Sir Robert Sale

"The Holes Was Eaten By Rats ..."

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"Sir Robert Sale"

Compiled by Russell Hudson 28 January 2006. Updated 15 September 2006.


In the spring of 1852, Mary Askew and her half-brother Thomas Askew set sail from England to Australia, travelling as assisted immigrants on the “Sir Robert Sale”. Mary was 31 years old and Thomas was 22. The vessel sailed from London on 18 March, and from Plymouth on 1 April, arriving at Point Henry, Geelong on 5 July 1852, a journey of 95 days. The voyage to Australia was most eventful as described in the Report by the Immigration Board, Geelong (see below).

Brief History of the British Ship "Sir Robert Sale"

The sailing ship “Sir Robert Sale” was a vessel of 741 tons (re-measured in 1875 to 704 tons); 138.3 x 29.9 x 20.5 feet (length x breadth x depth of hold); poop 48 feet long, forecastle 21 feet 8 inches (1877 re-measured at 22 feet) long. It was built in 1843 of East Indian teak at Moulmein, Burma, and was owned by T. and W. Smith (Basil Lubbock in "The Blackwall Frigates", p.245, Brown, Son and Ferguson Ltd, Glasgow, reprinted 1973). The "Sir Robert Sale was re-rigged as a bark in 1867/68.

The ship was named after General Sir Robert Sale, a British army officer who won fame in the first Afghan war before being killed in battle in India in 1845. The Town of Sale in Victoria, situated at the head of the Thomson River, above the junction with the Latrobe River, and at the head of the Gippsland Lakes system, is also named after Sir Robert Sale. Sale is 211 km south-east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway.

During the late 1840s, the "Sir Robert Sale" made several voyages to India and China, and travelled from London to Auckland in 1847, from Plymouth to Melbourne in 1852, and from Plymouth to Geelong in 1852. During the period 1851/52-1853/54, when the ship travelled to Geelong, it was under the command of Captain William Loader.

In 1883, the "Sir Robert Sale" was apparently in the Straits of Sunda, standing off and within sight of the island of Krakatoa, when the volcano erupted. Captain Woolridge, commanding the ship, entered in the ships log at 4 am on 26 August 1883: "The cloud has the appearance of an enormous pine tree the stem and branches formed with violent lightning. An immense wall with bursts of forked lightning at times like large serpents rushing through the air."

Arrival of the "Sir Robert Sale"

The "Sir Robert Sale" arrived at Point Henry on 5 July 1852. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligence of 6 July 1852 noted the arrival on page 2 of their column "Shipping Intelligence": Geelong Arrivals. Sir Robert Sale, ship, 741 tons, William Loader, master, from Plymouth 1st April, with the following emigrants:- 53 married men, 53 married women, 39 single men, 42 single women, 63 boys age 1 to fourteen years, 8 male infants, 41 girls from 1 to fourteen, and 14 female infants. Dr. William Bainbridge, Surgeon Superintendent.

Under the heading Imports, the "Advertiser" printed the details of the ships cargo and listed the importer or recipient. Items included trunks, cases, baskets, packages, bales, tin pipes, flour, sugar, paper, nails, hogsheads of rum and brandy, and casks of beer.

Also in the "Advertiser" of 6 July 1852, page 4, was an alphabetical list of the recipients of letters awaiting collection at the Geelong Post Office. A James Goddard was included in the list.

Disposal of Passengers

The details of the government-assisted emigrants and their disposal lists are available in two slightly different records. One document is entitled: "Ship Sir Robert Sale. Nominal and Disposal Lists of the Immigrants per the "Sir Robert Sale" which arrived at Point Henry, Geelong on 5th July 1852. Sailed from London 18th March from Plymouth 1st April (95 days on the voyage) - under the regulations of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners. Tonnage 741 n.m. Surgeon Supndt William Bainbridge - Master William Loader."

The details given for Mary Askew and Thomas Askew are as follows:

Unmarried female immigrants: No. 269, Mary Askew, Cook of Derbyshire, age 31, Episcopalian, could both read and write. She paid 1 for her passage, had no relatives in the colony and had an employment contract for a period of 3 months at 25 per annum with Jas Riley, Malcombe.

Unmarried male immigrants: No. 241, Thomas Askew, Blacksmith of Derbyshire, age 22, an Episcopalian who could both read and write He paid 3 for his passage, had no relatives in the colony and went ashore "on own account Geelong, Balcksmith Little Malop Street".

The other record is entitled: "Sir Robert Sale". Sailed from Plymouth 1st April 1852. Arrived at Point Henry, Geelong, Victoria 5th July 1852 (95 days).

Details for Mary Askew and Thomas Askew are as follows:

No. 223, Thomas Askew, Blacksmith, Derbyshire, Ch of Eng., both read and write, age 22, went ashore on "own account to Geelong",

No. 261, Mary Askew, Domc Servant, Derbyshire, Ch of Eng,, both read and write, age 31. Her disposal was to Jas Riley of Malcombe for a term of 3 months at wages of 25 with rations.

The Report of the Immigration Board, Geelong on the ship "Sir Robert Sale"

On 16 July 1852, officials from the Immigration Office Geelong wrote a report detailing events that occurred during the three month voyage from England. In particular, they expressed their concern over difficulties "experienced in maintaining proper discipline and conduct on board during nearly the whole voyage, owing to the reprehensible behaviour of some young women ... and the refractory, disobedient spirit of a considerable part of the crew".


We have the honour to inform you that the ship "Sir Robert Sale" arrived with Government Immigrants at Port Henry on Monday the 5th July. The Immigration Board met on board the vessel on Wednesday 7th and proceeded to inspect the various fittings, hospitals and accommodation between decks. These appeared to be in good order, the ventilation good, and the state of cleanliness satisfactory. The Single Women's compartment appeared to be insufficiently lighted, the cause was ascertained to be owing to some additional bulkheads erected for reasons that will be stated in a subsequent part of this report. The water closets were leaky, and had occasioned some trouble in consequence.

Measles and hooping (sic) cough had been prevalent during part of the voyage; fifteen deaths had occurred of which one only was an adult. The Immigrants were in good health on arrival at Point Henry - the measles and hooping cough had ceased and only one person was confined to bed, of disease of the chest.

The provisions and water appeared to have been of good quality and served with regularity. The medical comforts appear to have been of good quality, but from bad storage some of the lime juice was lost, some Port and wine in bottles were broken, some of the preserved milk could not be found, and the preserved mutton was mislaid. They all appeared in the Ship's manifest of stores. The Master supplied the deficiency to the utmost of his power, he replaced the missing wine and provided from his own table for the sick, so that in the opinion of the Board little or no real loss was ultimately sustained by the Immigrants. A deficiency of sand for cleaning the between decks was experienced early in the voyage and the Board is of the opinion that it would be advisable to supply a larger quantity in future.

We regret to have to mention that extreme difficulty appears to have been experienced in maintaining proper discipline and conduct on board during nearly the whole voyage, owing to the reprehensible behaviour of some young women, of whom the most refractory are named in the margin (Ellen Norcup, Catherine Norcup, Elizabeth Duncan, Catherine McDonald, Ann Lennard). Their bad example and the refractory, disobedient spirit of a considerable part of the crew caused great anxiety and trouble, both to the Surgeon Superintendent and to the Master and his Officers. The board is of the opinion that much praise is due both to the Surgeon and the Master for the great zeal and perseverance they evinced in checking the tendency to immorality and disorder, which if once permitted to break loose during so long a voyage must inevitably end in the most disastrous results - at the same time the board cannot refrain from stating their impression that had some summary and stringent measures been adopted at the first commencement of misconduct, towards the offenders, some of the subsequent dangers and inconveniences might probably have been avoided. The impropriety of conduct appears to have commenced about a fortnight after the voyage had begun. Reproof and exhortation seem to have been without effect, the difficulty in preventing communication between some of the young women and the crew gradually increased, and to prevent worse results a guard was formed amongst the Immigrants to watch day and night, and to prevent any attempt on the part of the crew to go into the Single Women's apartment, and otherwise subvert the discipline of the ship, of which the Surgeon, the Master and his Officers, and many of the Immigrants were apprehensive. The Mates were furnished with pistols and the Constables with cutlasses (in readiness though not ostensibly); several threats of personal violence against the Surgeon and the Emigrants having been uttered by the crew, and some affronts having actually been committed. This guard was formed on the 7th June, an extra bulkhead erected before the Single Women's apartment, a married constable, whose wife superseded the Matron, being located in the intermediate space, so that no person could go in or out without his knowledge. A small part on the starboard quarter between decks was built off as a prison, in case it should be required. These preparations being completed, and the five girls in particular, named above in the margin, persisting in communicating with the sailors, were consigned to their apartments and not allowed to come on deck again, unless with express permission for the sake of their health. It does not appear that they were confined in the prison, which was left open.

These measures proved effectual, better order was maintained and the duty of the ship carried on in a most satisfactory manner. On arriving at Point Henry it was judged necessary on the representations of the Surgeon and Master to remove five of the crew immediately from the vessel. Warrants were issued, and the next day they were condemned to different terms of imprisonment by the Bench of Magistrates. Twelve others of the crew were subsequently committed for insubordination.

It may be remarked that very erroneous ideas are prevalent amongst many sailors as to the order and discipline maintained in a well regulated ship under charter to Her Majesty's Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioner to convey Emigrants to the Australian ports, and there is reason to believe that some sailors enter themselves on board these vessels in consequence of the unfounded and erroneous ideas they entertain. It is not surprising, therefore that such men would be greatly displeased on discovering the real state of the discipline and regulations.

The board feels great pleasure in stating its conviction, after careful enquiry, that no gross case of immoral conduct took place during the voyage.

The Matron appears to have been altogether deficient in the qualities most required for preserving order amongst the young women; it was found necessary by the Surgeon Superintendent to supersede her and to appoint Mrs Ramsay in her stead, an arrangement to which she willingly consented.

The schoolmaster appears to have totally neglected his duty; no school was organised amongst the single women, and a very inefficient one amongst the children. The Board can come to no other conclusion than that both these appointments have been singularly unfortunate.

In consequence of the amount of sickness which prevailed on board, the Surgeon Superintendent found it necessary to appoint two nurses with the prospect of a gratuity being paid them on arrival at their port. The men also who kept watch at night were promised a small gratuity of five shillings each. These arrangements appeared to the board to have been judicious, and we beg therefore to recommend that they be complied with according to the statement at greater length in the communication forwarded to you the 9th Inst.

On inspecting the Immigrants no complaints were made against either the Surgeon or the Officers of the Ship, on any subject whatever.

On investigating the conduct of the five young women mentioned above, it appeared that Ann Lennard had expressed her regret for her past conduct, and as the Surgeon Superintendent could speak more favourably of her than of the other four, she was allowed to accompany the remainder of the single women into the Depot. It was judged expedient to leave the other four on board until the pleasure of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor should be known. On receiving instructions to prosecute them for breach of the Passenger's Act, should such a course appear advisable, the Board considers that although such a prosecuting would be of service in showing that the regulations established on board Emigrant ships under charted to the Government are not to be violated with impunity, yet it would be inexpedient with regard to the probable amendment of these young women. We have therefore availed ourselves of the discretionary power accorded to us, and have placed all five in respectable service after stating candidly to their employers the character they had acquired during the voyage. We have also informed the young women that their bad conduct will be duly reported to their friends and relatives in the United Kingdom, but that at the expiration of three months, if their employers can report favourably of their behaviour, the amendment of their conduct shall also be forwarded to their friends. A few other names appear in the Surgeon's Journal, but the Board did not consider it necessary to take any active measures, as the Surgeon stated that their general conduct had not occasioned any particular difficulty.

In conclusion, the Board is unanimous in the opinion that the Surgeon Superintendent discharged his duties with zeal, kindness, and attention, that the Master and Chief Officer were unremitting in their attention to their respective duties, and in maintaining the comfort and welfare of the Immigrants. The Third Mate, although occasionally hasty and somewhat intemperate in language, appears to have been careful and diligent in serving the provisions and stores, and therefore the board consider that all these officers are fairly entitled to receive the usual gratuities.

With respect to the enquiry contained in your letter of the 10th Inst concerning the necessity and propriety of the measures adopted by the Surgeon and Master in forming a guard amongst the Immigrants, the Board consider that, under the circumstances, they were both necessary and judicious.

We have the honour to be, Your most obedient servants,

Charles Edward Strutt, Asst Immign Agent, W.H. Baylie, District Surgeon, Charles Friend, Harbour Master

The Crew of the "Sir Robert Sale" Deserts the Ship to Seek their Fortunes on the Goldfields

As a consequence of the disciplinary action taken against members of the ship's crew, in particular the immediate removal, sentencing and imprisonment of five crew members, and subsequent commitment of a further twelve crew for subordination, a large number of the crew of the vessel deserted and joined the rush to the Ballarat goldfields, north of Geelong. This left Captain Loader of the "Sir Robert Sale with insufficient crew to complete his voyage, and as a consequence his scheduled departure was delayed. On 29 October 1852, some months after the arrival of the "Sir Robert Sale" at Point Henry, the Geelong Advertiser published the following article (from the compilation "The Rush to the Goldfields" by D. Rush

"GENEROUS CONDUCT. In these days of desertion, particularly on the part of Merchant Seamen, it is gratifying to learn that the whole of the seamen who left the "Sir Robert Sale", about two months ago, after having realised some very large sums, to the extent of 1500 per man, at the Eureka Diggings, have one and all made their intentions known of again joining their old ship under Captain Loder (sic), and making up, by assiduous attention to their duty, any differences which may now prevail. This will enable the gallant old seman (sic) to get-off sometime about Christmas."

On 9 November 1952, the "Advertiser" published an advertisement for the return voyage of the "Sir Robert Sale".

"PASSENGERS, GOLD, and a limited quantity of WOOL. FOR LONDON - At Geelong. To sail positively the first week in December. The celebrated fast sailing frigate built ship "SIR ROBERT SALE" A1 for 13 years, 841 tons burthen, William Loader Commander. This vessel offers an excellent opportunity for passengers to England, having splendid cabin accommodation and 7 foot height between decks for intermediate; is armed; has a strong room for treasure; and will carry an experienced surgeon. Has made three voyages to the colonies in 80, 83 and 90 days, from Plymouth. For freight or passage, early application to be made to TIMMS, WILSON, & Co, or to STRACHAN & Co.

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