Down Under Up Top

A goodly number of our former pupils have wended their way to the Antipodes for new lives. Going from the UK to Australia or New Zealand is a well-established global passage. Indeed, the vast majority of websites concentrate on the emigration routes from UK. But this post is actually looking at the reverse trend, so to speak. At least eight of our former pupils between 1857 and 1905 were born in Australia and made their way to UK as very young children.

Today’s transoceanic travel is comparatively a piece of cake. Nineteenth century sailing to and from Australia was gambling with one’s life a lot of the time. To those of us used to rolling up at an airport and boarding a flight; sitting back and relaxing, even if for a goodly time, being fed regularly, using on board conveniences; then landing, through customs and out to perhaps a holiday or a new life, or to visit relatives not seen for a few years, it is quite eye-popping discovering what travel was like for some of our earlier pupils.

For a start off, “In calm weather a sailing ship might take as long as four months, while a well-run clipper ship with favourable winds could make the journey in a little over half this time.” https://museumsvictoria.com.au/longform/journeys-to-australia/ Compared with that, almost 24 hours cooped up in cattle-class is a doddle! The sailing equivalent of cattle-class – steerage – was below the water line but the Southern ocean storms they might encounter were not their only problems. “Hygiene was poor at the best of times and worse in bad weather” (ibid) so in stormy weather, the order ‘batten down the hatches’ went out. And this meant that the steerage passengers were locked in without ventilation or light for the duration of the storm. Candles or oil lanterns were forbidden because of the danger of fire:

“… cramped conditions with timber, straw mattresses, hemp (rope) and tar caulking, meant a fire could spread with terrifying speed” (ibid)

Fire at sea is the mariner’s worst nightmare and, as few could swim and there were nowhere near enough lifeboats, a shipwreck left little chance of rescue. The conditions in steerage during a storm, with many people crammed together, no toilet facilities and the inevitable seasickness, must have been horrifying and doesn’t bear thinking about it. So perhaps we won’t. Think about it, I mean. Oh no – too late, the image is there …

Vinegar and chloride of lime were used to wash the decks of the ships, as fresh water was reserved for drinking and cooking. The vinegar helped prevent the spread of disease, although the understanding of why was not yet there, and, if nothing else, it made the ship smell better. Relatively.

On better managed ships, the areas below deck were thoroughly cleaned every few days by sailors and the women in steerage. Most ships provided only basic toilet and bathing facilities.

‘Sea bathing in the Tropics’, sketch from Edward Snell’s diary on the Bolton, London to Melbourne, 1849 (ibid)

The illustration indicates all too clearly the lack of privacy and may not have been available to ladies at all! Bathing was not normally a regular occurrence as the connection between personal hygiene and disease was little understood at the time. Most made do with a clean-up with a damp cloth under a blanket.

Straw bedding attracted fleas and cockroaches so people laid out their bedding in fine weather to air it. During storms, though, the bedding could get – and stay – soaking wet and this added to the problems with outbreaks of influenza and pneumonia.

Facilities for washing clothes were very restricted so many passengers wore the same clothes throughout the voyage. This, added to the stink emanating from the bilges below steerage, and given the increase in heat in the tropics, probably meant that the ship’s imminent arrival in port was announced by the wind rather than by any sightings from land!

The first steam ships made the journey to Australia in 1852 but these early steamers also had sails as their engines were inefficient and there were no coal depots mid-ocean for re-fuelling and actually few coaling ports en route.

The introduction of more efficient compound steam engines and iron, rather than wooden, hulls, enabled a voyage to be completed entirely under steam power. This was from the 1860s onwards but it was not until the 1880s that they became the transport of choice for emigrants. Because these ships did not have to rely on wind power and could travel at a constant speed, and the motive power could also provide electric lighting, refrigeration and ventilation, they could provide more comfort for passengers.

Grand saloons were able to be provided for first class passengers, and small cabins instead of sleeping berths were provided in steerage class.’ (ibid)

 

Married couples’ accommodation in steerage, by unknown artist, taken from the Illustrated London News, 13 April 1844

So accommodation such as above began to give way to smaller cabins for significantly fewer people! A diary of a journey made in 1874, read across the grain, shows how accommodation had improved.

the hatching had broken open in the second class cabin and they … all had to get to work baling … water out of the saloon (Diary of Ally Heathcote, England to Melbourne, Victoria, Onboard ‘SS Northumberland’, 1874) https://museumsvictoria.com.au/longform/journeys-to-australia/ [my emphasis]

The routes between Australia and London (with the Suez Canal option only available after 1869)

London to Perth is just a smidgen over 9000 miles with Sydney another 1500 miles further on. So that’s 10.5 thousand miles for things to go wrong. Great storms, gigantic icebergs, danger of shipwreck were some external factors but death from dysentery or typhus from the insanitary conditions and mediocre medical treatment at best added to the dangers.

“Deaths at sea were tragically common. As many as one in five children, and one in 60 adults died on the voyage to Australia” (ibid)

Conditions improved as the ships got larger. The Orient, launched in 1879, was the largest steamship built for the Australia route. It offered comforts unheard of for the period, including a promenade deck, refrigeration, and later, electric lighting.

Painting by Charles Dickinson Gregory of the sailing ship Orient on the sea, (1927)

Amongst other things was an ice-making plant. Horses were stabled on the rear deck and pigs, sheep and cows were in cages. These were not intended for a new life in another country because they were converted into pork, lamb and beef for diners in first-class!

‘The first-class saloon was fitted out with ornate brass furniture and elaborate wooden carvings, whilst the music saloon boasted a grand piano and an organ amidst profusely growing ferns and dracaenas.’ (ibid)

The SS Great Britain, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship, carried thousands on the Australia-London route from 1852, being converted to sail in 1881.

In 1884, she was retired to the Falkland Islands and used as a warehouse and coal hulk before being scuttled in 1937. But as those who have visited Bristol will know, this was not her end. In 1970, Sir Jack Arnold Hayward, OBE paid for the vessel to be raised, towed back to the United Kingdom, and returned to the Bristol dry dock where she had been built. And where she can be visited to gain an idea of what life on board might have been.

 

Sir Jack Hayward from his obituary, Daily Telegraph 13 Jan 2015

 

Image from a cabin in SS Great Britain from https://teatimeinwonderland.co.uk/2016/11/09/bristol-brunels-ss-great-britain/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And none of this takes into account something that hasn’t changed – even today. The decision to leave one country for a new life far away brings the emotional issue of having to say goodbye to home and loved ones.

‘… people were very conscious of the fact that they would probably never see their friends and relatives again.’ (https://museumsvictoria.com.au/longform/journeys-to-australia/)

All in all, it was not a voyage undertaken lightly. Nonetheless, eight of our pupils did undertake it, some more than once.

Elizabeth Minnie Lumley b 1857; Florence Hopkins, 1868; May Vockins 1884; Florence Webb 1886; Amy Margaret d’Arcy Sugden, 1894; Marjorie Gimblette, 1899 and Annie & Ethel Hewer in 1903 & 1905 respectively were all born in Australia and became pupils in London.

Just to offer some balance, Emma Amelia Humphreys (1829) and Margaret Humphries (1836), both former pupils, went to Australia before any of the above were born. Emma and Margaret, despite the different spellings, do appear to be sisters! They would definitely have travelled by sailing ship because their emigration occurred before steam ships were in use. The individual stories of these travellers must await another day.

All aboard who’s going aboard, please!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medalling with history

To any with knowledge of the School, the name Bertha Dean is a familiar one. To those with little or no knowledge of the history, the name may refer only to a building in the grounds – Bertha Dean House. Originally to be called Cornwallis House, this was changed before the building was complete. Whatever the thinking behind the name change remains a mystery as no-one recorded the reason and all of those involved in the decision are no longer with us.

Who was Bertha Dean? A former pupil, turned pupil teacher, turned salaried member of staff, turned Headmistress, she was one of many pupils who translated from pupil to teacher without leaving the premises. But, clearly, Bertha Jane Dean stood out from the others.

She was born on 6th January 1878 in Chichester, one of eight children born to William and Matilda and, if one inherits career tendencies from one’s parents, Bertha Dean was never going to be anything but a teacher. Her mother was a music teacher and her maternal grandparents were both teachers. Music, too, must have been a major feature as her father was a music seller and lay vicar. This last, also called a vicar choral, is a professional singer in an Anglican cathedral. One assumes, then, that this was in Chichester Cathedral.

Photo by Evgeniy Podkopaev on Wikipedia

William’s death in 1885 was the reason that Bertha came to the School in 1887. Her mother continued to run the family business selling music but it was a precarious income and the stipend from being a lay vicar would have ceased upon William’s death.

By 1894, the then Head Governess was writing of her:

in every way an exceptional girl: she has always been a particularly good girl and has long held the position of prefect. She is a girl of excellent general ability, no study of any kind comes amiss to her and she seems to excel in whatever branch she takes up.

In 1890 she took the prize for mathematics; in 1891 she passed Cambridge Junior with Class II Hons with a 1st class result in Maths and in 1894 took Cambridge Senior where she achieved a distinction in French and Music and passed Associated Board Music at the highest level with distinction.

In 1894, Sarah Louisa Davis wrote to the Committee indicating that she wanted to retain her pupil but also wanted her to attend a local public school to ‘work with older girls more advanced than herself’. There was one in Clapham and the fees, the Head Governess informed the Committee, were under £8 per term. Miss Davis put requests like these to the Committee (although they often read more as demands than requests!) and her master stroke in almost all cases was to indicate how much the School would benefit from this outlay. Allowing this extra for Bertha would mean that she would return to take up a good position on the teaching staff.

‘As it is but seldom as clever a girl in all branches is to be met with, Miss Davis asks that these special arrangements may be made.’

By January 1895, Clapham High felt that Bertha need not continue as she had covered all their syllabus by then. Bertha was then studying for ‘special subjects’ prior to her attaining her 18th birthday and being able to apply for a college. Miss Davis followed this with another of her master strokes – she knew exactly how to get the Committee on board! – as she went on to say that ‘If she returned here, the fees that would have been paid could be used to give her special tuition.’

In fact, Bertha did go on to further studies as she became the first former pupil to gain a degree. Not for her the luxury of attendance at a university though as she sat her degree as an external candidate of London University. By this stage, she was already teaching at the School. The Committee, clearly as impressed with Bertha as Miss Davis was, paid for the academic gown to which she was now entitled as Bertha Dean, B A.

This portrait, familiar from the Great Hall, shows Bertha – albeit in more mature years – wearing the gown she had earned.

In 1901, the census records her as a governess of general subjects although clearly music and maths were her specialisms. By 1911, although listed only as school teacher, her name is written immediately below the person in charge of the School at the time. There is no Head Governess listed in 1911 so Bertha’s position at the top of the list of teachers tells its own story. It hardly comes a surprise, then, to find her appointed as Head Governess in 1915.

This picture, although undated, is thought to be from about 1914, and shows Bertha Dean seated immediately next to the Head Governess of the time, the shorthand being ‘this one’s next’!

Headmistress 1915 to 1938, Bertha Dean retired to Alverstoke to live with her brother. Sadly her retirement was not lengthy as, in 1944, the School received the news that she had died.

But this post is less about her life and work and more about her medals. A box containing six medals is held by the School, some with Bertha Dean’s name engraved on them. At some point, they have been placed in the box to record something of the life of this remarkable woman.

The medals are (left to right, top row then 2nd row) Swimming badge, Gold Medal, Prefect’s badge, 1938 commemoration badge, Head Girl’s medal and commemoration badge 1927.

The silver badge was given in October 1892 for Swimming, as the obverse inscription informs us. But this award was perhaps a little eclipsed by the Gold Medal which was awarded in the same year.

Bertha Dean was 14 years old when this was awarded whereas today’s recipients of the Gold Medal are 18. Even given that the school leaving age was between 15 and 17 (depending on the Head Governess’ recommendations to the Committee), the award being made at 14 is clearly an indication of her qualities. These were further exemplified by her status as Prefect.

The hallmark, although indistinct, gives a date of 1891 from the London assay office. The sponsor’s mark (HTL) is for Henry Thomas Lamb and you won’t be surprised to learn he was a Masonic jeweller!

The two commemorative badges represent important celebrations in the School’s history for which badges were made and presented to everyone in the School.

In 1927 the Princess Royal came to the School to present prizes but the use of the Prince of Wales feathers on the badge implies something else. If it were ‘something else’ it has not been recorded as such although it should be noted that the Masonic Peace Memorial in London had its foundation stone laid in great ceremony in 1927 by Duke of Connaught, President of the RMIG.

Princess Mary, the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood; Scan from a Beagle’s postcard, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3607650

 

The 1938 badge, again a medal struck to commemorate a special event and presented to all at the School, was one to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the School.

The motto – circumornatae ut similitudo templi or as the King James Bible has it ‘that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace’ – was newly out of its cellophane, so to speak, as the coat of arms including it had only been granted in 1936.

The final badge in the box has a little mystery all of its own. The Head Girl’s jewel was originally presented in 1891, in the name of Sir Henry Isaacs, Lord Mayor of London. As such, Bertha Dean would have been one of the first persons to be awarded it.

Sir Henry Isaacs

In 1887 Henry Aaron Isaacs became sheriff of London and Middlesex, and was knighted in the same year. In 1889 he was elected Lord Mayor of London. The medal has the Latin motto of the City – Domine Dirige Nos – the Lord guide us.

It is still presented today but it is no longer the original medal as that was stolen in a robbery at the School in 1967. A copy was made with an indication written on the obverse that it is a replica of the original. And here is the little mystery. Whilst it has Bertha Dean’s name inscribed on the back of this medal in its presentation box, it also says it is a replica of the original.

And, although indistinct in the photo, underneath it has the words ‘worn by Bertha Dean’

This must mean that the medal in the box was created after 1967 but, to show that it is not the actual medal presented to Bertha Dean, the words ‘worn by’ are inscribed. The mystery here is why someone collected all of these medals, clearly long after the lady in question was deceased, and placed them in a presentation case. Clearly at least two of them are the genuine article and there is no doubt that Bertha Dean received all of the others, if not these exact ones, but why put them in a presentation box much later without any kind of legend?

And on that note, let’s close the box until someone solves the mystery!