In last week’s post ‘Stories From Mud Island – 3‘ I noted the death and burial on Mud Island of Elizabeth Roache, one of the ill fated passengers of the ‘Ophelia’. Now, a reader, John Hildyard, has kindly supplied an account of that 1875 voyage, as recorded in the diary of one of his ancestors, William Marlborough Davis. Here is an extract from that diary in which he recounts the arrival of the vessel in Moreton Bay, and of its subsequent quarantining at Peel Island:
Friday 13th August 1875.
I am glad to say we got into the bay last night, and about 8 o’clock we had fresh meat, bread and vegetables brought to us in a small steam cutter. After the cutter had discharged the provisions, it took us in tow as far as the Anchorage. This morning we had beef steak for breakfast and roast pork and potatoes for dinner. They came to us with the Government Doctor and Inspector police. They wanted to know how many deaths we had, and if there were any cases of fever on-board. Our Doctor replying in the affirmative, we were ordered to run the yellow flag up the mainmast, which is a signal for quarantine. We expect to go on an island, which is about 25 miles further on.
Saturday, 14 August.
The Inspector of Police came to us again this morning, he brought official orders for us to go into quarantine one Peel Island. I am sorry to say that we had another death this morning. A single girl died of consumption. The ships carpenter made a coffin for her and a boat’s crew took her to a small island and buried her. We had 16 deaths at sea and one here in the bay.
Sunday 15th August.
The Government tug came this morning and took us in tow Peel Island. When we had gone about 10 miles, we were stuck fast the three hours and 20 minutes; the tug at last succeeded in getting us off. As soon as we were in deep water, she left us at anchor. We passed the island of St Eleana (sic) this morning where all the convicts are sent from the colonies. They are employed in various ways, some on sugar plantations, others are taught to make tools, shoes, clothing etc.
Monday 16th August.
The tug took in tow early this morning and by 9 o’clock, we were lying off Peel Island. The single girls had orders to immediately get ready to disembark, the ships boats were lowered for that purpose.
Tuesday 17th August.
The married people are going off this morning, but they are loath to leave the ship to go onto an island, but of course they are bound to go. The doctor gave orders for the single men to get ready, and I can tell you in less than 10 minutes, they were all ready with their beds and baggage, waiting for the orders to man the boats. In about half an hour all single men passengers were clear of the ship. We had a very awkward place of landing, the shore was all rocks which we had to climb over as best we could. When we reached the island, our first orders were to fix tents, then we were numbered off, ten to each tent. The next orders were to go and get our boxes from the shore for fear they might get washed away. I think it is a piece of nonsense sending all the boxes ashore, some passengers have got as many as three and four heavy boxes containing tools furniture etc, which of course would do no more harm in the ship then her cargo. But orders have been given by the Queensland Government that all passengers luggage of whatever description, was to be taken to the island, so that the ship my have a proper cleaning. We took a short walk about the island just before dusk. It is very thick with bush, there are also a great many large birds and the shores are covered with shellfish different kinds.
Wednesday 18th August.
It was sometime last night before we could sleep owing to the mosquitoes, they were troublesome. Where I woke in the morning, I found myself covered from head to foot with mosquito bites; they raise great lumps on you and if scratched, swell times the size. Last night the cabin passengers set off some fireworks from the ship “Ophelia”, it had a nice effect and was answered with ringing cheers from the island.
Thursday 19th August.
While here, we are allowed a pound of mutton and a pound of flour or bread a day; when we get flour we make dampers, we mix the flour with water and then make a good wood fire, and put them in the ashes to bake.
Friday 20th August.
We all have orders to shift tents further into the bush. We get some nice fine days here, but very heavy dews at night. We get wet through walking through the high scrub.
Sunday 22nd August.
We had a raging fire through the woods yesterday (Saturday). It burned last night and is still burning. This morning the governor of the island offered a reward of 5 pounds to anyone that would give information that would lead to the conviction of the offender.
Monday 23rd August.
We hear this morning that the ship “Ophelia” has passed the quarantine inspection; this afternoon the government inspectors came to inspect the emigrants on the island, and we hear we are likely to go round to Brisbane tomorrow or the next day.
Tuesday 24th August.
This morning we had orders to get our boxes down to the beach.
Wednesday 25th August.
The time is here this morning and we have all orders to get ready to embark for Brisbane; we were not long in boarding the tug, the single girls went first, married people next and then single men. We went off to the tug in boats and weighed anchor about 12 o’clock. There have been several families left behind, they are too unwell to leave yet. We arrived in Brisbane by 5:30 PM. The single men had orders to get all the luggage out of the tug before they were allowed to go ashore. We arrived at the emigration Depot by about 6 PM, where we were served with tea, after which we were allowed to go out till 9 o’clock. There was very little to be seen by the time we got to town, all the shops being closed; they close here at dusk, we soon made our way back to the depot. A great many of our passengers were the worse for drink. The place was in an uproar and I can tell you it was very late before we got to sleep.
Thursday 26th of August.
We had a great many farmers down this morning to engage those emigrants who were willing to offer their services. Very nearly all the Irish emigrants were engaged, they took the first offer. There was no call for blacksmiths, all the carpenters were engaged at good wages. Smith work is very slack in Brisbane. I in company with several more of our passengers got a Government pass and took a train to Ipswich, where we arrived at about 7 PM. We went to the immigration depot for tea.
Friday 27th August.
This morning we went to look for employment. I went to the Government Railways works and got employment in the smith shop. It is the largest works in Queensland, the Railways works here are under the Queensland Government. We work eight hours a day or 48 hours per week. Commencing at 8 o’clock we work till one, then resume work at 2 o’clock and leave at a quarter to 6, with the exception of Saturdays, when we leave work at a quarter past 12.