“I’m now back in sunny Melbourne, after spending some time in Adelaide, where I made some exciting discoveries about one of ss Great Britain’s passengers, Stephen Curnow. Stephen, as his surname suggests, came from Cornwall, and travelled to Australia as a steerage passenger on the 1852 voyage. Reading his letters I have found out that he was one of many Cornish passengers on ss Great Britain, all of whom set out for Australia to make money in the goldfields and then return home with enough to buy a farm or a small business. I also found a photo of Stephen himself, which was hugely exciting – it’s always amazing to look into the face of someone who was actually on the ship.
“As well as the discoveries about Stephen Curnow, I have found information about crew members, in the University of Melbourne archives. There were a huge number of bundles to go through, as the photo shows, but I found some gems. One was a letter to Bright Brothers (owners of ss Great Britain) from the sponsor of a young midshipman cadet who joined the ship in Melbourne, detailing what money Captain Gray would give him for his uniform and spending money. I also found the original registration document for the ship, complete with attestation by the Mayor of Bristol, numerous seals, and signatures of all the Bright Brothers directors.
“This week I also spent a day at Melbourne’s main Police Station. Here I found heaps of material in their archives relating to John Saddleir, who joined the Police Cadets when he reached Melbourne at the end of the 1852 voyage, and who was later responsible for the arrest of the notorious criminal Ned Kelly. He also witnessed the death of passenger George Maunsell, beaten to death in the goldfields in early 1853. I have a hunch that another passenger, Samual Sexton, is implicated in this murder but sadly no material has survived from the incident so I am no further in my attempt to play detective.
“I’m going to spend the next week or so in the Public Records Office following up birth, marriage and death records, wills and inquests, before heading off to the goldfields towns of Ballarat and Bendigo to dig around in their records and actually see some of the places where ss Great Britain’s passengers ended up.”