A Journey to Australia in 1870

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This is the story by Benjamin Errey 1818-1893 from his journal made on the trip to Australia in 1870. They sailed from Plymouth, England to Williamstown, Victoria, Australia 146 years ago on the “Colonial Empire”.

Family background…
Benjamin Errey b 1818 Heathfield, Sussex, England – d 1893 Camperdown, Victoria, Australia.
He married Hannah Stevens b 1820 Mayfield, Sussex, England d 1864 Hailsham, Sussex, England in August 1847 in Lewes District, Sussex, England
Children of this union

Hannah Errey b 1849
Benjamin Errey b 1850
Frederick Errey b 1853
Emily Errey b 1854
Alice Errey b 1855
Theodosius Errey b 1858
Hepzibah Errey b 1861 d 1862

In 1866, 2 years after the death of Hannah is wife, Benjamin Errey married Ruth Barrow ne Gaston..
Ruth Barrow had been left with 3 young children, Her second oldest child Jane Barrow had also died in 1861 and her husband Benjamin Barrow the following year.
In 1868 their child Ruth Errey, Benjamin and Ruth’s only child was born in Hailsham, Sussex, England.

The migration south.
In 1869 Benjamin began contemplating the option of taking his family to Victoria, Australia where his Brother Thomas Peter Errey had very successfully settle with all of his family in 1857. Those to travel this journey with Benjamin and Ruth Errey are Benjamin’s 6 living children, Ruth Errey age 2, their child, along with two of Ruth’s daughters Sarah Ann Barrow age 14 and Sarah Barrow age 12.
The list of this family group is therefore…

Benjamin Errey a few years later.

Benjamin Errey  52
Hannah Errey  46
Hannah Errey  21
Benjamin Errey  20
Frederick Errey  17
Emily Errey  16
Alice Errey  15
Theodosius Errey  12

Sarah Ann Barrow  14
Sarah Barrow  12
Ruth Errey age 2
They traveled on the 3 Three Masted Barque the “Colonial Empire. “

 Colonial Empire at Williamstown, Victoria, Australia circa 1872. Picture with acknowledgement and thanks to ‘State Library of Victoria’ as the source of the photo.

Colonial Empire at Williamstown, Victoria, Australia circa 1872. Picture with acknowledgement and thanks to ‘State Library of Victoria’ as the source of the photo.

This ship was built 1861 in Quebec, Canada. Length; 198.5 ft. Breadth; 38.4 ft. Depth; 22.5 ft. Built by Baldwin for Thompson and Co. Reg; London. Master; Captain J.Lawson. London-Australia service.

We will now let Benjamin Errey tell the story of their journey to Australia.

Boarding the Colonial Empire 24 June 1870

June 24 1870… Went on board today. It is a fine ship. There are 56 births in the married peoples’ apartment two above the other very comfortable. We are in the middle of the ship. The single men in the fore part the young women in the after part. We are now at Plymouth. We came on board about half past nine in a steamer. The married people and single men first then the single women. The single women have a matron over them, they are kept very close.

June 25… The weather is fine, the sea calm, all well.

June 26… (Sunday.) We had a service on deck. One of the passengers spoke. It is not what I have been used to hear.

June 27… Set sail today about ½ past 2. Was tugged out of the harbour by a Steamer. Having a good breeze she soon left us. We are now sailing nicely. Expect we will be out of sight of land today. Monday night, nearly all sick. I feel bad.

June 28… Out of sight of land, sailing slowly. Half past five, two ship ahead. We are gaining on them.

June 29… We passed one ship nearly out of sight, fair wind nearly behind us, fine weather, we are going 7 or 8 miles an hour.

June 30… Fair wind going steady. We met a Dutch ship. We have Salt Beef twice a week, flour every day, hard biscuits every day. We have Plums and Suet 5 times a week, salt Pork 3 times a week, preserved meat twice but not many of us could eat it. We are losing time now and days are shortening.

July 1 1870 … Splendid weather, we are going steady with full sail with a good breeze. We have plenty to eat but we cannot eat very well our appetites are bad. We don’t see much of the girls. We have lost one hour.

July 2… Sat. We sail along nicely, can see several birds like swallows rather larger. They follow the ship, some call them sea swallows. Poor little Ruth is ill, cannot get her to eat anything. Have had some medicine for her.

July 3… Sunday. Prayers read today by doctor. Saw some fish, large schools of them. We go on very steady, we get the best wind nightly. Little Ruth is still ill. Our bunks that we sleep in are a good height.

July 4… I think we are near passing Madera. Wind fair, showers. Little Ruth no better. Others well.

July 5… Rather calm smooth sea. It begins to get warm, pleasant on deck. Little Ruth is still ill, the passengers generally are in good health.

July 6… Warm and calm. Have not seen any ships besides our own for some days. Nor any birds, sometimes a few fish.

July 7… Going on steady, calm sea. Ruth is a little better.

July 8… We are going on well. One of the passenger’s boys died today. It was a poor little thing, scarce alive when they came on board. The mother was going out to her husband. Saw some flying fish, small, their wings shine like silver. Ruth a little better.

July 9 1870… We are going on nicely, fair wind. How grand – how wonderful grand and yet how awful does the sea appear. Day after day we arise in the morning can see no change. We cannot see if we have gone 1 mile or 100 all looks the same.

July 10… Going on well, see hundreds of flying fish, they fly out of the water in shoals, fly a few yards and drop in the water again. They look the size of a small trout. We experience something of what the Psalmist speaks of on 107 Psalm. It is now very warm and we are getting nearly under the sun. The sun is not over the line now but considerably this side of it. You know the sun crosses the line about the 21st March. If we had crossed the line then the sun would be directly over us. A flying fish was caught today. It flew on the side of the ship. Was about the size of a half grown Trout. Its wings should suppose was about 7 of 8 inches long.

July 11… Fair wind. Have preaching on deck on Sunday evening, such as it is.

July 12… Going steady. Saw a ship homeward bound. It is very hot down below. Some lay on deck all night. Our ship is very lofty, I cannot reach the top when I stand on the floor. Ruth is better. A total eclipse of the moon began about half past 6 and ended about 11 night.

July 13… Almost a dead calm. We are now in the tropics, saw several Porpoises or Sea Hogs.

July 14… Calm – going very steady. A small shower this morning.

July 15… Passed ship and spoke Greely Clearance – Madras to London 116 days out. Saw 2 or 3 more not far off. We have a condenser on board to make fresh water. It can make about 300 gallons a day. We want much more than that. About 500 passengers and crew.

July 16… One of the passengers caught a large fish weighing from 8 to 10 lbs. It is getting very hot. Rather a curios ceremony among the sailors today called “Trotting a dead horse overboard” which arises from the sailors drawing a month pay when they engage, their month was up today. The ceremony consists in making a horse large enough to carry a man on his back and the sailors march 2 or 3 times around the deck proceeded by a band of music then he is drawn up onto the yardarms, and one is up there to cut the string and he falls into the water amidst cheers of the company.

July 17 Sunday… Calm and warm.

July 18 1870… Rather rough sea, many of the passengers sick.

July 19… Head wind make but little way, are driven 7 or 8 degrees eastern

July 20… Going about the same.

July 21… Head wind.

July 22… Make but little way.

July 23… You may see by the latitudes that we are going about 78 miles in two days.

July 24 Sunday… Going on about the same.

July 25… Getting on better. Wind changed a little. We are about 212 from the line. It is soon dark when the sun is down, but little twilight. I don’t think we have seen a cloudless sky since we have been out and scarcely any rain. Sundown by ½ past 6.

July 25… Good breeze going well.

July 26… Going on well.

July 28 & 29… Going on well.

July 30-31… Fine breeze going to the west. We appear to have a good captain, they do not allow the sailors any strong drink. The captain has not much to do with us. We have to keep our place clean and take our beds on deck twice a week when weather is fine. We have not found very oppressive. We had a good breeze over the line

August 1 1870 … Good breeze, rather too much ahead.

Aug 2… Rather squally.

Aug 3-4… We have some sheep on board, chickens and ducks. We hear the cocks crowing in the morning, it reminds us of land. The sheep are very tame. They like biscuits, will eat out of your hand or take it out of your mouth. If you sit beside them and you have any in your pocket they will try and put their heads in your pocket.

Aug 5… We are between the Islands of Trinidad and ???? or some such name.

Aug 6… Going on nicely.

Aug 7… It is getting colder. The days are getting shorter, about 11 hours sun. I saw a whale today it appeared a large one. Saw several yards of him when he turned over.

Aug 8 … Fair wind we have fine weather nearly all the time only a few light showers. They call it a fine voyage so far.

Aug 9… Tue. We see plenty of birds now, Cape Barron pigeons they come near and are very pretty.

Aug 10… One of the passengers caught one this morning.

Aug 11… 1870 Strong winds rather ahead squarely. Some rather large birds called the Albatross. These large birds have long wings from 10 – 12 feet from tip to tip.

Aug 12 – 13… Better wind. We see many different kinds of birds, some that they call Cape Hens, they are about the size of a common hen of a dark brown, the Stormy Petrol about the size and colour of a dove but long wings as all sea birds have,

Aug 14… The weather is cold and foggy with some rain, good wind.

Aug 15… But little wind today, dull misty.

Aug 16… Wind in the night which bore us rather out of our course.

Aug 17… Rough sea head winds, Mate caught a large bird nearly as large as a goose. We have a great many Irish. There is more Irish with the young men that English and so there is the young women. There are some old people, some say one old women is 81, there seems several upwards of 70. (Benjamin was 52 and his wife Ruth 46 and their family were from little Ruth Errey age 2 to Benjamin’s daughter Hannah Errey 21)

Aug 18… High winds more favorable.

Aug 19… Wind ahead misty foggy.

Aug 20… Calm forenoon little breeze afternoon.

Aug 21… Fine breeze wet day. The first wet day we have had.

Aug 22… A good breeze. Fine day. Plenty of birds some very large.

Aug 23… Past the Cape today.

Aug 24… Calm sea, fine weather.

Aug 25… Head wind, very cold wind S.E.

Aug 26… Head wind going but little.

Aug 27… Doing a little better.

Aug 28… Strong gale ahead.

Aug 29… Light wind too much ahead. Large quantity of Cape Pigeons and a great many caught by fishhooks. One of the passengers caught about 10 in one day.

Aug 30… Calm sea wind ahead. We have had more head winds and calm these two weeks than all the passage before.

Aug 31… Head winds, very cold, some snow. Hope we shall not remain here.

September 1… Wind too much ahead. We have had a slight fever on board for nearly a month. There has none failed yet but children. One more taken in the hospital today. Our condenser has been out of repair for 2 or 3 weeks. Was afraid we might be short of water. When it works we get plenty of hot water, the water is carried in pipes to washing troughs. It is made like a distill is made to pump its own water. The fever that is among us is called Scarlatina.

Sep 2… Head wind. The log is made up every day at noon. This is the worst week we have had since we have been out as to getting along. Am sorry to say fever does not abate. The children keep failing but it appears light. The beds are thrown overboard as soon as any fail and the bunks and sheets are all washed with disinfectant fluid

Sept 3… Going on better today – cold wind. Plenty of Cape Pigeons, they come aboard the ship by scores and pick up bits of meat that are thrown to them. There are birds they call Diver, they go under the water and get lots of meat.

Sep 4… Rough winds right ahead.

Sep 5… Calm, wind behind us. One of the passengers caught a large bird. They measured his wings about 10 foot from tip to tip. It’s body was almost as large as a Swans. They are easily caught with a hook and line.

Sep 6… Wind ahead of us. We are all well Alice has chilblains on her hands.

Sep 7… Rough winds, the roughest we have had. The waves do run mountainous high. We can scarce stand on deck but are thankful the wind is behind us. The sea looks awful grand. It is wonderful to see the ship tossed about almost like play thing.

Sep 8… Fine breeze wind blown out.

Sep 9… Fair wind going on well. We are now I believe in the Southern Ocean, rather a heavy sea.

Clipper Routes 1860-1880

Sep 10… Rather violent storm last night. What a mercy to have a kind Providence over us. Snow and rain most of the day but little wind.

Sep 11… Rather rough night, fine day good breeze, snow storms.

Sep 12… Good breeze, fine except now and then, a snow storm and rather heavy sea. Our time is now about 5 ½ hours before you. We gain 4 minutes to a degree.

Sep 13… Going on well, not quite so cold, why it is so cold is our going so far south. We go farther south to get stronger winds. Melbourne lays latitude 37 longitude 144 east.

Sep 14… Fine breeze.

Sep 15… Wet morning but little wind. We are getting quite tired on the living but it is quite good as I expected to find it.

Sep 16… Fine breeze, I am sorry to find we have one more case of fever today.

Sep 17… Stormy night.

Sep 18… A rather rough night. Fine day good breeze, It’s getting warmer, this month is the same as March with you. I have known it much colder in March

Sep 19… Fine breeze. We have one more case of fever today. Towards night it suddenly became much colder and we found ourselves almost in a field of ice surrounded by icebergs. Some looked like mountains of ice. Some smaller ones came almost close to the ship which are most dangerous being more difficult to see. They have two men on the lookout, one on each side. They look grand at a distance but have no wish to come near them.

Sep 20… We have left the ice, can see none today. They are not usually seen here. Today has been a busy day cleaning up ready for inspection.

Sep 21… Good breeze, going on well, rough night.

Sep 22… Rough night, strong gale, snow and hail.

Sep 23… Rather rough night, fine day. They are raising the anchor chain today so I suppose we are not far from land.

Sep 24… Calm night smooth sea till noon. Good breeze after.

Sep 25… Sunday, past the light house about 2 am. Was called up to see the light. Sent up rockets from the ship and showed a blue light as signal. Sight land at daylight. Another ship at daylight near us going in the same post as passengers. Head wind. Keep decking about and crossing each other’s tracks. Come near enough to hail to each other. It is now near 11 o’clock, hope we shall cast anchor today. Could not get in before dark, signalled for pilot. Blue light and rockets. Going in the bay and anchored about midnight. One more case of fever. The inspector came on board this morning from the Board of Health.

Sep 26.. We are about 40 miles from Melbourne. We have been examined today by the doctor. Benjamin (his son aged 20) put in hospital today but do not think there is anything the matter with him. We have a yellow flag on the main mast. This ship that came near us was called the Hydrosphoros or some such name, a large iron ship nearly twice the size of ours and was once was within a little of running against us at dusk. The land around the coast looks very desolate like barren rocks and high mountains. Some look like rocks some places look like red earth. Several ships came in last night and today. One passenger ship from England and one other came in together, almost.

Sep 27… Tuesday. Some fresh meat came on board today. The doctor came again this morning and cleared the married people and children. The sick are taken to quarantine hospital. There are 3 or 4 buildings quite by themselves among a lot of scrub, looks about at a distance like Furse. Am Glad to say Benjamin came out again.

Sep 28… Weighed anchor this morning. Set sail about 6am. Fair wind. Arrived at Williamstown about 10. Mr Davis from Melbourne came to see us today. He came in a boat, could not come on board as the Commisioner had not come with us. He asked after us and said he had telegraphed my brother who he expected would be here today

Sep 29… This is a fine harbour and beautiful place. Can see several tows by gas light. Can see the lights of Melbourne and several other towns. The girls are all gone to the depot at Melbourne. Had some fresh Australian bread. It was very fine. Had some mutton today, it’s not quite si fat as some we get at home.

Sep 30… Have not landed yet. Could not get our boxes, Brother Peter (Errey) came to see us today with Mr Davis, he dined with us. He is gone back again to Melbourne. Went ashore and had a look around, it is nice place. Tasted some Australian Ale 1/- per quart. You can buy in the shape of beer or spirit less than 6d. They are all called Hotels here. I counted 6 or 7 of them the little way I went. Saw 4 in a row adjoining each other. Strong drink is the curse here as well as in England and much worse. One house I went in is not a large house. I understand the rent and taxes amount to £250 a year. They keep two female servants one they give £35 and the other £30 (per year).

Lonsdale Street Melbourne looking westward from Queens Street circa 1870

Oct 1… Landed today. My brother and Mr Davis came. We went to Melbourne by train, about 9 miles, called at the depot after the girls but being Sunday the office was closed 12-1. We was afraid we should get them till Monday, but after waiting some time and suffering a few insults they let us have them. We went from there in a cab to Mr Davis. They behaved very kind to us.

Oct 2… Went to hear preaching. Could not get on much. Heard Mr Davis in the evening in his house with a few friends.

Oct 3… Strolled about Melbourne. It is s fine place almost like London. The streets are wide and straight. We went in Fitzroy Gardens which is a most beautiful place There are buses and cabs running in Melbourne the same as in London and nearly as cheap. You can ride a good distance for 3d. Buses run in some of the streets nearly every minute. Left here about 4 in the evening for Geelong by steam boat. Arrived at Geelong about ½ past 8. Met Mr Davis and another friend of Brother Peter who took us to his house, fed us and lodged us.

Oct 4… Started with 2 traps up the country. (There would have been at least 13 people and all their boxes from England) It is a fine looking country not at all like England, almost all the land covered with trees, no hedges and no woods as in England but thousands of trees laying about. Camped one night on the road.



The old Cressy bridge, believed to be the place where Benjamin and the family along with his brother Thomas Peter Errey and the other trap driver camped the night on their journey from Geelong to Camperdown in 1870.

(Family stories tell that they camped under the old bridge at Cressy, about halfway to Camperdown – left) Old Cressy Bridge sign today

Oct 5… Started this morning, arrived Camperdown between 5 and 6 at night. The road nearly all the way is level and a beautiful road, about 70 miles. What they call Stony Rising looks a fearful place almost the whole ground is covered with stone as though they were thrown up from a burning mountain, and I have no doubt but that they were some time.

Oct 6… We had a look about us today. Went to see William and Mercy and David. They live nearly together or not far apart at the foot of mountain. Went to the top of it. There is a tremendous chasm between two mountains as though caused by an eruption.

The history of Mount Laura

Mount Laura , an extinct volcano.

Mount Laura, an extinct volcano. As it is today

There seems a large quantity of birds of different sorts. Several sorts of Parrots some very pretty and plenty of Magpies. They are black and white, the same as at home, but where they are black in England they are white here and where they are white here they black and larger. Plenty of Crows but no Rooks, but the Crows are almost as plentiful as Rooks in England. We saw some pretty birds almost like Magpies only smaller. Some call them Mutton Doves. The ground is very wet here. People say it has been the wettest winter that has been known in the Colony. The land here buys very low but is very rich. In England farmers want to make as much money as they can, here they make as little as they can as they do not know what to do with it. But there is plenty of poor land in the Colony and plenty of trees but only fit for firing except what you get in the forest. There is some timber. There is none nearer than 5 or 6 miles.

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