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Week 20 - infectious disease

[ 3rd of July 1836 to 9th of July 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 20 - Superstitions ]

The Duke of York is now in the Southern Ocean, making good progress. It is Captain Morgan’s wife’s birthday and he reflects endearingly on his love for her and his happiness in the married state.

On board the Africaine Mary Thomas is not so happy, as she struggles to nurse her sick children in the confined intermediate cabin.  She remarks that she ‘was five nights without taking [her] cloathes [sic] off.’ Mary is particularly unimpressed with the ship’s doctor, who seems indifferent to her son’s illness, but perhaps this is unfair.  Scarlet fever was much feared. Recovery depended more on constant nursing and good luck than medical intervention.  The doctor may have judged that he was better avoiding contact with such an infection, lest it spread throughout the ship.

Unhappiness is also apparent on the Cygnet. Although the ship is once again underway, resentment continues to fester between Finniss and Kingston. Finniss is careful to record the mounting catalogue of Kingston’s errors.

Barque Africaine in the Indian Ocean. JM Skipper, 1836.


Journals from passengers at sea:

Sunday 3 July 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

… To day is the natal yearly return of my beloved partner
…  I desire to bless
God for the gift of my partner once was my Idol but
God has given me to see we must not set up Idols in our
hearts but the love is not lessend but is more firm
and pure founded on the word and promices of
God (from the Hebrew). Jehovah that marage is honorable among men and
aproved by God on earth …
… the thoughts of
home smoths the ruged parths of this life and
the word of God stills the proud waves that whould
founder my poor Ships were generally classed by the way they were rigged for sail. A bark (also spelt barque) is a sailing ship which has: three masts, square sails on the front or forward mast square sails on the middle or mast mast, and triangular sails on the back or mizzen mast. They were relatively small sailing ships in the 1830s. bark the waves that whould beat
on me and overwelm me is stayd by the word of God
…  – we sung the 491st hymn I indea
vourd to be faithfull to the crew I pointed them to
a beutifull rain bow an emblem of the covernant
God has made with falling and raiseing man

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Sunday 3 July 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

On Thursday, June 30th at four o’clock Harriet & I joined the Africaine at Gravesend which immediately afterwards moved down with the tide. To those who know my wife’s ardent attachment to her family and their unsurpassed love for her, a description of her anguish at parting and state on embarkation would be superfluous – they can imagine it all; … Fortunately the weather was delightful; the light winds that blew gave hardly any perceptible motion to the ship, and were refreshing in the extreme. Sleep aided to restore her, and by Saturday afternoon when the Africaine anchored off Deal for the reception of the Captain & some of the party, she was in good health and spirits.

In the course of the afternoon Capn Duff and his wife came on board. They had been married but on the previous Thursday; a circumstance which had caused a little delay in the departure of the ship from London; with them Mr & Mrs Hallett arrived. On the following morning Mr & Mrs Brown were received on board, and with them the number of passengers was completed…

The vessel being in disorder in consequence of her this day commencing her voyage, prayers were not read; some books were however distributed among the passengers which had been supplied by my friend Mr Binney for the use of the ship during the voyage, afterwards to be given by me to some public religious institution. On conversing with some of the labouring emigrants, I find they are desirous of establishing a school on board for the instruction of some of the party who are unable to read. When the first trials of the passage are over, this will be a subject for attention. Letters were sent home from Deal to numerous members of our families.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 5 July 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

5th. Tuesday. At 10 o’clock the A port health officer who inspects the health of all on board, usually upon arrival at a foreign port. A ship remains in quarantine on arrival in port until it has been granted its certificate of pratique. Pratique officer arrived on board and the ship got under weigh steering S. by E. Wind from the eastward.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 5 July 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

The weather hitherto had been remarkably fine, but
this afternoon some rain fell and the wind rose considerably. The
night passed A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed. squally and I was again up with the invalids in my
cabin, William with the scarlet fever, and Mary with such a
violent pain in her head and neck, and excessive weakness, that I
was afraid to trust her out of my sight. Helen was now better, and
in the next cabin, which was allotted to my three daughters and a
young female whom we brought out with us as assistant. We had
also brought two men as agricultural labourers, and two printers,
one an apprentice, as Mr Thomas intended to issue a newspaper,
as soon as possible, in conjunction with Mr Stevenson, the Governor’s
Secretary, who was to be the editor, and with whom he had
entered into partnership for the purpose. Much of our luggage
on board, of which we had a great quantity, consisted of a printing
press, type, and other materials necessary for the undertaking.
William usually slept in a hammock which was slung near
us in the Cabins of lesser comfort than those occupied by privileged passengers and intermediate between them and the dormitory accommodation afforded the emigrants. intermediate where our cabins were situated, in the
most airy part, for we could not obtain any in the after part of the
vessel. …
We had a surgeon on board (at least one who called himself
such) but as to his medical skill, if he had any, he showed but
little of it with regard to my children. When William was so un-
fortunately taken with the scarlet fever he did not once come to
see him, although he was in the opposite cabin and well aware
of it, till I asked him; and when he said a blister was necessary
for his throat, instead of preparing it – as I expected he would
do, having a medicine chest on board – he went on shore at Deal
and remained the whole day. So I took my own method by
applying a A poultice is a soft moist mass, often heated and medicated, that is spread on cloth over the skin to treat an aching, inflamed, or painful part of the body. poultice , which I afterwards continued, and William
found great relief from it. Fortunately I had also a bottle of saline
mixture and another of the gargle which I had from the doctor
who attended the other children before our departure, which with
some lemons we procured from Deal, enabled me to give him what
was most necessary. At least he was more indebted under Providence
to my nursing for his recovery, than to any medical attendance
on board; as was Helen likewise. The three girls also suffered
severely from seasickness, especially Frances, the eldest, who was
confined to her bed for several days. Mr Thomas suffered but
little from that cause, and for myself, thank God, I was very well,
and though sometimes ill it was soon over…
The young girl we brought with us I found but little use, as she
would not exert herself much for anyone, though well able to do
so. I was five nights without taking my cloaths off, and slept but
little the whole time. I had great reason to be thankful that I bore
it so well, or I know not what others would have done. All the
children continued ill – William just beginning to recover from
the fever, but not out of bed, Helen also confined to her bed, and
the others but little better – unable to procure any comforts for
them which I would have had on land, the ship rolling about so
that nothing would stay in its place, and during the night in total
darkness, as no light was allowed after 9 o’clock, except in the
state cabin, and what we had was only a miserable lamp, the very
shadow of a light, hung up in the centre between the cabins. With
all this it required some resolution to keep up my spirits, and thank
Heaven I did keep them up. Though the hatches were often
closed during the night, for it rained heavily with tremendous
thunder and lightning, I did not feel the least alarm or repent
having undertaken the voyage; my greatest anxiety being to get
the children well.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 7 July 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

7th. Thursday.  Captain Lipson offered to Kingston to divide the crew into watches, and teach them the management of the ship, Kingston replied he must consider. N.B. Previous to this I had observed to Kingston the necessity of putting his men on duty to learn the management of the ship.

Latitude is the distance of a point north or south of the equator as measured in degrees. The poles are at 90 degrees north and south. Lat. At noon 27.8. Steering S.E. by South. 5 The speed of ship or wind in nautical miles per hour. A float is dropped overboard and the speed is indicated by the rate at which the ship sails away from it. Spacing of knots in the log-line connected to the float is in same proportion to a mile as the half-minute sandglass used is to an hour, thus the number knots counted off in the time is the speed in knots. knots .

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 9 July 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

9th. Saturday.  Yesterday Kingston complained of the biscuits.

Latitude is the distance of a point north or south of the equator as measured in degrees. The poles are at 90 degrees north and south. Lat. 29.30. Longitude is the distance, measured in degrees, of the meridian on which a point lies to the meridian of Greenwich. On the other side of the earth to Greenwich is a point with a longitude of both 180 degrees east and 180 degrees west. Long 39.1. Wind on the The old term for the left hand side of a ship looking forward. The right hand side is starboard. To avoid mis-hearing an order, it is now referred to as ‘port’. Larboard quarter since 10 o’clock.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Next week: The Duke of York is on course for Kangaroo Island and Captain Morgan catches his first sight of land. Cabin passengers on the Africaine dine ‘sumptuously’, and the Buffalo is about to set sail.

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Image credit: The barque Africaine in the Indian Ocean, Wednesday 12 October 1836, J.M. Skipper. Image courtesy of the NLA.

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