A beloved diary

Posted by on Apr 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Tears in my Eyes – # 2 in a series of genealogical reality experiences

Henry Beaufoy smiled happily as he watched another load of barrels pass through the gates of his Lambeth factory on their way to the naval wharves further down the Thames.  His grandfather Mark had been incredibly smart to secure Admiralty contracts for vinegar which provided ships’ stores with ‘a fumigator, an antiseptic, and a preservative’.  The consequent wealth from those agreements allowed Henry to pursue his passions – collecting original classic tomes, financing hot-air balloon experiments, and inventing artillery.  He’d already been made a Fellow of the Royal Society for his important contributions to science and country.

Tomorrow however would be a sad day, for he’d be taking his wife’s sister, Charlotte, and two of her children, Eliza, and Henry, to Gravesend where they’d be embarking on a voyage to Sydney, Australia.  Several years back Charlotte had lost her husband – an esteemed construction manager – killed while building a cathedral in Dublin.

Crime in west London was increasing as the city became flooded with rural evacuees, and job availability lagged way behind the population explosion.  Stealing to gain money to buy food caused gaols to overflow and crowded floating prisons had been created out of the hulks of old navy ships to incarcerate convicted felons until they were transported to the Antipodes.

Crime was one thing. But as well, unseemly business ventures now abounded. Fumes from bone boiling.. ‘a business of … a most filthy and disgusting nature’, from wax bleaching, and from the gas works, were added to the smoke of potteries with which Lambeth had long been familiar. Twenty five years was the average length of life in the parish in the 1830s and for many that seemed far too long.  It was no longer a fit place for upper class families to reside and raise their children.  Too many wealthy citizens were feeling dispossessed.  Adjustments needed to be made.

And so Henry had decided to finance his wife’s extended family members in a voyage to Australia where it was clear that opportunity abounded.  Charlotte’s youngest son, Joseph, would stay behind and be groomed as Henry’s successor in the business. He would receive an education at the finest schools in London and Paris to expand his intellect and capabilities, of which evidence already was obvious.

With its holds full of cargo, the 366 ton barque City of Edinburgh pulled away from its anchorage, two days after boarding, at 2pm on Tuesday October 29, 1833. Captain Baker was in command, ably assisted by Surgeon Mr. Allan.   Out in the English Channel it immediately ran into a massive gale with winds so strong that many of the portholes were blown open and the cabins flooded with water.  All the first class passengers, as well as those in steerage, were mightily seasick, adding to the general misery.  An inelegant start to a long journey

Sixteen days later the ship limped into Plymouth Harbour where seven new cabin, and four new steerage, passengers boarded. A cow, calf, sheep, pigs, geese, turkeys, and fowls, were added to the existing menagerie to help provide eventual food supplies.   Cases of vegetables were also loaded. Small repairs delayed departure until Monday November 18, when the determined little ship hove up its anchor and headed south before the breeze.  Ahead of it lay two great oceans to be crossed, all their turbulent and unforgiving offerings hidden in store for the unwary travellers.

Eliza Taylor was only 15 years old when she started an illustrated diary of her journey. Teneriffe Pleasant, warm weather over the first two weeks, star-lit nights, bands of porpoises, flying fish, a Stormy Petrel, and other brigs at sea brought wonderment and delight.  They passed Madeira and the Peak of Teneriffe capped with snow.  It got warmer and warmer approaching the equator until by mid December the heat was stifling, the boat was becalmed, and the nights were filled with fierce electrical storms and terrifying thunder.    A marked contrast to folks back home holding their stockings to the fire as snow and frost decorated the window panes.

At one point, letters were hastily written and given to the captain of a brig from Mauritius bound for London. Sharks and grampuses were caught, augmenting salt pork diets.  Celebrations with Captain Neptune for uninitiated crew extended to wetting down all the passengers occasioning merriment all round, concluding with singing and dancing well into the night.

There were mince pies for Christmas Eve dinner and Divine Service at 10:30am on Christmas Day.  Boxing day came blessed with a total eclipse of the moon in the evening starting at sunset and not clearing until 10 pm.   Sailors went out and caught some floating cephalopods whose barbs stung and caused blisters – cured with lime juice over several days.  Eliza’s hands were cured by New Years eve so that when a sailor named Horatio Nelson played the violin she happily joined in dancing the old year away. Eventually picking up the northwest trade winds the ship moved at over 10 knots towards the African coast.

CapeTownBy mid January, between daily rain squalls, albatrosses and cape pigeons were spotted and anchorage at Cape Town in Table Bay occurred on Monday January 27 1834. It was a giant relief to stand on terra firma again, having covered a ‘quarter of the globe’ without stop. Overnight hotels stays were most welcome.  A variety of pretty birds inhabited the parks and the Inhabitants were of Dutch and Malay origin. Walking tours of the Government Gardens, buying fruit at the marketplace, and seeing inside local homes with their beams across high ceilings created new visages and memories.

Minor repairs, the taking on of more supplies, and the City of Edinburgh was outward bound just four days later.  The winds were unfavourable and it took two weeks to round the Cape.  Nearly 200 miles to the south of their desired course it became very cold.

During the extensive trip east passenger Captain Gore teaches Eliza how to use the quadrant and she becomes proficient at computing longitude by inspection.  The curiosity and intelligence of this girl are unfathomable.  Some days are clear and the nights produce falling stars with beautiful trails. Other days produce rain squalls.   A seaman falls overboard but is thankfully rescued with ropes thrown to him, as the sea is too rough to launch a longboat.

They pass St. Paul’s, a small desolate, barren and uninhabited island, used mainly as a compass check in the middle of the Indian Ocean, over 3,000 miles from Sydney.   A hurricane in the night sets the hen coops adrift but Captain Baker’s birthday is celebrated in fine conditions on Wednesday March 12.  A porpoise is caught and eaten and a giant albatross trapped and admired for its amazing size.

A truly severe storm encompasses them as they turn northeast through the islands of Bass Strait.  Water invades the cabins and passengers pray for deliverance as the ship rocks and pitches violently in the heaviest of seas.  It is a terribly scary episode as the main topmast sheet is carried away and the Captain and crew struggle for control.

The last few days along the NSW coast allow everything to dry out, and finally the ship proudly passes the through the heads and holds temporarily in safety off the northern peninsula.  The signal gun is fired, the pilot arrives at 7pm, and triumphantly the barque anchors in Sydney Cove off Garden Island at 10pm on Sunday March 30, 1834.

Sunday March 31 dawns gloriously and the passengers embark to Kings’ wharf.  They have arrived in an uncouth land halfway around the world – to a penal colony that is struggling to transform itself into a civilized town.   The convicts onshore stare at these new Free Settlers, but the welcome is muted for their freedom is envied.

Eliza signs off her diary ‘Que le bon Dieu nous protege.’   May he indeed.

Eliza Taylor was the sister of my great great grandfather Joseph Taylor, who travelled out to Australia in 1845 after completing his apprenticeship at the Beaufoy distillery.  I first held Eliza’s diary in my hands in July 2009 after I had learned of its existence at the Australian National Maritime Museum.   It took time to make arrangements and to get approval after justifying my relationship and interest.  The magic day dawned for my appointment, quite a ceremony being anticipated as the treasured icon was retrieved from deep storage.

I wore startlingly hideous blue coloured gloves forDiary
protection, but as I picked up this little girl’s journal, tears ran down my cheeks.  Here I was holding a book 175 years old, beautifully preserved, with lines lovingly written in fine longhand script of the time, accompanied by coloured illustrations reflecting what had captured Eliza’s imagination so long ago.

I spent time helping transcribe the writing, loving every minute of discovery, learning about my distant ancestor.  What a remarkable young lady she was. The more I read, the more I came to understand and love her.  She was intelligent, adventuresome, creative, calm, and fun, all at the same time.   She had a great curiosity and willingness to learn – preserving fish, using the microscope, firing a pistol, learning latitude and longitude, experiencing the sting of a fish, learning the sextant.  And, above all, she was compassionate, willingly looking after her mother when she was ill on the passage, as well as other passengers scared by the storms.

As I read and re-read her story many times over the intervening years, Eliza Taylor became part of me.  I would hear her voice singing on deck. I would see her dancing the Quadrilles and Mazurkas. I would feel her laying down watching the stars cross the silent heavens at night, and I would experience her mind wondering about the friends and family she left behind, and about the unknowns ahead.

Today she is part of my soul, talking to me quietly, telling me life will be OK.  An incredibly valuable treasure living within me forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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