Signals at Sea

This  carries on from a previous blog post – Crossing the Line

The visit from King Neptune was a welcome interruption to the routine of the previous four weeks for those aboard the William Money. Richard and the other emigrants gained their sea legs, and life settled into a schedule of domestic chores.

Wednesdays and Saturdays, if fine, were reserved for washing. Wet clothes and linen draped over every available surface and hung from ropes strung between the rigging. Richard thought it looked like the rag fair selling secondhand clothes that he had seen in Plymouth.

On Sundays, the captain created the perfect place for the church service on deck. He fashioned a reading desk by draping the Union Jack over the harness cask and hiding its usual purpose, which was to soak the daily salted provisions. It was here he delivered the prayers of the established church to passengers and crew, who were seated on barrels  and boxes. The numerous Methodists on board had their own, separate prayer meetings on Sunday evenings and sometimes on Fridays as well. Richard and his family were Anglican. They had the choice of the service on deck, or the Methodist prayer meeting with their Cornish brethren.

Richard sat on his favourite, high vantage point with James and Mary Ann on top of one of the ship’s boats stowed on the deck of the William Money. A sailor sat at the base, repairing rope. The sea was calm, a typical scene of these last few days in the doldrums as the William Money approached the equator. The first mate stood at the wheel, lazily moving it to chase any elusive breath of wind. A slapping of the sails punctuated his occasional successes.

The young passengers looked for sharks, hoping the sailors dangling a line over the gunwales would catch one too many and provide dinner for their families. Unknown to the younger boys, Mary Ann was hoping for a catch of her own. She was on the lookout for Master Thomas Nankervis.

Richard squinted his eyes as he tried to focus on something in the distance. Was that what he thought it was? Yes, he became certain. “Sails,” he yelled, “I see sails.”

People came running over to the side of the ship. “Where? Surely, your eyes are tricking you, young Richard.” But Richard’s eyes weren’t deceiving him. One by one, as their gaze followed the line of Richard’s outstretched arm, the passengers and sailors picked out white sails against the hazy, blue sky.

The first mate called the crew to change the sails so the William Money could move closer to the other vessel. It would not be easy to approach that ship in the light and fluky wind. To the rope repairer, he said, “Sailor, take this and get yourself up that rigging.” To another he said, “Quick, hoist the ensign at the peak.” And to yet another, “Take over this wheel.”

The rope repairer took the telescope the mate proffered then clambered up the rigging to lay along the mainyard, glass to eye. The passengers and crew on deck below talked in excited voices, waiting for an announcement from the man above. Then, “I can see the ensign. It’s one of ours,” the man shouted down to the gathering crowd on deck.

The deck erupted. The first mate gave more orders to the crew. “You, run for the captain. And you there, get the signal flags ready.”

“Which way is it going?” a passenger said to the mate “Do you think we’ll be able to send letters home?” Those on board the William Money had seen several ships recently, but none were close enough to signal.

Captain Buckley arrived on the main deck at the same time as a crewman dragged out canvas bags of signal flags from a poop deck locker. These flags were patterned and coloured, each one representing a number or a particular purpose, for example, “a message follows.” Combinations of numerals were used to represent the names of ships, ports and a selection of messages. All merchant ships used the same code as depicted in the “Code of Signals” written by Captain Frederick Marryat.

Code of Signals 1847

Code of Signals 1847

This work has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

Signal Flags - Illustration from journal of Arthur Wilcox Manning

Signal Flags – Illustration from journal of Arthur Wilcox Manning

The sailor on the mainyard called down a series of numbers corresponding to the flags he could see through the telescope. The first mate thumbed through Captain Marryat’s signal book. “It’s the John Moore”, he said, once he had matched the ship to the code.

“The rendezvous flag is up,” said the spotter. The crowd of passengers mingled below him, impatient to hear the latest numbers, which would indicate the port the ship had just sailed from.

The observer aloft called another set of numbers. “Bombay,” said the mate.

“Where to? Where?” someone yelled up to the sailor. Others clamoured around the mate, waiting for the next code to be relayed.

Meanwhile, Captain Buckley took over the wheel and directed crew in the task of hoisting the William Money’s own identifying flags. They were huge, six feet by eight, and took considerable effort to attach to the halyard and raise.

The man on the mainyard reported the new message. “Four, nought, three, six.” As each number was communicated to the increasing throng, the first mate flipped the pages of the signal book. “Liverpool,” he shouted, once he heard the fourth number. There was a cheer from the passengers.

“Get a boat ready,” said the captain. The crew chased Richard, James and Mary Ann from their perch and organised ropes and pulleys, waiting for Captain Buckley’s next command.

Richard searched amongst the crowd for his Uncle William. “Uncle Will,” Richard said, once he found his relative, “you need to finish that letter ‘ee are writing. Mother will surely want to get news back to Uncle Cyprian. Can ‘ee tell him about the turtle we saw yesterday?” William Nicholls was the only one in the extended Grenfell family who could write.

William smiled at Richard’s eagerness. “Yes, I know. I be goin’ down to see her dreckly. Let’s find out if the ship can take ‘em first.”

“A message,” hollered the sailor from aloft. The people on deck quietened. “Two, eight, six, one.”

The first mate again leafed through the all-important signal book. He looked up at the passengers, barely able to hide his grin. “Have you any letters for England.”

Part of Code of Signals showing some messages

Part of Code of Signals showing some messages

This caused chaos. People went below or pulled notepaper from their pockets. Soon, many were writing to their loved ones or dictating messages to chosen scribes. The boredom of the previous weeks was forgotten as they recalled the highs and lows.

They had seen turtles, porpoises and abundant fish. A man broke his arm. A baby died. There was tension between Doctor Kemball and the crew as the doctor tried to uphold good morals. The sailors had fraternised with the young, single women. Eventually he had banned the two groups from even talking to each other. One evening, a sailor had dressed as a woman and paraded around the deck on the arm of another. They encircled the captain and the doctor with much laughing, whooping and clapping from the others on deck. A week later, two crew found themselves in irons for again talking to the young women.

In all the excitement of the letter writing, Mary Ann Grenfell and Thomas Nankervis stole a few, precious moments by themselves.

The crew lowered a ship’s boat, and the oarsmen made their way to the John Moore with the valuable mailbag.

This  carries on from a previous blog post – Crossing the Line.

Book of Memorandum – By James Menzies 1848

Manning, Arthur Wilcox, Journal of a Voyage from Plymouth to Sydney on the Earl Grey, 1839-1840 MLMSS 7390

Marryat, Frederick, A code of signals for the use of vessels employed in the merchant service, J.M. Richardson, London, 1847, downloaded from Internet Archive –

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Richard Grenfell (1839-1909)
Parents: Richard Grenfell and Ann Warren Nicholls
Spouse: Sarah Eleanor (“Ellen”) Pryor (1849-1916)
Spouse’s Parents: Joseph Pryor (1810-1883)and Ann Hosking(abt1810-1861)
Surnames: Grenfell, Nicholls, Pryor, Hosking, Willis
Relationship to Shelley: great, great, grandfather (2x great grandfather) Richard is Shelley’s 2x great grandfather

  1. Richard Grenfell (1839-1909) great, great, grandfather (2x great grandfather)
  2. Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956) (great grandmother)
  3. Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970) (grandmother)
  4. Father
  5. Shelley
Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Crossing the Line

“Please, Mother, pleease.” Richard tugged at Ann’s arm hoping it might encourage her to change her mind. Ann, scraping the porridge pot ready for washing up, pulled her arm away from his grip. Mary Ann looked on, hoping for a positive answer. Richard’s new friend James Thomas was nearby, also anticipating Ann’s reply. 

“No, you got absolutely soaked last night in that foolish nonsense. ‘Tis a wonder you haven’t woken up with a fever. Lord only knows what could happen to ‘ee today. You could come back bald as a coot.”

The previous night, Richard had been on deck with James, driven there by the warm, oppressive air below. The days and nights were getting hotter. Some passengers resorted to dragging their straw mattresses onto the deck and sleeping there in their clothes. 

As they stepped in amongst the temporary beds of other passengers, Richard and James pondered on what they’d seen during the day. 

“What do you suppose they are going to do with all that stuff?” Richard asked James.

His friend shrugged. 

The actions of some of the crew mystified them. The sailors had been gathering dresses and wigs from below and storing them in the fo’c’stle. Razors, lather and pill bottles joined the booty. When the boys stole glances at the stash in the sailor’s den, the secretive crew chased them away. 

“Ain’t nothin’ here for you.” Continue reading

Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sea Legs – September 1848

He moaned with the latest pitch and lurch of the ship as the odours of hundreds of bodies, damp bedding and water closets imprisoned him in his bed. Nine-year-old Richard Grenfell had never felt so ill. He lay there, staring at the bunk overhead and fixed his gaze on a knot in the timber. Yet, still his body detected movement, a conundrum that made his stomach heave. Perspiration gathered in little beads on his skin. His mother, Ann, wiped his forehead with a damp cloth, and Richard managed a feeble smile. He rolled onto his side. Beyond Ann, his two younger brothers played, unaffected by the tilt and rolling that distressed him.

Four-year-old Nicholas usaw Richard looking at him, and with a few wobbly steps to counter the ship’s action, he was at his brother’s bedside. “Be ‘ee sick, Dickie?” He put his hand on Richard’s clammy arm. Richard nodded, but the slight movement threw his balance into confusion. Continue reading

Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Denis Bennett in Liverpool

Patrick stood open mouthed. After a time he managed to say, “Oh that is so pretty. I wish I could buy that for Ma.”

Denis smiled.

John laughed, a wisdom bestowed by his extra six years. “Oh yeah, that would look lovely, sitting on the box in the corner of our room.”

Patrick pouted.  “Well I’m going to shoe horses like Bernard when I get bigger and have enough money to buy Ma a silver tea set. It will have writing on it, just like this one. It will say ‘to Ma from Patrick.’”

Denis smiled again. “Come on boys, we should be getting back to yer mammy. You can tell her about the tea set, Paddy. That will be almost as good.”

They left the store window. Patrick’s shoulders drooped, his arms were limp at his sides. He barely managed a glance at the Town Hall, situated at the head of the quadrangle of the Exchange Buildings.

“We can go and see Nelson first,” Denis added. A slow smile brightened Patrick’s face, and he managed a small skip as he moved towards the Town Hall. Continue reading

Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Crossed Paths

Denis Bennett stepped out the door of the Old Fort Tavern onto the cobbles of Bath Street and into the dank air. Dark, dreary air that, with one brushstroke, coloured the Liverpool canvas grey. Denis turned up the collar of his coat against the biting north-east wind that licked the waters of the Mersey into short, sharp waves. A forest of ships’ masts stood above him, piercing the fog as it dispersed above the walls of Prince’s Dock.

Ships, that Denis had hoped he would be unloading that day. He had managed only two days work in the past week, earning seven shillings. It wasn’t enough; a guinea and his family could live in comfort, but work was scarce. That morning, after waiting with the other porters and hoping for a day’s work, he’d been rejected again. How to tell Hannah?

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

It wasn’t his intention to stay long at the tavern, but Paddy Kelly was there after finishing up at Clarence Dock. Kelly told Denis a grim story of famine refugees; a steamer had spilled out another miserable flood of 250 desperate souls from Dublin. Continue reading

Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Burden Ancestors, Chris's Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Tasmania to the Transvaal

The change room at the Western Mine could hardly contain those assembled. With much hand shaking and back slapping, the group of men wished their two colleagues the best of luck – give it to them warm, stay alive and come back to us. There was a call for quiet, moderating the din. Mr Deakin spoke on behalf of the mining company, and collective silence filled the room, interrupted only by the occasional murmur of approval when he voiced the admiration for the volunteers. He then presented a silver pipe to Maurice Keys. And to Victor Peers, a gold medal, a fine piece of local workmanship made by Mr Wathen of Main Street.

The two were members of the Zeehan Rifle Company, part of the Tasmanian Volunteer Rifle Regiment, who responded to the call for infantrymen. Three others from Zeehan were also selected. Australia’s colonial governments sought volunteers to fight for Britain in their war with the Boer Republics. It was 1899, Continue reading

Posted in Burden Ancestors, Chris's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Search for my Irish Bennetts

“It’s those Bennetts, again…still,” I said. There may have been a swear word in there as well. Chris had asked how I could spend so much time on my iPad, with the occasional swipe at the screen and tap tap at the keyboard, or ponder over papers, spread out across the table. Those Bennetts have been the main focus of my family history research over the past 3 months, spurred on by a windfall in records that are now available.

Francis Bennett, my great, great grandfather, has led me on a merry chase over the years and there is still much I want to find out about him. Continue reading

Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Our Annie

I was impatient to receive John Willis’s birth certificate once I’d sent for it. I had put the required details on the form – “as much as you know,” information garnered from his marriage certificate. He was born in Bowden about 1871 (at that time, a town two miles from Adelaide), father John Willis and mother, Ann Unknown.

If I was ordering the certificate today, I could get a copy emailed within days, but this was the early stages of my hobby of researching my family history.

Weeks later the expected mail arrived. My eyes scanned the document, picking out the relevant facts and mentally checking them off. John Willis, born in Bowden in 1869. The two year discrepancy in the birth date was acceptable. So far, so good. Father – George Gubbins, mother – Ann Willis.  No, that wasn’t right. I sent the certificate back, with a note telling the department they had provided the wrong one. No no, was the reply; this is the only one that fits the date you gave us, and the certificate winged its way back to North Queensland.  Oh, how could I have been so naive! Continue reading

Posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Skildergat (Peers) Cave

Victor and Bertie bent over their task, clearing away the sandy earth from their latest discovery. With each, painstaking brushstroke a blackened skull began to take shape.

Victor Peers stood up, and with hands on hips he pushed his shoulders back to relieve the aches. He walked over and looked out from Skildergat Cave. Grasses outside swayed under the north-westerly wind, but the sandstone shelter protected him and his family from the rain the wind brought. Victor could see Fish Hoek, nestled below in the sand hills. His lookout, more than 100 metres above, gave him the perfect vantage to view the panorama of the Atlantic Ocean in the west or across False Bay towards the Indian Ocean in the east. The sea (a bountiful supplier of fish, mussels, shellfish and crayfish collected by the cave’s ancient inhabitants) lapped the wind-swept valley of shifting sand dunes on two sides.

The voice of his son broke Victor’s reverie. Continue reading

Posted in Burden Ancestors, Chris's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Doublegee Dan

Hannah could stand it no longer. She had placed the dough into the oven earlier, and now the smell of the freshly-cooked bread twisted her stomach into knots. Feeling ill and lightheaded, she raised her hand to knock. Her nerve weakened. She turned and walked back towards the kitchen. Again, as if dancing, she wheeled away from the cooked loaves she had turned out on the table. She advanced to the entrance of the room where her employer’s wife sat, concentrating on her baby on her lap. Hannah tapped with shaking hands beside the open doorway to get the attention of the woman within. Hannah bit her lip. With eyes to the floor and before she could change her mind, she blurted out her request.

“Mrs Phillips, could I please have some of that bread I’ve just baked?”

Mrs Phillips looked up at the slight figure of the young woman framed in the doorway, and then to her baby, which was about the same age as Hannah’s baby, John. Hannah needed strength to be able to work and feed her baby as well. Both of them were so thin.

“Hannah,” Mrs Phillips said, “you take half of one of those loaves for you and Daniel.”

Hannah could hardly contain herself. She ran over and hugged Mrs Phillips, who was taken aback at the show of affection. Then, it was back to the kitchen at almost a run. She bent down and kissed baby John, who was asleep in his basket in the corner. Hannah cut one of the loaves in two, and before wrapping one half in a cloth to take to Daniel, she broke a piece off. That bread appeased her ailment more than medicine, as she savoured the taste of each, small bite. Continue reading

Posted in Fairs Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments