This page was taken from Brian Jelbert's website

Transportation and Travelling Conditions for Immigration to Australia in the 1800s

Text by Allison R. Jilbert and original photographs sourced by Maureen V. Driver

This article contains extracts from an immigration display at the South Australian Maritime Museum, Port Adelaide.


Every immigrant to Australia between 1836 and the era of air travel (1960s onwards) shared an experience not easily forgotten - a long sea voyage that took up to 4 months. Some immigrants were able to afford the comparative comfort of first class or intermediate cabins. The great majority however were Government sponsored or travelled at the lowest possible cost as steerage, third class or tourist passengers.

A search of the Jelbert Society data base revealed that the following family members (and a number of others) undertook this long voyage in the 1800s:

"Champion of the Seas"
Richard Gilbe(a)rt #1287 (b. 1819/1820, d. 11th October 1899) m. 17th December 1842, Nanny (Ann) Gard(e) #1288 (b. 23rd February 1821, St Buryan, d. 27th February 1901). Travelled from Liverpool on the "Champion of the Seas" on 5th July 1855. Trip took 83 days.

The "Champion of the Seas" was a Black Ball liner and built for speed by Donald McKay in Boston and launched 19th April 1854; they followed the "great circle line". Richard and Nanny travelled with 6 children George 12, Richard 11, William 9, John 7, Mary Jane 2.5, Samuel (infant).

They arrived at Port Phillip and settled in Magpie street, Mt Pleasant, Ballarat, South Australia. They then had another 6 children. (Great grandparents of JS member Maxine Knight).

George Richards Laity #899, (b. 16th May 1835, m. 30th March 1857, d. 2nd Nov 1902) and his wife Elizabeth Evans #900 (b. 15.8.1838, d. 11.1915). Immigrated to Geelong, Victoria, on the "Persia", Arrived: 27.7.1857.

Their first child Margaret Christian(n)a(h) Laity #776 (b. 16th March 1858) was born in Australia 7 months after they arrived.

William Laity Jilbert #777 (b. 25th Jan 1856, d. 19th March 1928). Immigrated to Australia in 1875 on the "Hampshire". Passage lasted 109 days. Travelled in single steerage.

After his arrival in Australia William met and married (21st August 1876) his cousin, Margaret Christianiah Laity #776 and they subsequently had 14 children.

"Hampshire"
William and Margaret were the grandparents of JS members Margaret Ballhause #896, Ivy Stewart #897, Ellen Barlow #1185 and Noel Jilbert #2560 and the great grandparents of JS members Allison Jilbert #2259, Laurel Harrison #2260, Graeme Jilbert #1170 and Carol Roth #1171.

Alfred Jelbert #433 (b. ~1854, m. 29th Jan 1876, d. 12th Feb 1888) and his wife Martha Allen #496 (b. 1844, d. April 1928). Immigrated to Australia on the "Arundel Castle". Departed Plymouth 4th Feb 1876 (6 days after their wedding) and arrived in Port Adelaide 19th April 1876. No children.

William Jelbert #404 (b. ~1843 d. 22nd May 1924) and his wife Matilda White #2352 (b. 19th Dec 1841, d. 26th April 1928) arrived on the "Arundel Castle" in 1876. Travelled with William 12 (was recorded separately to the rest of the family in the ship's arrival log and may have travelled with single men), Richard 11, Matilda 8, David 6, and Martin - infant. Settled in Adelaide and had 4 more children. Name recorded as Gilbert.

"Lusitania"
William Henry Jelbert #434 (b. 28th Dec 1858, d. 15th October 1921). Immigrated to Australia on the "Lusitania". Departed Gravesend 6th Dec 1877 and arrived 29th Jan 1878. m. 20th August 1881, Edith Anne Olley in Saddleworth. Had 5 children. See article in Society Newsletter Issue 13 (Apr 96) about Edgar William Jelbert who is their grandson.

William and Edith were also the great grandparents of JS member Andrea White #3218 and the great great grandparents of JS member Maureen Driver #4034.

"Corona"
John Jelbert #435 (b ~1858, d. Sept 1933) Immigrated to Australia on the "Corona" as a 22 year old single labourer. Departed Plymouth 3rd Oct 1880. m. 25th Dec 1881 Tryphena Clayton #2956 b. 19th Oct 1860, d. May 1943.

John and Tryphena were the great great grandparents of JS member Sally Jelbert #2964.

Jeremiah Jilbert #285 b. 1 May 1867, and his wife Bertha Ellen Prime #2635, immigrated to Australia but the date and ship are unknown. They were the grandparents of JS member Terry Jilbert #4102.

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Advertisements such as this were posted in the United Kingdom to entice immigrants to Australia:

"WANTED"
"An opportunity now offers itself to all married persons of useful occupations particularly to agricultural labourers, carpenters, builders, stone masons, shepherds and blacksmiths of obtaining a free passage to Port Adelaide in South Australia (SA). A free colony where there are no convicts sent and where every person who immigrates is as free as he is in this country. Besides the classes of persons enumerated above bakers, blacksmiths, braziers and tin men, smiths, shipwrights, boat builders, wheel wrights, sawyers, cabinet makers, coopers, couriers, farriers, mill wrights, harness makers, boot and shoe makers, tailors, tanners, brick makers, lime burners and all persons engaged in the erection of buildings are always in great request. The applicants must able to obtain a good character reference as honest sober, industrious men. They must be real labourers going out to work in the colony of sound body not less than 15 and nor more than 30 years of age and married. The rule as to age is occasionally departed from in favour of the parents of large families. As a general rule each child is considered as extended the age plus one year. Sisters of married applicants are allowed to go free if of good character.

The province of SA is a delightfully fertile and salubrious country, in every respect well adapted to the constitution of Englishmen and is one of the most flourishing in all our colonies. It is well watered and there have never been any complaints from the colonists of a want of this valuable element. On the contrary, the letters from Cornishmen who have written home are very satisfactory on this point. It should be born in mind that complaints of a scarcity of water do not apply to Adelaide but to other settlements not connected to SA.

Immigrants wishing to obtain a free passage this year must now have that opportunity if they apply immediately to Mr I. Latimer, Truro, who is employed by Her Majesty's colonisation commissioners to engage for that fine first class teak built ship the "Java" of 1200 tonnes. The ships accommodations are unusually spacious and lofty and are so arranged as to ensure the comfort of all passengers. She will carry 2 surgeons and 2 school masters the latter of whom will be regularly employed in teaching the immigrants and their children. The vessel will call at Plymouth to take in Cornish passengers and on or about the 16th of October but in order to ensure a passage application should be made forthwith."

Truro, August 19th, 1839.

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Details from a number of sources, ships plans, diaries and published advice to intending migrants, were used in the composite representation of the passenger accommodation in the 1840s.

The display at the Port Adelaide Maritime Museum contains extracts from George Plymouth's voyage from Plymouth to Adelaide on that "horrid ship" the "Java" in 1839-40. Also Sarah Burnskil's letters to her parents describing her voyage from Plymouth to Adelaide on the "Thomas Harrison" 1838-39, and seamen's family letters to their relations in England describing their voyages to Adelaide on the "Orator" in 1839.

"Java"

Rocks rolls and buckets - Steerage accommodation between decks of an immigrant ship

During the first wave of immigration to SA there was no typical voyage or ship. A wide variety of conditions existed. There were good and bad ships, lucky and unlucky voyages. Imagine yourself back in the 1840s leaving the old country for the new world travelling with your family in married steerage accommodation. Any children over twelve travelled separately in single steerage.

A partitioned space of 6 x 3 feet was allocated for 2 people for the duration of the voyage. Passengers were asked to keep to either side of the wooden partitions. The ship provided "donkey breakfast" mattresses, blankets, bolsters and counterpanes. Three safety lamps were lit at dusk, one in the main hatchway was locked and kept burning all night and the others were extinguished at 10 pm. There was a toilet for women and children only. Men and boys had to go up to the top and use the heads on the lee side of the ship.

Except for short breaks taken up on deck immigrants lived, ate and slept in confined quarters between decks. The roughly assembled berths were homes for men women and babies for the entire 4 month voyage to Australia. Berths and fittings were rough and temporary so they could be easily removed and the space used for cargo on the return voyage. In bad weather the ship would rock, roll and buckets about for days, sometimes weeks. Most passengers were sea sick, hatches were closed, port holes shut and the only light a flickering oil lamp.

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Rules For Immigrant Ships - Extracts from the Passenger Act 1847.

Every passenger to rise at 7 am unless otherwise permitted by the surgeon.

Breakfast from 8 till 9 am, dinner at 1 pm and supper at 6 pm.

Passengers to be in their beds by 10 pm.

No naked light to be allowed at any time or on any account.

No smoking allowed between decks.

Passengers when dressed to roll up their beds, to sweep the decks and the space under the bottom of the beds and to throw the dirt overboard. Breakfast not to commence until this is done. The sweepers for each day to be taken in rotation by the males over 14 and in a proportion of 5 for every 100 passengers. Duties of the sweepers - to clean the ladders, hospitals and round houses to sweep the decks after every meal and to dry, holy stone and scrape them after breakfast.

The occupant of every berth to see that his own berth is well brushed out. The beds to be well shaken and aired on the decks and the bottom boards, if not fixtures, to be removed and dry scrubbed or taken on deck at least twice a week.

On Sunday the passengers will be mustered at 10 am when they will be expected to appear in clean and decent apparel. The day to be observed as religiously as circumstances permit. All fighting, gambling, riotous behaviour, swearing or violent language to be at once put a stop to. Swords and other offensive items as soon as passengers embark to be placed in the custody of the master.

Besides the necessary tools handy for starting a new life in the colony, a saw, wood plane, hammers, chisels and augers, it is recommended that immigrants bring at least the following items of clothing:
For males: 6 shirts , 6 pairs of stockings, ditto shoes, 2 complete suits of exterior clothing.
For females: 6 shifts, 2 flannel petticoats, 6 pairs of stockings 2 ditto shoes, and 2 gowns.

Each passenger had a free allowance of 20 cubic feet of luggage - Larger packages and extra luggage was paid for. Luggage was stored in the ships hold which was opened (weather permitting) once a month so passengers could exchange their soiled clothes for clean ones. Each family provided itself with a strong linen bag that was large enough to hold one month's supply of clothing.

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One Days Food Allowance Steerage passengers were put into messes of 6. A mess captain was appointed to collect the rations and take them to the galley. Stews and puddings were easiest to prepare. The food was taken below to be divided and eaten. Passengers washed their own plates and cutlery and put them away for the next meal.

Passengers were advised to bring with them additional items such as tea, sugar, treacle, cheese and herrings. Raspberry wine or vinegar was useful for adding to drinking water which turned foul when stored for long periods. Passengers were provided with the following utensils: knife, fork, tablespoon, teaspoon, metal plate, hot cook pot and mug. Upon arrival in the colony, these articles were given to assisted immigrants who behaved well on the voyage. Immigrants were also advised to take an iron kettle, a couple of saucepans, a frying pan, tea pot and pail.

For every 100 passengers the following medical comforts were carried on board.

10 pounds of arrowroot,
50 pounds of preserved beef,
400 pints of lemon juice,
400 lb of sugar to mix with the lemon juice
60 pounds of scotch barley,
18 bottles of port wine,
300 gallons of stout,
50 gallons of rum.

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First Impressions On Landing In Port Adelaide, SA.

"As we reached the town I saw a gang of natives and my heart sank I wished myself dead; 1839"

"All hearts did rejoice to be expelled from our floating prison; 1849"

"The port of Adelaide is a very dirty insignificant little place but still full of business; 1851"

"The wild though pretty look for the land around us was altogether really beautiful; 1850"

"The port is very similar to a thriving English village near London though some few things give it a foreign aspect; 1850"


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The once arduous journey from England to Australia now takes less than 24 hours in the "ships" of 1997. Thank heavens for jumbo jets!

Allison R Jilbert,
Adelaide,
South Australia.

August 1997

(The # numbers in the text refer to database numbers
in the Jelbert Society database.)

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The Ship That Started It All

The replica of Captain Cook's "Endeavour" pictured in June 1997
at Whitby, Yorkshire, where the original "Endeavour" was built.

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