MARTIN'S ARRIVAL IN AUSTRALIA
INQUEST INTO THE STEBONHEATH
By Christmas of 1857, Catherine's anticipation must have been at fever pitch. It was now more than seven years since she had left Ireland and more than a year since she had managed to scrounge the £4 for Martin's passage. One would hope that the immigration had notified depositors of the name and anticipated sailing date of the ship carrying relatives and friends out to Australia., so she should have known that Martin was on the Stebonheath and that it should have sailed towards the end of September. Normal sailing time for a ship in the 1850's was around 110-120 days, which would be early in the new year, and presuming she or her employers read the SMH, the issue of 10th November had confirmed the Stebonheath was on its way.
Again, on 18th December under the heading 'Sydney Labour Market', the SMH reported that no immigrant ship had arrived for some time and that the “Stebonheath is the next ship expected.”
The article went on to say that the “demand for country lads continues to moderate” but that “stockmen, bullock drivers, married couples without encumbrances, farm labourers, strong lads, are in request “ and that there was “a constant demand for steady men in the interior.” So, provided Martin was prepared to accept work outside of Sydney, his chances for employment on arrival were looking very promising.
However, what no-one seemed to know, as there had been no reports of it, was that the ship had encountered a storm six days out from Plymouth and been hauled up in Pauillac until 1st November.
Christmas came and went and the SMH of 9th January again listed the Stebonheath under expected arrivals, so by the time it actually arrived on 22nd February, Catherine and others expecting relatives must have been absolutely frantic and imagining all sorts of disasters, as it was not at all uncommon for a ship to be lost at sea with all hands. The wreck of the Dunbar just off Sydney Heads with all on board lost save one, just a scant five months earlier on 20/8/1857 must have been uppermost in their minds.
Later, with the advent of clipper ships and the discovery of what was known as the Great Circle Route, the average time for a voyage was reduced to around 75 days. The Great Circle Route was correctly based on the assumption that the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line! The early ships tracked down close to the west coast of Africa and turned east close to the Cape of Good Hope, but navigators discovered that with the natural curvature of the earth's surface, an alternative route that took the vessel much further south to a point midway between the Cape and Antarctica was actually around 1,000 miles shorter and also favoured by strong and consistent westerly winds.
Finally, on Thursday 22nd February 1858, the Stebonheath cleared the heads and sailed into Port Jackson and anchored in the harbour. Health formalities were completed on the Friday, and passengers went ashore – blissfully unaware of the notoriety and accusations of scandalous behaviour that were about to unfold.
Sydney Herald Tuesday
1 March 1858:
“The ship is remarkably clean, and the matron (Miss Chase) deserves great credit for the neatness and excellent appearance of the single women and their department on the vessel. There have been four deaths (infants), and one adult, and four births during the voyage.”
Anyone met by friends or relatives in the colony would have left the ship almost immediately, whilst the rest stayed on board pending instructions from the Immigration Board. Under the rules of the Remittance Regulations, those not met were able to stay on board for up to 10 days after the berthing of the ship.
There were later extenuating circumstances with regard to the Stebonheath and there is evidence that the immigrants were permitted to use the ship as a base for a much longer period.
We are presuming that Catherine was apprised of the arrival of the ship and hurried from her domestic position near Parramatta to be reunited with a brother she had last seen at 8 years of age and now a strapping lad of 18. it is doubtful that here employers would have suggested Martin return to Parramatta to stay with her. There was also a good reason for Martin to stay with the ship for, true to its obligations the Immigration Board placed the following advertisement in the SMH of Tuesday, 2nd of March:
IMMIGRANTS per STEBONHEATH – Notice is hereby given, that the undermentioned persons for whom passages were provided to this colony, in pursuance of deposits made in the Treasury here, under the Remittance Regulations, have arrived in the ship Stebonheath, and that they will be prepared to join their friends --- the single females from the Institution, Hyde Park Barracks, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., after their arrival there, and the married families and single men from the ship, at 2 p.m , THIS DAY (Tuesday), the 2nd Instant
Name of Immigrant | Name of Depositor.
Noon, Martin Catherine Noon
Note: Space does not permit the complete passenger list which was given together with the name of the relevant depositor.
The purpose of these advertisements was to notify prospective employers, something like a labour market.
This advertisement was followed by another on Saturday 6th March:
SYDNEY LABOUR MARKET.
So jobs there were; especially for a young healthy lad (after months of sea air) who was ready to do any sort of labouring work on offer. And all might have gone well if disaster had not struck in the form of the inquest into the death of Ann Cox on Thursday, 4th. March, and the damning testimony of the Matron and the Doctor.
When the Stebonheath berthed in Sydney, an 18 year old critically ill female passenger, Ann Cox, was taken ashore and died in the Sydney Infirmary two days later. At the Inquest there were all sorts of revelations and accusations by both the ship's doctor and the matron about alleged carrying on between the sailors and the single girls which cast a slur over the morals and conduct of virtually all the passengers who had ostensibly 'condoned' such licentious behaviour.
Click HERE for the full transcript of the inquest into the death of Ann Cox, as well as the full report into the matter by the NSW Legislative Assembly and the considerable number of letters and editorial comment in the SMH at the time.
SEMI-CIRCULAR QUAY 1853 by Conrad Martens
The Sydney Herald of Saturday 6th. March was scathing in its indictment of the conduct of the passengers and crew.
“The facts disclosed at the inquiry occasioned by the death of Ann Cox, of the Stebonheath, call for the most serious consideration of all interested in the prosperity of the country. There is one feature in this case extremely disgusting. It appears that the access by the sailors to the single women’s apartments was gained through those of the married women. What must have been the moral tone of those persons who could connive at conduct which any respectable female must know would conduct these foolish girls to destruction? No doubt it is a wise maxim on board ship to “hear, see, and say nothing”, in all ordinary matters; but there are duties which a respectable matron owes to her own character and sex. If the reports are correctly given, we can only regret that there are not found among these females a number sufficient to bear down the indecorum and bad conduct of their fellow passengers.”
The result was that all passengers off the Stebonheath were suddenly under suspicion of licentious behaviour; that the men had either participated in improper acts or idly condoned them by others, and all were consequently treated like pariahs. Job offers dried up and the situatiuon was becoming desperate by the time a public meeting was held on Wednesday 10th. March.
The SMH of 11th March tells part of the story:
STEBONHEATH. – Six of the Unmarried Male Immigrants by this vessel having failed to meet with their friends on arrival in the colony, are willing to enter into engagements, on board, during the usual office hours. The ship is alongside Campbell's Wharf. Government Immigration Office, Sydney, 10th March._
Empire, Sydney, Wednesday, 10th March, 1858
“A meeting of emigrants who have arrived by the Stebonheath, was held yesterday afternoon, at Baker’s Hotel, corner of King and Phillip Streets, for the purpose of taking steps to refute the statements made by the matron and doctor at the Coroner’s inquest on the body of Ann Cox. About 20 of the immigrants attended.
Mr. Sheldrick was moved into the chair. He explained briefly the objects of the meeting, and then denied the accuracy of the evidence given by the matron and doctor at the inquest on the body of Ann Cox. He urged that all they required was that the matter be carefully, openly, and thoroughly investigated, as the reports which had gone abroad were entirely untrue, and were not only calculated to injure, but had absolutely injured the whole of the passengers by the Stebonheath to a great extent. They had come here to better their condition, to be useful to the country of their adoption, and to advance themselves; but a stigma had been cast upon their characters, which stigma they must remove or they stood little chance of doing any good. He had applied to more than one person for employment for his son but had failed, no one desiring apparently to have anything to do with the passengers by this ship. He had personally applied for employment, and could not get it. He asserted and could prove that no improprieties took place between the crew and the single women, and the only time the crew came down to the single women was on the occasion of a terrific storm in the Bay of Biscay, when the women were screaming and crying for mercy, and the sailors came to endeavour to pacify them if possible.”
number of the passengers had also written a joint letter to the
Herald which was published the day before the meeting.
(extract) “If we had suffered abominations to take place, such as are asseverated by the matron and the surgeon, no scorn would be too withering, no epithets too bitter; but we now proceed, as a first step in the movement we intend to make, to remove the odium which has already attached to the Stebonheath, to refute the charges which have been made against us, to protest against the unmitigated and unwarrantable cruelty which in some instances has been exercised , and to uphold the character of all but a very small fraction of the female immigrants aboard the Stebonheath; and that we, to which we now attach our signatures, are prepared to state upon oath at the proper time and place.” This letter was signed by ten of the passengers, five of whom had been ‘constables’ on the voyage.
The public meeting of the passengers provoked an Immigration Board enquiry into the testimony and conduct of the doctor and the matron, with The Sydney Herald of 13th March trumpeting that “the present situation of the Stebonheath enquiry is a subject of just dissatisfaction and complaint. What evidence has been taken, how far that evidence has been directed to the real issue, are points on which of course we can form no opinion. We cannot imagine that those who are entrusted with the important branch of colonial business connected with emigration, desire to cover (up) any part of this distressing case, And, until we have some conclusive proof, we shall still cherish a conviction that the interests of the public and of the immigrants will be fully protected.”
The SMH of 13th March also carried this article (edited):
SYDNEY LABOUR MARKET.
Note: At 18 years of age, Martin would have been considered a 'man'.
Then followed this startling story in the SMH of 23rd March.
DISAPPEARANCE OF DOCTOR OF THE STEBONHEATH
“The disappearance of the doctor of the Stebonheath will of course prevent any judicial enquiry into the allegations which have so shocked the public, and which, but for the concurrent testimony of many unimpeachable witnesses, would appear incredible. The surgeon-superintendant is doubtless the responsible party before the law. We question, however, whether any persons are bound to assist in carrying out orders so palpably contrary to the spirit of the regulations imposed for the good order of the ship. We cannot suppose it was ever intended to convey such absolute discretion in the infliction of punishments which might have caused the loss of reason, and even of life; but are none responsible save the doctor? We presume a veil is drawn over a case even more distressing - that of ANN COX. The examination of the evidence given at the inquest, in connection with the statements of the immigrants who saw the unfortunate deceased under various circumstances, casts the strongest suspicion of culpable neglect, and even maltreatment, upon those in whose charge she was during the last days of her life.”
AS WELL, JANE CHASE, THE MATRON, HAD WRITTEN HER LETTER OF JUSTIFICATION WHICH WAS PUBLISHED IN THE SMH ON 25th MARCH, 1858:
The investigation by the Commissioners of the Immigration Board having been brought to a close, I feel myself at liberty to offer an explanation of certain parts of my evidence given at the inquest, held on the poor girl Ann Cox, which I am informed to my regret, have been misinterpreted by the public.
It has been with much sorrow that I have recalled to mind the nervous state of my feelings, which the excitement of the inquest induced, and I much fear that I may have expressed myself on some points indistinctly - but at the same time I am convinced your reporter has in certain parts of my statement failed in catching the ordinary and true meaning.
I wish first to observe upon the paragraphs in which the conduct of the girls on the train from London to Plymouth is described; on this point I wished, and still do, to express that a sufficient number misconducted themselves to convey to my mind an unfavourable impression of the average. This opinion was corroborated during the voyage, and it has been fully proved in the rigid investigation which has just taken place that my charge contained a considerable number of, not only troublesome, but badly disposed girls.
Further on, the following occurs in your report: - “Most of the single women showed signs of insubordination in the first week, being anxious to get at the men.” I should have said - if I did not - many, not most, and have explained, that their object appeared to be, at the least, frivolous conversation and letter writing.
Again: - “ The conduct of the single women became very bad, and my feelings were so much distressed, etc.” it should have been “some of the single women,” etc.
In reference to the confinement, in the cells, of the single women, I have only to state, that I had nothing whatever to do with it, my office consisted of general superintendence, and if any girl seriously misconducted herself, I had no alternative but to report her to the Surgeon-Superindent; he alone awarded the punishment; girls were locked up nine times; in eight cases I interceded for their discharge, in some more than once or twice; in the ninth. she was confined only one hour.
I much regret that I am unable to throw any light on the death of Ann Cox, - it is to me a mystery. I can only say that for about three weeks prior to our arrival in Port Jackson, she was seen by the doctor in my presence daily, except Sundays; on no occasion can I recollect did she complain of her wrist, until the Thursday before leaving the vessel (Saturday); when I called the doctor’s attention to it, he examined it, but did not prescribe - in consequence, as it appeared to me, of his being unable to elicit any information from her about it; her manner was then decidedly strange.
On board the Stebonheath, I have most willingly performed duties (I trust for motives of kindness and humanity) which properly belonged to others, and on no occasion have I permitted my own health or comfort to interfere with a full performance of my labours.
When in the bay of Biscay, the storm from which we suffered so much lasted nearly a week; during this time, from Monday till Saturday, my clothes were not once off, nor did I lie down; on Saturday afternoon, I laid down on my berth for a couple of hours, and in that short time the alarmed girls came to me eight times. I do not in the least degree complain of this, but it tried my strength, and I fainted for the first time in my life. My conduct during the whole voyage has been guided by the same motives which supported me during this trying period, and if my endeavours have not met with the success of former voyages I deeply regret it, at the same time I cannot see that I could have helped it, although I may have gained additional experience, which I will endeavour to profit by.
I have made four voyages to Sydney, as matron, in care of single women, and upon the first three occasions was fortunate in not only bringing out my charges comfortably and without disturbance, but also in a manner which met with the entire approval of the Immigration Board.
In conclusion, I wish to express my regret if any verbal errors made by me at the inquest of Ann Cox have afforded pain or anxiety to anyone. With a sincere wish for the health and happiness of all who come under my care to the colony,
I remain yours,
Late matron ship Stebonheath
That the single and married females were particularly stigmatised caused D. V. M. O’Connell, Dean of St. Mary’s Church to write to the Herald on 25th March that he had “the great pleasure of stating ( and it ought to be a great pleasure to many who have heretofore made or repeated a most calumnious contrary statement) - I have the great pleasure of stating that several clear and unhesitating testimonies were given during the examination, to the manifestly superior docility, and orderliness, of the Irish Roman Catholic girls throughout the voyage.”
From Jane Chase's comments about the conduct of the girls during the train trip from London to Plymouth, I think we can draw the inference that it was the English (nor Irish) girls who were promiscuous!
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