“Eh, mate do you think she is going to the bottom?” The Voyage of the Darling Downs to Brisbane 1874.

The Darling Downs courtesy State Library of Queensland

Aboard the ship the Darling Downs were nearly 600 immigrants on their way to a new life in Australia. Amongst them was a young family essential to the story of my family and its history – James Nunn, his wife Louisa and their one year old daughter, Emily. Both James and Louisa were 23 years old and, most likely, because they probably were not able to afford to pay for their own passage, they travelled as assisted emigrants. They had been married in the Chesterton registry office in Cambridge in November 1872 and they departed from London on 25 July 1874. The ship arrived safely in Brisbane on Wednesday 4 November 1874.

James had been working as a fossil digger in the Milton area near Cambridge in Cambridgeshire but was usually employed as an agricultural labourer. At the time, Australia needed men to work on the land, so he was in the right occupation. Fossil digging was actually digging coprolite (dinosaur dung) and it was in great demand as a fertiliser.

In July that year, before the ship departed Gravesend, an inspection of the emigrant ship and its facilities was undertaken by the various Agents-General and other invited ladies and gentlemen. One, using the non de plume of ‘ANGLO-AUSTRALIAN,’ wrote in the European Mail of 7 August 1874 a quite a lengthy article about his visit as a member of this inspection party to the offices of Messrs. Taylor, Bethell, and Roberts who ran an immigration business and about his subsequent visit to the ship. He describes his arrival at the office:

…Well, then, in looking round the office I found “Queensland” in the ascendant. “Emigration to Queensland” above and below. “Emigration to Queensland” all round the walls. The words met you at the doorpost with a sort of welcome smile, and they escorted you fairly into the principal’s office, where they smiled, upon you again in golden characters enriched by a gilt frame, and in close company with them were no end of clippers; also in gilt frames, that had made I don’t know how many of “the fastest passages on record” to both Brisbane and Rockhampton. On the table before me I found an inviting-looking sketch-book filled with views of Queensland scenery, in which I detected the skill in photography of Mr. Daintree, the Agent-General for that colony. They were well-assorted views, too, and calculated to give an inquirer just the kind of information he would be in search of, while their inviting aspect I would very likely determine him to make Queensland his home.

Later as they approached the Darling Downs as it was moored, he described his impressions of her:

 …Seen from the shore she looked like “a painted ship upon a painted ocean,” and the keen eye of a sailor would have been gratified with her trim and lines, and he would pronounce her to be a model ship. Her masts are not tapering and out of proportion to the hull, neither are her yards sprawling all over the ship, but everything, from royals to keel, appear to have been constructed with so much regard to unity in design that the result is a combination as near perfection as is possible to realise.

 They then boarded the vessel whereupon ‘Anglo-Australian’ observed:

 …Once on board I found everything open to inspection, and as I was expected to “inspect,” I went about the work in earnest. Messrs. Taylor, Bethell and Roberts seemed most anxious to provide the best possible arrangements for the comfort of the emigrants, and having devoted much care and attention to this subject, they were naturally desirous that what they had done should have the approval of some of the most practical judges in these matters…We found that the arrangements with regard to the disposition of the people were pretty much the same as obtain on board of other emigrant ships, the single men being for’ard, the married people amidships and the girls aft. The fittings, however, were of a superior class, and evidenced care in selection. The married people’s berths were so arranged as to secure to the occupants the privacy of saloon passengers. They were entered from end to end, ingress in each case being reversed, while at the point of entrance there was a curtain which protected the occupants, from observation. This arrangement contributes as much to the comfort as to the morals of the passengers. We found the space “tween decks” to be more than is usual in emigrant ships, and that ventilation was still further provoked by numerous air canvas shafts, which, working in windmill, fashion, sent a free current throughout the ship. The other sanitary arrangements were equally good— while the hospitals, instead of being below, were placed on deck: that for the girls being near the poop, and that for the men and women amidships, abaft the galley. Next to the galley and affiliated in some respect to it, we found an apparatus for condensing water at the rate of one thousand gallons in twenty-four hours, so that the emigrants are not likely to go short of water. Thus we found everything in order. We next inspected the provisions, and found the pork and beef fit for a nobleman’s table. The biscuits, currants, cheese, bacon, tea, &c, were all equally good, and we ascended to the deck with the conviction that Messrs. Taylor, Bethell, and Roberts had done more than was in the bond.

Following the inspection they were treated to “quite a little banquet” partaken by some twenty to thirty or so ladies and gentlemen that were well able to satisfy the appetite they had worked up in doing their inspections.

Finally, after a voyage of approximately 102 days, the Darling Downs entered the harbour of Brisbane on 5 November 1874. It was a ship of 1634 tons, carrying 582 immigrants and was under the command of Captain D.R. Bolt.


Photo: Captain Bolt with permission Gary Parker, photographer unknown.

A quite detailed report of the arrival was given in the Brisbane Courier on Thursday, November 5, 1874 under the heading “Arrival of the Darling Downs” and is as follows:

 The Government steamer, Kate, with the Immigration Agent on board, left the wharf about half-past six o’clock yesterday morning, to bring up immigrants from the ship Darling Downs. This vessel is one of the same class as the Great Queensland and Indus, being of great size, built of iron, and, although now a sailing vessel, the Darling Downs has had a previous career as a screw-steamer – the Calcutta – in the West Indian passenger trade. Her original capacity has been over 2000 tons register, but, by the removal of the spar deck, which extended from the poop right forward to the forecastle, it has been reduced, and she is now registered at 1633 tons. Although a vessel of great length, the immense width of beam deceives the eye when one is on board, and makes her look rather a short ship than otherwise.

 Immediately on arriving on board, Mr Gray proceeded to make a general inspection of the arrangement of passengers and fittings of the vessel. The surgeon-superintendent, Dr Woodward, accompanied him and explained anything which evoked comment. The first cabin is a part of the original saloon handsomely fitted in mahogany with maple panels, and presented no special features, appearing perhaps to suffer a little as regards ventilation owing to the original plan of the saloon having been greatly contracted to suit the trade to this port. On the same level – that is to say, on the main deck – the single women’s cabin is situated, separated from the first by bulkheads and having access to the poop. Beyond this again is the second-cabin, which opens on to the main deck, as do also the doctor’s dispensary, and the females’ hospital, a pleasant airy cabin in harbor, but we are told not so airy at sea, in consequence of the ports having to be continually closed.

 Down the main hatch are the quarters for the married people, fitted with berths on the new system, which gives a separate entrance to each and away forward are the quarters for the single men, which stretch right below the forecastle. In a general way these arrangements are very excellent; but entire satisfaction does not appear to have been given. The second-cabin passengers complain that they have been deceived as to space, and assert that the cabin was entirely altered in dimensions a day or two before the ship left the docks, and after passages had been paid for. Both the first and second-cabin passengers also complain of the provisions or cooking. The former state that for supplying their table with fresh meat only six sheep and sixteen pigs, which were put on board, they describe as almost sucking pigs as to size, and that all the pigs but two died shortly after the vessel sailed. The cooking, in some instances, has no doubt been bad, as we were shown some bread that had been served out.

 After making a general inspection; the single girls were mustered on their side of the poop, and made to answer to their names and pass down below. A good deal of insight into the disposition of the girls was obtainable even by looking on at the process, as each had her own style of answering to her name, and the question as to whether she had any complaint to make. They were giddy girls and stolid girls, witty girls and stupid girls, forward girls and shy girls, but taken altogether they seemed a fine collection of strong young women with some bright intelligent faces among them.

 The other class of immigrants were passed by name in the same fashion, each individual being asked if he or she had any complaint to make. Excepting the saloon and second-cabin passengers, who appeared from their replies to have signed a formal written complaint, only one or two individuals had grievances, which were patiently listened to by the Immigration Agent. The Surgeon-superintendent received during the day and yesterday very laudatory addresses from the steerage, single girls, and second-cabin passengers.

 The captain left the ship in the Emma shortly before the debarkation was commenced, and his absence was much felt. The crew appeared to have by some means during the day got at the liquors, and set an example of raising a most disgraceful clamor, while the girls and married people were passing over the ship’s bulwarks and on to the Kate. The remaining officers seemed to have lost all control over them. Under pretence of assisting they obstructed the progress of things, one sailor going so far as to dance a sort of impromptu fandango with every girl or woman who stepped from the ship on to the paddle-box of the Kate, where he stood under the pretence of handing them down. It was only after infinite trouble and downright threats of punishment that Mr Gray could succeed in stilling the tumult and disorder. The sailors appeared to care nothing for the officers, and the senior officers seemed utterly indifferent to everything. The juniors assisted in passing the passengers down.

 The Water Police, under Sub-Inspector Wassall, as well as the crew of the Kate, were a splendid contrast to the ship’s crew, and worked steadily and effectively amidst a dreadful uproar, the crew and other men shouting and roaring from the ship’s bulwarks, and a perfect Babel of tongues in every direction. Mr Gray stood all the time on the paddle-box of the Kate, vigorously endeavouring to keep things straight, and to get the officers of the ship to silence and remove their men. He found it necessary ultimately to resort to extreme measures, and instruct Mr Wassall to take his men on board the ship, and put at any rate one man in irons. By this means order was restored.

 Certain property found on one of the sailors so treated appeared to tally with some reported missing during the day. It was stated to us by numerous steerage passengers that, except biscuit, they had not a single meal provided during the entire day. The ship’s arrangements yesterday would seem altogether to have been most negligent. Immediately on reaching the Immigration Depot a substantial meal was placed on the tables, and although somewhat in the rough was plentiful, a tolerably fair specimen of Queensland generally.

 As the Kate could not convey all the passengers at one trip, the single men were left on board, and will be brought up this forenoon, together with the bulk of the luggage, by the Settler, which proceeded to the Bay last night towing the Zoroaster.

As mentioned, it seems the crew of the Darling Downs rather liked their liquor. In the Brisbane Courier of 26 November 1874 it was reported that in the Water Police Court of Wednesday, November 25 ‘William Hampton, Thomas Warrell, W McNeill, Thomas Turner, Thomas Miller and Peter de Young were charged with disobedience of lawful orders on board the ship Darling Downs on the 23rd instant’. Inspector Wassal, on boarding the ship, found them all drunk. However the case was dismissed.

While there are no records of James and Louisa’s own impressions of the voyage, there is a record of another’s memory of the voyage. One day, while visiting my local historical society I was flicking through their folders of miscellaneous newspaper clippings when much to my surprise, I came to an article from 1924 regarding the voyage of the Darling Downs in 1874. It was the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the ship. Until now, while I had searched for diaries, ships logs etc it had never occurred to me to look any further in newspapers than for reports on and around the exact arrival date of any of my immigrant’s ships. This one little piece of serendipity led me to learn a little more about life for James and Louisa and, in fact, about researching the lives of all my immigrant families.

The article from an unnamed passenger from Bowen Bridge, who when seeing a notice regarding a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the voyage, was prompted to write on 16 November 1924 to the Brisbane Courier about the voyage. Some of his memories are as follows:

 First of all we started from the docks (East India Docks) and got as far as Gravesend and after swinging round and round for three days, we made for the Channel and after filling and tacking for 11 days, and cutting a fishing smack in two, we struck out for the open sea. Everything went well until we got into the roaring forties and then the fun commenced. There was roaring and rolling with a vengeance. While leaning over the side, I remember a tall Irishman came to me and said “Eh, mate do you think she is going to the bottom?” I answered “Of course not,” notwithstanding I had some misgivings myself. We got through that safely, and things were going fairly smooth for some time when complaints were made about the passengers’ cook and the purser.

 The complaints about the cook were for spoiling the food, boiling the meat to death to get as much fat as possible, sending up the plum-duff half cooked, and various other things that seemed to make the complaints justified. In the end Dr Woodward came forward with the Captain to investigate and after considerable abuse from the cook the doctor ordered him to be put in irons until the end of the voyage. There was a bit of determination in the doctor that morning, and when the order was carried out one of the passengers took the place of the cook. The purser came in for a lively time. He, too, was keeping back some of the rations to make up his perquisites; but when he saw the temper of the passengers he modified himself very considerably for a time.

 I remember one morning a very stiff squall come on all of a sudden, and carried away a couple of sails. Of course all hands were called on deck, but not one sailor would go aloft until a tot of rum was served all round. This the purser had refused up until this time, and I believe if he had not given the men what they wanted that morning they would have thrown him overboard. However, they got double portion, and up they went like monkeys.

 We were a very happy family, and very agreeable among ourselves. Nothing happened beyond what nearly happens to all other passenger ships, such as being driven out of course by contrary winds. When we rounded the Cape of Good Hope and got into the trade winds, we made fairly good running until we sighted the Australian coast. When we came close enough, and anchor was dropped, we were told that we should land the next day. It was amusing to see the bedding and blankets, and every conceivable article thrown overboard. This was more noticeable among the single girls, but to their dismay we had to put back to sea again. The result was they had nothing to lie down upon. At last we got into Moreton Bay, being 116 days out from the London Dock until discharged in the bay. When the single men (the last to leave the good old ship) were off, they gave great cheering for the Captain and the doctor, and even down to the last middy, but when cheers were called for the purser I would rather have got completely out of sight than have heard the boo-hoo’s and groans.

One wonders if, at the time, James and Louisa thought they might be visiting Davey Jones’ Locker as well during their excursion through the Roaring Forties, or whether Louisa had to endure the fandango with a drunken sailor but we will never know.

The following January ex Senior Sergeant Arthur Clark, a 20 year old single male passenger when he emigrated aboard the ship, lent the Brisbane Courier a copy of the postcard picture of the ship for publication. The postcards were sold on board during the voyage.

Like checking the neighbours on a census, it pays to check who else is on the passenger list for I found, among the Saloon passengers, aboard the Darling Downs was also a two year old future famous long range weather forecaster – Inigo Jones. He was travelling with his parents Owen and Emily Jones. I don’t know if James and Louisa ever realised their little connection to him.

When they arrived, James and Louisa settled at Mt Gravatt in Brisbane and they built a house that still stands today at 59 Lumley Street. This street was formerly known as Nunn’s Road. Eight more children were born to them there. James passed away on 14 September 1919 and Louisa on 15 March 1928. Both are buried in the Mt Gravatt cemetery.


Photo: James & Louisa’s residence 59 Lumley St (formerly Nunn’s Rd) Mt Gravatt. Lyn Nunn 2005.


Image (No. 86243) Darling Downs is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland and is reproduced with the kind permission of SLQ.

Transcriptions are from the Brisbane Courier of 5 Nov 1874 and 27 Nov 1924 and with reference to the Brisbane Courier 26 Nov 1874, 15 Nov 1924 and 14 Jan 1925. Qld. State Library. Telegraph Thursday 15 October 1874, page 3. National Library of Australia ‘Trove’ NB Spelling and grammar as per articles except extra paragraphing that were added to improve comprehension.

Photo of Captain Bolt supplied by and with kind permission Gary Parker, PO Box 89 Albany Creek Qld. Photographer unknown.

 Darling Downs passenger list, 4 Nov, 1874, Qld State Archives.

GRO, Marriage Certificate, James Nunn and Louisa Easy, dated 20 November 1872.

Qld. Registrar General, Death Certificates, no.s 4420/1919 and 3997/1928.

Interviews with W and NR Nunn, grandsons of James and Louisa.

©Lynette Nunn 2016