Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

"He is a bold man who undertakes to write a journal at sea..."

1st Class Passenger Robert Gow began his voyage on March 11th, 1871 in Melbourne. Traveling with him are his wife and three year old son, John Biggart. Even while the crew was busy getting everything "ship-shape," Gow reports that his wife and son are already experiencing seasickness. Gow finds that even though two clergymen are aboard, the busyness and bustle prevent the passengers from receiving their divine service. Gow is an observant man-he records 22 adults, 16 children, and 3 servants in the saloon while there are about 44 total passengers between the 2nd and 3rd classes.

Unlike the formal ship logs and the Marfell diary, Gow has much to say on a day to day basis. He seems to be very critical of other passengers' beliefs in a range of topics from homeopathy to religion. On several occasions he mentions a disagreement with another passenger. Gow is perpetually worried about his wife, who can never seem to shake the seasickness. Early in the voyage, a fellow passenger suggested a social meeting in an effort to produce entertainment. There were volunteers for a reading of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and performing various songs but neither pleased Gow.

Several days later Gow was feeding his son John breakfast when all of a sudden things got rough. John went halfway across the ship and the furniture became strewn about. Gow recovered and lashed everything in place. It was an overall poor day as Gow lost his storm hat overboard before breakfast.

Gow again displays his brashness when speaking of the ladies on board. He is describing his efforts of trying to get some entertainment on board when he says "the ladies are troublesome for it, some stupid school girl nonsense of dignity & distance make us all very uncomfortable." In his next entry, he immediately complains about the social life aboard. Referring to himself and the socialness of the other passengers, Gow says, "We're bad enough."

He also says that Lester of Ballarat is not pleasant to associate with. Gow proceeds to describe an argument he had with Lester of Ballarat-one of theology and religion.  Lester is a "Plymouth brother" and does not go to the church services on board because he cannot worship in the presence of unbelievers. Gow asserts that he tried to take a rationalistic views in order to make conversation and Lester reveals his belief that the Roman Catholic Episcopalian and all Protestant churches are Satan's Churches. This example in the diary is a testament to the social tensions and friction that develops from prolonged enclosement with other people. In fact, Gow relates that going to sea is equivalent to going to jail.  Perhaps the lack of privacy and and some sense of claustrophobia builds hostility among the passengers. Gow's bitterness is again displayed with his criticism of the Isaac family, which hints at a prejudice against others in lower socioeconomic classes." He describes the Isaac family as being fat and full fledged and have all great appetites."

Gow does show occasionally show consideration for the other passengers. On Easter Sunday, Reverend C. Moir left out the Jews in his sermon. Gow found this distasteful because there was a Jewish family of seven on board. Otherwise, Easter was pleasant with fine weather and singing described as "so-so."

Later in April, Gow awoke to some voices above his cabin and a "blowing noise." The sight of lights caused him to get out of bed and see what was going on outside. Gow looked down  onto the lower deck and saw a lantern on fire. Two people were arguing about how to put the fire out and not making any progress. Gow rushed to get his water can and poured water on the burning lantern. He put it out in a matter of seconds and he was left in total darkness. A whisper was heard, "Don't wake the Captain."

During the night of May 3rd, the Clarence encountered the Daphne. From this ship, crew and passengers on the Clarence learned that Paris had been taken in January. Gow was astonished by the amount of people who were sorry at the fall of Paris.

For the next couple of weeks, Gow was in a constant quarrel with the captain and surgeon. The surgeon ordered his son to be quarantined for fear that he had measles, a very deadly disease for children on ships during the 1800's. Gow makes the argument that all the fuss in the world would not prevent the spread of the disease and complains that the crew could do a better job fumigating the cabin. Eventually the surgeon let young Gow run about on board but that only distressed other passengers. Another meeting was held between Gow, the surgeon, and the captain and it was determined that the child was healthy enough to be removed completely from quarantine.
Gow must have been surprised and a little concerned in the early hours of June 1st. The Clarence had anchored just outside of the port of St. Helena. Gow awoke to several crashes and the captain's cry of "All hands on deck!". He discovered that another ship had crashed into the Clarence. The Lothair was on its way to New York from Japan and was in need of help. They came across the Clarence, perhaps a little too close, in search of a doctor because they had a sick man on board. After the initial contact, it only took the crews five or six minutes to get the rigging of the two ships untangled. The captain of the Lothair said it was completely his fault. The Lothair paid £55 to the Clarence.

The next morning, the captain took the Clarence to St. Helena. The passengers were allowed to go ashore and Gow and his family were offered horse-drawn carriages to take them up the steep winding paths of the island. Gow made it all the way to Napoleon Bonaparte's house and tomb which were located at the bottom of a deep, grassy valley. Gow found a marble bust of the emperor in the room of the house in which Bonaparte died. Gow attempted to get a cutting from the willow that stood over the grave but had to settle for a piece of a nearby geranium. Before leaving, Gow purchased two dozen figs. He indicates that he greatly enjoyed his time on the island but was ready to head back to London again.

On June 19, the Clarence was signalled to help by a barque. The barque had picked up the crew of another ship that had sprung a leak and wrecked. Captain Gibson went to them in a small boat and gave them some pork.

Closing in on the final destination, the Clarence curiously came across a ship that was bottom-up. The keel was clearly seen above the water and the ship rose and fell with the waves. However, Captain Gibson did not pay it much attention and the Clarence continued its journey.

Mr. Gow officially completes his journal and Mrs. Gow can rest easy on July 20th. The Clarence lands at the docks around 4:00.

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