From ‘The Western Daily Mercury’- 31st January 1879
The departure from our shores of an emigrant ship, bearing with it half-a-thousand of our country people, may awaken very little thought in the ordinary mind, but to those to whom reflection is dear, and especially to the many in whose hearts kindred ties stir up a chord of sympathy, the event is one which will be remembered as a parting period in the history of their lives. Early this morning, and before the grey mists of a winter’s dawn had yet cleared away, the good ship ‘Star of India’ left Plymouth Sound, bound for the distant port of Adelaide, and taking with it, independent of the crew, 366 of the working population of England Competition between capital and labour, the frequency of strikes in every department of labour, and the general depression of trade which now exists, have necessitated – no other word can be used – the exile from their country of so many of our “sons of toil.” The Mercury yesterday described the reception at the Government Emigration Depot of over 500 agricultural labourers, which the recent agitation in Kent and Sussex had forced from their homes. Description given in brief would not convey in any sense a correct idea of the sight to be witnessed within the walls of an emigration depot, which has suddenly received an influx of visitors, making up a total of nearly 760 souls. The one at Plymouth is the most perfect of its kind, and is capable of accommodating a larger number than any other similar institution, while its favoured position as to the embarkation of emigrants, renders it at once a most central and important place in the authoritative mind, The Government Emigration Depot at Plymouth is most ably superintended by Mr. T. Hill, and the female portion of the temporarily detained population is under the kind and experienced supervision of Mrs. Watson. To strictly pursue the Government regulations and properly provide for the fulfilment of the agreement under which emigrants engage to transport themselves from their own to a distant country, it is imperative that a close supervision should be exercised, not only for the safety but for the protection of those who place themselves in the hands of the authorised agents. Actual detention for a brief period is consequently necessary, but, so long as the enforced confinement lasts, it is rendered as little irksome and made so pleasant as not to be felt, that the protégés, so to call them, of the Government rather hail it as a respite from a monotonous journey, with a degree of pleasure. Imagine upwards of 600 people gathered together within the confines of one outlying building; remember that they are amassed from different counties, suddenly brought together, entertaining all kinds of opinions, promulgating every variety of views, supporting this and denouncing that, one here condemning what he supposes has been the cause of his self-imposed exile, and another defending the object of his attack. Conflicting elements are brought together – opinions are exchanged between those who know not each other, and were reared in different places and under different influences – the father with his wife and two or three children protesting that he has to leave his country because of the intolerance of others, the young man with neither kith nor kin replying that he might have stopped at home if he had chosen, and that he (the independent youth) was only going out to “make his fortune.” In the midst of such disputation the feminine element is not foreign. No; it is rather prominent. The Premier was perhaps not wrong when he described the ladies as the “fairer, but not the weaker sex.” To see the sturdy manner in which the feminine inmates of a Government Depot, support those with whom their sympathies lie, and with whom perhaps they have in unity undertaken their trip to the “distant home,” will be sufficient without any further stimulus, to destroy any illusion which one may feel disposed to entertain to the contrary. There is a feature in a heterogeneous gathering of this description which should not be overlooked, and that is the unconscious manner in which the people discover where each one and another come from. South of London and more especially the West, the people speak with an accent, or more properly speaking a “brogue,” which is hardly to be understood by those hailing from Yorkshire or the far north, particularly when they are taken from the rough or agricultural districts. But the “brogue” spoken of is not readily forgotten by those to whom it came as a gift in their childhood, and the chord of sympathy is struck at once between those who recognise each other by the peculiarities of their county. The agricultural labourers who have refused to continue their work in the counties of Kent and Sussex, and the miners of Lancashire, together with the plodding, hard-working Yorkshiremen, met together in Plymouth on Wednesday night. Among them were stern hearts who bitterly resented the causes which led them to seek employment in another country – though those causes were of their own fruit – and, on the other hand, were those who rejoiced to leave the isle which was their home, because they were full of buoyant spirits promoted by the hope which tells a flattering tale, but when reached is only found a delusive snare. These were the various elements pitted against each other, and it is surprising to think that the quality of discipline could in so short a period be so perfected as to cause the excited throng to separate and seek their respective apartments when the order was given. On ship they will be more effectually saved from each other, and it must have been a relief to the excellent matron and superintendent of the Depot when the steam tug removed them from the wharf to the far-bound ship. It ought justly to be said in passing that the emigrants, on their departure, raised a hearty cheer for Mrs. Watson and her kindness; and as the vessel went on her way the ever-touching strain of “Auld Lang Syne” was softly wafted over the water. The ‘Star of India’, whose motto, in reverent strains are given as “Heaven’s light our guide”, is a full barque rigged vessel of one thousand tons register, fully equipped, and commanded by Capt. H. D. Roe, an experienced and pleasant-spoken officer. The vessel is fitted up with all the modern appliances and means of comfort which can possibly be accorded to an emigrant ship. It is supplied with Mr. Johnson’s patent sleeping berths for married emigrants, and contains all the improvements which were intended by the patentee. The aim of the inventor was to secure complete privacy, cleanliness, and improved ventilation. The new introduction consists of a set of berths running, parallel to the side of the ship, but allowing such a distance between that the occupants may pass to and fro. The ends are formed of bulkheads, which have a space left above and below them for the passage of air. The sleeping berths are then hinged to the bulkheads, so that after being used they may be turned up with the bedding into the space of about 9 inches, left as a locker for their reception against each bulkhead. The ventilating doors once used to enclose the sleeping compartments, can be folded back, and a clear passage is thus formed to the fresh air. The invention is a capital one, and must come into popular use. The ‘Star of India’ is chartered for her journey by Messrs. Houlder, Brothers, and Co., of London, shipping agents for the South Australian Government, the firm being well represented by Mr. F. Phillips. The vessel is despatched by Messrs. T. Weekes and Company, of Plymouth, who are the charterers, as well as the agents, to the South Australian Government. During the course of yesterday afternoon the ship was boarded by Sir Arthur Blyth, B.C.M.G., Mr. Watson, and others, from the Board of Trade. The surgeon-superintendent on board is Dr. Mitcheson, and the matron is Mrs. Davidson, one of the most experienced in the service. The emigrants on board the vessel may be classed as follows:- English – 133 males, 111 females, children between the ages of 1 and 12 years, 83; infants, 14. Irish – 7 males, 10 females; Scotch – 5; foreigners – 1; total, 366. In Government statistics this reduces the total to 309 statute adults. In order to show the close supervision which the English Government exercises over its emigrant population, it may be said that Dr. Eccles, the appointed agent, visited the ship and satisfied himself that the surgeon on board was not only duly qualified (having been only appointed after a most satisfactory examination), but that he possessed all the means and appliances which would be required even in an extreme emergency. With such a ship, so thoroughly equipped, and so well manned, the motto which it bears may well receive an echo in English hearts.