A Voyage with a Ship “Lamp Trimmer”

In a former blog  I wrote about the occupation of the “Lamp Trimmer”. Just what did he do and what was life like for him on a ship?

The following is an extract from the book “The Log of a Sea-Waif; being recollections of the first four years of my sea life”, by Frank Thomas Bullen (1857-1915) published by Smith, Elder & Company, London, 1899. (Available on-line[i])

This extract is in reference to a voyage of the coastal steamer the “Helen McGregor”. This ship was built in 1866 and was lost while attempting to cross out over the Clarence River bar in very heavy seas on 12 March 1875. Her Master was Captain A Turner. The below extract is believed to have taken place in the early 1870’s.

” I was overjoyed to get a berth, without anybody’s assistance, as a lamp trimmer on board a pretty little steamer, called the “Helen McGregor”, that ran regularly between Sydney and the town of Grafton on the Clarence River, called at Newcastle and sundry places on the river enroute.

My lamp-room was a mere cupboard by the side of the funnel, on deck, and just abaft the galley. To do my work I had to kneel on, a hot iron plate in front of the said cupboard, exposed to whatever weather was going. But the cook had all my sympathies. In his tiny caboose he had to prepare meals for seventy or eighty people, while all his pastry-making, butchering, etc (for we carried live sheep and fowls with us), must needs to be done on deck. Now the vessel, though exceedingly pretty to look at in harbour, was utterly unfit to cope with the tremendous seas that sweep along the eastern shores of Australia. Somewhere, in one of Henry Kingsley’s books (The ‘Hillyars and the Burtons’, I think), he speaks of a little steamer climbing one of those gigantic seas like a bat clinging to a wall. That was a common experience of ours. Her motions were frightful. I have seen every soul on board sea-sick while she crawled up, up, up one mountainous wave after another, plunging down into the abysses between them as if she would really turn a complete summersault. Everybody was black and blue with being flung about, and the passengers, who had perforce to be battened down in the sweltering saloon, or the second cabin, suffered misery untellable.  Yet even that wretchedness had its ludicrous side.

To see our fierce little hunchback cook astride a half-skinned sheep, to which he held on with a death-like grip, his knife between his teeth and a demonical glare in his eye, careering fore and aft in a smother of foam, surrounded by the debris of preparing dinner, made even men half dead with fatigue and nausea laugh. But it was terrible work. As for me, I got no respite at all at night. For I had to keep the lamps burning; and she thought nothing of hurling both the big side lanterns out of their slides on the deck, or shooting both binnacle-lights at once into the air, leaving the helmsman staring at a black disc instead of the illuminated compass-card. And often, as I painfully made my way forward with the side-lights after a long struggle with wetted wicks and broken glass, she would plunge her bows under a huge comber, lifting a massive flood over all, which seize me in its ruthless embrace and swept me, entangled with my burden, the whole length of the deck, till I brought up against the second-cabin door right aft, with a bang that knocked the scanty remnant of breath out of my trembling body. Down in the engine-room the grey-headed chief-engineer stood by the grunting machinery, his hand on the throttle-valve, which he incessantly manipulated to prevent the propeller racing the engines out of their seats whenever she lifted her stern out of the water and the screw revolved in thin air. For the old-fashioned low pressure engines had no ‘governor’, and consequently, no automatic means of relieving the terrific strain thrown upon them in such weather as this. And the firemen, who had to keep steam up, though they were hurled to and fro over the plates like toys, were probably in the most evil case of all.

binnacle

She must have been staunchly built, for she bore the fearful buffeting without any damage worth speaking of, except to the unfortunates who were compelled to attend to their duties under such difficulties. And after the gale blew itself out, and the glorious sun mounted triumphantly in the deep blue dome above, the scene was splendid beyond description. We always kept fairly close in with the land, except when crossing a deep bight, and the views we obtained of the magnificent scenery along that wonderful coast were worth enduring a good deal of hardship to witness. We arrived off the entrance to the Clarence River just at dark, and to my great astonishment, instead of going in, sail was set, the fires were damped down, and we stood ‘off-and- on’ until the daylight. As soon as there was sufficient light to distinguish objects on shore, we stood in; all passengers were ordered below and everything was battered down. All hands perched themselves as high as they could on the bridge, upper deck, and in the rigging, while we made straight for the bar. These precautions had filled me with wonders, for I knew nothing of bar-harbours. But when, on our nearer approach, I saw the mighty turbulent breakers rolling in mountains of snowy foam across the river’s mouth, I began to understand that the passage through that would mean considerable danger. Every ounce of steam we could raise was on her, and the skipper, a splendid specimen of a British seaman, stood on the bridge, the very picture of vigorous vigilance. We entered the first line of breakers, all around us seethed the turmoil of snowy foam, with not a mark of any kind to show the channel, except such bearings as the skipper knew of on the distant shore. Perched upon the rail, a leadsman sounded as rapidly as he could, calling out such depths of water as amazed me, knowing our draught. Along came an enormous wall of white water, overwhelming the hull and hiding it from sight. “Lead-quick”! Yelled the skipper above the thunder of the sea; and Joe screamed “Two, halt one, quarter less two.” Ahh! A long and grinding concussion as she tore up the ground, then along came another mighty comber over all. When it had passed we were over the bar and in smooth water, only the yeasty flakes of the spent breakers following us as if disappointed of their prey. A very few minutes sufficed to dry up the decks, and the passengers appeared well pleased to be in the placid waters of the river and at peace once more.

huge-anchor-light

What a lovely scene it was! At times we sped along close to the bank, while a great stretch of the river extended on the other side of us a mile wide, but too shallow for even our light draught. On gleaming sand-patches flocks of pelicans performed their unwieldy gambols, and shoals of fish reflected the sunlight from their myriad glittering scales. Turning a sharp bend we would disturb a flock of black swans that rose with deafening clamour in such immense numbers as to darken the sky overhead like a thunder-cloud. And about the bushes that clothed the banks, flew parrots, cockatoos, and magpies in such hosts as I had never dreamed of. For an hour we saw no sign of inhabitants; then, suddenly, we sighted a little village with a rude jetty and about half a dozen houses. All the population, I suppose, stood on the pier to greet us, who came bearing to them in their lonely corner a bit of the great outside world. Our skipper, though noted for his seamanship, was equally notorious for his clumsiness in bringing his vessel alongside a wharf, and we came into the somewhat crazy structure with a crash that sent the shore-folk scurrying off into safety until it was seen to be still intact. We were soon fast, and all hands working as Chinamen to land the few packages of goods, for we had a long way to go yet and several places to call at. Our discharging was soon over, the warps cast off, and followed by (as I thought) the wistful looks of the little community of Rocky Mouth, we proceeded up the river again.

Occasionally we sighted a homestead standing among a thick plantation of banana trees, each laden with its massive bunch of fruit, and broad area of sugar-cane or maize. From amongst the latter as we passed rose perfect clouds of cockatoos and parrots, screaming discordantly, and making even the dullest observer think the heavy toll they were levying upon the toiling farmer. Again we stopped at villages, each bearing a family likeness to the first, but all thriving, and inhabited by well-fed sturdy people. Just before sunset we arrived at Grafton, having passed but two vessels on our journey up – one a handsome Brigatine, whose crew were laboriously towing her along at a snail’s pace in a solitary boat, and the other a flat-bottomed, stern-wheel steamer of so light a draught that she looked capable of crossing a meadow in a heavy dew. There was a substantial jetty built out from the steep bank, to the end of which, after considerable fumbling about, we moored. The only house visible was a rather fine dwelling whose front verandah overlooked the jetty from the top of the bank. I was surprised to find quite a considerable town, with well laid out streets and every appearance. There was little inducement to remain, however, and I soon hurried on board again to enjoy some grand fishing over the side.

Here we remained for a week discharging our cargo and reloading with maize, cases of preserved beef and mutton, and bags of tin ore. Just before sailing we received a good deal of farm produce, including several hundred bunches of bananas, for which there was always a good demand in Sydney. In order not to miss a tide we sailed sometime one morning before daylight, and when about twenty miles down the river, ran into the region of a bush fire. As we had to hug the bank rather closely just there, we had an anxious time if it, the great shower of sparks and sheets of flame reaching out towards us as if determined to claim us, too, among their victims.

The sight was terribly grand; the blood-red sky overhead and the glowing river beneath making it appear as if we were between two furnaces, while the deep terrific roar of the furious fire so near drowned every other sound. All hands were kept alert dowsing sparks that settled on board of us, and right glad was everybody when we emerged into the cool and smoke-free air beyond. After that we had a most hum-drum passage all the way to Sydney…”[ii]

[i] The Grafton Argus, (Grafton) 8 January 1900, Trove, National Library of Australia website https://trove.nla.gov.au .Accessed 22 January 2018

ii   Bullen, Frank Thomas. The log of a sea-waif: being recollections of the first four years of my sea life. Smith, Elder & Co., 1899. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5osDe9. Accessed 21 Jan. 2018. Gale Document Number: GALE|BJPYVT144389105

Pictures from Google Images http://www.thepirateslair.com/10-21-huge-anchor-light.html retrieved 22 January 2018

 

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Occupations – The Lamp-Trimmer


The occupation of a ‘Lamp Trimmer” in the past was a very important one. These men were responsible for keeping ‘the lights’ in order and burning in all weather conditions, whether a municipal employee trimming the street lights, working for a railway company in trains and on stations, or even very large houses. However, it was on-board ships that he was of the greatest value.

Ship lights

 

In the days of sailing ships this duty might fall to one or more of the petty officers on-board to attend to the navigational lights required by International Marine Law.

 

In pre-electric light times, when candles and oil lamps were the solo means of illumination, the rule of ‘lights out’ at ten pm was strictly enforced as a precaution against fire.

 

However, as ships got larger, especially with the advent of steam power, a ‘lamp trimmer’ was usually employed to take care of the many lights on ships. Both the cabin and navigational lights.

 

The lamp trimmer usually worked from a small room known as a ‘lamp locker’ containing tanks of oil, (originally Camphene and later kerosene), rolls of wick, spare lamps, chimneys, burners, scissors, reflectors, and cotton waste for cleaning purposes. He spent part of his days and most nights moving around the ship trimming and attending to all kind of lamps.

 

Even after the introduction of the electric light, International Regulations for the safety of life at sea made it mandatory that all ships should carry a spare set of oil navigation lights. These consisted of two white mast-head lights, one stern light, two anchor lights, one signalling lamp, one red and one green side lights, and two red ‘not under command’ lights. The latter was displayed one above the other, not less than six feet apart, whenever a ship was not under proper control owing to some defect in her engines or steering gear. It was the signal to other ships to give her a wide berth.

 

Even when all the above lights were normally electric, the spare oil lamps had to be kept trimmed, and once a week they had to burn for two hours, to ensure they were in good order.

 

The lamp trimmer was often given the nickname of ‘Lamps’ or ‘Lampey”, and he had to be a very competent seaman, who knew the importance of keeping all the lights trimmed and working in all weathers and situations. An inexperienced or lazy seaman would never have been employed in that position.

It was never an easy job, but was often downright dangerous in stormy and wet weather as we learn from the experience of Frank Bullen in the next blog.

binnacle2Binaccle with light

 

 

 

Pictures from Google images https://www.google.com.au/  from ebay retrieved 22 January 2018

My Bell Family Ancestors – George Bell (1817-1894) – Red Herrings Sorted

In an earlier blog I wrote about the puzzle concerning the arrival of my ancestor George Bell into Australia, and the fact that he might have been a convict on board the convict ship ‘Asia’ in 1837. At fist glance it looked as if  the family might have been trying to cover up the fact.

The first thing I did was to follow this convict, George Bell/Ball, who was on boad the on the ‘Asia’, from his arrival, through his assignment, marriage and death. In all the records I found in New South Wales, he was listed as ‘George Ball”. He was assigned to J Andrews of Invermein on the Hunter River. He later married Mary Drumphy or Dunkley in 1844 and they had a number of children.. He received a Ticket of Leave in 1842 and later a Certificate of Freedom. He died on 8 September 1858.

I had researched my ancestor backward from the known to the unknown, and realized that the information on the convict George Bell/Ball did not match most of the information on my ancestor, George Bell. Right name, age and year of birth, and even in the same English county. However, the records in Australia -wrong wife, place of residence, occupation and death date didn’t add up

How could my George Bell arrive on the convict ship ‘Asia’ if he wasn’t a convict? He could have been the son of a convict; a soldier in the convict guard, an appointed government official, or a sailor. How was I to sort this out.

All convict ships because they were ‘Government Ships’ were well documented especially after about 1810.

The Captain was required to keep a log of all the details of the voyage.

A Surgeon Superintendent was appointed by the Home Office to overseer the health of all those on board. He was required to hand in a detailed report in his Journal, on his returned to London, and would then be paid for his services.

The ‘Asia’ was a ship of 533 tons, built in Calcutta, India in 1814 for the East India Company,. probably for the lucrative tea and spice trade.She was the fifth ship by that name for the Company and was often termed, ‘Asia V’. In 1827 she was first used as a convict transport and left Portsmouth on the 17 August under Captain Henry Agar, with 200 male convicts onboard. The Surgeon Superintendent was George Fairfowl.

In 1831 the Asia V was again used to transport convicts. On that voyage she brought out 220 male convicts, leaving Cork, Ireland on 6 August.The Captain was again Henry Agar. After a fast passage of 118 days she arrived in Sydney on 2 December. The return journey was made via Batavia, leaving Sydney on 2 January 1832.

The ‘Asia’ was commissioned for her third voyage as a convict transport in 1837. The captain for this voyage was Benjamin Freeman and the Surgeon Superintendant John Gannon.

A family story passed down to my Maternal Grandmother, Harriet May Bell, was that her grandfather, George Bell had come to Australia on an ‘uncle’s ship”. Was this a reference to the captain of the ship, rather than the owner? If that was true what relationship could Benjamin Freeman to the Bell family.

George Bell’s father, Thomas, had a younger sister, Ann Bell who married William Freeman at East Farleigh, Kent, in 1817. He is believed to be a relative, perhaps even a brother, of Benjamin Freeman.

Benjamin Freeman had come to Australia in 1836 as captain of the ‘Henry Wellesley’ on its first voyage as a convict transport. The ‘Henry Wellesley’ was a barque of 304 tons built in India in 1804. It left Ireland on 7 December 1835 with 118 female convicts and had come out direct with a passage of 123 days. The return voyage to England was by way of Batavia in the East Indies,

So it was Benjamin Feeman’s second voyage to Australia as a captain of a convict ship when he brought out the ‘Asia V’ in 1837. As far as I know The Captain’s Log Book has not survived, but Surgeon Superintendant Gannon’s Journal has survived, and is on microfilm at the National Library of Australia in Canberra as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.

From his Daily Sick List I found.

2 August 1837, George Bell, 20 years, seaman, inflamed thigh on sick list.

29 August 1837 Put off sick sick list as cured. (treated for nearly a month.)

5 November 1837, George Bell, 20 years, seaman, inflamed thigh.

12 November 1837 Put off sick list as cured.

This was John Gannon’s first trip to Australia as a surgeon on a convict ship. He made one more trip on the ‘Barossa’ on its third voyage in 1844 to Tasmania.

Another family story was that George Bell’s father, Thomas, had remarried after his wife’s death, and George and his brother James couldn’t get on with their step-mother, and decided to emigrate. At this stage the Bell family were very poor and there was no money for a passage on a ship. There were no Government Immigration Scheme’s to assist young men to emigrate either. I believe George and James made use of a family connection with the Freeman family to gain a place as a seamen on the convict ship coming to New South Wales. It was indicated that he had a letter of introduction to a settler at Camden and made his way their on arrival.

I believe the above mentioned George Bell is my ancestor. His older brother, James was also on board the ‘Asia’ and is also mentioned on the sick list, which is supportive evidence.

I have may have solved the problem of how and when my ancestor arrived in Australia. However, there were still more questions to answer.

Why did his marriage certificate state that he was ‘free by servitude’? Was it an error made by the clergy, or had he got into trouble after he arrived in Australia?

His marriage was seven years after his arrival in Australia and to date I have not been able to find him in the records during this time.

Although, I have many documents to tell the story of George Bell after his marriage in 1844,the seven years before his marriage in Australia, is a complete mystery. Still plenty of research to do on this ancestor.

Headstone George Bell

My Bell Family Ancestors – George Bell (1817-1894) – Sorting Red Herrings

I have blogged about my ancestor George Bell before, and mentioned that he was born in 1817 at East Farleigh, Kent, England.

He married Sarah Sargent at Sutton Forest in 1844 and settled in Picton, (NSW),where they raised a family of five sons and three daughters.

My next challenge was to find when and how he had arrived in Australia. Where would I find clues?

I had his full death certificate (1894) which stated he had been in the colonies 56 years. This would give me a time period of approximately 1837-1838.The informant was his eldest son, George.

On his marriage entry in All Saints, Church of England, Sutton Forest, (NSW) in 1844 he was a “bachelor, Free by Servitude” and his wife Sarah was a “spinster, Free Immigrant.” So, it looked like he may have been a convict!

When I had been researching his life at Picton I had come across a subscription publication, “Aldine’s History of NSW “(1888) in which there were biographical details of the pioneers, alledgedly submitted by themselves. There was an entry for George Bell in which states:-

In 1837 he left England to try his fortune in the colonies, and landed in the same year in Sydney.”

Amongst other material I have been able to find on the family was a copy of an article published in the journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. James Bell, the second son of George and Sarah Bell, who was born in 1847, and had spent his whole life in Picton, was asked to give a lecture to the Royal Historical Society on the history of Picton. In it he states:- “My father, George Bell, who was a native of East Furley (Farleigh), near Maidstone, in Kent, England, arrived in Sydney in 1838, a freeman, having joined the crew of the convict shipAsia (adopting the name of Freeman) to obtain a passage to Sydney”.

I had been able to confirm through parish records, that George Bell was born in East Farleigh, Kent in 1817, the son of Thomas and Mary Bell.

The immigration records for most government assisted immigrants have survived and are now held by the State Records of New South Wales, formerly known as the Archives Authority of NSW. These had been indexed by the staff and volunteers at the Mitchell Library, ( a part of the State Library of NSW), in the early part of the 20th Century. I started my ‘research’ into my Bell ancestors in 1973 and made a visit to the State Archives.

[Where as in the 1970’s it was only accessable by visiting the library and searching an in- house card index; by the 1980’s and 1990’s the Archives Authority made them available through several printed books based on the card indexes. They are now searchable on-line by logging onto the State Records of NSW website. These searches are free. ]

I was not able to find George Bell amongst the free immigrants to Sydney in 1837 or 1838.

A search of convict shipping records at the Archives Authority of NSW (now State Records)confirmed the convict ship ‘Asia’ did make a voyage to Sydney in 1837.

A check of the ‘Convict Indents’ at State Records for the 1837, Asia voyage also confirmed there was on board a convict named “George Bell, alias Ball. He was aged 20 years (born 1817), could read and write, was a Protestant, single and a native of Woolwich (Kent). He had been tried in the Central Court, London on 27th February (1837) for stealing hats and had been sentenced to seven years transportation.”

Great excitement, a convict in the family!I kept it quiet, as it was not fashionable to have convict forebears in the early 1970’s. Only after 1988!.

It looked as if there had been a family cover-up and I had found my ancestor coming as a convict.

Evidence:                           a. His marriage certificate in 1844 had stated that he was ‘free by servitude’.

          1. He was born in the right year , 1817.

          2. He was born in Kent, England. Woolwich is only a few kilometres from Maidstone.

          3. He arrived in Sydney in 1837.

          4. The convict ship ‘Asia’ had made a voyage to Sydney in 1837.

BUT,was this my ancestor, George Bell? Or were there two people with the same name on the same ship? More research was needed.

In my next blog I will explain some of the detailed research that helped to prove that this George Bell was not my ancestor. It is all too easy to trace the wrong family tree, if you are not careful.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 1, Tilbury

Vern and I have returned home from our overseas holiday, and it is now a month since we disembarked from our cruise with the Unlockthepast family history team on-board the Marco Polo. We had a marvellous time, and saw things, and went to places, we are not likely to see or do again.

Over the next few days I thought I would give you some idea what we saw and did, while on this cruise.

Day 1 , Saturday 19 July

We had been staying with distant cousins at Strood in Kent. We have the same ancestors some seven generations back on my ‘Bell’ family line. They had offered to drop us off at the Cruise Terminal at Tilbury, after we had lunched at a local pub called ‘The Three Crutches’. An interesting name for a pub, but that is another story.

The traffic was very heavy, so a forty minute journey took well over two hours and we arrived at the Tilbury Cruise Terminal just after three- thirty.

The Marco Polo was berthed at the terminal, and was already boarding passengers. She was not one of those huge floating cities, but had a more traditional profile with teak decks and a distinctive dark blue hull. She was just over 176 metres long and nearly 24 metres wide, and had 450 cabins, where she could accommodate up to 800 guests. She will be celebrating her Golden Jubilee (that’s 50 years) next year, and has a fascinating history. Check it out at www.cruiseandmaritime.com/ship/marco-polo/profile for photos and information.

There was all the hubbub of customs, and then the embarking hall where luggage, suitably ticketed, was whisked away by porters, and the ship’s staff collected our passports, took our photo and issued our photo identification boarding pass. This was a very important item for the cruise, as it not only got us on and off the ship but served as ‘cash’ on board.

As we walked along the covered gangway we could see artwork depicting the outlined shadows of all those who have used this terminal over the years. Here we also had ‘boarding photos’ taken by the ship’s professional photographers, which we could later purchase as mementoes of the voyage.

As we boarded the ship itself, we were met by staff and escorted to our cabin, where our luggage awaited us. We had requested this particular cabin, when we booked the cruise some nine months before.

We then went to the Marco Polo Lounge where we registered with the Unlockthepast team and collected our conference material and program.

We were soon out on deck watching others embarking.

I’m very interested in architecture and when I looked over to the front of the cruise terminal,I knew it was not a modern 21st Century building, and guessed it was much older, but how old? I made a mental note to research this when I had time. Anyone who knows me well, know I go off on research tangents all the time, as I want to know so much, about so many things.

IMG_1928-001

Anyway, when I ‘googled’ it on the Internet, I found it had quite an interesting and important place in British maritime history. For instance, it took an Act of parliament, so the first docks could be built here in 1882. Secondly, it will soon be celebrating it’s centenary as a cruise liner terminal, and thirdly, it was the port of embarkation for all those who emigrated to Australia under the assisted passage scheme established and operated by the Australian Government after World War II. The “Ten Pound Poms” as they were known in Australia.

Many elderly first generation Australians, researching their family history, will come across the name “Tilbury,” and I wondered, were there any actually on board with us?

After the obligatory safety drill – though we appreciate we have to do it, but hope never have to use it – we remained on deck, and watched and felt, the Marco Polo pull gracefully away from the wharf and slowly move towards mid-stream of the Thames. She then turned downstream, where we met other commercial tankers slowly moving upstream towards their designated berths.

It was fascinating to look across the river and see all the old bond stores,and derelict wharves, which had all seen better days. However,the big surprise was the several ‘tall ships’ or old sailing ships which were berthed in all their glory, possibly around Gravesend. I was quite emotional when I saw them, as I know some of my Bell family left Gravesend as sailors on the convict ship “Asia” in 1837. Perhaps a small ‘time-warp’ to give me a glimpse of those far off days.

We enjoyed dinner in the ship’s Bistro, before we returned to the Marco Polo Lounge for the ‘ meet and greet’ of the conference participants and lecturers. All those eager family historians were a friendly lot, and it was great to catch up with old friends, as well as make new ones. There was a great line-up of several of the world’s leading professional genealogists to share their knowledge and wisdom with us over the cruise.

It was then free time, so we returned to the deck to watch the passing ships and landscape. It was mid-summer and so there was a long twilight before darkness fell late in the evening.

DSC03646

As we moved out into the Thames Estuary, and were leaving the land behind, we were surprised to come across what looked like ‘ huge rusting metal crabs’ perching in the sea. A quick ‘google’ and another unusual and interesting glimpse into British maritime history, as I found that they were what was left of the defensive Maunsell Army Forts of World War II. Again I wondered if there were any among us whose parents worked at any of the Maunsell Naval Forts, consisting of one large platform or the three Maunsell Army Forts in the Thames Estuary at Nore, Red Sands and Shivering Sands, which was north of Herne Bay and over nine nautical miles from the nearest land. No place to be in the terrible North Sea winter gales.

I guess ‘Goodwin Sands’ mentioned in the great days of sailing ships must have been about here, or perhaps a little to the south.

It was then time for bed, and it was nice to go off to sleep with the sound of the ship’s engines murmuring below us.

Robert and Bridget Sherwood of Monasterevin, County Kildare Ireland

In my last blog on my Sherwood family, who arrived Sydney on board the Premier on 2 July 1840, I wrote about newspaper records that gave me much information about the ship and voyage itself.

This blog I’m going to concentrate on government records available concerning the immigrants themselves.

In the 1840 time period for my Sherwood family there are two sets of surviving government records. The Bounty Immigrant Lists and the Certificates of Entitlement. These are found on microfilm at State Records of NSW, and various libraries and family history societies throughout Australia. These records have also become available as scanned images on Ancestry.com through a partnership arrangement with the State Records of NSW.

Be advised they are two separate sets of records for assisted immigrants. They were created by two different agencies for different purposes, and both sets of records should be consulted to get the more complete details on your immigrants.

Records for Government assisted immigrants were organised into three sections. Families, which included husband, wife and children under about sixteen years of age; and single males and single female over about sixteen years of age.

The Bounty Immigrant Lists were made by the agents representing the shipping agency contracted for the shipment and safe arrival of the Government assisted immigrants. These agencies were paid by the ‘head’. So much per male adult, female adult and a sliding scale for children. The information was collected by the agency when the immigrant presented themselves at the immigration depots to be allocated a berth on the available ship. The information given verbally, recorded name, sex, age, religion, education, occupation and where they had come from. The information was collated and application was made to the government for the ‘bounty’ per head shipped.

Now let us look at these records for my Sherwood family.

Premier, 2 July 1840

Sherwood, Robert, 39 years, Cotton-weaver, Protestant, reads and write, of County Kildare, Ireland

“ Bridget, 35 years, House Servant, Protestant, reads, of County Kildare

“ Robert, 16 years, son, Protestant, reads, of County Kildare

“ Nelson, 14 years, son, Protestant, ditto, ditto

“ Joseph, 10 years, son, Protestant, ditto, ditto

“ Emily, 6 years, daughter, Protestant, ditto, ditto

“ Margaret, 4 years, daughter, Protestant, –

William Sherwood can be found in the single males list. Alice and Emily Sherwood can be found in the single female list.

The Certificates of Entitlement were created by the agents for the Government department responsible for Colonial Immigration. To qualify for free passage and assistance each emigrant had to satisfy certain selection criteria. They were also to supply certain documents to show their good character, age, usefulness when they arrived in the colony, ie trade, capacity to work etc. The information was given verbally and by the presentation of necessary documents. The agents filled in a proscribed form and each immigrant ended up with a ‘certificate of entitlement’ to free government assistance to emigrate.

These records are organised by ship and then under family, single male and female with a separate certificate issued for each adult immigrant with the younger children appended to their parent’s certificates.

The ‘Certificate of Entitlement” for Robert Sherwood can be summarised as-

Robert Sherwood a married male immigrant

Arrived by: Premier

Brought out by: Mr Capper

Native of : County Kildare, son of John a farmer and Mary his wife

Calling: (occupation) Cottonweaver

Age on Embarkation: 40 39

Persons certifying Registry of Baptism: not certified

Character and person certifying same: good, J Smith Barry JP

James Molloy JP

State of bodily health, strength and possible usefulness: good

Religion: Protestant

Remarks: Reads and Writes

It is interesting to note Robert’s age was stated as 40 and then corrected to 39 (years). In fact his true age was well outside the age guidelines for government free passage. Note his baptism was not certified. If it had been his true age would have been discovered.

His wife, Bridget and adult children, William, Alice and Emily, all have their own certificates giving further clues to this family and their life back in Ireland. For example those certifying character are often their former employer in cases of single immigrants.

By extracting and collating all the information from these records enables me to build a profile on each of these immigrants which will ultimately assist me in my research in Ireland.

I have noted in many Sherwood Family Trees on line that there is much confusion concerning “Emily Sherwood , 17 years” and “Emily Sherwood aged 6 years”, and people have ignored one or the other of these ‘Emilys’. in their trees. As I said before the Bounty Immigrants List and the Certificates of Entitlement were created by different people for different purposes and therefore both ‘Emily’s’ belong to the family in some way. With further research in Ireland and Australia, I believe I have now resolved this problem and will explain further in a later blog on this family.

A Sherwood family of County Kildare, Ireland

As I mentioned in a former blog I am preparing to visit Britain in a few weeks to attend a Family History Cruise with Unlockthepast on board the Marco Polo. Full details of this Conference Cruise can be found at http://www.unlockthepastcruises.com/

One of my ancestral families from Ireland is a Sherwood family. From documents I have collected in Australia I can briefly outline my family as below.

 SHERWOOD

Robert Sherwood, bc 1765, Monasterevin,County Kildare Ireland, Married 1818 in Kildare, Bridget Hannah Dunn.. Emigrated to Sydney per Premier in 1840. Issue included: William Dunn, b 1820; Amelia (Emily), b 1822; Robert, b 1825; Nelson, b 1828; Joseph, b 1830; Emily, b1833; Margaret, 1835.

Robert Sherwood died in 1860 and Bridget Sherwood in 1867. Both are buried in Sydney.

I have copies of several documents including Robert’s Death Certificate, Church Burial Entry and newspaper death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald., of 24 Sept, 1860 which states:-

At his residence, Balmain, on the 21st September, Mr. Robert Sherwood, aged 104 years, late of Malpes Court, New England, and formerly of Ivy House, county Kildare, Ireland. He served forty-two years in the army, and was highly respected by all who knew him.”

The earliest records I have for this family in Australia are their immigration records. Originally I located these records some forty years ago from the card indexes held at the NSW State Archives now State Records of New South Wales. This index gave me the information that the family arrived on the Premier on 2 July 1840. This index is now on http://www.ancestry.com. I have always found newspapers to be a great source for family history, and I encourage all family historian to tackle this great resource. I followed up the arrival of the Premier in the shipping intelligence and other sections of the Sydney Herald (Sydney), and other surviving newspapers of that time.

In the newspapers there is often information concerning the voyage and the ship itself, not found in the Harbour Masters Papers or other Shipping records, but sometimes much more, which adds to the family’s story. When looking for details on the voyage of the Premier in 1840, I certainly found some interesting information.

PREMIER, 560 tons, Weir, master, from Plymouth April 2nd, with 159 immigrants. Passengers, Mr. Ross, and T. Turner, Esq., surgeon. Agents. T. Gore and Co.

News – The William Mitchell had arrived from this port previously to the Premier sailing.

The Premier brings a fine and healthy looking body of Bounty Immigrants; during the voyage. only four infants were lost. She had an   uncommonly swift passage (90 days), though   becalmed for some time off the Cape.

However, by far the most interesting information was that there had been a mutiny on board.

The crew, incited by some Sydney crimp-taught fellows who were among them, mutinied and one of them had the audacity to strike the commander, after having given him the lie.

A mutiny you say! Great, how can I find out more about that?

Of course these sailors were incarcerated in the Sydney Gaol on arrival and hauled before the Courts to explain themselves. These Court cases were reported in the newspapers of the day, as well as other news items about the mutiny.

The fullest report by the Surgeon Superintendent Mr John Turner., was published in the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser. , 4 July 1840. Here is a short extract-

MUTINY ON BOARD The “Premier” Immigrant Ship   Dear Sir,–To prevent misconstruction, the following account of the mutiny on board the Premier, from the Log-book, is at your service, if worth inspection. I remain yours obediently, J. TURNER, Surgeon. ” I have much pleasure in bearing testimony to the ready and willing manner in,which most of the male Immigrants came forward on Tuesday the 6th of June to assist in navigating the ship under circumstances of a most trying nature.. ……

The Court Reports of the 7th July published in the same newspaper on the 8th and 9th of July gave further details. The full extracts run to some twelve pages of notes for my Sherwood Family History file.

All these newspapers can be freely accessed online in Digitised Historical Newspapers through Trove on the National Library of Australia website at https://www.nla.gov.au/

Although my ancestors are not named in these reports we know that approximately twenty four male immigrants of about forty five assisted the officers and apprentices to ‘man’ the ship for about two days. There is no doubt all on board would have been aware of what was happening. It would have been very traumatic for many, especially during the gales as most were from poor farming communities of Ireland, and had never been to sea before. What great details to add to the story of the Sherwood family’s voyage to Australia.

I encourage everyone interested not only in the Sherwood family, but anyone descended from one of the 30 families or the 16 unmarried men or 35 single women on this voyage to look up these newspapers to get a feel of what went on at the time.

Next blog I will be discussing surviving government records available for the Premier’s, 1840 voyage with information about the immigrants themselves. I will be looking at these records for my Sherwood family.