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Authors: Vivienne Dockerty

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BOOK: A Distant Dream
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“Hmm, well just as long as we haven't taken on an imbecile. Our life will be difficult enough without that.”

She was right, life in the future would get difficult, Clarence thought, as he rested on his bunk waiting for Monica to summon them to dinner. It appeared, after talking to Sir Rodney, that to own a substantial bit of land in the colony they were going to have to travel south. There were drover trails they could follow and stopping points along the way, but unless he bought a horse and cart to get them to this place called Willunga, which he had decided they were going to take a chance on, it was going to be a hell of journey with the two trunks and a child to carry along too.

He sighed as he mentally counted the sovereigns that he had left in the leather pouch which he kept on his person, except for when he had a wash. It had seemed a fortune when he had pulled the money from its hiding place, especially with the thought of his money from Colooney too. But there had been the extra cost of their passage and now the horse and cart it would seem they would need, plus the price of a bit of furniture if they managed to find some sort of dwelling to move into and accommodation on the way. He thanked God he had taken a loan from his brother in law, or he'd have been reduced to working for a master, which he never, ever wanted to do again.

Bessie, sitting on the other bunk, her hands busily crocheting a table runner for the table which she hoped to own when they got settled somewhere, was more concerned with keeping up socially with the other members of the cabin dwellers' circle. Wherever this Willunga place was, it wasn't going to be near enough to attend the soirees that Lady Harriet was planning, nor the six bedroomed house that Margaret Trowbridge would have as her residence, once her architect husband had chosen his piece of land overlooking the ocean, near the township of Glenelg. Alice Foley had been dismissed as a possible friend in the future as she would be travelling backwards and forwards across the oceans with her surgeon husband and Lily Dickinson, destined to live in whichever headquarters that her husband was assigned to. She would hardly be in a position to entertain.

It had seemed to Bessie that they might have had the chance of coming up in the world, now that they were rubbing shoulders with the likes of her ladyship, who would be mixing with the cream of the Adelaide social circle. According to Clarence however, Sir Rodney, someone who was in the know about the land that was available and had kindly shown him a map, had said that this Willunga place was quite a distance from the city. Much of the land had been bought from the Crown by settlers who had arrived in the colony a few years earlier. Houses had been built and there was an inn, a general store and a slate quarry. Sir Rodney had said that the area in the south was vast and there was still plenty of acres to be had for those who had the money and he had hinted that if Filbey needed a helping hand with anything to do with purchasing it, he only had to say.

But for now, in the planning stages of arranging a pleasant Christmas for the passengers and crew aboard the
Bessie was part of Lady Harriet's ‘do good' committee, and was feeling well content.

Chapter Seven

After just over four months at sea, with the final part of the journey spent cruising through the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, past palm tree covered islands in the distance and into the warm waters of the Southern Ocean, the heat below in the
became so unbearable that many chose to sleep up top, with permission from the captain of course.

Edgy tempers became the norm, parents screamed at truculent children, fights broke out amongst repressed men and Lady Harriet made a discovery that caused moral outrage amongst the privileged passengers on board. It appeared that a little bird had told her that members of the crew had smuggled aboard a couple of girls when the ship had docked in Cape Town. Both were mulattos and although hidden from view they had been passed around for the pleasure of the crew members and had been seen parading along the deck one evening after the Captain had ordered lock down.

Lady Harriet, conscious of her status as a member of the aristocracy and wife of Sir Rodney and his position as one of Queen Victoria's representatives, had made her way to Captain O'Neill's quarters, without consulting her husband. She had barged into the cabin, intent on insisting that the men be punished and the girls locked up for the duration of the voyage. She had been shocked to come face to face with a girl of tawny complexion with lots of black, curly hair. She had never seen the offspring of a white person and a negro before. She had of course heard of William Wilberforce, the man who had insisted on the abolishment of slavery, which had been made law in an earlier decade, but having only seen the “blacks” who had worked on the docks at Cape Town, this exotic looking woman who was staring back at her with a pair of startled, sloe coloured eyes, sitting as she was on the captain's bunk bed, mending a tear in the hem of her calico dress, came as a complete surprise.

Recovering her composure as was her want as an upper class lady, Lady Harriet sprang across and grabbed the barefooted girl, pulling her savagely through the door, across the deck and up the steps to where the captain stood at the wheel, looking down in disbelief at the scene before him. The girl, screaming in fright at being discovered by this fearsome looking white woman, brought the attention of Sir Rodney and his fellow players, as they were having a game of quoits.

“Now, now, dear lady” said her husband, puffing slightly as he rushed up behind his wife, who had now released the sobbing girl and was now sitting at the feet of the angry looking captain. “Has this person done something to offend you, or have we got a stowaway on board?”

“Stowaway, Sir Rodney, only you could come up with such a simple explanation. I found this creature languishing on the bed in Captain O'Neill's accommodation. She is one of the two women brought aboard for the entertainment of the crew, or so I heard from a very reliable source.”

Lady Harriet, her face sweaty with nostrils flared, her grey hair having come out of its untidy bun and her plump body heaving with exertion, caused Sir Rodney to look upon the frightened girl with sympathy. Who wouldn't be terrified of his domineering wife?

“Captain O'Neill,” he said, aware that as Her Majesty's representative he must be seen to handle the situation firmly but diplomatically. He also saw that he had an audience that was agog with the most excitement they'd had since they had come aboard. “Perhaps it would be best for all concerned if we adjourned to somewhere more private, the saloon perhaps, where the bosun could make us a cup of tea.”

The captain, feeling that his position was a little precarious now that the interfering old bat had discovered one of the girls that he had actually ordered some of his crew to go and capture at their last port of call, was quick to dismiss his sniggering men as he felt his authority dwindling. Aiming a kick at his petrified lover, he strode ahead of Sir Rodney, wondering who the spy must have been. There had to be one, how else would the upper class besom have known about it?

Monica, who was looking on, felt a thrill as she witnessed O'Neill's humiliation. It would serve him right for spurning her, if he was stripped of being captain of this ship.


It was with joy and uplift that the passengers, steerage included, stood on the decks of the valiant vessel a few weeks later, looking across to the lush, green hills and dense forests in the distance, as the ship nosed its way towards its quayside berth.

Anchoring amongst the profusion of vessels which had journeyed from all over the world in the pursuit of commodities to trade, the sound of cheering from aboard the ship was deafening.
This was it, a new life beckoned.
Some were fulfilling a distant dream, whilst others who had been forced from their homes or come to work in the colony, viewed their arrival with a certain amount of trepidation.

Down below on the busy quay, bullock carts unloaded grain into the holds of cargo ships; fishing boats laden with their catch of the day sold fish by the barrel to waiting merchants; cattle boats, the animals squashed together akin to passengers in an emigrant ship, were under sail in readiness for a swelling tide and bales of wool stood waiting, ready to be loaded onto the
, her return cargo destined for the weaving sheds of England.

Agents in smart attire waited for the passengers, some of them carrying lists. These were Her Majesty's representatives, there to collect those who had been given free passage to work as labourers in the colony. A stout woman scanned the deck above of the newly anchored ship, looking for the young girls who had been sent to the colony by a couple of Irish orphanages. They would be good, Catholic, God fearing girls who would make decent servants for the cream of society already there. Maura, in charge of seven of these girls, dithered, as she looked down upon the woman, having promised Hannah a place with the Filbeys, if that was a possibility. She felt unsure now what the reaction of the Superintendent from the orphan depot would be.

The gangplank down, the passengers stood waiting, whilst two emigration agents scrutinized the embarkation orders which everyone had to show. Molly, standing with Hannah amidst the chattering girls, was lost amongst them and didn't turn a hair when the Filbeys, having had their papers stamped and now allowed to set foot on Australian soil, went ahead to collect their trunks. Nor was she noticed when Maura and the other matron's head count was taken as read and the excited orphans were chivvied down to the quayside.

“I'm sure it doesn't matter to me” Mrs. Manley, the stout woman who had been waiting for them said to Maura, after she had shaken the Superintendent's hand and explained that one of her charges may already have a place with one of the families who had travelled aboard the
and was looking for a nursemaid. It had been discussed as a possibility already with the Filbeys, as their daughter had got on very well with Hannah.

“Hannah Sweeney?” The woman took her pencil and crossed the name off her list. She felt thankful. The Irish weren't so popular as they had been when the settlement of Adelaide was new and any worker had been snapped up as soon as their feet hit terra firma. It wasn't just because they were Irish, but because there was a lot of them around. Institutions such as workhouses and asylums were opening their doors in the mother country, embracing the call for workers to populate the new colonies, in an effort to reduce the amount of mouths they'd had to feed. German orphans were popular now, snapped up by the farmers who toiled on their land in Hahndorf, whilst some of the girls from a previous British emigrant ship were taking up space at the depot in Pulteney Street and eating their heads off whilst they waited for a job.

“Now, I've organised a couple of carts. A bit of a squash, but I know from experience that they'll be used to that. You put your girls on that one, Maura and get what's her name, that other matron to load her girls on the other.”

She walked across to where the Filbeys stood, Bessie insisting that they hire at least a bullock dray to take them and their luggage to Adelaide, where Clarence was to meet Sir Rodney at the land title's office. Having looked at the dry mud caked earth of the rutted track that people and vehicles seemed to be following, she didn't relish trailing a child and two heavy trunks. Besides, what would Sir Rodney and Lady Harriet think if they arrived in the city many hours later, tired and weary, running with sweat as the day was humid, with their clothes already threadbare with constant wear and boots covered with this red, dusty mud? They would know them for paupers and wouldn't feel obliged to help them at all. She began to wave as a black, open air
, pulled by four brown horses passed by. Then she felt cross, when she saw that the distinguished couple had given a lift to the Trowbridges. What a sly cat that Margaret Trowbridge was; she had never said a word about getting a lift when they'd all said goodbye that morning.

“Bernardette Manley at your service, Ma'am.”

The stout woman stood politely at the side of Bessie, fearing that she might antagonize this would be employer who was wearing a sour expression on her face.

“I understand that you would like us to release one of our orphans into your charge. I believe her name is Hannah Sweeney. For a small persuasion, or should I say
to the welfare of these poor unfortunates, I am prepared to place her with you as a nursemaid.”

Another call on his ever dwindling florins, Clarence looked at Bessie in askance. Surely
would be looking after the child?

“We'll take her.” Bessie nodded vigorously, butting in quickly when she saw her husband's look, knowing full well he was about to argue. She scrabbled in her reticule for a couple of shillings, mindful of the need to watch her savings too.

“Hannah,” she called quickly to where the thin faced child stood uncertainly between them and the other orphans. “Get your bag and as soon as Mr. Filbey gets our transport sorted, then we'll be off.”

“So?” she said to Clarence, after the girls from the orphanages were loaded in the carts and Hannah stood with Molly, waving to them, as the drivers geed up their horses. “I'll have enough to do supporting you on this great piece of land you're after farming, without playing mother to Molly.”


Back along the port, whilst Clarence was haggling a price to the town with the driver of a fly wagon, and a group of single women were being escorted to one of the buildings across the way, an altercation had broken out when three men from the
and a government official clashed at the bottom of the gangplank. It appeared that some of the men, destined to be ticked off his list and taken across the road to where their employer waited, had disappeared. He had pounced on the three, thinking that by the look of them, as none were wearing uniform, just navy guernseys and working mens' trousers, that they were the three that were missing from his list.

One of the men was Jimmy, the overseer of steerage, who had made up his mind to jump ship in Port Adelaide and head for the gold fields of Ballarat. The other two, members of the crew that worked in the galley, had been given leave by the captain now that their duties were over for the day. None had papers and the official, mindful of the dressing down that he would be given by his superior if he lost three would be farmhands and their employer was waiting in the building across the road to receive them, shouted to a colleague to bring along a trooper to sort out the men.

Jimmy, seeing his chance when the official then ran across the busy highway between the wagons, carts, bullocks and horses, as no one had heard him above the melee, headed towards the east to join the well worn track to Victoria, where gold was there for the taking in the many rivers and streams.

A group of aborigines looked on, watching the antics of these crazy people, who had now become established in their lands.


Waiting with their trunks and bags for Clarence to appear with their transport, Bessie suddenly began to feel overwhelmed with thankfulness. They had made it. Praise the Lord they had made it and had lived in veritable comfort compared with their fellow men. Instead of living hand to mouth, packed together like sheep off to the market and existing in squalid conditions, whilst waiting on the whim of Jimmy to open up the hold and what food could be sourced from the mess captains, they'd had comfortable bunks, a cabin maid, were very well fed and had commanded the ear of the captain and the honourables. Of course the creaking of the ship, louder at night, took some getting used to, as did learning to roll with the ship when walking along the deck and having to ask Filbey to leave the cabin while she used the chamber pot. But for most of the voyage the seas had been calm, except for one such time when a squall had pitched and tossed the boat for a couple of days and it had been a case of battening down the hatches and taking to the bunks. They were there now though, back on terra firma and only one man, bless his soul, had perished when he'd been swept overboard. Of course it hadn't been very pleasant when Lady Harriet had insisted that those trollops be flogged and put ashore at a small and desolated island, but then what could a girl expect if she behaved so flagrantly.

Bessie looked across at the row of wattle and daub cottages, where passengers from the
stood whilst waiting to be assigned to the many farmers, builders and households that were willing to take a migrant on. Carriages, wagons and drays, the horses or bullocks shifted impatiently, stirring up the dust with the pawing of their hooves. One of those couples could have been her and Filbey, working for a petty-fogging master, reliant on his spirit of justice and good will. She watched indignantly as a man and woman were left to walk behind a dray while their master whipped up his team of bullocks, although he had kindly allowed them to stow their trunk in his vehicle.

There was only one substantial building on the side of the wharf; a yellow stone, slate roofed dwelling named the Customs House. It was where the government officials held court and demanded tariffs from the import and export of goods.

BOOK: A Distant Dream
7.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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