Aboard ‘Sir William Eyre’

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Aboard ‘Sir William Eyre’
Progress & Voyage of William Carter,

England to Australia 1858



Editor’s note: This transcription has used earlier transcriptions made by William’s great-grandson Robert A. Carter and by Mabel Carter, wife of William’s grandson Thomas Carter. Both of these transcriptions have made my task so much easier. However I have varied from these two transcriptions slightly in relation to spelling and some punctuation where I prefer to retain the original.

Brian Lewis, May 2017.


Left Lewisham at ½ p 5 a.m. June 11/58 whent to Greenwich and from thare to London Bridge & from thare to Euston Square & from thare to Liverpool. Arrived in Liverpool at 5 o’clock. Whent to the docks and & had a look at the ships. Thare was some fine ships to choose from & the docks are also fine places. Returned back to the town and took a lodging at a Coffee house. Had a good supper, having had no dinner and a long ride i made a hearty meal and whent to Bed Early. But no sleep the Lightening & thunder dreadful and rain coming down in torrents running down the streets like a River stayed in all day & woke up on Sunday morning at 5 got up & had a strole round the town but found nothing much to look at everything seemed to be very dull but the Die was cast & it was no use to fret got my breakfast whent across the Mersey to Birkenhead with a man who was staying at the coffee house who proved a friend to me and gave me every information that i required. Took me on board a ship and told me whare to get what i wanted for my use. When i came back from Birkenhead thare was hundreds on the boats and pier some just came home and others going away. Liverpool is a large place Broad streets and large buildings all built on a solid rock. The docks reach nearly 10 miles. The streets are much like the streets of London and named the same as many of them are.

Monday 14 whent to the market and a very fine one it is and to the museum they have the Best Collection of Birds Beasts & Reptile Fossils and other things i ever saw. Whent & paid my passage in the sir William Eyre walked from one end of the docks to the other & then back to my lodging.

Tuesday 15 whent & saw St. Georges Hall a very fine building and likewise the Exchange and Nelson’s  monument and many other fine buildings. Bought my shirt & other things and then back to my lodging for the last time having to go on board tomorrow.

Wednesday 16 Bought all that i wanted. Whent on board at one o’clock whent out into the river at two and had my first night on board a ship. Not a very pleasant one. Everything looking so strange.

Thursday 17 All grumbling at the vessel not sailing out.

Friday 18 Not going to sail today. Those that have been out before grumbling & out of temper having been drunk last night & one of them had lost 30 pound while drunk……………………………….Being the last…………and in 12 months he was a…….

Saturday 19 the government commissioners came on board and after they were gone all was excitement getting ready for sailing. ½ past 3 a steamer came & was made fast while they raised the anchor. The anchor up then a puff of steam & good Bye Old England  & all that is dear to us for we have began to leave them passing the clock tower 10 p 4.

CHAPTER 2: 20 June to 22 JULY 1858 – LIVERPOOL to EQUATOR

Sunday 20th: 6am. Steamer still towing, still land to be seen on our left or port side. Raining – a few sea sick. 8pm More sick and weather very rough and steamer still with us but going very slow. 11pm. Beautiful moonlight night. Women a little sick and children crying.
June 22nd Tuesday: James & father’s birthdays and I hope Gods Blessing on them and all the best friends and foes. Ship roling very much. Not sick yet – teetotalism against brandy. Some offering me brandy and saying I should be sick if I did not have a little drop, but I thanked them for their offer and told them I would take my chance and trust a stronger power than brandy. Wind blowing hard. People still sick and ship rolling very much and some wishing they were in old Ireland.
June 23rd: Much the same as yesterday. A fair wind and very foggy. Some still sick and very low in spirits but not for the want of swallowing plenty of them.
June 24th Thursday: A fine morning and with it peoples health seems to have returned with the fine strong breeze that is carrying us far from our native home and to the Bay of Biscay which we expect to make tonight. 11pm. Singing on deck and dancing in the evening to the Violin.
Friday 25th: Fine morning all well. Not been sick yet but suppose I shall be, there’s many more not sick.
Saturday 26th: Wind fair and going well. Not rocking but going very steady, Selling flour 4/8 per stone.
Sunday 27th: Fine morning and fair wind. Prayers on deck and off the Coast of Spain. Weather very fine, all quite well.
Monday 28th: Very dull morning and sultry hot. No wind. People a little but not much. Dark at 8 o’clock.
Tuesday 29th: Still dull and sailing very slow. Drinking and fighting at night with the Irish, who are a dirty lot.
30 Wednesday: Fine morning. Getting used to the ship. Can walk about now without fear of falling.
July 1st Thursday: Wind stronger. Going 8 knots and have a fight at the breakfast table between man and wife but faces and dreadful black looks. Breakfast flying about the deck.
July 2nd Friday: Fine morning 1900 miles from Liverpool.
July 3rd: Fine morning and quantities of flying fish to be seen round the ship.
July 4th: Still fine weather, but going very slow and the ship rolling.
July 5th Monday: Off Cape Verde islands. Not near enough to see them.
July 6th Tuesday: Fair wind 2 ships in sight. Not near enough to speak to them.
July 7th Wednesday: Wind very strong. Going fast. The porpoises leaping thro’ the water like sheep when chased by a dog. A Danish Barque in sight homeward bound. Dark at 7 o’clock.
July 8th: No wind. The glass 82° in the shade in the morning. 2 ships in sight.
July 9th: 9 o’clock strong wind and the ship ‘Invincible’ from Liverpool 4 days later than us been alongside then a shout and a cheer from both ships passengers rent the air and the captain of the Invincible holding out his hand said goodbye and away she went like a racehorse and left us out of sight in five hours. A sailor and a woman mention Chapstow. I asked if they knew William and Elizabeth. They knew them quite well and saw her mother down there and knew more about her than I did.
July 10th: A fine morning & a dead calm the sea as smooth as a looking glass. A large shark caught and killed on deck.
July 11th: Still calm & raining hard and very hot a ship in sight. Homeward bound. The captain expecting her to come alongside so below deck we cut and all began writing as though it was to save our lives. But we were doomed to be disappointed for she bore away and we had to receive our letters instead of our friends. It was a great disappointment to all of us.
July 12th: Raining hard. A very large shark caught 9 feet long. The sailors and passengers cut it up and pelted one another with it.
July 13th: A row on board with the women. Weather still calm but very hot and raining hard. A boat came alongside from a vessel called the “Oliver Lang” from London bound for Sydney. They came for oil, a coffee mill which the captain let them have. Three cheers and goodbye to them.
July 14th: Very hot and going slow. Got a very bad head-ache from the bile. A row at the breakfast table, the man throwing a pannikin of tea in his wife’s bosom which made her say “Home Sweet Home”.
July 15: Going well. A fine morning still got the bile and no better. A row in the second cabin. A drunken man striking another who takes up a bottle and knocks him down with it which nearly killed him he being drunk and to better his case they put him in irons and put down the hold all night where his kind wife allowed him to be till 11 o’clock next day without going near him. A vessel near the “Conflict” from London sailed 19 days after us.
July 16: Going like steam, this being the first strong wind we have had. Women grumbling, children crying, water flying over the ship & roaring like thunder. A vessel near from Liverpool the “Interpose”.
July 17: Fine morning quite well. Rare doings above stairs, dancing, fighting, swearing and jealousy between the men and women … such scenes.
July 18: Lovely morning. Going fast now. Miles from the line. As pleasant as a ride down to Gravesend only it is all water and no land.
July 19: Rather dull. Going slow. Lost sight of North Star. He has sunk below the horizon and Jack and his team is following him fast. The Southern Cross is just above the horizon thus ————
* *
Beautiful moonlight night, shape of moon thus ————-
July 20: Going along well and a fine morning sitting on the house on deck thinking of the old house at home or Ye Cottage. The wind rustling and whistling among the sails much as it did there among the trees.
July 21st: Gliding along softly all well except the doctor who got drunk and fell down the skylight and broke his arm. A sail in sight homeward bound. Coming to us all writing letters to our wives and friends, but alas she bears away from us and all are sadly disappointed as before. Crossing the line at 8 A.M. Neptune;s secretary came on board on the line to welcome us.
July 22nd: Fine morning the sun rises in the east but does not go round to the west but like this from east to west. Neptune & his wife Amphytrite came on board. Paid a visit to the captain to welcome him and all his sons and to enrol all newcomers. And after drinking healths and dancing and singing bid him goodbye.



July 23:  Fine morning going well. Wind strong. Drinking wrestling and fighting but it was soon stopped. A saloon passenger kissing the women began it.

July 24:  Wind blowing hard. Beautiful sky and sea rolling very high.

July 25: Fine morning. Going 8 knots. Rain at 12 o’clock. Cleared at night. Moonlight light as day.

July 26: Much the same as yesterday. A ship homeward bound. Many wishing they were to.

July 27: Fine. Going slow, beautiful sunrise. Two ships in sight. Came up to one. She was from Liverpool 8 weeks out. Her captain sick and our doctors went to him.

July 28: Cloudy and not so hot as yesterday. A turnout with the Irish who were eaten up with vermin. I found some on me. I dislike Irish worse than ever I did. They don’t kill them.

July 29: Fine but going slow. 3 ships in sight but not near us. 2 fights with man & wife.

July 30: Fine and wind stronger. A turnout in the second cabin with the Jews. They are like the Irish a dirty lot. All quite well at present thank God.

July 31: Fine morning going 10 knots out of the tropics and saw two large whales. Dark at ¼ to 6 P.M.

August 1: Cloudy and raining. A beautiful rainbow the shape of a horse shoe.

August 2: Fine morning. Many birds flying round, one flew on deck and was caught. The sun north at 12 oclock in the day. At home it is south at 12 o’clock.

August 3: Blowing hard all night. Everything knocked out of place. The sea running very high. Wind howling. Children crying. Men shouting and swearing. Rain and sun all in an hour and very cold. Near the Cape. Hundreds of birds.

August 4: Fine wind blowing. Very cold going 9 knots. Quite steady.


August 5: Very cold and wet everybody very dull and out of order. Raining all day. Night very rough and sails turn every man out all night.

August 6: Wind blowing hard. Everything blown down. Wind and sea roaring very loud.

August 7: Fine morning which makes the old saying true. After a storm comes a calm, and so it is here. The deck is covered with ropes and torn sails torn to pieces.

August 8: A cold sharp morning like March weather. Rain and sleet. Came up with “Blackwall” from London, 60 days out. A fine ship.

August 9: Cold and strong wind. Going 12 knots. A ship in sight and I am getting tired of the sea.

August 10: Fine but very cold. Going well. The days getting longer. Everyone in good health. New moon and we saw it. The captain never seen it so soon.

August 11: Blowing and snowing and going fast. Gliding thro’ the sea like an arrow. My wedding day and I hope it will not be the last I may live to see; If it should please God to spare me. A ship on our port side which proved to be the “Albion” from Liverpool started soon after us.

August 12: Very cold & blowing hard. The sea flying over the ship and at 10 o’clock at night, all hands on deck. Men shouting and Captain calling.

August 13: Wind not so strong. Still raining and cold. Going 10 knots.

August 14: Cold & raining. Going slow. Fine afternoon. A row between man & wife.

August 15: Fine morning, slow, ship rolling very much at night. Rolled me out of my berth into the one opposite. An Irishman’s.

August 16: Cold & foggy. Going slow. Everyone tired of the voyage.

August 17: Every sail but 2 taken in. As the sailors say ‘close reefed’. The ship bound, rolling like a monster of the deep. The waves running very high and the sea sweeping everything before it. And as the Irishman says “we had to lay down to stand or hold on.”

August 18: Cold morning & going slow. A fight at the tea table. Man & wife.

August 19: Very cold & the sun shining like it does in England in November.

August 20: Cold & raining hard, going slow but sure. We hope to get out of this sometime.

August 21: The sun shining faintly like winter, but Cold.

August 22: Cold grey morning and raining. People wondering if they shall ever see their friends again.

August 23: Cold & raining. Lay to all night. An island near but not in sight. 12 o’clock a cry of Land Land Land. Then such a rush on deck forgetting it was so cold, but there they stood with their eyes riveted on it being so long since we saw our own native Land. This having no one to own it is Called Prince Edward’s Island.

[The Prince Edwards Islands (there are 2 islands) are in the sub-antarctic Indian Ocean at 46 degrees Latitude, 37 degrees Longitude, smack in the middle of the “Roaring Forties”. The islands belong to South Africa. Ed.]


August 24:  Still  cold & raining. Many blaming the Captain for going near the island.

August 25: Cold & foggy. Everyone getting thin.

August 26: Cold and snowing fast. The ship rolling, men shouting, and laughing at others falling down, and snow balling as they do at home in winter. This would be a snow in harvest with all at home.

August 27: Going fast & snowing fast. The snow lying 6” thick.

August 28: Snowing fast and freezing hard. Very cold not able to stop on deck. The snow balls flying like gun shots at you till they knock you down then hurraying and shouting such as I never heard before.

August 29: Very cold. A deal of snow last night. A battle in the second cabin for a gun which was kept up till 2 o’clock this morning, when we were awake in the steerage with  fiddling & dancing.

August 30: Cold & snow. Everyone getting very thin. Can all tie our own shoes.

August 31: Sun shining. Looking a little pleasanter than of late.

September 1: Cold and snowing. Expect to reach Melbourne this day fortnight.

September 2: Cold snowing & freezing going 14 knots. Every one of the sails torn or taken down and some blown away. Could hardly lie in bed.

September 3: A fine morning sailing well. Everyone seems to have fresh life in them with the sunshine and pleasant weather.

September 4: Very cold wind blowing and the waves jarring the sides of the ship like a canon fired at it and sweeping over her sides like mad. 30 hams stolen out of the ship’s store and the sailors got their grog stopped.

September 5: Welcome morning. Such a scene no pen can describe. Men knocked down with waves rushing and roaring like thunder smashing all before them. Men washed about the deck like logs of wood. Seats and tables all torn up by holding to them.

September 6: Cold wet morning the vessel bounding rolling over and over so that her yards are dipped in the water and then back to the other side. Such a night of it. No rest, worse than Saturday night. Everything wet.

September 7: Cold wet snowing and everything wet, the water running into our beds. All holding one another up. Women obliged to sit down. They bore it bravely though it was bad living.

September 8: Another fine morning but preceded by the worst storm we have had. It began at 9 at night and lasted till 2 in the morning. Every sail blown away or torn to billions but two.  So suddenly it came on us. The captain and 3 mates shouting to the men to Reef sails & the men back All gone Sir or Blown to Ribbons, Sir but the top sails.

September 9: Fine morning the sun shining gloriously out & the ship going well. All faces lit up with hope & the joy of seeing the long looked for shores of Australia which is to be our weal or woe.

September 10: Fine but I have got a bad cold our feet have been so long wet. I received a challenge today from one of the Passengers to discuss with him strong drink versus total abstinence. I accepted it but when the time came he would not come back so I had to lecture by myself the Captain & doctor, a gentleman of the first cabin coming down to hear us as I should add the other nobly acknowledged he could not uphold strong drink.

[The account stops here.  Presumably the “Sir William Eyre” reached Melbourne on or about 15 September 1858. William Carter subsequently married and settled down in Footscray and pursued his trade as a pottery maker. Ed

[Comments welcome]

6 Replies to “Aboard ‘Sir William Eyre’”

  1. What a privilege to read this first-person account of such an amazing voyage!

    Some years ago I saw a BBC adaptation of William Golding’s trilogy of nautical novels To the Ends of the Earth. The ship in the series became a surreal and nightmarish world in which conflict — often fueled by alcohol — between characters (and social classes) became accentuated. At times in this TV series the ship’s passengers descended into something resembling madness. I haven’t read Golding’s trilogy of novels and hadn’t thought of the television series for years. But this diary of an ordinary man’s passage to Australia from Liverpool brought the series back to mind. Conditions aboard migrant ships really were by today’s standards “extreme” and it seems Golding’s fiction presented a world not far exaggerated from actual passenger voyages from England to Australia.

    The second half of the voyage (late August – September) featured in William Carter’s diary sees very harsh conditions aboard ship and things become pretty crazy as the following selected entries run together into the below paragraph describe:

    Cold wet snowing and everything wet, the water running into our beds. The ship bound, rolling like a monster of the deep. The waves running very high and the sea sweeping everything before it. Men knocked down with waves rushing and roaring like thunder smashing all before them. Men washed about the deck like logs of wood. Seats and tables all torn up by holding to them. Everyone getting thin. 30 hams stolen out of the ship’s store and the sailors got their grog stopped. A battle in the second cabin for a gun which was kept up till 2 o’clock this morning, when we were awake in the steerage with fiddling & dancing.

    During this time the ship’s doctor might not have been as much help as he might have due to his broken arm:

    July 21st: Gliding along softly all well except the doctor who got drunk and fell down the skylight and broke his arm.

    I really like the entries regarding encounters with other ships during the voyage:

    July 9th: 9 o’clock strong wind and the ship ‘Invincible’ from Liverpool 4 days later than us been alongside then a shout and a cheer from both ships passengers rent the air and the captain of the Invincible holding out his hand said goodbye and away she went like a racehorse and left us out of sight in five hours.

    What I really like about this diary is it gives us a series of glimpses and observations from someone who was simply there at the time and part of things. It’s not filtered though the historian’s sophisticated eye in which social and political issues form a background that our diary writer probably knew little of. His is a pair of eyes piously looking out at the drunken sinners about the ship. It seems he is in a minority with his teetotalism. We are presented with a vivid picture of the migrants who were about to pour into the newly established urban centers of Australia. We also see the prejudices the immigrants brought with them in our diarist’s opinion of the Irish and Jews aboard the ship.

    Fascinating and eye opening!

  2. After reading this account of William Carter’s voyage to Australia I had a search through newspapers of the time to see if I could find a trace of him. I didn’t find out much but what I did discover is:

    The Sir William Eyre arrived in Melbourne on September 20th 1858. See:

    SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE. (1858, September 22). Mount Alexander Mail

    Perhaps this case of horse theft involves our William Carter:

    Horse Stealing. — On Saturday evening a man
    named Carter, a pottery manufacturer, residing at
    Footscray, came into town according to his custom to
    attend the night market in the Eastern market. He
    took his horse out of the shaft, tied him to the cart,
    and saw him safe about eleven o’clock. Half an
    hour afterwards the horse was missing, and about
    midnight the animal was found in the yard of the
    Paddington Hotel. but the harness had been carried

    CITY AND SUBURBS. (1860, February 20). The Age, Melbourne.

    Is anything else known about the life of William Carter?

    1. Thanks Paul. I am sure there is a heap more of interest yet to be discovered about the life and times of William Carter.

  3. Thank you for this account of what life would have been like onboard the Sir William Eyre. My great grandmother and her brother and sister arrived in Melbourne on the same ship a year earlier, 16 July 1857. I would imagine their journey would have experienced the same conditions. I can find out little about them before their journey began onboard. Their names were Kate Teresa, Mary Louise and Michael Delaney from Laios Maryborough Ireland.

  4. Hi there, I realise this is an old article but felt compelled to respond, as this was the same ship that my earliest Australian ancestors arrived on in 1858. Fascinating insight into the hardships & trevails they endured just to get here. Great read, has got me researching their history again.

    1. Good one Steve. Was it the same voyage perhaps? Let us know if you turn up anything more about the trip.

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