Book by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Ticonderoga Ship’s Log 22 December, 1852, 0530
Hot dry wind NNE at 25 knots. Sighted the coast of the colony of Victoria at 1823 yesterday evening. Disembarking at Point Nepean at 0730 today. One hundred and two souls lost to typhus. Many more passengers and crew ill. Doctor has succumbed and unable to tend to sick since midday yesterday. Ordered yellow flag hoisted at 0500.
Kit tended to her children the best she could in the cramped quarters. The Captain reserved water for drinking only so she wiped Robert's brow with a rag dipped in a bucket of sea water.
“Are we there yet, Mama?”
“It won’t be long now, darling. Try to sleep.”
“Where is Clara?”
“She’s up on deck looking at land. You can see the beach we’ll be walking on before you know it. There’ll be a nice clean bed waiting for you and a hot meal. I have no doubt.”
“Where’s Clara gone?”
Kit cradled his feverish head in her lap and rocked gently with the movement of the ship. She gathered her skirts around her as a large foot landed on the straw mattress next to her. The tall man bent his back beneath the overhead sleeping compartments and crossed by her before sitting next to his wife and children, splayed on a mattress at the far side of the deck. It had long been too hot to sleep in the compartments and people had moved their mattresses to the floor.
“Was that Daddy?” Robert asked.
“No, love, I told you, he’ll be waiting for us onshore. You’ll see him soon enough. Now hush and sleep.”
“There won’t be no one waiting for you on shore will there?” Ginny leaned in slightly from her mattress to whisper. She had placed her mattress next to Kit’s days ago, but the two had little in common and conversation between them was sparse.
Looking down at Robert, Kit shook her head. “My husband, Jimmy, sent us the fare months ago, then the letters stopped.”
“Don’t you worry none, love, there’ll be people on shore to help you look after the littlies, I wager. I was up on deck earlier and I heard one of the crew say he could see a sea of tents at the point. They’re prepared for us, they are.”
Kit smiled obligingly. “Where is your Lizzy? She was here yesterday, wasn’t she?”
“That she were. She’s hitched up with one of them sailors. He’s sharing his rations with her and his bed no doubt. The little whore is good at looking after herself, I’ll give her that. Taught her well, I did.”
"Would you mind Robert for me while I find Clara?” Kit asked.
“Of course I will. You go.”
Kit carefully lifted her sleeping boy’s head and lowered it to the mattress. She stood and smoothed her soiled skirts before picking her way across the prostrate bodies to the stairs leading to the upper deck. She waited impatiently at the bottom while a crew member, descending with a bucket of water, stopped to tie a kerchief over his mouth and nose.
She squinted in the bright light and peered around at the figures standing on the deck. Hearing the shrill sound of a girl's excited scream, she spun around and saw a sailor lifting Clara into the air as if to throw her overboard. Kit grabbed her skirts and rushed to her daughter.
“Clara,” she scolded as she neared.
The sailor lowered her down.
“If you’ll pardon me, my daughter is needed below.”
“She’s a fine lassie,” the sailor remarked, as Kit took her by the hand and tugged her arm. She pulled her behind her as the eleven-year-old resisted.
“Let me go, Mama. I was just playing.”
Yes, and Lizzy is only one year older than you and she was just playing with the sailors too, until yesterday.
“I don’t want to go back down there; it’s dirty. I want to stay up here.”
“Until we're with your father again, you will listen to what I tell you. Now, get back down there and help me look after your brother.” They descended the stairs and walked between the mattresses to the middle of the deck.
“He don’t look good, Kit, “Ginny said as she reached the mattress. “I can’t get no word out of ‘im.”
Kit knelt next to her boy. His face was ashen and his little body, dressed only in a gauze vest and knee pants, was slick with sweat.
She lifted the bucket and tipped the water down the length of his body.
“The water’s gone warm. Fetch more water." She pushed the bucket into Clara's hands.
Clara grasped the wooden bucket, leapt across the bodies and disappeared at the top of the stairs.
“Everything is going to be all right,” she said as she cradled his head on her lap.
“When did he last eat?” Ginny asked.
"I haven’t been able to get anything into him since the day before yesterday."
“I’ve got a crust of bread here." She produced a scrap of material from under her mattress and unwrapped a small chunk of bread.
“Thank you. You’re very kind.” Kit took the bread and broke off a tiny morsel and placed it in her son’s mouth. “Now, you eat this, you hear? It will help make you better.”
The bread sat in his mouth but fell to the mattress as his head drooped to one side and his mouth opened.
“Oh, my God. No. Not my boy. Not here. Please.”
Ginny moved onto her knees and bent down to listen to the boy’s chest. She shook her head.
Kit let out a mournful cry and cradled her boy in her arms, stroking his hair and kissing the top of his head. Tears fell onto his face as she held his head to her breast. She screamed his name and peered into the faces of the other passengers. None moved, but they stared at the spectacle of another lost child.
Clara reappeared with the bucket of water and placing her head on her mother's shoulder, stared down at the tranquil face of her brother.
“Now, you listen to me, Kit Monahan," Ginny said. "Stop your wailing, or as sure as the sun will cross the sky, they’ll take him from you and throw him overboard. Stay with him and cradle him like you was before. Like he’s sleepin’, and we’ll be on land soon and he can be buried proper there.”
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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This is an intriguing beginning, and it accurately describes the conditions aboard ship on the way to the Down Under colonies. Your characters are very lifelike, and you've clearly done your research. My only complaint is that it's not too clear what kind of sickness these people have. Of course, it could be anything, but a description of symptoms would be nice.
A very good read. Thanks.
As a historical note, the British merchant board tried everything to get better treatment and conditions for the people aboard ships. They tried threats, preachers, nothing worked. Finally, they set up a reward of extra money for the captain for every person who survived the voyage.
Hope that helps your story.
Thanks for the great historical facts. The quarantine station is near to where I live and morphed into an army training base after the ships stopped coming. Most of the original buildings are still there and it's a fascinating place. It clearly inspired me to write this story. Thank you for the review.
A solid literary voice. Good in setting the mood and tone. Engaging. It easily feels like I'm there. Solid craft and storytelling for a first draft. Strong sense of storytelling - period. Though I think it could use just a bit more background information. Not a lot. How many days at sea? Maybe just fill out the relationship between the sailor and Clara - maybe just a word or a reference. I assume on this long voyage, this is not the first time something like this has happened. I'm sure Kit has experienced a growing concern and hypervigilance - something a little more to show it . . . Maybe it's there and I missed it.
All and all - well done.
I hope this is what you are looking for in a review. I'll look at your next chapter tomorrow.
Good first chapter. I found no spelling or grammatical errors and the content flowed smoothly from beginning to end. The only comment I can make which might be of help is that, since the chapter is short, you could add a little detain on both the scene below decks and when the mother is atop deck with her daughter. ie, the sailor's description and Clair's description.
I hope that's helpful. R.M.
Morning. Very well written, very well shown. Awesome storytelling! I was as good as there...on board, watching...and it got to me... I'm very thankful that though Covid might be around a while, at least we're living in the 21st century and that technology and medicine have come so far!
Zero flaws from what I can tell. You're very much on top of things and this is going to be a compelling read.
Peace in abundance,
Thank you for your review Mike and I second the comment about the Covid. Medical advances seem to be gaining pace with every passing year and that can only be a good thing for us all, well, unless they succeed at being able to stop the ageing process, then the human race will be stuffed.
Why I can't handle this. It is just so hopeless in the beginning. Children dying.
Thank you for reading and for your valued opinion. This story is based on a real one. The quarantine station still exists not far from where I live. The 'Ticonderoga' was called "The Death Ship" due to the disease outbreak. The main character does find life hard - as you'd expect for someone being alone and in a new colony - but it's not all doom and gloom.
Besides, you killed off Rudolpho and I had to deal with that :).