Farewell Forever, England’s Shores

Marianne picked her way through the filth littered streets back to their home in Mile End. The stench nauseated her heightened senses as she was pregnant once again. She leant over an open drain and added the contents of her stomach to the slow moving filth. She held tightly to her purse and small packet of potatoes and beans that she had been out to purchase. Wretched orphans jeered at her and she feared they would snatch her purse. London was even worse than Paris now after the war. Life was a struggle with overcrowding, poverty, wretchedness on all sides and crime flourished when people were reduced to stealing a loaf of bread to feed their hungry families. Even the threat of deportation to Australia didn’t make any difference when you could die of starvation anyway.

She just made it home to No 7, Grove Street, James was anxiously waiting for her; he could see she looked pale and wan.  He too was struggling to get work now that the war was over, there was no need for new ships to be built, he was kept reasonable busy with repairs, but there was a strong undercurrent of discontent in the country as people were starving. His in-laws Joseph and Elizabeth Scherer had helped them out with a place to stay when they had arrived back from France.

Elizabeth had joined a charitable organisation to help the starving elderly who could no longer fend for themselves, taking them food and coal to relieve their suffering. Marianne had gone with her on some occasions and seen the abject squalor of their conditions. She feared for her own children’s future as she saw ragged orphans huddled together under bridges. Marianne’s grandfather Mr Noble continued to supply James with work to keep the family going and James was a resourceful young man as well after having spent some time in the Cape Colony during the war years.

James was good to Marianne and was by her side when little James was born.  He was a strong baby and thrived with the tender monitions of his grandmother and sister Sarah. Two years later little Sophie arrived on the scene, a bonnie child named after her grandmother with the same dark curly hair.  James now had quite a brood to care for and wanted a better life for his family. London with its daily hazards of disease and crime and his dependence on Mr Noble for his livelihood had no appeal. He envisioned having his own ship building company in one of the Colonies.

“Listen” said James, as he read from The Times to Marianne.

Amphitrite fully_rigged_ship “….since our minds have long been made up as to the necessity of employing emigration for one, perhaps the principal, among the means of regular and lasting provision for the surplus inhabitants of these islands, it becomes to us to urge with the greatest earnestness the selection of a scene the most desirable of all others, and of a plan of emigration the most vigorous and effective than can be adopted by the state.”

“I am going to find out more about this emigration scheme,” said James and jumped up to write his letter of application.  This was just the impetus he needed. [From National Archives, Kew]

No 7 Grove Street
Mile End Road
July 26th 1819


In consequence of the official communication made by Government respecting the emigration to the Cape, I beg leave to intimate that (with permission) I mean to avail myself thereof & request you will have the goodness to register my name if required, & in the mean time you would particularly oblige by informing me where the vessel is expected to sail from hence, what room or tonnage in the Ship each family will be allowed for the purpose of taking out tools, implements for husbandry or any thing else required & if there are frequent or any communications from the Colony of Cape Town.

I am a ship carpenter by trade & have superintended the building of several ships of war in this time. I have a wife and three children I intend to take with me.

The favor of an early reply will oblige

Sir, your obdt hble servt


There was a lot of public interest, but the information given to prospective emigrants to the Cape of Good Hope was of dubious nature, in fact it was deliberately withheld that they would be exposed to the plundering native hordes to the north of the proposed settlement and that it was in fact to be a buffer zone between the Xhosas and the trek-Boers. No one could give any real information about climate, crops, land etc.  Neither was information published about the local population, Dutch Boers,  indigenous Hottentots and Xhosas and the continuing warfare between the two as the Boers trekked north after the British Occupation of the Cape of Good Hope in 1814 when it was handed over in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty.

The scheme was confined to those persons “ ….possessing the means, will engage to carry out at least ten able bodied individuals above eighteen years of age, with or without families, the government always reserving the right of selecting from the several offers made to them those who may prove, upon examination to be the most eligible.

..Every person engaging to take out the above mentioned number of persons or families, shall deposit at the rate of Ten Pounds (to be repaid  as hereinafter mentioned) for every family taken out, provided that the family does not consist of more than one man, one woman and two children under fourteen years of age. All children above the number of two will have to be paid for, in addition to the deposits above mentioned, in the proportion of five Pounds for every two children under fourteen years of age and five pounds for every person between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.

In consideration of this deposit a passage shall be provided at the expense of the government for the settlers who shall also be victualled from the time of their embarkment to the time of their landing in the colony. A grant of land under the conditions hereafter specified shall be made to him at the rate of 100 acres for every person or family he takes out.  One third of the price paid at outset, one third as soon as the settlers are located and the remainder three months after being located.” [From National Archives, Kew]


The total assistance therefore from the Government consisted of free passage, a grant of land, and remission of quit-rent on the first ten years; otherwise the settlers were to fend for themselves from the moment they landed, except that tents were to be lent to the settlers until such time they had built themselves more permanent homes.

Full of enthusiasm for the scheme and dreams of owning his own ship building company James set off to find workmen and ex-colleagues to come with him to make up the ten men required for the group to emigrate.  He continued to ply the government with reasonable questions regarding the Cape Colony and the navigable rivers and the tonnage required to take with on the ship. While James was busy getting the group together Marianne had realised she was pregnant again. She decided to keep it quiet so as not to influence James or her parents as she knew they would be concerned. Their situation was pretty bleak and she wondered whether the child would survive anyway. So when James made his application it was quite correct they were a family of five. By September he had found his group of persons to emigrate with him.

James discussed the prospect of this assisted emigration scheme with Marianne’s parents and Mr Noble.  They encouraged the young couple to make the move for a better life for the children and opportunity for the expansion of business interests. James wrote again to the government with the annexe of the names of his group.  [From National Archives, Kew]


No 7 Grove Street

Mile End Road

8th Sept 1819


I hereby send you a annexed statement of the number, names & age of all the persons I propose to take out with me to the Cape of Good Hope agreeable to your letter of 28 of August and I do hereby agree to conform to all the conditions upon which His Majesty’s Government have offered to grant land in the said Colony.

Your further communication will oblige

Sir, your obd’t serv’t


Name and Description of the Person taking out the Settlers:

James SMITH, Shipwright, age 36, Mary Ann SMITH my wife, age 20, Sarah Fish SMITH my daughter, 7, James SMITH, 3, Sophia SMITH, 2 years of age. John ASTHORP, Joseph ALFORD, John ALFORD, William HAYWOOD ,James GIBSON, Richard WHITE ,Timothy ROGERS, Robert GIBSON ,Thomas HORNER ,Thomas ADAMS.  There were ten men, four of whom had wives and nine children of which eventually only Richard White remained to sail with them.

By the 30th September James had still not heard from the Government whether his proposals were accepted and when the vessel would proceed. The family were now excited and gearing up for their proposed emigration, the Government’s dilatory lack of correspondence frustrated him and James being a man of action decided regardless of the Government approving his application he would take matters into his own hands.  He made contact with George Wilkinson from Essex whose application had been turned down.  George’s father Rev Thomas Wilkinson rector of Bulvan, a man of influence, put in a new proposal to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State to the Colonies whereby he offered to charter a vessel privately for the party to proceed to the Cape at their own expense if the government would give them ‘settler privileges’ as well as a substantial grant of land. This proposal was met favourably with the additional benefit of a refund of the cost of chartering the vessel at £12 per head on arrival at the Cape.  They were also to be given 100 acres per person.in the Albany settlement.

George Wilkinson and John Morton were appointed leaders of the party and with James, set about getting sufficient people to join them and to find a vessel to charter.

“This is it!” said James one Thursday morning in October as he was poring through the classified ads in The Times.

“To sail immediately for THE CAPE of GOOD HOPE, the remarkably fast-sailing SHIP AMPHITRITE,  burden 400 tons, A.L. copper and copper fastened, SAMUEL DAVIDSON commander, lying in the London docks.”

He immediately contacted the commander and Rev Wilkinson, George and John and so the arrangements were made to charter the Amphitrite.  Now began the great task of procuring equipment, seeds and anything they might require.  It was really hard to get any information what to expect in the Colony and as they were only experienced in English agriculture took what they thought would be suitable equipment.  James was hoping that there would be a navigable river like the Thames so he could continue with his trade as a ship builder, and thus make a good living for his family. James also recruited his apprentice Robert Humphrey to join the party.  There were many applicants for the other party members, but people kept dropping out, some lost courage at the last minute and it was only when the whole group was eventually on board that the final Party of 25 persons could be verified. The other party aboard the Amphitrite was David Thomas Nightingale’s Party, he was a retired naval surgeon, and this party consisted of 35 persons.

Each party was meant to have a clergyman to perform all the sacred rights that the people may need. There was a great evangelising spirit at the time when people were fired up to spread the gospel to the heathen nations around them. There were also adventurous spirits on board wanting to explore the unknown. As well as those who were financially secure and wanted to open up trade and businesses in the colonies, such as James.

The day arrived when the Smith’s finally packed up their home at No 7, Grove Ave. As they stood before the carriage doors Joseph handed Marianne General Scherer’s compass that he had given him on the general’s death bed.

“Take this Marianne, not only to find your way in your new life, but also to be a reminder of your family heritage.” They warmly embraced Marianne’s parents’ and said their goodbyes. Marianne shed tears as they bid farewell as they would never see each other again. Joseph and Sophia felt their hearts ripped out as the coach turned the corner and began the journey to Gravesend.

This was a particularly hazardous journey and as Marianne was now quite heavily pregnant she groaned as the coach shook and rattled its way down the rutted roads.  The children looked out of the window hoping to see a highwayman, as this was a notorious route for attacks on coaches and they were loaded down with all their worldly possessions to make a new start in the Cape Colony. They were excited with this new adventure and chatted as they snuggled together under a warm rug as it was bitterly cold and rain and gusts of wind rocked the coach from side to side.

They encountered other travellers to Gravesend at the coaching Inns along the way. Marianne’s heart sunk as she heard stories of black hordes waiting to kill them all, others were full of hope and anticipation, some travellers gave up just at the mention of the black hordes and went back home.

”James, I am frightened, it is still not too late to turn back” she said.

“There is not much choice between a bleak future in England or taking the risk of a new life in the Cape Colony whatever that will entail.” said James.

Resolutely the Smith’s set their face to their new life. Eventually the party arrived at Gravesend and embarked on the Amphitrite, only then was a full head count done of George Wilkinson’s Party. George, John Morton and James set about organising their belongings on board according to the Captain’s rules and on board procedures. They had brought along a portable threshing machine and a water-boring machine and as far as they knew were as prepared as they ever would be.

The other members of George Wilkinson’s were James’s apprentice Robert Humphrey, John and Joseph Cleaver who were soap makers, John Gaugain, John Harris.  The labourers were James Cannon, Charles, James and John Jenkins and James Neale.

Copyright Unknown

The weather was appalling it was stormy and bitterly cold. The children were miserable, all excitement had now gone with the harsh reality of life on board ship. Marianne with the other wives had to prepare food for her family and for the other unmarried men as well. She also had to wash the clothes in the bitterly cold weather and there was not much chance of getting them properly dry.  Some of the party fell ill with colds and some even suffered frostbite with the chill wet air on board ship. Some of the ships had been frozen in and could not leave on time; there were massive storms in the Bay of Biscay.  The Amphitrite had to pull in at Brixham, four of the labourers decided they did not want to leave their homeland and deserted at Brixham and John Jenkins died at sea. At last the Amphitrite set sail from Brixham into the unknown on 28th December 1819. Marianne went into labour and amidst the cold; wet and gales of the Bay of Biscay, the plaintive wail of Mary Ann Smith could be heard.


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