I almost got a little bored today, before our departure from Picton at 2pm. It was dull and wet again, and I’d forgotten to bring my book, and, well , Picton. But then I remembered the Edwin Fox, and counted my blessings.
The Edwin Fox is an 1853-built barque that’s the focus of a museum just a few minutes’ walk from the ship, and I spent a contented couple of hours poking around it. The museum is really well done, with a video about the ship’s history and restoration, lots of genuine artefacts, and pleasingly arcane information: I learned about scarf joints, treenails, daggerknees and teredo shipworm. Outside in dry dock was the hull of the Edwin Fox herself, authentically weather-beaten and decayed, but still big and impressive.
She was built in Calcutta from Burmese teak and traversed the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans for 20 years, carrying everything from raspberry vinegar to rapists, before ending up ignominiously as first a freezer and then a coal bunker here in Picton. The vinegar was just one of many cargoes transported – the rapists were transported in the wider sense: convicts sent from England to Australia. Being anal and having plenty of time, here are some details I noted from that one voyage: the youngest was John Lowes, 18, given 6 years for stealing; the oldest William Beresford, 59, given 15 years for forgery; the crimes ranged from sheep stealing (kind of coals to Newcastle for them, ending up in Australia) through pickpocketing, sacrilege, highway robbery, habitual drunkenness (ditto) to carnal knowledge of a girl aged under 10 (11 year-olds presumably fair game). William Burston of Taunton got 14 years for a misdemeanour, which seems a bit harsh.
Their conditions on board were horrendous, crowded into a prison at one end of the main deck, with two cannons trained on it. But the settlers who were the next four cargoes fared not much better: steerage was just awful, families of 6 crammed into one double bunk space with vomit and human and animal faeces dripping into it, gruel to eat, and nothing but cold sea water to wash in – for more than 100 days. Courtesy of Shaw Saville, believe it or not.
So being at a bit of a loose end on Azamara Journey today, sprawled on a queen bed in a comfortable stateroom, with lots of lounges scattered about and more eating options on board than you could shake a stick at, including an Indian cuisine special tonight to look forward to, wasn’t, in comparison, much of a hardship…