The Christmas of 53'
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
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.
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."
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
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
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".
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