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Hell Ship by Michael Veitch

October 22, 2018

The true story of the plague ship Ticonderoga, one of the most calamitous voyages in Australian History.

Earlier this year we visited Point Nepean National Park, which is the most southerly point of Port Phillip Bay. Unfortunately most of the National Park was closed over the time we were there, but we were able to look through the Quarantine Station. While there I was interested to read about the ship Ticonderoga, also known as the plague ship.

I was specially interested in the passenger list as I noticed many onboard were from Inverness and Ross-Shire, in the Scottish Highlands. My MORISON ancestors were from that same area, which is why I was so interested. I found there were passengers named MORISON and McRAE, onboard. My 3X Great Grandfather William MORISON was married to Jennat McRAE. I really don’t know the connection with my family, or if there is a connection. But this will be my next area of research.

Shortly after our visit to Point Nepean, I heard Michael Veitch on the radio, talking about his new book Hell Ship which tells the story of this dreadful voyage which left England in 1852, with a record number of passengers on board. The story of the Ticonderoga has been told for generations in Veitch’s family, as his great great grandfather James William Henry VEITCH was the junior doctor onboard, who had to take over caring for the sick and dying when the senior doctor was also struck with disease.

As the ship sailed into Point Nepean, after it’s long and disastrous voyage, it  was flying the yellow flag, a universal sign that there was an outbreak of disease onboard. During the voyage, more than one quarter of the travellers lost their lives to typhoid. At the time of arrival, there were hundreds onboard who were very ill, and the ship wasn’t given permission to pull into port and disembark for days. Meanwhile many more died, while the ship was waiting for permission to dock and unload.

Most of the emigrants onboard the Ticonderoga, were victims of the Scottish clearances and the potato famine, travelling to Australia with hopes of finding a better life, after being victims of dreadful circumstances in Scotland. It seems very cruel, that these people who had already suffered so much, then had to face more suffering and sadness on this voyage.

Hell Ship gives a very detailed account of the voyage, from official records. This voyage, was one of the biggest stories of the time, that is now almost forgotten. Not only is this account about the voyage and the disasters the emigrants faced, it is also about the people who were on the ship, and the tragic losses they faced, as the huge Ticonderoga made it’s way across the ocean, with it’s numbers of passengers decreasing quickly, as they were buried at sea.

Hell Ship is much more than the story of Michael Veitch’s family history. The book gives a remarkable insight into the hardships and horrors endured by emigrants on all ships, as they travelled to the other side of the world in the hope of starting a new and better life for themselves and their families.

This extremely well researched and historical document will now enable the story of the Ticonderoga to live again, and not be forgotten.

Published in 2018 by Allen and Unwin


From → Book Review

  1. I can’t begin to imagine the horror those poor people experienced on that voyage.

  2. Hi Jen, what an interesting book which I will check out as I like historical books. Thanks for sharing at #MLSTL.

  3. We can’t begin to fathom that kind of misery and sickness without medication now. What a hard life it must have been for so many. Sounds like an interesting read.

  4. This sounds like an interesting read Jennifer, and brings back the history of those trips for so many people. #mlstl

  5. What a sad tale Jennifer – I can’t even begin to imagine what life would have been like for these poor folk. To have left with such high hopes and to end so terribly is hard to even think about.
    MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM 🙂

  6. I have heard the ships name so many times but never knew it’s story. I would love to read this book. Good luck connecting/researching your Morison and McRae families to this bit of history ~ Sharon

  7. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention. It sounds fascinating! Got it on my to-read list! I simply can’t imagine what that must have been like – stuck on a ship with disease and death all around. So tragic!

  8. Thanks for sharing! I can’t imagine what it was like to be aboard that ship. I can’t wait to read more about it! I’ve asjed my library to add this book to their collections, and I can’t wait for it to come in!

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