Ship of Death: The Tragedy of the ‘Emigrant’ by Jane Smith

1.First lines. 2. Published 2019 Independent Ink|Self-publishing 3. Emigrants leaving for Australia. Published in Australian Sketcher 18.12.1880 Retrieved from Maritime Museum of Tasmania. 4. Freeman’s Journal, Sydney. Thursday 29 August 1850, page 7.
About the book:

Two hundred and seventy-six emigrants leave Plymouth in 1850 bound for Australia. During the voyage, typhus breaks out. The book describes conditions on board the ship, and explains how typhus is spread. Twenty people die on the four-month journey, and when the ship reaches its destination at Moreton Bay (present-day Brisbane), the ship is quarantined, and passengers are accommodated in tents and crude huts on Stradbroke Island. They stay there for three months, and twenty-six more people die. In the book, the lives of many of the passengers and crew are followed from their origins in England and Ireland, to the aftermath of the event and beyond.


“The surgeon was well supplied with all the medicines and trappings of 19th-century practice. His drug stores included opium, arsenic, lead, mercury, quinine and digitalis. He was well stocked with ointments, purgatives, ‘prepared chalk’ for diarrhea and magnesia carbonate for upset stomachs. There was a generous supply of mineral lime and ‘Collins Patent Powder’ for disinfecting and marine soap – soluble in salt water – for bathing and laundering.”

“They were warned” (on the ship) “not to gossip, not to be idle and not even to ‘listen to an impure song or jest’. They must pray often and earnestly, and spend their time doing needlework and reading and writing. They had a duty not only to themselves but to their adopted country to be modest, diligent, obedient and godly.”

Book reviews:
  • Kerry O’Brien (former ABC journalist) says in the foreword: “Jane Smith, excellent historian as she is, has added a rich vein to our understanding of the personal, individual legends of early white settlement in Queensland.”
My thoughts:

Highly recommended for readers interested in Australian history. It is quite timely, too, being about a highly infectious disease requiring quarantine. This is thoroughly researched, and the fascinating life stories are told with attention to detail.


Jane Smith

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