March 5th - March 23rd

The last chapter of the voyage is dominated by the long awaited arrival in Melbourne. The anticipation is literally perceptible in the diary of Alfred Withers, as the entries are getting shorter and shorter and the distance left to Australia is given in almost every one of them. ‘2570 Miles from Cape Otway’ he noted on the 9th March (p. 90), two weeks before the actual arrival in Melbourne; ‘now well on to the Coast of Australia in Longitude but 10 degrees of Lat to do’ a week later on the 16th March (p. 100). These notes get more frequent the nearer the James Baines got to its destination: ‘now about 700 Miles away from Melbourne’ on the 18th March (p. 105), ‘580 Miles from the “Heads” or the entrance to Port Phillip’ the next day (p. 106). ‘Now dodging about Kings Island’, Alfred Withers wrote on the 22nd March, the day before the arrival, and ‘by day tomorrow morning we shall sight Cape Otway & with good luck be in Melbourne tomorrow afternoon’ (p. 109). In contrast, the last entry of the diary that is given below is rather short and written just before the actual arrival:

 ‘Today is the day of excitement. Land and the

Light House in sight this morning at 5 oclock. Madge

Miss L & Myself got up to have a sniff at the Land,

there it was sure enough, Hill & Dale covered with

the entchanting Bush, the Wind is fair & nothing

to prevent our reaching Hudson’s Bay this afternoon’

                                                                              – Monday, March 23rd (p. 110)

With closing in onto Australia, the James Baines got gradually into warmer latitudes again. This was better than the freezing temperatures in the South Arctic waters, but the weather was still rather uncomfortable due to particularly wet weather (p. 95). Alfred Withers described it as ‘fine Cold Weather like March in England’ (p. 96). Just about less than a week before the arrival in Melbourne, the weather was ‘gradually getting warmer, so that all the Passengers Ladies included get the benefit of the fresh Air on Deck’ (p. 105). The warmer temperatures as well as the imminent arrival on the Australian coast caused an euphoric atmosphere among the passengers. Alfred Withers noted on the 20th March, three days before the arrival:

‘… today the cable was

roused out from the chain Locker with musical

accompaniment, the whole of the passengers assisst

ing at the operation, this looks as if we were near

Land, the anchor also is slung over the bow

read to drop at a minutes notice, good humour

prevails on Board fore & aft, everybody delighted

at arriving so near the end of the Voyage’

                                                                              – Friday, March 20th (p. 107)

The Withers shared the overall excitement, already beginning to pack up their belongings on the 18th March, ‘so that we should have not much to do when we enter the Heads’ (105). As Madge resumed according to the account in the diary, the voyage was ‘certainly nothing to be dreaded, but rather a trip of pleasure lasting too long to be profitable’ (p. 105). The only person that seemed to not join into the excitement on board was the Captain, as he made a bet to reach Melbourne before another ship loaded with mail that left Southampton on the 12th January (p. 108). It is not reported, if the captain indeed won his bet, nevertheless the passengers delivered an address to him, the chief officer and the doctor after dinner on the 21st March (p. 108). According to Alfred Withers, they all deserved this toast,

‘the Doctor which they I think all deserve

the Captain has proved himself a perfect Gentleman

and a thorough sailor, Mr O’Donnell ditto

I don’t know much about our Surgeon, but judging

from the fact that there has been only one death

on Board & that a Child, if speaks favorably

either of the Health of the Passengers or his skill’

                                                                              – Saturday, March 21st (p. 108)

Unfortunately for Alfred Withers, near the end of the voyage he had to find that his stock of night shirts was depleted, which is why he would use one of Madge’s shirts. To his surprise found it quite large enough in every respect but the sleeves’, while Madge had been thrown into convulsions of Laughter’ (p. 105). This has been a noteworthy incident, because Alfred Withers made a sketch of himself in one of his wives’ night shirts, which means there is actually a preserved self-image of Alfred Withers. Unfortunately, as can be seen above, the illustration suffered from pigment degradation. According to the preface of the official transcript of the diary of Alfred Withers provided by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, Alfred Withers ran out of his initial supply of white paint. The paint he used instead for this sketch was lead white and of poorer quality. Lead white will sometimes turns black over time due to chemical reactions. That is why Alfred Withers has black coloured skin in his self-portrait; if one looks more closely the pigment also appears very cracked and uneven.

Writing the Coastline

The relatively abrupt ending of the diary is quite unusual; the actual arrival in Australia was an essential part of such an account as it would conclude the voyage (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 227) and give a distinct as well positive ending to its narrative (cf. HASSAM 1991, p. 200). Because the diary of Alfred Withers is cut short right before the arrival of the James Baines in Melbourne, and the preceding entries are relatively short compared to the rest of the diary, nothing much is said about how the actual arrival was experienced and perceived on the ship. Accounts of a voyage to Australia usually ended with a positive or hopeful description of the Australian coastline (cf. HASSAM 1991, p. 200). The passengers had endured extreme temperatures around the Equator and close to the Antarctic as well as at least three months of cramped conditions below deck and monotonous as dull days when travelling as intermediate passengers. It is no surprise that diaries would express much relief after finally coming in sight of the coastline, describing it often as more exciting and beautiful than it actually was (cf. HASSAM 1991, p. 195).

Now the diary of Alfred Withes does not provide a description of the coastline of Australia or of the arrival in Melbourne, but there is something comparable to what Andrew Hassam called “writing the coastline” (HASSAM 1991): On the 5th March, the James Baines would pass a small island called Kerguelen’s Land or Island of Desolation (p. 82–85), which caused much excitement among the passengers, despite the fact that there was really not much to see, as the island was happens to be little more than rocks:

‘What a difference the Light of Land makes to

People who have seen none for two Months, everyone

rushing about in the greatest excitement and good

spirits, if they get their Steam up this way at looking

at the Island of Desolation / wretched spot that it is /

they will go into convulsions at the Sight of the

Australian Coast, there really is some excuse, for

a Sight like that we have had today, comes in splendidly

and breaks the Monotony of a long Voyage.

                                                                              – Thursday, March 5th (p. 84)

Although Alfred Withers in this passage seems to be aware that the excitement is mainly caused by the long absence of land before, he kind of joins in and gives a lengthy account on the Island of Desolation as well as not less than two illustrations of that place, the first one can be seen above. Alfred Withers described the island as follows:

‘Kerguelans Land or the Island of Desolation is about

80 or 90 Miles Long, the depth suppose about 40, nearly

the whole of the Land is Covered with Snow, and not

a Leaf or blade of Grass grows on it the Year round

there is Coal there, samples of which were in the Great

Exhibition 1857 / Could they not make this a penal

Settlement for better than hanging I am sure / …’

– Thursday, March 5th (p. 82)

As there was deep water all around the island, the James Baines could get very close to the Island of Desolation, enough ‘to throw a Biscuit onto it’ (p. 83). The second illustration shows the James Baines next to a rock called Blight’s Cap that is situated before the Northern coast of the Island of Desolation and was described as follows:

‘… it has

not one particle or the shadow of vegetation upon it, all

genuine Rock, a flock of Birds from it paid us a Visit

and one party of them these were Boobies looked as

if they meant to alight on the Ship, they perhaps

thought they could recognize a relation or two on Board’

                                                                              – Thursday, March 5th (p. 83)

Animals of the Southern Ocean

Right after leaving behind the Island of Desolation, the passengers of the James Baines were blessed with yet another spectacular sight ­– ‘those Monsters of the deep’ (p. 86), a school of whales were coming very near the ship. At least 50 of them were seen ‘rising all around the ship’ and then ‘Spouting away’ (p. 86). Alfred Withers made a sketch of some of the whales which although can hardly be seen in the illustration, but are figuratively depicted by Alfred Withers in his diary:

‘they certainly are one of the Wonders

of the deep, they are about every 5 Minutes to blow

and cannot remain under any longer, they spout

up a mixture of Breath and Water six or seven times

exposing the greater part of their Head during this

performance, down goes their Head and up comes

their Tail …’

                                                                              – Friday, March 6th (p. 87)

Apart of those whales and some fish called Skip Jack’s – which are very likely to be meant tuna – ‘continually jumping in & out of the Water’ (p. 89), there are all kinds of sea birds to met during during the voyage through the Southern Ocean. There are ‘Molly Hawks, Cape Hens, Cape Pidgeons, Stormy Petrels, Whale Birds, Divers’ (p. 86) as well as Penguins, ‘a Kind of Duck’, as Alfred Withers describes them, with ‘a sort of flipper instead of Wings, cannot fly, but go thro’ the Water a good Speed’ (p. 80).

A constant companion and by far the most present in these regions are Albatrosses, ‘they feed upon the various messes which are continually being thrown over the Ships side’ (p. 58). Some of the passengers were literally fishing for Albatrosses, as Alfred Withers depicted in one of his sketches that can be seen below. The enormous creatures were processed by the passengers into a variety of things:

‘they make snuff Boxes of the Skull, Pipe Stems

of the Wing Bones, and Tobacco Pouches of Skin of the

foot / they are Webfooted / all turned to the use of

those who indulge in the use of Tobacco! ‘

                                                                              – Friday, March 6th (p. 86)

The Song of the Clipper, Vol. 2

On the 17th March the Captain, who was an Irishman, gave a supper to the cabin class passengers in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day (p. 101). As being ill with a cold, Alfred Withers was not present, but could hear the speeches and songs that were performed in the saloon, which were ‘as bad as ever’ (p. 101). There was one exception, though, the second part of the Song of the Clipper, which Alfred Withers had written down in the diary earlier on, as he now did with the second part (pp. 101–104). Its text is very interesting and revealing to read as it tells a lot about the passengers of the cabin class, that were making the voyage to Australia together with the Withers:


The Song of the Clipper, Vol. 2

So now I have sung you the Song of the “Baines”

I’ll give you a list of the passengers Names

There is no one on Board will I trust the take offence

If first with our Ladies my list I commence

And like Lovers famous song of “Widow Machree”

If I name them in pairs & they all will agree

There’s no one I hope but will join in the tune

While I name you our guests in the Baines Saloon

Chorus: Saloon, Saloon, the Baines Saloon

While I name you our guests in the Baines Saloon


There’s Miss Ritchie, Miss Bath & Miss Lockyer as well

Mrs Marr, Mrs Withers and its truth I do tell

Their kindness to all since our Voyage began

We appreciate well, our respect they command

For their Lady like Manners and Womanly Pride

Must make the Man happy who claims them as Bride

May prosperity shine on them, Morn, Night & Noon

The Ladies who sail in the Baines Saloon

_____________________ Saloon, Saloon etc. etc.


There’s our Editor Soilleux, so natty & prim

The Ladies I’m told think a great deal of him

Mr Bourke for Miss Ritchie great liking he hath

And there`s Wallace & Collins who flirt with Miss Bath

Then there’s Dr. Collins a bright son of Macs

Who has been to Sebastopol, Varna & Kacs

And whose tales of the wars on a Calm Afternoon

Astonish us all in the Baines Saloon

_____________________ Saloon, Saloon etc. etc.


There’s Gardner & Cossack who wears the tight pants

And there’s Bunbury famed for his Puns & his Chants

Young Bryden as well for I’m bound to tell truth

If he minds Number one is a promising Youth

And there’s Smith in debate is considered at one

Tho’ he sometimes forgets which side to speak on

No speeches e’er given by great Joey Hume

Could excel some he makes in the Baines Saloon

_____________________ Saloon, Saloon etc. etc. etc.


There’s Another named “Gorski”, ‘tis truth I declare

With a good constitution and Appetite Rare

I’ve heard it remarked and to all it seems plain

He had limited fare in the Russian Campaign

Tho’ thats no great fault & take him on the whole

He’s good sort of Fellow, altho’ he’s a Pole

And creates great amusement each Afternoon

When he sits down to dine in the Baines Saloon

_____________________ Saloon, Saloon etc. etc. etc.


Mr Brown is a person of Sterling good Worth

Of Colonial experience and comes from the North

There’s his Nephew Young Whitehead and Kendal also

With Withers and Singer and Mr. Flateau

And last tho’ not least, whom I must not leave out

Is our friend Mr Bar who is inclined to be stout

And whose playing at Quoits on deck each Afternoon

Has caused hearty laughing in the Baines Saloon

_____________________ Saloon, Saloon etc. etc.


So now we are nearing the end of our trip

Here’s success to each person who sails in the ship

May our Men ne’er regret nor our Women repine

That to Melbourne they sailed in a Ship of our Line

And I trust there are none here, should Kind fortune smile

should they wish to return to their dear Native Isle

But will think it a pleasure and deem it a Boon

To embark ever again in the Baines Saloon

                               Saloon, Saloon, the Baines Saloon                                                                         To embark ever again in the Baines Saloon

Fellow Passengers

The Song of Clipper is one of the few passages in the diary, where one can learn a bit more about Alfred Withers’ fellow cabin class passengers as most of them are only mentioned in a side note if anything. The other notable accounts are listed are summarised below. As this was their honeymoon, Alfred Wither and his wife Madge stayed mostly for themselves during the voyage, along with Miss Lockyer. This is also reflected in a small account that also depicts some of the other passengers:

‘Nobody troubles us, we are considered a trio apart from

the rest, but meet with respect from Everybody, there are

2 rather fast young Ladies Miss Beth & Miss Rikkie

the former quite the delight of a small circle

of Boobies, several of which are great listless, apathetic

Moustachio’d Heroes from the Crimea, such topics!

a fine field for Punch if he were here, just the

Characters he hits off, with their Swagger and drawling

accent, our vis-a-vis at Dinner is a lieutenant from

India such a Card, We have quite settled it in our

own Minds that he is the greatest Donkey we ever saw

he will sure to do or say something extremely rich and

then I’ll log it with a Portrait of the Gentleman’

                                                                              – Wednesday, January 21st (p. 26)

An equally comedic fellow passenger is the later on sometimes mentioned Captain Bunbury, who originally read the prayers during church service before suffering from drinking too much liquor (p. 68) and lost an arm during his service in the army in the battle of Navarino 1827 (p. 59). Bunbury was also the original editor of the “James Baines Times” (p. 59). He is described by Alfred Withers as

 ‘… the most inveterate punster it has

ever and I hope ever will be my fate to en-

counter, the struggles and convulsions he goes through

to produce a pun is perfectly heartrending’

                                                                              – Saturday, February 14th (p. 59)

There were actually quite a few former members of the army, ‘who have completely used up their funds at Home, and are shunted off to Australia with a little money in their pocket’ (p. 57). Captain Bunbury also seems to have been not the only one who tended to spend a lot of his time and money on drinking, as most of the former soldiers shared the same preferences (p. 57). Alfred Withers consequently refers to them as ‘scapegraces’ (p. 57). Another large part of the passengers were relatives and friends of so called ‘Lucky Diggers’ (p. 57) who earned enough wealth in Australia to pay for their passage, as well as

‘… Ladies running to Australia after their

Husbands who left by the previous Ship, and Ladies

running awayfrom their Husband who have no

scruple in Saying they can pass there as Single

Women …’

– Thursday, February 12th (p. 57)

The only person that was characterised by Alfred Withers with a bit more detail apart from Captain Bunbury was the captain of the James Baines, Mr McDonnell, ‘a first rate Navigator, a Gentleman, and a very pleasant amusing fellow’ (p. 50). As mentioned above, the Withers stayed for themselves for most of the time, not counting the social events like the concerts. It does not seem like they made any closer relationships on board of the James Baines, like people would often do as being on a ship together for three weeks usually meant to get to know the other passengers pretty intimately, especially in steerage class. But also the cabin class passengers could never really get away from the extraordinary conditions on board (cf. PIETSCH 2016, p. 224).

Menü schließen