January 24th - February 2nd

The James Baines was very lucky with the winds in the tropics, making fast progress towards the Equator, or “the line” as Alfred Withers put it in his diary. For the passengers on board, this was an highly anticipated event,

                ‘… altho the line is quite an

                imaginary affair, made by drawing imaginary lines

                round the earth into degrees Miles & Minutes, still

                after having crossed the line we feel as if we had

                passed the Rugby of the sea and were much nearer

                the end of the Voyage.’

                                                                              – Friday, January 23rd (p. 28)

Of course, being near the Equator meant that the weather was getting even hotter, which is why the line was crossed eventually in the night from the 27th to the 28th January, without much ado (p. 36). Afterwards, the ship was nearing the South American coast, entering the regions of the South East trade winds which would take ship out of the hot weather of the tropics. During this part of the voyage, one had an excellent view into the night sky which would considerably change after entering the Southern hemisphere:

                anEvenin an a

                ‘… last Night we saw the North

                star I think for the last time, it will be too low in

                the horizon to see it again, but in a day or two we

                shall see the North Star of Australia, that is we shall

                see the Southern Cross which is a group of  4 Stars

                very similar to the North Star group, but low down in

                the Southern hemisphere, Jupiter & Venus are visible

                & nearly over our Heads …’

                                                                              – Friday, January 23rd (p. 28)


Next to the night sky, the passengers would be favored with stunning sunsets, ‘which if it could be conveyed to Canvas would be considered quite unnatural’ (p. 39), Alfred Withers remarked. He also made a sketch of one of them, which can be seen alongside, although ‘not being up to the Mark in Water Colors, expect it will be a great failure’ (p. 35). Regardless of his understatement, this sketch as well as a later description of another sunset give an beautiful idea of what these stunning sunsets must have looked like: 

              ‘After Dinner, adjourned to the Poop with the

                Ladies to see the sunset, it was as beautiful as

                usual the dark Clouds spreading out and

                arranging themselves into the most curious

                and fantastic shapes, we with a little imagination

                discerned Elephant, Railway trains, Mail Phaetons,

                Dogs, Trees, orators etc. altogether it is very pleasant

                this half Hour of sunset, Venus & / Jupiter & Mars /

                are very plainly to be seen now …’

                                                                              – Sunday, February 1st (p. 44)

Of course, sunsets could be witnessed practically every evening at sea, and the Withers saw beautiful sunsets also later on during the voyage, but they could never really compare. Or, as Alfred Withers put it, they were ‘grand, but totally different to the Tropical Sunsets’ (p. 61).

Sailor's Hoaxes

As the crew of the James Baines was busy with keeping the ship afloat and on course most of the time, interactions with the passengers – aside from the captain – are rarely mentioned. They seem to have been for themselves most of the time. Sometimes, there are indirect hints in the diary on what they were up to, like when there were sailors in confinement for drunkenness (p. 32) or stealing ham from the passengers (p. 36). Being a sailor was a hard job, and so it is not surprising that they appear as rather crude in manners which shines trough in a later account by Alfred Withers of the sailors pumping out ship:

                ‘the pumping is accompanied by vocal Music by the

                Sailors, some of the Airs are very pretty, I cant say the

                same for the Words, many of the sentences are apt to grate

                on Ears polite! …’

                                                                              – Monday, March 9th (p. 90)

The sailors also seem to have played hoaxes on the passengers as a very amusing report from the 30th January illustrates, as well as a sketch made by Alfred Withers which can be seen above. Both throw interesting light on the shipboard life of sailors on emigrant ships:

                ‘lately there have been several of the passengers

                who aspiring to raise themselves above their fel-

                low creatures by ascending the Rigging, have

                been suddenly pounced on by the Tarantula

                / spider / -like Sailors, and tied there, untill

                they bleed a bottle of Rum, Jack doesn’t allow

                trespassers on his manor, if you feel inclined to

                Visit his Castle / Forecastle /, like all other Castles on Land

                you must pay for it, the same with the Galley,

                if you rumble out of your Bounds, no matter

                where, you will suddenly find yourself in the

                middle of a Chalk Circle, and told that you

                cannot get out of it, you have seen that a fowl with its

                Nose on a Chalk line cant stir, you are very much in

                the same predicament, a bottle of Rum only Washes out the Chalk’


                                                                              – Friday, January 30th (p. 40)

Authority and Rule Enforcement on Board

Although things like the hoaxes depicted above might hint on an overall relatively humorous and loose atmosphere on board of the James Baines, one should be careful to assume this to have been the regular case. On board of a ship such as the James Baines there was a strict hierarchy among the passengers and the crew. The captain of the ship held natural authority and was on top of this hierarchy, after all he was responsible for, in case of the James Baines, 500 souls (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 225). Respectively, the captain of the James Baines, Captain McDonnell is described in the diary of Alfred Withers as such:

‘It was the captain who ‘spoke’ to the world when ships were sighted and he who acted as the mouthpiece for all those on board. And within the segregated social world of the saloon, the captain held court at table. In him, too, was located the authority to punish.’

(from: PIETSCH 2016, p. 225)

‘… he is a

first rate sailor, gentlemanly in behaviour, and keeps

everybody at their proper distance, he is very strict

with the Men, and will have the Rules of the Ship

enforced among the passengers …’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 24th (p. 32)

He had to ‘adjudicate in all kinds of quarrels’ (p. 32) among the passengers while making sure that the discipline on board was maintained by both passengers as well as sailors. His authority was made very clear in his dealings with others, as a later note shows:

‘he has the same peculiarity that all sea Captains

have, that is he speaks to the Men as if they were

a totally different race to himself, however the

Men stand it, bothers me, if Men on Land were

spoken to in the same manner, by those over them

they would soon shift their quarters, but as it is

the same in every Ship I suppose they know it is

no use changing …’

                                                                              – Friday, February 6th (p. 50)

It was also the captain who decided upon punishment if passengers or sailors misbehaved. People being put into confinement like the two sailors mentioned further above were no singular incidents. In fact, due to the strict rules and enforcement of discipline on board, the diary is filled with accounts of people – passengers as well as sailors – being put into the wheel house, ‘the place of “durance Vile” where everybody misbehaving themselves are put into’ (p. 43). Alfred Withers also made a sketch of it.

The duration of a visit in the wheel house varied depending on the individual wrongdoing of the delinquent. While the sailor who stole ham was kept in confinement for the total for six weeks (p. 36), the drunken sailor served six days before making room for

                ‘5 second class passengers

                who are punished for playing cards all Night an with

                a naked Candle stuck in the Blankets, it serves them right.’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 24th (p. 32)

Although Alfred Withers does not report for how long they were kept confined in the wheel house, one can figure that they served some time, as fire was a very dangerous thread on board of a ship mostly consisting of wood, ropes and canvas. The use of candles as well as oil lanterns was restricted if not forbidden on many ships (cf. MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, A Long and Dangerous Journey). Hardly a day went by without someone being in the wheel house, so that it was a reason to write about when there were ‘no Candidates for the Wheel House’ (p. 65) later on during the voyage – two days later two of the intermediate passengers were put there after a fight (p. 67).

The abuse of alcohol was a frequent problem on board of the James Baines as well as other ships, so it is no surprise that the initially mentioned sailor as well as some of the passengers made a trip to the wheel house because of it.  On the 31st January, Alfred Withers reports of a man called Winslow being handcuffed and put into confinement after

                ‘… doing his delirium Tremens

                and having cleared off all the Bottles in the Surgery

                is dancing in the Pieces and yelling & looking

                like a Red Indian, this Gentleman has been in

                the habit of Drinking 12 bottles Porter a day which

                he gets and Pays for from the Purser, independently

                of that that he has had a private Store of Brandy &

                Whiskey / 2 Hampers / which he paid his respects

                to when he had a little time on his hands between

                the bottles of Porter.‘

                                                                              – Saturday, January 31st (p. 42–43)

The wheel house was not the only place to put people in for confinement, Alfred Withers reports of a man who broke into the store room to take on the ale and porter there being but ‘in a sort of Black Hole below’ (p. 70). Judging from this incident and the six weeks the sailor who stole ham from a passenger had to serve in the wheel house, theft especially of nourishments and alcohol was punished rather severely.


In the light of the general enforcement of discipline and authority depicted above, an event that took place in the 23rd January is particularly interesting. There was a trial held in the saloon, with no involvement of the Captain, which is surprising as he held the authority on board. Mr Withers devoted a lengthy account of four pages to this trial:

                ‘The trial came off this Evening, breach of promise,

                at the court of Inconstancy held in the dining Saloon

                “Flowers versus Phibs” the court was densely crowded

                the excitement being very great in this celebrated case.’

                                                                              – Friday, January 23rd (p. 28–29)

It is the only trial held on board Alfred Withers reports of. Punishment for delinquency on board was usually decided upon by the captain alone. This case however seems to have been different, as there was a series of events to consider that started long before the James Baines had left Liverpool. So the case discussed did not concern any sea matters, which might be the reason why the captain had no saying in this trial. The plaintiff was a young woman, daughter of an owner of a pawnbroker’s shop called Nebuchadnazzar Phibs:

                ‘… in her examination they had great difficulty

                in arriving at her age, she couldn’t say for certain

                but supposed 18, she couldn’t swear she was not five

                and twenty, thought Ma and Pa had been married

                19 Years so supposed she ought to the about 18.’

                                                                              – Friday, January 23rd (p. 30)

She had been in the shop when a man called Captain George Flowers brought in a pair of boots. ‘He touched her finger when she was giving him the ticket’ (p. 30), which seemingly led to further intimacies. Captain Flowers would then visit her father frequently, eventually making a proposal. But after a while the intimacy would cease, around the 10th November (supposedly of the year before the voyage). The girl

                ‘… had been ill ever since, great

                depression of Spirits, and loss of appetite, could eat

                very little, for Breakfast never exceeded now more

                than ½ doz Eggs a lb of Bacon & 3 or 4 Cups of Coffee —

                she had fallen away exceedingly since “dear George

                ceased to visit her, no — she wouldn’t have him [now]

                if he were to offer / here the plaintiff sobbed audibly

                was accommodated with a chair and a little weak gin

                & Water which she considered powerfully refreshed her’,

                                                                              – Friday, January 23rd (pp. 30–31)

It does not become completely clear, why there was a trial held upon these matters on board of the James Baines. There would be not be a trial because someone ceased in meeting with a woman. They do not seem to have actually married, although the woman’s loss of appetite and feeling ill could hint on pregnancy, but none of it is made explicit in the account. However, there were several witnesses heard on both sides – which is interesting as the story, as mentioned above, began long before the start of the voyage, which means that all of them, including the plaintiff and Captain Flowers were making the voyage to Australia for some reason. There also appears to have been a ‘learned judge’ (p. 31) on board who presided over the court. In the end,

                ‘… the Jury

                retired for 10 seconds & brought in a Verdict for the

                plaintiff — damages 6 Bottles Champagne’

                                                                              – Friday, January 23rd (p. 31)

The Ship's Doctor and Diseases on Board

                ‘Who would be a Doctor? The Life of a Doctor on

                Land is bad enough, but on Board a Ship with

                nearly six Hundred Souls on Board it must be most

                harassing …’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 31st (p. 42)

These lines that Alfred Withers wrote in his diary on the 31st January sum up the very stressful life of a doctor on board of an emigrant ship like the James Baines pretty good. Not only had he to deal with the people who drank too much and would later go into confinement as well as injured or ill passengers, they were also to supervise the daily chores and routines of all but the cabin passengers. As life and experience of time were very different at sea from what they were used to, there were certain routines for passengers on board meant both as orientation and as means of control. Those routines and time schedules were often perceived as harsher than they really were considering the limitations on space and privacy on board (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 214). As mentioned earlier, these routines did not apply to cabin class passengers, who were admittedly expected to their berths themselves, but were meals provided by a cook. For the doctor of the ship however, there was enough to do without also having to care for the cabin class passengers, as Alfred Withers describes in his diary:

‘Emigrants had to be out of bed by 7am, with all the children washed and dressed before breakfast at 8 am and then sent off to school. At 9 am the decks were cleaned and groups assigned to clean areas of the ship that didn’t belong to a particular mess.  Dinner was at 1 pm, tea at 6 pm and lights out at 8 pm. Government regulations determined the daily routine on board British emigrant ships as well as many private ships leaving English ports. Steerage passengers were required to clean their own berths (as were some second and third class passengers) and this was how most emigrants started their day.’


                ‘he commences the day by turning all

                but the Cabin Passengers out of their bunks at 6am

                sees that their Cabins are cleaned out and the Clothes

                aired, treats their food, examines the Water Closet,

                chloride of Lime wherever it is necessary

                and in between gets his own Meals if he can, sees all

                the Candles out and every body in Bed at 11pm

                all this time his professional service beings constantly

                required. Dutton in 17 Mess wants a tooth out,

                Mrs Boothby thinks her Tommy is sickening for the

                Measles …’

                                                                              – Saturday, January 31st (p. 42)

‘Most ships provided only basic toilet and bathing facilities. Authorities complained that even these were under used and the sailors often had to wash the upper decks which passengers used as open-air toilets. Some steerage passengers had never used a privy or a water closet before. Buckets of water were used to flush contents down to the bilges [under steerage], which were emptied when the ship finally docked at port. The smell would have been disgusting.’

(from: MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, Privies and Hygiene)

As the dark, cramped and poorly ventilated steerage quarters were ideal breeding grounds for diseases, their prevention was an important issue during such a long voyage (cf. MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, A Long and Dangerous Journey). Oranges and lemons were frequently given to the passengers to prevent scurvy, while the deck was frequently cleaned with vinegar and chloride of lime, even more when the passengers were seasick (cf. MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, Life at Sea). Hygiene was poor, especially among the intermediate passengers, which often led to dysentery, typhoid, tuberculosis and other diseases in the overcrowded and often messy steerage quarters. Most of the people who died from diseases at sea were babies and children (MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, Privies and Hygiene). In case of the James Baines, there seem to have been no diseases threatening the passengers – at least Alfred Withers reports nothing regarding this topic. This could hint on good hygiene measures on board of the ship, but there is also no hint on good hygiene on board of the James Baines

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