Friday, 15 December 2017

Voyage to a new life

One of the exercises for this unit was to expand one of our short pieces of writing into a more detailed piece. Word limit was 750 words. More details about the Somersetshire can be found in previous post.

As the lugger approached the Somersetshire, surrounded by other sailing ships, the passengers noticed the funnel of the ship among its three masts. This ship would be home to the passengers on the lugger for the next two months.

Crew members assisted the passengers on board before hauling luggage on to the deck. After locating their cabins, passengers watched the ship made ready to sail. Towards midnight the anchor was raised and the Somersetshire began its journey to Australia.

For George Hutton this was the start of a new life. 

Leaving England produced mixed sentiments for George. He was sad to leave the land where he was born and had spent most of his nineteen years, but he looked forward to exploring new opportunities.
George only saw his parents occasionally when he was a child. George and Jean Mackillop looked after their grandchildren, including George, while George’s parents were overseas. Although George looked forward to his parents’ visits from India, they left again just when he became used to them being home.

The Mackillops lived in a large house in Bath and employed four staff. Although the grandchildren spent most of their time with Bessie, their nanny, the children saw their grandparents regularly. It was Jean who taught George to read and write before he began his formal education. We know from Jean’s letters to her daughter that George tried hard at his lessons so he could write to his parents.

George’s grandfather entertained George with stories about living in Australia, a country on the other side of the world. George Mackillop, with his family, had moved to Van Diemen’s Land in 1834. Having made his fortune in India as a merchant, George was looking for new opportunities. 

The following year he explored the region south of Lake Omeo in the Port Phillip District. George’s reports of this journey led to further exploration, resulting in settlers from Van Diemen’s Land, including George, claiming land for grazing sheep and cattle across Bass Strait. 

George Mackillop and his family left Van Diemen’s Land in 1840, but the stories he told his grandson inspired George Hutton to leave England and settle in Australia.

Depending on the weather, life aboard ship quickly developed into a routine. Although we do not have information about George’s participation in shipboard activities, detailed descriptions of this voyage of the Somersetshire are available.

The fifty passengers in first class met for meals, at their allotted tables, four times a day – 8.30 (9.00 on Sundays) for breakfast, 12.00 for lunch, dinner at 4.00 and tea at 7.00. The regular meal times provided the passengers with an opportunity to socialise and, as the majority of the passengers were colonists returning to Australia, George learned about life in the colonies from them.

If the weather was calm the passengers spent time on deck watching out for dolphins, flying fish and even whales. However the weather on this route was frequently inclement with rough seas forcing passengers to remain below decks.

The passengers, with assistance from the crew, soon made their own entertainment. Whist tables were set up. Gambling, an entertainment favoured by some passengers, included betting on the distance the ship travelled each day. On Saturdays the weekly Somersetshire News was read to groups of passengers. On Sundays there were church services, morning and evening.

Social events included tea parties and punch parties, concerts and theatrical readings. The talents of two professional actors travelling to Australia were utilised in several entertainments along with musical abilities or entertainment skills of other passengers. A choir was also formed to improve the singing at church services. Rehearsals for these events kept many passengers occupied during the day. A major shipboard entertainment was a visit from King Neptune when the Somersetshire crossed the equator. However the highlight of the voyage was a ball held in the first class saloon towards the end of the voyage.

Then the ship voyage, the interlude between George’s life in England and the rest of his life in Australia, was over.

It was a bleak day when the Somersetshire sailed into Port Phillip Bay only fifty-nine days after leaving Plymouth. Through the mist the passengers made out the outline of some of Melbourne’s buildings. It was 1869 and this wealthy, bustling city was very different from the settlement George’s grandfather had known. 

As he left the Somersetshire, George realised that this was no longer an extension of his grandfather’s adventure. This was the beginning of the new life that he had chosen for himself - a new chapter in his story.

George’s story is part of my family’s migration story – a story of convicts and free settlers making Australia home. His story is important when studying why ancestors decided to migrate. It is also part of the Hutton family saga.

Ignoring the strong family connection with India and instead to settle in Australia is another reason why George’s story is significant.

Writing this story has forced me to consider aspects of George’s life. What was it like living with family members other than his parents? How did his family’s long term involvement in an overseas country affect his attitude to life? Why did he give up a comfortable lifestyle to change countries?

Piecing together this part of George’s life from a variety of sources was a challenge. Finding an account of the voyage was useful although George was only mentioned once.

As George Hutton spent 67 years in Australia this is part of his life story.

George Hutton’s notes about memories of his early life in Australia plus some family stories as he remembered them in the 1930s.
Letter from Jean Mackillop (written in Bath and dated 23 October 1855) to her daughter, Eleonora Hutton, who was in India with her husband, a Captain in the Madras Army.
Somersetshire News: A Ship Newspaper issued on Board the S S Somersetshire on her passage from Plymouth to Melbourne, Melbourne, Sands and McDougall, 1869 [Digital copy on State Library of Victoria website – accessed 22 June 2017]
Log on Board the S S Somersetshire from Plymouth to Melbourne, July 1 – 30 August 1869. [Digital copy on Christchurch City Libraries website – accessed 22 June 2017]

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