The letter of July 1854.
Thomas Boykett wrote the following letter the year after he arrived in South Australia. It is addressed to the Rev. H. G. Bunn*, a Congregational pastor at Abergavenny, Wales, who had connections with the Congregational Church at Finsbury.
Thomas did not post it. It remained among his papers in Adelaide until a family member lodged it at the State Library of South Australia for safe keeping. In the mean time, copies were widely distributed among the family. Mrs Joan McEwing had it published in the Adelaide Advertiser. The description of the mutiny on board was reproduced in The Long Farewell by D.E. Charlwood, who gives a source in Melbourne, otherwise unknown to me. Until now, the only place on the Web where it has been available is at Miss Belinda Lewis' site.
It is more than a journal; it is a piece of literature.
King William St.
Adelaide, South Australia
My dear Bunn,
I know I have been guilty of neglect in not writing to you sooner. I had intended to do so months ago, but one thing and another has prevented me. Then, the mails to England go very irregularly; so that a letter one writes today may lie in the post office here for four or five weeks. However, I promise to be a better correspondent in future. You know I was always a bad one. And, by the way, my dear Fellow, you were not much better.
I can hardly realize the fact that you are at the Antipodes of this place, say some 17,000 miles off. I think of you, and of my English Friends generally just as if they were some little way in the Bush, and a few hours gallop would carry me to you. I am thankful for this feeling, for there are so many in England whom I tenderly regard that the thought of there being an impassable barrier to our meeting again would be, indeed, distressing.
I will now give you a little account of our voyage. - We left Southampton at 8 a.m. on Sunday 15 May 1853. On the following day we sighted the distant points of Cornwall, and never again saw land (except a rock called the Island of Amsterdam) until we reached the Australian Shores; which we sailed along several hundred miles. On 15 Aug., for the first time since we left England, we cast anchor. That was about seven miles from Port Adelaide. The next day William and I hired a boat to take us to the nearest beach and we walked thru' bush and scrub over a peninsular. In the Evening the Vessel was towed into Port, and we all met again. We were nine in family when we left England and ten when we reached Adelaide, Charles' wife having been confined (of a boy) on board. During our passage we had all varieties of weather, but against these we had prepared by taking with us all sorts of clothing.The Vessel proved a remarkably fast sailer, but she was too lightly ballasted, and was not well stowed. This made her roll fearfully in heavy weather. I had many a fall on deck; one dislocated my elbow, but it soon got right again. Our Captain was a thorough Seaman, but severe with his men.
Everything, however, had gone on comfortably until we were off Madagascar, when one night, just as I got into my berth, I heard a great noise on the poop as of men struggling, and heavy weights falling. Several of us went on deck, where the Captain and Chief Mate were found to be in mortal combat. It was a very stormy and very dark night. Lanthorns were quickly procured; the mate was handcuffed, and irons were put on his feet; but he was so powerful that it took half a dozen persons to subdue him. The crew refused to interfere in any way. They stood sullenly by. My three sons and other passengers armed themselves, and formed a patrole on deck for the night. I protected the chief cabin, lying down with my double barrelled gun and bush knife by my side. Mine being one of the stern cabins, I had a full view of the cuddy and forecastle, so far as the lamps would shew them, and could easily have picked off any mutineer who shewed himself. However, the night passed without any further disturbance.
Next morning we saw that most of the sailors had prepared themselves for a fight. Whereupon eighteen of the passengers, armed to the teeth, with the Captain at their head, commanded the men to surrender their weapons. This they did, but in a surly manner. They appeared to know that the slightest resistance would be followed by instant death. It was no joke to them to stand within six feet of the muzzles of nineteen brace of pistols. Happily, the men gave us no further cause for anxiety, but on the Vessel coming into port they all ran away.
We had three stewards, all of whom proved to be drunkards. The first was sent to the forecastle, the second had delirium tremens, and the third was put into confinement: so, during the last months of the voyage we were obliged to help ourselves as we best could.
Shortly after we left England I was appointed Chairman of the passengers. Of course, in so long a voyage, and with so many people, my position was sometimes trying enough; but by courtesy, gentleness, and firmness, I managed very well. I believe there was not a single instance in which my counsel was disregarded, or my decision questioned. And it was gratifying to me when the Vessel dropped anchor to be feted on board and receive the thanks of the Captain and passengers.
Well, now consider us landed. We are at Port Adelaide. Our feet for the first time tread a land described as "flowing with milk and honey". A desolate looking place indeed is Port Adelaide! There is a row of houses on one side, most of them of one story (sic), and built of wood resting on piles driven into the swamp. Men, Women and children of all nations, ages and languages wend their way knee deep in mud thru' the narrow causeway.
For the first time you see a native tribe. They are on the banks of a morass. They have made shielings of sticks, fern, and rags, and the fires are blazing within. The Women wrapped in dirty blankets with the picananies on their backs are gathering fuel, and cooking garbage in holes made in the ground. The men are dressed in most comical fashion. That fellow yonder wears a Lady's straw bonnet and green veil, a soldier's redcoat and a chemise which does not fall low enough to hide his black, brawny and hairy thighs. That other fellow has nothing but a blanket on him; which opens with every gust of wind. He has just now had a pipe and tobacco given him by some newcomer, and is about to enjoy his siesta on the side of a ditch.
The young, and even ancient, maidens have landed from the Vessel in their best that they may enjoy the shore: their best - how carefully preserved - how often looked at during the voyage! How many Cabinet councils have been held to determine whether Miss A. looks best in white and red and Miss B. in yellow and green! There they are, knee deep in mud. Half a dozen Bushmen gallop past, and oh, the consternation! The ruin! That 'love' of a bonnet! That be-au-ti-ful dress. The mud drops fall thick as the leaves of (autumn). But, where are the flocks of amorous swains who were to greet their arrival and sue for them in marriage? Alas, not at Port Adelaide; and so they go back to sleep on board for a night or two, restore their damaged fabrics, and write letters home to say how much they have been deceived, and how greatly they are disappointed. Pretty Dears! Twelve months roughing here will teach them better than to trust to silks and gauzes, or even good looks alone for getting husbands in South Australia.
I determined not to stay at an Hotel, but at once to get some shelter in the shape of a private house for my whole tribe. In this I found very great difficulty. In the City of Adelaide nothing could be had. John and I were the party sent in search. It was curious to us the first night we slept in the City to find the sort of accommodation provided for us at one of the best Inns in the place. We had asked for beds, which were provided; and after an early meal we were shewn into an adjoining room, in which were about thirty beds, each capable of holding only one person. Of these about one half were already occupied. The remainder we were told would be turned into presently. Conversation continued - doors slammed - people went in and out all night long. /'Gold" - "Nuggets" - "£3.19.6" - "Ballarat" - "Bendigo" &c., &c., - these were the sounds without interruption.
The next morning John and I, seeing a beautiful hill about two miles off (North Adelaide) walked there early, and before we had breakfasted had taken a three roomed house (the only one to let in the place) at twelve shillings a week. The same Evening the rest of the family came to us with some mattrasses (sic) and blankets and there we all pigged for fourteen days before we could get our goods cleared from the ship on account of the want of labor; and even at last we were obliged to get our boxes out of the Hold, and to load them in the drays, ourselves. However, we met with kind neighbors, who helped us according to their means. One lent a chair, another a Table, a third a kettle, and so on.
During the first two or three weeks of our landing the weather was exquisite. Altho' it was about the end of winter [August], here it was warmer and more enjoyable than an English May or June in the most favored parts of England. Indeed I think an untravelled Englishman could scarcely form an idea of the perfect beauty of a fine winters' day in South Australia. Not a cloud, not a haze, flits under the deep blue sky. There is no wind, but a fullness of balmy air. Flowers and vegetables are in their prime. The peach, the apricot, the almond, the orange, the lemon, the citron, are all bursting into blossoming beauty and filling the air with their fragrance; whilst birds of a hundred kinds, and most gorgeous plumage, flit by on every side.
I have seen many such days here. Perhaps I might say that seven or eight months out of the eleven I have been in the Colony have been of this description. But those few weeks I began by referring to were followed by intense cold, and floods of rain. On Christmas Day (which is our midsummer) it rained in torrents, and we were obliged to have large logs burning all day, and for many days both before and after. This was immediately succeeded by insufferable heat and suffocating dust. In January, within forty-eight hours, the thermometer varied from 60 to 110! I could neither walk, talk, sit nor sleep. Sleep indeed! The atmosphere was filled with flies and mosquitoes. It was the same, more or less, with all my family.
People who have the appliances provide against these changes by taking houses at the seaside to which they may resort when any sudden variation of the wind towards the north indicates that the air will come from the burning forests of the vast interior. They also, as far as possible, build their houses so as to enable them to live in the rooms south or north according to the state of the atmosphere. Many have underground rooms made and fitted up expressly for retiring to on the burning and dusty days.
But to return to my narrative -I had suffered so much from the voyage, as well as from the labor and responsibilities which preceded it, that I was incapable of any mental exertion for many weeks after our arrival. Not only was there a want of vigor, but even ordinary serenity had gone. In a word, I could not think. The mind had been overtaxed, and the only restorations were rest and leisure.
My sons, meantime, who had arrived full of health and hope, found that their most profitable course would be to resume their English occupations. Charles got a situation as clerk to Mr Wright, the principal architect and surveyor in the Colony at a salary of £5 per week - William a clerkship in the law at £3.10.-. per week. John a situation in the Government Survey Office at £2.5.-. per week. A legal Gentleman, who knew me by English newspaper reports, offered me the management of his business at £7 per week, which I accepted for two months. At the end of that time I was called to the Bar, and commenced practice. Charles has become a partner with Mr Wright under the Firm of "Wright & Boykett". William was called to the Bar last week. John remains, as he intends to remain, in the service of the Colonial Government.
So you see all that was said by my sons before they left home, about going into the Bush, and living in tents, and feeding on kangaroos, and the rest of the things which make up the imaginings of young men in the Old Country who are about to venture on a new one, have, in our case, proved mere imaginings.
Yet very many who came here a few years ago, without a shilling, have become substantial freeholders. But they were men born and used to privation and labor - farmers' servants, blacksmiths and carpenters and so forth. Getting hired in Adelaide by a Labor Agent here, they were sent by the coach, drays, or tramped, one, two, three hundred miles into the interior, and the savings of their labor enabled them speedily to buy land - say an eighty section at from £1 to £1.5.-. per acre. Their leisure enabled them to bring their ground into cultivation by degrees, until they could withdraw from servitude and settle on their freehold. This has been the case especially with men having a large number of Children. I think it may safely be said that a healthy child, whether boy or girl, of five or six years old, on a farm here, may earn twice the amount of its food and clothing.
As to our residences, I have a good brick cottage at North Adelaide consisting of four rooms on a floor with outbuildings, at seven shillings per week (all rents here are weekly). William continues to live in the cottage we took on landing. Charles lives at his branch place of business at the port.
I write this from my office, which is in the busiest part of the City. Here I conduct a quiet practice during five or six hours of the day including my attendance at the Courts when sitting. I make enough to get me a comfortable living: which is all I wished for when I left England. It is sufficient to reconcile me to the loss of the society, and many of the comforts of the Old Country (although I often feel the want of the first acutely) that the object of our Emigration is attained by the prospect afforded to my sons of doing better here than they were likely to do at home. I am too old to make a fortune here; and, indeed, I have no desire to do so. Dickens has written a book called "The Battle of Life". I have fought that Battle, and altho' I may not repose under Laurels, perhaps the Cypress does not weep over me.
Upon the whole I would say with regard to this magnificent colony, this future great Empire, that it is the very place for immigration from England of men of mental power, bodily vigor, and moral character. Thousands such are now pining in England, who here might make fortunes rapidly. On the other hand mere clerks - white kidded and white handed young Gentlemen, more fond of company and indulgence, would find this place a very purgatory. Even the best of men among us think nothing of cleaning their own boots and grooming their own horse. The fact is, labor is too dear to enable you to indulge in servants to any extent. You could not get a good manservant for less than three pounds a week, boarding and lodging out, nor a good woman servant for less than ten or fifteen shillings a week with board and lodging in the house.
Since I have been here I have seen hundreds of young men just after they have landed, walking about the streets dressed as London Dandies. What has become of most of them? Such as had the means returned to England. Others are in the Bush as Shepherds, or, still worse, breaking stones on the Government Roads. And I have seen hundreds of young women too who, just landed and decked in English finery and full of bright hopes which fallacious descriptions engendered, have at last become sempstresses, or house servants, or perhaps fallen still lower.
They commit a crime against society, a crime against humanity, a crime against this Colony, who, by any means whatever, induce such classes as I have just referred to, to come here; whilst they act with wisdom and commonsense who advise laboring, strong nerved, and hard headed men to settle among us. Many thousands of such with their wives and children could be absorbed in our population every year for a century to come; men who would speedily exchange poverty for affluence, who would be the Founders of Families, and whose broad acres would afford plenty for all. I have never seen a beggar, or heard of a case of want of the necessaries of life in the Colony.
This City is a very quiet place. The police and municipal regulations are admirable. So safe is property felt to be that but few of us lock our doors, and property of all sorts is left exposed in the yards and gardens. The progress of the Colony, and of the City in particular, has been wonderful. Only eighteen years ago the site of the City was a Morass. The great building from where I write this is erected where a huge gum tree then stood, under which rude justice was administered in the early days of the Colony, and on one of the overhanging boughs of which many a criminal has been hung. The streets, the warehouses, the public buildings, the squares, equipages - I will add the attention paid to the courtesies and amenities of life - astonish me. But few are rich and more are poor - we have neither hauteurs or servility.
I have not travelled much in the Colony; but from what I have seen and heard I think the state of Religion and morals is, at least, as high as in England. Certainly, in proportion to the respective population, there are more places of worship, and more preachers, here than at home. Education is a difficult matter in many places; but in Towns and moderately populated localities there is no deficiency of either Teachers or Scholars. Of course I do not speak of Education of a high order altho' there are Colleges and schools in which it is said the classics and mathematics are taught by very competent men. I know of many schools in which a good sound English Education, including Drawing and Land Surveying, is given on moderate terms.
The City of Adelaide is built in the basin of a vast amphitheatre formed of hills covered with timber of the growth of centuries. In the heat of Summer these woods, with the grass and other undergrowth, are generally on fire. On a dark night the spectacle is magnificent. I have seen the blazes raging over a surface of forty or fifty miles. But the Forest still remains. The extreme hardness of the wood prevents the heat reaching the top of the trees. The bark and the boughs, the underwood, the grass, are burnt. But winter and spring repair the havoc, and prepare fuel for the next summer's conflagration. When the fires rage fiercely, and the wind sets in the direction of the City, the atmosphere is dreadfully oppressive. All windows and doors are closed, the rooms darkened, the floors watered. Then it is that the mosquitoes and flies settle upon you for a sumptuous repast. On such evenings as these I have ridden to Glenelg - a village on the Western Coast about eight miles distant and altho' my face and neck have been protected by the finest gauze, I have been marked as with smallpox or measles.
The number of Freeholders in this Colony is surprising. I think it may safely be said that nine men out of every ten live in houses of their own, and that four farmers out of every five are proprietors of the soil they cultivate. To be sure, an English Farmer would hardly think the hovels many of our Farmers live in good enough for his cows or pigs. You will see a man ride into Town on a horse worth £100 or £120. For many years his face has been unconscious of a razor. He wears a blue Jersey. A Kerchief of many Colors hangs loosely round his neck. A wide-awake, velveteen or canvass trousers, high boots undefiled by blacking, and a pair of spurs complete his costume. He has come to Town to bid at a Land sale. He buys one, two, three eighty acre sections. He calls on his Lawyer and leaves the purchase money. He has a "spree" in Town whilst his horse rests and then away he is to his home in the Bush. Now that man's house consists of two or three low rooms. There are windows ..., but the place of glass is supplied by cotton. Furniture indeed! A few three legged stools, a wooden table and half-a-dozen shake-downs, is pretty nearly all you will find there!
But I have filled my paper. Please to forward this to your Father as soon as you have read it with my very kind regards to him, William, Hetty and all the rest.
And with the same to you and your family,
I am, as ever,
T. H. Boykett
Note: When this letter was published in the Adelaide Advertiser, a descendant of another passenger, Jane Elizabeth Rhead, wrote to the paper that when she became severely seasick during a storm, the first mate very thoughtfully lashed her to a mast, so that she could get some fresh air without being washed overboard. (Seasick pills hadn't been invented back then. Fresh air was the only remedy known.)
*The initial G. is a mistake. His full name was Henry John Bunn (by email from the Chapel Archivist at Castle Street U.R.C., Abergevenny.)
Because it was not posted, the letter is
unpublished. The release from copyright of documents more than 50 years
old does not apply to unpublished works. It is still copyright
© the Estate of Thomas Boykett. Any
requests for permission to reproduce it can be directed care of the