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James & Maria Snedden, Australia

Our thanks to Annie and Bill (plus Liam ) Stuart for this story.

In 1854, my great great grandparents James and Maria Snedden left their Scottish homeland forever and travelled half way around the world to Australia in search of a better life.

They were both Glasgow born and bred. James was a coal miner and the son and grandson of coal miners. Maria was the granddaughter of a silk weaver and the daughter of a carpet weaver.

James Snedden and Maria McGee were married on the 27th of June, 1852 in the Barony Parish, Glasgow. They were both living in the Glasgow village of Bridgeton at the time of their marriage.

On the 7th of August, 1853, their first daughter Mary was born at 52 Savoy Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. Mary Snedden was the only one of James and Maria’s eleven children who was not born in Australia.

Emigration from The United Kingdom in 1854, the year that James and Maria Snedden came to Australia, was under the authority of Her Majesty’s Colonial Land and Immigration Commission. This scheme had been in operation since 1841 and was set up by the British government because of mounting dissatisfaction with the previous government scheme. This earlier scheme was attacked for being too expensive and for bringing out too many children, unskilled workers, middle aged people and paupers.

Most of the following information is taken from a colonisation circular issued by the Commissioners of the scheme which contained information for people leaving Great Britain in 1854.

To be eligible under this new scheme, prospective migrants had to be sober, industrious and furnished with character references. Married adults had to be under forty years of age and single adults under thirty. The men and single women also had to have work skills which would made them productive in Australia.

Emigrants also had to be of general good moral character and have been in the habit of working for wages. They were also required to be in good health and free from all bodily and mental defects. The most preferred candidates were respectable young women trained to domestic or farm service and families in which there was a preponderance of females.

Emigrants who were excluded were unaccompanied single women under 18, single women over 35 years, single women with illegitimate children, single men unless they were sons in eligible families containing at least a corresponding number of daughters. Families with more than 2 children under 7 or 3 children under 10 years of age or in which the sons outnumbered the daughters, widowers and widows with young children, persons who intended to resort to the goldfields, to buy land or to invest capital in trade or who are in the habitual receipt of parish relief or who had not been vaccinated or not had the small pox were also ineligible.

In 1854 The Emigration Commissioners were granting passages to New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Van Diemen’s Land.

Passengers were expected to pay the following contributions towards their passages. The commissioners provided bedding and mess utensils for the voyage from these contributions.

Passenger’s contributions to passages

For Victoria

Passengers under 50 years of age - one pound.
Passengers between 50 and 60 years of age - 5 pounds.
Passengers 60 years and upwards - 17 pounds.
Single men - 2 pounds.
Children under 14 years - 10 shillings.

For South Australia

Passengers under 45 years of age - 1 or 2 pounds
depending on their occupations. (A miner’s passage for himself and his wife was one pound.)
Passengers between 45 and 50 years of age - 5 pounds
Passengers between 50 and 60 years - 11 pounds
Single men - 2 pounds
Children under 14 years of age - 10 shillings

Passengers over 14 years of age to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land were expected to repay the greater part of the cost of their passage money or to take service with some employee in the colony who would engage to repay it for them.

Passengers to South Australia were not required to repay their passage money but they had to sign an agreement that if they went to the goldfields or if they quit the colony within four years of landing they had to repay a large proportion of their passage money.

I think that in James and Maria Snedden’s case it was much cheaper for them to travel to South Australia or to Victoria but although miners were not wanted in Victoria they were certainly needed in South Australia because copper had been discovered there around 1852.

On the eighteenth of August, 1854 a ship named The James Fernie left the Birkenhead Docks at Liverpool, England carrying amongst her passengers James and Maria Snedden and their infant daughter Mary . The James Fernie was bound for Adelaide in South Australian.

The James Fernie was built in 1854 at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada by the shipbuilding company Collins Brothers of London. She was a three masted ship of 1037 tons. The length of her lower deck was 16 feet and the last cargo she had carried before this voyage was timber.

The height between her decks was 7.8 feet and her lower deck was 162 feet long and 31.9 feet wide.

The ship’s charter for The James Fernie specified that there had to be a certain amount of deck space for each passenger and proper bed places with curtains, seats, desks, tables and a school.

There were separate hospitals for males and females, a zinc lined bathroom for the females, water closets, an oven for baking bread and a specified amount of luggage space for each passenger.

A certain quantity of medicine was to be provided for each one hundred passengers and the passengers were not to be molested on crossing the line(equator). The ship’s master was required to prevent and prohibit "any intercourse whatever" on the part of the crew or the officers and the female passengers.

Rations provided per week per adult passenger over 14 years were as follows:-

56 ounces of biscuit
6 ounces of beef, 18 ounces of pork
24 ounces of preserved meat
42 ounces of flour
21 ounces of oatmeal
8 ounces of raisins
6 ounces of suet
three quarters of an ounce of peas
8 ounces of rice
8 ounces of preserved potatoes
1 ounce of tea
one and a half ounces of ground coffee
12 ounces of sugar
8 ounces of treacle
4 ounces of butter
21 ounces of water.
Mixed pickles-one gill
mustard-half an ounce
salt - 2 ounces
pepper-half an ounce

Children between ten and fourteen years received two thirds of this allowance and children between two and ten years received half.

Children between four months and two years of age were allowed weekly:-

3 pints of water
One quarter of a pint of milk daily
3 ounces of preserved soup and one egg every alternate day
12 ounces of biscuit
4 ounces of oatmeal
8 ounces of flour
4 ounces of rice
10 ounces of sugar

Listed among the medicines carried on the ship were:-

Acetic, citric and nitric acid.
Linseed meal
Morphine hydrochloride
A bleeding porringer

The British Government paid the owners of The James Fernie eighteen pounds, two shillings and sixpence for each adult passenger’s fare. Children between the age of one and fourteen years travelled for half fare and infants under one year were free.

The captain on the voyage was Bartholomew Daly and the ship’s surgeon was Charles H. Graham.

The thought of leaving home and travelling by sea on a long and difficult voyage with a baby to an unknown land may seem to be a discouraging prospect, but it must be remembered that the Scottish people were conditioned to hardship and at least they carried with them the hope of a better life.

On board The James Fernie were three hundred and seventy six passengers consisting of eighty eight adult males, one hundred and ninety adult females, thirty seven male children and sixty one female children.

The occupations shown for the immigrants were:-

Domestic Servants - 88 females
Farm Servants - 6 married, 4 single, 34 females
Gardeners - 1 married
Carpenters - 8 married, 2 single
Agricultural Labourers - 9 married, 7 single
Miners - 3 married, 3 single
Blacksmiths - 2 married
Milliners - 2 females
Shepherds - 3 married, 4 single
Stonemasons - 4 married
Labourers - 5 married, 4 single
Lawyers - 2 married
Bakers - 1 married
Shoemakers - 1 single

Voluntary constables were selected from amongst the married men to receive and carry to and from the galley the provisions for the chefs to prepare the food for the ninety two single female passengers. This was to try to prevent all opportunities for communication between the single women and the part of the ship used by the crew. The single women frequently used the excuse that they needed to be in the forepart of the ship to cook their food, when in reality, they were really there to consort with the crew.

Despite the strict travel conditions, there were thirty deaths, twenty two from cholera and four miscarriages on The James Fernie. Other causes of death are listed as "teething", malassimilation of food and congestion of the brain.

Sadly, amongst the dead was little Mary Snedden, aged twelve months. She died on the fifteenth of September, 1854 from exhaustion following a bout of diarrhoea. We can only imagine the feelings of James and Maria as they stood by unable to help their dying child and watched as she was buried at sea. Mary’s name can be seen crossed out on the passenger list with the word "dead" written in the far left column.

The clothing and bedding of the cholera cases was destroyed to prevent contagion. There were also three births on the voyage.

On the sixteenth of November, 1854, after ninety one days at sea The James Fernie reached the Port of Adelaide in South Australia.

A muster of the passengers on the day after the ship’s arrival shows:-

54 married adult males
52 married adult females
31 single male adults
129 single female adults
30 male children between the ages of one and fourteen
45 female children between the ages of one and fourteen
3 male infants(under one year)
5 female infants.

After nineteen days of quarantine, on the fifth of December, 1854, the remaining three hundred and forty nine passengers at last set foot on Australian soil.

The average length of the voyage to Australia in those days was one hundred and eleven days while the shortest voyage on record was eighty three days.



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