In July of 1851, Victoria’s first gold rush began and before the end of the year, gold fever had spread across Australia and beyond. Workers on Victoria’s sheep farms, lured by tales of gold, abandoned their posts and went in search of their fortunes. In an effort to fill the resulting labour shortage, Britain’s Emigration Commission was sponsoring emigrant families from Scotland, Ireland and England who wanted to seize the opportunity to become farm workers in Australia.
The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission was established by a Commission from Queen Victoria on 14 January 1840. Emigration from all parts of the United Kingdom had grown rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, 2,640,848 people had emigrated between 1847 and 1851 compared to 1,218,176 in all the years prior to 1847 and in 1852, numbers were expected to exceed 500,000 persons.2Coleraine Chronicle, Saturday 07 August 1852 The Commission was responsible for the management of land sales in the colonies of Britain. They prepared emigration schemes, chose emigrants who would receive free or assisted passages, chartered ships and ensured the safety of the emigrants by regulating conditions on the ships and appointing surgeons and matrons to accompany each voyage.
In June of 1852, the Government Emigration Commissioners chartered the American clipper ship, the Ticonderoga, to take emigrants to Australia. Registered at 1100 tons to the Black Star line, the Ticonderoga was to be captained by Thomas Boyle. As an American ship, she carried 48 crew members, well short of the British legal requirement of six crew to every 100 tons. It was rumoured that the American Ticonderoga was chosen because her owners had underbid British owners.
On 4 August, 1852, the Ticonderoga left Liverpool, bound for Melbourne, Australia with 814 emigrants on board, most of them Scottish farm workers and shepherds.
Tragically, less than a week into the voyage, disease broke out aboard the ship and by 12 August, the first passenger died. In the weeks that followed, more and more passengers became ill, due at least in part, to poor ventilation, overcrowding and increasingly unsanitary conditions. The surgeon superintendent, Dr J C Sanger, and his assistant surgeon, Dr James William Henry Veitch soon began running out of medical supplies. More passengers died.
After ninety hellish days at sea, the Ticonderoga limped into Hobson’s Bay flying the yellow flag of quarantine.
“The Argus ‘ of November 5, 1852, reported that when the vessel arrived. all provisions, medicine and medical comforts had been consumed, and that the Government immediately sent the schooner Empire and the harbour master (Captain Ferguson) with supplies of fresh meat, live stock, vegetables, porter, wine, spirits, and medicine. Dr Taylor, of the ship Ottillia, who had had great experience with the fever, was dispatched to assist with the sick. A further report on November 9 stated that there were in all 300 patients suffering from fever.
The Government had taken over two houses belonging to Messrs Sullivan and Cannon as hospitals, and had also purchased the ship Lysander as a quarantine hulk. The sick began to improve on removal to the shore, where they were sheltered in improvised tents provided by the Government, but none the less, during the next six weeks 82 more passengers died and were buried in an improvised cemetery.
Terrible State of Affairs on Board an Emigrant Ship at the Port Phillip Heads
As the weeks of quarantine wore on, debate was waged in the Melbourne newspapers about whether or not overcrowding aboard the Ticonderoga contributed to the outbreak of disease. One anonymous letter, written to the Argus at the end of 1852 claimed that the surviving passengers appeared emaciated. He described the ship as being unclean and further charged that unconscionable haste and little care had been taken when the sick were transferred to the quarantine area from the ship. A few days later, Dr. Sanger, the Surgeon Superintendent from the Ticonderoga responded in a letter of protest to the Editor of the Argus.
On the passenger manifest, the list Ticonderoga passengers who had died continued for five pages.
In all 168 souls lost their lives either on the voyage or later during quarantine. Out of the 307 male passengers, 69 died. Out of the 339 female passengers, 99 died. Among the dead were 86 children, of which 23 were infants under a year old.
Mary Kruithof, descendant of a Ticonderoga survivor and author of Fever Beach, a book about the tragic voyage, talks about the Ticonderoga in this YouTube video.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Morning Post, Tuesday 03 August 1852|
|2.||↑||Coleraine Chronicle, Saturday 07 August 1852|
|3.||↑||Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Saturday, 26 June 1852|
|4.||↑||Empire, Sydney, Monday, 15 November 1852|
|5.||↑||The Argus, Melbourne, Tuesday, January 4, 1853|