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.
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.