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A Fearful Voyage to a New Life
in the Colony.
The "Maitland" was chartered under Admiralty control, and the charter organisers were able to cram 205 adults, 111 children and some livestock (for fresh food) on board for this journey, under the care of Ship's Master Marshall Baker and Surgeon John Smith. Most passengers were being "assisted" to emigrate from England by their Parishes, who paid around Five Pounds in sponsorship in order to remove their commitment to support these poorer families.
Most of the emigrant families came from south-eastern England, notably Kent and East Sussex. Added to the crowded and unhygienic conditions, the effect of typhus and scarlet fever infections resulted in a very high mortality rate amongst the passengers.
It is recorded that the "Maitland" made other voyages, but these were apparently all as a convict carrier, up until 1854, to destinations including Sydney (1840), Norfolk Island (1843), Hobart (1846) Port Phillip (1849) and Van Dieman's Land (1854).
On this particular voyage, the "Maitland" departed from Gravesend, which is on the southern bank of the Thames, in Kent, just west of the river's mouth.(The photo presented in the above link is of Gravesend Town Pier, which was built in 1834, just 4 years before the Wenbans departure.) The "Maitland" raised anchor on 24 June 1838, and arrived in Sydney, Australia on 6 November 1838.
The Passenger list included ….. WENBAN: John, Mary and children * Hawkhurst, Kent
Reports from the “Maitland”
Inspector Dept of Hospitals Office
Sydney 7 November 1838
Sickness on Board the Maitland
I have the honour to state in addition to the report I made yesterday from Watson's Bay respecting the Emigrant Ship "Maitland" that altho (old Spelling) 280 cases of sickness have occurred since the sailing of the vessel from England and that 34 have died, the major part were of other diseases than Fever, and principally Scarlatina and Bowel Complaints, and that the deaths were chiefly amongst Children - having died.
It appears from the statement of the Surgeon Superintendant that the first case of Typhus appeared on the 29th Aug. when near the Cape, since which he has had in all 12 cases of this disease, of which he had lost 3 by death - the last a child on the 22nd October. There are now all (??) five cases Sporadic or independent cases of continued fever he states to have occurred during the whole course of the voyage, of which disease he appears now to have 8 or 10 cases - and to have lost six.
I am apprehensive that these also are fevers of the Typhoid type, either in their incipient stage, or under a mitigated form, which is generally the case in children.
And under this impression I would beg to suggest the propriety of making no distinction in the kinds of fever but send all such cases indiscriminately to the Lazaretto - as has invariably been done on all former occasions - and the sooner these and all such cases are wholly removed from the Ship and from amongst the other Emigrants the greater will be the probability of arresting the progress of the Disease.
and have the honour to be
your Obdt. Hble. Servt
FROM: Colonial Secretary's Correspondence
Ref. 38/11865 8 December 1838
- Archives of NSW Loc. 4/2426
7 November 1838: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ARRIVAL of the MAITLAND
The Maitland emigrant ship which arrived on Monday night from England has brought us (as usual) another consignment of typhus fever, consisting of about 40 cases of the worst description. About the same number of emigrants died on the passage of scarlet and typhus fever.
The contagion, it appears, broke out in the vessel immediately after leaving England, and every soul on board is reported to have been affected during the voyage.
The Maitland put in at the Cape of Good Hope, where she was placed in quarantine.
8 November 1838: SYDNEY GAZETTE
-This emigrant ship, which came in on Monday evening, has been more unfortunate with regard to sickness than any emigrant ship before her. Shortly after the vessel left the land typhus and scarlet fever broke out, and spread rapidly. About forty of the emigrants died on the voyage, and a great many are laid up at the present moment. On the arrival of the vessel on Monday night she came to an anchor in Watson's Bay, where she remained until the next day, when she was visited by the Medical Board, and the result being unfavourable, she was immediately ordered into quarantine. All hands have been more or less afflicted with one or other of these dreadful diseases.
22 November 1838: GOVERNOR'S DESPATCH
Sir George Gipps to Lord Glenelg
I have still further with sorrow to inform your Lordship that we have had occasion also to place in Quarantine the ship "Maitland" which arrived here on the 6th Inst. With Government immigrants from Gravesend, after a voyage of 134 days. The Buildings at the Quarantine ground being all occupied by the people of the "William Roger", it has been necessary to place the Emigrants by the "Maitland" under canvas, with exception of those actually sick, for whom a temporary wooden Hospital has been erected. The number of deaths on board the "Maitland" was 35, Six of whom were adults, and 29 children. The cases of disease entered on the Surgeon's Books were no less than 286; but in this number the same individuals may in some cases have been reckoned more than once. Two women and two children have died since their arrival, and the present number of sick is 13. Scarlet fever was the first disease that broke out among them, but various others afterwards made their appearance.
As soon as these ships are released from Quarantine, I shall institute a strict enquiry, in order to ascertain if possible the cause why sickness has been so much greater in the present year on board Government vessels than those engaged on the same business by private individuals. At present I am utterly unable to account for it; it is suggested that it may be in consequence of the greater number of children embarked in them, or that the Emigrants are in a worse state of health when put on board, or that, being taken from a poorer class of society, they are less prepared with necessaries for the voyage.
The "Maitland" is said to have arrived in a very dirty state; but whether this was the fault of the Surgeon Superintendent, I am as yet unable to say. A talent for managing men, and gaining by easy means an influence over them, is no less necessary in a Surgeon selected to bring out Emigrants than Medical skill; indeed I should say it is more necessary. I have some reason to fear that a sufficient degree of control has not in some cases been exercised over Emigrants, in the essential particulars of forcing them to go on deck in fair weather, and to keep themselves clean at all seasons. The necessity of paying implicit obedience to the orders of the Surgeons in health, as well as in sickness, should I think be impressed on the Emigrants, at the time when they are promised a passage; and it should be explained to them, that they will forfeit all claim to the care or protection of this Government on their arrival, if they misconduct themselves in any respect during their voyage.
I have &c.,
from: HISTORICAL RECORDS OF AUSTRALIA (Series 1 Vol.19) pp 684-5
- SURGEON'S REPORT -
Extracted from Ship's Log: 28 November 1838
Soon after leaving GRAVESEND, as will appear by the date of the first case, viz. the 26th June, the Scarlet fever presented itself, and continued to 20th August when the last case appeared. Sixty four children out of one hundred and twenty seven sickened, and one man suffered from its visitation.
To prevent the dissemination of the disease I met with much opposition, the parents resisting all my endeavours to remove the children into the hospital, thus affording the only chance of arresting the disease promptly. To effect my purpose, I was under the necessity of causing them in some measure to a compliance. This I think had in a great degree the desired effect, so few children having suffered from the disease out of so large a number.
As respects the origin of the disease, I am quite of opinion that it must have been conveyed into the ship in a latent state in the person who was the subject of the first case, and probably in the second and the third cases also.
The Infantile Fever or Marasmus was the next great cause of the mortality. It began to manifest itself at an early period, and the oil being applied to the flame without intermission it continued up to the period of their debarkation. The great existing cause of this was the overfeeding of the children with the common rations instead of the Arrowroot and Sago, food more suitable for their digestive powers. These articles of food I had much difficulty in compelling the parents to administer to their children.
Among the women, particularly the unmarried, hysterical disease was increasing, and among the married there were many cases of bowel complaints all which I attribute to the same cause, namely an excess of unaccustomed food.
Among the men there was no disease until we reached the high southern latitudes, when pulmonary and febrile diseases appeared in a few, the effect of cold and wet.
Dropsies of different kinds. Water in the head, bowel complaints and infantile fever were the sequels of the Scarlet fever - many of which proved fatal.
It is my opinion that, but for the Scarlet fever having appeared so early, the mortality would have been very small.
The parents of the sick suffered much from nursing, in many instances whole families, except the heads themselves having been all suffering from the disease together.
I had much difficulty in having cleanliness observed more particularly in the men, they were very resisting in this as also in the airing of their bedding.
In regard to the fittings of the ship, the berths were rather confined they being made only for 2 adults in each. In several instances at the request of the parties, I allowed 2 berths to be put into one; by this there was a freer ventilation and more room to repose.
Laziness prevailed to such a degree among the men, that I had much difficulty in keeping the decks sufficiently clean, and there being no coke for the swinging stoves, I could not prevail on them to attend to the latter, to produce the combustion of the coal which was the only substitute.
As respects their general demeanour, when left to themselves they were peaceable. But when compelled to do that, which, in their opinion, they had no right to do, some were extremely insolent and intemperate. In two instances of married women, their conduct was extremely bad. They abandoned themselves to vicious habits.
In regard to dieting. There appeared to me to be an excess of food, both of bread and tea. The oatmeal they refused at the onset, and on my assembling all the heads of families, and directing such as were in favour of its use to show hands, there were only four who manifested a desire for it, to those I directed it to be issued.
(sgd) John Smith, SURGEON R.N. Superintendent
P.S. I beg to add, having omitted it in its proper place that, the remedies resorted to for preventing the disemmination of the scarlet fever were: washing with caustic lime and chloride of lime, all the berths, decks and other fittings once a week, and sanitising often, also sprinkling the bedding and other articles frequently with the chloride of lime.
EMPLOYMENT- There was no employment for the people, they being too lazy and insubordinate to do any useful work.
Schools were established under the Chief Superintendence of one very able and Christian teacher John Vidler; whereby the children in general received some instruction and wherefrom they derived some advantage, the greater number having been, at the time of embarkation, perfectly illiterate, not having the most distant knowledge of the rudiments of the English language.
(sgd) John Smith
Reference: Archives of NSW Film 1292 - Location 4/4832
29 November 1838: SYDNEY GAZETTE
The "Maitland" has been released from quarantine, having been detained at Manly Cove for twenty three days. She will come up as soon as the wind proves favourable.
20 January 1839: GOVERNOR'S DESPATCH
Sir George Gipps to Lord Glenelg
With reference to my Despatches of the 29th Sept. last, No.153, and 22nd Novr., No.189 respecting the placing in Quarantine of the ships " William Roger" and "Maitland", I beg leave to report that the last of the Emigrants by these ships were released on the 3rd Instt. and the Quarantine Establishment for the present broken up.
The number of deaths in Quarantine were:
"William Roger" 26 Adults 18 Children
"Maitland".......... 2 Adults.. 3 Children
TOTAL............ 28 Adults 21 Children
I beg further to report to your Lordship that, considering the disasters which have marked the voyages of both these vessels, the dirty state in which the Emigrants by the "Maitland" were reported to be on their arrival, and the enormous expenses which have fallen on the Colony by their long detention in Quarantine, I have not judged it proper to issue Gratuities to the Surgeon of the "William Roger" or to the Surgeon or officers of the "Maitland "; though, as the Master of the "William Roger" died in Quarantine, I have not withheld his Gratuity from his Widow. If the result of the voyage is not to be taken into consideration in the payment of Gratuities, I would respectively submit to your Lordship that there can be no sufficient reason for making any part of the remuneration of the Surgeon's a contingent one; for it will be scarcely ever possible to prove misconduct or inefficiency against a Surgeon, unless indeed it be of a nature to call for a far heavier punishment than the mere stoppage of a Gratuity.
I have no positive charge of misconduct to prefer against either of the two Surgeons of these two vessels; but the enterprise, in which they engaged, has been signally unfortunate. The loss of their expected Gratuities is also the less heavy upon them, as, in addition to their full pay, they have received the following sums for their services in Quarantine, vizt.:
The Surgeon of the "William Roger" ..... 64 Pounds
The Surgeon of the "Maitland" ............. 46 Pounds
I have, &c.,
From: HISTORICAL RECORDS OF AUSTRALIA (Series 1 Vol.19) p 7674
January 1965: SYDNEY DAILY MIRROR
(Reprint of Historical Article - Page 13)
The "Maitland", with her dirt, overcrowding and lack of discipline, was typical of the worst seagoing slums in the migrant traffic. She started her 134-day voyage with 223 adults and 127 children packed below decks. No fewer than 200 cases of sickness occurred during the voyage and the bodies of 35 of her passengers, including 29 children, had been fed to the sharks before she sighted Sydney Heads.
As the migrants and crew of the "William Rogers" (an earlier plague ship) occupied all the accommodation at Spring Cove quarantine grounds, another tented colony had to be established for the "Maitland"'s people, accentuating the desperate shortage of supplies. Fortunately not many from the "Maitland " needed attention, and only five more died after they were put ashore in quarantine. At the sinister little settlement on North Head, day after day victims were carried to the isolation huts, where they raved in delirium or lay in a stupor that ended only in death.
On November 22, 1838, Governor Gipps wrote in a dispatch to London: "The sickness and mortality at the quarantine station is unexampled, no fewer than 140 persons having been attacked with typhus of the most malignant kind..."
The quarantine station consisted of a couple of wooden shanties, a surgeon's cottage and a cluster of tents pitched among the scrub and sandhills.
On January 3, 1839, when the last sick patient was reported convalescing, the Governor allowed the two ships to disembark their passengers and bring them up the harbour.
A committee of inquiry report was a damning indictment of the ships and a system under which herds of immigrants were "transported to the colony like cattle." Ref. B. Fairhall. http://www.fairhall.id.au/resources/maitland/maitland.htm
Emigrants between decks
Emigrants at dinner
Original Passenger list from the "Maitland"
Click to enlarge