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.”

The night was dark and moonless. A figure appeared in the starlight. 

James, seeing it was the vessel’s master, said, “Evenin’ Cap’n Buckley.”

“Good evening, boys.”

A few minutes later, Richard and James jumped as one when a voice boomed from the dark of the poop deck. “Ahoy, William Money.

Captain Buckley shouted back into the void. “I am the captain of the William Money. Who are you?“

“It is King Neptune. I’ve been told you have some pollywogs aboard who need an equatorial baptism.”

“Welcome to my ship, King Neptune. Yes, it is true. There are several sailors here who haven’t crossed into your latitudes before.”

“Very well, I will return in the morning at 9 o’clock to conduct the ceremony.”

Some of the passengers, including Richard and James, rushed to the quarterdeck to see the owner of this voice. Before they could catch a glimpse of his marine majesty, a sudden gush of water from the poop deck above saturated them. Once Richard got his breath back, he looked up to see the source of the water just in time to get another pailful in his face. James laughed, but he, too, was greeted by a further dose. The crew enjoyed the hilarity standing on the poop deck giving the passengers a shower. 

“Come back tomorrow when Neptune is here, if you dare,” a sailor had said.

Looking forward to seeing King Neptune, Richard looked up at his mother, his eyes pleading with her. 

“Tis only a bit of fun, Ann,” said Richard’s father. “Captain Buckley has said no passengers are to be touched. Let the boy go.”

Ann resigned herself to the inevitable. “Yes, all right, but Mary Ann stays. There have been too many problems with the crew and the single women. The doctor has put some girls on bread and water for talking to the sailors. 

Richard looked at Mary Ann and mouthed the word “sorry” before he signalled to James, and both boys scurried up the ladder to the main deck. 

Once there, they pushed their way through the gathered crowd. A blindfolded man was sitting on a wide plank on top of the harness cask. ‘King Neptune,’ in all his regalia, and his ‘wife,’ complete with ginger whiskers, were seated, watching the proceedings. Various ‘shellbacks,’ those experienced mariners who had crossed the equator before, stood by as constables, ready to help in the activities. 

“What is your name, and where are you from, you slimy pollywog?” asked a crewman of his fellow seafarer. When he opened his mouth to answer, the unfortunate man had a brush-full of tar and froth put into it by one of Neptune’s crew. The ‘doctor’ stated that he thought the man looked poorly and called for the smelling salts. This consisted of a cork stuck with needles that were poked into his nose. His face was then lathered with tar and froth, and he was shaved with a piece of notched tin. To finalise his rite of passage, the inductee was tipped head first into a tub of water and proclaimed one of Neptune’s trusty shellbacks. 

Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line – Spilsbury

The rest of the day was spent in good-humoured jostling between passengers and crew. Captain Buckley refused to sell the crew any extra rum, so the sailors only became tipsy at most. An abundance of water was thrown about, and Richard was soaked again. He waited well into the evening to dry off before returning to his mother below. 

Richard loved stargazing on those moonless nights of late October 1848. He spent night after night on deck, searching for the Southern Cross. 


You can read about Richard’s introduction to life at sea, here.


Bibliography
Book of Memorandum – By James Menzies 1848 http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/BSA/1849WmMoneyDiary.htm

Account of a voyage to the western coast of Africa: performed by His Majesty’s sloop Favourite, in the year 1805 – by Francis B Spilsbury
https://archive.org/details/accountofvoyaget00spilrich


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
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Murder at Meredith

A shot split the night, and William Purcell buckled at the knees and fell forward to the ground. He groaned momentarily, the charge from the gun shattering his heart. William Patrick Purcell, an Irish baby thirty-four years before, baptised in hope in Cork City, put into Grangegorman Prison, Dublin as a four-year-old with his mother, a thief, and transported for his mother’s crime across the seas to the Queen’s Orphan School in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land. William Patrick Purcell, a young, itinerant saddler and harness maker, the profession of his step-father, who crossed the seas once again for a new life in the Victorian goldfields. Here he met the daughter of a Ballarat miner, and a new family was started. William Patrick Purcell lay there, his life expired. Dead, before his eighth child was born.

Saddler William M. Jackson with his display of saddlery and leather work in the pavillion at the Stanthorpe Agricultural Show, 1920 Saddler 1920
Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Public Domain This work has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

 

 “Another drink, Will?” Continue reading

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