The Journey
By Julie Ruzsicska
Published Australian Family Tree Connections
July 2001 edition
On 4 August 1852 in Birkenhead, 795 migrants, predominantly Highland Scots, boarded the vessel, the Ticonderoga. With a huge labour shortage in the Australian colony, brought about by the discovery of Gold in New South Wales in 1851, and the relaxation of emigration rules regarding the number of children allowed to travel, thousands of emigrants clamored for transport to Victoria. They were humble folk and looking forward to a new life in the "Lucky Country". Little did they know that this was to be one of the most dramatic and tragic voyages to Australia.

The Ticonderoga was a four-masted American 'double-decker' ship of 1089 tons and one of four of its kind hired by the Emigration Commission (of the United Kingdom) to carry emigrants to Australia that year; see also Ship Specifications. The vessel was captained by Thomas H Boyle and carried 48 crew, which included a Dr J C Sanger as the surgeon superintendent and his assistant surgeon, Dr James William Henry Veitch. Provisions included over 36000 lbs of flour, 12000 lbs of split peas, 93 cwt of sugar, over 6000 lbs of raisins, barrels of Navy bread, preserved beef and pork, canned soup, over 400 gallons of pickles and 7000 lbs of treacle not to mention the 25000 lbs of oatmeal and 3 chests of tea left over from the previous voyage of the ship.

Under normal circumstances, the voyage should have been a relatively uneventful one with passengers experiencing a wide range of weather conditions and the occasional bout of sea-sickness. They might have entertained one another with singing and dancing on the deck, reading out aloud to themselves or engaging in long conversations about home with fellow passengers. The most remarkable concern for the passengers should have been about whether salted meat and pea soup were on the menu again. Instead it was whether they would survive the journey.
2011 Copyright Ruzsicska
There were unforeseen problems associated with the double-decker aspect of the ship. Poor ventilation and lighting were the major two. As a result, washing the decks wasn't commonly practiced as the water would leak from deck to deck and it was almost impossible to dry out the 'damp'. The atmosphere between decks grew more and more polluted.

The risk of disease was also heightened by a lack of space for exercise on the upper deck (due to overcrowding) along with poor personal hygiene, an aversion to medical treatment and an ignorance about the incubation of disease. There is no doubt that any infection or "fever" would thrive amongst such shocking sanitary conditions.

Dr Sanger reported that disease had been noticed about two weeks after the ship's departure: red rashes, strong delirium bordering on insanity and the ever-present diarrhoea and dysentery. 100 passengers perished on the voyage; 17 adult males, 29 adult females, 39 children between 1 and 14 years of age and 15 infants under the age of 1 yr. They died amongst the mould, the maggots and the squalor of disease. At the time it was not known that lice spread typhus, which most of the deaths were later attributed to.

One passenger described how up to ten dead passengers were bundled up in bedding and mattresses at a time, and thrown overboard to float away. (Dundas, 1909)

On 5 November 1852, 90 days after their departure, the Ticonderoga crawled into Port Phillip Bay flying the yellow flag and carrying the stench of death. The Port and Harbour Master at Williamstown, Captain Charles Ferguson, reported that "100 deaths and nineteen births had occurred on the passage, seven of the former since the ship anchored at the Heads. There are at present 300 cases of sickness amongst them, principally scarletina" (The Argus, Melbourne, Tuesday November 9 1852, Shipping Intelligence Section). There were in fact, 311 cases of "fever" (defined as typhus), 127 cases of diarrhoea and 16 cases of dysentery on the ship's arrival.
The report given by the Immigration Board in Melbourne to the Emigration Commissioners on the condition of the Ticonderoga on its arrival, stated that "The ship, especially the lower part was in a most filthy state, and did not appear to have been cleaned for weeks, the stench was overpowering, the lockers so thoughtlessly provided for the Immigrants use were full of dirt, mouldy bread, and suet full of maggots, beneath the bottom boards of nearly every berth upon the lower deck were discovered soup and bouille cans and other receptacles full of putrid ordure, and porter bottles etc, filled with stale urine, while maggots were seen crawling underneath the berths, and this state of things must have been prevalent for a long time as the 2nd Mate describes the ship to have been in the same state when he supervised the cleaning of her by the Captain's order five weeks previously". (Welch, 1969 p.28)

The description on conditions given by Dr Hunt, the Port Health Officer, had a similar impact but wasn't nearly as offensive to the senses: "The great mortality seems to have been occasioned by the crowded state of her decks and want of proper ventilation, particularly through the lower deck. This caused debility and sickness among her passengers to such an extent that a sufficient number could not be found to keep them clean. Dirt and filth of the most loathsome description accumulated, tainting the atmosphere and affecting everyone who came within its influence as with poison." (Carroll, 1970 p. 29)

Captain Boyle landed the Ticonderoga at Portsea at Point Nepean, so chosen because of its isolated but accessible position and good anchorage. A quarantine ground was marked out with yellow flags and white paint on the trees, and tents were erected using the sails and spars from the ship. The government purchased two houses that had been occupied by lime-burners and converted them into hospitals. The Lysander sailed over from South Australia, and was outfitted as a hospital for the worst cases.

By this stage, Dr Sanger and Dr Veitch were in a debilitated state, particularly the former as he had contracted typhus during the voyage.

Supplies and medical staff from Melbourne were ferried down to the Heads from Williamstown, including Dr Joseph Taylor, surgeon of the ship, Otilla and a Dr Farman, as his assistant (surgeon of the ship, the Mobile). Despite the provisions, and medical attention, a further 68 passengers died in quarantine. Two crew members also died, bringing the casualty total to 170.

The surviving passengers arrived in Melbourne on 22 December 1852, most without one or more of their family members. They were greeted by a settlement with few of the comforts of home and a sense of despair from other new arrivals. It was uncivilized country with its hot sun, dust, mosquitoes and flies. The accommodation shortage, expensive food and burgeoning crime were the civilized features. It must have been overwhelming after already sacrificing so much. All they could do was make the best of the situation and build something out of nothing for themselves. And they weren't alone with their loss.

Tragedy had also struck on the double decker ships Bourneuf, Marco Polo and Wanata that same year. The Bourneuf lost 88 of its passengers on the voyage, 83 of whom were children. The Marco Polo lost 52 passengers; 46 were children under the age of four years of age. The Wanata lost 39 passengers, 30 being children.

The tragic loss of life did not go unnoticed and the Emigration Commission made the decision not to use double decker vessels in the future. It also reintroduced the policy whereby no family would be accepted for emigration in which there were more than two children under seven years, or three children under ten years.

Today, the bay between Observatory Point and Police Point on the Nepean Peninsula bears the name of Ticonderoga and a memorial to those who lost their lives on this ill-fated vessel, lies in the Point Nepean Cemetery. (Click on map at top of page for larger view.)

Allen, Noel D (1952) "The Tragedy of the Ticonderoga",
The Educational Magazine, November issue
Carroll, Brian (1970) "Fever Ship",
Parade, Iss. Aug issue pp.28-29
Charlewood, Don (1998)
The Long Farewell. Victoria: Burgewood Books
Chuk, Florence (1992) "Address to Descendants of Ticonderoga Emigrants, Portsea", 8 Nov 92
Chuk, Florence (1994)
The Somerset Years "Government Assisted Emigrants from Somerset and Bristol to Port Phillip, 1839-1854", Ballarat, Victoria: Pennard Hill Publications
Dundas, James, Letters to the Editor,
The Argus, Melbourne 25 Jan 909
Shipping Intelligence,
The Argus, Melbourne, Nov 9 1852
Welch, Major J H (1969)
Hell to Health - The History of Quarantine at Port Phillip Heads 1852-1966 (The Peninsula Story, Book 2). Victoria: The Nepean Historical Society