January 16th - January 23rd

                ‘… we are

                however now approaching the Tropics, where light

                Winds and Calms prevail, and a few long Calms

                now would yet spoil the Voyage’

                                                                              – Friday, January 16th (p. 20)

After leaving behind Madeira roughly ten days after departing from Liverpool, the James Baines was making fast progress – much to Alfred Withers delight. ‘We shall have every Prospect of a very quick Passage before us’, he remarked in his diary on the 17th January with regards to the very favourable North East winds that were pushing the ship towards the Equator despite the regions was known for its deadly calms (p. 21). But the fast progress southwards would have one great downside for it was getting very warm very quickly. Just three days later, he noted:

                ‘We are now fairly in the Tropics, the Weather getting

                very warm, the passengers feel it much, having run

                down into the Tropics so quickly, the Sun is gradually

                peeling the skin off their Noses and the Coats off their

                backs, light dresses are all the go, ladies are all in a

                perspiration and broad brimmed Hats, Nettings, crotchet

                etc. they have recourse to…’

                                                                              – Tuesday, January 20th (p. 25)

The heat would only get worse for the passengers when the wind was not blowing as strong as it did most of the time allowing the James Baines a quick passage through the tropics. The high temperatures made life on board rather uncomfortable for there was almost no escaping from it. The cabin class passengers felt the heat especially at night in their cabins, and one can only imagine how thick and hot it must have been in the steerage quarters. During the day, little activity was possible, as the hot and thick air laid heavy on the passengers on deck, inducing indolence and lethargy on them (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 216). Heavy tropical showers, that would start to pour down out of nowhere, did make things not easier:

                ‘… down came the rain, the true

                tropical shower, regular up and down stuff which

                Wets you through before you can get your Indian rubber

                Coat on, there was a awning spread which the

                passengers stood under, but that became so full

                & bulged out with Water that of anything it was

                worse than being outside…’

                                                                              – Sunday, January 25th (p. 33)


After the first days at sea, the passengers, especially the cabin class, found themselves with much free time on their hands. The mild temperatures around the tropics resulted in many of the passengers spending the evenings on deck with several social activities such as dancing and making music. According to Alfred Withers there was good musical talent on board, so that he had ‘plenty of opportunity to “trip it on the light fantastic” toe’ (p. 21). Dancing, singing and making music seem to have been a popular pastime on board and Alfred Withers reports regularly of dancing with his wife in his diary. The passengers were quickly developing routines to spend their free time on deck with reading, smoking, netting, chatting, walking the deck or – as Alfred Withers – writing. Additionally, there were all kinds of games being played on board. Alfred Withers – despite not finding much interest in these games himself – not only describes them being played on the poop deck, he also made several sketches of it which are giving the reader a good idea of the many ways passengers tried to pass the time. Very popular for both men and women was a game called quoits. It was played ‘by throwing pence into Circles’ (p. 25), which were made of rope and gave the game its name. Another all time favourite were card games like whist and cribbage as well as gambling which were played in the saloon, usually accompanied by lots of drinks.

                ‘… they are

                at it untill ½ past 10 the time when the Saloon lights

                are extinguished, then they adjourn to one of their Cabins

                and keep the Game alive untill 2 or 3 oclock in the

                morning, very few of the Bacchanalians are able to

                appear at Breakfast but they generally manage it

                by Lunch time 12 oclock when they look like so many

                Ghosts troubled with St. Vitus’ dance, Nice Boys!

                                                                              – Thursday, March 12th (p. 95)

Despite the variety of games, the ever repeating and often uneventful days at sea along with the restricted mobility on the ship and a lack of useful things to do would sooner or later inflict boredom on many passengers (cf. PIETSCH 2016, pp. 217–218). This was all the more true for cabin class passengers, which is why on practically every ship making the voyage to Australia in the 19th century, they formed committees to organise entertainment and amusement (cf. STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Class Distinctions). On the James Baines, this happened after most of the passengers had finally recovered from their sea sickness. Alfred Withers described their great excitement after having weathered the storm as follows:

                ‘… much

                excitement just now on Board and preliminary

                Meetings to get up a Newspaper, the “James Baines

                Times” or something of the sort, also an amusement

                Committee, altho we have plenty of Passengers, I think

                over 500, I dont think we are favored with much

                literary or Musical talent on Board’

                                                                              – Wednesday, January 14th (p. 18)

Organised Entertainment: Concerts

Organised amusements like newspapers and musical performances were very common on ships making the voyage to Australia. They not only served the purpose to kill time but were also an attempt to cope with the restrictions of life on board the ship (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 218). One of these organised amusements on board of the James Baines that is heavily featured in the diary of Alfred Withers was a series of concerts that took place in the ladies’ saloon. The saloon as well as the dining were central meeting points for the cabin class passengers, where they would not only take their meals but also met for social activities and amusement. Most events on board of the James Baines like the concerts would take place in the ladies’ saloon. Alfred Withers provided a sketch of the dining leading to the ladies’ saloon, hinting on its opulent interiors. According to the caption of the illustration, the dining saloon measured 35 feet in length and 15 feet in width. Comparing these generous dimensions to the cramped steerage quarters also illustrates the enormous differences between the social classes on board of a ship making the voyage to Australia and the luxuries one could or could not enjoy.

The first concert organised by the cabin class passengers took place for the 19th January and would become a weekly event for the most part of the voyage. Passengers would take turns in performing well known songs and sometimes own creations while enjoying drinks and treats. The accounts of the weekly concerts might among the most entertaining passages of the diary, as its author Alfred Withers was for most of the time not much delighted by them, to say the least. On the other hand, his descriptions provide terrific insights into the cultural life on board among cabin class passengers. For the first concert on the 19th January he noted:

                ‘… the Vocalism was

                excruciatingly bad, I never met among so many

                so little Music in their Souls, one Gentleman favoured

                us with “the Pope” which really is as everybody knows

                a good song, the Chairman of the Meeting announced

                that Mr Burke would sing the Pope, or I am sure

                no one would know from Mr B’s air what song it was, he

                varied it most pleasantly altogether it was very rich, it was

                every tune but one, that one being “the Pope”, another

                Gentleman did the “White Squall” it was a Squall

                Madge & I were very much amused, if anyone

                can imagine, Harley singing the White Squall

                through a Speaking Trumpet they will have it exactly

                as it was sung, the “Heart burned down” by another

                who was “great Nuts” upon his singing, Pity he didn’t

                infuse some of it into audience, several scotch

                Songs — very Scotch songs, which are at all times my horror

                the Ladies were nowhere, out of 5 Ladies in the

                Saloon, one only can sing & play, Madge can play

                but never will to a larger audience than two —

                I gave them the legend at Margato “the little Vulgar

                Boy” which met with much applause and for

                that reason I think I shall never like the Song again,

                                                                              – Monday, January 19th (pp. 23–24)

Despite announcing to find excuses to not be present on the coming events (p. 24), Alfred Withers regularly gives accounts of the following concerts in his diary, which did not seem to get much better in his opinion. For the 29th January, he reports that

                ‘… “the pope” was very soon murdered

                for the second time, “Annie Laurie” shared

                the same fate poor thing. I need not say

                much for I made Mrs Brown blow herself up

                in “Skying a Copper”…’

                                                                              – Monday, January 29th (pp. 37–38)

The programme of the next concert would be featured in the “James Baines Times”, ‘rich with Operatic Music, Ballads, Comic songs etc.’ (p. 45), which indicates that the concerts were enjoyed very much by most of the passengers, despite Alfred Withers repeatedly expressed disappointment of the weekly musical treats. For the concert taking place on the 2nd February, for which the cited programme promised rich and versatile entertainment, he stated:

                ‘but the reality! “oh what a falling off was

                these my Countrymen” one Gentleman after

                violently racking his Brains for a whole day

                for something original produced what he con-

                sidered a comic song “The Lively Flea” but

                none but the author could see the fun of it, a

                tissue of vulgar absurdities.

                                                                              – Monday, February 2nd (p. 45)

The popularity of the weekly concerts seems to have declined as the voyage went on, until the series came to an end eventually, much to the delight of Alfred Withers:

                ‘… our Tympanums have not

                been irritated this Evening by that excruciating discord

                called a Concert, at last they have let it die a natural Death

                                                                           – Monday, March 2nd (p. 79)

Organised Entertainment: Debating Society

Another regular event next to the concert were the meetings of a debating society that usually took place on Wednesday evening and seem to have been quite popular. Alfred Withers participated in some of them and reports of at least five meetings that took place during the voyage. Nevertheless, he did not take much pleasure from it as he disliked speechmakers, which were naturally attracted by these meetings. He was really empathic about this in one account, from which the following lengthy quote is taken. The passage is however not directly connected to a meeting of the debating society but one of the weekly concerts, which were often just an ostensible reason for drinking and speechmaking among the men as well:

‘You cant have a quiet Chat, conversation

however interesting or good the argument,

but some ass is sure to get up and say something

you Know all that he is going to say “that he”

is sure what he is going to say requires no comment

“they all know and appreciate those excellent

qualities of his Friend on his right, Knowing

and feeling this altho’ he himself is not able

to do justice to the subject and whishes

it had fallen into abler hands, still he finds

himself called upon / no one having offered / to

propose the Health and long life to etc. etc.”

all this Humbug is duly gone through and

then one is fairly in for a Night of it, the

Friend “with those excellent qualities” has of

course to respond, which he does in much

the same style, only more so, and when he

finds his oratory at low water mark, he

suddenly turns and in much the same language

as above lays it on to somebody else, pretty thick

too, this goes the whole round, and they all look

pleased really as if they had not been humbugging each other’

                                                                              – Monday, February 16th (p. 62)

Nevertheless, the topics discussed among the men of the debating society give an interesting insight in to the matters of importance among the upper class in England. These people obviously took interest in current political matters and recent historical events. The topics that were discussed in debating society of the James Baines, which Alfred Withers reports of in his diary, were the following:

– 28th January: “Should Jews enjoy all civil rights.” Alfred Withers did not attend but heard that it had been ‘very tame’ (p. 36).

– 4th February:  “Is the abolition of Capital Punishment expedient or not.” Alfred Withers was again not present, but the majority decided ‘that the abolition was not expedient’ (p. 48).

– 25th February: “The best mode of Government for a Country, Monarchy or a Republic.” Alfred Withers was present this time, there was a Hungarian who had prepared a lengthy speech, and whereas it was rhetorically well composed, ‘he had literally said nothing altho he had been speaking furiously for ½ an hour.’ The votes were in favour of limited monarchy (p. 71).

– March 11th: “Discussing the death of Charles the 1st, whether it was justified or not.” There were a great many of speakers ‘who all more or less left the subject notwithstanding the repeated cries of Question! Question!’, but in the end they came somehow to the conclusion that his death was not justified (p. 94).

– 19th March: “Was Napoleon justified in divorcing Josephine.” Some men only spoke on the affirmative sight ‘for the sake of making it a debate’, but broad agreement was that he was not justified in doing so (p. 106).

The "James Baines Times"

Indeed, the initially mentioned plans to get up a newspaper by the passengers were successful:.

                ‘The little Bantling called the “James Baines Times”

                came into existence last Night, it was read by

                the aforesaid Captn Bunbury and is like what all

                such productions generally are, very tame, dull

                insipid and fuggy, one piece of poetry was

                particularly incomprehensible and consequently

                very amusing, but all the funny things were

                dreadfully serious, it was pronounced however

                as a very great success for the first number, and

                the thing is to be perpetrated Weekly,’

                                                                              – Sunday, January 18th (p. 22)

Creating newspapers was an excellent opportunity for passengers to combine entertainment with a sense of productivity (cf. MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, Recording the Journey). Sometimes, like on the James Baines, there was a committee organising the publishing, sometimes a single individual came up with it. The newspapers and its contents varied heavily from ship to ship and edition to edition. Their main purpose was to entertain with jokes, sketches and poems, but they could also contain more serious contents like accounts of births and deaths, passenger lists or announcements (cf. STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Newspapers). Despite initially describing the “James Baines Times” as not particularly appealing, Alfred Withers later on produced an article for the newspaper himself (p. 58), even acknowledging the following number as ‘tolerably good’ (p. 67).

Shipboard Newspapers could eventually become so popular, that they were reprinted after arriving in Australia, and were given to families and friends as an souvenir of the voyage. Especially these reprinted newspapers represent a rich source for the life on board of a ship making the voyage to Australia in the 19th century (STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Newspapers). Except for what has already been mentioned, Alfred Withers does not refer to the “James Baines Times” more often in his diary, but this does not have to mean that the newspaper was not successful. But just looking at the account of the diary, the numbers of published copies and their circulation have to remain vague. It would be quite interesting to know if the “James Baines Times” was also read by the intermediate passengers or if it just circulated among the cabin class passengers.

Sea Animals of the Atlantic

Apart from the organised entertainment described above, the days at sea were relatively uniform and repetitive. As there was otherwise not much to see except of water and clouds, the sight of animals at sea was a welcomed change for the passengers. Alfred Withers repeatedly reports on different animals that could be seen during the voyage. He ‘saw a school of porpoises’ (p. 14) as well as a Portuguese man of war, ‘which is a little thing on the Water, something like the “Nautilus” but it is not the Nautilus as some suppose but very like it’ (p. 20) and a dolphin coming up to the ship, ‘off again like a shot, no time to see the grains over him’ (p. 35).

Crossing the Atlantic, it was mostly different kinds of wish and other animals living in the water that were sighted, opposed to lots of different sea birds later on in the Southern latitudes. The following account from the 22nd February illustrates the great excitement and interest in the creatures of the sea, that one would not see very often in their lives:

                ‘We are now on the latitude for flying fish, if

                the Old Lady whose credulity allowed her to

                believe in Mountains of Sugar and Rivers of

                Rum were here now, she would have to believe

                in flying fish also for they rise in crowds all

                round the Ship, have not yet seen any Sharks

                Captn McDonnell told me that last Voyage

                they caught a large one and when they opened

                him they found two speaking Trumpets and

                a Spy Glass, which are now exhibited at Madame

                Tussauds, he must have had a very great

                opinion of his powers of digestion to tackle

                such thing as those, I scarcely believe it,

                Travellers see strange sights and perhaps this

                was a little bit of imagination in the Captain’s

                Part, if so, he told it capitally for everybody

                believed it …’

                                                                              – Thursday, January 22nd (p. 27)

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