Bound for South Australia

Between February and July 1836 nine ships left Britain bound for the newly created province of South Australia.  Estimates of the precise number of intending settlers on board vary between different historical sources.  The 1837 report of the South Australian Colonization Commission claimed 546, all hoping for a better life on the other side of the world. Over many long months they braved the perils of the ocean, including some of the most treacherous seas in the world.

Most of the passengers had never been to sea before and along with their sadness at leaving home, most battled seasickness, made infinitely worse by the cramped quarters they shared with others. They were often anxious and this anxiety was not misplaced.

The wooden vessels that carried them were very small by modern standards and were powered solely by sail. At the mercy of wind, waves and tide, they required both consummate skill and a measure of luck to reach their journey’s end safely. Sometimes during these journeys the ships were dwarfed by the mountainous waves that came surging over their decks, while gale force winds battered the rigging, snapping masts in two. At such times the danger of shipwreck was very real and most faced that prospect at least once during the voyage. At other times they were becalmed for days, drifting alone in an endless sea.

A map created for the East India Company in 1829 showing sailing routes from England to China.

From now until the end of the year we will retrace these momentous journeys, sharing the hopes and fears of those on board through their own writings.  175 years later, this is the first time these historical sources have ever been brought together and they tell a compelling story. As pieces of prose they vary, from the fluent to the laconic, from spare notations of weather and position recorded faithfully in captains’ logs, to lively descriptions of people and events preserved in private letters and diaries. But together they tell a remarkable story of the experiences of these consummate risk-takers, who left family and friends behind to create a new society on the other side of the world.

Over the coming months we will come to know some of them very well.  Each week, coinciding with the first departures in February to the last arrivals at Holdfast Bay in December, we invite you to share another chapter in the journey of a lifetime as our nine ships make their way to South Australia.  You can join the journey from Week 1 or from the latest weekly post.


Latest Weekly Post:

Week 45 – Journey’s end and new beginnings

[ 25th of December 1836 to 31st of December 1836 ]

Christmas Day dawns fine and hot in the settlements, with the colonists in pensive mood.  Inevitably their thoughts turn to friends and family in England as they reflect on the very different circumstances of this first Christmas in South Australia. As usual Mary Thomas is the optimist.  She attends a makeshift church service in the [...]

Week 45 – Journey’s end and new beginnings, (Resources for schools).

Previous Weekly Posts:

Week 44 – ‘excellent eating’: kelp, parrots and a new oven, (Resources for schools).
Week 43 – settling on Holdfast Bay, (Resources for schools).
Week 42 – the scourge of scurvy, (Resources for schools).
Week 41 – Fire!, (Resources for schools).
Week 40 – Finally! The harbour is found, (Resources for schools).
Week 39 – settling in at Holdfast Bay, (Resources for schools).
Week 38 – lost in the bush, (Resources for schools).
Week 37 – taxing ‘ardent spirits’, (Resources for schools).
Week 36 – the Africaine approaches, (Resources for schools).
Week 35 – feasting on fish, (Resources for schools).
Week 34 – a tempest, (Resources for schools).
Week 33 – seeking a site for settlement, (Resources for schools).
Week 32 – Visions of the future, (Resources for schools).
Week 31 – Farewell to the Duke of York, (Resources for schools).
Week 30 – First encounters, (Resources for schools).
Week 29 – Impressions of the mainland, (Resources for schools).
Week 28 – A wedding on the beach, (Resources for schools).
Week 27 – a scandal averted, (Resources for schools).
Week 26 – the expanding settlement, (Resources for schools).
Week 25 – The demon drink, (Resources for schools).
Week 24 – Trouble on land and at sea, (Resources for schools).
Week 23 – Landfall, (Resources for schools).
Week 22 – all ships underway, (Resources for schools).
Week 21 – a sumptuous feast, (Resources for schools).
Week 20 – infectious disease, (Resources for schools).
Week 19 – farewells and new beginnings, (Resources for schools).
Week 18 – the port of Rio, (Resources for schools).
Week 17 – wet weather and wild tempers, (Resources for schools).
Week 16 – towards Australia, (Resources for schools).
Week 15 – high drama on the John Pirie, (Resources for schools).
Week 14 – steady progress, (Resources for schools).
Week 13 – tensions reach breaking point, (Resources for schools).
Week 12 – Crossing the line, (Resources for schools).
Week 11 – ‘dangers stand thick all around’, (Resources for schools).
Week 10 – fine weather and sea shanties, (Resources for schools).
Week 09 – to sea at last, (Resources for schools).
Week 08 – adieu to old England, (Resources for schools).
Week 07 – aftermath of the storm, (Resources for schools).
Week 06 – a ‘perfect Hurricane’, (Resources for schools).
Week 05 – the Cygnet sets sail, (Resources for schools).
Week 04 – A fair wind, (Resources for schools).
Week 03 – Waiting on the wind, (Resources for schools).
Week 02 – Storm in the Channel, (Resources for schools).
Week 01 – Setting sail, (Resources for schools).

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Image credit: Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia, Map RM 4281.