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The 1854 Voyage To Australia by the Malvina Vidal

by Robert Wuchatsch

The Malvina Vidal brought more than fifty Lower Lusatian Wends to Australia, most of whom settled in South Australia. Wends arriving aboard the Malvina Vidal included the Borrack, Fladrich, Grozeschka, Jarick, Kilo, Kniel, Kolosche, Lawitzka, Lehmann, Marscha, Modra, Noack, Poesch, Proposch, Schultz and Strogo families.

The Malvina Vidal left Hamburg on 10 June 1854, sailed into the North Sea five days later and arrived in Melbourne on 5 October 1854. According to the official passenger list, 254 Germans and Wends disembarked at Melbourne, the remaining passengers and cargo bound for New South Wales. On 12 October 1854, most of the Wends boarded the coastal steamer Havilah at Coles’ Wharf and left Melbourne for Adelaide, where they arrived four days later. On 18 October, the Malvina Vidal sailed on to Sydney, arriving there on 27 October 1854.

Although Melbourne and Sydney newspapers reported the arrival of the Malvina Vidal, they give little information about the ship’s four-month voyage to Australia. The newspapers provide few details about the Malvina Vidal. Its owners were Messrs Ross, Vidal & Co, the captain was C.F.W.Jachtmann, tonnage 959, number of passengers 282 etc. Included amongst its passengers and cargo were a number of German shepherds specially recruited for the Australian Agricultural Company in New South Wales, plus 26 Saxon merino rams, 26 Saxon merino ewes, ten Mecklenberg ewes and three sheepdogs. The Malvina Vidal had previously carried German emigrants to Sydney in 1853.

The voyage of the Malvina Vidal was not as uneventful, however, as the newspaper reports suggest. Hamburg consular correspondence and German newspapers tell another story. In fact, as soon as the ship’s passengers reached Melbourne, they complained to the local Hamburg Consul, F.W.Jansen, about the quality and quantity of the food and water provided during the voyage.

From research conducted at Hamburg by his relatives, Peggy Muller and Steffen Ritter of Dresden, Robert Wuchatsch has been able to piece together the problems encountered by the Malvina Vidal‘s passengers during its 1854 voyage to Australia.

As well as the recently discovered Hamburg consular correspondence and newspapers, the memoirs of a Malvina Vidal passenger named Goldonkel Koch, which were written some time after his arrival in Australia, also provide details of the ship’s 1854 voyage. Although Koch mostly chronicles sixteen deaths he noted during the voyage, he does refer briefly to the food and water problems. More details, however, were contained in Consul Jansen’s letter of 9 October 1854.

On the ninth day of October 1854 there appeared before me … at the office of the consulate, a deputation consisting of Messrs J.Robert, Gunther, H.Momson and J.H.J.Halms … presenting and depositing a document signed by 230 Passengers, equal to 218 adults, of the Malvina Vidal from Hamburg for this Port and Sidney.

The said document is entitled ‘Complaints against the owners of the Malvina Vidal and against Augustus Bolten, shipbroker in Hamburg’ and contains complaints arising chiefly from want of experience of life on board ships, from apparently neglectful conduct on the part of the Doctor + Cook, and partly, as it seems, from deterioration in condition of natural produce (such as fresh potatoes, water and beef) which however, as appeared from evidence of the Commander and Passengers, had been examined by the Government Commissioners prior to leaving Hamburg and said to have been approved of by them. The document concludes by investing the said Deputation with Power to act as representatives of all the subscribed passengers, to prosecute, compromise, release etc such as they think proper.

The deputation desired me to call Capt. Jachtmann to attend a meeting for the purpose of attempting to arrive at an amicable settlement, prior to beginning legal proceedings. Capt. Jachtmann and Mr Fratzcher of the firm Fratzcher & Leddin, the ship’s agents, duly appeared and after a calm discussion of all points in dispute, the said Deputation stated that they had agreed to demand £3 a head for 218 adults, being the number of passengers who had paid their full passage.

Capt. Jachtmann not thinking himself justified in incurring such a large liability, the Deputation proposed to reduce their claim to £2 a head, and £7/18/- for travelling expenses in full of all demands.

Capt. Jachtmann then sought a private consultation with his agent, which was immediately held in my presence, the result of which was that, Capt. Jachtmann to prevent the detention of the ship, would authorise his agent to offer that amount on behalf of the owners. The Deputation was made acquainted with this resolution and the following compromise signed.

Agreed between Captain Jachtmann and his Agent of the one part, and the Deputation of the Passengers of theMalvina Vidal of the other part, that four hundred and forty three pounds & 18 shillings shall be deposited by the Agents Messrs Fratzcher & Leddin with Rev. M.Goethe … any amount not claimed by 9 January 1855 to be repaid to Messrs Fratzcher & Leddin.

After completion of the foregoing compromise the said Deputation expressed to the Captain, as a private individual, their satisfaction with his conduct, and their sincerest thanks for his exertions on the passage, to lessen the evils complained of as much as was in his power.

In another letter, written two days later to agents Fratzcher & Leddin, Consul Jansen stated that although he considered most of the complaints to have been ‘quite ridiculous & such as can only be made by Persons totally inexperienced with a life on the Ocean’, he confessed that the charges made regarding the provisioning at Hamburg, the examination of those stores and the engagement of the doctor and cook were most serious ones.

When Consul Jansen’s report reached Hamburg, the shipping company Messrs Ross, Vidal & Co vigorously defended itself. An article in the Hamburger Nachrichten supported the shipping company’s position, basically dismissing the passengers’ accusations as a beat up. Extracts from the article appear below:

The Captain paid £2 per head rather than cause the passengers to take him to court which would have prevented him leaving Melbourne for Sydney and being delayed 6 weeks before the court was held. He believed the ship owners would accept the payment, a relatively small compensation than the possible many times higher costs arising from the delay of this voyage.

The list of passengers’ complaints, dated 28 September 1854, consisted of 14 points. 1,2,7 & 10 were about the fact that the supplied coffee, tea, barley and sugar were not of best quality, whereas in the passenger contract the supply of food had to be of best quality as well as in sufficient quantity. The requirement merely applies to the preparation of the food and in no way obliges the shipper to serve prime quality coffee or tea ie Mocca coffee or flowery Pekoe.

Point 5 complained that the passengers were not served beef and pork on alternate days, but that beef was served more often than pork. Hamburg regulations have no requirements for always alternating as complained. If anything the regulations would favour serving beef over pork, in any case they were served pork no less than 37 times.=

Points 3, 5 & 6 related to the condition of the beef and potatoes. That beef tastes different at the end of a long voyage and that potatoes become worse and eventually inedible and cannot be served is an evil of the nature of the fruit itself and beyond the power of men to change.=

Point 9 related to the rice becoming mouldy and point 10 the small quantity of sugar distributed in the last days of the voyage. Point 11 complained about the small quantity of water served and stated that after a few weeks of the voyage it became tasteless and cloudy, so that rain water was caught and provided to the passengers. In regard to the small amount provided the ship was in fact provisioned for 182 days and the complainants themselves expressly admit that daily, besides the washing water, they received a full flask of drinking water, but that in their subjective opinion was too small. Concerning the poor quality of the water. Water partly in new and partly in old barrels was taken and a part in iron tanks. Despite measures to prevent it, some deterioration arises, which will happen on even a short journey. The fact that rain water was collected during the voyage does not show that the water taken was poor. Collecting water is usual on a voyage. The water could not have been too bad because it was used to water the sheep taken to Sydney and not one died on the voyage although they are very sensitive to bad water.

Points 12-14 related to complaints about care of the sick and lack of space and points 4 & 8 complained about the lack of raisins served during the voyage and the quality of the pudding.

Looking back 150 years, the truth probably lay somewhere between the claims of the Malvina Vidal‘s passengers and the shipping company. Apart from their grievances in respect of the food and water, the Wends had an additional problem – they needed to tranship to Adelaide, their intended destination.

The Wends, who the Altonaer Nachrichten described as Bohemians under the leadership of ‘Borrack from Werben near Cottbus’ were said to have been tricked into choosing a ship bound for Melbourne and Sydney rather than Port Adelaide. The Altonaer Nachrichten stated that the shipping agent:

…an otherwise pious and devout Christian gentleman from Hamburg, told them that Adelaide and Melbourne had only been ten English miles apart and the upright man accepted a reduction of the passage fare of three Thalers as payment for the travel expenses. In reality, however – if one looks on the map, which apparently was not shown to the Bohemian emigrants, it reveals that, in fact, Adelaide is about 350 English miles away; therefore the travel expenses do not amount to three, but between 30 and 40 Thalers. Having arrived in Melbourne, the stupid and poor Bohemians learnt the truth to their utter dismay…

When they finally arrived in Adelaide, the South Australian Register described the Wends as ’43 emigrants from Prussian Poland’. Most of the Wends remained in South Australia, although Robert Wuchatsch’s ancestors, the Borrack and Proposch families, later moved to the Wimmera, near Dimboola and finally, Melbourne. The Malvina Vidal returned to Germany in early 1855 and subsequently made at least one further trip to Australia, in 1855.