February 24, 2010 / 3:08 PM / 9 years ago

Debauchery rife on migrant voyage to Australia

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Violence, drunkenness and all manner of debauchery featured on a six-month voyage on a migrant ship bound for Australia 170 years ago, a newly discovered diary reveals.

The raunchy tale of anarchy on the high seas is recorded by a junior officer, James Bell, aboard “The Planter” which sailed to Adelaide from Deptford in east London in 1838.

Alcohol-fueled acts of “great violence” involving officers, mates and even the ship’s doctor are all recounted.

In the green vellum-bound journal, Bell tells how the captain regularly entertained two of the 11 daughters of a doctor-preacher from Liverpool called McGowan.

He wrote: “our captain of course could not want a mistress till he returned to his own in England, but made love to two of McGowan’s daughters ... The Capt was allowed to keep the daughters company at all hours, and during the whole time of our being in warm weather our bed on deck sufficed for all three.”

Bell, whose 225-page diary goes up for sale at auction in London next month after being bought in a market stall for a pittance, said his crew were no better.

“Such an example was soon followed up by all the ship’s company but particularly by the three mates (who) carried immorality to a glaring height.”

Bell told how they blatantly took up with a band of prostitutes in search of a better life in the colonies.

He called the women “... natives of some obscene alley, in some obscene street, of that renowned city, London, and who are conveying in themselves all the filth of the place of their nativity, to Adelaide.”

Ironically, Bell kept his diary for a female friend back in England, but interestingly for the time spared her few blushes.

“With all this whoring and drunkenness,” he wrote, “it is amazing this ship ever arrived in Australia.”

The diary is expected to fetch between 2,000 to 4,000 pounds ($3,000 to $6,000) at a sale on March 23, according to the auction house Bonhams.

Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison

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