The Murray Family – Chapter Three – Voyage of the Ship “SUSAN”



The voyage of the Barque Susan          October 1838 – February 1839


The Irish emigrants embarked at Londonderry between 10th and 13th October 1838.  Bitter weather prevented the ship from clearing the harbour for another week, and virtually all the passengers were extremely seasick whilst the ship was still within sight of Londonderry.


With what sadness and excitement, the emigrants would cling to the sight of their loved ones, as the coast of Ireland receded slowly from view.  Although the long delay in leaving caused by the bad weather may have necessitated many returning home before the ship sailed.  After leaving the Irish port of Londonderry, on 19th October[1], the Susan finally set sail for New South Wales.  The bad weather would continue to cause problems.


One of the passengers, James Dempsey, wrote a letter at the time to a former employer, Captain Stewart Moore.  In it, he gives a picture of conditions at the time of embarkation and the frustration of waiting for the ship to depart; feelings no doubt experienced by the many emigrant families including the Murray family from Fermanagh.


“Moville October the 10th, 1838

Hounord Sir


Being conscious that you would be desirous of entertaining some information concerning us how we are situated I now inform you as it is with us at present. The Ship mooved down from Derry the Leath of Culmore on Saturday evening. And the weather being unfeavorable stopped there until Thursday morning and she is now down the Leath of Movill and internds going off the first opportunity this evening.

It is serious to behold in all corns of the ship the are sick and women fainting but thank God we are all in good health as yet. The first and second day we went on board there was a great deal of complaints with the emigrants of their rashions being too small and many of them wishing to go ashore and return home but I endeavoured to please any I had any influence with nowing that it was impossible for two hundred and sixty four passengers to be all righter according to there wishes at once

The news reached Captain Ramsy’s ears and he came on board at Culmore and called all the passingers on deck and gave free liberty to all that pleased to go ashore and there was one man from Newtown that went home and this is the reason I write lest the word would be carried home that we are ill treated and if it does believe it not. For the hole passingers put into seventeen Messis and there is appointed one man head over each mess and I am appointed over one and it is there business to see the meat eaquilly served out according to the number of the mess.

We eat our breakfast about eight o’clock of good tea and one day pork with pea soop for our dinner and the next day beef with flour pudding mixed with suet. There is also rum wine figs and reasons for those that is sick and everything appears to be carried on in a very judicious manner.

There is six men appointed with the doctor for forming Laws and if any is found pilfering from the other or giving insolence the one to the other or refusing to clean their births or scrubbing (soiling?) upper or lower decks that are reported to the doctor and their names entered in the register book and when they arrive at Sidney they will be given up to the government and punished in proportion as their crime deserves. Therefore I expect good order will be carried on….”

Stormy weather for 12 days

The ship’s Surgeon, Charles Kennedy, kept a Log of the voyage which gives a picture of conditions on board.  He remarked in his Log[2] that, ‘On the ship leaving Londonderry the weather was very stormy for twelve days, during that time the emigrants in general suffered very much from seasickness’.  However, by 4th November they must have been sailing into warmer weather.  Mention is made in an entry made at midnight on 4th November of fine pleasant weather and sighting ‘the island of Porto Santo’.  This is in the vicinity of the island of Madeira.  There is no mention in the Log of the ship actually calling into any other port en route for New South Wales.


Appointment of Ship’s Corporals

Surgeon Kennedy proceeded to appoint ‘corporals’ from the single men to maintain order during the day, and similar arrangements with heads of families for the long nights:

I have likewise had the heads of families put into Watches for the purpose of keeping order below and to attend to the lamps placed in the hatchway … which has been attended with a very good effect in preventing any irregularities that may have taken place.  The night was divided into three Watches (8-12, 12-4, 4-7).


The aforementioned James Dempsey, in his letter of 10th October, referred to six men being appointed to ‘form laws’ with the Doctor.  By the time these laws were formed, a month later, in a document dated 10th November, Charles Murray was one of nine men listed.  There were 19 Rules and Regulations to be observed by the Emigrants on board the Ship ‘Susan’ from L’Derry to Sydney N.S.W.  Rule No 19 included the name of Charles Murray who was appointed one of the ship’s corporals.

Robin Haines wrote in 2003 that regulations, superintended by the surgeon, enforced hours of rising, dining,and retiring. Volunteer constables, chosen from among the emigrants, were also paid a gratuity on landing. The ship records stated the role of Master at Arms and Ships Corporals was

“…to see the above Regulations carried into effect and to report any person or persons acting Contrary to the Same:

Bernard M Cowley – Master at Arms

Chas McLaughlin, Chas Murray, Henry Carey, Ed Hutcheson, John Campbell, Ships Corporals: and

Robt Watson, Robt Howard, Robt Kiddle, Jas McCoy .

Signed on “ Susan ” at Sea 10th November 1838 (sgd) Chas. Kennedy Surgeon Superintendant”.

It is likely that Bernard M Cowley, the Master at Arms, listed above was actually Bernard McCawley whose daughter, Annie, married Charles Murray’s son, James when the Murray and McCawley/McCauley families were later living in Wollongong NSW.

By all accounts at that time, conditions on most emigrant vessels were reasonably good. They had to carry on board a specified number of water closets and lifeboats, a hospital with medicines and surgical instruments, and a surgeon for more than fifty passengers[3].  The Ship’s Surgeon, Charles Kennedy kept a log of day-to-day events[4] during the voyage as well as a final summary report detailing aspects of life for the Susan’s passengers during their long and sometimes difficult journey.


Stormy weather prevailed and dominated the early part of the voyage.  The Surgeon commented that most of the emigrants were seasick, but that the ‘officers were kind to them’.  Many became ill again during the heat of equatorial waters. When the weather permitted, bedding was rolled up and taken on deck and aired.  Passengers’ clothes were washed twice a week.  Throughout the voyage, the ship’s drinking water was in ‘good condition’.  Only two barrels went bad, one of limejuice and one of molasses.


Education of the emigrant children

Education was not neglected.  Usually, teachers were volunteers from among the more educated and literate emigrants.  The Captain noted that many of the mothers taught their children to read during the voyage. On 14th November the Surgeon reported that a school was opened that day ‘under the superintendance of Mr. Watson, Passenger’.  Teachers were John Connor, Wm Hart, Geo Watson and James Watson; hours 10-11 am and 3-4 pm.  Books put on board were given to the scholars according to their requirements; to be taught on the quarter-deck under the awning.  The Murray children would have received some schooling here.


In his General Report[5] Surgeon Kennedy reported that ‘Sixty children were taught under the Superintendance of Mr. Watson when the weather wd  permit, and who has made himself useful as a religious instructor’.  However, it would seem that Surgeon Kennedy held doubts concerning the ages of some of the children.  He commented in his final General Report[6]:

I have thought proper to victual all boys from the age of 10 years and upwards as male souls and the girls of the same age as female souls.  My reason for doing so was that I observed many of them had their ages inserted on the Nominal Return considerably below what they actually were.

Murrays in the Surgeon’s Sick Book

Charles’ wife, Susan Murray became an early entry in the Doctor’s Sick Book.  Doctor Kennedy treated her, as Case No. 9, from November 14 to December 5 for ‘Dyspepsia’.  By November 19, he reported as to her condition – ‘considerable debilitation and emaciation’ but, happily, she recovered and was convalescent by November 27 till she was discharged on December 5.


Charles and Susan also had to cope with two of their children falling ill during the journey.  Case No. 6 was Ellen Murray aged 9 years.  She was suffering from ‘Fever – Synochus’  [a continued or unremitting fever].  On November 18 she ‘was seized with cold shiverings followed with violent pain in her forehead, general pains and weakness, heat of skin, thirst, tongue parched, bowels confined and loss of appetite.  Had exposed herself to the sunrays yesterday…..’.  Maybe she was soaking up a bit too much unaccustomed sun on deck and it didn’t agree with her!  Her illness lasted a full week and she was discharged on November 25.  Phillip Murray, age 14, was Case No. 22.  The doctor diagnosed ‘Pneumonia … has exposed himself at night in sleeping on deck contrary to orders’.  He, too, recovered and by December 28 was ‘convalescent’ until his discharge on January 8[7]


Although Doctor Kennedy’s ministrations helped our Murray patients to regain their health, not all his patients managed to survive the journey.  Captains were required to record births, deaths and marriages happening on board the emigrant ships.  Two babies were born during the Susan’s voyage and five small children died of a bowel complaint.  Emigrant children were especially prone to illness and in the period 1832-1855, 17% of them died on the long voyage to New South Wales.[8] Amazingly, the youngest Murray children did not appear in the Surgeon’s Sick Book at all.


Captain’s Orders

The Susan’s Captain at one stage decreed that on Wednesdays and Saturdays, ‘the men will be shaved and boys and children have their heads combed and their hair cut short’.[9]  Men were given chores on the boat and for exercise played leapfrog!  Hygiene was important; Kennedy reported that he had


“ordered the emigrants to be out of bed at six or seven o’clock.  Men and boys on deck to wash themselves, women and children to do the same …  The children were washed in buckets of sea water and cheerfulness encouraged.  Weather permitting, meals were taken on deck at 8 am, noon and at 4 pm, and smoking was confined to half an hour after each meal.  At sunset the children were put to bed, then the adults assembled, prayers were read and then lights out.”

Religious Services during the journey.

Emigrant passenger John Watson was an agricultural labourer who, during the voyage, conducted the Church of England services and Bible classes for children.  The passengers were listed as all religious denominations – Wesleyan, Methodist Baptist, Protestant, C of E, and a few Catholics.[10]  Most of the emigrants on the Susan were Protestants.  Dissenting Protestants – ie Presbyterians and others not of the established Church were now being treated as second class subjects and debarred from civic and public life in Ulster along with the Catholics.  The Surgeon noted that

To promote a religious disposition among the Emigrants, Divine Service every Sunday has been performed, weather permitting, in the afternoon a Sermon has been delivered by Mr. Watson Passenger and every Evening Prayers by Christians of different denominations.

The Susan’s Catholics would have missed the company of a priest during the long voyage.  The Surgeon went on to say that ‘the catholics were not interfered with, on the forecastle they might be seen with their Officiating Ones worshipping in their own way, every night.  Prayers were offered and sometimes a hymn sung’.  Maybe, special constable Charles Murray was one of the officiating ones at these meetings. Moreover, it is likely that the Murray Family, as devout Roman Catholics, would have attended these meetings..


Christmas on the Susan

Christmas on 25 December 1838 was celebrated by the passengers and crew in a very different environment that year as the Susan headed down towards the warm southern continent. The worst of the voyage was over and in a few weeks they would be facing their new future.  It is likely that some nostalgia for past Christmases was also in the air. The Surgeon’s Log records that, at noon  on  Christmas Eve  when the  passengers dined, a quarter of a pint of wine was issued to each adult – ‘no lemon juice served out today’.  Next day, Christmas Day, began with Divine Service and after dinner a quarter of a pint of wine again given to each adult.  The nursing mothers were given porter wine!  No doubt, other more appropriate festivities were arranged for the many children on board.


Except for young Phillip Murray who was still sick at the beginning of January, there were no more reports of Murrays on the sick list for the remainder of the journey.  Hopefully the next few weeks found them enjoying good health and that seasickness was a thing of the past for all the emigrants.


Land ahoy!

There were, possibly, many passengers who hated the long voyage, the bouts of seasickness and the absence of privacy in the cramped quarters.  The words ‘Land Ho’ shouted by a sailor, when the coast was seen in the far distance, would electrify the passengers.  They would now appear in their finest clothes, with mothers holding their children aloft in the hope that they would see the land where they were likely to spend the remainder of their lives.

An emigrant’s view of arrival

Another emigrant, who arrived in Sydney only weeks after the Murrays on a ship also, confusingly, called Susan, kept a diary of his voyage and gives us a glimpse of how he viewed Sydney Harbour on reaching their journey’s end.  Michael Finn was a passenger on the other Susan which left Plymouth in December 1838[12] and reached Sydney on 10th March 1839.  He notes in his diary:

In sight of Sydney heads early in the morning.  There is nothing that strikes the eye as picturesque or sublime as the appearance of the Coast here; it has both a barren and rugged appearance from the Water; covered over with brush-wood and scrub, but was amply repaid by the splendid appearance, the smooth unruffled surface of its land locked harbour with the beautiful cottages on both sides and its numerous Inlets …


For the emigrant Murray family’s experience at this time, we can look through the eyes of another arrival on the Letitia, also in 1839, who wrote –

The entrance to Port Jackson is grand in the extreme.  The high, dark cliffs we had been coasting along all morning, suddenly terminate in an abrupt precipice, called the South Head, on which stand the lighthouse and signal-station.  The North Head is a similar cliff, a bare bluff promontory of dark horizontal rocks; and between these grand stupendous pillars, as through a colossal gate, we entered Port Jackson…..  Near the North Head is the quarantine-ground, off which one unlucky vessel was moored when we passed …[13]

Maybe the earlier Susan, with suspected whooping cough, was moored there for a time before proceeding to a berth at Circular Quay.

On 1 February 1839 Surgeon Supt C. Kennedy noted in his journal that there was a problem with ‘Hooping Cough’ when the Health Officer came aboard  – but that this had been satisfactorily resolved.[11]

Arrival in Sydney Harbour 1839
On a fine summer day, a Friday, as the Susan sailed through The Heads into view of picturesque Sydney Harbour, it is likely that Charles and Susan Murray said a private prayer of thanks for their family’s safe arrival.

The Shipping Column on page 2 of the Sydney Gazette of Saturday February 2, 1839, included news of the Susan’s arrival.

“Yesterday …From Londonderry (Ireland), same day, whence she sailed the 19th October,the barque SUSAN  Captain Hayne with 261 Government Emigrants.  Agents A.B. Smith & Co.

In the English Intelligence column on the same page, it was further reported the health problem had been cleared up.

…The SUSAN from Londonderry is understood to bring intelligence to the 19th but, up till a late hour yesterday afternoon, it had not been ascertained whether the report of the Health Officer was such as to prevent the necessity of placing the vessel and passengers in quarantine.  Since the above was written, Dr. Dobie has reported favourably and the vessel has in consequence been allowed to come up the Harbour.

The Gazette also noted the weather in Sydney on arrival – morning, noon and evening temperatures.

…                                              M      N      E             Wind     Weather

Thursday 31 [Jan]                71     84     76            NE      Hot wind

Friday       1 [Feb]                     70      73    70              SE        Cloudy

Journey’s end

All the Susan emigrants would have mixed feelings when the then small town of Sydney came into sight.  There would be some trepidation at what awaited them, mixed with relief at the prospect of firm ground beneath their feet, after the endless tossing of the little ship during their long sea journey from the port of Londonderry in Ireland to New South Wales.





Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Not to be confused with the Susan which left Plymouth on 8th December 1838 and arrived at Sydney 10th March 1839 (with Capt Neatby & Surgeon Supt Kennedy).
  2. NL Susan – Surgeon’s Log – Reel PRO3214
  3. The Irish Australians (1984, p29?)
  4. NSWRS –  Bounty Ships Surgeons Logs – Susan 1839 (held Kingswood NSW)
  5. PATTERSON, Charles.  Surgeon Superintendant. General Report on the way in which the Emigration Ship “Susan” has been victualled and fitted out to convey Emigrants from L’Derry to Sydney New South Wales dated 2nd February 1839 [NSWSR 4/4698.1]
  6. PATTERSON (1839)
  7. The Doctor’s Sick Book also listed 18 year old James Blow who had a lengthy illness from Nov 20 to Jan 20 suffering from Diarrhea and Dysentry  The Blow family, also from Fermanagh, would have a close association with the Murray family.  They travelled on the same Susan  voyage as the Murrays arriving at Sydney on 1 Feb 1939.
  8. CHARLEWOOD, Don.  The long farewell: the perilous voyage of settlers under sail in the great migrations to Australia, Penguin Books, 1981.
  9. PATTERSON (1839)
  10. NSWRS – Assisted Emigrants Passenger Lists – Susan 1839.
  11. There was also a ship called Susan which sailed from Plymouth 8 December 1838 reaching Sydney on 10 March 1839.  Records for this ship and the Susan from Londonderry 19 October 1838 arriving Sydney 1 February 1839 are slightly confused in the historical records.
  12. Mrs. Charles Meredith.  Notes & Sketches of New South Wales during residence in the colony from 1839 to 1844.  Sydney : Ure Smith, 1973 [1844].
  13. BLAINEY, Geoffrey.  Black kettle and full moon: daily life in a vanished Australia, Vic : Penguin Group, 2003.