Mid North Coast Pioneers - Newcastle to Lismore and beyond


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Journal of passenger, 22 year old Nathaniel Oldham of London as transcribed by Ian Wright in January 2002.

"The "Bengal" was a 3 masted barque of 657 tons, registered in Glasgow, under the command of Captain Adam Carson. She left St.Catherine Docks, London on Thursday, October 24th to anchor in the stream at Gravesend from where she set sail for Plymouth on Saturday the 26th of October, 1839 with a cargo of 1,100 tons of general and liquor and 300 tons of solid ballast. She had no sooner commenced her voyage down the River Thames to the open sea under the tow of a steam tug, when about 12 miles below Gravesend, the tug unceremoniously cast off the towline without permission of either Captain Carson or the Pilot, leaving the vessel stranded and forced to anchor for the night to await sufficient tide to cross the Flats. She was underway once more the following morning at 6, under full sail and arrived at Spithead the following morning, Monday the 28th and was safely anchored in Portsmouth Harbour by 3 p.m. Here the remaining passengers joined the vessel as did a collection of live stock; namely cocks and hens, geese, ducks, dogs, cats, a cow, a bull, a goat and a stallion, all who lived 'on deck’. The vessel was ready to depart by 5 p.m. on Wednesday the 30th of October, but the Pilots refused to take the vessel through the "The Needles”, the narrow passage between the Western side of the Isle of Wight and the mainland, in darkness; so once again she had to remain at anchor until dawn the following day, when she finally left for Australia.

Passage was across the Bay of Biscay, down the coast of Portugal, where they encountered their first heavy weather which lasted several days and caused one bench seat in the dining saloon to break away from the bulkhead whilst 10 gentlemen were thereupon seated, the galley fires to be put out by breaking seas coming onboard, crockery to be broken and most of the 33 passengers to be seasick. The course continued past the Islands of Madeira on the 13th of November and the Canary Group on Friday 15th.On Wednesday 20th, Captain Carson discovered that the Charterer, a Mr. Tiplady, had failed to provide sufficient lamp oil for the cabin lights so the passengers were forced either to sit in the dark at night or to use their own supply of candles. The Captain also informed the passengers that one of the passengers, Mr Watkins, had agreed with Tiplady to act in a medical capacity for the passengers for a reduction in his passage costs but that he had not provided himself with a Medicine Chest. There was a Medicine Chest on board for the 37 crew, provided by the Ship's owner and under the charge of Mr. Shearer who had refused to allow any further access to Mr. Watkins after he had allowed Mrs. Watkins to consume some 1050 drops of Laudanum (Tincture of Opium, a sedative) in a week. The passengers resolved to consult Mr. Shearer for any medical aid they required and to renumerate him for same at the end of the voyage.

From about November 27th as the vessel approached the equatorial region and the dreaded 'doldrums' her daily average speed steadily declined from 7 knots on the 27th to just 2 knots on the 29th. One of the few benefits of this region were the tropical rain showers which fell on the vessel and from which several 'tuns' of water were collected in every description of pail, tubs, buckets etc. that could be found. The hen coops were removed from the Poop so the water collected from there would not be contaminated and the ducks and geese were let loose to enjoy the soaking. Several passengers also took advantage of a freshwater shower as a change from their daily ritual in saltwater.

On the 3rd of December,1839 the "Bengal" passed a Danish vessel "Alwina & Clara" ,20 days out from Rio to Trieste, Italy and Captain Carson put down a boat which rowed across to the other ship to deliver passenger's mail for posting back to England. The Master of the Danish vessel was given 2 buckets of potatoes for his trouble. At 2.30 pm the following day the vessel crossed the Equator in Longitude 25 degrees West (about 1,000 miles SW of Freetown) and the traditional antics of "King Neptune" and his horrible cohorts were performed on any person who was a first time "line crosser".

During the course of the voyage, the passengers amused themselves by catching sharks and dolphins for the table, catching albatross for souvenir beaks or feet, night-time cockroach hunting, playing chess and singing after the evening meal. But the Nightingale of the Company is Mr. Dark who has a very large fund of songs, especially comic ones, and he has a very great fondness & taste for sacred music; by him we are often amused with a song”. Sunday services were taken very seriously by the passengers, with several requests made to the Captain as to their content etc. Amongst the passengers was the Rev. Grange & family, who was assisted when necessary by other passengers. Crew members also attended these services.

From Thursday the 19th of December, the Westerly Longitude began to decrease which indicated that the ship was heading in a more Easterly direction towards the Cape of Good Hope. The most Westerly Longitude reached was 28 d. 45' on the 11th. Christmas celebrations began on the eve with a bowl of punch for the passengers and was followed by numerous toasts with full glasses of wine long into the evening. Divine service was observed in the Cuddy (Saloon) the following Christmas morning. The evening dinner consisted of Turkey, Goose, fowls, ducks, joints, plum duff & Champagne for the numerous toasts.

The following morning the vessel was passing to the Eastward of the Islands of Tristan de Cuhna,some 150 miles distant, and the vessel was visited by many sea birds, namely the Tern or Sea Swallow, the Cape Hen, the large Gull, the Whale Bird, the Sea Cob, the Buzzard and the Albatross, which the passengers who had firearms, proceeded to shoot in large numbers for several days; "sparing neither powder nor shot"!

By now the vessel was on an Easterly course towards the Cape and crossed the Greenwich Meridian of 0 degrees sometime on the 29th of December, making a good speed of 9 knots. The passing of the year 1839 was again celebrated by much drinking and toasting and with a surprise visit at midnight by the appropriately attired "ghost of the departed year" (the Steward's Mate),who after causing the unsuspecting passengers much consternation, then went forward to do the same to the Sailors. Unfortunately, here he was met with buckets of salt water!! The Captain closed the celebrations at 1 a.m.

The vessel passed about 150 miles to the South of Capetown around midnight of the 4th of January,1840,the "roaring Forties" prevailing wind, as well as giving good speed,even under reefed topsails, caused both the mainsail and the main topsail to split and to be replaced.

"Whilst Mr. Dark was sitting on the Poop this evening (Jan.10) expatiating on the comforts of his waterproof hat & stating that he would not be without it on any account, he declared by way of a joke that it would do very well to wear to church in Sydney, but the words were no sooner out of his mouth than the favourite black hat was blown overboard, and he had the satisfaction of seeing it sail away astern in beautiful style to the admiration of numerous Sea-birds."

At first light on Monday the 13th January,1840 another barque was spotted travelling in the same direction at about 12 miles and due to the relatively calm conditions it took the "Bengal" most of the day to overhaul her. After some persuasive talk from the passengers, a boat was lowered at 5 o'clock containing 4 'smart' oarsmen and 2 passengers armed with a can for oil & money for candles. It took them about one and a half hours to reach the other vessel, which was the "Columbia" of 257 Tons Register, Captain Wakens, bound for Port Phillip, NSW (Melbourne; Victoria didn't separate from NSW until 1851) with 7 cabin & 11 intermediate passengers from Liverpool, which she left on October 23rd,1839.On deck, the returning passengers related, she had 3 bulls, a heifer, 2 goats, 8 sheep, 5 pigs and 9 dogs as well as great quantities of hay. Captain Wakens was unable to provide any oil, his own vessel being short; but he did make a present of several pounds of candles as well as several glasses of grog for the boat crew before they returned to an anxious "Bengal" at about 9 p.m., aided by several lights which the vessel had posted. Captain Wakens accepted an invitation to visit the "Bengal" the following day and to bring several of his passengers with him and to possibly have a long troublesome tooth drawn as his vessel was without a Surgeon. Due to a freshening breeze the following morning this never took place, much to the disappointment of the "Bengal"s passengers who had gotten dressed in their finery for an anticipated social exchange!!

The previous evening "whilst we were all sitting together at the Cuddy table discussing the day's adventures, the Doctor came in beastly drunk, and grossly insulted Mr. Dark who was sitting at the top of the table. After this he came upon deck and told the Captain to his face that he did not care a d--- for him or anybody else, of which no notice has been taken this evening on account of his intoxicated state. It appears that for some reason or other he was annoyed at the boat being sent off, and bet one pound with Mr. Hawkes that it would not return before midnight, which he consequently lost and paid, but such is my opinion of this treacherous ignoramus that I do not think he would have paid it had he not been drunk. Subsequently he appeared again on deck and followed Mr. Dark who retreated to the Cuddy much frightened, in consequence of the Doctor having before asserted that he would stab any man who offended him, or give him a dose if he were ill. Mr. Dark, who is a strong, well made man was too much frightened to go into his Cabin to sleep, when I offered to make him up a berth in mine upon my sheets, which he gladly accepted, and I removed his mattress for that purpose into my cabin, with his blunderbuss and a brace of pistols, which he kept loaded under his pillow, besides taking the precaution of fastening the Cabin door. When this was ended we went down to bed, and soon forgot in sleep the spirit stirring scenes with which we had been surrounded. "The following day the Captain dismissed the Doctor from having his meals in the Cuddy. "Mr. Dark again avails himself of my permission to sleep in my Cabin tonight, and has gone below to make the necessary preparations; whither I shall soon follow."

At about 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan 17th the Fore-top and Fore-top-gallant masts carried away with a loud crash, the Fore-top- gallant backstay having parted. The crew spent all night removing the damaged masts, cross trees and associated rigging to the maindeck. This was further complicated when at about 1 p.m. the following day, the vessel was struck by a sudden rain squall which caused further rigging damage. By 4 p.m. Sunday a new mast had been fitted, the rigging fixed and the associated sails bent on and set.

On Monday evening, the 20th, the passengers and Officers were abused in the Cuddy by several drunken sailors which followed several of them being ordered off the wheel earlier in the day, them 'shaping' up to several of the Officers concerned & blows being exchanged between one man and the Captain. This resulted eventually in the Captain arming himself and his Officers and proceeding into the crew's quarters and placing the offenders in irons. Meanwhile the frightened passengers had several of them keep an armed guard in the passenger quarters overnight. During all this mayhem the Doctor walked the deck not offering any assistance to the Captain or his Officers; the medicine cabinets were removed from his custody into the Captain's cabin by a petition signed by the passengers. Investigation of the drunkenness of the crew members revealed that they had breached the forward store room by removing a bulkhead plank giving access to a cask of Gin. Once repaired there was no further trouble. Another topmast was carried away on Sunday the 26th Jan, this time in calm conditions but with a swell which caused the vessel to roll heavily and the topmast to break; pieces of it falling on deck.

Later the same day, the Doctor, having already consumed 1 bottle of Port,1 of Sherry,1 of Ale & 7 glasses of Brandy & water, became annoyed when his request for a bottle of Claret was denied and sent a drunken message to the Captain. This resulted in Captain Carson arming himself and threatening to "blow the Doctor's brains out" should he venture on deck. Captain Carson must have wondered if all commands were like this. Just 24 years of age, this Scotsman had sailed out to the East in the previous voyage of the "Bengal" as second mate, returning as First Mate and being given command for this voyage to Australia. He was ably supported by the First Mate, another Scotsman, William Currie and the Second Mate, an Englishman, Sydney Parry. The Third Mate was Benjamin Baynton recently promoted from 5th Mate on the "Kellie Castle".

To lessen the vessel's rolling after the broken topmast incident, the Captain ordered some heavy items of cargo to be raised in the hold and 6 empty casks were lashed on deck and filled with saltwater to assist.

By Saturday the 8th of Feb,1840 the vessel was some 275 miles South of Albany, Western Australia and encountered a Southern Ocean gale which lasted for 4 days, during which time the vessel scudded along at 7 knots, despite only having 3 or 4 heavily reefed sails up. Sections of the main deck bulwarks were damaged by seas coming on board; the accommodation down to the 2nd deck was flooded and the passengers discovered that their previous wide range of food was becoming somewhat limited. The last pig and duck were killed on Wed.12th; the last bottle of Champagne drunk on Thurs, 20th as the vessel passed between Cape Otway and King Island at Noon; both apparently visible from the ship. Having been fortunate to make a landfall in daylight (there were no lighthouses built in this area until 1848) in an area which claimed many ships and lives, on the following day the vessel was driven well South of her intended track around Wilson's Promontory by a Northerly gale. By sunset they were in sight of Waterhouse Island on the Northern Coast of Tasmania."