Letter from the
Letter from the past describes life for Marco
by Erin Dwyer
Times Globe staff
A copy of an 1852 letter describing the Polo's first
voyage to Australia made it halfway around the world this year in much less
time than the speedy sailing ship could have managed.
Saint John High School teacher Barry Ogden recently received a copy of a letter
written by an Irish emigrant to Australia. In it, J.M. Whelan described his
journey aboard the Marco Polo, a ship that had been built in Saint John the
year before the Irishman stepped on board.
Mr. Ogden said
he was fascinated by the letter, one of the first accounts he's read of that
inaugural voyage to Australia. In the letter, Mr. Whelan talks of the fits of
seasickness endured by the passengers, the weather and squalls they
encountered, and even the type of food they were served.
"I've read information about that first voyage, but I never read much
first-hand," Mr. Ogden said in an interview. "This is something first-hand, so
this is really something of value. "
But he was even more
impressed with how he came to receive the letter.
small town of Newry in Northern Ireland, a patient turned last year to his
family doctor - also a history buff - for advice on what to do with some old
papers, among them an 1852 letter from his great-great
"This old man said, 'What do I do with these?' Dr.
Shortall said in a telephone interview yesterday from Northern Ireland. "He was
going through a whole pile of papers and he wasn't feeling well. I dug this
letter out and I said, 'You should forward it to public records, and let them
have a look at it."'
Before sending it off, however, the
doctor made a copy of the letter, which he found described conditions aboard
the ship that "weren't all that bad."
The letter, dated
Oct. 4, 1852, is written by J.M. Whelan to his parents and siblings back in
Newry, Ireland. In it, he describes the voyage, which began on July 4 from the
port of Mersey, England and ended on Sept. 20.
sailed up the Bay and on the 20th cast anchor being at sea only 77 days, the
quickest passage ever made from England to Australia," Mr. Whelan
Mr. Whelan describes how there were 960 passengers
and 70 crew aboard the ship, captained by James Nicol "Bully" Forbes, when it
"Nearly everyone on board, with the
exception of about 20, were sea sick more or less for the first week ... We had
no fever of any kind during the voyage but measles set in at the first and
about 50 children, chiefly infants, died. Only two adults died on the passage
and these were women who had been sickly coming on board for the sea in such
cases will either kill or cure. "
Mr. Whelan, who taught
the children aboard the ship for several hours each day, describes the
provisions aboard the Marco Polo.
"We had flour, butter,
raisins and suet to make bread and ovens to bake it in ... We preserved meat
which was very rich and nice presented in tins without any salt whatsoever ...
We also had soup and 'bouile' preserved also in tins which required only warm
water to be poured on it to make excellent soup."
Shortall's patient died just before Christmas, but the physician's curiosity
about the letter did not.
Recently, he pulled out the
1852 letter and decided to find out more about the ship that ferried Irish
immigrants to Australia. He turned to the Internet.
was wanting something to do and I remember I said, 'I must look up the ship
sometime, Marco Polo, and see what its track record was," he
"I knew from the letter that it done a good
time down to Australia, but I didn't know it was one of the fastest
A genealogical researcher, Dr. Shortall, 59, is
no stranger to the Internet. He uses it quite often in the research of his
family tree. But he knew nothing about the Marco Polo, where it was built or
its fame. He began surfing the Web looking for
"I sort of typed in Marco Polo and up came
the site," he said. "It was a very good site, very elaborate. I just wanted
more information. "
For a dozen
years, Mr. Ogden, a Saint John High School teacher, has campaigned for the
construction of a Marco Polo replica that would grace Saint John
Constructed by James Smith at his Saint John
shipyard in 1851, the Marco Polo became world famous upon its return trip in
1853 from its inaugural voyage.
When it reached England,
it had circumnavigated the world in five months and 21 days, the first ship to
do it under six months.
It was subsequently dubbed the
"Fastest Ship in the World. "
Mr. Ogden has pressed the
city and the province to build a replica ship that would lure tourists to the
city and the province. He has scaled down his plans for a sailing ship to one
that would be remain ashore, and has applied to Ottawa's Millennium Fund for
His efforts are all documented at the site
http: / /marcopoloproject. new-brunswick. net
So it's no surprise that Dr. Shortall, while
surfing the Internet, would hit upon his web site.
world is a lot smaller than the days of sail," said Mr. Ogden in an interview.
"We are talking in about 150 years of two sailing stories and they are both
connected to Saint John.
"So it shows what a global city
Mr. Ogden thinks this is just more evidence that
there would be worldwide interest in a replica of the Marco
"It shows that we've got an international story
here in terms of marketing for tourism," he said.
got something world-famous. This is further proof."
The Marco Polo made the trip from Britain
to Australia in 77 days.
On the Marco Polo to
An Irish emigrant describes life aboard the
19th-century, Saint-built ship
Barry Ogden of
Saint John recently received a letter from Dr. Myles Shortall, a family doctor
in Northern Ireland and a history buff. Dr. Shortall was given a copy of a
letter by one of his patients. The letter was written by the patient's
great-great-uncle, Y. M. Whelan, who detailed his voyage to Australia in 1852
aboard the clipper Marco Polo. To find out more about the ship, Dr. Shortall
turned to the Internet and found Barry Ogden's site devoted to the famous
sailing ship, which was built in Saint John in 1851. He forwarded a copy of the
letter to Mr. Ogden.
Melbourne October 4th
My Dearest Parents and Brother
many an adventurous scene, we have at last arrived safe at Melbourne and in
We sailed from the Mersey on 4th July in the
ship Marco Polo [under] Captain Forbes.
We had 960 souls
on board and 70 crew, so you may guess that large as our ship was, it was
pretty full. There were two surgeons on board, both Irishmen, of whom Dr. North
was one of the finest fellows I ever met.
on board, with the exception of about 20, were seasick more or less for the
first week. I was one of the exceptions, having never had an hour's sickness
from the time I went on board till I left. After the sea sickness had subsided,
dysentery set in and Mary had an attack of it but owing to Dr. North's
unremitting attention, it was soon checked.
and his wife had it, and Hugh's wife was very near going to Davy's locker by
it; after Mary recovered from this attack she got excellent health. We had no
fever of any kind during the voyage, but measles set in at the first and about
50 children, chiefly infants, died. Only two adults died on the passage and
these were women who had been sickly coming on board, for the sea will in such
cases either kill or cure.
From the time we sailed, the
weather grew hotter every day until we came to the line when it was most
intolerable. You could compare it to nothing else but being in an
After we crossed the line, it grew cooler and after
passing the Cape of Good Hope, the Captain ran out to the 52nd or 53rd degree
south when it was intensely cold. The cold in Ireland could not at all be
compared to it. Before and after crossing the line we had some squalls but they
did the ship no harm. Their approach was always indicated by the ship's
barometer and the Captain could thus be prepared.
about a fortnight whilst doubling the Cape and after while we were running
south, we had very rough weather but the ship being so large and such a fine
sailer was not much knocked about. She has sailed when under a strong breeze at
the rate of 18 knots an hour and off the Cape in 24 hours sailed 350
Our provision was of the very best description. We
had flour, butter, raisins and suet to make bread and ovens to bake it in. We
had preserved meat which was very rich and nice presented in tins without any
salt. We cooked it various ways. We had also soup and 'bouile' preserved also
in tins which required only warm water to be poured on it to make excellent
soup. Our bacon was excellent being all cured in Belfast and we hardly ever
tasted salt beef. We had plenty of tea, sugar, rice, oatmeal, spices, peas,
pickles etc. so that as far as eating was concerned we were not badly
I stuck to drinking water and indeed it was very
good considering the length of time it had to be kept and we were provided with
lime juice which when mixed with it makes a very agreeable drink. There was
also porter, wine, and brandy for us - but we did not trouble it very
I had to teach the children on board three hours in
the day from 10 o'clock until 1 o'clock and again from 3 o'clock until 4. There
were about 80 boys attending.
On the 17th Sept. we came
insight of Australia and on the 18th we took in a pilot and entered the bay. On
going in, the ship stuck in a sand bank and was not got off till the 19th. We
then sailed up the bay and on the 20th cast anchor, being at sea only 77 days -
the quickest passage ever made from England to Australia.
I did not leave the ship till the evening of the 25th and on the morning of the
27th I got a situation in the office of Messrs Bowler, Bennett & Co.,
solicitors, as coveyancer at a salary of 4 pounds a week.
My employers are the foremost solicitors in Melbourne. I have taken a house and
although it is not very large I have to pay 50 pounds a year rent for it as
house rent is very high here. Flour, bread, clothes, eggs, fowl, and butter are
also very high, nearly three times the price at home.
gold diggings are going on as brisk as ever. About 70,000 people are working at
them and the town is full every day of persons going and returning from them.
Many have made their fortunes at them, others do not make a halfpenny so that
it is just a sort of lottery however it keeps up the prices of both labour and
provisions here, tradesmen are remarkably well-paid. Anyone in fact that wishes
to work is well-remunerated for it and can live better than at home. Every
person here eats meat three times a day.
When I look
around me properly I will write again in about three weeks or a month and give
you more particulars concerning the place. God knows the connecting link of a
letter, poor as it will be, to us an invaluable treasure. Mary sends you all
her fondest love.
I remain, my dear parents and brother,
Your affectionate son and brother
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