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Week 12 - Crossing the line

[ 1836 to 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 45: Proclamation and Celebration ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 43: Kangaroo Island ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 40 - Finally! The harbour is found ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 37: Building a Home ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 36: Family Life ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 35: Pastimes ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 34 - a tempest ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 26: Whose story? ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 25 - The demon drink ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 22: In Good Time ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 20 - infectious disease ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 18 - the port of Rio ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 16: Crossing the Line ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 16 - towards Australia ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 15 - high drama on the John Pirie ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 08: Employment ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 06 : Weathering the Storm ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 05: Ship Shape ]

As the Duke of York nears the Equator the crew hopes to have a bit of fun. Crossing the Line ceremonies were common on sailing vessels and often involved ‘King Neptune’ coming on board to ‘baptise’ first timers.  Crew members and passengers might be ‘shaved’ with big mock razors and all by-standers were often doused with water. But Captain Morgan has other ideas. He is offended by these ‘heathen practices’  and heroically (according to his diary) protects his passengers from such indignities. In recording these events he cannot resist a little moralizing about his own superiority!

But this skylarking pales into insignificance beside the drunkenness and cruelty on board the Lady Mary Pelham. This finally ends in tragedy with the death of the first mate James Doine Thompson of a ‘brain fever’, brought on, it is said, by ‘excessive drinking.’ In an extraordinary letter to George Fife Angas, the second mate, Alexander Dawsey, claims that Thompson and the third mate  Walter Edmunds had been in a  permanent ‘State of Intoxication’ from the moment they left England. He provides a particularly graphic account of Thompson’s death, in the full grip of a terrifying delirium in which he believes himself to be surrounded by malignant phantoms. Thompson leaves a widow: ‘a stranger among a strange people going to a strange land’, as Robert Morgan writes. Women took particular risks in deciding to emigrate at this time, as the fate of a widow without family support was dire. We will try to discover what happens to Mrs Thompson after the voyage.

The John Pirie meanwhile is lolling about in the tropics, the passengers vainly seeking some air on deck.  Accommodation below decks is said to be ‘like a hot oven’. The crew finally manages to catch a [tooltip color=”grey” text=”A porpoise is a small marine mammal related to whales and dolphins. The word ‘porpoise’ has sometimes been used by sailors and fishermen to refer to any small dolphin.”] porpoise [/tooltip], providing all on board with a change from salt meat, which makes everyone feel better.

1849 sketch of a sailor trying to catch a porpoise while standing on the bowsprit of the ship
Trying for a porpoise. Edward Snell, 1849.


Journals from passengers at sea:

Week 42: Numeracy Onboard

Over the past eight months we have read many journal entries, diaries and letters describing the experiences, thoughts, ideas and feelings of those onboard the nine ships. We have followed the authors…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Week 25 – The demon drink

[ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | , on board the | | | | | | | | wrote.]

On land It is one week into the grand experiment of colonisation and things are not going well at Nepean Bay. Samuel Stephens and Captains Morgan and Ross have their hands full, with both the company …

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Week 20 – infectious disease

[ | | | | | | | | | | , on board the | | | | | | wrote.]

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….

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Week 14 – steady progress

[ | | | | | | | | | , on board the | | | | | wrote.]

All six ships are making steady progress, sailing south in the Atlantic. The weather is fine and conditions pleasant, but relations on board the John Pirie and the Cygnet are tense. On the John Pirie …

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Week 13 – tensions reach breaking point

[ | | | | | | | , on board the | | | | | wrote.]

This week we catch up with the Cygnet as it approaches the Equator. A bout of bad weather has seen many of the passengers sick and conditions below deck are foul. Boyle Travers Finniss is impatient with…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Week 06 – a ‘perfect Hurricane’

[ | | | | , on board the | | | wrote.]

On 26 March the John Pirie seemed to be making progress, as it finally cleared the English Channel and struck out for the Atlantic Ocean. But just west of the Bay of Biscay the weather worsened…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


As the Cygnet approaches the tropics a general malaise seems to infect the ship.  The passengers are fractious and the crew mutinous.  Boyle Travers Finniss determines on a thorough clean up. But on the Lady Mary Pelham the crew is more sober.

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Comments or Questions:

2 Responses to “Week 12 – Crossing the line”

  1. Fried Poul October 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Wow……. it’s great to learn about the sea journey of a lifetime….. I’ve enjoyed reading all the lines of your post. I think their activities through the sea are very risky. . Thanks for being true about this 🙂

  2. Ian Modjo May 9, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    As a retired South Aussie living in Kupang, Indonesia, I am thoroughly enjoying your posts and look forward to what’s to come. Especially being able to relate the names of the participants [ Angas, Finniss, Pirie, etc ] to places in South Australia which perpetuate their memory.

    Thanks heaps to the team.

    Ian Modjo

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