On September 6 1852, the London Illustrated News featured an article about a new packet ship, the Ben Nevis,which was about to embark on its maiden voyage to Australia. It was described as being state of the art design for the time, with every possible convenience provided for the safety and comfort of passengers and crew.
The wonderfully eloquent, detailed and complimentary article that accompanied the illustration is reproduced here:
The Freeman's Journal and Commercial Advertiser published in Dublin on 6 September 1852 was equally effusive in its praise, reading more like an advertorial than a news item, and included a report of the dinner given by the ship's owners and bankers to celebrate the vessel being fitted-up and ready to set sail.
The Ben Nevis duly departed Liverpool, possibly a little later than the owners had hoped, according to a brief report in the Leicester Chronicle of 2 October 1852.
Four of those passengers were Ralph Featherston from Weardale Durham and his wife Mary, nee Greggs, together with their two small children, daughter Mary aged 2 and infant son John, who was less than a year old, having been born in 1852. When Ralph and Mary were married in Muggleswick Parish Church on 26 February 1848, Ralph's occupation was given as joiner. Ralph left behind 4 brothers, two of whom were to follow him out to Australia a few years later, and Mary left her parents, two sisters and a brother, no doubt with high hopes of a new life for themselves down here. Their names appear on the passenger list, albeit rather inaccurately it must be said, and as a result I initially had trouble finding them. The Public Record Office of Victoria has transcribed the surname as Fenthershire, and in addition the children Mary and John seem to have been oddly recorded as Hannah and Sarah. Perhaps the purser or whoever it was who wrote down their names and details had a hearing problem! Nevertheless this was definitely our Featherston family.
The arrival of the Ben Nevis in Port Phillip Victoria on 3 January 1853 was positively reported in the Elgin Courier of 15 April 1853, after a voyage of 97 days. There was much rivalry at the time between the competing shipping lines over which of them could lay claim to the fastest passage, with the ship Marco Polo claiming a record time of 68 days in 1851. The advent of the clipper ships in the 1850s greatly reduced the misery and suffering of passengers aboard Australian immigrant ships, but despite the beauty and conveniences described in the articles above, the voyage aboard the Ben Nevis must still been exhausting and arduous for both passengers and crew, in comparison with the luxury that that sea passengers enjoy on cruise liners today!
The report claims that all passengers landed in good health, but the period immediately after arrival in the new colony of Victoria must have appeared very bleak for Mary Featherston, after Ralph headed off to try his luck on the goldfields. The hardship and sadness Mary must have suffered is indicated by this poignant little notice which she placed in Melbourne's Argus newspaper:
"Mary Featherston informs her husband Ralph Featherston,
per ship Ben Nevis, that his daughter Mary is dead, and
his wife wishes him to come down to Melbourne
immediately, as she is in great trouble.
Melbourne, Jan.22, 1853."
The cause of little Mary's death is not known, but Ralph must have returned to Melbourne at some point, whether or not he did so in response to this sad plea from his wife, which would have been the only way of contacting people in those times. He and Mary subsequently went to the gold mining town of Campbells Creek near Castlemaine, but sadly baby John died there a year later, and I can imagine that Mary at least might well have wished to leave their harsh new surroundings and return home to Weardale, had that been possible! At least they themselves survived, which is more than can be said for Ralph's two brothers William Henry and Emerson, who emmigrated in 1855 and 1857 respectively, only to die here soon after. Ralph and Mary persevered however, and Ralph became a farmer at Carngham near Ballarat. From 1856 onward they had another eight children, all of whom survived, married and produced families of their own. Ralph died in 1901 aged 78, and Mary in 1907 aged 79 and they are buried together in Carngham Cemetery. I was kindly given copies of the following old photographs and others of the Featherston family by Joan Brusamarello, a granddaughter of their youngest son Edward Emerson Featherston, 1870-1930. Their seventh child Joseph Featherston 1862-1914 doesn't appear to have passed down any similar photographs to his great grandson Roger (my husband), and I'm greatly indebted to Joan for very generously sharing her Featherston family history research with me. Sadly Joan herself passed away suddenly in January this year.
|Ralph and Mary Featherston with an unidentified child, possibly Edward Emerson, their youngest|
|Muggleswick Parish Church in Weardale, Durham, where Ralph and Mary were married in 1848, and which we visited in 2007|
|Mary Featherston nee Greggs, 1827-1907|
|Ralph Featherston, 1823-1901|
|The grave of Mary and Ralph Featherston|
Like so many new immigrants, they had a rather rocky start to their new life in Australia, but they were stoic and seem to have overcome the hardships, and while Mary doesn't exactly look very happy in these photographs, I hope she and Ralph grew to enjoy it here.
|Joan Brusamarello with Roger, her second cousin once removed, when we visited her at her rural property near Wonthaggi in Gippsland, Vic. in 2006. |
Just two of the many descendants of Ralph and Mary Featherston.
For more new beginnings, just click here :Sepia Saturday 198