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An Australian Adventure

The ss Great Britain leaving Liverpool for Melbourne

A diary of discovery...


Claire Connor is studying for a PhD at the University of Bristol, hosted by the ss Great Britain Trust. Her specialist subject is ss Great Britain’s voyages to Australia, particularly the 1852 voyage. Claire is now halfway through her 3-year study. She spent the first 18 months familiarising herself with ss Great Britain and the passenger diaries and letters held in store at the Brunel Institute, and has now gone to Australia for four months to find out more about the passengers we know travelled on the ship, and perhaps uncover some until now unknown diaries and letters.

Claire will be writing a blog each week during her time in Australia, giving a firsthand account of her discoveries.

"It’s now 7.25am on Monday morning. All the windows are open and a lovely cool breeze is floating in, along with the sound of Melbourne's rush hour. The temperature forecast for today is 27 degrees, climbing to 35 degrees by the end of the week. It’s time to tell you what I’ve been doing since I got here five days ago.

"I spent the first two days recovering from the journey, and getting organised with new bank account etc. I also explored an almost totally deserted University campus; at the moment it’s the long summer holiday here, as the new term doesn’t start until early March.

"Having settled into my digs I got down to some real work on Saturday, going over my notes and making a few phone calls. My first lead to follow up was the story of Simeon and Cecilia Cohen; Simeon travelled on the 1852 voyage to Melbourne then returned to Liverpool to marry his teenage sweetheart Cecilia who sadly died mid-voyage on their journey back to Melbourne on the Great Britain’s 1853 voyage. The Jewish Library here put me in touch with Professor Jim Falk, a semi-retired academic at the University of Melbourne, who is apparently an expert on 'all things Cohen in Melbourne'. We have now compared notes and I’ve found out a bit of new information on Simeon - he had previously travelled on the Great Britain to New York! I’ll see if I can find out more at the Jewish Library. After dying during the 1853 voyage, Cecilia was buried in Melbourne (her body was stored in the hold for the rest of the voyage), and I will try and locate her grave.

"Simeon, I discovered, remarried in Melbourne and had two children - and is buried in a cemetery just around the corner from University College. I had a look for his grave yesterday (Sunday) but 'Section A, Row 5' led me to an area the size of the ss Great Britain car park, and many of the headstones are illegible. So I’ll try to get hold of someone from the Cemetery this week to see if they can help me locate his grave. I have also discovered that the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney has a Pentateuch (similar to a prayer book) that Cecilia gave Simeon when he left on the 1852 voyage - with her inscription. - See here for images.

"After visiting the cemetery, I then went to look for another nearby bit of interest. Orlando Fenwick travelled on the 1852 voyage with his brother Pascoe and together they established Fenwick Brothers, a large and highly successful drapery store in central Melbourne. Orlando was made Mayor of Melbourne in 1871 and a street was named after him - photo attached of the street. His 'scrapbook' is at the National Library in Canberra so will look at that later in my travels.

"That’s all for now – I’m off to Adelaide later this week so my next blog will be from there."