Victorian Bride Ships

‘The Cinderella Colony of Western Australia’

Research from ‘An Australian Parsonage’ by Mrs Millet, published 1872

‘ Of the single girls we had more than sixty on board our ship, and one fortnight’s acquaintance with them had sufficed to show us that they were a most unpromising set; and moreover, our early impression that several of them had made acquaintance with the inside of a jail was not at all effaced by the experience and events of the voyage’.

The Tartar ship left London October carrying 118 passengers including Mrs Millet & her husband Edward, the newly appointed chaplain of York in WA, as well as the 50 young female Lancashire cotton weavers. Arrived Fremantle 12 December 1863.

‘The proportion of single adult males was eleven to every single adult female.’ Inquirer, 11th November 1863, Perth, Australia.

The Bride Ships by Rica Erickson, Hesperian Press 1992

Experiences of Immigrants Arriving in Western Australia 1849 -1889

‘As the passengers came on board their names were listed and each was allotted a berth number. Married couples occupied berths amidships, single males were accommodated forward in the dark part of the ship near the crew. The single women’s compartments were separated from both by a partition. Each section was divided into messes, or groups of six ( in larger vessels there were messes of eight). One in each mess was chosen to be responsible for the behaviour of the others. They descended below decks by steep ladders, shown to their numbers berths and instructed how to hoist a bench table, at night, between the tiers of bunks and fasten it to the deck above with iron bars. The bunks, ranged on either side of the table, were like coffins, one above the other, with little headroom. A small curtain gave a little privacy to each.

Women could wash on bath days in a large wooden tub wearing a shift and screened by canvas.

Those in charge of the messes brought down the daily issue of rations and supervised the fair division of food. Food could be salt pork, potatoes and peas with ginger pudding, hard biscuits always. They ensured that all utensils were cleaned and properly stowed away after meals, and that the bedding was aired on deck, weather permitting, at least twice a week. They usually won a small gratuity and several privileges on board for their duties.’

‘All were then mustered on deck, segregated as they would be below decks with married couples standing between the servant girls and the lads. After rollcall they listened to a recital of ship’s regulations. These were posted up, but not all the passengers could read. The most unwelcomed rule forbade communication between the single women and males.’

‘The first few days at sea were usually rough and tested the stomachs of the passengers who had never before been at sea. Below decks the air was foul with vomit, but few people had the strength to climb the hatchway ladders and pace the heaving decks for a breath of fresh air.’

Books and sewing materials were donated by organisations like the British Ladies Female Emigration Society. Literacy lessons, games and library books were sometimes provided.

‘The pilots long boat put off from Rottnest to guide them into safe anchorage. Another long boat from Fremantle came alongside bringing the Colonial Immigration officer and the Colonel Surgeon. The immigrants were lined up in order on the deck for the last time.’

‘The arrival of any ship at Fremantle always created a flurry of activity. Colonists in the most isolated settlement in the world were always avid for news.’

‘Most of the single women were Lancashire lasses who were thrown out of work when cotton mills closed down as a consequence of the Civil War in North America. British ships blockaded the North American ports in retaliation for the sinking of a ship, and this prevented the export of raw cotton to Lancashire….left thousands of people…. in abject poverty.

Donations to the Lancashire Relief Fund were sent from the British Colonies to save families from starvation. Under these circumstances Lancashire mill lasses were glad to migrate. One of the girls on the Tartar, although only 23, looked like a wrinkled old woman. She ate ravenously and soon became plump.’ (from Mrs Millet’s account)

‘The newly renovated Poorhouse-Home, Fremantle was ready to receive over a hundred immigrants when the Tartar came in Dec 1863. Pauper inmates were segregated on the upper floor while the immigrants occupied the ground floor in a long room divided into separate spaces by wooden partitions.’

Mrs Millett thought the immigrants lodgings were bare, cold and meagre, but was pleased to see they were perfectly clean, well ventilated and water could be obtained by the bucketful from a well in the yard.

Life at the Home and depot was boring for idle inmates. The matron supervised the usual tasks of sewing garments and laundering of linen from the hospital and gaol.’

China Blue by Jan Gothard, Melbourne University Press 2001

Single Female Migration to Colonial Australia

Between 1850 and 1900, seventeen thousand single British women accepted an assisted passage to Western Australia. Without assistance, working class women would never of afforded the long sea voyage and in return these women would solve the colonies domestic servant problem and become the future wives and mothers of WA. They were subject to routine and rigorous examinations of health and character, controlled  on the passage out and after their arrival, until the colonial government had seen them safely with employers or relatives.

Relatively few single working class women wrote diaries which have survived, more likely emigrant diaries were written in the form of a letter home. Sisters or female cousins may have been possible recipients of journals. But these were the very women who so often followed the adventurous pioneer out to the colonies. So the chances of working class women’s journals surviving were far more remote than those sent back to middle class families of the cabin passengers. Therefore working class emigrant women are less visible, but due to the ‘double control’ of immigrant authorities are perhaps more visible in government archives.

Middle class women’s philanthropic work “benevolent maternalism’ was undertaken to safeguard  women and to protect colonial homes. It was ideal for women as paid domestic servants to be trained under the eye of a middle class mistress.

‘Getting on, bettering oneself and enhanced employment opportunities, joining family and friends were major reasons to emigrate.’

‘In the 1860’s prospective emigrants were advised that ‘Female domestic Servants, who really understand their business, are in great demand in Australia, and are sure to obtain immediate employment at good wages’.

‘In 1863, when conditions in Lancashire were poor, the Duke of Newcastle approached all the Australian colonies to accept unemployed female cotton weavers as prospective immigrants. None responded favourably, although all but Western Australia were happy to accept other single women qualified in domestic service. W. A alone reported few employment prospects for any immigrants. Yet it was to W.A that the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners sent 50 young female Lancashire cotton weavers….all found employment.’



From last winter, cobwebs adorn statues in my mothers garden at Hope Villa, looking forward to connecting with my UK family again this Christmas.

Benevolent Asylum – Lily Hibberd

Benevolent Asylum is an installation, performance and community discussion ground. The project at the Fremantle Arts Centre last year, was prompted by the discovery of the razed site of The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, once the most prominent building in North Melbourne, where Hibberd lived for 11 years. Established in 1851, the Asylum was abandoned in 1900 and finally demolished in 1912.

Hibberd writes ‘The exhibition at Fremantle Arts Centre was the result of an encounter with the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, which sparked an examination of asylum institutions as an archetype of care and confinement in Australia. Benevolent Asylum has evolved over three years, with research across Australia and Europe, to look at the origins of institutional confinement and birth of the circumstance in which state care and incarceration are inseparable.This work has revealed that originary models still profoundly influence Australia’s chief institutions of confinement and punitive detention. In Fremantle, for instance, convict labour transported to Tasmania from London’s Millbank and Pentonville prisons brought with it the Solitary System and a penology of relentless isolation and labour. Replicated across the colony in the mid-19th century, Model Prisons were established at Fremantle, Port Arthur, Adelaide Gaol and at Pentridge in Melbourne. Inmates in this system spent 12 hours labour and 23 hours a day in 2 x 3 metre cells.’

‘Tourism at former prison sites promotes the idea that this is a ‘dark’ history, which our institutions have left well behind, and that such harsh treatment borders on fiction. This is simply another radical forgetting. Confinement operates in precisely the same way in our asylums, prisons and detention centres today. And solitary incarceration is the prevailing public secret of Australian punishment: denial of the practice is so obvious that everything is done to avoid recognising it. ‘

This is a fascinating area of historical research & documentation, and is a rich area of creation for artists in site specific installation & artworks.  Im particulalry fascinated by the current use of these spaces especially for play & free leisure activities when they hold such deep secrets in their psychological landscapes. Is this an unconcious healing process or just gentrification? Certainly at the Forum discussion with the artist, issues of asylum, the history of confinement and the relationship between historical research and creativity were discussed openly and sometimes very emotionally, between artists, historians, prison counsellors, psychiatrists, educators, activists and other community members .


2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 28 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 71 posts. There were 68 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 68mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 28th with 40 views. The most popular post that day was Victorian Bride Ships.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for yardworks, commonplace book, fairies, common place book, and commonplace books.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Victorian Bride Ships June 2010


At the Heart of Preston…… June 2009


Victorian Bride Ships June 2010


About the Artist May 2009


Ship ‘Tartar’ passenger list June 2010


Memento Mori – Victorian celebration of death

I have briefly mentioned the obsession of the Victorians and  artist/photographers fascination with creating images of dead children in the main historical points. From the  ‘carriage to the coffin’ was the fate of over 30% of 19th century children. The Victorian celebration of death meant  that postmortem photographs, carte de visit or cabinet cards were often displayed prominently on the mantlepiece in the home, as well as in memento mori in the form of brooches and lockets with a photo and a lock of the deceased’s hair. Queen Victoria, the ‘Widow of Windsor’ after Prince Alberts death in 1861 retreated into melancholy seclusion for a decade, and made mourning fashionable big business, with women expected to wear widow’s black then purple for at least 2 years.


In most Victorian post-mortem photography, the deceased children were  shown peacefully sleeping, especially precious, since little or no pictures were taken before their death. Most children were propped up and surrounded by their toys to give a more lifelike feel. Sometimes the parents or siblings were shown posed with the deceased child. A single negative could produce multiple prints enabling the family to send the picture to other relatives. Most pictures were thought to be a keepsake rather than an alarming reminder of short mortality.

These poignant, post mortem photos antique baby photos from the Victorian era are a relic from the past which is highly collectable today. The images are forevercharged with deeply felt emotions which still reverberate in the viewers mind today.

‘Sleeping Beauty – memorial photography’ by Stanley Burns


State Records Office of Western Australia

I had a very interesting meeting with Lise Summers at the State Records Office of  Western Australia, Perth last week.

They are very interested in supporting artists in their historical research, and she is particularly interested in the Bride ships and the emmigration of the Cotton Mill girls from Lancashire in 1863. This is where the original ship ‘Tartar’ passenger list is held, as well as countless documents I look forward to finding time to research!

We discussed how the Industrial revolution enabled WA immigrants to come to here and settle, how the Charterists and Fenian’s came over as convicts, aswell as many escaping by choice a growing industrial world to a more agricultural one.

There is potential to create work for an exhibition next year in Oct/Nov.




Threads of life, spiral, the Oneness, through time,telling a yarn, walking on clouds, just do it, sometimes im frightened and i dont know why?

Random words heard and seen today drifting through Perth city centre.


Threads at Southbank