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Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

The Christmas of 53'
Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

    Christmas, that frosty old English Christmas, when families are reunited and friends gather around the brightly burning yule log.
    It was a glum Christmas for British passengers huddled below deck in the wet and cold Marco Polo in 1853. as the Saint John built ship sailed into the chilly southern reaches of the Indian Ocean. The vessel was on her way from Liverpool to Melbourne.
    On Dec. 24, 1853, the editor of the Marco Polo's newspaper Marco Polo Chronicle turned the full power of 19th century syrupy prose to how "hearts estranged by worldly tasks and cares through the livelong year now warm towards each other," and "fond faces that have gladdened their energetic souls in trial and adversity now share their mirth around the festive board."
    He was writing about a way of life on which these Australia-bound emigrants were turning their backs, explained Alan Hutton, design committee chairman of the Marco Polo Project.
    Many were off to seek their fortune in the gold fields. Others, destitute, had their way partly paid for them by the British government. It was a one-way trip, Hutton said. "They were going for keeps. "
   Among friends and family left behind. "a thousand fancies haunt their teeming minds fair would they penetrate the mystery of our whereabouts.'' the editorialist wrote.
   Hutton said that without radio, families in England could expect to go for many months without knowing if their loved ones were living or dead.
   The only way of getting word back was if they passed a ship going the other way. If the weather was good, they could exchange mail. If you didn't pass another ship, you could do all the writing you wanted to do, but it stayed on board until you got there, and it would go back on the same ship. It would take another 71 to 100 days before that letter arrived in Europe."
    In the Saturday. Dec. 24, news for the week, crew members were still waiting to see if chief officer Mr. Oxner would die from a fall he suffered Wednesday. The vessel's top gallant studding sail broke loose in a stiff wind, and lifted Oxner into the sky at the end of a rope he was holding.
    In danger of drowning if he fell into the sea, the man waited until the pitching vessel swung him against the top gallant sail before letting go of the line, but "we regret to add that he was severely bruised by the fall," the paper reported.
    Passengers who had sweltered on the equator only a couple weeks earlier were warned by first officer Charles McDonnell that temperatures in the unheated ship would swoop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in coming weeks, under the influence of sub-antarctic weather.
    Sailing under strong winds, the ship promised to make one of the shortest voyages ever to the Australian Colonies, McDonnell predicted.
   Passengers were placing bets on how soon the vessel would reach Melbourne. Dates ranged from Jan 13 to Feb. .?.
   On Wednesday, attempts failed to capture a snowbird that perched on one of the masts.
    McDonnell was not so confident in his report to the Jan. 21 edition, when he had to admit the ship had fallen 10 days behind schedule when winds slackened.The article below was published in the Evening Times-Globe originally entitled "Newspaper relates passengers' trials".

Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

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