FROM LIVERPOOL TO
IN A SAILING SHIP IN THE
(By J. G. Eastwood.)
In the "Cairns Post" under the date, of January 16 appears an article from one of the English newspapers, the "Manchester Guardian," dealing with the account of a voyage made from Liverpool to Melbourne in the "roar- ing days of the golden fifties," when the attention of the civilised world was centred upon the wonderful gold- fields of Ballarat, Mt. Alexander, Bendigo, Oven's River, and other famous "Tom Tidler's" grounds.
The article was written by one who had picked up at a second-hand book- stall, a small old-fashioned memoran- dum book, evidently the diary of a Mr. Edward Bird, of Wellington, Somerset, England, of his voyage in the well-known ship Marco Polo, under the command of the equally re- nowned Captain James Nicol Forbes. The voyage that the diary deals with is the Marco Polo's second trip. The first one was when she started from Liverpool with over 900 souls on board, and reached out to Melbourne after a record passage of 68 days. As Port Phillip when they arrived was full of ships deserted by their crews who had cleared out for the diggings, "Bully" Forbes made sure of those of his crew who were likely to desert, by having them locked up on a charge of insubordination, so that when his ship was discharged and loaded again he promptly paid their fines, carefully shepherded them on board the Marco Polo and set sail again on the 23rd day after his arrival in Melbourne and reached back to Liverpool after a run of 76 days. She had gold on board to the value of £100,000, in- cluded in which was a nugget weigh-
ing 340 ounces, which had been pur- chased by the Victorian Government and sent home as a present to Queen
Discharging and loading up again in the Salthouse Dock, the Marco Polo left Liverpool on March 13, 1853, and it is this her second voyage that is described in Mr. Bird's diary. The first voyage had caused a large amount of attention in Great Britain, especially amongst the younger men, who were interested in the glowing accounts from the diggings, where it was reported "that they were picking up golden nuggets like potatoes being gathered from a field."
The Liverpool newspapers for early March, 1853, held the following ad- vertisement in bold letters, viz.:
«BLACKBALL LINE OF AUS-
'For passengers, parcels, and specie, having bullion safes, will be de- spatched early in February for Mel- bourne. The celebrated clipper ship Marco Polo, 1625 tons register, 2500 tons burthen, has proved herself the fastest ship in the world, having just made the voyage to Melbourne and back, including detention there, in five months and 21 days, beating every other vessel, steamers included. As a passenger ship she stands unrivalled, and her commander's ability and kind- ness to his passengers are well known. As she goes out in ballast and is expected to make a very rapid pasage, she offers a most favorable opportunity to shippers of specie. Apply to James Baines and Co., Cook
The meteoric career of James Baines, the ship-owner, forms one of the romances of the shipping world in Liverpool. His mother, left a widow when her son James was a child, kept a confectioner's shop in Duke-street. It used to be a legend in Liverpool that she was one of those singled out to supply the confectionery, etc., for
the Royal table on the occasion of Queen Victoria's marriage in 1840.
Anyway, after leaving school, young Baines was put into the office of a Liverpool ship-broker and owner and learned the details of the business of
managing ships and securing cargo for them. His first venture on his own account is generally given as
One day a rough looking vessel, with stumpy mast and apole-cheeked bows, lay in the Queen's Dock, Liver- pool, with a broom at her mast-head, thus indicating that she was for sale. This ship, which sea-faring men con- temptuously compared to a barrel of pork, had been cheaply built at Mira- michi, Canada, loaded up with a cargo of timber, and after discharging was for sale, and no doubt as the saying is-"would go for a song."
Mr. Baines examined her carefully, sizing up her possibilities for a pur- pose he had in view, bought her cheap, loaded her up and sent her off to Australia just before the diggings broke out. Other profitable pur- chases followed, with the ships Maria and the Cleopatra, both put into the booming Melbourne passenger trade. His next venture was a master stroke and placed him in the forefront of his special line.
A Canadian ship-building firm, Messrs. Smith and Co., of St John's, New Brunswick, built a large ship on speculation, sent her with a load of timber to Mobile, in the State of Ala- bama, whence she took a big cargo of cotton to Liverpool. Arrived there and her cotton discharged, she was put up for sale, and bought cheap by Paddy Magee, the marine store dealer.
She has been described as "a Que- bec timber ship," as square as a brick fore and aft with a bow like a savage bull dog, a thick lump of a ship, with a tremendous beam, a ship you could carry sail to glory in, even in a strong gale. Under her name of Marco Polo she was sighted by Mr. Baines, who, seizing up her capabilities for his Melbourne passenger trade, bought her and had her fitted up. Though to outsiders, as of the "cotton ware- house" type, she had a fine under- water body, with very fine lines, and Mr.Baines had a wonderful spirit of inspiration when he put her under the command of Captain "Bully" Forbes.
Captain James Nicol Forbes is one of the best-known characters in the history of the British Mercantile Marine. He was born in 1821, a native of Aberdeen. In 1839 he left Glasgow for Liverpool without a shilling in his pocket, but he was a man who could not be kept down and he soon gained command of a ship
and at once began to astonish every- body by the way in which he forced indifferent ships, to make unusually good passages.
One of his first commands was an old brig, in which he made two splen- did passages on the River Plate trade. His success with Mr. Baines's ships Maria and Cleopatra, which were neither of them clippers, gave him the command of the Marco Polo and his opportunity to break all records.
His sensational first voyage in com- mand of the Marco Polo had caused both Captain Forbes and his ship to be the talk of the day, and so crowds came to see both ship and captain as they pulled out of the dock.
She sailed front the Mersey on May
13, 1853, having laid at anchor in the
river four days (in the Sloyne prob- ably) and she had on board 648 pas- sengers and a crew of between 60 and 70 (not 800 as Mr. Bird's diary has it). Just before leaving the Liverpool police came to the ship and arrested one of the passengers on a charge of burglary, and his luggage when ex- amined was found to contain a large quantity of jewellery and watches. As they were being towed out a stow- away was discovered and sent back in
the tug that towed them out. Evi- dently this is the one that captain Forbes (in order to frighten) threat- ened to take and maroon on the first iceberg he came across in the south-
The usual incidents of a sailing ship voyage to Australia were gone through-the customary hard and trying process of getting over the sea-sickness, and into the routine of
the ship's life and requirements: and then later the time when "they were drowsing down the tropics" with its thunderstorms and calms, and when the whole ship's company were get- ting settled down and commencing to know each other and the ship's re- quirements and ways.
As they journeyed south and hav-
ing turned the corner below the Cape of Good Hope and were "running down their easting, the Marco Polo, under her driving skipper, commenced to make satisfactory dav records of 314, 300, 310, 304, 285, 288, and six days later 299 miles per 24 hours, and finally after a passage of 75 days
arrived at Melbourne."
Mr. Bird's diary appears to close with the arrival of the ship at Hob- son's Bay, near Melbourne, and there- fore gives us no account of the trouble and the delay, which were generally experienced at that time, in getting ashore and in getting accommodation
in Melbourne when they reached there.
A well-known writer of this time, Mr. William Howitt, in his book, "Land, Labor and Gold," and who
landed in Melbourne just about this time, gives a very graphic description of the trials and troubles in front of the new-chum when his ship arrived in Victoria and possibly when Mr.
Bird did reach Melbourne his trials |
and tribulations were so great and so many that he had not the time nor the
inclination to put them down in the
All the same, the little diary, and also the article in the paper that it gave rise to are valuable to us at this
latter day, as throwing a side-light
upon a very eventful and strenuous time in Australian history.