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 saw 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.
“He’ll be all right, Nick,” Ann said. She looked up and offered a silent prayer.
Ann poured a cup of water. “Can ‘ee take this to your sister?” With the pannikin, Nicholas walked to the next bunk and offered the water to Mary Ann. Richard watched, knowing her suffering, as she waved the little boy away.
“Where is Father?” Richard asked Ann.
“On deck with t’other men, hangin’ on for dear life, I hope.” And with that, she raised her gaze again.
Richard wished he could join his father, away from the stench and stifling air of the ‘tween decks. However, Ann had forbidden it after a wave washed some sailors out of their berths in the foc’s’le the night before.
The William Money had left Plymouth on the previous Tuesday afternoon, the 19th of September. Richard and Mary Ann darted about the ship, exploring this new, enthralling environment. They watched as the tug released the towing line to a raucous cheer from the passengers. When Mary Ann tired of the adventure and left to help Ann with their younger brothers, Richard teamed up with James Thomas, and the boys explored further. Sons of Cornish miners, Richard from the isolated parish of St Just in Penwith, James from Wendron, they had never before been on any watercraft. A 140 foot, three-masted barque offered the opportunity for endless exploits.
By Thursday the ship was almost becalmed, and the passengers spent the morning lying about on deck
“My Father is goin’ to work at the Burra Burra,” James said.
“Mine too,” Richard said, “I think they’re all doin’ that, goin’ to the mine. I’ve got two uncles and Mother’s cousins on the ship. Lots of other people, too, from St Just.”
The boys sat perched on an upturned dinghy on the ship’s deck, scanning the mirrored ocean for the hint of a breeze.
Richard continued, “we might be buyin’ some land after a while. My Uncle Cyprian has a farm in Sancreed.”
Most of the emigrants were miners, accompanied by their families, enticed by reports of high wages in South Australia. In Cornwall, Richard witnessed his parents’ despair as miner after miner lost their job. The offer of free passage and well-paid employment in South Australia was enough enticement to a new venture for the Grenfells. Ann, with her husband, Richard Grenfell, and their children, Mary Ann, Richard, Nicholas and Cyprian joined scores of their neighbours and relatives to board the William Money.
Later on Thursday, the breeze strengthened, filled the sails and stretched the canvas to its limit. Richard and James held on to the port-side bulwark, laughing and shrieking into the wind, their screams blowing back in their faces.
It wasn’t long before they sensed an uneasy feeling in their stomachs. They became quiet, and nausea replaced their glee. Seeing their consternation, a passing crewman said, “Look at the horizon, lads. ‘Tis the only way to get your sea legs.”
That night, the passengers rolled back and forth in their beds, their moans and groans in sync with the creaking timbers. And the sailors in the foc’s’le sloshed about, desperate to grab something solid.
Each of the next four days was a monotonous repetition of the previous one. Richard could discern day from night only by the few extra oil lamps casting their sickly, yellow light and emitting clouds of greasy smoke. Or when the weather lulled, the hatches opened, and those brave enough donned their waterproofs and climbed the steep companionway ladder to the outside world.
They came back with stories of squally rain, crashing waves, torn canvas, and broken spars. Below decks, buckets, ready beside bunks, slid from one side of the ship to the other threatening to spill their smelly contents.
On Sunday, Richard Grenfell said to the younger Richard, “Come ‘ee, my son. We be goin’ to prayers with our kin.”
“But Father, I feel so poorly.”
“A dose of prayer will do ‘ee good.”
Most of the Cornish on board were Methodists, and they had separate prayers to the other passengers.
That day, the clouds gathered, as black as ink, and the weather worsened again. As the wind blew the tops off the waves, passengers scuttled down the ladders, eager to get below before the flying spray gave way to crashing water on deck. Richard heard the thud, thud as the sailors hammered the battens in place on the canvas over the hatches. Pots and pannikins rattled and joined the howling wind to beat out a tune, and the thunder reverberated like a big bass drum.
A wave, larger than the previous ones, came out of nowhere. The ship lurched, and sent people cascading like nine pins. One man was hurled across the ship, coming to rest with a thump and a crack, breaking his arm.
“God have mercy on our souls,” the Methodists chanted. “Oh, we be going to Davey Jones’s locker.” Richard was now too worried to be sick. What were they thinking to bring us on this ship? Like a wrestler, it had tossed them about day after day. Would his family survive to see 1849 in the new land?
Over the next two days, the storm eased.
When Richard woke on Wednesday, something was different. The harsh sounds of the past week were absent, and the previous, erratic motions of the vessel moved aside for steady rhythms. He stood, his legs shaky and unsteady, the smell of baking bread stirring his hunger pains for the first time in days.
Cooking had been impossible throughout the inclement weather, and those who could keep their food down coped by chewing dry biscuits. Seasick women couldn’t produce enough milk for their babies. On Monday, there was the journey’s first distressing burial at sea – a baby.
It was time for the mess group encompassing the Grenfells to cook their food. Ann and her sister-in-law Elizabeth, with help from Mary Ann, cooked fresh potatoes loaded in Plymouth. Ann served the meals for their families, gathered at the long, central table. As well as the potatoes, there was freshly-baked bread, suet and salted beef.
Richard bit into the beef. “Eww, this is as salt as Lot’s wife’s elbow.” Ann laughed. He sounded exactly like his father.
Richard was delighted to contribute to his mother’s happiness. He wondered what the new land would be like and day-dreamed about the farm they would buy one day. First, Father needs to make a lot of money at the mine.
This story continues – Crossing the Line
Book of Memorandum – By James Menzies 1848 http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/BSA/1849WmMoneyDiary.htm