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Australian Packet Ships: Emigration to New South Wales – Conditional nearly-free passage (1839)

Australian Packet Ships. Emigration to New South Wales [printed broadsheet],
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The Library recently acquired a broadsheet advertisement published in London in 1839.

This broadsheet for prospective emigrants to the Colony illustrates the ordeal faced by those making the life-changing decision to emigrate in the 1830s. It was published by John Marshall, a well-known and sometimes controversial emigration agent who claimed bounty payments for sending emigrants to Australia. 

A highlight of this broadsheet is the addition of a handwritten letter by John Marshall on the last page. The letter refers to one of Marshall’s other ships, the Strathfieldsaye, which the addressee has evidently suggested may be lost at sea. Marshall defends himself in the strongest terms:

The “Report” to which you advert is utterly groundless, no account whatever has been received of the “Strathfieldsaye” since she sailed, and no reason exists for any alarm or uneasiness respecting her. But the “report” is in itself so preposterous as to carry its own refutation in a moment. When the passage to the Cape varies from 60 to 80 days, she has only now been gone from England 75 days, yet it is ridiculously said the ship was lost at or about the Cape of Good Hope.

This handwritten letter gives an idea of Marshall’s prominence as a bounty agent, and the importance of public opinion. He is also quick to defend his ships and emigration agency in publications such as A refutation of the slanders and wilful misrepresentations… (1835; held by the Library and available online). 

The Strathfieldsaye arrived safely in Sydney in July 1839, carrying 185 bounty emigrants including an important future Australian, Henry Parkes, who was then a young bone-and-ivory turner. Parkes recorded a description of the terrible overcrowding on the ship, which was crammed with “a stagnant crowd of human beings”, some of them “of the most indecent and brutish description.” (Cannon, 1997; Nicholson, 1999).

The broadsheet contains a wealth of interesting information about the emigration process. Certain occupations were in high demand in the Colony, including stonecutters, wheelwrights, house servants, and all types of agricultural workers. Some amendments to the printed broadsheet have been made in ink, waiving the fare for young single women. Instructions are given for packing the required clothing into different boxes in preparation for the monthly change of clothing scheduled during the three-to-four-month voyage. The ‘Scheme of Victualling’ for different classes of passengers lists the amount of bread, meat, flour, suet, pease, tea etc allotted to each passenger. While this level of organisation sounds quite impressive, it was often far from the reality experienced during the voyage. The broadsheet includes positive reviews of previous voyages made by Marshall’s ships:

I take this opportunity of expressing to you the perfect satisfaction which I felt during our voyage out to Sydney, with all the arrangements made by you for our comfort….our table was most liberally supplied. 

John Marshall's handwritten note attached to the broadsheet, 1839
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Marshall was particularly active in organising female emigration, and was an agent for the Committee for Promoting the Emigration of Females to the Australian Colonies in London.


Jane Gibian
Collection Liaison Librarian

Cannon, M. (1997). Perilous voyages to the new land / Michael Cannon. (Rev. and expanded ed.). Mornington, Vic.: Today's Australia.
Martin A.W., (1974) 'Parkes, Sir Henry (1815–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 January 2018.
Nicholson, I (1999) Log of Logs, Vol 3. Qld: Nicholson and Aust Association for Maritime History.