Was it all fun and games on Florentia?


The sailing ship Florentia. Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and reproduced with permission. Image PW 7704

The sailing ship Florentia. Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and reproduced with permission. Image PW 7704

In my previous post I mentioned the newspaper remarks of problems on board the barque Florentia, and my hopes of getting to the bottom of the mystery…and finding reference to Mary O’Brien.

Only a matter of hours after disembarking from Voyager of the Seas in Sydney I was ensconced in the reading room at State Records New South Wales, at Kingswood following up the Colonial Secretary (Col Sec) records for the period, as well as the Immigration Board etc. I’d anticipated having more problems as they can be so convoluted to follow with their top-numbering system but I was lucky as the Florentia papers were easily found.

The Immigration Board in Moreton Bay submitted their report, dated 19 May 1853, to the Agent for Immigration[i], and forwarded by the Health Officer. It included statements by the Surgeon Superintendent, Dr William Clegg, and the matron, Bess McLoughlin, also one of the assisted immigrants listed on the manifest.

If the scenes on Florentia were as lively as shown in this image, one can see why there might have been a kerfuffle.

The essence of the problem was that the captain (Banks) had been in breach of the rules in the Charter Party, a new term to me, but apparently rather like a modern day memorandum of understanding, setting out the terms and conditions under which the ship was to sail, the obligations of those in authority, and presumably the remuneration involved. The Investigation found “the Captain was in the habit of playing with the females on the poop for about a month or five weeks after sailing”. The game referred to was Blind Man’s Bluff.[ii]

Image from Wikipedia. Blind-Man's Buff [sic], published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). This print was made within the lifetime of King George IV of England (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830), hence copyright (if any) has long since expired.

Image from Wikipedia. Blind-Man’s Buff [sic], published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). This print was made within the lifetime of King George IV of England (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830), hence copyright (if any) has long since expired. If the scenes on board Florentia were half as lively one can see why there might have been a kerfuffle.

Captain Thomas Hopper Banks was charged with having inappropriate “intercourse” (not as we understand it today) with the single women and permitting the crew to do the same. Warnings by the Surgeon had no impact on the captain’s and second mate’s behaviour. This in turn influenced how the ordinary seamen behaved.

Rather than have the single women locked below after dark, the key to their quarters mysteriously disappeared soon after departure[iii]. When it was found, the hinges of the door were taken off. The Captain claimed the matron was being cruel forcing the women to stay below, even though this was the custom, and requirement.

The consequence of the report was that Captain Banks and the Second Mate were refused their payments for the voyage and it was recommended that Banks not be employed in the colonial service again. The matron and the schoolmaster were paid their remuneration as was the Surgeon, Dr William Clegg.

Under the circumstances I was quite pleased to find no specific mention of my Mary O’Brien or her sister Bridget, though it also fits with the oral histories that they both met their future husbands on the voyage out. One young woman features in the story however, and that is Ann Drew who plainly had a close relationship of some sort with the captain. Two illegitimate children had been born on the voyage but they would have had nothing to do with the shenanigans on board. One of the babies had been stillborn and was hidden, but the mother had been discovered and she was cautioned on arrival…unfortunately her name is not mentioned.

Through the archive documents and/or the newspapers I’ve found specific mention of some of the passengers on the ship:

James Massy of Limerick, complained against the surgeon “for not paying sufficient attention to his wife during her illness and by…causing her death”.[iv] Later in the report the Surgeon Superintendent, Clegg, was exonerated from blame as the ship had been in very severe weather at the time. James would have had an uphill battle with three children to take care of, which no doubt made gaining employment more difficult.
Mary Massy and Cath Ryan were the two married women who died on board, deduced from the details on the Board reports.

Ann Drew: a single woman who was plainly in the Captain’s favour. Ann Drew’s mess (group of women sharing the cooking etc responsibilities) were said to have disrespected the matron’s orders.

John Hockings, a gardener from Devon, declared that he never saw the Captain give preference to Ann Drew or any of the other girls, or make indelicate remarks to them. He was also a constable on board ship.[v]

Frances Bransfield, a laundress from Cork, gave a statement that she declined to go to the hospital –it’s unclear whether her complaint was against the surgeon or the captain, though it follows an examination of the Captain by Dr Clegg.

Denis Kelly: a single man who was a schoolteacher from Limerick and so presumably the teacher on board.

Bess (Elizabeth) McLoughlin, a 40 year old laundress from Londonderry was the matron.

Daniel Brian (or Breen) a 34 year old married man from Glamorganshire in South Wales, and a plaster, was one of the constables, mentioned in a case of stealing on board ship. [vi] Although Daniel O’Brien from Tipperary, a blacksmith, would also be a possibility, overall I’m inclined to think it was the former.

Frederick Pierce (or Pearce), 33 year old smith from Cornwall, a married man with four children was another constable mentioned in the above court case.[vii]

William Henry Cox charged with having stolen a quantity of wine on board the Florentia on 19 January 1853, was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment in Brisbane gaol.

Joseph Pinch, supernumary seaman was a witness in this case[viii].

Nearly 100 years later, another Florentia causes problems with luggage. "RIOT" SHIP GOES TO Queensland Times (Ipswich), 4 June 1951 p. 1  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124609224

Nearly 100 years later, another Florentia passenger causes problems with luggage. Queensland Times (Ipswich), 4 June 1951 p. 1 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124609224

After arrival George Parsons was charged, on 12 May 1853, by Mr. Tooth, his employer, with refusing to go on to the station (property owned by Tooth). The reason alleged for this refusal was that Mr.Tooth would not provide conveyance for the whole of defendant’s luggage; but as the Bench did not think this sufficient, they passed a sentence of one month’s imprisonment.  Heaven help us! What a punishment to hand down to this poor immigrant who’d tolerated that six month voyage to get to Moreton Bay. And what happened to his wife Maria and their four children including infant George?

Although news stories report that seamen absconded from the Florentia in Hobart[ix] , when a crew of 24 is listed on the immigration documents. In Brisbane, at least one crew member absconded and who stole a ship’s boat[x] but neither he nor the Hobart escapees are mentioned by name. The Hobart documents list a crew of 24 on the ship. However, when indentured apprentice  James Murphy; native of Cork; height, about 5 feet 8 inches; age, 16 years jumped ship in Sydney, a reward of £5 was offered for his imprisonment.[xi] Poor young bloke!

Reviewing the complaints listed by the immigrants many of the same people are mentioned[xii]. Those complaining against the Matron were Hanah Todd, Frances Bransfield, Anne Drew, Hannah Gale, and Harriet and Mary Roger (perhaps Anne Drew’s Mess group?). The only complaint against the Doctor was the one mentioned by James Massy. Margaret McMullin, a 37 year old ladies maid from Meath complained of the conduct of the Captain and some his officers. Unsurprisingly Bess McLoughlin, the matron also complained against the Captain. John Hughes’ complaint is hard to read but may refer to morality. James Ryan complained that his mother-less child did not receive the milk ordered by the doctor. There was a long queue of complaints from the married men about the lack of provisions, bread and water: John Cuddihy, James Cherry, John Green, Cornelius Halloran, Thomas Madden, Michael Nowlan, Daniel O’Brien and Thomas Cherry. Interestingly they were all Irish emigrants.

Classified Advertising. (1853, May 7). The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 - 1861),p2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710117

Classified Advertising. (1853, May 7). The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861),p2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710117

Despite all the complaints and the withdrawal of the Captain’s gratuity, some ninety-eight of the passengers signed a testimonial, published in the newspaper, stating they were “fully convinced of his general and lasting friendship, as well as his willingness and cheerfulness to render all the assistance he possibly could to us at large-being to us, in need or trouble, like a father and a friend and never failing to visit us in danger; whose presence we always beheld with the greatest delight…”

And after all that, not a mention of unassisted passengers and no reference to Mary or Bridget O’Brien. In the coming days I’ll be weighing up the merits of the case for or against their being on the Florentia and whether there’s any chance of fitting that glass slipper.

And a bit of trivia for fellow cruisers on Voyager of the Seas: the modern day cruise liner has a tonnage of 138,000 compared to poor little Florentia’s 453 tons.

Voyage of the Seas dwarfs most other ships, just imagine it beside a barque like Florentia.

Voyage of the Seas dwarfs most other ships, just imagine it beside a barque like Florentia.

[i] Reference SRNSW 53/5645

[ii] Minutes of Investigate held 6 May 1853 before J C Wickham Esq and W A Duncan by members of the Immigration Board at Brisbane re ship Florentia. SRNSW 53/1679 in batch 86/6858.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] SRNSW 53/5645, Government Resident Moreton Bay.

[v] Minutes of Investigate held 6 May 1853 before J C Wickham Esq and W A Duncan by members of the Immigration Board at Brisbane re ship Florentia. SRNSW 53/1679 in batch 86/6858.

[vi] Moreton Bay Courier, 7 May 1853, page 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710112

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Moreton Bay Courier, 30 April 1853, page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[x] Moreton Bay Courier, 27 August 1853, page 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3713574

[xi] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 August 1853, page 2, supplement. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12947703

[xii] Queensland State Archives Item ID339031, Passenger lists. Microfilm Z598.

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9 thoughts on “Was it all fun and games on Florentia?

  1. It sounds like Captain Banks was a friendly man much liked by his passengers. Perhaps the surgeon and Matron were just “stuffed shirts”. I wonder if he was quite a young Captain which may explain his actions.

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  2. Pingback: Trove does it again – Bridget Widdup and the Florentia | Family history across the seas

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