The following Tale is an extract taken from a daily History Talk given by Guide Hugh about migration.
The first immigrants here were obviously convicts but contrary to popular opinion, there weren’t a huge number of convict ships. During the whole convict era there were only 800 or so. Government sponsored migration started in the 1830’s. This offered free passage for all onboard out to the colonies.
During the course of the 19th Century well over half of the people that came to Australia came on government schemes or by way of charitable institutions based in the United Kingdom.
In the 1840’s the journey out from England was 120 days. By the 1880’s it was down to under 80 days. Now these ships were not large, if you think of the fuselage of an A320 aircraft, ships were about that size and they would have hundreds of people on board.
Because governments were heavily involved in migration there were lots of regulations and the regulations were designed to get you to Australia alive and in good health.
All rations were supplied for the whole journey. The other thing was that there was a surgeon onboard for the welfare of the passengers and he was paid a bounty for getting you there safely. For a lot of passengers, they were better fed than they had ever been in their lives. For most of them it was the first time that they had access to a trained medical professional.
The journey in fact was pretty safe, the death rate onboard ships was pretty much the same as if you stayed home in England. But it was a journey which would have felt dangerous. When the weather was bad during storms, they’d have huge storms and you’d just be locked in the hold, no food because you couldn’t cook anything. You would be locked in this darkness with water crashing through the gaps in the deck so everybody would be wet and miserable. All their belongings would be hurled about the cabin, it would have been very uncomfortable.
Young men and women were strictly segregated, the women were down the back of the ship, the men up the front of the ship with the married quarters in between and there was no mixing of the single men and single women, it was pretty much forbidden. Certainly with the single men coming out, many of them would band together and head off to the gold fields.
One of the things about Australian mythology is mateship and how it was born on the goldfields. I suspect it was born onboard the ships coming out.