The reality of travelling steerage, where diseases found the perfect conditions. ANMM Collection 00005627
The year 1837 was a busy one for the colony of New South Wales. Busiest of all was Sydney Harbour, which saw thousands of convicts arriving and a growing number of immigrants. In addition to the free single men and women, whole families were travelling from Britain to try their luck with a new life.
On 5 November 1836 the immigrant ship Lady McNaughton left Ireland for Australia. On board was the largest number of children ever to immigrate to Australia at that time. Passenger lists show 196 of the passengers of the ship were under the age of 14. However, by the time the ship was about 300 kilometres from Sydney, 54 of the passengers had died – 44 of those being children. Even in the age of dangerous sea travel, this was an extraordinarily high death rate. The typhus fever on board showed no signs of abating, with some 90 passengers still afflicted.
This memorial to British children evacuated to Australia in 1940 also commemorates the local women who looked after them at Sydney’s Quarantine Station. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.
The Polish passenger liner MV Batory seems an odd ship to be commemorated at Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station, as it never moored there. Yet its presence is captured in concrete: ‘BRITISH EVACUEE / CHILDREN / ARRIVED 16TH OCTOBER / 1940. M.S. BATORY / VA + DS’, followed by 37 names etched into four neat panels.
In fact, despite outbreaks of influenza, measles and ‘school sores’, the Batory was never quarantined. Rather, for the British children it rushed to Sydney in 1940, North Head represented a safe haven from German bombers and invasion scares.