Friday, 30 December 2016

Life at Sea

Before I again suspend my recreation of Edward's journey I must make further observation on the differences in sea travel then as now. After leaving Albany and rounding the south west corner of Australia they once again encountered stormy weather...the gale became a perfect tempest: the sea struck our starboard life boat, tore away the davits and thus they lost the life boat. Shortly afterwards the maintop-mast snapped close to the cap and went over the side, with topgallant and royal yards across. According to Edward the few English sailors, now all on deck, made every exertion to clear and get in the wreck....while the shivering Lascars afforded but little assistance. He conceeded that some of the boldest Lascars did join in but when things got even tougher and orders were passed for the sailors to come down from the rigging the Lascars were quick to do so whereas the English reluctantly abandoned their task. The fore mast came crashing down immediately after so perhaps the Lascars were just more observant sailors. Or maybe they just thought "you guys get the big bucks -you can take the risk". Fortunately sail was only an auxilary means of propulsion for the Madras so the ship was still able to steam on but the contrast between this and a modern cruise liner is huge.

I'm sure ocean sailors still encounter conditions like this but it's unlikely modern casual passengers such as Edward was would tolerate similar. Today we have radios, Epirbs, virtually unsinkable life boats and rescue helicoptors. The Madras was on it's own.

Edward also commented on the wonderous dinners, fish, flesh, and fowl, curries, hashes, and ragouts, puddings, jellies, custards and pies that came daily from the small enchanted space that was the galley. Today likewise the food on a cruise ship is a wonder of both quality and quantity. Daily fresh flowers on the tables we were told were grown hydroponically aboard and I wondered if some of the abundant fresh produce was too. You don't get to see where the food all comes from but it was a delight.

In Edward's day I assume all wastes, both bodily and food just went over the side. Today with that strictly forbidden I couldn't help but wonder too at the volumes of waste that the 3000 or so people on board must produce and what went into it's ultimate disposal.

And of course today if we want to travel globally we just fly. Edward would have marvelled at that.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Where This Idea Started

6 December 2016
Edward was travelling in late September, early October whereas we sailed in December. Thus Edward was fortunate enough to sight three black whales which kept up a race with us at about a gunshot distance, and afforded us a fine view of  their great unwieldy forms. The only marine life we sighted on our trip was a pod of dolphins while crossing Bass Strait. We watched them from the dining room window one night as they escorted the ship for 15 or 20 minutes.

Edward's autumn travel also meant that they encountered stiffer weather than us in the Bight. Edward describes increasing south westerly wind and swell increasing to a perfect gale and seasickness again confining him to his bed. His elderly mother who was travelling with him (who he has to date hardly mentioned) did better than him, staying comparatively well. After a couple of days of stormy weather and about 75 miles out from King George's Sound the gale became perfectly furious: the ship, pitching bows under, carried away jib boom and fore-topgallant mast, and soon after the stern boat was struck by a sea and stove. Edward describes all this with a degree of stoicism I doubt if I could manage.
Entering Albany Harbour 

Entering the Sound and then the harbour provided refuge from the storm and once again Edward proceeded to land in a boat from the town, if a group of wretched buildings near the beach can be so called, the boat being much overloaded, and rowed by a somewhat unskilful crew of aborigines dressed in their kangaroo cloaks, and resplendent in grease and paint. We were able to berth alongside the wharf and were greeted by Visitor Centre volunteers resplendent in blue polo shirts. Those who preferred not to walk were conveyed by free Busy Blue Bus shuttle (one driven by my mate Lawrence) to the town centre.

Apart from the wild flowers, of which we found here a greater profusion and variety than we have ever seen elsewhere, Edward was very unimpressed by Albany which at that time had, he understood, a population of around 500. He gives a Fawlty Towers like description of attempting to find lunch. Dead and stagnant as the place appears, there are yet two tenements assuming the title of inns - wretched places with sanded floors and all other interior arrangements in keeping. One of these we entered: and, after fruitless inquiries for oysters, fish, flesh or fowl, we brought mine host to the reluctant admission that dry bread is the only eatable his house now affords, which, with brandy and bottled beer, constitutes his whole present stock for supplying the bodily wants of strangers.
The man has, he told us, lived twenty years in this dreary spot; and has, as a natural consequence fallen into a kind of torpid stupor, from which he was not to be roused. Our many questions elicited but few replies; and when his slow, reluctant lips did give forth a drawling response, it was only to let us know he was ignorant of the matter upon which we sought information. He could not tell how the convicts were employed, "never went to look". How far it was to Perth, and how near the Swan River Stock Stations approached this place he did not know, "he never went far from home."
Baffled in all attempts to obtain food for body or mind, we quitted this remarkable hotel. Trish and I during our shore excursion visited Teede & Co, for an excellent Chai Latte. From prior experience I know the food here would've satisfied Edward although he might have been bemused by some modern dishes of the "smashed avo and feta" variety. Had he sought local information from our hostess Alison Teede I am equally sure she could've satisfied any of his queries.
Strawberry Hill Farm. Perhaps the least changed place since Edward's visit.

The following day During our rambles, we came upon the hermitage of Lady S      r, the widow of a former governor of Swan River, who has strangely chosen this world-forgotten spot for her residence. She invited them in for a cuppa but clearly there was not significant conversation because this was obviously Lady Spencer at Strawberry Hill Farm whose deceased husband Sir Richard had been the resident magistrate in Albany, not Swan River Governor. Like Edward's father he was also a pensioned off Royal Navy man but Edward doesn't mention this. However, Edward does describe the house as overlooking the bay of Middleton Beach, confirming the orientation of the house shown in a recently discovered sketch of the place, rather than it's current situation that suggests an orientation towards Mt Clarence.

Our friends Frank and Wendy met us at the Entertainment Centre and we then all walked round to Strawberry Hill and back. In keeping with Edward's view of Albany's backward nature, the Farm which is now a National Trust museum, was not open - on a day when a cruise ship was in town! Thus are the pitfalls of operating with volunteer staff. If no-ones available, places don't open. Still, it was a lovely walk.

Later in the day they also fell in with an interesting group of young aboriginal children, all females, who in charge of a very nice-looking European girl, were rambling among the rocks and gathering flowers. They were all plainly but neatly dressed, and looked remarkably clean. At the bidding of their conductress they sang a simple hymn for our edification. On inquiry, we learned that the little creatures are the offspring of the wild-looking blacks we had seen about the settlement, and they are maintained and instructed in a school expressly devoted to the purpose. The parents are allowed to visit them when they please; and like fathers and mothers in more civilized life, are vastly proud of their daughters achievements. 
Trish dreaming of faraway places with the Sun Princess at the Albany wharf.
It was these passages that first suggested to me the notion of recreating Edward's trip. Until I read Edward's journal a few years ago I had no idea that any of my Australian ancestors had visited West Australia, let alone Albany. As a devotee of Albany history I knew much of the detail behind what he saw. These girls were clearly from Camfield, the school for Menang children set up by Anne Camfield, and her resident magistrate husband, Henry. I have long been fascinated by the story of Bessie Flower, the most famous of Camfield's students, (Google her for one of the most interesting, but saddest, stories of gender and racial politics in Australian history) who although still very young in 1854, may well have been part of the group Edward met. Sitting on a bench near Albany's town jetty a few years ago it struck me that Edward must have walked within metres of where I was sitting 150 years previously. Looking around me at what I could see today, I formed the idea of visiting all the places he had to compare my experience with his.

King George's Sound was Edward's last landing on West Australian shores. Once they sailed from here, their next stop was Ceylon, bypassing the Swan River and Perth.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Light's Vision

10 December 2016
Approaching Adelaide Edward noted sighting the light on Kangaroo Island. He didn't stop there but we did, landing at Penneshaw not far from the light house at Cape Willoughby which was the first in South Australia. Built in 1852 it was presumably that light Edward saw.

When Edward visited Adelaide he anchored about two miles offshore and took a lighter to land. The Madras announced it's arrival by the discharge of its two guns. The Sun Princess didn't appear to have any guns.  He then had a heavy trudge of a mile over the deep sands of Le Fevre's peninsula to the port from where he took a spring cart the eight miles into Adelaide city.
Rundle Mall

We had the luxury of tying up at a wharf at Adelaide's Outer Harbour and walking ashore from where we were then able to take a train into the city. Once in the city Edward made a few purchases to meet shipboard wants so we took a brief stroll in Hindley and Rundle Streets, now as then the central shopping area. We had no shipboard wants so did no shopping.
Rundle St in 1854

The highlight of our visit to Adelaide was "beating the system" at the Casino. At the port a helpful tourism volunteer had suggested a look at the Casino building as it is in the grand old Adelaide Railway Station. They had also been giving each cruise visitor a free $10 chip for the Casino so Trish and I took ours and went into the indeed grand building. We then put one of our chips on odds and one on evens on a roulette wheel. The croupier pointed out that this meant that one of us was going to lose but I reminded her that one of us also had to win which of course we did. We then cashed our winning chip into $10 of real money and went and had a coffee. Now I know how George Clooney felt in the Oceans fillums. Can't stand casinos generally so while perhaps a small victory it was pleasantly satisfying to take advantage of one. In your face boys!
Torrens River. A bridge has been here since 1854.

Good farmer that he was, Edward took note of the soils and cultivation round Adelaide. He also strolled down to the Torrens which he described as resembles a mountain brook. The bed is gravelly, and quite devoid of mud; and the stream though very shallow, is rapid and clear. Sadly, in the decades after Edwards visit, Adelaidians saw fit to blast and dredge this pleasant little stream to "improve" access and it is no longer devoid of mud, although still quite pretty as city rivers go. Edward also noted the views of the Adelaide hills so we took a walk up to Light's Vision from where the hills can still be seen behind the Adelaide Oval.
Adelaide hills & Adelaide Oval 

In the city we visited the State Library and the Museum. Both had a number of signs indicating that (despite significant subsidy from West Australian GST) South Australia is broke and that budget cuts mean that few of the information points are staffed. Those that were seemed to just have bored security officers who didn't have a clue about Adelaide's history so I couldn't find anyone who could tell me how much of present day Adelaide existed in 1854. We then took the train out to Port Adelaide where the very helpful Ian at the local Visitor Centre was able to answer all my questions about historic Adelaide. Given that Port Adelaide did exist then I asked Ian why Edward might have anchored off shore. Ian explained that the Port was tidal, narrow and shallow so ships seeking a quick turnaround often didn't come in. He also gave us a map and outlined how we could recreate the route of Edward's walk down Semaphore Rd to the coast. While this was just a sand track when he arrived, within a few years it became a significant road in to the Port area and is now lined with late 19th and early 20th century buildings. We stopped at a pub on the beach for a beer and then walked along the sea front to Largs and then back to Largs Station to catch a train back to the boat.
Semaphore Timeball. Built in 1875 to help ships set their clocks. This was just a sand track in 1854. 

While waiting at the station, we had a shouted conversation across to the opposite platform with the very friendly Gavin (not his real name but in case he ever happens to read this and feel aggrieved) who asked if we were off the cruise ship. When we affirmed we were, Gavin then shared with us that he was running a bit late for his return to the psychiatric hospital where he lives and he hoped that an alert hadn't already gone out for him. On learning that we were West Australians Gavin further shared that he had gone to Perth last summer to visit a brother. A planned 2 week stay had extended to 5 weeks after a neighbour here had filed assault charges against him for very little reason. Gavin decided not to come home until Legal Aid had negotiated a down grade of the charge to Disorderly Conduct to which he was happy to plead Guilty and accept a Good Behaviour Bond. While Gavin appeared to be in good spirits and very welcoming to tourists, it was reassuring to have two lines of railway track between us.

When our train arrived Gavin wished us "happy travels" and we returned to the ship.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Marvelous Melbourne

12 December 2016
Melbourne today. Edward would have anchored somewhere near here.

Edward's first port after leaving Sydney was Melbourne which of course in 1854 was a centre of world attention due to the gold rushes. Edward describes a neck and neck race between the Madras and another ship, the City of Sydney across Hobson's Bay, the northern most part of Port Phillip Bay. As we were arriving in Melbourne at about 7am I got up early to watch the sun rise over Arthur's Seat as we travelled across Port Phillip. We were similarly racing another ship but in our case it was a small rusty old container ferry which we easily out paced.

Coles wharf in the 1850s

The Madras anchored off Port Melbourne and Edward then took a smaller steam ferry up the Yarra to Coles Wharf to disembark. This is pretty well in the centre of Melbourne and in 1854 it was a hive of maritime activity crammed with merchandise. Great stacks of the same, piled in the open air, encumbered the wharf, whilst more was being unloaded from lighter and barge. It's still a busy place, being right in front of the Crown Casino, but no longer has any maritime significance. In our case, we pulled up to the ferry terminal at Port Melbourne and just walked ashore.
Coles Wharf today with the Casino & heliport.

Edward was rightly impressed by the progress Melbourne had made in it's less than 20 years of existence although he felt that in architectural effect - in the size and appearance of the shops and general aspect of the town - Melbourne is very inferior to Sydney. The debate continues today but personally, I prefer Melbourne.
An engraving of the Criterion Hotel from the mid 1850s

He made the most of his time in Melbourne. First he went for lunch at the famed Criterion Hotel where beef-steak and potatoes...with the addition of a bottle of claret among three set them back 8/6 each. In modern money a fairly reasonable $35 apiece. The Criterion Hotel no longer exists and its site on the south side of Collins St between Queen and Elizabeth Streets is now the centre of Melbourne's banking district. There are no hotels there now but in the basement of the Commonwealth Bank head office is a food court. Trish and I contemplated lunch at Huxtaburgers, a themed burger joint based on characters from the Cosby Show! However, in consideration of Mr Cosby's recent fall from grace and in honour of my nation of birth, we opted for the Japanese opposite where we paid an even more reasonable $19 for lunch for two, sans claret.
Collins St about where the Criterion Hotel was located.

Edward wandered round the shops and purchased a few trifles forgotten in the hurry of leaving Sydney. For a Leghorn hat, gloves and a cap he paid a total of 15/6 which would be around $65 today. I had a look in Myers menswear as I felt that's the kind of place Edward would shop were he alive today and they had a baseball type cap for $48 so Edward probably did well despite my thought that what kind of a dickwit would pay that for a baseball cap? I inquired about gloves but the reaction from the shop assistant as to why I needed gloves in early December (it was 34 degrees that day - yes I'm off to rob a bank) made me decide against asking about Leghorn Hats (but I googled them and they are hats made of leghorn straw - probably what we'd call a Panama Hat).

Edward felt food prices were high and with eggs at the modern equivalent of $28 a dozen (and a pound of butter not far behind that) I'm inclined to agree with him, although it's possible that in Melbourne, if I found a hip enough whole food store I might be able to pay a similar amount for grain fed, hand reared, free range aracuna eggs or similar. However, see my reference to $48 baseball caps.

Later he took an omnibus out to the very pretty suburb of St Kilda...fare only half a crown each way. This being around $10, a modern tram is cheaper. $14 will get you an all day Myki. We followed suit by tramming out there ourselves and then coming home via Chapel St where Trish did her obligatory holiday op shop and found a very becoming red dress that displays her fine cleavage to full advantage.

To demonstrate the smallness of the world, on the tram out I spotted friend's Julia and Bryce from Perth walking down St Kilda Rd. Surprising them with a phone call it turned out that they were in fact heading for the Port to meet Julia's parents who are also on the Sun Princess!

Astley's Ampitheatre which had just been completed in this form when Edward arrived. In 1857 it was remodeled and renamed the Princess Theatre. In 1886 it was replaced by the existing Princess Theatre.
That evening Edward went to the theatre to enjoy an instrumental concert, and some of the music very good - a Monsieur Fleury being the leader and principal performer. It appears that this must have been Astleys Ampitheatre which was later demolished and replaced by the Princess Theatre that remains today.  Edward also noted that the theatre had been renovated to accommodate an appearance by Catherine Hayes, a soprano who has been described as the Madonna of her day. An advertisment in The Argus for the date Edward was in town shows a concert by Monsieur Fleury for that night and heralds a likely future concert by Ms Hayes. The evenings entertainment also included a "blackface" comic turn, something that the Princess Theatre would not consider today. Edward was probably reassured by Astley's advertising that specified "persons of improper character will be strictly excluded from the Dress Circle and Side Boxes".  As there was nothing currently showing we had to satisfy ourselves with an extremely nice iced coffee at the coffee shop adjoining the foyer.
Princess Theatre 

Edward spent one night ashore in Melbourne but failed to note the name of the hotel where he stayed. Next day he wandered round town some more and noted the opening of a railroad from the city to the port at Liardet's beach with hundred's of people indulging their curiosity in experimental trips. What he didn't mention but perhaps should have, was that this was the first railway in Australia. The 109 tram still runs along the same route and it was fittingly this that we used to return to our ship.
The terminus of the 109 tram and Australia's first railway.

Monday, 5 December 2016

All At Sea

After a 15 month hiatus, I have finally returned to a further portion of Edward's trip. I left him in Newcastle from where he was travelling by boat to Sydney. In Sydney he embarked on the SS Madras to travel via Melbourne, Adelaide and King Georges Sound (Albany) en route to Ceylon and eventually, England. I will need to return at a later date to cover his visit to Sydney but Trish and I decided to do a cruise that departed Fremantle, visiting Albany, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide, Burnie, Melbourne and Port Lincoln before returning to Fremantle.

While we visited ports in the reverse order to Edward, I felt that this was a way of experiencing at least a part of his sea voyage under modern conditions and to visit the ports that he did, plus several others.

Edward traveled by P&O which had the mail contract between England and Australia and therefore competed the journey on a regular basis. They allowed passengers to book a fare all the way to England but to leave and rejoin the trip on a regular basis - a sort of early "hop on, hop off" service. That is something that isn't available today because the cruise industry operates in the Southern hemisphere in our summer and then sends the vessels north for the northern summer. Hence they only do the Australia / UK route at the end of each season and don't allow for the "hop and off" concept.

The fare for the entire Sydney to Southampton journey was 150 pounds in a shared three berth cabin. While this equates to just over $12,000 in current terms which isn't significantly different from current prices, bear in mind that the price Edward got for the best of the horses he sold in Sydney before leaving was 75 pounds. Edward chose initially to take a cabin just to Alexandria in Egypt because as we will see, he wanted to be flexible in his route later on.
Sun Princess anchored off Kangaroo Island. The only port where we had to lighter ashore whereas Edward did at all of them.

We traveled on the Sun Princess and paid about $1600 each for a 13 night cruise. The Madras was about 1200 tons and had both steam and sail whereas the Sun Princess is 77,000 tons with not a sail in sight.

The Madras took about 3 days to travel from Melbourne to Adelaide and then about 5 days to get to Albany whereas the Sun Princess took about a third of that time (allowing for additional stops that we made) so given the difference in land travel times, sea travel hasn't increased pace that much although I'm willing to guess that it's much smoother sailing today. Certainly Edward describes his fellow passengers on the second day as being yellow and flabby, casting themselves into nooks and corners, reckless of personal appearance; whilst others, with desperate effort, reach the companion and dive below and he describes himself as spending his first couple of days on his berth, avoiding food. On the Sun Princess there was little evidence of seasickness although Trish became a little queasy during some rougher weather re-entering the Bight on the way home. Some modern medication purchased in Port Lincoln quickly solved the problem, however.

Something that hasn't changed in the 160 odd years is the racial divisions of the crew. Edward indicates that apart from a handful of European senior crew, the majority of operating crew were Lascars (Indian or SE Asian) but the cabin servants were primarily Chinese. This is replicated today with the Captain and senior crew being European, the deck crew appearing to be mainly Indian or Indonesian while the cabin and dining attendants are mostly Filipino or from other developing nations such as Mexico or Eastern Europe. Presumably then as now, the basis for these distinctions was largely economic with varying pay scales for the different roles.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Galloping Home

Like a horse headed for home, once we turned back our ears pricked upright and we were off and galloping. From Hay it was a blur of towns; Balranald (where the bakery does an exceptional cinnamon iced loaf), through Mildura to Renmark.

At Plushs Point, a free camp on the banks of the mighty Murray, just outside Renmark, we were perplexed by what appeared to be a lost boys camp of small tents, surrounded by the detritus of odd socks, dirty saucepans and piles of oranges, but no inhabitants. Was this some Boy Scout or high school outdoor ed camp with the occupants out canoeing or hiking. The presence of the occasional empty beer carton mitigated against this theory, unless Scouting has changed dramatically since my day. Another mystery was the absence of grey nomad rigs that usually populate any decent free camp.

Part of the mystery was solved at sundown when a parade of battered vans, old station wagons and the occasional tired 4WD, driven by feral haired, beanie and fair isle jumper clad, backpackers streamed into camp. Of course, the fruit picking backpacker contingent. Still didn't explain the absence of grey nomads but perhaps they avoid the backpackers?

From Renmark we headed across South Australia via Berri, Morgan, Burra and up to Crystal Brook where they conveniently provide an overnight camp in the middle of town. We returned the favour by eating at the local pub and next morning we were off again, through Port Pirie, Port Augusta and all the way to Ceduna by nightfall.

From Ceduna it was back onto the Nullarbor with an overnighter just over the WA border. Next morning, from about Mundrabilla onward it was pissing with rain. They must've got half their annual rainfall that day because it was pretty constant so even had we wanted to there wouldn't have been much point in stopping. We made it all the way over the Nullarbor and camped just south of Norseman.

Next morning saw us up at sparrows and heading into Esperance where we stopped for a "big breakfast" before hitting the road again. Just past Ravensthorpe we stopped to pay our respects at the newly created Kokanerup Memorial to the one major massacre that occurred on the South Coast. The 1870 killings on the Phillips River. Back in the car again we were home in Albany by nightfall, 8 days after leaving Newcastle.

Just under 13,000kms in 3 months. The conclusion has been a bit abrupt but I guess circumstances create outcomes. At this stage this blog will go quiet for a while but I do intend to continue with Edward's trip once circumstances allow it. Next step will be to return to Sydney and travel by sea back to Albany and then, who knows when, continue on to Europe. Stay tuned!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Day Out at Dubbo Zoo

From Newcastle we headed back out through the Hunter Valley and had one last stop for morning tea at Denman to say goodbye. From there we followed the Golden Hwy through Merriwa and Cassilis. This is a beautiful road which winds its way through rolling hills and sharp rocky scarps that rear up alongside the track, It wasn't hard to visualize this country in Edward's time. Parts of it still seem rugged and foreboding today.

We camped at Dunedoo for no other reason than the name. While it is believed to be the local Aboriginal name for swans, it has a splendidly Aussie ring to it and every Australian should visit at some time in their life. Don't expect anything apart from the name though.

Next day we decided to visit the open range zoo at Dubbo. On 300 or so hectares, it makes a change from cramped zoos that exist elsewhere. The animals are in enclosures that in many instances are acres in size and you can either drive, cycle or walk the 6 kilometre route that runs between them, There are hippos, rhinos, tigers, elephants, monkeys and best of all Galapagos tortoises.
Matilda declares Galapagos  Tortoises fascinating.

However, the highlight of the day was witnessing an excellent ram raider in the making at the snack kiosk. While ordering a coffee at the counter, a tyke of about 4 made a flying leap past me up onto the counter, snaffled a bag of Smiths Crisps and then took off at high speed through the crowd with his beleagured mum in hot pursuit. Now I'm not sure if mum was a psych student carrying out a bizarrely unwise experiment, but it appeared that the little chaps name was "Bogan" because she was yelling "Bogan, stop. Bring them back Bogan."

Was mum trying to establish whether by calling him Bogan she could create a self fulfilling prophecy? If so, it seemed to be working fabulously. Eventually Bogan was apprehended and relieved of his booty. Probably needs some adjustment to his Ritalin dosage.

After an overnight roadside stop just north of Parkes we called in to the CSIRO radio telescope and had breakfast at the cafe there. Despite extensive interpretive signage I'm still not sure that I fully understand how the thing works but it was impressive and I couldn't help but wonder what Edward would've made of it all. I was pretty sure I could feel the space rays boring into my brain, telling me that I must join the robot army on  a mission of destruction but Trish said I was just imagining it.
The lovely Forbes Town Square. With most of the towns public buildings, plus a pub and several shops, facing onto it, its probably the nicest town focal point I've seen in Australia. 

From there we drove on down the Newell Hwy through Forbes which must have the prettiest Town Square in the country and eventually camped for the night at the Hay Caravan Park,