Sunday, 29 January 2012

A sailor went to sea sea sea...

Today seems as a good a time as any to write about how Cam’s Fam came to be in Australia, sandwiched as it is between the date the First Fleet came ashore at Sydney Cove to plant the flag for England and to start of the first white settlement (26 January 1788), and when our Robert landed on Australia’s shores some 66 years and 11 days later [1 & 2].

I felt like a detective trying to determine how and when our Robert arrived, so bear with me and I’ll take you on my journey to find out more about his journey!

During my journey into our past I learned was that, after the initial forced migration to Australia that we celebrate on 26th January (aka the First Fleet!), people began to choose to travel to Australia to settle. In Australia’s early days, these rather brave and somewhat foolish people are who we refer to as Free Settlers, as I'm sure you remember from school! As years passed, the Colony grew and settlement in Australia became more common and attractive, two further groups of people came to Australia: Assisted Passengers; whose journey was sponsored or financed in part by either family, friends or even prospective employees, and Unassisted Passengers; who were able to pay or work for their own way over.

On his death from “senile decay” at aged 80 in Newcastle NSW, our Robert had been in the Australian Colonies for 53 years [3]. Armed with all the above information I kinda fell upon various shipping and passenger lists for arrivals into Australia (love Google!). On one such site, the Records of NSW website, I searched for Camerons arriving as either Unassisted or Assisted Passengers in about 1854. Four pages into the results for the Unassisted Arrivals I found an entry for a “Robt Cameron”, aged 26 years who was a ‘Carpenter’s mate’ from England. I didn’t feel like I needed to search too much further than this because I am certain I found our man!

Why? Because, according to the 1841 Scottish Census our Robert was a Shipwright’s Ap (which I read as possibly a Shipwright’s Apprentice) and in his later life in Australia he was a ship builder. A shipwright by any other name is a ship’s carpenter so it’s not a far stretch to imagine Robert working his way over on a ship as a carpenter’s mate. Not to mention that the age of the “Robt Cameron” was pretty close and the year of arrival spot on. 

Our Robert arrived in Sydney on the 565 tonne barque the Inchinnan on 6th February 1854. The Inchinnan left London on 18th October 1853 under the command of Captain Thomas Ennis with 24 crew and 18 passengers [1]. Newspaper articles at the time record her arrival in Sydney and there is suggestion that it may not have been the most pleasant of journeys as “[n]orth of the equator, the Inchinnan encountered very heavy squalls from the southward, by which she lost both topmasts and lower yards.” [2] Ingeniously, the fore-top-mast with which she arrived was constructed by deck-boards “without which the voyage would have been considerably protracted”. As carpenter’s mate, I’m pretty certain that mast was representative of some of our Robert’s handiwork and he definitely earned his keep!

There isn’t much more information readily available about the Inchinnan on this particular journey. However I understand it was an important ship in New Zealand’s history, delivering new settlers on a later sailing. What I understand though is that the journey between England and Australia was pretty treacherous generally, due to the sea (as hinted at above) and conditions onboard both for sailors and sail-ees! To avoid immigrant ships becoming “coffin ships” strict rules were enforced by ships’ surgeons surrounding hygiene, diet and daily routine but this didn’t stop death onboard.

I am endeavouring to find out more and plan a couple of posts about the conditions onboard and why Robert may have wanted to leave Scotland to settle in Australia given the risks involved – particularly when he made the journey between the UK and Australia three times: the first on the Inchinnan, the second returning to Garmouth a few years later to marry Betsy and the third after the wedding to travel back to his new home.

I should also note that Robert (and Betsy) weren’t the only of our rels who could be nicknamed “boat people” and I will also share their stories…
[1] State Records Authority of New South Wales: Shipping Master's Office; Passengers Arriving 1855 - 1922; NRS13278, [X90], reel 399. Transcribed by Jenny Gerrey, 2004 - As found at 
[2]1854 'SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.', The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893), 11 February, p. 2, viewed 29 January, 2012,

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