright the author.

Notes to Chapter 1

  1. UK Census, 1841.
  2. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  3. Ireland, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  4. The 1848 tithe map for Stoke Newington has a good image of Barn Street and its little worker cottages. John described it as being on the corner of Church Street, which locates it almost exactly. By 1832 the St Mary’s parish school was in Barn Street, a few doors from the Ireland house, so John should have received some education. Prior to that it was just around the corner in Church street.
  5. International Genealogy Index (IGI), St Mary’s birth and christening records.
  6. Sydney Herald, 27 Oct., 1836.
  7. Birth and baptism records from St Mary’s Stoke Newington, give us the following offspring for George and Charlotte in 1832: George, born 1817; John 1818; Eliza 1824, d. 1825; Charlotte 1826; Mary 1828; James 1830; Eliza 1832 (died 1834).
  8. Lloyd’s Register of British and International Shipping, 1834. Microfiche.
  9. ‘India Shipping’, Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australias, vol. XVI, 1834, pp. 181–82. The barque appears to have been named after Captain Charles Eaton, a former ship’s captain, trader and owner of several ships. When he gave up the seafaring life he settled ashore as the Port Master at Coringa, a town in the south of India to the north of Madras (Chennai). He died there in 1827. One of his daughters, Sophia, married William Gibson, at one time the manager of a shipbuilding yard in the region. Eaton’s son, Captain Charles W. Eaton, took over his father’s role as Coringa’s Port Master from 1828–1838 and he was the part-owner of at least three merchant ships. The barque was named in honour of Captain Charles Eaton Snr/Jnr, before Gledstanes & Co. bought her in London. Under the command of Captain Fowle, she arrived in London with 1000 chests of indigo worth about £45,000. On 14 June 1833 ‘Lloyd’s Shipping List’, had noted that: ‘The cargo saved from the James Sibbald, wrecked off Coringa, has been reshipped per Charles Eaton’.
  10. A weekly wage of 7s 6d was paid to ship’s boys hired as ordinary seamen. See ‘Letter to Editor’ from Captain W. S. Deloitte, The Times, 2 Sept. 1837.
  11. See the London Times, 24, 26 & 29 Aug. 1872, for the story of Gledstanes’ disastrous collapse.
  12. A list of ships owned by Gledstanes in 1833–1834 can be gleaned from the ‘India Shipping’ pages of the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register… for the years 1834–1836.
  13. Sydney Monitor, 5 July 1834 also lists a Mr William Young and a Lieut Bullock as being ‘in the cabin’ on her arrival at Hobart Town. They were not on the passenger list ex-London and probably boarded at the Downs.
  14. William Bayley file, letter from unknown writer to Bayley, 25 Dec. 1835. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. The writer’s name has been almost covered over, but the address is given as Rathicar in Ireland. George Armstrong was self-described as ‘esquire’, i.e. owned property, but no other details. In Sydney he may have posted a letter to Thomas H [St?] George Armstrong at Banagher (Sydney Herald, 10 Nov. 1834) but not confirmed.
  15. ‘Import Trade List’, Sydney Herald, Supplement, 21 July 1834.
  16. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 6.
  17. Allan E. Bax, ‘Australian Merchant Shipping, 1788–1849’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, vol. XXXVIII, part VI, 1952, pp. 274–75.
  18. Sydney customs list for barque: 400 pigs lead, 5 puncheons and 10 hogsheads brandy, 3 casks and 22 cases wine, 1 trunk of boots and shoes, 37 bales of woollen cloths, 7 cases of cambrics and calicoes (Captain Moore); 10 hogsheads porter (Campbell & Co.); 6 casks and 12 cases of wine (George Armstrong); 20 casks of blacking (Dawes, Gore & Co.); 15 cases and 10 casks of wine (J. G. Richardson); 3 cases of ribbons (J. Atterson); 1 bale paper, 3 cases haberdashery, 33 cases and 2 casks ironmongery (Marsden & Co.); 60 casks and 10 tons of loose salt (A. B. Spark); 6 cases and 1 bale of woollens and linens, 1 case of silks (T. Smith); see Supplement to the Sydney Herald, vol. IV, no. 285, 21 July 1834. In addition, enough alcohol, cottons and haberdashery were delivered to Hobart Town in Van Dieman’s Land to make it worthwhile as the first Australian port of call.
  19. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  20. According to Ireland’s account, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 7, the children were bound for Hobart Town. However, they were definitely delivered to Cape Town.
  21. Captain Edward Pelham Brenton founded the Children’s Friend Society in 1830. He opened the Brenton Juvenile Asylum in Hackney Wick, where orphaned, pauper or ‘at risk’ boys were taught agriculture. In 1834 the society opened a home for girls at Chiswick where they were taught domestic service. From 1832–1838 the society sent a large number of children to South Africa, but also to Canada and the Swan River Settlement in Western Australia. When the Society was forced to close in 1839 as a consequence of public criticism, Captain Brenton died soon after from grief and disappointment.
  22. Charles Forss, Practical Remarks on the Education of the Working Classes; with an account of the plan pursued under the superintendence of the Children’s Friend Society at the Brenton Asylum, Hackney Wick, London: S. W. Fores, 1835.
  23. Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan, Mary A. De Morgan ed., Threescore Years and Ten…, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1895, digitally published 2011, pp. 193–94.
  24. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 3.
  25. His father was not aware that he had been promoted and assumed he was still the second officer. See William Bayley file, letter from Clare to Bayley, 18 Aug. 1836, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A1074.
  26. Frederick Clare: christened 8 April 1804 at Bushbury, Staffordshire, fourth of seven children born to Rev. John Clare and his wife, Ellen. Source: International Genealogical Index (IGI). He was raised with his siblings in the vicarage in Sandy Lane, adjacent to the Bushbury church. His father was also the vicar of Wednesfield and a JP. In 1827 Rev. Clare moved to North Street, Wolverhampton, where he died in July 1839.
  27. Possibly christened 1808 and aged about 25 but not confirmed. Source: IGI. William Mayor’s sister Elizabeth married Henry Bull in 1832. Source: IGI.
  28. See Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, London: Heron Books, 1968, p. 1. First published 1840. Dana sailed as seaman on 15 August 1834. Dana’s description of a sailor’s clothing corresponds with drawings of sailors produced in 1837 to illustrate the Charles Eaton story, some of which were published in Ireland’s book.
  29. Sir John Herschel, Herschel at the Cape, David S. Evans et al (eds), Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1969, p. 9. Extract from shipboard diary, 1834.
  30. Moore’s new will and codicil, held at the UK’s National Archives.
  31. Wemyss, 1884, p. 16.
  32. Moore’s new will and codicil, UK National Archives.
  33. Wardell’s sworn affidavit in relation to Moore’s will and codicil. UK National Archives.
  34. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 July 1834 and post for list of names.
  35. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  36. Geoff Blackburn, The Children’s Friend Society: Juvenile Emigrants to Western Australia, South Africa and Canada, 1834–1842, Access Press: Northbridge, Western Australia, 1993. p. 171.
  37. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  38. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 4.
  39. The shipping news columns of the colonies’ papers show that all of the ships destined for Australia at that time arrived much later than expected. Later, Moore would report in Hobart Town that all shipping ex-England had been delayed by storms.
  40. Source: ancestry.com
  41. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 7.

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Chapter 2: A Shipload of Children

It took almost three months to reach Cape Town, but those aboard the barque soon settled into the routine of the Atlantic leg of voyages to the south. We can reduce most accounts of such voyages to a catalogue of common experiences. There was usually at least one severe storm while skirting the Bay of Biscay in winter, for example, which terrified the wits out of passen­gers and any novices in the crew. Fortunately, the Charles Eaton crossed the Bay intact.

Coal hole of survey barque HMS Beagle, built in 1820, in the bow hold with chain locker, sail storage and water casks. The hold of the Charles Eaton would have been similar.

A typical day at the quarter galley, on the quarterdeck close to the aft hatch, began at first light. The galley crew had to scrape the ash pits, collect coal from the coal ‘hole’ or bunker in the hold, light the stove fires and fill and boil the water coppers. Breakfast was usually from 8.00–9.00 am. Each person got a couple of ship’s biscuits (double-baked bread) and enough hot water for a small pot of sweet tea. Supper at night was the same. The main meal of the day usually consisted of salted meat and one or two vegetables, with some days set aside for soup instead. On most ships, all galley fires were out by 10.00 pm, along with any kerosene swing stoves and lanterns still burning below deck. It was a long working day for the steward and his young assistant, but they were exempt from the four-hour rotating watch and had the benefit of an unbroken night’s sleep.

‘Tea’s up’. Passengers waiting at the ship’s galley to collect rationed hot water from the steward or his assistant
Artist: John Skinner Prout, Illustrated London News, 20 Jan. 1849.




John’s chores were menial and required little skill. He was not particularly diligent and what little he did learn, he soon forgot. He would later admit that he gained nothing from the voyage that would stand him in good stead as an ordinary seaman.1 A sailor’s standard crafts remained a mystery to his untutored hands. The first-class cabins he helped to service were small and cramped but to those passengers quartered below deck, they were the pinnacle of luxury. Their status came from their exclusive isolation in the elevated poop.

The lower deck had a handful of tiny intermediate or second-class cabins at the stern, separated by a single bulkhead from the open-plan steerage for third-class passengers, which occupied the middle section. The Hull family probably had cabins in the intermediate section, so that Mrs Hull could supervise the girls. The fo’c’s’le at the bow doubled as a storage bunker and the sailors’ sleeping quarters.

Magnificent sketch of the intermediate quarters below deck, with a glimpse of the main hatch and crowded steerage through the open door. Royal Sovereign 1840 voyage. Artist is John Skinner Prout. Illustrated London News, 20 Jan. 1849.

Keeping a large group of children amused and out of harm’s way on a long sea voyage was hard work for everyone. When the vessel was tacking across the wind, it was common for the slippery upper deck to be sloping at an angle of 45 degrees or more, so that even routine tasks such as lining up at the pantry for the handout of rations, or collecting boiling water from the galley stove, were fraught with danger. The boys had their own supervisor but the Society often provided nothing more than a slightly older youth, who acted more like a school prefect. The claustrophobic steerage was also a breeding ground for infections, all but guaranteeing that there would always be patients in the hospital beds.

Passengers with their buckets lining up at the galley’s coppers (i.e. urns) for their ration of hot water to make their pots of tea. Artist John Skinner Prout was fascinated by the constant activity around a ship’s galley aboard the emigrant ship Royal Sovereign on its voyage to Australia in 1840. Illustrated London News, 21 January 1849.
Mess leaders waiting at the ship’s galley (also called caboose) while their soup is cooked on the stove by either the steward or the cook. This one was set up near the aft hatch. Artist: John Skinner Prout.

There were two types of ship’s boys on merchant ships. Some, like John, were part of the cabin and galley crew. He spent most of his working hours lurking around the cabins and the quarter galley stove. If he applied himself, he might be a steward one day. Ship’s boys hired as general trainees spent more of their time tarring and painting, or aloft in the rigging. In time, they would earn their place in the fo’c’s’le as able seamen. For this voyage, there was one such lad, John Sexton, and the apprentice steward would describe him many years later simply as ‘a boy like myself’.2 John was always vague about this other ship’s boy and they were neither close friends nor bitter enemies. If John ever knew his name – and he must have surely – he soon forgot it.

Thomas ‘Tom’ Prockter Ching and William Perry were the mates’ apprentices and John always referred to them as the ‘two little midshipmen’.5 Ching was the youngest son in a middle-class family in Launceston, Cornwall, Ching being a traditional Cornish name. His father, John Ching, was a wine dealer and apothecary (pharmacist) whose patented treatment for worms had secured the family’s fortunes.6 Tom was 21 years old and diligently studying his way towards becoming a chief mate and, eventually, a master. Perry was probably of a similar age and, like Ching, had joined the ship at London.

The barque had no designated cook. The steward, William Montgomery, prepared basic hot dishes for the first-class cuddy (dining room), but the crew and lower deck passengers got measured rations and had to prepare their own meals. Montgomery wore a white hat to keep sweat and stray hairs out of the cooking pots. It was the common symbol of a ship’s cook but he was also in charge of all dining arrangements and provisions. He carried on his person a pocket watch to anticipate the ringing of the ship’s bell, which signalled the change of watch. Stewards and their assistants often kept themselves apart from the fo’c’s’le, largely because their sleeping hours were different, and sometimes bunked down in the cabin pantry.

When the Charles Eaton crossed the equator, the crew dressed up in makeshift costumes for the usual ceremony of paying tribute to King Neptune. They rigged up a sail between the masts and filled it with water. Any sailor or male passenger deemed to be disrespectful to the king got tossed in, clothes and all.7 According to a descendant, the Hull family males were spared most of the rough stuff but the steerage boys joined in and loved it. It was a good time in the tropical heat for them to have a rough scrubbing down and head shave.

The Island of Trinidade 19th century
The tiny island of Trinidade off the Coast of South America was an important landmark for early sailors. B&W gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage pittoresque autour du monde, vol. I. Paris:Furne et Cir, Libraraires=Editerus, c. 1834.

Once they had finally passed through the tropical calms, the sailors had to deal with the contrary trade winds. The time-honoured technique was to tack across the Atlantic towards the tiny island of Trinidade, about 700 miles ( 1125 kms) off the coast of South America, until they picked up the north-westerly trade winds, which carried them back across the Atlantic to Cape Town. This loop around the Atlantic added greatly to the length of the voyage but catching the trade winds usually shortened the sailing time.

Table Mountain when it finally appeared over the horizon in all its barren splendour was a distant but welcome landfall. Tapering away to the south were the majestic ridges and sandy beaches of the narrow peninsula known as the Cape of Good Hope, lush with wild grasses and cultivated crops, dissected by many streams. Its botanical gifts to the world included watermelon, cantaloupe and geranium. There had been a time when weary seafarers claimed for it no equal on Earth. It is hard to imagine a finer approach to a seaport.

Cape Town in the 1830s.
A beautifully moody sketch of Cape Town in 1834. Caption reads: ‘Capetown in South Africa’, Philadelphia: N.A. Bible Institute.

Cape Town, with its population of about 25,000, was a novelty for English visitors. The houses looked like they had transplanted from Amsterdam. Most had flat tops and looked roofless when viewed from a distance. Signs of industry were everywhere, in the hurry-scurry of foot and hoof traffic along the streets and in the valleys cultivated with orchards, grain fields and vineyards. The farm workers, however, invariably proved to be slaves. On 1 May 1834, the Cape Town government approved the emancipation of all of the British Empire’s slaves, with the date for their freedom set at 1 December 1834.8 The Cape colonists were alarmed, predicting an acute labour shortage. One easy solution quickly taken up by them was the importation of English children as apprentices. Their impact would prove to be negligible, however, given that there were many more slaves waiting to be set free.9

On that same day, 1 May 1834, the Charles Eaton arrived at Cape Town with her cargo of 40 children and the Cape colonists eagerly snapped them up. They had all arrived safely and in good health. They had many years of labour before they would be free of their apprenticeships, although the girls did have the option of early escape from their bondage through marriage. Apart from the rules governing their punishment and a tiny annual wage, the apprenticeship terms in British colonies were similar to those for transported convicts. Most of the girls found work as domestic servants, while the boys got jobs as farm hands, servants or trade apprentices. Two lads became boat boys, while one lad ended up as a ship’s boy aboard HMS Trinculo, at anchor off Cape Town at the time.10

Dutch housing in Cape Town 1860s
Dutch housing in a suburb of Cape Town Caption reads: ‘Old Dutch House at Cape Town, South Africa’. Illustrated London News, 5 March, 1864.

A few days later, on 10 May, a local Cape Town resident, John Thomas Buck, sent a letter to the churchwarden of St Luke’s parish in London, and it ended up being published in The Times (14 Aug. 1834). Speaking of the children already delivered to the Cape, Buck remarked: ‘the elder boys have not conducted themselves well, and given much dissatisfaction to their masters, and many of the younger ones have proved troublesome’. His letter triggered the widespread criticism of the exportation of pauper children to the colonies that would ultimately lead to the dismantling of the Children’s Friend Society.

There was a vessel moored in Table Bay that now becomes relevant to those still aboard the Charles Eaton. The Jane and Henry was a South-African-owned, 146-ton brigantine-schooner, recently arrived from Liverpool. As schooners go she was tiny and old, with no rating of any value. She was a sturdy vessel all the same, with more than a dozen long sea voyages to her credit.11 On her previous voyage in 1832–33 she had attracted notoriety when it was found that her master, Captain Robert Latimer, was criminally insane. He was sentenced at Cape Town to six months’ hard labour.12 Fortunately the schooner was now commanded by Thomas Cobern,13 a master mariner and resident of Cape Town. She was loading cargo for the Australian colonies and may have been chartered by a consortium of Cape businessmen. Her cargo consisted of Cape wine in ‘pipes’, which already had a small market in Australia, plus some general merchandise, including china, shawls and pickles. Having discharged her cargo, the Jane and Henry would return to Cape Town via Batavia (now Jakarta). For a time, the small schooner would follow the same route as the Charles Eaton.

From Cape Town, Moore headed south to Australia, going as far as he dared below latitude 40°. When, after a cold but uneventful passage, his crew moored their vessel at Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, their arrival was greeted with more interest than they might have expected – but there was a reason. Most ships’ captains collected local newspapers along their route and passed them on to reporters at their next ports of call. On 28 March, having received November editions of the London papers from a passing ship, the Hobart Town Courier had confidently announced that ‘the ship Charles Eaton, 350 tons, Capt. Moore, … may be daily expected with goods from London for this port.’ By mid-April, none of the expected merchant ships had arrived. Unaware of the storms that had delayed their departure from England, the colonists began to fear the worst.14

When the Charles Eaton finally turned up in mid-June and anchored just off the town’s foreshore in Sullivan’s Cove, a reporter from the Courier sought a reason for the long passage from England. Moore explained that he had been held up in England by storms but refrained from mentioning the collision with another vessel that had caused much of the delay. He was soon busy signing bills of lading for additional cargo to Sydney, including five cases of hats and one case of bonnets from a local milliner.15 He also got two more cabin passengers, Mr and Mrs Severin Kanute Salting, who had travelled from the London Docks aboard the brig Meanwell. Moore had consigned cargo for the port. He soon discovered, however, that Hobart Town was going through a brief economic downturn and was not particularly receptive to adventure cargo. He managed to sell some alcohol and some cottons, but not much else. The Jane and Henry’s captain had little luck in Hobart Town either, and soon sailed for Sydney. Moore did, however, have one more visitor. Captain Thomas D’Oyly of the Bengal Artillery was seeking passages to Sourabaya for himself, his family and his Hindu servant. The D’Oylys have left behind a detailed account of their lives, and the chain of events that brought them to that fateful moment. Many of the personalities introduced in the following chapter will re-emerge later to make their contributions to the wake for the voyage of the barque Charles Eaton.

Notes to Chapter 2

  1. Sydney Monitor, 11 Nov. 1836.
  2. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  3. Curtis later wrote an account of the Charles Eaton shipwreck. See John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle … to which is added, the Narrative of the Wreck of the Charles Eaton, London: George Untree, 1838.
  4. Captain Carr’s deposition to Lord Mayor of London, The Times, Sept. 1836, p. 3.
  5. William Bayley file, copy of statement by Captain Igglesden, Tigris, 31 July 1836, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. His use of the word ‘midshipmen’ suggests that in common sailor’s parlance it was not a term restricted to apprentice officers in the navy.
  6. See Laurence Green, A Hollow Sea: Thomas Prockter Ching and the barque ‘Charles Eaton’, Ashprington, Devon: RGY Publishing, 2007, for biographical information about Ching’s family.
  7. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  8. John Fisher, The Afrikaners, London: Cassell, 1969, pp. 58, 99.
  9. Lacour-Gayet, Robert, A History of South Africa, Stephen Hardman (trans.), London: Cassell, 1977, p. 71.
  10. Geoff Blackburn, The Children’s Friend Society: Juvenile Emigrants to Western Australia, South Africa and Canada, 1834–1842, Northbridge, Western Australia: Access Press, 1993, pp. 170–71.
  11. Lloyd’s Register of British and International Shipping, 1834, microfiche.
  12. Hobart Town Courier, 23 Aug. 1833. The story of what happened on board the Jane and Henry on its voyage to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1832 is interesting in its own right. An early example of shocking exploitation of pauper emigrants by a ruthless operator, with the additional hazard of a master and a chief mate who were psychopaths. Captain Larimer had been released from prison just prior to departure from Liverpool and was later described in contemporary accounts as criminally insane. The brigadine was confiscated by the Cape Town government to pay off debts and resold in time for the 1834 voyage to Australia.
  13. This spelling of Cobern’s name has been taken from Cape Town’s 1833 census. Other spellings include Cobairn and Coburn.
  14. ‘Domestic Intelligence’, Hobart Town Magazine, vol. III, no. 14, April 1834.
  15. Sydney Herald, Supplement, 21 July 1834.

Chapter 3: The D’Oylys of India on Destiny’s Road

Just outside the village of Kirby Wiske, near the town of Thirsk in Yorkshire, there once stood a very old stone-built house, called Sion Hill. The estate and all its structures fell into disrepair until Mr Edward D’Oyly bought it in 1799.

Sion Hill manor, the childhood home of Captain Thomas D’Oyly until he sold it to Joshua Crompton in 1822. At the rear is the original 15th-century Hall, subsequently used for servants’ quarters. Additions to the ancient building and its estate, added in the 18th and 19th centuries, included two Georgian-era wings built by Edward and Hannah D’Oyly c.1802, to house their growing family. Artist is Henrietta Matilda Crompton. Gifted to her younger brothers, Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton and Robert Crompton. Veronica Peek Collection.


Captain Tom D’Oyly of the Bengal Artillery, briefly introduced at Hobart Town in the previous chapter, was Edward’s son. Born with his twin brother, Edward Jnr, in 1794, he moved with his parents to Sion Hill in 1800. Edward D’Oyly and his wife, Hannah, spared no expense in renovating the hall and adding new wings, landscaping the grounds with gardens leading down to the River Swale. In time Sion Hill was reborn as one of the most attractive estates in North Riding, and the D’Oylys were considered by all to be ‘one of the happiest and most united of families’.1

The D’Oylys relished their life at Kirby Wiske for nine years. Then a run of grievous luck terminated their good fortune. Edward Jnr wanted to become a mariner, so his father bought a large share of the huge chartered East Indiaman, Jane Duchess of Gordon, which had previously belonged to her master, Captain Cameron.2 The D’Oylys then employed Tom’s twin brother as a midshipman on their own ship, at the age of 11.

In March 1809, a convoy consisting of 15 East Indiamen and one brig-of-war was caught in a fierce hurricane south of the island of Mauritius that lasted for three days. Five of the ships, including the Jane Duchess of Gordon, sank with the loss of all lives.3 Edward was 13 when he perished. At about the same time, the eldest D’Oyly boy, James, died of a fever while still a cadet at Calcutta (now Kolkata) in India. Captain Cameron’s widow and 11-year-old daughter, Anne Cameron, visited the D’Oylys when they heard the news. They found the family in a terrible state. Not only were they still mourning the deaths of James and Edward, but their ailing infant son, Josephus, would die within days.4 The D’Oyly family was hospitable to the captain’s widow and Anne Cameron exchanged letters with the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, for a time. Twenty-eight years later, Anne Slade (née Cameron) re-emerged to play an important role in the D’Oyly family’s history.5

Edward and Hannah, with their dream of being ship owners now extinguished, had insufficient external income to supplement their income from the estate. To their credit, they were certainly trying. By 1808 Hannah, who was quite inventive, had set up a chicken farm and sold eggs and chickens to the local markets. She had a large stock of hens and roosters and came up with a new way to raise chickens that earned her a prestigious science award. She envisioned a future in which chickens could be commercially raised anywhere, including in city backyards, in cages with an artificial ‘mother’ hen. With a high survival rate, these healthy chickens would become free-ranging egg layers but also the cheaper meat of choice at the markets. Hannah D’Oyly was a woman 150 years ahead of her time. She also indulged her family with her chicken pies.

Hannah D’Oyly’s chicken hatchery for up to 60 chickens, warmed by a stove and with an artificial ‘mother’ hen. With more capital she might have been able to realize her dream of a commercially successful business.

Her husband, for his part, turned one of the farm sheds into a large machinery workshop well stocked with an array of tools. He had a gift for building and repairing machines and it wasn’t long before local farmers began bringing their broken machinery to him for repair. Edward, however, was very sociable and well liked, and couldn’t bring himself to charge the farmers for his labour. Mechanical engineering as a hobby was one thing; charging his neighbours as a mechanic made him a tradesman, unbecoming perhaps to his other roles as lord of the manor and justice of the peace.

To the great chagrin of his children Edward was often virtually without cash.6 His solution was to asset strip and remortgage, until there were very few assets left. The begging letters that Edward D’Oyly wrote to his bank at this time make distressing reading. By 1815 he was too afraid to attend the Thirsk market for fear of running into one of his creditors. Tom, their oldest surviving son, missed most of the deepening misery at Sion Hill when he joined the Bengal Army in 1810, and was among the first intake of students at the Honourable East India Company’s (HEIC’s) Addiscombe College near London.

Two years later, in 1812, he was posted to Bengal as a subaltern/fireman in the artillery.7 A relative, Sir John Hadley D’Oyly, the HEIC’s Controller at Calcutta, and later his son, the enthusiastic amateur artist Sir Charles D’Oyly, took an interest in Tom’s career and promoted his merits in every quarter, introducing him into the highest echelons of Calcutta’s society. During his first year in Bengal as a ‘griffin’ or greenhorn, Tom lodged for a time with the baronet. He was the second ‘griffin’ to experience the hospitality of the D’Oyly household, for his older brother, James, also enjoyed that welcome while a cadet in the Bengal Infantry. James joined the D’Oyly circle for a spot of hog hunting and died soon after from a fever thought to have been caused by an infected wound. Sir Charles would subsequently publish the illustrated burlesque poem Tom Raw the Griffin, which records some of the shared experiences of griffins like his two relatively distant and impoverished cousins.

Tom-Raw Sits for His Portrait Sir Charles D'Oyly
The artist, George Chinnery. at his newly opened studio in Calcutta c.1812. Sir Charles D’Oyly (artist) from Tom Raw the Griffin, 1828. Hand-coloured engraving. Charles D’Oyly was Chinnery’s pupil. Tom D’Oyly was staying with Charles D’Oyly in 1812 and would have visited the artist’s studio. The point of the burlesque poem, though, is that many greenhorns in India shared similar experiences and Tom Raw is a composite from many sources.

In 1817, Lieut Tom D’Oyly finally took part in one brief battle and ended up in a safe staff position. Apart from that, he passed an uneventful eight years in Bengal until Charlotte Williams arrived on the scene.

Charlotte was the daughter of Henry Williams, for many years the Company’s commercial resident at the Commercolly (now Kumarkhali) station.8 In those days it was a river village in the low-lying and often flood-soaked region known as the Ganges delta.9 Today it is a major city in Bangladesh. Henry and his wife, Agnes, had two daughters, Charlotte (1796) and Fanny (Frances Sophia 1798).10 By 1800 they had parted acrimoniously amid claims that Agnes had been unfaithful, and the two girls lived in England with their wealthy grandparents. Charlotte’s grandfather, ship captain Stephen Williams, was a director of the HEIC (1791–1804), while his wife, also Charlotte and sister of Sir John Hadley D’Oyly, was a former nurse to the two youngest of the 15 children of King George III, Prince Alfred (died aged two from a smallpox inoculation) and Princess Amelia.11 

Princess Amelia portrait by Sir William Beechey

When Mrs Williams finally left the royal household, she maintained her ties with the royal family. Her brother-in-law, the wealthy banker and MP, Robert Williams, of Bridehead in Dorset, owned a fleet of East Indiamen and the family named one of them the Princess Amelia.12

King George III and Queen Charlotte were possessive parents and their six daughters did very little socialising outside their own households.13  Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, was their third daughter and she doted on children, making it inevitable perhaps that she became young Charlotte’s favourite royal. The impressionable little girl grew to womanhood treating Princess Mary as a much-loved friend. The princesses were often delightful companions but they could also be demanding and thoughtless. Given their royal status, it was only to be expected. The same traits in Charlotte were less easy to accept. There is no detailed description of Charlotte but there is a small bonus in knowing that her hair was brown-gold or auburn. In later years she would braid and/or twist it up into a coiffure with combs.14

In 1818, Henry Williams returned to England on leave and escorted his two daughters back to India. Their second cousin, Sir Charles D’Oyly, now the seventh baronet following the death of his father, was one of the Company’s opium agents, and he organised a ball at his palatial Calcutta home to introduce the two Williams girls to society. His other relative, Lieut Tom D’Oyly of the Bengal Artillery, was also a guest. Charlotte found Tom’s charms irresistible and their marriage, on 10 May 1820, united two branches of the D’Oyly family.

Tom was based at the Dum Dum artillery station, on an extensive plain four miles (seven kilometres) north of Calcutta. Married officers lived in spacious bungalows around a small drill ground, but the D’Oylys bought their own more substantial bungalow, at Dum Dum but off the station.15 Children, when they began to arrive, were welcome distractions. Their first son, Thomas (Tom Jnr) was born in October 1821, followed by Edward in 1823 and George three years later.16 

Tom and Charlotte weren’t wealthy so it’s likely that they borrowed money from a rich Indian money-lender to buy their large off-station bungalow. In status-conscious British colonial Calcutta it was all about keeping up appearances and many a young British officer ended up in financial straits when he couldn’t meet the interest on his loan. Captain D’Oyly, as Edward D’Oyly’s main heir, may have expected something from his late father’s will. He got his share of the Sion Hill estate all right, but once it was sold and the multiple mortgages paid off there was very little of his inheritance left.

Both the real Lieut Tom D’Oyly and the fictional Lieut Tom Raw in Tom Raw the Griffin had scolding wives called Charlotte and in 1824, when the book was being written, they both had two sons, the oldest of whom was also called Tom. Each then had another son. The poem makes it clear that the baronet had little time for army wives, while his mischievous choice of names suggests that he may not have had a whole lot of time for his cousin, Charlotte, either. But Charlotte, who had always been proud of her relative’s achievements, may have been both puzzled and hurt by his satire. She may even have scolded Sir Charles or expressed her dismay. If so, then it had the desired effect. For the rest of his life Sir Charles did not publicly acknowledge any involvement with Tom Raw the Griffin. The book’s illustrations in particular attracted a lot of praise so it was quite a sacrifice on his part.

“Tom Raw in the midst of difficulties’. Sir Charles D’Oyly’s take on young army officers who lived beyond their means in India, especially when an inheritance didn’t eventuate or was less than expected. The moneylenders were not sympathetic.
Chunar Fort, window of Muslim palace by T. D'Oyly
B&W engraving of a watercolour sketch of a decorative balcony of the Muslim palace at the Chunar Fort. Artist is T. D’Oyly, thought to be Captain Thomas D’Oyly, described by his nephew, D’Oyly Bayley, as a ‘clever artist’. Held by the India Office Library.

Tom’s oldest sister, Elizabeth, had married a conveyancing solicitor, William Bayley, of Stockton-on-Tees in Durham.17 When Tom faced the usual dilemma of sending his two eldest sons to England for their education, the Bayleys agreed to take them. Those leisurely years in Calcutta were ending, however, for Tom got a promotion to Captain and a posting to the Company’s ordnance at the Chunar Fortress, in the Mirzapoor district of northern Bengal. The promotion came at a price. Chunar had a reputation for being one of the hottest British stations in India.18 It is on the southern bank of the River Ganges, about 17 miles (28 km) southwest of the holiest Hindu city of Benares (now Varanasi).

Fortress at Chunar in India, with Nabob's party in foreground
The fortress at Chunar circa 1828–1840. Chunar had a reputation for being one of the hottest postings in India and the cantonment was often visited by cholera. Black-and-white engraving from an original watercolour by William Daniell.

During the D’Oylys’ time, there were about 1000 invalids19 stationed at Chunar. It was the Company’s invalid station, where they herded their chronically sick and wounded British soldiers, together with their families. They guarded an ancient and decaying fort that no one attacked. Some of the soldiers were old but most were young, victims of India’s cholera epidemics. The D’Oylys, however, enjoyed ‘the usual East Indian splendour’20 at Chunar, by which we can assume that they actually lived quite modestly in an airy bungalow shaded by trees. Many of the officers stationed at Chunar were also invalids. Captain D’Oyly may have been unwell for some time. Additionally though, Chunar attracted a generous remote-station allowance, and the D’Oylys needed the money.

Chunar fort c. 1820s by Sir Charles D'Oyly
B&W engraving of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s watercolour sketch of the Chunar fort, c 1820s. The miniature has been placed inside an irregular, embossed mount. The Muslim and Hindu palaces inside the castle-like fortress can be clearly seen. Captain Tom D’Oyly’s ordnance took up the whole of the larger and more impressive Muslim palace and he spent his working days there. Part of an album of 15 miniatures gifted to Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, by Charlotte D’Oyly and now held by the India Office Library.

In August 1831 the D’Oylys had their last child, a son called William, preceded by the death of an infant daughter in 1829.21  When Charlotte fell pregnant with William, having already lost a daughter, she returned to her Calcutta bungalow for her confinement and William’s birth and refused to return to Chunar. A few months later, the D’Oylys received the news that Tom’s oldest sister, Elizabeth Bayley, had died suddenly at Stockton-on-Tees on New Year’s Day, leaving her husband to raise their five children alone, including a newborn son.22 William Bayley was now the sole guardian of their two eldest boys. Despite their brother-in-law’s reassurances, it must have occurred to the D’Oylys that this was an unreasonable burden.

The following year, Tom applied for overseas sick leave, on the basis that his health had suffered under Chunar’s heat. He was also running out of time. Every one of the Company’s officers and civil servants in India was entitled to two years of fully paid sick leave – and they invariably used their benefit. Tom’s choice of destination for his leave should have been obvious: go home to England and Tom Jnr and Edward, now aged 12 and 10. Yet he nominated Hobart Town in Van Diemen’s Land instead. It was an Australian penal colony but it had a mild climate, making it a favourite destination for invalids from India. Charlotte, who was ‘pining to be restored to her absent Children’23 shed many tears of disappointment. At the same time, the arrangement Tom and Charlotte had with William Bayley was very convenient for them. Bengal Army officers aimed to retire back to England on at least the full pension of a major, a goal they could only achieve after 25 years of service in India. If they retired early, they received a half-pension instead. The D’Oylys were not going home to England until they were good and ready, or at least not if they could help it. Captain D’Oyly needed one more promotion and three more years in India and they would be financially set for life.

The D’Oylys left Calcutta on 21 March 1833 and disembarked at Port Louis on Mauritius for what would prove to be an extended sojourn. They posted their en-route letters to their sons from this port. The first ship to come along bound for Van Diemen’s Land was the Indiana, out of London. Her master, Captain Webster, had detoured to Mauritius to pick up a cargo of sugar. On 9 September 1833, the Indiana took on board a pilot for the final navigation up the Derwent River. Hobart Town (now the city of Hobart) when it finally came into view proved to be a charming replica of an English town. It was spring when the D’Oylys arrived and flowers were blooming under a soft southern sun. Within a week of their arrival, they not only had three assigned convict servants, they had already settled into the little town of New Norfolk.24 Rental properties were difficult to come by in New Norfolk, particularly at short notice. The D’Oylys may have had, through their Calcutta lawyer, a contact, a local landowner and Justice of the Peace called Richard Armstrong.25

The muddy road to remote New Norfolk in 1834, when there was nothing there. Yet this is where the D’Oylys chose to spend most of their leave. New Norfolk had formerly been known as Elizabeth Town. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Lib raires-Editeurs, 1839.

New Norfolk was about 20 miles (32 kms) north-west of Hobart Town along what was then an uncomfortably rough and muddy road. In those days it was flattering to its inhabitants to call the tiny settlement a town, since it consisted of little more than a handful of cottages scattered haphazardly around a church, a school, a hospital and a couple of inns. For India invalids, however, it was ideal. It was an enchanting village with a moderate climate. It also had an excellent new invalid hospital for settlers and convicts that dealt with both physically and mentally ill patients. It was a long way from Calcutta to New Norfolk. Despite its curative qualities, only the most seriously ill India invalids bothered to make the effort to get there.

India invalids suffered from respiratory complaints often exacerbated by smoking the hookah pipe, and liver complaints caused by drinking too much alcohol in the sub-continent’s sapping heat. More seriously, bouts of cholera and chronic diarrhea had destroyed their health. They often moped and left it up to their spouses or friends to make the necessary decisions. Many of them wanted to return to England but their surgeons advised against it. The dramatic change of climate would have an adverse affect on their damaged lungs. Sick leave in England too often proved fatal. The East India Company’s own surgeons recommended the Australian penal colonies instead.26

Charlotte must have endorsed the decision to go to New Norfolk. She freely admitted that her husband’s health and a full retirement pension were the most important considerations. Captain D’Oyly had been a prolific letter writer to his friends and relatives in England, tiring them no doubt with copious details of his lifestyle in India. His pen was now still. It was left to his wife to exchange letters with William Bayley and their sons in England. Eight months after their arrival, the Caledonia arrived from Calcutta, with a letter for them containing the news that Captain D’Oyly had been promoted to a more senior position.27 With his health now seemingly restored, he was anxious to get back to work. Misfortune was on his side, for the barque Charles Eaton had also just arrived and it was bound for Calcutta via Sourabaya and Canton.

 

Merchant ships at anchor in Sullivan’s Cove, Hobart Town, c. 1838. Dumont d’Urville, Journey to the South Pole and Oceania on the Corvettes L’Astrolabe and La Zélée to Execute the Order of the King during the Years 1837–1838–1839–1840 under the Command of Dumont d’Urville. Pictorial Atlas, Paris: Gide OCLC...

Notes to Chapter 3

  1. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: D’Oyly Bayley, 1845, p. 148. Much of the information in this chapter has been taken from D’Oyly Bayley, pp 131−55.
  2. The ship’s largest shareholder was Charles Christie. D’Oyly, however, was a substantial part-owner.
  3. The North American Review, 1844, p. 342.
  4. The D’Oylys lost five children in a little over one year, including a stillborn daughter and another son who collapsed and died on his way home from school.
  5. William Bayley file, letter from Slade to D’Oyly family, 14 Nov. 1836, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A1074.
  6. Sion Hill was remortgaged in part to Mr William Bayley, of Northallerton. His son, also William Bayley, a solicitor in Stockton, married Edward and Hannah’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth. Private correspondence of Edward D’Oyly, in the possession of the author, dated 1815. The hall continued to exist for more than 100 years before being demolished for an architecturally superior new manor.
  7. For details on Captain Thomas D’Oyly, see Hodson, V. C. P., List of Officers of the Bengal Army, London, 1927–47, vol. ii, pp. 83–84; IGI; India Office Records L/MIL/10/23, ff. 171–72.
  8. East India Register and Directory, London: East India Office, 1818 and post.
  9. Edward Thornton, A Gazetteer of the Territories under the Government of the East India Company…, 4 vols, London: W.M. H. Allen & Co., 1854, vol. 2 p. 10 and vol. 3 pp. 178–79. Also known then as Commercholly, Comercolly and more recently as Kumerkhali, it is now in Bangladesh, on the Ganges river north of Dhaka. Pubna is now called Pabna. Henry Williams was employed in the Company’s service from 1792–1833.
  10. See the will of Mrs Charlotte Williams, dated 1811, held by the National Archives UK. Mrs Agnes Williams, in a letter c. 1845, supplied the family genealogist, D’Oyly-Bayley, with their birth years. According to IGI the girls were born at the Williams ancestral home in Winterbourne Herringston, Dorset. It is possible, however, that they were born in Bengal.
  11. The occupation as a writer/clerk in India was reserved for close relatives of HEIC owners and directors. Mrs Williams (née Burrington) does not appear to have played a prominent role in her daughters’ lives. In those days, when a couple separated the father automatically under law had first claim to any children.
  12. Charles Hardy, revised by Horatio Charles Hardy, A Register of Ships, Employed in the service of the Honorable the United East India Company, from the Year 1760 to 1810…, London: Black, Parry, and Kingsbury, 1811, p. 120.
  13. For information about Princess Mary, see Flora Fraser, Princesses: The Six Daughters of King George III, New York: Anchor, 2006.
  14. A comb thought to have belonged to Charlotte was later found on an island called Aureed.
  15. Ultimately inherited by their second son, Edward Armstrong Currie D’Oyly until his death in 1857.
  16. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London, 1845, pp. 131–55.
  17. Married 27 May 1819, at Northalleton, Yorkshire. Source: IGI. (William D’Oyly Bayley was their eldest son).
  18. Walter Hamilton, ‘Chunar’, East India Gazetteer 1825, London: W. H. Allen, 1828, p. 284.
  19. Right Rev. Reginald Heber D.D., Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India from Calcutta to Bombay, 1824–1825 (with Notes upon Ceylon,) : An account of a journey to Madras and the Southern Provinces, 1826, and letters written in India, vol. 1. London: John Murray, 1843. Section on Chunar, Chapter XIII, pp. 401–13.
  20. D’Oyly-Bayley, p. 155.
  21. Losty, pp. 75–82.
  22. IGI.
  23. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to Bayley, 20 July 1834, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A1074.
  24. Hobart Town Courier, 20 Sept. 1833.
  25. Hobart Town Courier, 12 July 1838.The newspaper advertisement, placed by Armstrong on behalf of the Calcutta lawyer tasked with finalising Captain Tom D’Oyly’s affairs, does suggest that the D’Oylys were checking out the colony with their forthcoming retirement in mind.
  26. For a description of the complaints suffered by India invalids, see James Johnson, M.D., An Essay on Morbid Sensibility of the Stomach and Bowels… to which are added, observations on the diseases and regimen of invalids, on their return from hot and unhealthy climates, 4th edn, London: Thomas & George Underwood, 1827, pp. 129-66.
  27. Initially posted to the ordnance at Allahabad in a senior position, but subsequently changed to an even more important role at the ordnance in Agra...

Chapter 4: Towards the Abyss

Eugene von Guérard, Hobart Town c.1860s.
Hobart Town by Eugene von Guérard, c. 1860s. Source: Flickr Hobart Town. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Abu Dun. Impressive image of the township with snow-capped Mount Wellington. Colour engraving.

The crews of British ships got a half-day off once a fortnight, always on a Sunday. When they were at anchor in a healthy port, one half stayed on board after the customary morning religious service and were assigned to light duties, while the other half spruced up in what passed for their Sunday best. Their usual practice was to extract as much of their due wages as their captains were prepared to give them, then head for the inns and taverns and blow the lot in one glorious binge that could often last for days. The Jane and Henry crew was on hand as fellow drinkers for the Charles Eaton crew, as also were the sailors from the Arab, a recent arrival with another load of 228 male prisoners. The assistant cook on board the Clyde was less fortunate. His body had just been found ‘dried up in the hold of the vessel, lying beside a spirit cask, having been some days missing.’1

Moore had trouble with his crew but so also did Captain Cobern of the Jane and Henry and John Harvey of the Red Rover. All three masters were called before the Hobart Town court, each on a different day, and fined five pounds with costs for ‘neglecting to keep sufficient watch’ on their ships.2

When the D’Oyly entourage – and Mr and Mrs Salting – joined the barque, dinners became a time for lively conversation. The D’Oylys and the Saltings shared a common interest in India. The Saltings were destined to become respectable pillars of Sydney’s society but in 1834, they were an adventurous young couple who had married just prior to booking their passages to Australia on the Meanwell. Severin was a 29-year-old Dutchman who had worked as a trader in India for 10 years. Back in London in 1833, he had married Louisa Fiellerup, whose Danish parents had also lived in India for a time.3 Although they were together only briefly, the D’Oylys and the Saltings got on well and the Saltings would later described Charlotte and Tom as an amiable couple.

Louisa was probably pregnant before the Meanwell left London. Unwilling to linger in the Van Diemen’s Land colony while their captain advertised and sold his cargo of merino rams, the Saltings transferred across to the barque, due to depart almost immediately for New South Wales. Louisa would certainly have been grateful for the presence of other women, as she had no female companion of her own.

While the D’Oylys were still sailing up the Derwent River, they passed the Indiana, out of Calcutta and still under the command of Captain Webster.4 She was carrying more India invalids and would return directly to Calcutta. It must have been a poignant moment for the D’Oylys. Had they delayed their stay in the colony for a few days, they could have booked return passages aboard her. Instead, they were now committed to a slower route on a much smaller vessel and the possibility of tramping around many ports.

With his stiff military bearing, Tom must have cut quite a dashing figure on his strolls around the deck. He would later be described by his nephew, William D’Oyly Bayley, as ‘a sensible and upright man; prudent from his earliest childhood; a clever artist; a fine soldier; and of a tall fair handsome person’.5 Charlotte was a more robust memsahib and her special talent was the gentle but crushing reprimand. The D’Oyly boys, George and William, were especially appealing with their delicate complexions and flaxen hair. George was a very handsome and friendly boy but William attracted more attention, for he had the unusually broad countenance of a perpetual ‘babyface’, virtually guaranteeing that others would judge him as younger than his years.

While it is certainly true that this is the only shipboard illustration I could find of an Indian ayah with her little charge, it is also true that it is a beautiful lithograph in its own right. The ayah is hovering protectively and the child looks spotlessly clean and well groomed. The cook in the ship’s galley is mixing pudding. Caption reads: ‘Christmas at Sea: the Captain’s pudding’. Drawn by C. Gregory. Illustrated London News, Christmas, 1877.

If you had to embark on a long sea voyage with children in those days, taking an Indian ayah (children’s nurse) with you was one way to make it more bearable. Even the most fervent Anglophile had to admit that the Indian traditional sari was a much more practical garment for cabin life than the extraordinary gowns being worn by their European mistresses, with their wide skirts bloated with petticoats and their puffy sleeves. It is probable that Charlotte did know her servant’s name. Yet her identity remains unknown. She probably slept in the children’s cabin and took her meals there alone. Ayahs rarely occupied a vacant cabin berth and never dined at the captain’s table. John Ireland would later describe her as a ‘servant girl’6 so it is possible that she was quite young but not necessarily childless. Ayahs almost invariably began their working lives as wet nurses to English mistresses, for whom breastfeeding was an irksome and exhausting chore. They stayed on to perform more general duties, including brushing and braiding their memsahib’s hair. We can only guess at how well Charlotte treated her children’s ayah, given that her grandmother had performed a similar duty for Princess Amelia. Perhaps she followed royal example and treated her as a confidante and friend.

Women's dress fashion in 1834.
Modes de Paris, Women’s dress fashion in 1834.

Three days after leaving Hobart Town, Tom D’Oyly celebrated his 40th birthday.7 Four days later the barque arrived in Sydney. The much smaller Jane and Henry was close behind. The Meanwell’s captain was still selling rams at Sullivan’s Cove.

By the time the Charles Eaton arrived at Sydney in July 1834, shipping trade with the Australian colonies was in a healthy state. Sponsored pauper passage had begun and would lead in time to an explosion in the number of emigrants. With the Swan River settlement recently established and two new colonies, at Port Phillip and South Australia, incubating into existence, it was a busy period in the country’s white colonisation. In addition, the Jane and Henry carried London newspapers containing the news that England’s convict hulks were being broken up. Over 8,000 prisoners (including the last 3,000 still left on the hulks) were about to proceed to Australia’s penal colonies.8

The wide harbour was remarkable on both sides for its many wooded coves and inlets but the pilot’s destination soon became obvious. To the west of Sydney Cove was a sandstone outcrop dotted with white cottages, to the east there were the Government House gardens, and to the south a number of tall warehouses. Behind the warehouses was a modern town. At anchor within the cove were a dozen or more merchant ships. Once the barque had secured her moorage, a military guard came on board and took up temporary residence in one of the cabins. His job was to prevent any cargo from being landed without proper clearance.9

If Moore had expected that his small barque would slip into the colony unnoticed, he was in for a surprise. Every merchant ship dropping anchor in or near Sydney Cove had her arrival noted by the shipping reporters of the colony’s four major newspapers. The Sydney Gazette also got in first and secured from Moore the latest news from Cape Town: “By the arrival of the ship Charles Eaton, we have received South African Advertisers down to the 3rd May. They do not contain much intelligence of particular interest.”10

So much for Cape Town. Four days after his arrival, Moore berthed his vessel at King’s wharf and the newspapers announced that he was trading, presumably straight off the ship with samples displayed on benches in the now-vacant second-class deck. At the same time, cargo consigned to Sydney had to be unloaded. Consignees already had their bills of lading and they began arriving at the wharf with their drays to collect their goods.

None of Gledstanes’ lead and calico found buyers, but there were still opportunities to sell it at Sourabaya, Singapore or Canton, for spices and China tea. Bright cotton calicoes were popular in South-East Asia while the Chinese market was also interested in cotton shirting calicoes and English woollen goods. The Chinese combined lead with tin alloy and pounded it into paper-thin sheets to line their tea chests. It is likely, however, that for the time being, the lead ingots were doing double duty as ballast. Lead was one of the few trade goods that the Chinese would accept and savvy merchants planning to trade at Canton for tea often found it convenient to have some ingots in their cargo holds.

Gledstanes had prepared for the voyage with great care. Formally, the HEIC had the monopoly on trade with Canton. They were the sole importers of China tea to England and they made huge profits from it. An Act of Parliament, passed in April 1834, made trade with Canton available to all British subjects. Gledstanes, confident that the Act was a certainty, had purchased a new ship to couple together the Australian and the Cantonese markets. In the past, many convict transporters and emigrant ships had collected tea from Canton on their homeward voyage, but always under contract to the HEIC. Some of them even went whaling for a time – under contract to the HEIC. The HEIC’s trading monopoly over China angered the residents of the Australian colonies, and they were delighted when the British Parliament revoked it. With Australian imports from England linked to Cantonese exports back to the motherland, the future of the Australian colonies was that much more secure. Australia had yet to seal its own export future with merino wool and minerals such as gold and tin. For the time being, tramping traders and transporters had to work hard to avoid an unprofitable return to England.

Based on a statement by Charlotte that they lived in Sydney during their stopover, the D’Oylys disembarked with the Saltings and went in search of a hotel room. Hot baths, comfortable beds and decent meals would have been the irresistible attractions. After only eight days at sea, Charlotte was already tired of living in cramped cabins with two little boys. There were many neat inns to choose from but since the Saltings finished up in a room at Cumming’s Hotel on Church hill, it’s likely that the D’Oylys went there too.

For artists, this was a popular view of Sydney from a hotel on the Rocks, c. 1834–1835. Published in Saturday Magazine, c. 1836.
View of Sydney from the Rocks in 1834, by Adolph Jean-Baptiste. Proportions would surely be wrong.
A 21st-century view of Sydney from a hill on the Rocks. Photograph by the author.

The Saltings had a more pressing need than a conveniently located hotel. With Louisa due to begin her confinement, they had to find a cottage as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, dwellings for rent in Sydney were hard to come by, and four weeks later, on 13 August, Louisa’s child was stillborn in her hotel room.11 One year later, on 15 August 1835, Louisa gave birth to a healthy son and the couple named him George. Their second son, William, was born 18 January 1837.12 Perhaps it was the young parents’ way of expressing fond memories of masters George and William D’Oyly.

‘Vue de Sydney’ c. 1834. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Lib raires-Editeurs, 1839.

Charlotte and Tom, for their part, had been doing a bit of soul-searching and had concluded that it would be better if their two oldest boys were sent to a boarding school. In a letter to her brother-in-law, received by him on 16 June,13 Charlotte raised with him the need to make further arrangements for her sons’ education. For Tom Jnr in particular, it was time to move him on to the next stage of his journey through life.

There had probably been a time when the D’Oylys had hoped that the boys would follow their father into the Bengal Army’s Addiscombe College. It is questionable whether Charlotte in particular still felt that way. She had shared her years at Chunar with almost 1000 young invalid soldiers – and they were the lucky ones who were still alive. Many young Addiscombe graduates died from cholera soon after their arrival on the subcontinent. It is unlikely that she would have wanted her sons to face that risk. One possibility she raised with her brother-in-law was the Charter House School in London.14 By 1834 it was establishing its reputation as one of the best public schools in England. Bayley had instantly attended to Charlotte’s wishes. He soon discovered, however, that it was now very difficult to get into Charter House. Besides, Tom Jnr was now 13 years old and already too old for entry.

Meanwhile, back on board the Charles Eaton the steward, William Montgomery, had penned a letter to his lady friend in Sourebaya, no doubt advising her of his pending arrival. At the same time George Armstrong had written to a male relative in Ireland. Both letters finished up in Sydney’s dead-letter office because whoever had been tasked with posting the letters had failed to purchase the necessary stamps.

The most likely candidate for the errand to the post office was John Ireland. Looking after the needs of the steward and the first-class passengers was part of his duties. He was a quiet lad but he could be grumpy and lazy. The harsh words likely to have been dished out by Montgomery and Armstrong must have left him feeling resentful at times. It’s likely, then, that he posted the letters but kept at least some of the stamp money to buy rare treats for himself. Armstrong could be pretentious. He insisted upon the title of Mr George Armstrong Esquire because his family owned land in Ireland. He was also enjoying the captain’s benevolence. No surprise then if his superior airs invited retaliation.

Barring a personality clash, it seems inevitable that the young lawyer, George Armstrong, and the second mate, William Mayor, would have been friends. They were about the same age and they were both financially well off, although Mayor had yet to receive his inheritance. They shared an interest in the shipping trade and had plans for adventurous careers. Like Charlotte, they would have been impressed with the prosperous town’s pleasant climate and perhaps even a little envious of the Saltings, with their commitment to putting down roots in Australia. It was certainly something the D’Oylys were considering. Tom’s brother, Robert, had already settled in New Zealand in the ultimately misguided belief that he would amass a fortune there.15 Charlotte and Tom, however, were still fretting about the lack of any news from their two oldest sons in Stockton. Five days after her arrival in Sydney, Charlotte posted her own two letters at the Sydney post office:

To Wm Bayley, Esq. Stockton, Durham.

I cannot refrain, my dear brother, from writing a few lines to you, that I may convince you the hearing of or from you forms one of our greatest pleasures, and so assured am I that you have a heart formed in nature’s finest mould, that when you are certain that the communicating with us does give us such true and sincere delight, such long silence will never occur again, surely I am not asking too much when I request to know of your welfare and that of your interesting family, twice in the year. The time may yet arrive, when I shall show by actions, not words, that your children are most interesting objects of our love – can we ever forget the offspring of him who has shewn kindness and affection to our absent boys – could we ever forget they have found a home where we could have wished, and as good as any we could most ardently desire – May God reward you and yours for all your kindness to them!

To shew how greatly my husband is liked by the heads of his department, I will tell you that since our departure from India, he has been promoted a step, at a time when we had no reason to expect it. This is highly gratifying to his feelings, as it openly shows the great estimation in which he is held. May he be blessed with sufficient health to enable us to remain a few years in India, to prove that the confidence placed in him is just, and to enable us to realise a competence to retire with. Hoping that you and your family are well, and that our darlings (the two boys) still hold your entire affection.

I remain, with our united love, your attached sister,

CHARLOTTE D’OYLY.

P. S. When we went in pursuit of health on my beloved D’Oyly’s account, do not suppose that we would not have bent our steps to England, to your abode, and to our children – how did inclination tempt us to do this! But Providence said, No.16

…..

Charlotte is chiding the hapless William Bayley, but her letter does contain clues to her emotions at the time. She guessed that her two oldest sons would wonder why their parents decided not to return to England. She disguised her feelings of guilt by focusing on what she perceived as neglect on her brother-in-law’s part, although she must have suspected that insufficient time for an exchange of letters was the real reason for the absence of mail. The D’Oylys had given Bayley no warning of their intention to go to New Norfolk. Both Bayley and the two older D’Oyly boys had continued to address their letters to Calcutta.

Charlotte’s second paragraph is that of a dutiful wife deflecting criticism from her husband by emphasising his value and ‘the great esteem in which he is held’. She also reminded her brother-in-law that Tom’s health had to take precedence over all other considerations if they were to ‘realise a competence to retire with’. The D’Oylys were not to know that the HEIC’s directors would soon change the rule to allow officers to retire on a full pension after only 23 years of service, and not the 25 years that they still believed. They were a lot, lot closer to comfortable retirement than they realised.

The guardianship of the children of those employed in the India service was always a heavy burden for stay-at-home relatives and Bayley was a widower with his own five children to raise. He had just turned 41 and was running one of the largest conveyancing practices in North Yorkshire. He had very little spare time on his hands. The Durham Chronicle (15 October. 1847) would say of him:

His countenance was the index of his mind—beaming with intelligence, cheerfulness, kindness, and generosity. He possessed a degree of soundness of judgment and clearness of intellect and ability which bespoke the man of highly-cultivated mind.

Whatever Bayley’s private opinion of the decision not to return to England for Tom’s sick leave, he publicly displayed equanimity. The last thing he needed was a chiding from Charlotte for neglect.

Charlotte’s second letter, despite its scolding tone, has become a heart-rending address to Tom Jnr and Edward:

Your father and myself are experiencing the deepest anxiety, my beloved children, in consequence of the length of time which has elapsed, since your last communications were received – Sometimes the painful idea haunts me, that time and absence have effaced us from your little minds, and that we are as entirely forgotten as though we had long since been dead. This thought is so sadly painful, that I try to drive it away, by recalling to mind your dear affectionate ways, when you were both but infants. I am loth to attribute your silence to mere idleness, for I hope that your minds are so properly trained that a wish formed by your parents will be considered in the light of a command, and that the performing of this command will be one of your greatest pleasures. To honour your father and mother, my children, is the command of God, the fulfilling of which carries a blessing along with it, and the neglect a curse. You cannot know how deeply we both feel our absence from you: a firm conviction that we were doing our duty in sending you to England, enabled us to put this separation into execution, and that for the benefit of your education; the same conviction alone enables us to bear up under it, for often, my boys, do tears of anguish flow down our cheeks, because our darlings are far far away; however, could we frequently hear of your health and happiness, our minds would be more reconciled and easy. I hope I have said enough to induce you to write regularly.

We quitted Hobart Town about a fortnight since, and after a week’s trip by sea arrived at this country – take your map, and you will trace our movements. We are now living in the capital of an immense country (Sydney) of which but little is known, possessing a lovely climate. What does not energy of mind accomplish – how does it overcome every obstacle ­– but a few years back, this spot was unknown to Europeans, it was inhabited by a race of blacks, who are now on the decrease, while the former are increasing wonderfully, and filling the country. Once this very spot was unacquainted with noise, now the bustle of a commercial city reigns throughout. Learn all that is in your power, for by wisdom and understanding all things can be accomplished.

We leave Sydney for Sourabaya next week, where we hope to meet with a ship direct for Calcutta, but we may visit many ports, before we arrive at dear Calcutta, however I am quite tired of this wandering life, and long to get settled. Your beloved father’s health is, through the bounty of a merciful God, quite restored, therefore in this respect I am happy – he is looking rosy and robust, but my heart trembles at returning on his account to the land of the sun, and should he suffer by it, nothing would induce me to remain longer there, for life with him is bliss, without him would be wretchedness extreme. Your brother George has become a fine healthy tall boy, very mild and amiable, and getting on in his studies. Little Willy is in the enjoyment of health, but too young to begin his lessons. And now, may God for ever bless my children – keep his commandments, and be his servants on earth, that at death you may enter into his eternal rest.

I ever am your most attached friend and mother,

CHARLOTTE D’OYLY

Oh what would I give, what would I not give, to kiss my absent lads – God for ever bless you – such is my constant prayer.17

….

….

Notes to Chapter 4

  1. Hobart Town Magazine, vol. III, no. 17, July 1834.
  2. Colonial Times, 15 July 1834. As a point of clarification, Harvey of the Red Rover had formerly been chief mate, but took over the captaincy after her original master, Captain Christie, was lost overboard on the voyage from the Cape. The position was later offered to one of the passengers, the experienced master mariner Captain Walker.
  3. Hazel King in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1788–1850, gen. ed. Douglas Pike, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967 p. 415. Severin, through his firm Flower, Salting & Co., became the wealthy owner of sheep stations and sugar plantations. He died in 1865.
  4. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 24 July 1834.
  5. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: D’Oyly Bayley, 1845, p. 155.
  6. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  7. IGI. Captain Tom D’Oyly was born 12 July 1794 at Wakefield in Yorkshire.
  8. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 15 July 1834. It was an optimistic report, for England’s prison hulks continued to exist for several more decades.
  9. ‘Port Regulations and Orders’, New South Wales Almanack, 1811, quoted in Alan Birch and David S. Macmillan (eds), The Sydney Scene 1788–1960, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1962.
  10. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 July 1834.
  11. Australian, 19 Aug. 1834.
  12. King, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, pp. 61–64.
  13. Bayley file, Bayley to Mrs Robert Williams, 24 June 1834, with reference to Charlotte’s letter, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  14. Known today as the Charterhouse School, relocated in 1872 to Godalming in Surrey. The original almshouse is still located behind St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London.
  15. William D’Oyly Bayley, 1845.
  16. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to William Bayley, 20 July 1834, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A.1074.
  17. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to Thomas and Edward D’Oyly, 20 July 1834, Dixon Libary, State Library of New South Wales, A.1074.

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…..

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Chapter 5: Torres Strait, the widow maker

‘George Street, Sydney’, c. 1834. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Lib raires-Editeurs, 1839.

….………

The sailors began their Sunday shore leave with a visit to the respectable side of Sydney and ended it by drifting back to the less censorious delights of the rocky outcrop known simply as The Rocks. Although the whole of the rocky outcrop on the western side of Sydney Cove was famous for its low life, most of the rowdy behaviour occurred on Sundays and centred on a row of crude wooden huts on Lower George Street near King’s wharf, where the ships’ crews hung out. All of the huts were taverns, with the ‘Rum Puncheon’ perhaps the best known and noisiest. On 21 July 1834, while the barque was still moored at King’s wharf, the Sydney Herald published the following remark:

A range of little wooden houses opposite the dock-yards are complained of as being the receptacles for drunkards, and so forth: on Sunday, singing, drinking and fighting are the engagements of the day. If the police were as vigilant as they are formidable, these nuisances would not exist in so public a situation.….

The dockyard taverns, however, were not the only source of complaint. Flights of steep steps gouged out of the rock led up from the dock to streets and yet more streets. Here the thirsty crews could take their choice of any number of hotels, or cosy cottages used as grog shops. They offered, as additional charms, reel-playing fiddlers, heavy-footed dancers and raunchy, out-of-tune singers. Captain Moore lost his boatswain and two of his crew to the boozy delights of The Rocks, and hired six new men to replace them. When, on the day he was scheduled to sail for Sourabaya (28 July, 1834), Moore signed the required customs certificate, this was his new composition of the crew:

Frederick George Moore, master; F. Grant, surgeon; Frederick Clare, chief mate; William Mayor, second mate; George Piggott, third mate & boatswain; William Perry, midshipman; Tom Ching, midshipman; John Carr, seaman; Charles Robinson, seaman; W. Hill, seaman. William Williams, sailmaker; John Barry (or Berry), seaman; Laurence Constantine, carpenter; George Lourne, seaman; William Montgomery, steward; William Jefferies, seaman; James Wright, seaman; William Grindall, seaman; Richard Quin, seaman; James Miller, seaman; Francis Quail (or Quinn), seaman; James Price, seaman; Samuel Moore, seaman; John Ireland, ship’s boy [plus John Sexton, ship’s boy]

John Sexton’s name was missing from the official copy of the crew list later issued by Governor Sir Richard Bourke and forwarded to Lord Glenelg at the Home Office. Perhaps it was a transcription error. Perhaps Moore assumed for a time the ship’s boy had absconded. Or perhaps Sexton was not aboard the barque when it arrived at Sydney. The omission would initially have vexing consequences but later copies of the crew list always included his name. The official document, witnessed as a true copy of the crew list and signed by the Customs House surveyor, Thomas Jeffrey, was subsequently ignored.1

Of the ship’s crew of 13 seamen, or ‘Jacks’ as they were frequently called, five had signed on at Sydney. One of the latter was James Price of Ireland. Another was William Hill, a resident of Sydney. The remaining three were Richard Quin, aged 29, from County Wexford in Ireland, James Wright, aged 19, from Edinburgh in Scotland, and William Grindall, a 22-year-old Englishman from Whitehaven.

In the crowded fo’c’s’le that served as the crew’s quarters, these five men were still outsiders because they were newcomers. Like so many of the boozy sailors rehired at Sydney by captains to replace their own absconded crew, they could be insolent, disloyal and self-serving. Their allegiance was to their third officer and boatswain, George Piggott, who had also just been hired at Sydney.2 William Hill was an exception; he blended in with the original crew.

Moore clearly had some concerns about his men. The Sydney Monitor twice published the standard notice from him advising that he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by his crew. Captains were heartily sick of the pimps and touts who preyed on drunken sailors and encouraged them to spend all their wages in advance. They would then front up to their victims’ captains with hefty invoices, demanding payment for services rendered. Sydney’s Rocks area was notorious for that kind of over-servicing.

Of more interest to Moore once the crew had been sorted out was a notice posted at the abandoned navy dockyard next to King’s wharf, where it could be seen by any sailors who went there to fill their water kegs at its taps:

It being intended that His Majesty’s Ship Alligator should sail for India forty-eight hours after her arrival from Norfolk Island, proceeding through Torres’ Straits, Captain Lambert will be happy to convoy any ships going that route, should the masters of them wish to avail themselves of the opportunity.3

HMS Alligator would be departing too soon to be of benefit to Moore. The notice was a timely reminder all the same of the dangers ahead – and one that the captain heeded now that he was about to proceed with his ship to the Strait. Moore was a professional navigator and he was confident of his skills. He was unhappy with the chart he had brought with him from London, and obtained a copy of a map compiled by Captain Samuel Ashmore – Sydney master mariner and ship owner. It was Tracks through the Barrier Reefs of N.S.W. by Capt. Ashmore and Others 1822 to 1830 and it roughly indicated a number of passages through the Barrier Reef that had been used previously by ships approaching the Torres Strait.4

Mariners were well aware of the Strait’s reputation as a ship-wrecker and they greatly feared it. It cried out for a properly surveyed chart, with every obstacle and deep-water channel laid down. No such chart yet existed. Most mariners knew, however, that one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk was to pass through the strait in the company of another ship. If one vessel founded on a reef, the other would be on hand to rescue the crew. The Jane and Henry’s master, Captain Cobern, had originally planned to sail on 25 July for Batavia, but decided to leave in company with Moore instead. There is some reason for believing that Cobern had no chart of the Barrier Reef entrances and was relying on Moore to act as his guide.

Moore had failed to secure any bales of merino wool for the return journey, or even any of His Majesty’s troops. Nor was he freighting any whale oil. In his hold, there were still 37 bales of woollens, seven cases of muslins, the 410 lead ingots, and a large quantity of calico bales. Of Gledstanes’ own adventure cargo, Moore had sold their alcohol at Sydney – and little else.5 Based on his projected route, there is good reason to believe that this had been Moore’s expectation all along. As a former officer in the HEIC’s merchant navy, he had ample first-hand knowledge of South-East Asian trade. By calling at Sourabaya, he would very likely sell more of his cargo, while at the same time picking up freight (rice, spice, sandalwood) for either Singapore or Canton. He could then restock his hold with Chinese exports such as tea, silk and china goods. The barque was primarily a tramp trader and its prospects were now very good. In the first year after the abolition of the HEIC’s trading monopoly, the export of China tea to Britain increased by about 30 per cent.

Satellite photo showing both the inner and outer passages up the coast of Queensland to the Torres Strait.
NASA satellite photo showing the clear waters of the outer route at the top right and the Queensland coastline at bottom left. In the middle you can see the massive Great Barrier Reef and King’s inner passage, on the land side of the reef. There are some islands and other obstructions but the route was carefully charted by Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King. Despite that, many mariners continued to use the outer route. When they were almost parallel with the Torres Strait they would have to pass through the uncharted reef.

The Charles Eaton and the Jane and Henry left Sydney together on 29 July and headed up the eastern coast of Australia on the ocean side of the Great Barrier Reef. The alternative route between the reef and the coast had been well surveyed by Phillip Parker King R.N. King was a vigorous advocate of the inner route and he was held in high regard as a hydrographer. Despite this, most British merchant ships used the outer route. They were exposing their ships to boisterous weather but the open sea was largely free of hidden hazards. All mariners agreed, however, that the main drawback to the outer route was the great risk involved in finding a safe passage through the Great Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait. If, at the time of approach, bad weather blew up and reduced visibility, the chance of dashing the ship against a reef was very high.6

For the first two days of their voyage, the crew aboard the Charles Eaton enjoyed fine weather and favourable winds. On the third day, an accident briefly disrupted their pleasant routine. Chief mate Clare was guiding an anchor onto its hook at the bow when the pole he was using snapped and he toppled overboard. John Ireland later described his rescue. ‘We immediately stopped work and let down the boat,’ he said, ‘and he being an excellent swimmer, was able to keep up until the boat reached him.’7

Lowering the quarter deck boat to rescue a man overboard.
‘Man Overboard!’ Artist: Frank Brangwyn. Black and white engraving by E. H. Del’Orme. Scriber’s Magazine, vol. 14, no. 1, July 1893.

On the day following Clare’s accident, a gale replaced the pleasant breezes. The Jane and Henry was too slow to keep up with the much larger barque,8 whose sails soon vanished below the horizon. If the two ships really were sailing together for safety, as reported in the Sydney press, then Moore’s action in forging ahead of his companion vessel was foolhardy to say the least.

On the fifth day of the voyage, William D’Oyly celebrated his third birthday. John Ireland, who watched the two brothers playing together in the cabin passage as he went about his chores, guessed that George was eight years old and thought that William was aged about 15 months.9 Willy, as his mother called him, grizzled a lot and may have been prone to seasickness. His older brother had a milder disposition and was a much more stoic child.

For almost nine months, the crew made do with the fo’c’s’le. Now at last the steerage and most of the cabins were empty. There was plenty of space for the men to spread out. Up in the poop the cuddy had also become more convivial. Even the usually inconspicuous George Armstrong seems to have loosened up and joined in the party mood. The barque was still carrying some casks of wine and beer for onboard consumption. Unlike water, which turned foul on long voyages, it improved with age.

When his barque was almost parallel with Cape York Peninsula, at the northern tip of Australia, Moore changed course and sailed back towards the mainland. On the evening of 14 August 1834, the barque was close to the point where Moore planned to cross through a gap in the Barrier Reef then proceed to the Torres Strait. Although there are many safe channels through the Great Barrier Reef, merchant vessels in the 1830s used a group of four or five tracks,10 between latitudes 12°8′ and 11°47′ south. Sir Charles Hardy’s Island is one of the few islands off Cape York Peninsula that mariners could clearly see from the Reef. There are actually two islands close together, but sailors in the early nineteenth century referred only to the larger island. A lofty chunk of volcanic rock, it was an important landmark for early mariners, who took their bearings from it before attempting a crossing.

One of the tracks in the group near Sir Charles Hardy’s island is via the Indefatigable entrance, named after the first vessel to use it. Although popular for a time, it was a risky choice for an entrance. A large detached reef lies in the path of any vessels approaching it from an easterly direction.11 This reef is about 12 miles (20.8 km) long and bears southwest to northeast.12 It snakes along the general line of the Great Barrier Reef and can be considered part of it, although it has its own name as the Great Detached Reef. This is no small, submerged rock ready to trap the unwary, but a massive obstruction that ships can avoid without difficulty – providing visibility is good.

Reducing canvas to slow down speed.
‘Stowing a Topsail’. Artist: Frank Brangwyn. Black-and-white engraving by E H. Del’Orme. Scriber’s Magazine, vol. 14, no. 1, July 1893.

When Moore sighted Sir Charles Hardy’s Island, it was raining and blowing a gale. Not wishing to pass through the Great Barrier Reef at night, he ordered the reefing of the topgallant sails, to reduce canvas and slow his vessel down. ‘However, at daylight the next morning we again set sail,’ said John, ‘although the wind was very high and the water getting rough’. Even the cabin boy, blessed with the wisdom of hindsight, thought that the captain was being foolhardy. There were so many heavy clouds that Moore was unable to take a reading for latitude. Yet it would appear that he had managed to line up his vessel for a direct approach from the east to what he fairly calculated was the Indefatigable entrance. We can assume, too, that Moore placed lookouts at the mastheads. Armed with that necessary precaution, Moore steered boldly for the entrance, unaware of the hidden obstacle lying directly in his path.

The Barrier Reef is a magnificent spectacle. The closer you get to it, the more it presents itself as an unbroken line of white surf, as waves hit the coral and shoot up into the air in clouds of spray. Nineteenth-century mariners, with no accurate charts to guide them, sailed parallel to the white spray and the foaming waves at a safe distance until they encountered a wide gap of calm sea. Moore found such a gap in the surf and assumed from his charts that it was the Indefatigable entrance. He was mistaken. The Great Detached Reef bends and twists and must have created the illusion that there was a gap that he could safely pass through.

At the wheel in gale conditions was the work of two men.
‘At the Wheel’. Artist: Frank Brangwyn. Black-and-white engraving by E. H. Del’Orme. Scriber’s Magazine, vol. 14, no. 1, July 1893.

By the time Moore realised his error, it was already too late. The helmsman attempted to tack, but the barque responded slowly, continuing to bear down upon the breakers. There was, however, still time to prevent a collision – or so it appeared. The crew dropped both anchors and fully played them out. They found no holding seabed. There was too much depth on the seaward side of the reef. The barque ploughed into the reef with a splintering, sickening crunch. Her keel and rudder dragged and splintered across the coral until it wrenched them off and the sea carried their remains away. She fell broadside and the sea briefly swallowed her. When the waves receded, debris littered the upper deck. The large longboat, carelessly tethered it would seem, had slid across the deck and been dashed to pieces against the bulwark (railing). The tiny jolly boat had suffered a similar fate. The two small cutters on the quarterdeck, however, were secure and they both survived the collision intact.

Charlotte D’Oyly was in her cabin, trying to drinking a cup of coffee essence while William slept beside her in one of the bunks. She would have known that the barque was approaching the most perilous part of the journey, would have heard the roar of the waves. John Ireland was going about his chores when the sea flooded into the cabins. Within seconds, a panicking Charlotte joined him. ‘The distracted mother instantly ran on deck in alarm,’ he later reported. ‘I went into the cabin, where I saw the poor child [William] washed out of its berth, and crying on the floor.’ Fearing he would drown, John carried the boy to his mother, who thereafter never gave him up to another’s care. In a similar way, Tom now attached himself firmly to George. Faced with such overwhelming and immediate peril, Charlotte and Tom made the safety and survival of their sons their paramount concern.

.

Cutting down the mast. A great 19th-century engraving of a shipwrecked timber ship. Illustrated London News, 6 Nov. 1880.

Sailors were accustomed to dealing with emergencies and once they were over their initial shock they tended to act with commendable speed. At this point, said John, the chief mate ‘cut away the masts’.13 It was a common response to a shipwreck, since the combined weight of the superstructure, including rigging and sails, was considerable. Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King was in no doubt that Clare cut away at least some of the masts. Clare’s swift action made no difference to the barque’s perilous position, and she remained impaled upon the reef.14

A quick inspection revealed that the hull was broken and water flooding into the hold and lower deck had already completely spoiled everything they contained. The vessel was unquestionably doomed. Fortunately, the upper decks were reasonably intact, ‘though there was so much danger from the water rising,’ said John, ‘that everyone expected to be washed over.’ The situation called for calm and order. Instead, Captain Moore announced that the barque was lost and ‘ordered the boats to be got ready and furnished with provisions, to save the ship’s company and try to reach Timor.’ He expressed regret, said John, at the ‘stern necessity which urged him to such a step in such a sea.’ There was just one problem. The smaller of the two cutters could safely carry about six people, while the larger cutter could probably squeeze in a dozen. The other two boats were shattered and useless. If the 13 sailors carried out the captain’s orders, most of them would be left behind to perish.

There was so much confusion it was inevitable that conflicting accounts would emerge. One thing all eyewitnesses agreed on: when the crew launched the small cutter, too hastily and unwisely, one of the newcomers, James Price, leapt aboard her, only to drown in the heavy surf when it immediately swamped as it hit the water.

In the wake of the disaster with the small cutter, Moore came to his senses. The Charles Eaton had settled on the reef and there was a good chance her upper decks would remain intact for some time. It would be pointless to launch the second boat in the heavy swell. Instead, he announced without acceptable alternative, they would hold onto the ship. At least some of the crew, however, had a different plan. Three of them tossed a couple of kegs of stores and the carpenter’s tools into the remaining cutter, released it from its lashings and safely launched it. ‘They thought only of themselves and made no attempt to assist those on board but after getting what they could from the wreck made off,’ said John, and he was still angry about it many years later.

The men who took the large cutter later staunchly maintained that the captain and the two mates were present at what would otherwise have been an impossibly hasty and surreptitious launch on such a crowded deck, but their account conflicts with the cabin boy’s later claim that they selfishly seized the boat. What we do know is that a strong current caught the boat, sweeping it away and depositing it on the leeward side of the reef. Its occupants were Laurence Constantine, the American carpenter, the boatswain and acting third officer, George Piggott, and the 22-year-old English sailor, William Grindall. One of the men in the cutter later gave this version of the reaction to their departure: ‘…the Captain and the officers were asked to join, they refused however to do so, saying the boat had no chance of escape’.15 The rest of the crew and the hapless passengers received no such invitation.

Grave peril. A timber ship breaking up after being wrecked. The Graphic, 1 March, 1872, double-page spread, left side.

Suddenly someone spotted another vessel, about three or four miles (five or six kilometres) to windward. For a brief moment, everyone thought that rescue was already at hand, and cried out with joy and relief. Then they realised that she, too, was stuck on the reef, with her masts standing, royal yard arms crossed and sails set.16 John heard Moore confess ‘that he was sorry he had not made use of his own chart, instead of one that he bought at Sidney [sic], lest there might be any mistake in his own.’17

As the day wore on and the tide receded, calm and discipline prevailed. The passengers inspected the flooded cabins at the stern and were heartened to find that their circumstance, though grim, was not yet hopeless. The D’Oylys still had a large chest of dry clothing, although Armstrong was not so lucky. All his spare clothes were lost. There were some kegs of salted pork, plus water, biscuits and beer. Incredibly, the steward recovered some unbroken wine glasses from the cabin pantry. The poop was badly damaged but it was still capable of providing shelter.

The sailors were a good deal less fortunate, for their sleeping quarter was at the bow. Fo’c’s’les, as every sailor could testify, were barely fit for human habitation. Even under the most favourable conditions, they were dirty, smelly, wet, cramped and dark. Now, however, one side of the bow was a gaping hole. The men who sought shelter in the fo’c’s’le were cold and uncomfortably wet – and with nightfall, they were exceedingly frightened. Above the howl of the wind and the din of the sea, they could still hear the sounds of more and more planks being wrenched from the sides of the hull. As John put it: ‘we felt that we were approaching nearer and nearer to a death from which we could not hope to escape’. The superiority of the stern cabins, however, was an illusion. With each strong wave, more bits of it tore off and washed away.

Dawn brought relief and a surprise. The cutter containing the carpenter and the two other sailors was still in the lee of the reef. Having no grapnel with which to secure their boat, the men had held their position by rowing all night. In the aftermath of the wreck, the panicking seamen had launched themselves to safety in a boat then waited around to see what happened next. Once their terror had subsided, they were reluctant to leave their ship’s vicinity, hoping perhaps for a rescue ship or a miracle. In the ocean’s seemingly endless emptiness, the disintegrating wreck was still their familiar hearth and home.

Two of the sailors on the wreck now decided to take their chances with the cutter, by swimming across the reef. They were Richard Quin and James Wright. John, however, believed that Quin and Wright had conspired with Constantine and Piggott, and that the three men in the cutter were simply biding their time and waiting until it was safe for their two friends to join them. Since both these men also joined the barque at Sydney, the cabin boy’s version does have credibility. That four newcomers were among the five men in the cutter is unlikely to have been a coincidence. They were ‘loose cannon’ not yet tied by bonds of respect or friendship to Moore and their new shipmates. Of those in the cutter, only Constantine had been with the barque for the whole of her voyage.

Six other sailors also dived off the wreck and swam over the reef towards the cutter. As soon as Quin and Wright reached the boat, however, it immediately sailed away. The cutter was big enough to take another six men but it had barely enough stores to keep five men alive for several weeks. The men in the cutter were not interested in trying to save as many people as possible, John thought. They were only interested in saving themselves. One of the cutter’s occupants (unidentified) later claimed that their last view of the Charles Eaton ‘shewed part of the lower and upper deck beam standing high out of the water, part of the poop however was standing, in which it appeared as if the crew and passengers had taken shelter.’18 Quin, however, stated that when he abandoned the barque all of the passengers and crew were gathered together on the f’c’s’le deck at the bow.19 As for the six sailors who had also tried to reach the cutter, they returned to the wreck dripping water and venom, in no doubt that they had been cruelly abandoned. Captain Moore and the D’Oylys, however, had witnessed their willingness to flee the scene.

A day or two later the poop finally disintegrated and much of it was carried away by the surf. Charlotte and Tom had managed to rescue their chest of clothing before their cabin flooded and they now donated its contents to the general pool. John later expressed gratitude for ‘the kind manner in which they requested us to make use of any of their clothes, part of which were the only ones saved’. The cabin passengers on the crowded main deck were rubbing shoulders with rough sailors and a spirit of equality appeared to prevail.

The men had a consultation about what to do next and it was at this point that Tom D’Oyly probably took a more prominent role. Tom had spent two years at the HEIC’s Addiscombe College and his studies had included civil engineering. He knew how to construct anything from the simplest of rafts to pontoons, bridges, dams, survival distilleries, roads and artillery fortifications – and had the training to do it with whatever materials and tools were at hand. He also must have had the mechanical engineering knowledge necessary for maintaining his ordnance. He could confidently assure Moore that they would be able to use the materials around them to make a raft big enough to take them all. The plan was to sail the raft to the mainland, some 40 miles (66 km) away. By sailing northwards up the coast they might, with luck, reach the mouth of Escape River. If they found fresh water there, along with some shellfish and roots, it would dramatically improve their chances of survival. There was also a chance that a passing ship’s crew would spot their raft.

According to John, everyone went on a daily ration of a few pieces of broken biscuit and two wine-glassfuls of water, while the men set to work on building the raft. There were, however, still a few casks of salted pork, wine and beer. There were those on the wreck who ate broken biscuits and there were those who probably fared a little better.

With the steerage deck awash, the main deck was now the only place where everyone could safely congregate. It also had to hold the few provisions that they had managed to save, plus the materials they needed for the raft. There was so little space that people kept bumping into each other.20 The raft was limited in its dimensions by the size of the space available for the men to work. The other problem was the very small supply of water and someone hit upon the idea of constructing an evaporation plant. The steward kept the quarter galley coppers filled with seawater. A funnel was fashioned to channel the steam through a long condensation pipe, and the fresh drinking water that dripped from its end was collected in casks and bottles. The spare masts and spars and much of the timber had coatings of tar, so dry woodchip was available. Of the coal hole I’m not so sure. It was well and truly under water. John Ireland was probably involved with the steward in the simple but important task of keeping the galley fire burning, for he later stated with some pride that the condensed water was ‘one of the greatest helps during our stay upon the wreck.’

The most useful description of what conditions must have been like on the wreck was supplied by John, when he mentioned that the steerage had been flooded to a depth of about four feet (1.2 metres), with everything else above that level still high and dry (so to speak). Everyone had to find their own cubbyholes in what was left of the fo’c’s’le and the poop, with crates and sheets of calico doubtless providing additional protection from the elements. The main deck at night must have resembled a makeshift camp. During those long, dark and sometimes squally nights aboard the wreck, the passengers, the surgeon and the captain would have stuck together in a huddle for mutual comfort and there is a very good chance that they plotted their own survival. Next time, if needs be, it would be women and children first.

August can be an unsettling month in the region where the survivors were marooned, with clear skies repeatedly invaded by storm-bearing clouds. On particularly fine days, with the sun on their faces and the wind flapping their sleeves, it must have been easy for the now industrious party to believe that providence would be kind. Their ship had settled into the reef and was holding fast, in a conspicuous position on the sea route from Sydney to South-East Asia. The reef was reachable and there were many strong men to rummage around underwater for edible crustaceans. Other sailors may have rigged up fishing lines and dangled them over the side. Despair had given way to a glimmer of hope. Everyone wanted to believe they could survive the disaster that had befallen them.

John thought that it took about seven days to build the raft, although later events suggest it was probably much less than that.21 They were greatly hampered in their labour by not having any carpenter’s tools since Constantine had taken them with him. They had to make do with axes, knives and ropes. With so many willing pairs of hands at work, it must have been quite a raft. It had to be. Their survival depended upon it.

With each high tide, the barque lost a few more of her timber planks and as the days passed, it became a cause for increasing alarm. At low tide, the men swam through the hatches and down into the hold, trying to find any stores or water casks that might have been overlooked on previous dives. They found nothing except some calico, which Williams the sail maker used to make the raft’s sail. As for the kegs of water and stores, most of it had long since floated away. By the light from the holed hull and the open hatches, the swimmers would have seen many reef fish, already exploring the unexpected addition to their territory.

Throughout their long ordeal aboard the disintegrating wreck, Charlotte D’Oyly and her Indian nurse remained remarkably calm, expressing gratitude for services rendered and with Charlotte and Tom ‘extolling the sailors to further effort’. In later years, John would forget many of the details of his time on the shipwreck but he did remember their encouraging words of praise.

By the time the raft was finished, stores were very low and everyone knew it was time to go. They could no longer afford to wait around for the Jane and Henry or any other rescue ship. They gently lowered the raft into the water and the D’Oylys, their ayah, Armstrong, the surgeon and the captain climbed down onto it. Moore’s dog, shaggy-haired Portland, also took to the water. He was an excellent long-distance swimmer and loyally followed his master. He was also, potentially, fresh meat. Also on the raft was a basket containing all of the distilled water, a cask of pork and some beer (or possibly broken biscuit). Then the crew scrambled down to the raft and they cut its holding ropes and let it drift away.

As soon as they reached deep water, it was clear the raft was not buoyant enough to take them all. It sank beneath them until they were standing waist-deep in water, and it was so unstable that it threatened to capsize. In a panic, the men turned around and frantically paddled back to the wreck. One frightened sailor carelessly jettisoned a basket containing provisions. The two mates, Clare and Mayor, then led the way for their crew by climbing back onto the wreck, while Moore remained on the raft with the passengers and the surgeon. The steward, Montgomery, was unable or unwilling to abandon his role as the passenger’s servant. John, however, preferred to follow the chief mate. Two strong seamen, Lourne and Berry, also remained on the raft. In the end there were 11 people on the raft while 10 men, the two midshipmen and the two ship’s boys returned to the wreck.22 To prevent the raft from drifting away, it was firmly attached to the stern with a new rope.

It is possible now to view the first raft as a planned-for contingency, albeit ultimately executed out of genuine necessity. Its occupants included all of the passengers and the two most senior members of the ship’s company, Captain Moore and Surgeon Grant. Montgomery was the passengers’ servant and two strong seamen handled the heavy oars. The first raft had also taken all of the water, most of the weapons and the bulk of the food supplies.

By nightfall, the sailors on the wreck were asleep, satisfied that Moore would not abandon them. Tomorrow, he had promised them, they would begin work on strengthening the raft so that it could take them all. Either that or they would build a second raft. Common sense dictated that Moore should set sail and go. For the D’Oyly family the predicament must have been increasingly ridiculous. Waves over the reef would have been bouncing them against what was left of the stern, with Charlotte and Tom struggling to protect and comfort their two terrified sons in the face of this new but still unbearable peril. William, in particular, would have been sobbing throughout the entire ordeal. At some time in the middle of the night, when all the sailors were asleep, someone slashed the rope that tethered the raft to the stern. When the crew awoke next morning, the raft and its occupants had vanished.

….….

Notes to Chapter 5

  1. Historical Records of Australia, vol. XVIII, p. 575. Also Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton…, 2nd Edn, Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 47. The official crew list from the customs office included William Hill and omitted John Sexton, while the Batavia deposition of the four surviving sailors, omitted Hill and included Sexton. It was based on the crew list ex-London and contained several mistakes.
  2. For information about the crew ex-London see Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 4.
  3. Sydney Herald, 14 July 1834.
  4. Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Hist. Soc. of Qld, 24 February 1983; Samuel Ashmore, letter dated 13 May 1836, Nautical Magazine, vol. 6, no. 4. pp. 211–14.
  5. Sydney Monitor, 30 July 1834.
  6. See for example Phillip Parker King, letter, 1 December 1832, Nautical Magazine, vol. 11, no. 18, August 1833, pp. 433–35.
  7. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 8. All quotes attributed to John in this chapter come from this book. His oral account, however, has been either refined by the publisher or adapted from other published sources. Because it’s a small book I have chosen not to endnote every quote.
  8. Phillip Parker King, Voyage to Torres Strait in search of the Survivors of the Ship “Charles Eaton”…, Preface, Sydney: the NSW Govt., 1837.
  9. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  10. They included the Nimrod Passage, Brown’s Passage, Stead Passage and the Indefatigable entrance. Of these, the Stead Passage was arguably the most popular with mariners because it was almost due east of Sir Charles Hardy’s Island and therefore easier to locate. Its main disadvantage was Yule Reef, which lay in the path of approach from the southeast and had to be carefully avoided.
  11. The Indefatigable (Master Matthew Bowles, retired Lieutenant RN) left Sydney on 13 July 1815 in company with two other vessels. Bowles stumbled across a passage through the reef more by luck than skill and the three ships were almost immediately surrounded by a labyrinth of dangerous sand bars and reefs. They spent the next two or three days torturously weaving a zigzag track through the reefs until finally rounding Cape York Peninsula. That the Indefatigable passage was subsequently indicated on some maps was perhaps regrettable, given that there were better tracks. For an account of the Indefatigable’s voyage see Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait: A maritime history of the Torres Strait route and the ships’ post office at Booby Island, Roebuck Society Publication no. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, pp. 45–48.
  12. J. Beete Jukes, M.A. F.G.S. Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Fly…, 2 vols, vol. 1, London: T. & W. Boone, New Bond Street. 1847, p. 328. Jukes supplies this description of the Great Detached Reef: ‘Six miles N.N.E. of Yule Reef there commences a large detached reef of irregular outline, twelve miles long from north to south, bounded on three sides by an almost continuous mass of reef, but open on its western or leeward side, where is an irregular-shaped bank of soundings, with patches of reef upon it. Inside the lagoon of this detached reef there is a depth of 20 to 30 fathoms, but outside the reef the depth is very much greater, and generally unknown. There is a passage five miles wide between this detached reef and the line of the Barrier, in which bottom was reached in two places, once with 105 and once with 135 fathoms, fine sand being brought up on the lead. On other places ineffectual soundings were tried with 130 and 150 fathoms of line.’
  13. Phillip Parker King, Voyage to Torres Strait in search of the Survivors of the Ship “Charles Eaton”…, Preface, Sydney: NSW Govt., 1837, p. v.
  14. It may be useful to compare Clare’s action with that of the chief mate aboard the Stirling Castle, wrecked on Eliza Reef on 25 May 1836: ‘To ease her, Baxter suggested cutting the main rigging, and soon after this was done a violent surge carried away the mainmast complete with the foretopmast and all the complicated superstructure of a ship in full sail.’ In Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 28. This action of cutting the rigging to bring down the masts was described as contriving to ‘cut away the masts’ in ‘Wreck of the Stirling Castle’, Tales of Travellers; or A View of the World, no. 48. 2 Sept. 1837. Other stories of that era, however, indicate that in particularly perilous circumstances some of the masts were literally felled like trees.
  15. Australian, 3 May 1836.
  16. Phillip Parker King’s belief that this was the wreck of the Flora (grounded on Detached Reef 1 May 1832) has been queried because it’s difficult to see how she could have survived intact for more than two years. Her captain, Sheriff, described extensive damage to her rigging even before the crew abandoned her. (Nautical Magazine, vol. II, Oct. 1833, pp. 595–98.). The captains of the Strathfieldsay and the Asia sighted a wreck high on Detached Reef in September 1833, when they were passing through the Indefatigable entrance. It was then in such a sound condition as to appear to have only recently been abandoned by her crew. (Nautical Magazine, vol. III, no. 34, p. 712). Then the ship Othello with the barque Planter in company approached the Detached Reef on 23 May, 1834, and Surgeon Mitchell of the Othello reported in his journal:…‘we saw within the reef upon a sand bank the wreck of a large ship her lower masts & Topmast were standing with yards across and the sails had been blown away from them the boltsprit Jib and flying jib boom were standing the sails stowed, the fore and main spencers were brailed up the bulwarks break of the poop and every thing on deck appeared to be washed away she was lying upon her beam ends and appeared to have been lost recently’. At the time of their approach to the Indefatigable entrance, visibly was so poor that the two vessels tacked back and forth for three days before they were game to tackle the entrance. Even so, they had no difficulty in sighting the wreck. The description of the location of the wreck is consistent with that of the Flora’s final resting place. The crew and sole female passenger of the Flora took to the longboat and they did make it safely to Timor.
  17. If Moore’s own chart was an Admiralty chart, he would not have been much better served, since it, too, gave only a rough idea of the Detached Reef’s dimensions. Moore’s action in bearing away to the reef under adverse conditions was one for which he alone was responsible. Alluding to the dangers of such an action when approaching the Barrier Reef from the outer passage, Phillip Parker King wrote of ‘the possibility, nay, the probability, of thick weather preventing the sight of the land-marks, or, of not being able to procure an observation for the latitude, without which no prudent navigator would feel justified in venturing to bear away to leeward, for any particular passage through the Barrier Reef’ (Nautical Magazine, vol. II, no. 18, 1833, p. 434.)
  18. Australian, 3 May 1836.
  19. William Bayley file, Batavia deposition, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A.1074. The sailors’ Batavia deposition was copied by Gledstanes & Co. and circulated to interested relatives.
  20. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 13.
  21. Although seven days seems a long time to build a raft, the party may have delayed starting in the belief the Jane and Henry would rescue them.
  22. One account by John Ireland puts 10 people on the first raft and 15 left behind on the wreck. Based on the names he supplied at different times, however, there would have been 11 people on the first raft and 14 on the wreck.

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Part Two: the long wait for news

Chapter 6: Bad Tidings about the Charles Eaton

 

by Veronica Peek

……...

On 27 August 1834, 29 days after leaving Sydney,1 the Jane and Henry was still bobbing and tossing along the outer route and had not yet passed through the Great Barrier Reef and into the inner passage. A fierce tropical storm on 22 August would also have slowed her progress. A faster vessel was bound to overtake her and the first one to appear over the horizon was the 412-ton ship Augustus Caesar, ex-Sydney 10 August, under the command of Captain William Wiseman.

Wiseman’s ship fell in with the Jane and Henry and the two vessels proceeded in company through one of the more southern entrances in the region of Sir Charles Hardy’s Island, and into the inner passage. For the next four or five days the two masters guided their ships through a maze of reefs near the tip of Cape York Peninsula, taking constant soundings and seeking safe night anchorage.

NASA satellite image of the tip of Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait, showing the maze of islands, islets, coral reefs and sand banks to the right of the entrance. Navigating through them without a proper chart was a terrifying experience for mariners.

Wiseman was a seasoned master and well aware of the dangers of the route.2 In 1829 he had been master of the barque Lucy Davidson on the London–Sydney route, and in 1832, he had been in command of the convict transport ship Isabella. He had an experienced crew on this voyage and he approached the Torres Strait with caution. On 31 August, the two vessels rounded the corner into Torres Strait and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the Augustus Caesar anchored on the lee side of Nalgi.

Nalgi, also known then as Double Island but now called Twin Island, is in the centre of the main passage through the Torres Strait and about 20 nautical miles north of the tip of Cape York. Having anchored for the night, Wiseman allowed his second mate, Hartley, to go ashore with two of his men. They were shocked to discover that a beach on the southeastern side of the island was strewn with ship’s wreckage. Spread out along the sand was a quantity of light driftwood, including cuddy doors and windows and two planks from the side of a ship. Hartley and his men set off and walked around the island but could find no trace of the main wreck, or any of the passengers or crew. After three hours, they returned to their ship to report their find. According to Wiseman:

They brought with them a window frame, a keg and other fragments of wreck, sufficient to convince me it was the Charles Eaton, and that she must be at a considerable distance to windward of Double Island, probably near Mount Adolphus, Cape York, or the reefs or Islands in their vicinity, they being directly to Windward.3

The window was probably from one of the barque’s stern cabins. There were also several brass locks with her name upon them that must have been attached to the wreckage of doors or windows, while one of the kegs had the name CHARLES EATON written on it. The Augustus Caesar and the Charles Eaton were moored together at the St Katharine’s dock for many weeks and Wiseman was familiar with the barque’s appearance. He was in no doubt that the wreckage had come from her.

Booby Island in the Torres Strait. National Library of Australia

The crew of the Augustus Caesar then spent what must have been a nervous night anchored off Nalgi. The saw a number of fires on nearby Maururra (Wednesday Island) that might have been lit by survivors from the shipwreck, yet no one considered it safe to investigate. For whatever reason, Wiseman also failed to tell Captain Cobern and the crew of the Jane and Henry about the wreckage. The following morning the two vessels proceeded through the strait and anchored at Booby Island.

Booby Island is a rock near the main shipping route through the Torres Strait, regularly visited in those days by the crews of European ships. They were giving themselves, as Captain Stokes RN later wrote on his visit there, ‘a short period of repose and relaxation after the anxieties and danger of the outer passage’.4 The rock is invaded every year by colonies of nesting boobies. Its most noticeable feature is the bird droppings that cover its summit, hence the name given to it independently by both Captain William Bligh and Captain James Cook. It was also the first stop for any survivors shipwrecked on the Barrier Reef. Wiseman sent officers and some of his crew ashore but they found no trace of any castaways. Cobern now learned for the first time of the fate of his former companion vessel and that Wiseman’s men had found a cuddy door and a cask labelled Charles Eaton. He was unaware that the debris was at Nalgi, and assumed it was on Booby Island.

The Jane and Henry continued on to Batavia (now Jakarta) and remained there for six weeks before returning to Cape Town. The news of the Charles Eaton’s fate was contained in a letter from Messrs Borradaile and Co. of the Cape of Good Hope, addressed to Messrs Gledstanes.5 It was received in London on 26 February 1835. It gave the owners the terrible news about the loss of their vessel but implied that sailors had found wreckage from her at Booby Island. Not long after, Lloyd’s of London posted Wiseman’s accurate account, with the observation that: ‘from the weather they had on the 22nd [Aug.] they much feared for the safety of the crew and passengers.’6

It was the Irish Protestant newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal, however, that was among the first to publish the news of the shipwreck, with details reportedly from a ship’s passenger recently returned to Dublin from the
southern seas. In its 14 Feb. 1835 issue the journal reproduced the following news item:

BARQUE CHARLES EATON.–We regret to hear that a letter is in town from a passenger in a ship just arrived, in which it is mentioned that some Cabin stores of the Barque Charles Eaton, from Sydney to Singapore and Calcutta, have been picked up somewhere near Torres’s Straights [sic]; whence the loss of that vessel is inferred. She sailed from Sydney on the 29th of July, and therefore was greatly out of time. The following is a list of the passengers given in the Sydney papers; –C. G. Armstrong, Esq; Captain and Mrs. D’Oyly, W. and E. D’Oyly, and a native servant.

The journal’s editor was unaware that Armstrong had relatives and friends in Ireland who knew of his overseas movements, probably from letters posted by him en route. The news had come completely out of the blue and they were understandably shocked. One of them even demanded a retraction of the shipwreck claim. The Freemason’s Journal obliged in their next edition (17 Feb. 1835):

We copied from the Courier into our number on Saturday, a paragraph relating to the Bark Charles Eaton calculated to give distress to the minds of some connections of those on board, for which we believe there is no foundation. The Charles Eaton left Sydney we learn intending to proceed to Sourabaya and China – for the last place Mr. Armstrong was a passenger. His not arriving at Singapore therefore, is accounted for by the fact of her not having been destined to go there at all. The cabin stores said to have been picked up “somewhere near Torres’ Straits” by what vessel is not stated, consist we are informed of the lid of a chest, which of course may have been thrown overboard. The vessel may not have been able to fetch Sourabaya and have gone round to the northward of New Guinea. She might not therefore have reached China at the date of our last intelligence, but there is no particular reason for alarm about her. The passengers who embarked for Calcutta would of course have to wait at Sourabaya for an opportunity for Singapore.—

Armstrong’s agitated connections were in denial and their hopes were soon dashed when the official notice of the shipwreck was posted at Lloyd’s of London. Included among those connections were the Armstrongs of Banagher in King’s County, a few of whom were among the wealthiest land-owners in Ireland. During his Sydney stopover, the young barrister (or a creditor perhaps) had addressed a letter to Thomas H. (St.) G. Armstrong at Banagher. It was later listed in the Sydney Herald (10 Nov. 1834) as still at the post office because its paid postage was insufficient.

News of the shipwreck had already reached India by this time, possibly via the Jane and Henry. At about the same time that the barque had disappeared, the HEIC changed Captain D’Oyly’s recent promotion to the Agra station to a similar position at the Delhi magazine and the company expected him back in Calcutta by December or January 1835 at the latest. When many months passed and the D’Oylys failed to show up, their Calcutta relatives endured a ‘painful interval of suspense’7 during which ‘the most gloomy surmises were entertained as to the possible fate of the captain and his family’.8 Their fears were confirmed by the arrival of Sydney newspapers dating from July 1834, which contained the barque’s passenger list.

For a time the only other news of the barque’s fate came to the D’Oyly relatives via rumours. The crews of passing ships had sighted the Charles Eaton wreck, firmly wedged on the Great Detached Reef and reasonably intact. It meant that there would have been time for survivors to leave the wreck in boats. Later, stories began to circulate throughout the main trading ports of South-East Asia that some of her crew were captives on an island. They were probably spread by the crews of Dutch trading praus recently returned from Timor. They were certainly both widespread and persistent, though not reliable enough to encourage anyone to do anything about them. In the Dutch East Indies, meanwhile, other events connected with the Charles Eaton were already unfolding.

….

Notes to Chapter 6

  1. Twenty-nine days does seem like unusually slow progress. On her subsequent voyage the Jane and Henry covered the distance in 20 days. The Charles Eaton reached Sir Charles Hardy Island in 17 days, as also did the Augustus Caesar. We don’t know for certain why the two ships parted company and to be fair to Captain Moore, it’s possible that the Jane and Henry had to make a scheduled or unscheduled visit to a seaport. You can also argue that it would have been impractical for Moore to slow down his barque to match the smaller schooner’s speed.
  2. Mr Wiseman to Mr Nicholson, Master Attendant, letter dated 1 April 1836. Historical Records of Australia, vol. XVIII, 1836, pp. 432–34, enclosure.
  3. The Times, 23 Sept. 1836. Hartley and Wiseman also inspected some bones near the remains of a fire. They are unlikely to have been human and are more likely to have been canine or marine, e.g. the remains of a dugong. Despite this, many people did believe that the bones found by Hartley and Wiseman were the remains of some of the crew and passengers and that their discovery was further proof that the unfortunate castaways had been wholly cooked and eaten.
  4. J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia…, vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide Library Board of South Australia, 1969. The Booby is a gannet, so named because it trusts enough to be considered stupid, and thus is easily caught and killed by hungry sailors.
  5. William Bayley file, copy of Borradaile letter, Gledstanes to Bayley, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  6. Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Historical Soc. of Qld, 24 February 1983, p. 22.
  7. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton…, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 12.
  8. Wemyss 1884, p. 12.

Indonesia-map-two (2) copy

Chapter 7: The Tanimbar Connection

About 220 miles (350 km) north of Australia is a group of islands collectively called Tanimbar. They are Australia’s nearest neighbours in the Arafura Sea.1 There is a channel south of the largest island of Yamdena that separates it from the smaller island of Selaru, while to the north of Yamdena there are two more islands called Fordate (more recently Vordate) and Larat. These islands were almost unheard of in Australia in the nineteenth century — and that is still the case today.

Map of Tanimbar Islands in the 19th century. Shows location of Lauran village and what was then called Olilit village. It refers only to the two islands of Yamdena and Selaru. Similarly Vordate is now used instead of Fordate or Fordata. Copyright Veronica Peek.

Although the islands of Tanimbar are part of the Moluccas, the Dutch administration at Amboyna had no official contact with their inhabitants until 1646. At that time, the islands’ leaders gave the United East India Company of the Netherlands sole trading rights to the trepang (sea slugs) caught off their surrounding reefs.2 Although the trepang had little value to the islanders, they were a much-fancied delicacy on the Chinese market. The Dutch built a fort on Fordate, to protect their exclusive trade. They also posted a missionary there and later a schoolteacher. Their goal was to convert the islanders to Christianity.

Yamdena village c.1910.
Yamdena village c.1910 but virtually unchanged from 19th century. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dorpsgezicht op de Tanimbar-eilanden TMnr 60015598.

Trading vessels were showing signs, even then, of being reluctant to have much contact with the Yamdenans, so it was good news for their captains when the Dutch residents and soldiers started promoting the town of Sebeano, on the western coast of Fordate, as christianised and a protected trading post. For a time the remote little post flourished, and many trading praus called there. The Fordate islanders were hospitable but most European mariners still preferred to avoid the region. Murderous pirates infested the Timor and Arafura Seas.

Sebeano eventually became so popular with visiting trading praus from the islands of Banda, Macassar and Garem that they undermined the Dutch trade monopoly over the Tanimbar Islands. By the middle of the 18th century, the Dutch had concluded that trade at Tanimbar was too unprofitable to warrant the cost of maintaining a presence in the islands.3 They withdrew from Sebeano and had no further contact with the Tanimbar islanders until 1825, when a Dutch brig-of-war under the command of Lieutenant D. H. Kolff sailed through the outer reaches of their trading empire. He reminded everyone that all trade was still under Dutch control and appointed representatives called Oran Kayas to protect Dutch trading interests.4

Lieut. Augustus L. Kuper, a navy officer temporarily serving with Lieut. Owen Stanley, commander of the British navy’s brig H.M. brig Britomart, which called there in March 1839, provided the first published account of an English vessel’s visit to the much-feared and avoided island of Yamdena. On making landfall near Oliliet (now Olilit) village, the men aboard the brig observed two large praus flying Dutch colours coming out to greet them. Describing the meeting that followed, Kuper wrote:

At 9, we observed two large canoes under sail, standing out from the land towards us – they shortened sail several times as if in doubt what to do, but about noon they came alongside, and several natives came on board. They came from the village of Oleillet [sic], off which they gave us to understand there was a good anchorage, and as it was the nearest place we could reach we stood in for it, taking their canoes in tow. An elderly man, apparently the head man of the party (man’s name – Gamble or Grindall), handed us a small flat basket containing several old leaves from an old remark-book, written in pencil, a torn leaf of a navigation book, and two small pieces of black lead pencil. … As I could not prevail on him to part with them in exchange for anything I had to offer, I took a copy of as much of it as I could decipher, although the contents were of little value. 5


Tanimbar canoes
Tanimbar canoes under Dutch flags, probably to indicate they have the sanction and protection of the Dutch government at Amboyna. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dorpsgezicht op de Tanimbar-eilanden.  Each canoe can hold up to 20–25 rowers. Not to be confused with the large 19th-century praus used for war, some of which, ostensibly, could be jam-packed with 150–200 men. This photograph was taken early in the 20th century.

The old man was one of the chiefs of Oliliet village. He kept repeating the name ‘Grindall’ and the Britomart officers assumed he was identifying himself. Only later did they realise that his name was actually Lomba. He was a ‘little thin shrivelled old man’dressed in a long black serge coat and a blue striped or checked shirt, which he pointedly displayed to the navy officers. The name ‘T. P. Ching’7 was marked upon it and the materials he presented to Lieut. Kuper in a neat little basket were crude relics of the Charles Eaton story.

Five years earlier, on about 1 September 1834, Oliliet’s peaceful day had been interrupted by the arrival of a large ship’s cutter containing five sailors. They had been at sea and under sail in the open boat for 15 days and their provisions were almost gone.8 On landing at the beach below the village, they went ashore and helped themselves to fresh water and coconuts, before returning to their cutter and continuing down the coast. The villagers, however, had noticed their presence and they followed the cutter and surrounded it with canoes. Too exhausted to resist and having no weapons, the five men surrendered to the islanders.

Their boat was upset and they were stripped of their clothes, then taken naked and quaking back to Oliliet beach, where the violent gestures of the villagers let the sailors to believe they were about to be killed. Fortunately two old chiefs, Pabok and Lomba, intervened to spare their lives. To prove they meant no harm, these two leaders made sure the sailors got back most of their clothes. The five sailors were lucky to be alive. They had stolen tradable resources from the beach and it was not the practice of the Yamdenans (who were themselves great pirates) to spare the lives of other thieves.

The five sailors in the ship’s cutter were the carpenter Laurence Constantine, the boatswain George Piggott, and three seamen − Richard Quin, William Grindall and James Wright. The men who now surrounded them were mostly healthy and athletic, with handsome features. Although by no means completely isolated from the Indonesian archipelago, there were aspects of their appearance that suggested their culture had developed its own hybrid qualities.

Their single garment was a very short sarong, sometimes adorned with shells. Enormous solid earrings, roughly shaped like padlocks and almost touching their shoulders, had extended the holes in their ear lobes. They fashioned attractive turbans from their own black hair, by cutting it to a length of about 10 centimetres, bleaching it fair with lime paste, then growing it very long so that it was two-toned. They then coiled their hair around their heads in a variety of fancy and fantastic shapes and fastened it with large wooden combs.9

Oliliet village was directly above the beach and hidden from view by thick vegetation. To reach it, the villagers escorted the five men up a long, steep flight of steps, cut into the side of the hill. That was the easy part. To reach the summit it then became necessary to climb two wooden ladders, placed almost perpendicularly against the cliff face and clearly intended for defence. Their removal would make it impossible for anyone to attack the village from the seaward side.

Tanimbar islands and a set of cliff-face steps with a glimpse of village rooftops. The top sections were originally constructed as ladders that could be hauled up if the village was attacked.

From the top of the cliff, the sailors had a panoramic view of the sandy bay they had just left behind. All along the beach were coconut plantations, interspersed with thatched boat sheds housing outrigger canoes. Within the bay were several small, rocky islands. Constantine and his companions could hardly have failed to notice them as they were passing by in their cutter, since on at least one of them there were several decomposing bodies, packed into shells or woven grass boxes. That island was Oliliet’s current graveyard and a useful way to keep the stench of decay at bay. For anyone passing by in a boat, however, the odour from the island was awful.

Dutch visitors with Tanimbar islanders, c.1910. Some of the men have bleached their hair with lime and many of them are wearing heavy earrings. They are tall by 19th-century standards and have fine physiques. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Expeditieleden op de Tanimbar eilanden.

The village had more than 150 houses and a population of about 1000. Entrance to it was along a single narrow path to a gate, guarded by a timber fort flying the Dutch ensign and manned by soldiers armed with bows and arrows. There was one long and wide main street and two parallel secondary streets and the whole village was enclosed on the jungle side behind a wall. All of the houses faced towards the main street and sat on stilts. Their most striking feature was their tall, steeply pitched thatched roofs. The peak of each gable had large wooden carvings shaped like stylised buffalo horns, from which strings of twine tastefully decorated with shells hung almost to the ground. The overall effect was very picturesque.10

Tanimbar women with their fine headpieces and earrings.
Tanimbar women wore multiple shell armbands and their headpieces and earrings were made from silver filigree. Their single garment was a woven skirt. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Expeditieleden op de Tanimbar eilanden.

The five sailors soon discovered that the interior of each house was a single room divided by a wooden alter panel dedicated to Oliliet’s god, with arms raised to convey the impression it was supporting the roof beam. Most of these panels were finely carved and exceptionally beautiful, while the roof beam was the place where the occupants stored the heads of ancestors – but not those collected as spoils of war. The Tanimbar islanders were headhunters but after the heads of enemies had served their purpose as ritual offerings, the men tossed them over the wall and into the jungle.

The women and girls were uniformly dressed in dark wraps reaching to their knees or ankles. They, too, wore very large earrings but they were lightweight gems of lace-like filigree, often made from metal, while their numerous arm and ankle bands were fine circles of polished conus shells. Like their male counterparts, the younger women were strikingly attractive.

Stone boats like this one used to be used as meeting places and for sacrifices, but by c.1910 they were being used as stages for village dancing. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Expeditieleden op de Tanimbar eilanden.

The Dutch-appointed Oran Kaya had his house near the centre of the main street. Adjacent was a circle, marked out by a low stone wall. When decisions had to be made that affected the whole village, as had now occurred with the arrival of five shipwrecked sailors, everyone assembled there, forming a large circle around the perimeter of the wall. Although it may not have looked like it, the stone circle represented a boat. The bow of the boat faced towards the sea and contained a wooden post and the sacrificial alter. The most valued offering to their god was a human head. At the stern of the boat was a woven wicker bench for the senior ritual officials, the mela snoba in charge of sacrifices and offerings and the meta fwaak, or herald, who walked through the village crying out all decisions.11 As far as the five sailors could see, Pabok and Lomba were chiefs. It is possible they were the heads of Oliliet’s two main clans. Lomba’s black serge coat was a common badge of authority around the islands but he certainly was not the Oran Kaya, although that man also proved to be quite elderly and courteous.

The villagers finally sanctioned saving the sailors’ lives. Lomba gave the five men his personal protection and if trouble erupted, he would intervene on their behalf. As a token of gratitude, they gave him Ching’s shirt, which one of them must have been wearing at the time they abandoned the barque. The sailors would later say that the Yamdenans never treated them as slaves or forced them to work – but they were prisoners, with no freedom to leave unless granted by the chiefs.

Women tended crops and livestock, fished on the reefs, cooked the meals and raised the children. The men burnt off gardens, fermented the popular and potent palm wine, went on long trading voyages, built canoes, fished for trepang and continued their war with the nearby village of Lauren. Slaves had no status and had to do all kinds of menial chores.

Exactly what triggered the war between Oliliet and Lauren was buried under layers of payback. In any event, if Oliliet had been on good terms with Lauren, it would have been doing battle with another village. The Yamdenans were militant and easily offended, and they made inter-village agreements for mutual support that dragged them into a mesh of disputes.

Although the Oliliet villagers used Javanese as the language of trade when dealing with the crews of visiting Dutch praus, at all other times they spoke their own language. The five shipwreck survivors needed to pick up the rudiments of it quickly, and this they apparently did with enough success to procure their survival. After a time they learned that another European sailor was also being held captive – at Lauren. According to the Oliliet villagers, a brig had wrecked off Lauren village some years ago and all the crew murdered except two boys, one of whom had since died.

Thirteen months after their arrival, a Dutch-owned trading prau en route to Amboyna (Ambon) called at Oliliet. It was an unusual event. No amount of tempting offers of iron axes or calico could induce the villagers to give up their livestock or vegetables. The five sailors immediately sought permission from Lomba and Pabok to leave with the Dutch prau. They got their freedom when they promised to come back in an English ship with arms, gunpowder and ammunition, so that Pabok and Lomba could defeat their enemies at Lauren. This was the gamble that Lomba was taking. He wanted and expected that there would be a generous reward as the sailors had promised. William Grindall gave Lomba a few items off the Charles Eaton that the old chief must have assumed was a contract, reference or proof of identity.

Before leaving the island, the prau visited Lauren village and the five men tried to get permission for the other shipwrecked sailor to come with them. His name was Joe Forbes and he had been a ship’s boy aboard an English schooner called the Stedcombe. It had been attacked and sunk off Lauret in 1824 and all the crew killed save Forbes and another ship’s boy who had since died. Forbes was a frail figure who had almost forgotten his native tongue, with the result that the sailors were unaware that he was English. He understood enough of what they were discussing, however, and was devastated when his own Oran Kaya refused to let him go. Although taken as a 14-year-old ship’s boy and now about 24 years old, he was so small and delicate that he looked much younger. He had been exposed to strong sunlight for a long time yet his skin was very pale. His hair had never been cut during his time on the island and it now reached almost to his knees, although he wore it in the local style, twisting it gracefully around his head like a turban and securing it with combs. It had been bleached with lime, for it was the colour of raw silk.12The sympathetic feelings of those who met him were most aroused by his expression. He looked at the world with eyes that were always sad. He was about 5’2″ (157 cm) tall but his legs were bent and crippled from having been bound too tightly and too often, to prevent him from escaping.

Forbes had witnessed many cruel deeds. On one occasion, the Lauren pirates had boarded a Chinese junk, plundering it and murdering the crew before burning it down to the water. On another occasion, they had attacked a schooner. He had played a part in other acts of piracy and had his share of the spoils. He had a box filled with clothes and money — dollars, half-crowns, sixpences; these alone were his treasured possessions.13 The Charles Eaton sailors would later claim that Forbes had ‘reconciled himself to the manners and customs of the natives.’14 He was useful and a great favourite with the villagers, they said. So dismissive were they of Forbes that the English-speaking world forgot all about him until his rescue five years later, in 1839. His rescuer was Captain Thomas Watson of the schooner Essington, a vessel formerly better known as the colonial schooner Isabella.

Notes to Chapter 7

  1. The name ‘Timor Laut’ (An ancient Malay name meaning Timor East or eastern sea) is no longer used for the islands of Yamdena/Jamdena and Selaru. Indonesians still refer to the Tanimbar or Tenimbar islands.
  2. See Susan McKinnon, From a Shattered Sun: Hierarchy, Gender and Alliance in the Tanimbar Islands, USA: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991, pp. 3–9 for more detailed information about Yamdena’s history.
  3. McKinnon 1991, pp. 3–9.
  4. D. H. Kolff, Voyages of the Dutch Brig of War Dourga, through the Southern and Little Known Part of the Moluccan Archipelago, and along the Previously Unknown Southern Coast of New Guinea…, trans. from the Dutch by George Windsor Earl, London: J. Madden & Co., [c.1837].
  5. Owen Stanley in J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coast and Rivers Explored and Surveyed during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in the years 1837–38–39–40–41–42–43, vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide: Library Board of S.A., 1969, pp. 439–40. First published 1846. At the time of the visit to Timor Laut, Augustus Kuper, First Lieut. aboard the HMS Alligator, served as temporary First Lieut. to Owen Stanley on the brig H.M. brig Britomart. Kuper was the son-in-law of Sir Gordon Bremer, at that time the commandant and founder of the British station at Port Essington. Owen Stanley, who was often not a well man, concentrated on taking soundings and later prepared excellent charts of the voyage. Both officers kept journals. See Augustus L. Kuper, Sydney Herald, 22 July 1839.
  6. Kuper 1839.
  7. A shirt that once belonged to the young midshipman, Tom Ching, and possibly borrowed or stolen.
  8. See the sailors’ Batavia deposition, William Bayley File, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074, for details of their time at Yamdena.
  9. Stanley pp. 456–57; Kuper, Sydney Herald 22 July 1839.
  10. Kuper 1839.
  11. See McKinnon 1991, pp. 68–75 for a description of the rituals surrounding the ‘boat’.
  12. For a full description of the rescue of Joseph Forbes in 1839, see the logbook of Captain Thomas Watson on file at the National library of Australia; for a shorter version, see Captain Watson’s report to Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer, in Geoffrey C. Ingleton, True Patriots All, or News from Early Australia as Told in a Collection of Broadsides…, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1988. Reprinted Sydney: Angus & Robertson, pp. 204–07. However, I do recommend that you read Watson’s logbook. It is available online.
  13. Sydney Herald, 20 July 1839.
  14. Batavia deposition, William Bayley file.

 

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Chapter 8: Amboyna and Batavia

The Dutch prau carrying the five shipwrecked sailors arrived at Amboyna (Ambon) six days later, on 7 October 1835. As they sailed into the deep harbor, they would have seen many clove-tree plantations, mixed in with the natural mountain growth. The Dutch administrative centre of the Moluccas (Mulukas) on Amboyna still exported spices in large quantities, but the Dutch were paying more attention now to trepang, the Chinese delicacy easily caught around the islands. What had happened to the Moluccas had been tragic. Within a century of the arrival of European merchants, senseless over-production undermined a spice trade that had flourished for perhaps 1500 years.1

…..

800px-Atlas_pittoresque_pl_110 Amboine copy
River and kampongs at Amboyna. French caption reads: “Rivière de Batou-Mera sur l’île d’Amboine”. Artist Louis Le Breton. In Jules Dumont D’Urville, Atlas pittoresque, Voyage au Pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie sur les corvettes L’Astrolabe et La Zélée, plate 110: Paris, 1846.
Amboyna in 1834. The government jetty can be seen in the middle ground, next to the old walled fort. The kampongs (villages) were extensive but they are hidden amongst the trees. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

The sailors remained at Amboyna for two months. If they had to cool their heels in some distant port, there were a lot worse places than Amboyna. The Portuguese had selected it for their base in the Moluccas before the Dutch drove them out and it was the healthiest of the many trading centres in South-East Asia. The Dutch were on good terms with the British and gave the sailors a kind reception. The men said later that Captain Clunies of the Dutch brig Patriot took care of them.2

Meanwhile, the Governor-General of India, Lord Bentinck, responding to an appeal from friends and relatives of the D’Oylys, sent a dispatch to Jean-Chretian Baud, the Governor-General of Batavia. Bentinck asked Baud to ‘exert his influence in furthering the discovery of certain persons, passengers and crew of the ship Charles Eaton, supposed to have survived the wreck of that vessel in Torres Straits’.3 The dispatch arrived in Batavia on 20 November 1835, prompting Baud to send a vessel to Tanimbar and its neightbours. Rumours about the presence of white men on Yamdena must have been circulating around the Moluccas for months. Baud was not to know that the five sailors had already been rescued and taken to Amboyna, on the fringe of their far-flung empire.

On 3 December, the Patriot arrived in the Batavia Roads and made her way up the crocodile-infested main canal. On both sides, Javanese and Chinese kampongs were visible among the trees. Augustus Prinsep, who visited the city in 1829, described Batavia as a ‘proverbially unhealthy colony’4 and the ‘stagnant depot of Dutch commerce.’5 He gives this description of the approach:

There is a bar at the mouth of the river, over which the water is so shallow, that loaded boats can only pass at high tide; for which reason two long quays are built on either side of the entrance, a considerable way into the sea.6

The two exceptionally long jetties provided sufficient wharfage for one of the world’s busiest ports. Ships with the ensigns of many nations travelled half way around the world to anchor in its roads. The English naturalist, George Bennett, who visited Batavia in 1833, commented on the ‘dead and putrid bodies of dogs, hogs and other animals floating in the river and impeding boats in their passage.’ The crocodiles on the mud banks, however, did remove the ‘putrefying substances’.7

Batavia street scene. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

Batavia’s reputation as one of the world’s unhealthiest cities was well known. It had nothing to do with its temperature, which averaged 85°F, and everything to do with overcrowding and its swampy locality, exacerbated by the Dutch penchant for canals. Batavia, like Calcutta, suffered from mysterious and unhealthy ‘emanations’ that were thought to come from a large marsh which lay between the town and the sea. No one at that time linked malaria to mosquitoes, or realised that boiling all drinking water could reduce or prevent many complaints such as dysentery. The stagnant swamps and canals were the prime sources of Batavia’s malignancy.8

By 1835 the Dutch colonists had long since moved their homes to suburbs away from the swamps, with the result that Old Batavia was now used solely for business. Bennett praised the new suburbs for their shady arbours, flower-filled gardens and fine Dutch residences. Visiting ships’ crews continued to regard the rest of Batavia as dangerously unhealthy.

When news of the sudden arrival of the five shipwrecked survivors spread around the port, an Englishman had a chat with them. There were at that time only seven or eight English merchants living in Batavia, and its possible he was one of them. Alternatively, he was the master of a visiting ship. All five sailors were present and gave a brief account of what had happened to their ship. The Batavia correspondent immediately sent a summary of the interview to the Messrs Gledstanes:

We have just received some intelligence respecting the unfortunate Barque Charles Eaton, which we hasten to impart to you. Five of the crew arrived here yesterday in a coasting vessel called the Patriot, commanded by Capt. Clunie [sic] from Amboyna and the following is their account of the loss. It appears that, when the Charles Eaton was close to the entrance of Torres Straits, she mistook a light of land for them and, before the ship could be put about, struck on the reef, the sea breaking heavily on them at the same time when the long Boat was instantly stove. When the five sailors left the Ship in the Jolly Boat, Capt. Moor [sic] was clinging to the Main chain9 and a Capt. D’Oyly, one of the passengers with his Lady and children, standing near him. The Sailors think all remaining on board must have perished; and, the sea being tremendous, the ship must have gone to pieces.10

This account includes what appears to be a deliberate deception. They had used the largest of the ship’s cutters, capable of taking at least another six people, and not the tiny jolly boat as they claimed.

The Governor-General also received the news of the sailors’ arrival, and ordered them to appear before a magistrate the next day. Before that could happen, Piggott was hospitalised with a fever that would prove to be fatal. The remaining four were interviewed at the suburb of Weltervreden, where the Dutch administration had its offices, a courthouse and the Governor-General’s staterooms. A few days later, Governor-General Baud sent a dispatch to Lord Bentinck in Calcutta, which contained the sailors’ deposition. Additional copies reached Amsterdam and, eventually, London. Richard Quin, speaking also for the other three sailors, declared that on 15 August 1834, at about 10 o’clock in the morning, their vessel struck on a reef, called Detached reef, at the entrance to Torres Straits.

On being asked whether they had not been able to save any more of the unfortunate passengers and crew, they answered that such was quite impossible, as they could not pull up the boat against the strong current; and no individual among the passengers or crew would venture amidst the heavy breakers to reach the boat by swimming.11 That they in consequence are unable to say or state what is become of the captain, passengers, and the rest of the crew; they can only affirm, that at the time Richard Quin and James Wright left the wreck, all the passengers were alive on the forecastle of the vessel, with the exception of one sailor named James Price, who was drowned by the smallest of the cutters swamping at the time she was lowered.

And the appearants further declared, that not seeing any possibility of saving any more of the ship’s company, and not perceiving a single person in the morning of the next day on the wreck,12 they concluded that these unhappy persons had been washed off the wreck by the increasing swell of the sea in the night, and all found a watery grave; that they took to sea on Sunday morning, the 17th of August ensuing, without being provided with a compass or any other nautical instruments. The whole of their provisions consisted in about 30 lbs of hard bread, one ham, and a keg containing about four gallons of water, which had been immediately put in the boat before she was lowered.13

The lengthy deposition continued with details of their time on Yamdena and their rescue. Baud remarked in his own dispatch to Lord Bentinck that it encouraged him to hope the rest of the crew and passengers might be on islands easily attainable in an open boat from the Torres Strait.14

The deposition circulated among relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew, but only after the shorter first version sent to Messrs Gledstanes by a correspondent had already done the rounds. Now everyone was talking and writing about what appeared to be the mutiny or desertion of the surviving sailors.

The wreck of this particular barque (unlike the multitude of other ships that met a similar fate in 1834) attracted an extraordinary amount of attention, in four countries and at the highest levels of government. Partly it was because of the persistent rumours of survivors, partly because of reports that she had been sighted ‘high and dry on the Barrier reef in Torres Strait’,15 and partly because the D’Oylys had contacts in high places beyond their own modest station. History has tended to exonerate the five sailors and dismiss any charge of desertion, despite the obvious lies in their deposition. It would be pointless to condemn the men on the grounds of ‘women and children first’ since no such moral principle then existed. In the wake of any shipwreck, every Jack was as good as his master.

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Notes to Chapter 8

  1. See Hamilton, East India Gazetteer, vol. 1, London: W. H. Allen, 1825, pp. 25–27 and Swadling, Pamela, Plumes from Paradise, Queensland: Papua New Guinea National Museum with Robert Brown & Assoc. Pty Ltd, 1996, pp. 34–44, for brief histories of Ambon and the spice trade.
  2. Batavia deposition, William Bayley File, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  3. Phillip P. King, Capt. R. N., F. R. S. (ed.) ; A Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship Charles Eaton, which was Wrecked upon the Barrier Reef, in the Month of August, 1834, in His Majesty’s Colonial Schooner Isabella, C. M. Lewis, Commander, arranged from the journal and log book of the Commander, by authority of His Excellency Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, K. C. B., Governor of New South Wales, etc, etc, etc. Sydney: E. H. Statham, 1837., pp. iii–iv.
  4. Augustus Prinsep, Journal of a Voyage from Calcutta to Van Diemen’s Land : comprising a description of that colony during a six months’ residence : from original letters, selected by Mrs. Augustus Prinsep, 2nd edn, London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1833, p. 30.
  5. Prinsep, p. 30.
  6. Ibid, p. 34.
  7. See George Bennett, F.L.S., Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, and China; Being the journal of a naturalist in those countries, during 1832, 1833, and 1834, 2 vols, vol. 1, London: Richard Bentley, 1834, pp. 350–71 for a record of his visit to Batavia.
  8. See Hamilton, East India Gazetteer, vol. 1, London: W. H. Allen 1825, pp. 86–96 for a lengthy description of Batavia in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
  9. The captain and his passengers were standing next to a set of strong, linked ropes (shrouds, main chain) that extended from the main mast to the side of the ship and provided the mast with one of its main supports. There is, of course, an identical set on the other side. They are the supports that we are all familiar with that look like linked rope ladders.
  10. William Bayley File, Gledstanes to Bayley. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  11. My italics. This was not true but the sailors were not about to admit that they had abandoned some of their comrades.
  12. My italics. The sailors did not stick around for long enough to find out what had happened to rest of the ship’s company, and certainly not for an additional day.
  13. Batavia deposition, William Bayley file.
  14. Phillip P. King, A Voyage to Torres Strait, preface, p. iv.
  15. Ibid.

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Chapter 9: The Convict Ship Mangles

It was late afternoon on 18 September 1835 when Waki climbed a hill on Mer, an island in the Torres Strait and the largest of the Murray Islands group. There was merry-making going on in the village below but he did not feel like joining in.Suddenly he saw a ship approaching the island. From his vantage point on the hill he was the first to see it. He tried to attract the sailors’ attention with silent waving, but the ship was too far away. Soon the rest of the islanders saw the ship too and his father, Duppa, took Waki back to his hut in their compound, where the women painted his skin mahogany and streaked his face and hair with red and yellow ochre. Tassels of plaited grass were hung from each ear and shell ornaments festooned his body. Waki and Duppa then gathered on the hill with the rest of the villagers. The ship came closer and everyone broke branches off trees and began waving them furiously, to show they wanted to trade.

The Torres Strait Islanders were experienced traders. Not only did they have their own inter-island network, but they had also been trading with Papuan villagers, Australian Aborigines and the occasional visiting Malay-Indonesian prau for many centuries. European trading vessels were comparative latecomers to their network, when the trading techniques employed by the islanders were well honed. They would attract the attention of a passing vessel to indicate they had goods to trade and as soon as the ship had anchored, they would begin loading canoes with their stockpiles of brown trepang and the decorative shells from the tortoiseshell turtle. Trade would be brisk and they would drive a hard bargain, with iron goods preferred in exchange. They had no knowledge of the true value of tortoiseshell on the Chinese market but they sure did know the value of a good iron tomahawk and were in no doubt they were getting the better deal.

To Waki’s great joy, this ship did drop anchor some distance from shore but no boat pulled away from it. He went down to the beach with Duppa, collecting on the way his friend Uass, and with other islanders they waited until it was dark, shouting ‘Tooree, tooree’ i.e. ‘Iron, iron’ to show they wanted to trade for iron – axes, knives and pots. Still no boat pulled away from the vessel. Sometimes they called out ‘Wallee, wallee’ for clothing, but iron goods were always preferred. The monotonous and constant chant of so many united voices carried across the waves to ships often anchored a mile offshore.

By sunset, their arms were tired from waving branches and their voices hoarse from shouting, so everyone retired for the night. They would take the initiative and row their canoes out to the ship tomorrow, in the expectation that the ship really did have goods to trade. All along the beach, families gathered around fires for their evening meal.

The ship at anchor off their island was the Mangles, Captain William Carr, a regular trader around the seas off northern Australia. Carr had his only child, an illegitimate son called William Carr Jnr, with him. His wife, Anne, may also have been enthroned in the cuddy since it was her habit to share his travels. She was Carr’s ‘beloved wife’ but he was similarly fond of her sister, Elizabeth Robinson, and had set up an amicable threesome in Limehouse, London.2

The deck of a convict ship.

The Mangles had just completed her seventh voyage to Australia as a convict transporter. If you knew what to look for, the telltale signs were there: barred hatches; high bulwarks, exercise yards and a well-armed crew. Aside from that, she was arguably the biggest ship at that time to regularly visit the Murray Islands.3 Originally built at Calcutta in 1802 for the F. & C. F. Mangles shipping company to service the India trade,4 she had three decks above her cargo hold and had been registered to carry almost 600 tons burden. Her elevated poop at the stern was particularly commodious and comfortable. She was built from Indian teak but nevertheless boasted a copper-clad sheath on her hull to repel wood-boring worms, and by some trick of design she was also incredibly fast, consistently making the journeys to Australia in almost record-breaking times.5 Her past voyages had been occasionally marred by the usual infections and fatal accidents but on this particular voyage she had delivered 310 convicts to Van Diemen’s Land with no loss of life.

It was voyage number four for Carr as her captain (he was formerly her chief mate). He was a man of good character but the constant exposure to so much human misery may have left its mark. He had a reputation for catering for the well-being of his convicts in terms of his ship’s unusually good accommodation, plus he supplied materials for self-education and self-entertainment on the voyages out, but in every other respect he was, first and foremost, a businessman. Overheads were minimised by avoiding calls to any ports en route for fresh produce unless scurvy outbreaks compelled him to do so.  He was part-owner of the Mangles but the current voyage would be a financial success and in 1839 he became her sole owner.6

The convict ship Mangles. Oil painting held by the State Library of Victoria.

For most of her years as a convict transporter, the Mangles had attracted little attention, despite the fact that she usually lingered in Sydney for long enough to fill at least part of her large hold − by no means an easy achievement given that she didn’t accept whale oil, preferring bales of merino wool instead. On this particular voyage, however, the Mangles got a fair bit of newspaper coverage, primarily because her cargo of prisoners had included about 140 juvenile chimney sweeps aged between 16 and 20. According to the Sydney Herald (31 Aug. 1835):

The prisoners by the Mangles, we regret to say, are to be numbered among the most miserable of mortals, and by far the worst sample of human kind that has yet been brought to our shores. They consist for the most part of poor decrepit chimney sweepers thrown out of employment by the operation of the late act7 and those who do not belong to this unfortunate class of men are of a still uglier race, inasmuch as not being so black outside, they are yet blacker within. It is ‘too bad,’ as the late Lord Liverpool said, to father these poor creatures upon us, and attempt to make us pay for them into the bargain.-Courier.

What the penal communities needed were tradesmen, or mechanics as they called them, and what they got was almost half a shipload of bedraggled juvenile sweeps.

On a previous voyage, in June 1833, Carr had called at Mer and collected large quantities of tortoiseshell and curios for the Canton market, as well as coconuts, yams, sweet potatoes and bananas for the ship’s stewards.8 Now he was back for more of the same. He did not entirely trust the Murray Islanders, however. His normal ship’s compliment was 48 but he had lost six sailors at Hobart Town. The Hobart newspaper Colonial Times reported (11 Aug. 1835): ‘Three seamen had been removed from the Mangles at Hobart Town for most violent outrages and insubordinate conduct on board that ship while lying in the harbour.’ They were jailed for three months. The remaining three must have absconded.

Carr, who had sailed direct from Van Diemen’s Land, was troubled about his reduced ship’s company and decided to deal with the islanders in the morning. In the meantime, he increased the night watches in case of trouble.

Mer’s natural beauty has always won compliments from visitors. The island is formed from volcanic rock, ground down in many places to fertile soil. Its most striking feature is its silhouette, dominated by Gelam, a majestic hill that sweeps down to a smaller hill near the centre. The southwestern end of the island is quite rocky but at the northeastern end, there is a large plateau of fertile and densely cultivated land, extending right down to the island’s northern beaches.

A long narrow reef extends from the southeastern corner of the island, while not far from its southwestern corner are two smaller islands, which with Mer make up the Murray Islands group. These two sister islands are separated from Mer by a wide deep-water channel but joined to each other by a sand bank and a single, enclosing reef.9 Douer, the larger of the two, is made up of two grassy hills with a fertile valley in between, while Waier is the cone of an ancient volcano. In 1835, there were huts and coconut trees in Waier’s more sheltered recesses.10

William Brockett, a sailor who visited Mer nine months after the Mangles, described an island ‘thickly covered with trees of various descriptions and shades’11 with coconut plantations spreading up the lower reaches of the hills. Along the fine beaches was an almost unbroken line of thatched beehive-shaped huts, grouped into villages. Drawn up on the sand were many large outrigger canoes, while bamboo fences protected the beachfront gardens and plantations from the monsoonal gales that regularly blew in from the sea. When the crew of the Mangles changed watch at dawn on the following morning, their gazes took in a distant but tantalising scene.

Soon after sunrise, 14 or 15 large canoes made their way out to the ship. Each was carrying about 16 men, many of whom were carrying bows and arrows and spears. It looked as if a fearsome armada was about to engulf the ship but the canoeists were coming out to trade and their weapons were part of the goods they were carrying for barter. The Mangles, once they were close enough to identify her, was a familiar sight and they were relaxed about her arrival.

Mer Islanders in the Torres Strait trading with visiting Europeans
The Murray Islanders were enthusiastic traders and welcomed visits by European ships so that they could trade their tortoiseshell for iron. They had no idea of the true value of their goods on the Chinese markets. In this instance it is the crew of H.M.S. ‘Fly’ in 1843. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’… , vol. I. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.

Their 20-metre canoes had a single sail and two outriggers, which made them virtually unsinkable. Large platforms displayed their trade goods, including some that were popular souvenirs. Men with long paddles were standing fore and aft of each platform, propelling their craft through the water. With one exception, all were Mer islanders. One of the last canoes to draw alongside the ship dropped directly under her stern and the sailors on the poop deck could see that one of its paddlers, though naked like the rest, was a white man.

NASA satellite photo of the Murray Islands group in the Torres Strait.

It was Waki. The sailors judged him to be between 18 and 20 years old, of stout build and about 5’8″ tall (173 cm). His skin appeared to be stained to a deep brown and his hair was so encrusted with red ochre its colour was impossible to judge. His only clothing was the usual protective waistband made from turtle skin, commonly worn by the male islanders, and he seemed by his gestures to be just as keen to trade as everyone else.

For the moment, Captain Carr was interested in more pressing matters and took little or no notice of the white man. Most of the canoes had gone to the starboard side, where the crew had lowered a quarterboat half way down for the purpose of trade. It was ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ time. Carr and his officers stayed on the starboard quarter, bartering for tortoiseshell and curios. They watched the islanders carefully and kept their guard up until several of the canoes had returned to shore. Carr was troubled. He had often traded at Mer and always allowed on board an old man called Madoo, whom he took to be one of their chiefs. Madoo always offered himself as a hostage to guarantee peaceful trading. ‘He is a well-conducted man,’ Carr would later explain, ‘but until this voyage he uniformly recognised and spoke to me. Upon this occasion, however, he would not speak to me at all; but he afterwards, I am told, spoke of me and Mrs Carr.’

Waki, meanwhile, had called for a rope and one of the sailors threw one down to him, which he grabbed and tried to use to climb aboard the half-lowered jolly boat. ‘But I had sprained my wrist, by a fall a day or two before,’ he explained many years later, ‘and waving the branch had made it exceedingly painful, so that I could not climb. One of the crew held out a roll of tobacco to me, but I could not reach it; so I asked him to lower the boat for me to get in.’

Carr turned around just in time to see Waki making one attempt to climb the rope but it broke and he fell back into his canoe. The sailors were in the act of lowering the jolly boat closer to sea level when their captain abused them. One of them would later state that as far as he could recall, Carr had cried out, ‘Damn the man, I do not want the man I want tortoiseshell’. Other witnesses would later claim that Carr gave the order to lower the boat. The trade going on around him distracted Carr. He was either not fully aware that the man trying to board was a European, or else he was unconcerned, perhaps even disinterested. He wanted to finish his business quickly before any trouble erupted.

One of the sailors asked Waki how he came to be on the island and he explained that he was a castaway but Duppa and the other men in his canoe were pulling him back and in the resulting confusion, his lengthy but somewhat garbled reply was misunderstood. The fourth officer, Jim McMicken, then asked Madoo how many white people were on the island. The old man quietly approached, touched McMicken’s face to indicate, ‘white people like you’ then held up both hands. McMicken concluded that Madoo was trying to tell him that there were another eight or ten white people ashore.

Duppa’s canoe had drifted a short distance from the stern. When he was finally free to do so, Carr turned his attention to the white man. He ordered that the cutter be manned and armed, sending ‘the second officer, the boatswain and six men to take him at any price’.12 But when Duppa and his friends saw the sailors putting pistols and naked cutlasses into their cutter they became alarmed. ‘They thought mischief was intended to me and to themselves,’ Waki later explained. ‘They immediately let go the rope, and paddled towards the shore. I stood up in the canoe, but Duppa took hold of me and laid me down in the middle of it.’ The cutter, he said, made only a half-hearted attempt to overtake his canoe.

Portrait of Madoo by Commander Igglesden of the India Station’s brig-of-war Tigris. B&W sketch published in W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage…, 1836.

According to Carr, the men in the cutter caught up with Duppa’s canoe and hooked it with their boat hook. The second officer, Bill Eames, asked Waki to step into the cutter but Waki pointed to one of the other islanders and replied, ‘Take that man, he will go with you.’ ‘No’ said Eames, ‘I am come for you, and you I will have.’13 Waki, Carr later claimed, then immediately threw down the paddle he had in his hand and dashed under the canoe’s platform amidships. The second officer contradicted his captain by claiming that Waki dived overboard and swam away. Carr ordered the cutter’s return, proclaiming, ‘If he prefers a life with savages, let him remain.’ He was puzzled all the same, he would claim, for ‘what his motive could be for not coming into my boat, I am at a loss to conceive’.14

Duppa’s concern for Waki’s wellbeing was based partly on his fear of the white man’s firearms and partly on the perception among Torres Strait Islanders that ‘white people live always in ships, and possess no terrestrial home, and that they subsist upon sharks, porpoises, and dogs’.15 Their lifestyle excited no envy.

McMicken now told Carr that the white man was a shipwrecked Englishman and that Madoo had indicated to him that there were eight or 10 other survivors on the island. Carr spent the next two hours pacing up and down the deck trying to decide what to do. His chief mate suggested he detain Madoo until the white man had been handed over but the captain ignored his advice and the opportunity to use the old man for ransom passed when Madoo, satisfied that the trading was over, returned to Mer.

Finally the captain manned and armed the cutter again, put himself in charge of it and sailed it in close to the shore. For two hours he scanned the beach with his spyglass looking for more Europeans and ‘observed a matted screen not quite reaching to the ground, and saw among the native feet passing to and fro, some white feet, and what seemed to him part of a lady’s petticoat.’16 Waki was watching him and thought the captain had come to the shore to shoot birds, something that ships’ crews often did to supplement their rations. He was, he later explained, ‘kept among the bushes all this time, by Duppa and his sons; but I could plainly see every thing that took place.’ The cutter’s crew was armed with pistols but fired no shots at birds or any other target.

A standoff now developed between the men in the cutter and a large group of people on the beach, with Carr making signs to the watching crowd to come near his boat and the islanders indicating that they wanted Carr and his men to come ashore. In an attempt to break the impasse, a man emerged from behind one of the bamboo fences carrying a young boy on his shoulders. He walked along the beach towards Carr, making beckoning motions as if to say, ‘Come!’ The little boy was Waki’s friend Uass and he was as brown and naked as any child of the Torres Strait; would have passed for one were it not for his blue eyes and flaxen hair. From his vantage point behind the bushes, Waki could see what was happening and believed he understood. ‘I had often mentioned to the natives that the white people would give them axes and bottles, and iron, for the little boy,’ he later said. ‘I told them his relatives were rich, and would be glad to give them a great deal if they would let them have him back.’ The men on the beach were terrified of artillery fire. Waki was in no doubt that if enough axes and iron goods had been handed over at that point, both he and Uass would have been given up in exchange.

Carr could see that the boy was small and guessed him to be less than three years old. The child now beckoned to him to land, speaking words the captain couldn’t understand. An offer to swap the boy for iron axes drew no obvious response from the assembled crowd, who stood around silently watching Carr bobbing around in his cutter and waiting to see what he would do. Carr now saw that several canoes were trying to get to the seaward of him and became afraid his party would be cut off from his ship. Before he hastily retreated he wrote a message on his hat promising to make known what he had seen and threw it on the shore. The cutter then returned to the Mangles and Carr spent the rest of the day scanning the island with his spyglass but could see no more white people. He remained off Mer all night, ‘thinking it might be possible for some of them to make their escape.’ At nine o’clock the following morning he weighed anchor and sailed away. Waki watched the ship go with a heavy heart, convinced that all hope of deliverance had gone.

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Notes to Chapter 9

Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter has been constructed from three main sources: John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans… New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, pp. 47–48; the London depositions of the captain and crew of the ship Mangles, The Times, 5 Nov. 1836; and Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.

  1. According to William Brockett, John Ireland confessed that during his time upon the island he had been compelled to marry. William Bayley file, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. It is possible that the merrymaking was Ireland’s own wedding, since it was the custom at Murray Island for bridegrooms to go off alone and hide among the bushes until they were summoned to return and fight to claim their new bride.
  2. UK National Archives UK, May 1841.
  3. The Australian newspaper, 18 Nov. 1824, commented of her: ‘She is larger than any ship that ever sailed from this port laden with colonial produce. Her burden is not less than 600 tons. Her accommodations must be wonderfully superior to those of small ships – calculated, if any thing is, to lessen materially the privatations to passengers’.
  4. The ship Mangles had a varied ownership can be tracked through Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. Also see information on the Mangles shipping company on Wikimedia.
  5. Sydney Gazette 4 Nov. 1824 for a description of her copper-clad hull and her three decks.
  6. Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, 1840; Carr’s will in the UK Archives.
  7. The Chimney Sweepers Act 1834 stipulated that apprentice chimney sweeps had to be over the age of 14 and no master was allowed to employ more than six apprentices. The Act prevented child labour exploitation and slavery but it did reduce employment opportunities for juvenile chimney sweeps. The government’s solution was to ship them off to Australia.
  8. Ian J. McNiven, ‘Torres Strait Islanders and the maritime frontier in early colonial Australia’, in Lynette Russell (ed.), Colonial Frontiers: Indigenous-European Encounters in Settler Societies, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001, pp. 187.
  9. J. Beete Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying voyage of H.M.S. Fly, commanded by Captain F.P. Blackwood, R.N. (during the years 1842–1846), 2 vols, London, 1847, pp. 196–97.
  10. See Jukes 1847, pp. 196-97; W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’. Sydney: printed at the Colonist, 1836, p.24; Capt. C. M. Lewis, ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella.—In search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, p. 662 for descriptions of the Murray Islands in 1836.
  11. Brockett 1836, p.12.
  12. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton… 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, pp. 18–19. Extract from a letter written by William Carr and also published in a number of newspapers.
  13. Wemyss 1884, pp. 18–19.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Lewis 1837, p. 754.
  16. William Bayley file, letter from James Drew to William Bayley, 14 November 1836.

Chapter 10: Coupang and Canton

Coupang c.1845. Pl. no. XXIII of: Sketches in Australia and the adjacent islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

After a brief stop at Booby Island, where he read the logbook kept there but made no entry on what had occurred at Mer, Carr sailed directly to the Dutch colony of Coupang (Kupang) in West Timor, a popular victualling port for whalers and trading ships. Free water could be got from a pipe on the beach and fowls, coconuts and bananas were on sale at the local markets. Rum was available from the Chinese trade stores but it was expensive. A better buy was the locally fermented coconut wine, which was cheap but potent. Many – if not most – of the European sailors who worked the Timor and Arafura seas and victualled at Coupang were intoxicated for the duration of their stopovers. They were an insubordinate and undisciplined rabble but most ship masters seemed to tolerate their behaviour as a necessary respite from their otherwise dangerous and arduous lifestyle. Their often obnoxious and drunken misconduct, however, did make them easy targets for murderous pirates.1

The Coupang market at West Timor was an essential stopover for ships in the Arafura Sea, while many whalers made Coupang their home base while they fished the northern seas of Australia. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

Chinese capitalists were much more successful at colonising South-East Asia than European merchants and governments and this was nowhere more evident than at Coupang, where they owned all the shops and most of the money. Unlike the Dutch and English, the Chinese shopkeepers had no interest in being soldiers and tax collectors. Nor did they waste their profits on lavish homes. Brockett, who visited the town a few months later, unkindly commented on the number of rich Chinese living in hovels, ‘not much superior to an English pig-sty.2

Coupang had never been a profitable colonial entrepôt. On a small headland along the beach the Dutch had built their Fort Concordia, a small and inferior structure manned by a few dozen Timorese soldiers and a couple of Dutch officers, in charge of just two mounted cannons. Although the Dutch claimed to have control over the west and south sides of Timor, their influence was limited to the town. If its 20-or-so Dutch residents had vanished one night the town would simply have carried on without them. The miserable fort and its two guns, on the other hand, were vital to the town’s survival, offering traders and whalers protection from the marauding pirates. Many whale boats used the port as their home base while they fished the Arafura and Timor seas.

Dutch fort at Coupang (Kupang) in West Timor c.1834.
Coupang Harbour at West Timor, showing the Dutch-manned walled fort. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

The town was little more than two long, parallel dirt streets, stretching along the southern side of Coupang bay and lined with Chinese-owned houses, shops and warehouses. The dwellings of the handful of Dutch administrators were clustered around a square behind the town where the Resident had his large government house, and there was also a Dutch Reform church and a school.

The Malay Timorese who daily invaded the town with their produce had long ago emigrated from other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. They lived in kampongs on the outskirts of Coupang and in all the fertile valleys, building neat white houses with red-tiled roofs and surrounding them with plantations and vegetable gardens. In the wetter, deeper valleys they had planted rice paddies, ringed with tropical vegetation.3 The mountainous aspect and green paddy fields were a nice contrast to the flat and uninviting Australian coastline.

The original inhabitants of the island had long since been dispossessed of their fertile lands and driven into the barren interior. Physically they were Melanesians, with attractive brown complexions and crisply frizzy hair. They had their own language, were head hunters, and shared with the Tanimbar Islanders a love of gold and silver ornaments. With no land left to them worth cultivating, their lives were frugal, their villages being not much more than clumps of a few thatched-roofed but open-sided shelters. Wealthy and cruel rajahs had enslaved many of them. Indeed, it would be fair to say that most of the Timorese at that time were under the control of the island’s rajahs.

Timorese Malay-Polynesians by Harden S. Melville. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’…, vol. II. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.

Coupang was the closest safe haven for passengers and crews shipwrecked on the Barrier Reef. The fact that so many of them successfully rowed the 1200-mile (2000-km) journey to the little seaport in open boats seems amazing. Fortunately the strong, west-flowing currents made the journey less arduous than it might appear. In 1832 the 36-man crew and one female passenger from the Flora shipwreck made it safely to Timor in a single longboat. Their achievement was both remarkable and routine. Coupang’s residents were used to the sight of sunburnt crews in longboats or cutters, with blistered hands and salt-encrusted eyelashes, rowing like skeletal zombies towards their bay.

Carr was to discover when he got to the town that a shipwrecked crew had arrived there the previous day. It was Captain Cobern and the exhausted sailors of the schooner Jane and Henry, recently wrecked on the Barrier Reef. Cobern, having successfully negotiated a passage through the Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait in the company of the Augustus Caesar, had been game enough to tackle it alone on his second trip a year later – with disastrous results. Cobern later gave an account of his schooner’s final voyage.4 The Jane and Henry had left Sydney on 23 August 1835, bound for Batavia. At ten o’clock on the evening of 11 September she was in the vicinity of Sir Charles Hardy’s Island when she struck a small detached reef called Yule Reef, a few miles to the seaward of the Barrier Reef. ‘The vessel soon bilged,’ wrote Cobern, ‘the sea making a clean breach over her so that all hope of saving her was abandoned.’

At daylight Cobern and his ship’s company of six sailors and three boys launched the longboat and set off for Timor. After brief stopovers at Forbes Island, Bird Island and Escape River (where they found fresh water), they arrived safely at Coupang on 30 September, having been rescued by the Dutch brig-of-war Meerman, Captain Enslie, off Bali island. Enslie had been charting the West New Guinea coastline and the western approaches to the Torres Strait when he spotted their longboat.5

Sourebaya was Java’s second busiest sea port after Batavia. This sketch c.1834 shows its main port canal, bordered by tree-shaded kampongs (villages). Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

At Coupang the shipwrecked sailors found a British barque and two whalers and the three commanders took pity on the Jane and Henry crew and ‘vied in hospitality with each other,’ wrote Cobern, supplying the distressed survivors ‘with clothing and all that was necessary for comfort.’6 Carr made a statement to the Dutch resident at Coupang about the two white boys he had seen at Mer, which must have been relayed to Batavia. The captain had not yet had time to make up any stories to portray himself in a favourable light, so this statement may be one of his more accurate versions of events and his story did vary with each retelling. In it he states that the cutter sent to rescue the white man at Mer had only been allowed to approach to within speaking distance. The white man ‘had called out that he would not be allowed to go–that he was one of the Charles Eaton’s crew, and that there were more of them upon the island.’7

Later Carr took Cobern, his crew and their long boat aboard the Mangles and transported them to the northern side of the Somlach Straits. Any fly on the wall would have been privy to some interesting conversations in the Mangles cuddy. The two captains had interesting stories to exchange. Carr and his men were soon put in the picture about the wreck of the Charles Eaton the previous year, although some of the Mangles crew formed the impression that the disaster was recent. Five days after leaving Coupang their long boat was fitted out with all necessary supplies and relaunched, and Cobern and his crew spent the next two days rowing to Sourabaya (Surabaya).The owners of the shipwrecked schooner were obliged to pay the cost of transporting their sailors until they eventually arrived back at their home port of Cape Town. Carr, however, being part-owner, extended a small charity to Cobern and his men. He was steering clear of Sourabaya and possibly avoiding Indonesian customs so that he wouldn’t have to declare his tortoiseshell.

A few days later a troubled Carr wrote letters while he was sailing past the island of Lombok, addressed to the editors of the Canton Register and the Singapore Chronicle. After he had dropped off the Jane and Henry sailors he continued to tramp and trade around the islands of South-East Asia for many months. Carr at this stage was already showing signs of being defensive about his actions. If we seek the simple truth about what happened that day at Mer, we probably can’t get any closer than this: Carr was far too timid and fearful in his dealings with the islanders and, later, too embarrassed to admit it. He was travelling with his son and that may have made him overly cautious. Already in advanced middle-age, he would die in 1841 with his reputation in tatters.9

‘Whampoa from Danes Island’ in China – its Scenery, Architecture, Social Habits, etc. Artist Thomas Allom, engraver W. A. Le Petit. Steel engraving. International ships anchored there while they waited to engage in trade at Canton.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Governor at Batavia, acting on a request from the Governor-General of Bengal but also, presumably, Carr’s report at Coepang about sailors being held on an island, sent out their own scout-and-rescue mission. The outcome was both fortuitous and disastrous:

The Dutch barque, Alexander, Captain Harris, respecting which there have been such numerous and frequent surmises, we also learn, with all her crew excepting three sailors, had been cut off by the natives of the Aroo Islands. The Dutch frigate, Diana, which had been away in that direction in search of the Charles Eaton, touched at one of the Islands on her return, and there found the three men who had escaped the cruel fate of their comrades. The Diana forthwith manned and armed her boats, and sent them on shore, and a scene of retaliation then ensued …– Singapore Free Press.10

The village was actually on the island of Larat. According to a later account, the village and all the plantations and coconut trees were burnt down and ‘some elderly persons who were unable to leave their huts perished in the flames.’11

In the second week of February 1836, Carr’s ship took on board a Chinese pilot and sailed up the Canton (Guangzhou) river to the island of Whampoa. Both sides of the wide entrance to the river were guarded by forts, their main purpose being to prevent any illegal cargo – especially opium – from being smuggled into China. Captain Carr was no stranger to Canton; he had visited it many times. When he reached Whampoa, downstream from Canton, he knew that was as far as his ship was allowed to go. The Mangles had to join the many other merchant ships at anchor there. Whampoa was the docking zone for the good guys, engaged in legitimate trade with China. The bad guys, the American’s and English East India Company’s outlawed opium ships, gathered like vultures in a harbour north of Macau, or lurked behind the island of Lintin, waiting for the opium runners to sneak out to them under cover of darkness.12 Carr, however, had his hold filled with tortoiseshell, trepang and other marine delicacies and if he wanted to do business at Canton, all he had to do was travel by barge boat (sampan) up a junk-crowded river and bargain with Chinese merchants for the legitimate sale of his cargo in exchange for tea. The usual time-frame for such transactions was about six weeks because the custom controls were so stringent.

Canton Bird’s eye view, showing one of its canals and one of its busy shopping streets. The Graphic, 22 Sept. 1883.

Canton was a sectioned-off piece of land allocated to overseas merchants for the sole purpose of trade. Much of its space was taken up by the hongs, or warehouses, of many different nations, with the East India Company’s hong by far the most impressive. There were two wide shopping streets, called Old China street and New China street, where foreign tourists could take their choice from the best that China’s artisans had to offer, including carved sandalwood chests and lacquered furniture. Entry to the walled city of Guangzhou was via a large gate and there were other smaller gates around its perimeter. All were heavily guarded. No foreigner was allowed to enter the Chinese city without permission and that was rarely granted. The best that most visitors could hope for in 1835 was a panoramic view overlooking the city, from the balcony of one of the hongs.13

The legitimate Chinese merchants and traders weren’t that interested in European goods and the balance of trade, largely through the export of tea, was in Canton’s favour. The HEIC had established opium plantations in India expressly for the illegal Chinese market, while American ships wanting to challenge their monopoly had to fill their holds with opium from the poppy fields of Turkey and Afghanistan. It was an extraordinarily long detour, travelling to China via the Middle East, but worthwhile for the American shipowners nonetheless.

As for the ‘Honourable’ East India Company, it was profiting from the ruined lives of as many as 12 million addicts in China alone.14 By 1833, the senior member of the Board for Customs, Opium and Salt, in charge of the booming illegal opium trade from India, was Sir Charles D’Oyly. After the Governor-General and the Bishop of Calcutta, he was the next highest-ranked man in Bengal. He had tied his career to the Company’s infamous opium trade without, it seems, the slightest prick of conscience, and had grown his own private fortune from their generous wages. His years at Patna were spent surrounded by poppy fields and opium factories, yet he had contrived as an artist to avoid including them in his landscape paintings and sketches. You can say of D’Oyly that he was of his time, but ‘his time’ was already aware of the tragic consequences of opium addiction. The devastating impact of the drug on China and Indonesia in particular, did not seem to trouble him at all.

For small operators like Captain Carr, the challenge was to make the return voyage to England from Australia profitable by finding other sort-after goods to trade at Canton for silver and tea. On an earlier voyage Carr had discovered the tortoiseshell being bartered in the Torres Strait. The supply was limited, however, so he wanted to keep it a secret if possible. The Malay trading praus would have been a bigger threat to his income than the merchant ships of rival British traders. Five months after he had written it, Carr finally delivered his letter to the English-language Canton Register and it appeared in its 16 February 1836 edition. ‘GENTLEMEN,’ it began, ‘I beg you will make known to the public, and those connected with the vessel mentioned below, the following circumstance.’ Carr then went on to give the details of his visit to Mer and his encounter with a white youth and child. ‘I thought it right to make this known to you, to act on the information as you may think proper,’ he concluded. ‘I shall also write to London by the first opportunity.’ The editor of the Canton Register published his letter with the following comment:

The news of the wreck of the ‘CHARLES EATON’ in Torres Straits, reached China many months ago; as likewise a rumour that many of the crew were detained by the natives. The foregoing account, which Captain Carr has handed to us, has set the question at rest; and we must conclude, that the commander-in-chief on the East India station has before now adopted measures to rescue these unfortunate men from their captivity. Captain Carr deserves every praise for his perseverance in endeavouring to induce the man he saw to join the Mangles; but it is a question whether it would have been justifiable to have used force on the occasion. Ransom in that case, we think, would be the most just and wise mode of proceeding; by which the natives would be encouraged to exert themselves hereafter in saving the lives of shipwrecked sailors, and protecting them afterwards, in hopes of the reward.15

Carr made no mention of tortoiseshell in the letter but the word soon got out anyway and his lucrative little trading secret became common knowledge among competitors. The Torres Strait islanders caught and ate their way through a fair number of turtles but not enough to sustain a big demand without quickly fishing out the supply. Tortoiseshell needed to be (but wasn’t then) protected as a rare commodity.

Copies of the Canton Register were taken out of Whampoa by merchant ships and transmitted along the shipping news network. By the time Carr reached Calcutta en route to London, friends and relatives of the D’Oylys were waiting to pounce on him. He got an urgent request from Sir Charles D’Oyly to present himself for an interview – and on 7 May 1836 he did so. John Currie was also present and representing his wife – Charlotte’s younger sister, Fanny. Currie had resigned from the army to become a merchant and had joined with Sir Charles D’Oyly in soliciting the HEIC to send an armed man-of-war to the Torres Strait. Their efforts had been successful, and the brig-of-war Tigris had been dispatched from Bombay in March. It was the first time that the India station had sent one of their war ships to look for shipwreck survivors off the coast of faraway Australia, a testament perhaps to Sir Charles D’Oyly’s influence in India at that time.

At the meeting with D’Oyly, Carr didn’t add a great deal to what was already in his letter, but what he did say included seeing what seemed to be part of a lady’s petticoat, draped over one of the bushes. He also mentioned that the little boy had curly blonde hair and blue eyes and that there were possibly nine or ten survivors on the island. The elated D’Oyly relatives received the news as proof that William and Charlotte were alive. And if so, why not the rest of their family?

That was the official line, but dates on documents can tell a different story. In 1829, Henry Williams had made his will and named Sir Charles D’Oyly and his two sons-in-law, Tom D’Oyly and John Currie, as his executors. Henry had returned to England in 1833 with his two youngest illegitimate daughters, having long since separated from their mother – and he died there in mid-1835. On 26 May 1836, less than three weeks after Carr’s Calcutta deposition, Henry’s will was finally probated, on the basis that Sir Charles D’Oyly and John Currie were now the only surviving executors. Captain Tom D’Oyly had been declared deceased. The Baronet then swiftly arranged for a lawyer to appeal the precise terms of Henry’s will. Henry had left his entire estate to a favourite illegitimate daughter but the two executors succeeded in having the will overturned, and Charlotte and Fanny were reinstated as joint heiresses in law. Five thousand pounds was set aside for Charlotte or any of her surviving children.16

….

Notes to Chapter 10

  1. See Thomas Watson, ‘Journal and associated papers, 18381844’, National Library of Australia, MLMSS 7563. Watson, who was familiar with the area, had a lot of trouble with his own crew on the schooner Essington (formerly the colonial schooner Isabella). On p. 39 of his journal he commented: ‘I am advised by Mr Domas [a Dutch resident] not to go to the Island of Babber (where the ‘Lady Nelson’ was cut off) on account of that propensity for strong drinks which he has observed in my men; he is quite sure that the Natives would cut us off, if they saw the least opportunity.’
  2. See W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’ …, Sydney: printed at the Colonist, 1836, p.47–48 for a description of Coupang in the 1830s.
  3. J. Beete Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying voyage of H.M.S. Fly, commanded by Captain F.P. Blackwood, R.N. (during the years 1842–1846), 2 vols, London, 1847, pp. 367–82 for a particularly good description of Coupang (now Kupang) in the first half of the nineteenth century.
  4. Australian, 3 May 1836.
  5. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait: A maritime history of the Torres Strait route and the ships’ post office at Booby Island, Roebuck Society Publication No. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, p. 127, quoting Hobart Town Courier, 14 Oct. 1836.
  6. Nicholson 1996, p. 127.
  7. Singapore Free Press, quoted in the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 10 Dec. 1836,
  8. Hobart Town Courier, 20 May 1836.
  9. National Archives UK. His will was probated in May, 1841.
  10. Sydney Herald 1 Dec., 1836. The newspaper account, published in Sydney at a particularly sensitive time, conveyed the impression that the Dutch government sanctioned the use of indiscriminate retaliation to punish acts of piracy and murder. The Colonial Times (3 Sept. 1839) incorrectly stated that it was the village of Oliliet that was destroyed.
  11. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 20 July 1839. The Diana’s commander didn’t act alone. He was accompanied by two additional Dutch men-of-war.
  12. See George Bennett, F.L.S., Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, and China; Being the journal of a naturalist in those countries, during 1832, 1833, and 1834, 2 vols, vol. 1, London: Richard Bentley, 1834, pp. 81–113.
  13. Bennett 1834, pp. 81-113.
  14. W. Travis Hanes, 3rd, William Travis Hanes, Frank Sanello, The Opium Wars: The addiction of one empire and the corruption of another, Illinois: Sourcebooks Inc, 2002, p. 25.
  15. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton…, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 19.
  16. UK National Archives.