As far as I can discover, the Ballantynes in this story are not relations but come from Midlothian, but their fate could easily have been shared by my ancestors. The question I have is this; how desperate would you have to be to leave your home country, knowing that you might not survive the voyage? this desperation tells us a lot about the starvation and poverty inScotland at that time.
Ticonderoga: Fever Ship
Two years ago, the Australian government transferred 90 hectares of Crown land on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne from the Department of Defence to be managed by the Point Nepean Community Trust. The property is the former Point Nepean Quarantine Station which played a vital role for more than a century in protecting Melbourne from diseases brought by ship. Its story began with the arrival in Port Phillip Bay of a ship carrying emigrants infected with the deadly disease, typhus.
WHEN THE SAILING SHIP, Ticonderoga, arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 5 November 1852 with a load of Scottish, Irish and English emigrants, she was flying the dreaded yellow flag that signalled disease on board.
It had been a hellish voyage. Most of the 795 passengers were farm workers and their families, sponsored by the British government to replace workers who had abandoned Victoria’s sheep stations for the goldfields. As a result of the labour shortage in the colonies, the authorities had relaxed the restrictions on the number of children permitted to accompany
emigrants, and many families had seized the opportunity of a new life.
They boarded the Ticonderoga from the emigration depot at the port of Birkenhead, on the Mersey River near Liverpool, and set sail on 4 August 1852. The double-decked ship, manned by a crew of 57, had been built just three years earlier primarily for cargo transport, and had been refitted to provide two passenger decks, upper and lower, in line with the regulations of the day.
It was the children who started dying first – from malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Then scarlet fever broke out, and adults soon joined the death toll. Before long, there was a full-blown epidemic of typhus on board, spread rapidly in the crowded conditions by body lice (although this was not then known to be the cause).
Conditions were appalling, and in the last month of the voyage, the Ticonderoga was pounded by storms in freezing conditions as she struggled through the southern seas of the Great Circle Route to Australia. Each day, two or three more of the sick died and their bodies were cast into the sea wrapped in their blankets.
Medical supplies ran out, the ship’s sanitation system – nonexistent on the lower deck – was inadequate for the needs of its sick passengers, and secondary epidemics of dysentery and diarrhoea swept amongst them. Despite the best efforts of the captain, Thomas Boyle, and ship’s surgeons, Dr Joseph Sanger and Dr James Veitch, shipboard hygiene routines broke down and attempts to clean up after the sick and dying failed.
When the Ticonderoga finally reached the heads of Port Phillip Bay 90 days after setting out, 100 immigrants and crew had died and 250, including Dr Sanger, were seriously ill, mainly with typhus fever. In these ghastly surroundings, 19 babies had been born.
The pilot who escorted the fever ship in through the Heads was uncertain what to do and guided her to Shortlands Bluff (now Queenscliff), where she waited at anchor for three days. The decision was finally taken to land her at Point Nepean, a site which had been under consideration as a quarantine station.
The location had the advantage of being isolated from any significant settlement at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula and, having deep water close to the shore, offered comparatively easy disembarkation. However, there were virtually no facilities to receive the Ticonderoga’s human cargo – just a small stone cottage, a stone underground dairy and a wattle and daub cottage used by shepherds and lime-burners. Two stone wells built by the limeburners provided water.
Able-bodied crew were ordered to build shelters from the ships sails and spars, while the slow process of transferring the sick to shore got under way. Nine more deaths occurred as disembarkation proceeded. The ship’s doctor, himself now ill, sent an urgent letter to the Colonial Secretary begging for ‘medical comforts’ and clean bedding. The harbour master, Captain Ferguson, and a doctor, Joseph Taylor, arrived the next day by government schooner.
Most of the sick were still on board the Ticonderoga, and Dr Taylor was faced with the task of single-handedly assessing hundreds of sick and dying patients and prescribing medication, while the task of carrying the sick ashore continued over the next couple of days. The Lysander, a ship that had earlier been converted for use as a quarantine ship, arrived, and the 50 most serious cases were transferred to her. In fear of the disease, most of the healthy passengers were unwilling to help nurse the sick, and an assistant lighthouse keeper and his wife were co-opted to the unenviable task.
Conditions on shore were little better than on board. Many of the sick were laid out under bark shelters covered with the filthy, lice-infested blankets they had brought from the ship. The lime-burners’ cottages were hastily prepared to provide protection for the most seriously ill.
There was urgent need to bury the dead still on board, so a cemetery site was chosen near to the beach of what is now known as Ticonderago Bay. Many of the bodies were buried by their families and friends in shallow graves in the sand marked by rough wooden crosses or lumps of roughly hewn sandstone. In one of the saddest cases, Malcolm McRae was forced to bury his wife and three of his five children, aged between two and 16, all of whom died in quarantine aboard the Ticonderoga and the Lysander within a two-month period. Before long it was realised that the cemetery site was unsuitable and could infect the water supply, so a new site was selected further down the Peninsula. Many, though not all, of the remains were moved there years later. (These days, workers on the site are warned not to dig too deep as they may disturb the remaining graves.)
Meanwhile, the healthy passengers and crew, restless at being detained, were set to work to build a stone storehouse, and more supplies were sent from Melbourne. A small contingent of mounted police arrived overland to prevent escape and maintain order in the quarantine settlement.
Over the next weeks, the deaths continued despite the arrival of more surgeons and provisions. Then, for some reason, the Ticonderago was given quarantine clearance and those pronounced healthy and not needed for the running of the quarantine station re-embarked to make the final voyage to Hobsons Bay. From there, the passengers were ferried up the Yarra to Queen’s Wharf in the paddle- steamer, Maitland.
On December 28, the Argus published an article entitled ‘A heartrending scene’, describing their arrival. On their landing at the wharf the majority of them seemed in a deplorable condition from debility and sickness, the females especially looking most emaciated and feeble, and many required assistance to the drays which conveyed them to the Immigrants Depot. Whilst the steamer was coming up the river one poor little child died of fever, whilst, on the boat arriving in Melbourne, its mother was engaged in laying out the body of her child on the deck, having left, we hear, her husband on board the ship, still suffering from fever. Another female was carried from the vessel, apparently in a dying state, it being doubted whether she would ever reach her destination alive. The disgust and astonishment, mingled with the greatest sympathy, that these poor unfortunate passengers should have been sent on shore while still in so weak and sickly a state was loudly expressed by the spectators of the scene at the wharf. We were told by persons in the steamer that there are at least thirty cases of sickness on board the ship now that she has been permitted to come into the harbour.
Three days later a letter to the editor was published.
Sir – On Friday last I had occasion to visit the Bay on business, and while going round the shipping in the Maitland, we called alongside of the Ticonderago, for the purpose of bringing the passengers up to town. Being a sea-faring man and curious to know the state of the vessel which had been the scene of such unparalleled disease I went on board, and very soon ceased to be surprised at anything which had taken place on board this ill-fated vessel. The miserable squalid appearance of the passengers at once attracted my attention, and on looking down the hatchway, the smell and appearance of the between decks was so disgusting, that though accustomed to see and be on board of slave vessels, I instinctively shrank from it.
As a result of the Ticonderoga crisis, the urgent need for a satisfactory quarantine facility was recognised, and plans were made for more substantial buildings at Point Nepean. A wooden hospital was constructed, capable of holding 50 patients, while rudimentary accommodation continued to be provided under canvas for 450 people. These primitive facilities proved to be inadequate as more ships arrived under quarantine including, in May 1855, the Epaminondas whose passengers included 130 single girls. In 1857, construction began on the double-storey sandstone hospital buildings that still stand at the station. Each of these consisted of four large wards with fireplaces, a central internal staircase, lavatories on both levels, and a verandah and balcony.
Separate cookhouses were built, fitted with boilers and a bath, and a washhouse was built near the pier, with 20 baths fitted with hot and cold water taps, four copper boilers, washing troughs, smaller rooms for the reception of infected clothing and distribution of clean garments. Water was pumped from a well to the building.