To Australia,with hope – March 1841

On March 28th 1841, brothers Henry and Robert de Burgh, aged 24 and 18 respectively, sons of Thomas de Burgh, Dean of Cloyne, Oldtown, County Kildare set sail for the Swan River Colony in Western Australia. Although well-educated, their father had not been able to set them up in business, so they decided to try their luck in the new colony where land was freely available. With the help of their mother who had independent means, they purchased  equipment and goods to enable them to begin farming in the new world.

Taking a mortgage on the brig the ‘James Matthews’, they filled the cargo hold with all manner of  goods that could be sold on arrival in Fremantle on the Western Coast of Australia. Their cargo included 7,000 slates as well as farming implements. They departed from London – on board were three passengers, including the 2 de Burgh brothers, plus a crew of fifteen.

The ‘James Matthews’ under sail. Image Museum of Western Australia

During the voyage, Henry kept a journal, noting that on April 13th they were off Lisbon, Portugal. On the 19th they crossed the tropic of Cancer and launched a boat in pursuit of a turtle, instead of which they captured many Portuguese Men of  War! By April 22nd, nearing the Cape Verde Islands off the West Coast of Africa, they landed on Saint Nicholas Island to meet the natives. Sailing on southwards they met with vessels sailing north back to England and sent letters to family members. On May 8th they passed under the bows of the ‘Ellen’ laden with emigrants for Adelaide…In the evening of the same day we came close under the ‘Christina’ to the same port and Robert and I accompanied the captain on board to supper”

Having stopped in Cape Town for 7 days, they set off across the Indian Ocean arriving safely off the coast of Western Australia on July 20th. The voyage from London had taken 3 months and 23 days. (See previous post To Australia, with love – modern-day journey by air takes 33 hours!) Some on board landed on Garden Island and caught some fish. They then  anchored in nearby Cockburn’s Sound and the Fremantle Harbour Master brought them in to Owen’s Anchorage where everyone was busy packing up to leave ship. Owing to a strong breeze they were unable to put away the cargo boats, so they remained on board until conditions improved. However, the breeze became a violent storm and the ship was thrown up on the rocks and sank on July 22 1841. Fortunately all hands, with one exception, were taken to safety.

Henry and Robert de Burgh went on to become successful farmers. Henry had to  return to Kildare on the death of his father in 1845. Robert stayed on and eventually bought a substantial property at Cowalla on the Moore River where he lived with his wife and  children. Sadly in 1865 their three youngest children, aged 7, 5 and 3 years died of diphtheria within 3 days of each other – that they were so far from medical help may have been a factor in the loss of the children. The family then bought an estate of several hundred acres at oCaversham in the Swan Valley, an area renowned today for its many wineries and vineyards. Active in public life until his health failed, Robert  died in 1884 at the age of 62. Robert de Burgh’s grandson,Walter de Burgh, still owns land and lives nearby. The earlier holding at Cowalla remained in the  family until 1972  and part of it that contained the family home has now been classified by the National Trust.

The story of these migrants may have ended there but for the fact that in July 1973, 132 years  to the very day that she was wrecked, divers discovered the wreck of the ‘James Matthews’, lying in 2 to 3 metres of water and covered in sand. Over several seasons archaeologists from the Western Australia Maritime Museum recovered a large number of artifacts. Items of cargo loaded in London for the use of settlers  were brought to the surface – thousands of stone roofing slates, glass window panes, heavy door hinges, carpenters tools, stoneware, clay pipes, bottles of wine, cooking pots and a chess set carved by Henry de Burgh during the voyage. After rescuing some 3500 artefacts the hull was once again filled with sand to protect it from the elements.

Artifacts recovered from wreck of the ‘James Matthews’, including chess pieces carved on the voyage. On display at the Shipwrecks Gallery,  Fremantle,Western Australia.

Clay pipes, bottles,hinges recovered from the James Matthews

Some of the many thousands of slates recovered from the wreck – the majority were given to the National Trust for use in conservation of old buildings

When the wreck was first discovered, not much was known about the ‘James Matthews’. However, Lloyds Register of Shipping in London showed that the ship had an earlier ‘life’ as she had been seized either as a pirate or slaver or in wartime. The Board of Trade transcripts for Dominica in 1837 stated as follows:

… Prixe to H.H brig Griffon No 6 of 1837. Brought into this port for a breach of the Treaty for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Built in France around 1800 and originally known as the Voltigeur, she was purchased by a ruthless slave trader Don Francisco Felix de Souza who  converted her into a slave runner and renamed her the Don Francisco. She was captured near Dominica in 1836 with 439 West African slaves on board. It was the custom to put captured slave ships beyond use by setting them ablaze or breaking  them up . The Don Francisco however avoided this fate and was ultimately resold and renamed the ‘James Matthews.’

The real archaeological value of the brig ‘James Matthews’, may rest in its earlier history as a slave ship – for it is the only slave ship known to still exist! It is hoped that one day the entire  hull may be excavated and raised to the surface. If this happens and an exhibition is mounted, it would be the first of its kind of a slave ship anywhere in the world.

The Batavia Exhibit

And who better to undertake this work than the excellent Western Australia Maritime Museum? Visitors to the Fremantle Maritime Museum, south of Perth in Western Australia  are astounded by the Batavia exhibit – a shipwreck from 1629. Lost on her maiden voyage, a huge part of her is on display at the Museum.

A similar breathtaking exhibit of the ‘James Matthews’ slave ship would indeed be a wonderful and unique attraction.

References:

The last Voyage of the James Matthews , W.J DeBurgh and Graeme Henderson, Museum of Western Australia

Museum of Western Australia, Maritime Archaeology

http://history.knoji.com/shipwrecks-of-tragedy-the-story-of-the-ex-slave-ship-james-matthews

Advertisements

14 Comments

Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Social Change

14 responses to “To Australia,with hope – March 1841

  1. Loved this story and loved the fact that an Irish friend has brought it to my attention… thank you, Angela…

    • Thank you Chris! Wonderful maritime history on the west coast and such a fabulous museum there in Fremantle! I had not heard of this story it before my visit to the Shipwrecks Gallery

  2. What an amazing story, Angela and so well researched. It’s certainly intriguing and what an achievement it would be to resurrect it for posterity. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Thank you Pauleen..I do so hope they can bring it up …they do amazing work there in Fremantle – they have resurrected so many things, including a ship engine that still works! This museum is a real gem! Thank you for your comment!

  3. Very amazing that there was only one casualty when the ship wrecked. And also that they brought the chess pieces up! Great post, really enjoyed it.

    • Yes it was indeed – the man who was lost was trying to come alongside and was blown away. They were very near to the shore so were rescued, but not before the brig was filling with water. You would love this museum with your interest in things maritime! Thanks for your visit and comment!

  4. I don’t just “like” this story, I LUV this story Angela! Amazing that they recovered all those artifacts 132years later. Was the Chess set passed on to the family? … How wonderful if the hull is preserved and put on display! … and a slave ship 😮 Sad about the little children… Diptheria was a terrible scourge. Thanks for sharing this incredible story.

    • Glad you enjoyed the story, Catherine! The chess pieces are in the Shipwreck Gallery of the National Maritime Museum of Western Australia. The original diary I believe is with the deBurgh family in Ireland. It woudl be great if they could lift the ship’s hull and put it on display. They do great work there at that museum!

  5. It would be wonderful to put the hull on display Angela. We’re pretty happy here in South Australia. The oldest clipper ship “City of Adelaide” (built Sunderland 1864) brought a huge number of immigrants here and was going to be scrapped about 2005. Many years of campaigning to stop it being destroyed +raising money, etc to bring it to Port Adelaide & our Maritime Museum … then others in the UK wanted it to stay there esp Sunderland. Long to short, SAustralia finally won the bid. It’s being place in a huge iron cradle for transporting. Very exciting! Well, for us, it is…

  6. Have just read the As You Were post about your great success! Excellent news and so well deserved. I hope you have a ton of fun in Brussels and I’ll be cheering you on! Congratulations !!!

  7. Reblogged this on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND and commented:

    Five years after my previous visit I was delighted to be able to shown this exhibition to one of my granddaughters in Fremantle yesterday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s