January 2nd - January 15th

                ‘We left London January 2 1857 and arrived at

                Liverpool 9 pm, deposited our Luggage at the Cloak

                Room, after which bent our steps to the “Angel Hotel”

                had Tea which we all enjoyed and then to Bed.’

                                                                                  – Friday, January 2nd (p. 1)

In these first few lines of this diary, or log book as its author calls it, the featured passengers are already on the move. Not much is said about their social backgrounds or intentions of making the voyage to Australia. The same is true for most of the account, which strengthens the assumption  that the diary has been written to record the voyage primarily for relatives and close friends. Some of them are referred to later in the account. The sparse information that can be found in the diary regarding the social background of Alfred Withers and his wife Margaret is brought together in the following.

As the initial quote indicates, Mr and Mrs Withers, as well as Miss Lockyer, seem to be from London. Also, two days later, the ladies are going shopping in Liverpool ‘to get two or three little things forgotten in London’ (p. 7). Later on, a precise address is given with Newgate Street, which would actually be in the City of London near St. Paul’s Cathedral, as Alfred and Madge are thinking about home a few days after leaving Liverpool (p. 19). In this context, Mother and Father are mentioned, and how they might sit together at home for dinner while Alfred and Madge are thinking about them, but it is not definitively clear from the text whose parents they are meant to be. According to the preface of the transcript of the diary, which mentions a sister of Madge called Buck, the said parents might very likely be Madge’s, as some girls or women called Fanny and Nelly are mentioned together with them (preface; p. 19). Judging from their supposedly home at Newgate Street and the facts that they are travelling as Cabin passengers to Australia, the Withers seem to be a relatively wealthy family which is reflected in their behaviour during the voyage. Especially Alfred’s gentlemanly attitude and often slightly ironic way of stating the events are clearly indicating this assumption to be true. Relatives and friends at home are referred to on a small number of occasions more in the diary, for instance when crossing the Greenwich meridian in the Southern hemisphere later on during the voyage (p. 65). The most prominent of these occasions might be the two remembering the Wedding Day of a supposedly close friend, Adeline Smith. Alfred and Madge are daydreaming about the wedding, before ‘we suddenly found ourselves on the Deck of the “James Baines” looking over the side’ (p. 37).

While the same goes not for his wife, Alfred Withers seems to have experience of travelling by ship. Her refers on several occasions to past voyages, even though it is not clear where he travelled and why. As an experienced traveller, he has no troubles in entering the ship by walking up a small ladder from the tag steamer onto the James Baines and amusing himself over the ladies who have little experience in these matters and are reminding him of ‘Joe Muggins, the celebrated Donkey balancer’ (p. 5). He also does not get sea sick unlike most of the other passengers and states later on that ‘the amusement [on board] are the same, the Gymnastics on Deck not very different to what I’ve seen before’ (p. 40). Indications of Alfred Withers’ experience at sea are shining through on several more occasions in his account, but he ultimately has to admit that ‘this has been up to the present time the most pleasant Voyage I have had’ (p. 51).

Boarding the Ship and Loading the Luggage

Their luggage was brought to the wharf by Alfred Withers and his companions the day after arriving in Liverpool. The James Baines lied ‘at the Anchor up the River’ (p. 1), so luggage and passengers were carried to the ship by tug steamers as illustrated here. The loading of the luggage wass an extremely chaotic affair:

                ‘The immense quantity of Luggage, pyramids of Boxes

                Cases and Baskets, the indescribable quantity of Beds &

                Bedding that one would think that Heal & Son had been

                completely cleared out. Water Cans, Pannikins, Hookpots,

                Baths, enough to open a Warehouse in the Tin Ware line’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 3rd (p. 2)

People making the voyage to Australia were required to provide for clothing, utensils and bedding by themselves, even cabin class passengers. All belongings that were not directly needed on board were stowed in boxes in the ship’s hold where passengers only had limited access during the voyage (cf. STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Life on Board). As emigrants, who constituted the great majority of passengers on board, took practically everything from their old lives with them, they were obviously very concerned with the safety of their boxes and belonging while they were loaded on to and stowed in the ship (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 223). Under these circumstances, ‘the squeezing, crowding, pushing & confusion’ at the wharf observed by Alfred Withers is easily comprehensible.

People making the voyage to Australia were required to provide for clothing, utensils and bedding by themselves, even cabin class passengers. All belongings that were not directly needed on board were stowed in boxes in the ship’s hold where passengers only had limited access during the voyage (cf. STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Life on Board). As emigrants, who constituted the great majority of passengers on board, took practically everything from their old lives with them, they were obviously very concerned with the safety of their boxes and belonging while they were loaded on to and stowed in the ship (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 223). Under these circumstances, ‘the squeezing, crowding, pushing & confusion’ at the wharf observed by Alfred Withers is easily comprehensible.

‘Emigrant guides suggested that a man should pack six shirts, three Guernsey or flannel shirts, six pairs of stockings, one pair of good stout shoes, one pair of good stout boots, one suit of warm outer clothing, one suit of light clothing and an extra pair of trousers, one light cap, and one warm cap, or southwester. An adult woman needed six chemises, six pairs of stockings, two flannel petticoats, two lighter petticoats, two pairs of good boots or shoes, one good warm cloak with hood, one hat or light bonnet for warm weather.’


As a matter of course, the tug steamers were not capable of transporting all the luggage and passengers at once over to the James Baines, which only increased the hustle and bustle at the pier, ‘as everybody is anxious to get to the Vessel and arrange their Cabin’ (p. 2). Unfortunately, the Withers did not manage to get their luggage down for the first boat in time, so they had to wait four hours for it to return, ’exposed without the slightest covering to a sharp Cold strong Wind and Rain all this time’ (p. 2). In the diary. Alfred Withers provides a sketch of his wife and Miss Lockyer weathering the storm at the pier. It illustrates the enormous quantities of luggage that one has to imagine waiting on the wharf to be loaded onto the ship.  

The turmoil at the wharf was greater than ever upon the returning of the tug steamer, but the Withers were lucky enough to get all their belonging deposited in the boat. Unfortunately, the confusion did not end with this, as it was nearly impossible to keep everything together:

                ‘ … no sooner is one Box put down than it is

                immediately buried by Boxes Beds etc. belonging to other

                Passengers and when all was on Board I only

                just knew the whereabouts of my dirty Clothes Bag and

                my Writing Case, everything else belonging to us was

                lost for a time in the Sea of Luggage.’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 3rd (p. 4)

It was even more trouble to get all the luggage from the steamer onto the ship, as the passengers had to look out for their luggage themselves in the dark hold of the steamer. ‘Knowing the shape and feel […] of our own packages’ (p. 6), Alfred Withers managed to get them together rather quickly, having had more trouble with the unfamiliar luggage of Miss Lockyer:

                ‘… at last I thought ‘Why

                the whole of the Luggage appears to be Miss Lockyers’

                I resorted and re-resorted and at least could say

                with certainty where are all ours ant the quantity

                is correct. …’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 3rd (p. 6)

One can imagine that steerage passengers were expected to get their luggage on board themselves, but Alfred Withers got several porters to get his luggage up on board and to his cabin. Getting on board was a rather dangerous affair in the first place as the rough water made it difficult for the tug steamer alongside the ship,

‘… the Passengers had to walk up

Ladder with round spokes, placed at an angle of

45 degrees from the paddle Box to the Ships side, all the

time in constant fear that they will either fall off it

or that the Steamer will drift away, the Ladder dropping

between the Vessels …’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 3rd (p. 4–5)

This ‘little exiting gymnastic experience’ (p. 5), as Alfred Withers describes it, was all the more difficult for the women who had to hold on to their petticoats that were in their ways when trying to climb up the ladder while also needing to be careful to not fall off. The only solution was to hold the petticoat in the mouth. In the end, everyone got on deck safely. But eventually, the Withers learned that they had to stay two more nights at their Hotel, because there were no provisions for cabin class passengers until its departure from Liverpool on Monday. At least, this should have made the eventual boarding of the ship on the 5th a bit less stressful as most of their luggage already was on board of the ship.

Travelling as Cabin Class Passengers

The Withers travelled as cabin class passengers, which on average only one in ten passengers making the journey to Australia could afford. Emigrants usually travelled as intermediate class passengers in the steerage quarter below the main deck with little space for themselves and poor ventilation. They were further separated by gender and marital status into single men, married couples and children. Single women were strictly segregated from the rest by physical boundaries (cf. STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Class Distinctions). Of course, the intermediate passenger – that means the majority of the passengers – experienced the journey very different from the likes of cabin class passengers like the Withers. But as there were relatively strict class distinctions on board, they practically never appear in Alfred Withers’ diary as contact with intermediate passengers was very limited. passengers, but there was little of interest for them in the steerage quarter.

The cabins of the cabin class passengers were usually located below the poop deck, that itself was reserved for the cabin class passengers, while the intermediate passengers were confined to the main deck. Cabin class passengers were allowed to visit intermediate passengers, but there was little of interest for them in the steerage quarter (STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Class Distinctions). These restrictions very likely applied for the passengers of the James Baines, too. As a cook and stewards provided for the meals of the cabin class passengers and other necessities of everyday life, they had much more free time to themselves, which resulted in the many activities on the poop deck that are described throughout the diary of Alfred Withers. But, as those activities were reserved for only a small number of passengers, one must remember, that the relatively pleasant journey, that is recorded in the diary, was definitely not the norm for regular passengers in the steerage quarters.


The cabin of the Withers was paid in advance and arranged in Colonial Style. Alfred Withers made a sketch of the interior which can be seen above. The cabins of Miss Lockyer and the other cabin class passengers might have looked similar. They were up to get  comfortable in there quickly, as this would be their home for the next three months. The Withers and the cabin class passengers seem to have brought certain pieces of furniture and decoration with them, as the following lines indicate:

                Here Madge was soon quite at Home; she took

                the  whole management of the arrangements and made

                me do all sorts of things, in two Hours our Drawers

                Boxes and every moveable article became fixtures by

                screwing them to the floor and Bulkheads so that

                they couldn’t move by the rolling of the ship and

                everything was made snug for Bad Weather.

                                                                                               – Monday, January 5th (p. 8)

Blind Passengers

Regardless of the long, uncomfortable and dangerous voyage to Australia for regular intermediate passengers, it had become an increasingly popular destination for emigration. After convicts had been the main source migration to the colony, the enormous growth of population in Britain in the 19th century with many dying from poverty and famine, Australia became an increasingly popular destination for free migrants, especially after the discovery of gold in 1851 and a booming economy in the province of Victoria Emigration to Australia was seen as an opportunity for a better life as the continent was only sparsely populated and promising much land to settle on (STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Emigrating; cf. MUSEUMS VICTORIA, 1850s–70s, Settlers Origins). Against this background, and bearing in mind that whoever was starving from poverty in Britain hat rarely enough money for paying a passage to Australia, the following incident that Alfred Withers recorded on the 7th January, the third day of the voyage, is surely no isolated case:

‘In 1831, the British government established the Emigration Commission which offered assisted migration schemes to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land for those who could not otherwise have afforded it. Over one million immigrants (either assisted or unassisted) arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom during the 1800s.’


                ‘today we have had an addition to our list of

                Passengers, not that any Lady has “gone and been” and

                favored us and her Husband, but three “stowaways”

                looking very pale very thin and very hungry, suddenly

                appeared from somewhere below, they had we suppose

                smugged themselves on Board and watching their opportunity

                had hid themselves in the Coal Hole and among the

                Cargo, this is rather a novel way of getting a free

                Passage to Australia, of course they can’t be thrown

                overboard, they must not starve and it will never do

                to put the Ship back on their account, so out they

                of necessity must go. …’

                                                                              – Wednesday, January 7th (p. 11)


Nonetheless, life on board was not easy for these blind passengers. As they were obviously not able to pay for the passage, they had to work the drudgery on the ship while being kicked around by the ship officers. In the strict social hierarchy on board, the blind passengers found themselves right on the bottom, ‘they are neither Sailors nor passengers belong to no class on Board’ (p. 11). They appear never again in the diary, but as there are all but on no accounts of a fatal accidents during the voyage, one can assume that the risk these blind passengers took may have been eventually worthwhile for them.


Sea Sickness

Counting out the incident portrayed above, the first days of the voyage are dominated by one by topic: sea sickness. For people not accustomed to perpetual movement of a ship on the high seas, sea sickness was almost inevitable, as there was not much that could have been done to prevent it. (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 215). Alfred Withers, being one of the few that had experience at sea and because of that not much affected by sea sickness, was kind enough to not produce any sketches of the situation on board after a few days on sea, his commentary in the account is pictorial enough.

Already when going on board for the first time,

                ‘Miss Lockyer made an offering to the fishes of the

                River Mersey and as they are said to be

                particularly fond of pork, they no doubt thought

                if fishes ever do think of the Old Saying “Its an

                ill Wind that blows good to Nobody’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 3rd (p. 7)

After two days at sea, ‘the number at Meals reduced to 6 instead of 20’ (p. 10). Madge and Miss Lockyer were not spared as ‘neither of them could keep anything in their Stomachs’ (p. 10). When the ship was arriving at the Bay of Biscay the next day, the situation at table was the same: only six passengers made their way to the dining saloon, ‘some of them exceedingly dubious as to their being able to sit the Meals out, poor Madge bad as ever, Miss L the same’ (p. 11). The misery continued throughout the following days, Alfred Withers tried everything to make his wife get better, but nothing seemed to help:

                ‘Madge fancies lemonade, says it does her good untill

                she is sick again, then she will have some Soup and

                Port Wine, she knows it was that nasty lemonade

                made her sick — better after the Soup & Port Wine —

                ah! that nasty soup I know it was that made me ill.

                Tea, porter, sherry etc. etc., everything in its turn taken

                and being certain to cure, and each being condemned

                half an hour afterwards. Miss Lockyer just the same.’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 10th (pp. 13–14)

The sea sickness not only caused low number during the meals, it also made social activities on board nearly impossible. As long as the sea was rough, few people risked to leave their cabins, an attempted church service failed while the Ship was already running down the coast of Portugal on the 11th January, roughly one week after departing from Liverpool (pp. 13–14). It was not until three days later, that Alfred Withers was

                ‘… happy to be

                able to chronicle the fact, that my dear Madge

                and Miss L appeared on Deck, took all their

                Meals in the Saloon and were not in the least Sick’

                                                                              – Wednesday, January 14th (pp. 16–17)


Two days later when the James Baines was already near Madeira Madge seemed to have finally recovered from seasickness, after being out at sea for already ten days, and was ‘as jolly as Mark Topley under the most creditable circumstances’ (p. 19).

If one had finally accustomed to the perpetual up and down of the ship and the rough sea, sea sickness was no issue for the rest of the voyage, but going all the way to this point was particularly hard, as even the ship’s doctor could do nothing against it (cf. MUSEUMS VICTORIA, 1850s–1870s, Life at Sea). The only thing one could do was trying to stand it somehow. This also seems to be the experience of Alfred Withers as he noted:

                ‘… I think

                Sea Sickness can be got over when a Person is only a

                little Sick, by constantly knocking about the Ship and

                taking a lively interest in everything that is going on

                never allowing yourself time to think of Sickness,

                but when one is very bad its no use telling them to

                bear up and stand against it, the fact is they have

                not the Strength to attempt it …’

                                                                              – Wednesday, January 14th (pp. 16–17)

Running into a Storm

Sea sickness also remained an issue for such a long time on board of the James Baines, because the ship got into a storm after being out at the sea for a week. Storms were of course common at sea, particularly in the Southern Ocean, but they were always a threat, especially for the steerage passengers below deck. In case of shipwreck, there was little hop for rescue, so sea captains were very cautions when facing a storm (cf. MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, A Long and Dangerous Journey; Life at Sea). The way Alfred Withers describes the storm the James Baines ran into on the 12th January speak for itself:

                ‘… a perfect hurricane, sea

                what is called Mountains high, but that is all nonsence,

                Waves are never higher than 30 feet, that is, plenty high

                enough for when the Ship is in the furrow of the sea Wave

                they look as if they would curl over it, the sails which

                were not furled, blew away once after the other with a

                noise like the repost of Cannon, we were at last reduced

                to two close reefed topsails and a fore sail in tatters, ropes

                snapping in every direction. Boats stove in, part of the

                Bulwarks washed away, the Sea breaking over the

                Vessel in beautiful Style, the second cabin about

                two feet in Water a sea wacking down the Hatchway,

                Boxes & Chests afloat below, Bedding saturated, Ladies

                in Hysterics, some on their knees praying, the scene

                altogether, what with the wind howling in the rigging

                the Sea roaring above us, the crying, laughing, praying on

                below can be more easily imagined than described.

                                                                              – Monday, January 12th (pp. 14–15)

The passengers in the cabin class like the Withers naturally came off better during the storm. They carried away a few bruises from being thrown from one side of the ship to the other and dirty clothes from all the food getting pushed over the tables in the dining saloon, but

                ‘… there were some

                accidents among the Crew & intermediate passengers, broken

                Heads, Legs, Ribs etc., the destruction in Crockery & Glass

                rather serious, the swinging tray breaking away from

                the ceiling …’

                                                                              – Monday, January 12th (p. 15)

The gale continued for the night, although not with the same vehemence of the initial storm, eventually giving in to strong North East Winds, which Alfred Withers quiet enjoyed for the ship made good progress because of it. The rest of the passengers, beginning to recover from their sea sickness, were gradually coming out on deck, enjoying the sunny weather and having weathered the storm (p. 17). As the situation on board got more serene, the cabin class passengers began to spend their free time on deck:

                ‘… this Evenings are groups

                scattered about the Deck, dancing, fiddling

                accordianizing, altogether the musical instruments

                puts one in mind of a floating “Bartlemy fair”, we

                only want the “Now then Ladies & Gentlemen we are about

                to begin” to complete the illusion …’

                                                                            – Thursday, January 15th (p. 19)

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