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Ben Nevis: Australian Emigrant Packet-Ship

by Ed Koch

During our Society’s recent Research Sunday at our Wendish Library in Ivanhoe, some members were sorting out precious clippings, pictures and a range of other materials saved over a number of years. Then something special turned up that brought the cry: “Hey, look at this!” It was a clipping from The Illustrated London News of 4 Sept 1852, featuring the sailing ship Ben Nevis. “Ah!” came an immediate response: “The much heralded American Immigrant ship”. Yes indeed! The caption under the picture announced the message: “Departed Liverpool 26 Sept – Arrived Galveston 14 Dec 1854”. It was carrying Migrants from Germany [including Wendish immigrants from Lusatia, then located in Prussia, Silesia and Saxony. Editor.]

However, there was more! Surprise, surprise! The line above the quoted affirmation that it sailed to USA (for that is where Galveston is located) declares that this ship in fact is “The new Australian Emigrant Packet-Ship Ben Nevis, 4 Sept 1852.” Many have thought of it as an American ship but here we have evidence of what a few in our part of the world already knew, namely that it had also brought many German immigrants to this wide brown land of Australia, over which we Aussies greatly rejoice. One sailing trip is noted here which took migrants to America, but some research in our Library has shown that the Ben Nevis in fact made four trips to Australia, arriving in Melbourne from Liverpool on 3 Jan 1853 with 564 passengers and immigrants; on 4 Oct 1855 with 245 ; on 29 Aug 1857 with 417 and on 4 Oct 1855 with 5 passengers. Captain W Heron captained all of these sailing trips, although there are some variations in the spelling of his surname given for his last two journeys.

Some researchers may not be aware that some German forebears of Australian descendants ventured to this fair land ‘girt by sea’ not by departing from Hamburg but from Liverpool in England. Included was Pastor Kavel. It is my opinion that we can justifiably claim the packet-ship Ben Nevis as an Australian Emigrant Ship, an honour which we are happy to share with our America friends.