The year is 1852 and the impressive American clipper Ticonderoga is fitted out for the purpose of transporting its human cargo from Britain to Victoria, Australia. It is an exciting time in sea travel with altered shipping routes and faster ships resulting in shorter voyages from the motherland to the young country at the end of the world. The expected sea travel time of just ninety days to Melbourne means that all supplies for the journey are to be taken on board at Liverpool – there will be no stops before reaching the ship’s destination.
For these eight hundred passengers, the journey will be arduous, with a regime of order and cleanliness on board ship that must be strictly adhered to. Australia needs workers from all stations of life, as the Melbourne gold rush still has enough of a fantastical hold on the dreams of those who arrive in Port Phillip Bay to make their fortunes. The largely disenfranchised Highlanders and others on board feel they have nothing left to lose. When the fever takes its first victim, it is nothing unexpected. As more and more people fall ill and Typhus decimates the ships’ passengers, an enormous strain is placed on the only two surgeons on crew. Denied entry to Melbourne for being a ‘plague ship’, the Ticonderoga is at the end of its voyage, but this will not be the end of its troubles.
Could NOT put this book down and polished it off in a day. Absolutely gripping with great care and dignity afforded to all of those who set sail, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The research undertaken to write such a detailed work must have been incredible, and it is with this care that Australian author Michael Veitch has written a book detailing of how his great-great grandfather, James William Henry Veitch, first came to Australia and married the woman who saw him through the horror, the stalwart Anne Morrison.
HELL SHIP was, if you’ll forgive this, masterfully navigated from Liverpool right to the end of its horrific voyage. Upfront knowing the scale of suffering of the Ticonderoga’s eight hundred passengers is so overwhelming that you’d be forgiven for wincing as you pick up this book, expecting tragic tales of woe and detailed descriptions of the truly hellish conditions on board. Author Michael Veitch has balanced the human factor of deaths at sea with the education of his readers. There was so much bravery shown by the crew and passengers of the Ticonderoga that it is astonishing that most Australians would not even have heard of this story. It is heartbreaking to learn of what these people went through, and of how they stoically endured so much loss and suffering.
The care with which the human losses are detailed is commendable, and each death is given in context as to what family members the deceased has left behind. This intensely powerful and moving account of hope and survival in the settlement days of Australia is an excellent read and highly recommended. HELL SHIP will definitely stay with you.