Saturday, 3 August 2013

Sepia Saturday – My Ancestors were ‘Boat People’

With all the talk/hype in the papers and on the news lately, it is timely to remember that many of us in Australia are descended from our own ‘boat people’ – convicts and free who were seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This week's Sepia Saturday prompt relates to this theme.

My ancestors brought their own beliefs, customs and recipes, and more with them. 
Some, like my father’s Cornish ancestors, married entirely within their own communities resulting in my father being technically half-Cornish even though all his grandparents were born here.

The FitzJames carried my 3great
grandparents James and Nanny Grenfell
and four of their children in July 1866
It has been said that some, maybe many, convicts committed minor crimes in order to get transported because of the reports that were filtering back from early Australia to the UK. Is this much different to what is happening now?
I suppose my convict ancestors didn’t have to pay in monetary terms to get here, but they were certainly a cost to someone.

My free ancestors were ‘fleeing’ poverty, workhouses and declining industry/mining, paying for their passage and probably not having much left in their pockets when they arrived here.

My father-in-law arrived post WWII with not much more than about £20 in his pocket. He worked hard and also caught and sold rabbits to make his way and save enough to bring his wife and boys here from the Netherlands, by boat.

Here are some of the ‘boats’ that my ancestors came to Australia on. 
The first three are from photos purchased by my parents from “a state library or museum” and the others are from the wonderful A D Edwardes Collection and the State Library of South Australia (via Trove).

The Schomberg - famously shipwrecked off the coast of
SW Victoria in December 1855, and holding my
3great grandmother Mary Elizabeth Lewis nee Blackmore,
and seven of her children (all survived). Her husband,
Robert Lewis had arrived two years earlier.
The Suffolk brought my 2great grandparents Henry Raikes and Louisa
Garrett back to Australia following a visit to England for Henry to
show his family that "he hadn't married a savage or a convict", and to
show off his first born - another Henry Raikes Garrett. September 1866
The Atalanta carried my 2great grandmother Emma Augusta
Farmilo nee Hodges (later Terry) and her first husband
and child, arriving in June 1856
The Cospatrick brought my 3great grandparents, Phillip and
Mary Bluett/Blewett and two of their children to Melbourne
in March 1871. The Cospatrick was to burn and sink with
huge loss of life on a voyage in 1874, approx 470 died.
The Lincolnshire carried my 11 year old 2great grandmother
Emma Laura Rowden and her stepmother to Melbourne in
September 1864. Her father had arrived nine years earlier.


  1. Great opening para and sentiments. Gosh - that was a huge loss of life on the Cospatrick wasn't it? There but for the Grace of God and all that huh?

  2. Great post! Very pertinent reminder that so many of us in Oz today came from boat people who were fleeing hunger, poverty and loss of opportunities, always assuming the govt hadn't given them a "free" ride. How different your story would have been without the Schomberg survival....a brave and fortunate woman.

  3. Hello
    This is my first sepia Saturday
    Very though provoking start to your post, made me stop and think
    How great that you had so much documentation to know who came on which ships

  4. The south coast of Victoria sure was (and is) a dangerous place for sailing ships.

  5. The sea is both beautiful and horrible depending on the gales of the day!

  6. It was thrilling for this lady of the high desert to see pictures of these wonderful sailing ships and to hear about the folks who staunchly headed to a new land in them. Great post! Great boat people!

  7. Fine vessels, and the idea of sailing aboard one of them appeals to me ... until the time to go down below deck. I couldn't think of anything worse than that claustrophic life for weeks or months.

  8. How wonderful that you have all this information on your ancestors' journeys and arrivals, not to mention shipwrecks! AIt makes one wonder what may have happened if they hadn't left UK; I wonder if ther chances of survival would have been greater or less.

  9. I read the book by Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, and was astounded by the stories of the early transport ships. Though the later passenger ships were more civilized, it was still the same distance. It took great courage to make that journey around the world. Wish I knew even a little something about my ancestor's immigration across the Atlantic to the New World.

  10. How interesting to know the name of the ships your ancestors traveled on and then to find photos of them. Excellent collection!

  11. Great point in your opening paragraph. One all too few of the descendents who get angry at "new comers" seem to remember. Nice to have photos and stories for arrivals too.

  12. I wrote about Thomas Scotney in an earlier Sepia Saturday post who was transported as a convict in 1844. I found details about him and many of the ships by using Trove. Mike also tipped me off about Robert Hughes book, I enjoyed seeing the ships that you have uncovered, Fine post.

  13. I have had great difficulty tracing my family tree... And here you have the BOATS they came in on. Excellent post.

  14. What a great history you have in knowing which of your ancestors came to Australia on which ships and when! Lucky you.

  15. Sounds very familiar to me :) except I don't have any convicts.

    I think one of my ancestors swam..........there is just no record of his arrival :(

  16. Not my choice of vessel for such an arduous journey.