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The Last Port.
The very extensive buildings which were at Lambhay Point, under Plymouth Citadel, known as Baltic Wharf, had been prepared by Messrs. Hilson & Co., builders, in 1870, for the reception of emigrants which were despatched from Plymouth under the auspices of Her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners, or of the Hon. G. H. Verdon, the then Agent General for Victoria. The arrangements made for emigrants before embarkation were very complete. The people were met on arrival of the trains and steamers, and their luggage taken free of cost to the depot, where the emigrants were received and well provided for during their two or three day’s stay, before being embarked in a body by a steamer which came alongside to convey them to their vessel in the Sound or Cattewater. While in the depot their clothing was inspected as to sufficiency and cleanliness, they pass the ship'’ surgeon to guard against contagious disease being carried on board, and the system of messing and bathing admirably prepared them to fall into order without difficulty or confusion when embarked. The single women had a block of buildings fitted for their separate use, with mess rooms and dormitories, under charge of a matron. The single men’s berths, in two large rooms, were arranged on a novel principle, introduced by a Mr. Chant, despatching officer, and the married people had their own rooms, with baths enclosed, and so arranged as to ensure the maximum of privacy consistent with the comparatively small space necessarily available. Ventilation, and warming were well provided for, gas was laid throughout, and a plentiful supply of water, with fire cocks on every landing. To those concurred in the despatch of emigrants in large numbers, the depot, which was the property of Mr. Newton, could not fail to be an object of interest, all the arrangements being the result of many years practical experience, and the advantage to emigrants were great, for it is no small boon to an agricultural labourer on arrival at a strange sea-port to be well cared for and preserved from the plundering of crimps in low neighbourhoods, till he is safely embarked. About one thousand people could be provided for in these buildings, which were divided into mess rooms, dormitories, bathrooms, and lavatories, hot air rooms, kitchens, offices, depot master’s house, luggage stores, etc, etc. The rooms being on such a scale that in one alone, fitted for single women, 248 separate beds were provided, and room’s 40 feet square were classed as small ones. The ship ‘Corona’, which was due at Plymouth on April 18th, chartered by the Hon. G. J. Verdon, for conveyance of emigrants to Melbourne, was the first vessel, which embarked her passengers from the new depot. The depot service was performed for many years at Plymouth by Mr. Arthur Hill, of Reading Abbey, efficiently represented by his depot master, Mr. Watson.
Later on in 1875, a reporter called Peter Tavy wrote the following report.
“Barring accidents, Plymouth, in the 1870’s was the last port at which the emigrant ship touched on her way down the Channel. The town of Plymouth was dear to many thousands who toiled in our great colonies.
When the emigrants, exported by the Colonial Governments, arrived at Plymouth, they were taken to the emigration Depot, on Baltic Wharf, where they were comfortably lodged and boarded till the ship is ready and the wind fair. The depot could accommodate, on an emergency, as many as 1,000 people; but if you happened to be one of the 1,000 you would not be deeply impressed with the comfort of the place. To enjoy the full luxuries of the depot, it would have been advisable to have stayed there when there were about 500 inmates. Then it was not necessary to wait two hours to get a wash, and the talented chef of the establishment would have had a fairer chance of bringing out the proper flavour of the soup.
The single girls, the single men, and the married people were lodged in separate blocks of the building. But the two first-named portions of creation, from whence the supply of husbands and wives were drawn, were not kept apart all the time. They were permitted to flirt by daylight in the depot yard, subject to certain rules and regulations. For instance, no kissing was allowed on any pretence whatever. If a young man wanted to kiss a young woman for her mother, he would have to get a special order from the Emigration Commissioners in London. A moderate amount of hand squeezing was permitted, but if the young woman cried “oh!” the young man must drop it at once. A married man was permitted to flirt with his wife as much as he liked between the hours of 10 a.m and 4 p.m., but no man was allowed to kiss another man’s wife; and that was the reason so many poor wives never got kissed at all. The dormitories and the mess rooms were light, well warmed, and as perfectly clean as a man-of-war in commission. The sleeping berths were two stories high. The single women’s dormitory could sleep 300. In the married people’s dormitory the father and mother sleep in the lower berths, and the children in the upper one. This was a very wise arrangement, as it gives the children the opportunity of tumbling out and breaking their necks if they choose to avail themselves of it. But most of the youngsters seemed to think they owned their parents a grudge for bringing them into the world, so lived to worry the old people to death. Eight or ten emigrants formed a mess, and they elected one of their number as head, whose duty it was to fetch the victuals from the kitchen. They generally choose a head with an honest-looking face; as such a one was less likely to eat the tit-bits of fat as he carried the food up-stairs. The most painful regulation in reference to the single men was, that anyone who wanted to get drunk must go outside the depot to do it. This pressed very hard on those who don’t like walking. In the men’s dormitory there was a big red stain on the floor. It was not red ink; it was merely a scarlet mark that had been put there by two men to note the spot where they had held a friendly argument one night. It was understood that the human nose had been a leading feature in the discussion. The boarding was on a very liberal scale; the women received the same allowance as the men, but they were not compelled to eat it all unless they liked it. Anyone who thought he could eat a bit more if they stood up, was permitted to do so. Children under 12 years of age, had half rations; if they asked for more the doctor gave them caster oil and wormwood. When a child had had three doses he generally leaves of making any more foolish inquiries, but a very bad case will take four “goes” of oil before they cry “Enough!” On certain evenings a chaplain would go to the depot and hold a service there; but any emigrant who objects to being converted was not obliged to attend.
Mr. Watson was the depot master, and during his connection with this establishment, and a similar one at Blackwall, an immense number of people have passed through his hands on their way to the other side of the globe. Mr. Watson was an able and energetic man with great responsibilities, but he kept his depot and its inhabitants in first-rate order. To do this, he often had to speak very frankly, and, when occasion required, he did not scruple to point out the defects which disfigure the manners and conversation of certain of the emigrants.”
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