An Australian Emigrant Family

Peter Blackwell, Ph.D. Brown University '88 (Rhode Island) and Mark Blackwell, B.Com. B.D. (Euroa, Victoria, Australia) [[email protected]]

This is my father's country. Manager of the flour mill,
he belongs in a crowded picture. His friends
and busy, flour dusted ghosts
lumping wheat.....

--Joyce Lee, My Father's Country

Australian history is almost always picturesque and indeed, it is so curious and strange, that it is in itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, and so it pushes other novelties into second and third places. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies. And all of a fresh, new sort, no moldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities, but they are all true; they all happened.

--Mark Twain, Following the Equator

George Francis Blackwell was twelve years old when he arrived in Liverpool from Leicester on a winter's day in 1855. On January 6, he was due to sail from England to Australia with his father, George, and his twenty-seven year old uncle John Ward Margetts. Young George was the oldest child and so he was off to work along with the other men.

What mixed feelings he must have had. It would be two years before he would see his mother and brothers and sisters again. His youngest brother, Edwin Orlando, was only two years old. Letters would take up to six moths to be answered. At the same time there was the anticipation of a trip to the other end of the world - to Australia. A small boy sailing with his thirty-eight year old father and his uncle to begin work in a new land. His father had a contract to manage the Newry Flour Mill at Longford in Tasmania.

That wasn't all. When he arrived at the docks in Liverpool he saw an amazing sight -- a great clipper ship named the Lightning, and as her name promised, one of the fastest vessels in the world. It was the ship that would carry him to his new home. What a sight! The simple full female figure below the huge twenty foot bowsprit stood in contrast to her stern which was ornamented with gilded carved work. Her bottom shone bronze as she had recently been copper covered in Liverpool, and the rest of the hull outside was painted black. Inside she was pearl color, relieved with white, and the waterways were lead color.

What he could see from the outside was but a foretaste of what George would yet experience. The dining saloon was wainscotted and painted pure white, like enamel, and was relieved with gilded mouldings and flower-work. It was 48 feet long, 13 feet wide aft, and 14 forward, and had a large mahogany table its whole length, with settees along its sides. At the forward partition there was a costly sideboard of marble, and rising from it a large mirror. Another mirror and sofa ornamented the after part, so that the saloon was reflected from both ends.

Although he was not to enjoy the spacious state-rooms and other apartments on each side of the dining saloon, the whole length, rich in furniture, light, and ventilation, nevertheless, even between decks, where George would live, there were 10 plate-glass air ports on each side, skylights and ventilators along the sides of the house above, so that they were well supplied with light and ventilation, and fitted up in superior style.

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