By Julie Ruzsicska
Published Australian Family Tree Connections
July 2001 edition
On 4 August 1852 in Birkenhead, 795 migrants, predominantly
Highland Scots, boarded the vessel, the Ticonderoga. With a
huge labour shortage in the Australian colony, brought about
by the discovery of Gold in New South Wales in 1851, and the
relaxation of emigration rules regarding the number of children
allowed to travel, thousands of emigrants clamored for transport
to Victoria. They were humble folk and looking forward to a new
life in the "Lucky Country". Little did they know that this was to
be one of the most dramatic and tragic voyages to Australia.
The Ticonderoga was a four-masted American 'double-decker'
ship of 1089 tons and one of four of its kind hired by the
Emigration Commission (of the United Kingdom) to carry
emigrants to Australia that year; see also Ship Specifications.
The vessel was captained by Thomas H Boyle and carried 48
crew, which included a Dr J C Sanger as the surgeon
superintendent and his assistant surgeon, Dr James William
Henry Veitch. Provisions included over 36000 lbs of flour,
12000 lbs of split peas, 93 cwt of sugar, over 6000 lbs of
raisins, barrels of Navy bread, preserved beef and pork, canned
soup, over 400 gallons of pickles and 7000 lbs of treacle not to
mention the 25000 lbs of oatmeal and 3 chests of tea left over
from the previous voyage of the ship.
Under normal circumstances, the voyage should have been a
relatively uneventful one with passengers experiencing a wide
range of weather conditions and the occasional bout of
sea-sickness. They might have entertained one another with
singing and dancing on the deck, reading out aloud to
themselves or engaging in long conversations about home with
fellow passengers. The most remarkable concern for the
passengers should have been about whether salted meat and
pea soup were on the menu again. Instead it was whether they
would survive the journey.
2011 Copyright Ruzsicska
There were unforeseen problems associated with the
double-decker aspect of the ship. Poor ventilation and lighting
were the major two. As a result, washing the decks wasn't
commonly practiced as the water would leak from deck to deck
and it was almost impossible to dry out the 'damp'. The
atmosphere between decks grew more and more polluted.
The risk of disease was also heightened by a lack of space for
exercise on the upper deck (due to overcrowding) along with
poor personal hygiene, an aversion to medical treatment and
an ignorance about the incubation of disease. There is no
doubt that any infection or "fever" would thrive amongst such
shocking sanitary conditions.
Dr Sanger reported that disease had been noticed about two
weeks after the ship's departure: red rashes, strong delirium
bordering on insanity and the ever-present diarrhoea and
dysentery. 100 passengers perished on the voyage; 17 adult
males, 29 adult females, 39 children between 1 and 14 years of
age and 15 infants under the age of 1 yr. They died amongst
the mould, the maggots and the squalor of disease. At the time
it was not known that lice spread typhus, which most of the
deaths were later attributed to.
One passenger described how up to ten dead passengers were
bundled up in bedding and mattresses at a time, and thrown
overboard to float away. (Dundas, 1909)
On 5 November 1852, 90 days after their departure, the
Ticonderoga crawled into Port Phillip Bay flying the yellow flag
and carrying the stench of death. The Port and Harbour Master
at Williamstown, Captain Charles Ferguson, reported that "100
deaths and nineteen births had occurred on the passage,
seven of the former since the ship anchored at the Heads.
There are at present 300 cases of sickness amongst them,
principally scarletina" (The Argus, Melbourne, Tuesday
November 9 1852, Shipping Intelligence Section). There were in
fact, 311 cases of "fever" (defined as typhus), 127 cases of
diarrhoea and 16 cases of dysentery on the ship's arrival.
The report given by the Immigration Board in Melbourne to the
Emigration Commissioners on the condition of the Ticonderoga
on its arrival, stated that "The ship, especially the lower part
was in a most filthy state, and did not appear to have been
cleaned for weeks, the stench was overpowering, the lockers
so thoughtlessly provided for the Immigrants use were full of
dirt, mouldy bread, and suet full of maggots, beneath the
bottom boards of nearly every berth upon the lower deck were
discovered soup and bouille cans and other receptacles full of
putrid ordure, and porter bottles etc, filled with stale urine, while
maggots were seen crawling underneath the berths, and this
state of things must have been prevalent for a long time as the
2nd Mate describes the ship to have been in the same state
when he supervised the cleaning of her by the Captain's order
five weeks previously". (Welch, 1969 p.28)
The description on conditions given by Dr Hunt, the Port
Health Officer, had a similar impact but wasn't nearly as
offensive to the senses: "The great mortality seems to have
been occasioned by the crowded state of her decks and want
of proper ventilation, particularly through the lower deck. This
caused debility and sickness among her passengers to such
an extent that a sufficient number could not be found to keep
them clean. Dirt and filth of the most loathsome description
accumulated, tainting the atmosphere and affecting everyone
who came within its influence as with poison." (Carroll, 1970
Captain Boyle landed the Ticonderoga at Portsea at Point
Nepean, so chosen because of its isolated but accessible
position and good anchorage. A quarantine ground was
marked out with yellow flags and white paint on the trees, and
tents were erected using the sails and spars from the ship.
The government purchased two houses that had been
occupied by lime-burners and converted them into hospitals.
The Lysander sailed over from South Australia, and was
outfitted as a hospital for the worst cases.
By this stage, Dr Sanger and Dr Veitch were in a debilitated
state, particularly the former as he had contracted typhus
during the voyage.
Supplies and medical staff from Melbourne were ferried down
to the Heads from Williamstown, including Dr Joseph Taylor,
surgeon of the ship, Otilla and a Dr Farman, as his assistant
(surgeon of the ship, the Mobile). Despite the provisions, and
medical attention, a further 68 passengers died in quarantine.
Two crew members also died, bringing the casualty total to
The surviving passengers arrived in Melbourne on 22
December 1852, most without one or more of their family
members. They were greeted by a settlement with few of the
comforts of home and a sense of despair from other new
arrivals. It was uncivilized country with its hot sun, dust,
mosquitoes and flies. The accommodation shortage,
expensive food and burgeoning crime were the civilized
features. It must have been overwhelming after already
sacrificing so much. All they could do was make the best of
the situation and build something out of nothing for
themselves. And they weren't alone with their loss.
Tragedy had also struck on the double decker ships Bourneuf,
Marco Polo and Wanata that same year. The Bourneuf lost 88
of its passengers on the voyage, 83 of whom were children.
The Marco Polo lost 52 passengers; 46 were children under
the age of four years of age. The Wanata lost 39 passengers,
30 being children.
The tragic loss of life did not go unnoticed and the Emigration
Commission made the decision not to use double decker
vessels in the future. It also reintroduced the policy whereby
no family would be accepted for emigration in which there
were more than two children under seven years, or three
children under ten years.
Today, the bay between Observatory Point and Police Point
on the Nepean Peninsula bears the name of Ticonderoga and
a memorial to those who lost their lives on this ill-fated vessel,
lies in the Point Nepean Cemetery. (Click on map at top of
page for larger view.)
Allen, Noel D (1952) "The Tragedy of the Ticonderoga", The Educational
Magazine, November issue
Carroll, Brian (1970) "Fever Ship", Parade, Iss. Aug issue pp.28-29
Charlewood, Don (1998) The Long Farewell. Victoria: Burgewood Books
Chuk, Florence (1992) "Address to Descendants of Ticonderoga Emigrants,
Portsea", 8 Nov 92
Chuk, Florence (1994) The Somerset Years "Government Assisted
Emigrants from Somerset and Bristol to Port Phillip, 1839-1854", Ballarat,
Victoria: Pennard Hill Publications
Dundas, James, Letters to the Editor, The Argus, Melbourne 25 Jan 909
Shipping Intelligence, The Argus, Melbourne, Nov 9 1852
Welch, Major J H (1969) Hell to Health - The History of Quarantine at
Port Phillip Heads 1852-1966 (The Peninsula Story, Book 2). Victoria:
The Nepean Historical Society