February 4th - February 25th

The ship would go farther South and on the 5th February it left the tropics, as ‘the tropics end at 23 ½ degrees from the line’ (p. 49). Leaving the tropics also meant that the weather was getting considerably colder rather quickly. Already on the 3rd February, while it was still fairly hot, Alfred Withers noted that ‘in a Week we shall be wrapped up in our Warm clothing’ (p. 46). He was proved right in this assumption, exactly one week later,

‘… flannel shirts & Great Coats are now the

fashion, the Ladies have discarded their light Dresses

& gone into something Warmer. Beards have got beyond

the stubbly point and are now getting quite

luxuriant …’

                                                                              – Tuesday, February 10th (p. 55)

The sudden change from hot to cold weather as well as from smooth to rough sea made quite a lot of the passengers feel sick again. However, this anew rapid change of climatic conditions would now prevail for a longer time. In the middle of February, the James Baines would alter its course from heading straight southward to heading more to the East towards the Cape of Good Hope. After having a fairly good run so far, the James Baines was now put back by only having light winds and occasional calms again and again, ‘most unusual things in these Latitudes’ (p. 62), and making not much progress then. Even if stronger winds would come up, they would blow from the West and South West, which was pretty unusual as well (p. 66). However, the ship was gradually making its way toward the Cape of Good Hope, eventually being ‘much nearer the Longitude of Greenwich than we expected’ (p. 65) on the 19th February, consequently passing it the following day (p. 66). This was an event worthy to note as

‘…we are now very little

behind the London time, tomorrow if this Wind con-

tinues our time will be the same, so that we shall be

able to guess with some degree of certainty what all

our Friends are doing at Home at a given time …’

                                                                              – Thursday, February 19th (p. 65)

After passing the Meridian of Greenwich, the difference in time would gradually get bigger again, and when arriving in Melbourne, it would be ‘10 hours before the London time’ (p. 65). This is an interesting detail as the idea of different fixed time zones was just introduced in the middle of the 19th century with the Meridian of Greenwich not being proposed as the standard of a worldwide system of time zones before 1884. Nevertheless, the importance it had already before that is reflected in this account in the diary of Alfred Withers.


On the 4th February there was an accident on board that Alfred Withers describes at length in his diary alongside a sketch of it. Although nobody was hurt in the end, the incident caused a lot of hysterics, which may indicate that such accidents did not occur very often during the voyage of the James Baines:

‘A Nursery Girl has just tumbled with the

Baby in her Arms over the Poop Rails on to

the Main Deck, the Child is picked up and not

hurt, neither is the Girl, they dropped on to a Man

below which broke the fall, the Mother is perfectly

cool, as cool as ay Mother could be under the cir-

cumstances, but the Girl has not only gone off into

Hysterics herself / which have now lasted ½ an hour

and are still on / but has set 2 or 3 Girls

off on the same way …’

                                                                              – Wednesday, February 4th (p. 47)

Nursery girls were no unusual thing on board. Many married women made the voyage to Australia alone to join their husbands who got there beforehand. If they could afford a cabin class passage, they would hire single women from the steerage quarters to look after their children. This one of the rare cases that the strict class separations on board could be overcome (cf. STATE LIBRARY NEW SOUTH WALES, Female Emigration). Alfred Withers made an amusing sketch of the incident that can be seen below.

Homeward Bounders

People like the Withers as well as many emigrants in general left family and friends behind in England and as voyage to Australia was long and dangerous to a certain degree, there was a natural desire to communicate about how the voyage was getting on. In an era without mobile phones, this was only possible by writing letters and hoping to meet so called “homeward bounders”, ships that went into the opposite direction, to take them back to England. Unfortunately, not every ship was willing to stop by in order to exchange mail, as the passengers of the James Baines had to learn the hard way. Although the ship was in track of “homeward bounders” since about the 16th January and everybody had written letters (p. 33), they would not sight a homeward bound vessel until the 28th January, but then it was ‘to[o]  far off to signal her’ (p. 36). Finally, another ship appeared on the horizon on the 8th February, supposedly being a “homeward bounder”, causing much excitement among the passengers of the James Baines:

 ‘…  this was

enough, in ten Minutes not a Seat or place was to

be got at any of the Table, go whenever you might

in the Pantry, on the Stairs of the Hatchway, on Deck,

in Baths, everybody was writing furiously, this was

a chance not to be let slip, so at it we went and in

half an hour the three of us produced 8 Letters and

a Map of the World with our past course and present

position laid down on it so that our Friends at Home

would know on what part of the Globe we were on the

8th Feby 1857 …’

                                                                              – Sunday, February 8th (p. 52)

The ship came closer and went nearly in speaking distance – only to pass by without having ‘the Politeness to show us an Inch of Bunting, our Flags were up, but she would not answer’ (p. 52). As one can imagine, this led to much disappointment and discontent among the passengers, ‘and many

inwardly sent her to a place unmentionable to Ears polite’ (p. 52). As the voyage went on, this turned out to be the only occasion of meeting an “homeward bounder” and the passengers of the James Baines must have been quite frustrated when Alfred Withers noted on the 22nd February that 


‘We are now quite out of the track of all Ships, shall

meet none, we may pass a few on their Way to

Australia, but now theres no chance of sending Letters

Home before we get to Melbourne …’

                                                                              – Sunday, February 22nd (p. 68)

Amusement: Lottery

Aside from a rather obscure episode of a passenger being mesmerized (p. 62), the passengers spend their free time with the usual amusements during this part of the voyage as well. ‘Collar making and netting very fashionable just now with the Ladies’ (p. 64), while the Men would play games like whist, cribbage, chess or the popular quoits (p. 64). On the 24th February, there was another kind of amusement introduced which would be much talked of for the remainder of the voyage:

‘… the excitement has commenced

in speculations as to the time we shall enter the Heads,

a Lottery has been got p today, the Tickets ranging

from the 65th day out to the 85th the favorites are

from 72 to 78, lots of Betting on the various days’

                                                                              – Thursday, February 24th (p. 70)

Betting on when the ship would reach its destination was indeed a lottery as a voyage to Australia could last between 70 days and five months, depending on the winds (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 212). Favourable winds could nearly half the time a well-run ship would need for the voyage (cf. MUSEUMS VICTORIA, 1850s–70s, A Long and Dangerous Journey). In the end, as Alfred Withers rightly noted, winning the price of ten pounds was ‘depending solely on Winds for your passage, it is impossible to calculate with accuracy the day of arrival’ (p. 70). The Withers had the ticket for day 80 (p. 70), which turned out to be pretty close to the actual ultimate duration of the voyage of 77 days. It is very likely that someone won the prize as ‘Bits are offered and taken freely on all Days from the 72nd to the 80th day out’ (p. 79) on the 2nd March, after the James Baines had made another good run despite the many unusual calms in these regions, however there is no report about it as the diary is cut short just before arriving in the harbour of Melbourne. 

Church Service

Aside from the amusement and entertainment events like the concerts and meeting of the debating society, Alfred Withers in his diary also depicts the more ordinary aspects of life on board of the James Baines. For instance, as Church Service was still an important part of life in the 19th century, there were regularly church services even when at the high seas. As there was no reverend on board of the James Baines the passengers arranged it among themselves with a man called Captain Bunbury of the Royal Navy reading the prayers (p. 22). After Bunbury had to recovered ‘from the influence of spirituous Liquors’ (p. 68), the Captain McDonnell would read the prayers – despite being a papist (p. 68). He was, as Alfred Withers depicted, ‘not such a good Reader as old Bunbury’ (p. 78), but the later the latter had ‘rendered himself unfit nearly to do anything through his extreme partiality for strong Waters’ (p. 78) for the rest of the voyage. Church service was initially held on deck on sundays, but when it got considerably colder in the southern latitudes, it was relocated into the saloon on the 15th February (p. 60). This change of places seemed to motivate the passengers to participate in the service with chanting the morning hymn, much to the dislike of Alfred Withers’ sensitive ears. His diary entry from this day also gives an interesting insight into church services on board of a ship in the 19th century:

‘… of all the uncomfortable

noises I ever heard, this discord was the Worst.

Surely it would be much better only to read prayers.

We could then calmly reflect, and take stock of

our Sins, and promise to mend our Ways, but

when we begin with a combination of the most

wretched noises, it totally unfits me for anything

like serious thoughts. Strange that people don’t

know they can’t sing, the Leader of all this music

is a perfect “Mario” in his own estimation & takes

every opportunity of introducing Music whenever he can

he is the Gentleman already compared to Harley singing

through a speaking trumpet …’

                                                                              – Sunday, February 15th (p. 60)

Nutrition and Meals

On such a long voyage such as that of the James Baines to Australia, nutrition was a highly important issue. As the ships made no stopovers, the people on board were for the most part dependant on food that was tenable over long periods of time. Nourishments such as pickled meat, flour, sugar, dried pulses and peas were stored in wooden barrels in the hold of the ship. When left open, rats and mice would feast on these supplies and were likely to cause diseases. Additionally, oranges and lemons were given to the passengers to prevent scurvy (cf. MUESUMS VICOTRIA, 1850s–1870, Life at Sea). Ships also seem to have had livestock on board. Alfred Withers report in his diary of at least one cow on board of the James Baines which supplied the passengers with milk. Unfortunately, ‘she has got bad quarters, too Hot, near the Galley especially through the Tropics’ (p. 58), which caused her to be ill during this part of the voyage and it is likely that she did not survive the voyage. The same goes probably for the piglets that were born 13th February (p. 58), which means that there was also at least on pig on board. Ducks and geese provided the passengers of the James Baines with eggs and meat. They proved to be of a tougher nature, ‘few have died except by the hands of “Jeremy Ducks” / the Butcher’ (p. 66).

Aside from such accounts, Alfred Withers would naturally describe in his diary primarily the meals that were served in the dining saloon for the cabin class passengers. It is obvious that those meals were of a much better quality to those of the intermediate passengers; moreover they were prepared by professional cooks. Even the picky Alfred Withers seems to have enjoyed them:

‘Those in steerage, second and third class cabins were required to cook their own food. Meals could include rice pudding, sea pie, pea soup, and oatmeal porridge. Different classes of ticket dictated passengers’ rations. Those who could afford to would often bring extra jam, sugar, biscuits, eggs, cheese and ham.’


‘The Table is first rate, better than I ever imag-

ined it could be on Board Ship. We have an

excellent Cook and he certainly out of the Material

he has, produces Capital Dishes, stewards are

civil and attentive, I thought at first it was Madge’s

presence which tended everything the Couleur-de-rose

but she herself says everything is excellent and

couldn’t wish it better …’

                                                                              – Saturday, February 7th (p. 51)

Due to the movement of the ship, dining in the saloon was sometimes a messy affair when the sea was rough. There is a report in the diary from earlier on when the ship was going through the big storm: mutton legs and beef steaks were leaping ‘off the dish like a flying fish’ (p. 15) while the sauces and potatoes were ‘being pretty evenly distributed amongst the remainder at Table’ (p. 15). However the circumstances, this account also shows the quality of the cabin class passengers’ nourishments compared to what was usual for intermediate passengers. There is a similar account from the 23rd February which illustrates the troubles of eating while on the high seas in an amusing kind of way:


‘With this Wind our side of the Table is the leeside

unfortunately, so that we get occasionally, on our

laps, the Joints which ought to be before us on the

Table, accompanied by their Various Sauces, of our

Vis-a-Vis let go their Cups or Knives and forks,

they dart across the Table to us, so that we have

to watch & dodge their affairs, as well as our

own, all the Ladies dresses are thickly coated with

Green Pea soup etc. etc. etc.’

                                                                              – Monday, February 23rd (p. 69)

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