Archive for category Emigration research

Lock-Down Research: From Owen’s Row To Van Diemen’s Land: A Sad Story

The New River running beside Sadler’s Wells, 1792.  Owen’s Row can be seen in the background – at the right-hand side. The grating at this side of the St John’s Road bridge is visible. It was against the equivalent at the other side of the road that in 1841 the drowned baby was found. Credit: Wellcome Images

While researching my previous ‘Lock-Down’ post (see here ) I came across a story that is haunting me. Looking through mid-19th-century newspapers for mentions of Owen’s Row, Islington, I noticed a flurry of articles in 1841 – both in London and in national papers – concerning the sad story of Harriet Longley, on trial at the Old Bailey on a charge of infanticide.

The trial revealed that at about 8 o’clock in the evening of 19 March 1841 Harriet had arrived at Islington Green police station saying ‘she had murdered her child’ ‘by throwing it into the river’. A policeman had then gone with her to Owen’s Row. Once there she had pointed to the spot where she had thrown the baby into the New River, which at that time ran in front of the houses.

She said she had been sitting on the doorstep of no 19 ‘and the child had been crying the whole time she had been sitting there, and had been crying all the afternoon – she said she had no food for herself, and no milk to give to the child.’ 

A witness described seeing Harriet nearby at sometime just before 7 o’clock. In March it would by then have been dark, and, doubtless, chilly. I cannot imagine that that stretch of Owen’s Row, half-way between St John’s Street and Goswell Road, was well lit. Presumably that is why Harriet had chosen to sit there. She was noticed by a woman who was visiting number 14 and was still there when the visitor left. But, naturally, that woman didn’t think to speak to her. [Incidentally number 14 Owen’s Row reappears 40 years later in another of my posts, see here. Although totally unrelated that story, too, ended in tragedy.]

Harriet’s was the usual sad story. She was about 22 years old and was herself illegitimate. It would seem she had been brought up by her mother in Clerkenwell but was working as a house maid in Marylebone when she became pregnant. Around 6 months into the pregnancy had left, under what circumstances isn’t revealed, and, for whatever reason, had travelled to Kent. There she had been picked up for vagrancy and imprisoned in Maidstone Jail  as a ‘rogue and vagabond’. It was in the prison that, towards the end of February, she had given birth to a girl, whom she named ‘Eliza Harris’. Leaving prison with 18 pence and her baby she had returned to London. She had not seen her mother as she was worried about being ‘scolded’.

By the time she arrived at the Islington police station Harriet had neither money nor baby. All she possessed was ‘a small parcel in her hand, containing a small quantity of bread’. The policeman went on to describe how ‘I offered her some food, some meat, which she had, she appeared to swallow it all whole, without chewing it, till she could swallow no more, and she had some coffee.’

Earlier in the day Harriet had been to the Marylebone workhouse but was refused entry and ‘referred to another parish’.

During the trial the wife of one of the sergeants at the police station told how ‘I was sent for when the prisoner came there – I undressed her, and examined her – I asked her how she came to do it – she said poverty had made her – I thought she had milk – I found her breast in a painful state – she said the child would suck a little, but not much.’ 

The policeman who went with Harriet to Owen’s Row found the baby ‘between fifty and sixty yards from the place where she pointed out as having thrown it in – the child was on the surface of the water, stopped by the iron grating that goes across the bridge, near St John-street-road – it was dressed in the clothes which I now produce – it was a female child.’

As I explained in my previous post, the New River, bringing water to London from Hertfordshire, used to run right in front of Owen’s Row and wasn’t covered in until 1862. There are no extant images of that precise stretch of the river but the scene was probably similar, if less bucolic, to that depicted in the engraving at the head of this post. There certainly could have been little to separate the path in front of the Owen’s Row houses from the river. In the 1830s the death was reported of a young boy who had drowned after falling into the river while playing there. So, dreadful as it is, we can imagine that it was the work of a moment for poor Harriet, in despair at her situation and tormented by the cries of her starving child, to drop the bundle into the water. By going straight to the police station she made no attempt to avoid the punishment that she must have known would follow.

And so it was that, at the Central Criminal Court, on 5 April 1841 Harriet Longley was sentenced to death. The jury, however, ‘recommended [her] to mercy in consequence of her distressed state’. The plea was accepted by the judge, who was indeed sympathetic to her plight and ‘in an affecting addresss to the prisoner, told her that he and his learned brother (Mr Justice Patteson) would attend to the humane recommendation of the jury, and represent her unhappy case to her Majesty, for the purpose of saving her life’. ‘Oh’ [he said] ‘that young women would take warning by your unhappy fate when listening to the voice of seduction, and remember to what dreadful and fatal consequences the first false step but too often leads!’ [Bell’s Messenger, 11 April, 1841.]

That ‘first false step’ was to take Harriet Longley half way round the world – to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Her sentence was commuted to transportation for 10 years, a comparatively light sentence. One of 180 women convicts, she set sail from London on 14 June 1841 on the Garland Grove, bound for Australia’s prime penal colony. Coincidentally, just 10 days earlier a group of my own ancestors had embarked on the journey to Australia – to Melbourne – from Glasgow. You can read about their perilous adventure here.

Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, 1844

Harriet Longley arrived at Hobart on 10 October 1841. Tasmania’s online records (utterly fascinating) now conjure her up for us. She was 5 feet and 1 inch tall, with a fair complexion, brown hair, a high forehead, grey eyes, a straight nose, a small mouth….and 2 moles on her stomach.  She was, I think, based at the main women’s prison, the Cascades Female Factory, but was probably allowed (‘assigned’) to work outside. Her conduct record tells us that in general she appears to have behaved well and that in 1846 she was recommended for a pardon, which was approved on 23 November 1847. For details of life at the Cascades Female Factory see here.

The convict records also show that in May 1843 Harriet Longley was given permission to marry another convict, Thomas Jarvis. He had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1833, transported for stealing a handkerchief from a clerk as he walked across London Bridge. For that Jarvis, who was then 19, had been given a sentence of transportation for life. When one sets this sentence against that meted out to Harriet Longley, we can, perhaps, recognise that mid-19th-century justice, while harsh in so many ways, had taken into account the dire straits in which that young woman had found herself. And had had some pity.

The granting of her pardon is the last glimpse I have of Harriet Longley. Now free, she fades once more into the past.I wish I could see for her a happy future.

The Female Convicts Research Centre, Inc is packed with interesting information about transported prisoners and Libraries Tasmania is a model provider of freely-accessible online records.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

, , , , , , , , , ,


The Story Of An Absent – And Errant – Great-Grandfather

Most posts on this blog tell of campaigners for women’s rights. However among them I have already included two of more general interest that relate to the history of my own family. One – ‘Glad Were They To Rest on Australia’s Shore’ – is a story of emigration, telling of the perilous journey to Australia undertaken by my great, great, great, great grandfather and several of his children. The other – ‘War: 4 August 1914: And What The War Held For My Family’ – tells of my grandfather’s involvement in the First World War, his death on the Italian Front and the repercussions it had for his immediate family.

In that latter post I mention how his wife, my grandmother, never seemed to recover from his death. As a child I was always conscious of her sadness. What I did not know then and, indeed, have only discovered in the last few months, is how this (enforced) ‘desertion’ by her husband – when she was in her ’20s –  echoed an entirely voluntary desertion by her father when she was not yet three years old.

The following story demonstrates a woman’s helplessness in the late 19th century. How could a deserted wife, with two very young children, possibly prevail on a husband for maintenance if he chose not to provide it and made a new life for himself on the other side of the world? Of course, I may be maligning him and he may have sent money back, but nothing gets away from the fact that his children were denied their father.

Some years ago I had looked briefly at this branch of my family’s history and had noted the birth of my grandmother, Margaret Dowie, in 1887, and of her brother, William, in 1888. The latter’s birth was registered by his father, William Shillinglaw Dowie (a grandson of the intrepid Australian emigrant) – but, rather to my surprise, that was the last trace I could find of this great-grandfather.

Margaret and William Dowie - the deserted children - c 1893

Margaret and William Dowie – the deserted children – c 1893. Did their father ever see – or want to see – photographs of his children?

By the time the 1891 census was taken young Margaret and William Dowie were living with their mother back in the Falkland (Fife) home of her parents. Although their mother described herself as ‘Married’ there is no husband at home – nor was he there at the time of the following two censuses – in 1901 and in 1911. Nor could I find him anywhere else in Scotland, England or Ireland. To be absent from his family on each census day over three decades seemed to be more than a coincidence.

When my grandmother married in 1912 her father’s name appeared on her wedding certificate as though he were still alive; by the time her brother, William, married in 1918, his father is described as ‘deceased’.  But, search as I might, I could find no trace of his death in Scotland, England or Ireland in the years between 1912 and 1918. I even spent some time hunting for his will in both the English and Scottish jurisdictions – but to no avail.

This is the kind of ‘absence’ that would until recently have gone unremarked. Unless it was part of a handed-down family story how could one spot such an absence? My mother never mentioned that she had an ‘absent’ grandfather – and when she was alive it never occurred to me to ask specific questions about generations that far back in time. Did she know what had happened to him? I don’t know.

It was only at the beginning of this year that a contact researching another branch of the Shillinglaw family pointed me in the right direction – across the Atlantic..

I had long since ceased looking for William Shillinglaw Dowie but, coincidentally, had by now acquired a subscription to ‘Ancestry’ that extended beyond the UK and Ireland. And, lo and behold, the absent great-grandfather was absent no longer.

I can now see that he arrived in the US in November 1889, barely a year after registering the birth of his son. He applied for naturalization in August 1904, while living in New York and working as a packer. Back in Scotland, like several  generations of his family before him, he had worked as an estate or market gardener.

By the time of the 1910 Federal Census William Shillinglaw Dowie was living in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington State. It was hardly possible to have moved further from the Scottish village in which his first family was living. He was now working as a US customs inspector and was living with May, his wife of 15 years.

In 1920 the couple were still living in Tacoma and William Dowie was in the same occupation – but the household had been augmented by the arrival of a nephew, William P. Dowie, from Glasgow and a ‘foster son’, William M. Dowie. The latter was 8 years old and had been born in Washington State.  On the census form, under the columns for place of birth of ‘Father’and ‘Mother’  is written ‘Don’t Know’.

However by the time of the 1930 Federal Census all such doubts had dissipated and William M Dowie was firmly acknowledged by William and May Dowie as ‘Son’ and the place of birth of his Father and Mother are the same as their own. I can find no trace of a marriage between May and William Shillinglaw Dowie – so presumably he was not, at least, a bigamist. [Update: 2020: I have now found evidence of this marriage, which took place in Bayonne, New Jersey on 14 October 1894. So, could he have been divorced from his first wife, or was he, indeed, a bigamist?] But what effrontery to give the son of the second liaison the same name (his own, of course) as that he had given to his first-born son. He really had written that Scottish-born  boy – and his sister – out of his history.

Did his ‘first family’ back home in Falkland know anything of the whereabouts of their husband and father? Did they know of the existence of this second family? The second William Dowie was only one year old when his half-sister, Margaret Dowie, my grandmother, was married and the information that her father was alive (and a ‘market gardener’) was stated on her marriage certificate.

They probably did know – for William Shillinglaw Dowie had not cut himself off from his siblings. As we saw, in 1920 one of his Glasgow nephews was living with him and that boy’s father, Donald Dowie, had moved his family from Glasgow to Seattle – quite close to Tacoma. Back in Falkland William Dowie’s wife must, over the years, surely have been able to make contact with her husband’s Glasgow family and garner some information as to his whereabouts.

Back in November 1889 did William Shillinglaw Dowie set off for America with a promise that when he had settled and found work he would send for his wife and two children? Or – and this seems more likely – had there been a marriage breakdown and – because he could – he set off for pastures new? Whatever the reason the result was a deserted wife, forced to return to her parents’ home, and two children left fatherless.

William Shillinglaw Dowie died in 1946, a few months after I was born. But he had presumably been ‘dead’ to his first family since 1918 when his son described him as such when giving the information to be included on his wedding certificate. His American son died in 1973. Did he know about this father’s other family? He does not seem to have left any children to carry on that line – allowing no possibility of interrogating that particular strand of the past.

It takes little imagination to guess the heartache that lies behind this family story. The deserted wife died in 1927, still living in what had been her parents’ home, now home to her own widowed daughter (my grandmother) and her two children. The pattern of a single mother left alone to bring up her children was repeating itself.

And how bizarre to think that although his wife and children probably knew next to nothing about the life of William Shillinglaw Dowie once he had crossed the Atlantic, nowadays not only am I able to uncover all this hidden history with the click of a few computer keys but I can even view a photograph of this errant great-grandfather’s grave.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement


, , ,

Leave a comment

‘Glad were they to rest on Australia’s shore’

This article was first published in March 2008 in Ancestors, a magazine, now, alas, defunct,  published by The National Archives. 

‘From old Scotland’s shore a vessel set sail

Old ocean to cross mid tempest and gale

Full laden with souls bound to a strange shore

Australia’s bright land never seen before’

The vessel was the India, sailing from Greenock on 4 June 1841, bound for Australia. Among the ‘souls’ aboard were my great-great-great-great grandfather, Phillip Shillinglaw, and four of his children. I trace my descent from a daughter who, already married, remained in Scotland. Although, in the course of research for books and articles, I have spent years investigating the history of others, only recently have I looked at my own family. I was delighted to discover this Australian link, no hint of which had passed down to me. After a little internet detective work I had the amazing good fortune of making contact with a (very) distant Melbourne relative, Margaret Ball. With her help I have been able to piece together a remarkably full picture of the Shillinglaw family’s traumatic voyage and their subsequent life in Australia.

The above lines open an epic poem describing the disaster that befell the India, the near miraculous rescue of the majority of its passengers, and their eventual arrival at Port Phillip, then in New South Wales. The author of the poem was Phillip Shillinglaw’s grandson and namesake. The manuscript, as in all the best tales of genealogical research, lay unregarded in a tin box until inherited in 1984 by Margaret Ball, great-great-great granddaughter of Phillip Shillinglaw the emigrant. She wrote that ‘This tin box started me on a great chase and a love for family history which is never ending’ and of the poem, ‘It took me a while to work it out but when I started to check public records it all made sense’. It is certainly unusual to be able to trace so dramatically the experience of steerage emigrants of this period. Much of the information in the poem tallies well with that held in public records. Phillip Shillinglaw the versifier was, of course, retelling the story he had heard from his mother and father, who had both, then unmarried, travelled out on the India, rather than recounting an official history. I am very grateful to Margaret Ball for permission to quote from the poem.

The Shillinglaws represent the ‘everyman’ and ‘everywoman’ of the mid-19th century emigrant movement to Australia. Indeed the year 1841 has come to be regarded as a watershed in the peopling of Australia. The colonies were keen to break from their convict-peopled past and introduce a different kind of settler. Britain’s industrious, virtuous working-class, suffering in a severely depressed economy, provided the ideal candidates.

The cost of a steerage passage to Australia was around £17, almost the average annual wage of a rural labourer and about twice the wage of a young female domestic servant. In order to supply Australia with this type of worker a series of schemes were devised to assist their passage, all requiring candidates to fulfil occupation, health, age, and character criteria set by the colonial legislatures. There was a bias towards family groupings, ‘protected’ single females, and those from rural counties.

The Shillinglaws certainly qualified on that score. They were travelling to Australia from Aberdalgie, a village in Perthshire. My suspicion, mentioned when this article was first published, that Phillip Shillinglaw worked in some specialist area of horticulture, perhaps fruit growing, rather than as a general agricultural labourer has proved correct. In 1826, for instance, as gardener to the Earl of Kinnoul, of Duplin Castle, Perthshire, he was awarded a prize for his ‘Queen Pineapple’ and an extra medal for ‘uncommonly fine Black Hamburgh grapes’ by the Caledonian Horticultural Society, meeting in Edinburgh   . Two of the daughters he left behind in Scotland were married to estate gardeners and, as we will see, when they reached Australia it was as gardeners, rather than as agricultural labourers or sheep hands, that both he and his son found employment.

Phillip was born in Berwickshire in 1777, probably moving to Maidstone, Kent, with his parents and siblings in the mid-1790s. Certainly he was living in England when he married in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields on 25 October 1807. Several of his older children were born in Kent but the birth in Perthshire of the younger ones indicates that the family had returned to Scotland around the mid-1820s. It was at Aberdalgie that three of the older daughters were married. I have found no trace of their mother’s death, but assume that in 1841 Philip was a widower. The little I have been able to deduce from this genealogical study suggests that Philip Shillinglaw was not a man to limit his horizons and that he could write his name. I might have been able to discover more about the family were it not for the irony that the India set sail a mere two days before the taking of the first census.

Of the Shillinglaw party, Phillip’s son, William, and two of his daughters, Martha and Elizabeth, appear in the Index to Assisted British Immigrants, although with their surname rendered as ‘Shillingham’. William was in his mid-20s. Elizabeth’s age was given as 21 on her arrival, although she may have been considerably younger. Martha’s age is recorded on arrival as 16, which tallies with her death at the age of 65 in 1891.

A slight mystery surrounds the identity of the third female member of the party. Her name is clearly written as ‘Catherine Shillinglaw’ on a list of passengers. However, nothing is known of a family member of that name and Caroline Shillinglaw, one of Phillip’s elder daughters, certainly did travel to Australia. Caroline would have been 31 in 1841 and it is possible that the fifth named member of the party, James Shillinglaw, was her illegitimate son. Neither Catherine/Caroline nor James is recorded on arrival as an assisted passenger.

Phillip, too, is missing from this record, his absence explained by the fact that, at 64, he was well above the qualifying age. It was considered part of the success of the emigration scheme that ‘ship-room’ was given to elderly family members. This was important in persuading the younger people to emigrate. In this case, however, I rather think that Phillip may himself have been a driving force. He could quite well have stayed quietly in Perthshire with his married daughters.

How would the Shillinglaws have heard about the possibilities of emigration and of the bounty scheme? Emigrant guides, aimed at the working class, had been published since the 1830s. It is quite possible that the Shillinglaws had studied one of these.  Also at this time the emigration scheme was being vigorously promoted in the various regions of rural Scotland. The official responsible for selecting emigrants travelled around, holding meetings, posting broadsheets and distributing circulars.

It was no simple business to apply for an assisted passage. Medical certificates and references were required, as well as money for a deposit, specified clothing and equipment, and the cost of travel to the port of embarkation. But well-informed, self-selecting, literate individuals with initiative could, and clearly did, overcome bureaucratic hurdles.

The voyage of the India was handled by Glasgow shipping agents McNeill and Somervall. The ship, described as ‘A 1 copper-bottomed’, was a three-masted barque of 493 tonnes, relatively new, having been built in Greenock in 1839. It had already completed one round trip to Australia. Passengers in 1841 were advised to be in Greenock by 28 May, ready for the 4 June departure.

It has been calculated that 172 passengers embarked. The ship had a poop cabin, accommodating 20 passengers, but the majority of the emigrants, including the Shillinglaws, travelled steerage. Thus, around 150 men, women and children lived and slept on the lower deck, in what was in effect one dormitory. Although the exact layout of the interior of the India’s steerage accommodation is unknown, it was usual for married couples and children to be housed in the centre, with the single women and girls in the ‘after berths’, and the single males and boys in the ‘fore-part’. Headroom was just over 6 feet, allowing for two tiers of bunks running along each side of a central table. These berths, usually fitted by the ship’s carpenter, were temporary so that they could be removed to make way for cargo on the return journey.

The passengers formed themselves into messes of six at meal times, with a mess captain appointed to collect the rations and take them to the galley for cooking. The India was well supplied with fresh meat, having live chicken, geese, pigs and sheep on board.Life in such close quarters could be fraught, but also led to friendships and, indeed, marriages. Seven months after their arrival at Port Phillip, William Shillinglaw married Jean Blamire, a fellow passenger. Their son, Phillip, the versifier, was born three months later.

The motion of the ship, causing, for many, incapacitating sea-sickness, the noise from wind, waves, sails and creaking wood, the threat of disease, and the increasing heat from the sun, combined with the discomfort of living packed together in such a confined space, made life on an emigrant ship at best uncomfortable. The passengers on the India were later to look back on the early stage of the voyage as blessedly uneventful.

The first indication that this journey was not to be without complication came when, according to Phillip’s poem, the crew mutinied. There is no mention of this incident in official sources, but I am prepared to give credence to his report that:

Now mutiny comes: crew refuses to work

So passengers have to handle the Barque

The crew’s dissatisfaction is unexplained and, according to the poem, the mutiny collapsed when they realised the punishment that would result from endangering the ship.

Near two hundred souls on that vessel’s deck

Having no knowledge of how life to save,

Constitutes a crime most fearfully grave.

After mutiny, the India and its passengers next had to contend with the threat of being pillaged by a Spanish pirate ship, the Gabriel.

Soon sea robbers hove in sight of the ship

But do not molest, though round her they slip

For, having established that the India carried a worthless cargo – emigrants – the Gabriel lost interest and sailed away. Shortly afterwards, however, she was involved in a four-hour gun battle with HM Brig Acorn and her crew captured.

It was about a fortnight after this encounter that, on 19 July, the India met its nemesis. As Phillip Shillinglaw put it:

At two of the clock, on the India they dined.

At six of the clock she was left behind

A glowing ball, burnt down to the water

To disappear, when the winds had caught her.

The disaster, he wrote, was due to the actions of the second mate (another report says the third mate), ‘a drunken fiend’, who went into the hold to fill a two-gallon measure with rum for the occupants of the state cabin.

But he could not stand

Steady, staggering with candle in hand..

At last he let fall

His candle…


Seizing the full measure with might and main

He dashed its contents right onto the flame

So quickly it caught, blazed up and flared

Beyond all control. For no-one dared

To face that inferno

The rather more prosaic report in the Times, provided by a cabin passenger, corroborates this story. The ship, 600 miles from the nearest land, was quickly ablaze. Death would have been inevitable for all had it not been for the fortuitous presence, about nine miles away, of a French whaler, the Roland.  Even so, the blazing India was only spotted when the Roland’s carpenter climbed its rigging to make a repair. The Roland hurried to the rescue, lowering all her boats.  The India’s boats, too, had been launched, but the first upturned when swamped by those desperate to clamber aboard, drowning 17 passengers and the boatswain. There was, anyway, only capacity for a third of the India’s passengers in its own long-boats. The India’s first mate then took charge of a second boat and used it to ferry passengers to those of the Roland.

To the ship they rowed

Returning-discharged-taking load after load,

Until, all were saved from the wreck, at last.

A fearful ordeal. But now it is past

Both my Father and my Mother were there

But they were not yet made into a pair.

The Times reporter wrote that ‘all was one scene of confusion and despair, the women were wringing their hands in the most heart rending manner, and this, mingled with screaming of children, presented a scene it would be vain to attempt describing.’ He also noted that the long-boat had to be cleared of ‘pigs, goats, &c., which were tossed overboard. ‘He described how, with his fellow passengers, he had doubted that the Roland would reach them in time as the India ‘was now one glowing mass of flame from stem to stern below, and rising through the hatches, and running up the rigging with incredible velocity. In less than one hour from the commencement of the fire her mainmast was lying over her lee-side.’  The surviving passengers were eventually picked up, many naked. Steerage and cabin passengers alike, they had lost all their possessions. It is salutary to note that during the 19th century at least 26 ships foundered on the voyage to Australia. Click here to see the watercolour of ‘The Burning of the Barque India of Greenock’, painted by Samuel Elyard and now in the Australian National Maritime Museum

On deck of the Roland, now, safely they stand

In mid Atlantic, a fortunate band…

Rio-Janaro’s the port – the name of the town

Where landed, and left to wander alone.

The Roland arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 26 July. There the emigrants were fortunate to be looked after by a remarkably considerate consul. Robert Hesketh’s correspondence with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, records the effort made to ensure the comfort of the survivors and to find and equip a ship to carry them on to Australia.  Hesketh found lodgings for all and, as he reported, ‘The British residents most charitably and liberally contributed Clothes’. For the sum of £1549 he chartered another ship, the Grindlay, writing to Palmerston, ’I shall have to draw on Her Majesty’s Treasury for the Sum, and also for the cost of Victualling the Emigrants during the Voyage. The expense of lodging, Victualling and Clothing in the place will form another item for which I shall also have to draw on Her Majesty’s Treasury. By thus acting, I hope to afford the assistance required from me by those unfortunate individuals in a manner that will meet your Lordship’s approval.’ Palmerston did not approve. However wiser counsels prevailed. It was pointed out that if this group of emigrants was left destitute in Rio all schemes for colonial emigration would be brought into disrepute.

The Grindlay sailed from Rio on 22 August. The widows of three drowned passengers returned to Scotland with their children. In addition, three women and two men had ‘absconded’, presumably tempted by the bright lights of Rio.

Hesketh appointed one of the India’s passengers, William Lilburne, as Superintendent of the Grindlay, giving ‘him charge of all the provisions, furnishing him with General Instructions, and with a set of regulations and Diet Scale which were notified to the Emigrants’. Hesketh wrote to the Governor of Port Phillip, ‘I consider myself fortunate in having had the assistance of such a person as Mr Lilburne to superintend on shore, in this Place, such a collection of persons under such trying circumstances, and his respectability, Discrimination and firmness makes me confident that the Passengers will be comfortable.’ Lilburne, who had been born in Perth in 1811, was given a testimonial to further his prospect of employment in Port Phillip.

It is noteworthy that Hesketh considered Lilburne better able to ensure the welfare of the passengers than the ship’s surgeon, Mr Houston, to whom, as was usual, they had previously been entrusted. Houston later appealed against the loss of gratuity resulting from this demotion, finally being offered half the money he might otherwise have received. William Lilburne received a free passage and a gratuity of £36.

British residents in Rio had raised a fund which provided the emigrants with clothing, some tools and Mr Houston with some medical instruments. The fund must have been substantial because a balance of £501 7s was left to be divided amongst the emigrants on their arrival at Port Phillip. A sum had also been given to the returning widows. The master of the Roland was presented with a gold chronometer and his crew a reward, shared between them, of £40.

There were no more adventures and the Grindlay disembarked at Port Phillip on 22 October 1841, one of 42 ships, carrying 7716 emigrants, which arrived that year from Britain.

Glad were they to rest on Australia’s shore.

But thankful indeed, the voyage is o’er.

Some came as servants, engaged ere they came,

As station hands some, all treated the same.

‘Tis a wild new land: Native tribes abound

“Plenty Blackfellow”, there wand’ring around

Port Phillip, soon to be renamed Melbourne, was clearly very different from Aberdalgie.

Phillip worked as a market gardener at Merri Creek, on the outskirts of Melbourne, until his death in 1852.  In 1847 William was a gardener to ‘Government gardens’, the precursor of what is now the world-famous Melbourne Botanical Gardens.  Caroline married in 1843 and had at least four children before dying in 1856. Elizabeth married in Melbourne in 1846, with her father present at the wedding. William Lilburne, a widower when he embarked on the India with at least two of his children, had married, soon after his arrival at Port Phillip, a fellow passenger, Christina Mcdougall. They had three children before divorcing. In 1853 he married Martha Shillinglaw.

The Shillinglaws thrived in Australia, the family increasing rapidly down the generations. Phillip the versifier settled in the Melbourne suburb of Eltham, where the brick house in which he and his family lived has been restored and preserved as Shillinglaw Cottage. In 1991 Margaret Ball organised a reunion for the descendants of those Shillinglaws who had, ‘with hearts all elate at what is before’, endured such danger to travel to that ‘wild new land’.

Taking It Further

Index to Assisted British Immigrants 1839-1871

Australian Family History and Genealogy.

Australian Vital Records Index 1788-1905. Available for purchase on CD, or can be freely accessed at The National Archives, Kew

Read More About It

M. Cannon, Perilous Voyages to the New Land, Today’s Australia Publishing Co, 1997

R. Haines, Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian recruitment in Britain and Ireland 1831-60, Macmillan, 1997

R. Haines, Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia, NationalMaritimeMuseum, 2003.

, ,