William Light’s last painting…
Perth Courier, March 12, 1937; March 26, 1937; April 2, 1937
The Voyage of the Buckinghamshire
On Sunday morning, April 29, 1821, the old sailing ship the Earl of Buckinghamshire, at one time the pride of the Indian merchant fleet, lifted anchor from the east quay at Greenock and slipped past the last headlands of the Firth of Clyde and headed, hull down, into the long Atlantic surges. This white sailed argosy of 600 tons register, bore the dreams and hopes of 607 Scots who had cut the ties of home and were embarked on a 7 week voyage to a new land of promise.
As a sort of re-conditioning course, the settlers were advised to prepare themselves for outside work. Girls were instructed in knitting and spinning and the boys in making fishing nets and preparing tackle. Finally, all were exhorted to call to mind the days of old and the precepts and principles so beautifully exemplified in Soctia’s cottages.
Four ships were chartered to sail in April and May of 1821. They were the George Canning of 435 tons, carrying 420 individuals; the Earl of Buckinghamshire, 600 tons, carrying 607 passengers; Commerce, 418 tons carrying 429 passengers; and the David of London, 380 tons and carrying 364 passengers. The Buckinghamshire was evidently considered a first class boat for its day and the Greenock Advertiser comments on her sailing as follows: “From the accommodations on the Earl of Buckinghamshire, which are exceptional of their kind and the great heart of the ship between decks it promises to afford to the emigrant as satisfactory a conveyance to their destination as any vessel hitherto fitted out from the Clyde notwithstanding the vast number on board”. The reporter also noted “the most respectable appearance of the emigrants” on board the ship.
The Buckinghamshire was not so very seaworthy. She was an old tub and in a later voyage the same year went down with all on board. It is on record that in the previous year she docked at Kingston and on that occasion there played on her deck a curly haired boy later revered in Canadian history as Sir John A. MacDonald.
Passengers on board the Buckinghamshire were restricted in baggage to a few personal effects and bed clothes, pans, pots, crockery. Children had to be vaccinated or they could not proceed. Everybody was advised to have their hair cut short and “no smoking or lighted candles were allowed betwixt decks”. On the other hand the owners of the ships were bound by charger to ensure a sufficient quantity of water in well seasoned casks which was to be measured out daily and also “provided sufficient furnaces for cooking victuals and baking oat meal bread” Cabin accommodations containing 3(?)8(?) berths was also specially reserved for women overtaken by childbirth.
The passenger list of the Buckinghamshire included the names of Caldwells, Gemmill, Craig, MacFarlane, Menzies, McIntyre, Moir, McVicar, Lockhart, Brown, Lang, Easson(?), McLaren, Herron, Finlay, Houston, and nearly 600 others.
Listed among the 490 on board the George Canning were such names as Blair, Barr, McInnes, Cummings, Miller, Gunn, Beveridge, Stirling, Stewart and Yuill.
On board the Commerce with its 423 passengers were Barrs, Muirs, Brownlees, Campbells, Toshacks, Robertsons. The David Of London in its complement included the names of five families of Gilmours, John Findlay and wife and five children, three Bairds, two Parks, two McIlquhams, Robert Carswell, James Lietch, four Whittons, William Gourlay, James Bryson and several McDonalds.
In the exodus of the year previous (1820) among the first arrivals were James hall, John Mair, Duncan McPherson, Charles Isdale, Peter McLaren, Alexander Ferguson, John Turreff, David Bowers(or Bowes?), and James Campbell. There were also those who pushed on to Watson’s Corners.
Fortunately, a record of that memorable voyage has been kept in a diary by Andrew Lang, a passenger on board the Buckinghamshire who eventually settled at Shipman’s Mills (now Almonte) on the Mississippi. Lang’s keen observations have brought into sharp focus a series of vignettes of those weary days at sea so that we can now visualize the scenes in the following word pictures extracted from the diary.
April 29—The day began with an early rising of the children and later with the birth of a child on board. The men showed great dexterity in getting their stores stowed away and I cannot but help to admire the moderation of the captain in his conduct towards the passengers. They appear to be very much on deck but some of them sit in calmness in bed with very little reading.
Tuesday, May 1—We lost sight of land today—a beautiful day. There is such confusion and noise that it puts an end to almost all solid thinking. Bedtime came with its usual attendants—darkness and the roaring of children.
Wednesday, May 2—Awakened by the squalling of children. There is plenty of fun and laughter at the odd ways of some of the men and women. Some got drunk and were very troublesome. One man was put in irons. At 12:00 at night we ran aground, the bowsprit almost touching a big rock. There was very little terror or excitement.
Thursday, May 20—A very good day. Nothing but the usual bustle for bread and meat from morning to night. On Sabbath we had a sermon at noon. There was a decent little group of young and old with their faces clean and their appearance serious. A ship passed just as the sermon ended.
May 25—A fine day. It was considered today that the passengers were not so well used by some of the crew as they ought to be. The mate had struck a man before this with a hard spike but the little man had resented the blow by giving a kick and the affair produced a new regulation.
May 28—a heavy sea rolling at 11:00 and continued the whole night. The first scene that I saw when the ship began to roll was 14 or 15 of the passengers tumbling headlong on top of one another. The caboose followed and cooking utensils and girls and mothers after them and the confusion caused quite a bit of laughter.
May 29—Everyone is telling a neighbor what a bad night he had for really such a tumble of cans, bundles, and pots I never saw before. About 16 of us had a good glass of rum in the forecastle.
June 5—This morning we saw land for the first time since we left Scotland. St. Paul’s Island on the right and Cape Breton on the left.
June 15—There is a new scene before us this morning. Really, it is a very beautiful one—trees to the hilltop—cultivated places and wild rocky looking hills at a distance with ranges of white houses for they were all in rows. The women appear to be enraptured at the prospect and it is no wonder. Two boats came along side of us with herring, bread, and tobacco—15 d. for a loaf of bread; 15 d for four dozen of tobacco; 6 d for a dozen herring.
June 16—We saw Quebec in the evening and it looked beautiful. I at last got my feet back on terra ferma and really I am well pleased to have it so.
Another trying experience was the journey to Prescott, which was reached on June 30, two months after leaving Greenock. Some idea of the conditions of overland travel faced by this gallant company of men, women and children, is gleaned from the revealing notations of Andrew Lang, made concerning one bivouac under the stars: “In endless confusion we slept in the open air and our hands were wet with dew in the morning?
The only known record of this nightmare journey into the bush is to be found in an archival pamphlet written by John McDonald, who described the hardships of primitive travel. The exertions of the emigrants on the trip as far as Prescott had left most of them in a weakened condition. Besides, they suffered terribly from an intense heat and from drinking river water. Nights in the open were often with wet blankets and contributed much to their general debility.
Apparently traveling schedules and billeting arrangements had broken down when the various parties left Prescott. Each group from the parent emigrant society in Scotland had endeavored to keep together but evidently the emigrants from the four ships left Prescott at almost the same time, causing considerable congestion and confusion before being sorted out and sent on their way. McDonald pictures conditions at Prescott thusly:
“Here we began soon to feel the effects of our rough journey and of our lying out in the fields. Many were afflicted with the bloody flux. Some took fevers and many died of a few days illness. Our situation became very alarming, the people generally complaining of indisposition. I continued here three weeks. The cause of our delay here arose from the great multitude that were lying at this place before our arrival. Here we found half the passengers from the ship David of London—the whole exceeded 1,000 people and it took a long time to carry all their baggage along a road of 14 miles to New Lanark. Each society had to wait its turn of getting away. Many were obliged to wait here on account of sickness and many died.”
When the journey resumed from Prescott, McDonald’s party only traveled six miles before stopping for the night at an inn, sleeping on the floor. At day break they were then on their way to Brockville where they breakfasted. After a brief pause the party turned north and struck out back through the country. They probably followed the route of what is now Highway 29. The wagons containing the women and children were sometimes over turned and hopelessly mired and when the wagons upset there were usually casualties. En route the settlers slept in barns where ever possible and they were afraid of snakes having seen many on the road.
As the approached their destination of New Lanark conditions became worse. They also heard disturbing news of sickness. McDonald attributed the malady to stagnant atmosphere never rarified by the solar rays. In fact, McDonald seems to have been unduly appalled by the forest and its silence for he observed that “no sound of music, is ever heard there but a melancholy death like stillness reigns in the forest except where they are agitated by the tempest or storms”.
In a depressed mood, McDonald complained of the exertion required of the settlers in selecting their future locations of 100 acres each, of the distance from market, of the general destitution of the settlers and their fears of the coming Canadian winter. Doubtless the morale of some was low due to the difficulty of the overland journey and the sense of strangeness and nostalgia for home. But they apparently recognized a new opportunity to retrieve their independence and in that spirit energetically began to erect their temporary shelters and to clear a patch of land where the sunlight could strike through.
Very belatedly, I thank you for this article. You mention that there were passengers named Finlay on The Earl of Buckinghamshire; they were my ancestors. There were seven: Robert and Margaret, and five of their nine children. Robert died, either aboard ship or shortly after he arrived in Lanark County. I believe it was the latter. The older three of the Finlay children went to New York State where they worked as domestic servants; the younger two, Alexander and Jean, remained with their mother. I am a descendant of Jean. I think descendants of Alexander Finlay still live in Lanark County.
Thanks Douglas for your comments… I have posted them with thanks.:) Linda
Hi Linda. Very informative and well written article. Can you tell me where you got your passenger list for the Earl of Buckinghamshire? I’m trying to confirm that my family was onboard that 1821 voyage. Thanks in advance – Douglas Armour
Good morning… thank you and here is the link.. http://www.theshipslist.com/pictures/earlofbuckinghamshire.shtml