Prince Alfred in Adelaide

It was a foggy morning. I could see the boat and I learned that we were in the River Mersey. How different it looked from the River Clyde! I was on the poop and a man was standing waving to a woman in the boat, who was also waving a handkerchief. He was a tall, strong-looking man, with such a tanned face. I looked up at him and saw the tears standing on his brown cheeks. That was our captain. When we got fairly out to sea a great many felt ill. Strange to say, I did not, and was able to be helpful and to go here and there and assist the others. Some were never on the deck for weeks, but rough or fine I never missed being in the open air for one day during the voyage. I[Pg 47] loved to watch the wheel that controlled the helm and guided that great ship in a direct course to Adelaide. A few verses, written by one of the married men, will give some idea of the high opinion we all had of the captain. They are still in a legible state, although written so long ago. I will add them here. The author of them is dead, but in his lifetime in South Australia his name was popular and high in public favor. Here are the lines:—


Come, let us be cheerful, at last we are afloat
Alone on the ocean, where battles were fought
By England’s true sons, to memory so dear,
Whose cannons were never yet seen in the rear.
Brave Captain Mathews, he is truly a hero,
His barque is his pride on the wide, rolling sea.
His voice through the tempest sounds strong and clear,
And the deck is his cabin when danger is near.
No favor yet asked has he ever refused,
In the fair weather all the young girls are amused.
Always so cheerful, with a sweet, pleasant smile;
See him romp with the children, the time to beguile.
Mr. Granger, the first mate, like the captain, is free,
Always happy when he sees some amusement and glee.
Amongst the young women he is nothing amiss—
I judge by the number that I’ve seen him kiss.
Mr. Hudson, the second mate, has a fitness of mind,
In his place he is ever upright and kind.
Truth and sincerity you discern in his face,
He will never the cause of old England disgrace.
Then may success attend those three brave sons of the sea,
May fortune befriend them wherever they be;
When old age comes on may their pillow be soft,
When called from below, God grant their souls go aloft!
When scenes and places were pointed out to us I began to realise how far away I was. When the captain gave orders that we were to be kept below, as the ship would get a tossing in the Bay of Biscay a solemn silence fell on us all. The dear old Morning Star ploughed her way through that awful water, and I could see no bay, but only stormy billows. All our things swung to the other side of the ship, and the things from the other side came over to us. We soon regained confidence, and there were merry peals of laughter to see the plight of the passengers when their goods and chattels were rushing from side to side. Fancy us being afraid of sea or storm after that. If any other ship that flitted across the horizon was near enough the men got out some flags and signalled to her, and in that way found out who she was and[Pg 48] where she was going. If she was close enough and was homeward bound we could send letters. An American warship came close by, but when the captain discovered that we were a ship full of people voyaging to Adelaide he let us go. I learned that they were bent on plunder. The warship was the famed Confederate privateer Alabama. I used to read about it and the desperate things Captain Semmes did on the high seas, not sparing either boats or schooners, but overhauling them in a most merciless manner. Our captain knew who they were, but we did not at the time. Although I saw the name I was not the least disturbed, and years afterwards, when reading a description of the Alabama, I knew that I had seen her.

The doctor read the Anglican Church service every Sunday forenoon, and usually we all attended, sailors as well. How sweet the singing sounded on the sea. It was so solemn and so mysterious with only the sky for a roof. The ways and the saying and the doings of those on the Morning Star were very peaceful in that never-to-be-forgotten time. Health and contentment were unspoilt by contact with the world. I, for one, too often turned with regret to the old times in Scotland, although our days were full of excitement. If any isolated places could be seen as we travelled along the captain would let us have his telescope in turns, and would tell the name and the situation and all particulars. We learned that he had children at home, and that when I saw him first he was waving good-bye to his wife and children. He would come up in the afternoon with his pockets full of sweets and put them on a canvas to see us scramble for them. He was beloved by the sailors, and it was good to see how they would run when he called. He always said, “Come along, my boys, and let that go every inch.”

We were a long time at sea before he knew that I had no relatives on board, and when I told him I knew no one in Adelaide his voice trembled. “Oh, well, be brave,” he said, “you are young, and you must take your part in labor and in life.” The days seemed to pass so quickly, and as day followed day the companionship grew more strong, as we were grouped together with only the noise of the waves to listen to. How little did some think of the deep shadow of sorrow that would reach them through those bright, rolling waters. Scarlet fever had already seized some of the young children, and one by one they were lowered down into the bitter waters. They would be enjoying their hours of play in the sunshine on the deck one day and the next they would be gone. The trouble continued till twenty-seven had died. A man died also, and one family lost six children, some of them grown up. After seeing so much of the troubled horrors of[Pg 49] the deep we were heavy-hearted, and no wonder. Everything passed like a mist, and we did not know who would go over next.

Captain Mathews showed much sympathy for the grief and suffering. How we watched him as he sat with his telescope, and anxiously wondered how long it would be ere we got to Adelaide. Wild winds would toss the ship with such cruel force that we were very anxious. Once we saw icebergs floating about in the sea, and it required some skill to steer clear of them. They looked awful. There was a skylight just above where the other young girl and I slept, but it was always shut and made fast every night at 10 o’clock. One fearfully rough night when the wind was blowing strongly the water came rushing down the ladder. It was sea water. Our berth was getting full, and I could not go on deck for the hatchway was locked. I called, as loudly as I could, but could not get anyone to hear. So I thought of a plan, and I found a mopstick and tied my towel on it, and poked it up through the bars of the skylight, and rattled it to and fro with such vigor that the captain, who was at the wheel, came running and calling what was the matter. I said, “Please, captain, will you put the cover on the skylight to keep the water from coming down the steps?” He said I would have to appear before the doctor in the morning to answer for the fright I had given him, and I was sent for in the morning for the first time.

Fever was in the captain’s cabin; the doctor was there and the mates. The captain said he had been to sea for thirty-three years and had met all kinds of incidents, but that he had never before had such a fright as I gave him with that broomstick. He was horrified to see this white thing come up in the middle of the night. I promised never to offend again, but I received a good scolding. He said it looked like a goblin, and he pretended to be angry, but I could see the smile on his face. I could only look from one to the other, for if the ship had got wrecked they said I would have been to blame, for the captain was at the wheel himself, and he let it go when he saw this white object thrust out in the darkness, while the sound disturbed him as much as the sight of the thing.

I shall never forget that time. Sometimes doubt and despair were at war. I felt that I could not undertake the journey again, for the task I had undertaken seemed harder than any I had learnt before.

A lot of nonsense was talked about “crossing the line.” What dreadful things some of us thought we would see! We feared the Equator and the Southern Cross, but there was, after all, only fun and merriment, there being nothing strange to see. The ship[Pg 50] went on steadily just the same, but when they told me a certain constellation of stars was the Southern Cross, and I lost sight of some stars I was familiar with, I knew we were making our way to the new land. After crossing the great dividing of the seas we often had it very hot. This was new to me. Often in the tropics the ship would just roll to and fro, and sometimes make no headway. Then we would see the tar boiling in the seams on the deck. We had plenty of time for dreams and fancies, as we longed for the first glint of freedom, so as to start into life again. It was getting on towards the end of December, and we thought of the New Year on board ship, and set to work to form some plans for being joyous.

Christmas and New Year’s Day were festive times. Some of the young girls who had friends amongst the married people were allowed to go to their quarters to spend the day, and we had all sorts of enjoyment by direction of the captain. We were well content with the arrangements, and the whole time was restful and quiet, despite the monotony of the voyage. The share of joy and sorrow that comes to every life was not absent on sea. What troubled me was that I was growing tall, and I wondered what I should do for clothing. I grew in height and got broader. I could only with difficulty get on some of my garments that fitted me well before I left on the long voyage. Some actually laughed, and asked me why I came before I had stopped growing. I only had one hat, and that blew over the side of the ship. I stood and watched it as far as I could see it with tears in my eyes. That had fitted me alright. We got up our boxes every now and then to look through them. But I must not keep on about my discomfort, although what seemed droll to others was to me a matter for serious thought. I had a new pair or boots and would not wear them on board, but was saving them to go ashore with. I put them in what I thought a safe place in a corner where we slept, but when I went to get them the rats had eaten all the kid off them. There were only left the canvas or lining and the leather on the toes. I took them and showed them to the captain, and he said it was good to have rats on board ship, as it indicated that we would not get wrecked on the voyage. I had been so helpful to the matron all the way that the doctor told me I would be rewarded with some payment when we got to Adelaide. I was thankful for that, because I had no money.

We were told that it would take to the middle of February, supposing everything went right, before Adelaide would be reached. Many on board were travelling to relations or friends, and there was no home-sickness amongst them. They counted the moments until their arrival. Neither the captain, the doctor, nor any of the mates had ever been to South Australia, nor had any of the passengers been either, so we had no one to tell us of anything encouraging about this new country. We could only[Pg 51] have hope and courage. Everything was done for our comfort. When the weather was too hot awnings were spread to protect us from the sun, and we always seemed to have a reasonable supply of water. I never saw the least sign of whisky or grog, as it was called, in the case of any of the officers of the Morning Star.

Cleanliness was universal, and every precaution was taken against infection by the use of carbolic. That South Australia was a place for men and women who believed in themselves was recognised, and the question was often discussed. There were men of culture and training on board the ship, and so they proved themselves afterwards. It made me proud to think of having come a sea-voyage with them. The same remark applied also to the women, with but few exceptions. We had all signed an agreement to stop in the colony for two years. The thoughts of a return to Great Britain were shared with many of us, and they gave me hope.

The most painful experience I ever had on that deck was one Saturday morning. I was sitting in my usual place, when I saw a seaman going up in the rigging. All at once I heard a fearful cry, and I saw him fall into the sea. They shut down the skylight to keep the people from causing confusion. On either side of the ship a lifeboat was lowered in a moment, and before I had time to look round I could see the mates and the men in the boats, and the lifebuoys thrown over. The captain had the ship heaved to. It was awful. They did not rescue the sailor, and it was affirmed that a shark had pulled him under, as one had been seen that morning. Sharks were often seen. The sight of that man falling into the water has lived in my memory. I had not seen him before, except amongst the others, when they were all together pulling the ropes, but I could see his face so plainly as he fell that I would have known him again. This occurred on January 17. The sea was calm, and there was no breeze. We all felt sad, and the flags were dropped half-mast. All the man’s chattels were given in charge to the steward. He was a young Scotchman, from the Orkney Islands, and a single man. How I shuddered at the sight of a shark after that! They followed us nearly all the way. Anyone who has heard the cry of the sailors when a man falls overboard will never forget it forever. Then there was the confused mingling of the people, with the murmurs of “hush, hush.”

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