‘Confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship’: A voyage from Wales to Australia

The collection at Glamorgan Archives holds many items relating to Glamorgan inhabitants who emigrated from Wales, including several who left to start new lives in Australia and New Zealand.  One of these was Levi Davies of Pontypridd, who left his home on 21st August 1863 and finally arrived in Melbourne on 6th January 1864 after a voyage of some 18 weeks.  Levi’s diary details every day of his courageous voyage across the oceans to the other side of the world.

Levi’s journey didn’t get off to the most exciting of starts:

Left Pontypridd August 21st 1863 By the 9 o clock train to Cardiff thence by the Great Western Railway through Gloucester to Paddington Station arrived there at 4.45pm…

And some days later, he was still in London:

Tuesday 25th August: This was the great day appointed for the ship to leave London for Melbourne, went on board in the morning and soon ascertained she would not sail that day.

Tuesday 1st September: Went on board in the morning and was told she would sail some time in the evening remained on board all day, at 6.30pm she made her first start, went as far as the lock the other end of the basin, stayed there until 3pm the following day

Despite that less than auspicious start, they finally set sail on Wednesday 2nd September.  But again, they didn’t get very far:

…at 3pm it being at full tide, the first mate gave the signal to start and we did… we had two Tugg Boats (steamers) to tow us as far as Gravesend where we casted anchor for the night…

A contrary wind meant that they were forced stay put for more than a week:

Thursday 10th September: At 4.30am was awakened by the sound of the sailors heaving up the anchor… was informed by the First Mate that the wind had changed and was amenable for us to sail… now opposite Dover Castle

Once underway, Levi found that not all the passengers adapted well to life at sea.  Only a few days after leaving London, Levi notes:

…sea very rough, ship rocking worse than a cradle, men women and children vomiting and purging effected by sea sickness.

But as for Levi himself, I am hitherto quite free from the least effects of it.  His secret?  …drinking salt water is very good to prevent sea sickness…

It’s interesting to discover from the diary how the crew and passengers survived such a long journey without putting in to port to collect supplies.  Obviously they had provisions on board, but they also made the most of their surroundings, and Levi refers to some of their food:

Saturday 26th September: Threw 3 alive pigs over board, the remainder of 15 that died from distemper.

Friday 11th September: …spent the morning in company with the Mate of the ship fishing, caught 2 Dog fishes, their skins as hard as Badger

Saturday 3rd October: …at twilight caught a fish called Baracoota…

Tuesday 13th October: …caught upwards of 2500 gallons of rain water for drinking and cooking etc.

Sunday 29th November: …caught a porpoise weighing about 150lbs ate some of it for breakfast.

Levi also details the habits of his fellow passengers, of which he didn’t always approve.  While they were still anchored at Gravesend, waiting for the wind to change, he noted:

Wednesday 9th September: …some of the passengers proposed going on shore in a Boat, to which I objected… about 1pm they went and returned at 6pm, more than half drunk…

Those travelling with Levi on the Trebolgan to Melbourne were from various places, but seemed to band together by nationality:

Thursday 3rd September: …Irishmen gathered together to give us a jig, Englishmen took to play cards, Scotch men to play Draughts, and Dutch men to play Chess, I and my partner amused ourselves by walking backwards and forward on the Deck…

Levi and his fellow countrymen, all of whom were nonconformists, made every effort to keep the Sabbath during their travels:

Sunday 6th September: We Welshmen gathered together and formed a Bible class, we are only 4 Welshmen on board, one man and wife besides Thomas and me, the others are English, Irish, Scotch and Dutchmen, very little respects they show towards Sunday more than any other day.

As you would expect, the voyage was far from smooth.  At times it proved truly terrifying for those on board, passengers and crew alike:

Friday 18th September: …explosion of thunder such as I never heard before nor any other one on board this ship, the forked lightning exhibiting in various shapes on the sky, dividing the heavens as it were, the howling of the wind, the roaring of the big waves raising up like mountains tossing the ship like a ball and the pouring of the rain… was enough to sink us all in despondency and give up all hopes of ever reaching any port… all of us expected every moment to be dashed to atoms and buried under the waves…


Sunday 20th September: Was awakened this morning by the loud splashing of the great waves against the thin planks which separate us from sudden death…

Thursday 22nd October: Tremendous heavy squalls at 2am which aroused us from bed, ship almost capsized several times…  I was asking some of the sailors at breakfast time what did they think of the weather last night… they said, that is just the sort of weather for us… but actions and manners speak louder than words sometimes, although they answered in that way when the uneasy moments were over, they did not mean it, there was seriousness imparted on every countenance at the time the squall occurred…

At such times of despair, and on such a long journey, Levi’s thoughts naturally turned to home and to the friends and family he had left behind:

Thursday 24th September: …many times I climbed up the rigging turning my face towards home anxious to know the state of your mind concerning me, but many a long month must pass before it is possible for me to hear from you on account of the long journey which is before me.  Please God I shall see the end of it.

And he began to wonder whether he had made the correct decision:

The 115th day of our voyage: The light of another Christmas Day has dawned upon us  …I had some thoughts of sadness about the past and some of anxiety when I looked into the uncertainty of the future…

And, although life on board was dull at times…

Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday the 11th 12th 13th and 14th November: Nothing of much moment occurred these last few days…


The 115th day of our voyage: Now I am upon the sea with nothing to relieve the dull monotony which I have now had (with little exception) for four weary months, confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship, with nothing but strangers for our companions.

…the new experiences Levi encountered during his voyage were wonderful indeed:

Wednesday 30th September: …saw a big fish called by some Turtle, by others Tortoise, it’s a fish with hard shells on his back.

Saturday 24th October: Crossed the line (Equator) at 6pm when old Neptune’s Secretary came on board… stated that his Divine Master was ill of cold which confined him to his room… medicine exactly to his disease not being obtainable in the waste of waters… wishing it to be understood that that particular kind of distilled spirit called rum was particularly suited to his Master’s disease…

Sunday 1st November: A meteor commencing eastwards flashed up and along the sky, towards s. west, lighting the whole heavens more clearly than anything I ever saw except the sun itself, it must have lasted about 5 seconds and then exploded in sparks, leaving a luminous streak in its course behind it, which gradually disappeared, leaving everything in darkness as before…

Wednesday 4th November: A matter of considerable excitement occurred today, a report spread among the passengers and crew that a shark was to be seen hovering about the prow of the vessel… the assertion was repeated that the rapacious monster was still there… The Captain… making his appearance with a large fishing hook in one hand and a piece of pork in the other (about 2lbs) the bait was fixed immediately and the hook attached to a rope which was carried by the Captain to the side of the ship and thrown over, in a very short time Mr Shark made his appearance… his jaws closed upon the bait… the word past, hoist away, and in a few moments we landed him safely on the Deck.

Tuesday 1st December: In this part of the world it is not dark until 9pm.  I never saw daylight before at 9pm on the 1st December.


Thursday 10th December: …sighted an iceberg about twice as large as this ship…

After months at sea, Levi and his fellow passengers finally caught sight of their destination:

Monday 4th January: Was called this morning at 5am by the First Mate (Mr Armstrong) to see land Cape Otway which was on the left of us just before we entered into Hobson’s Bay…

And, at last, they landed in Australia:

Wednesday 6th January 1864: At 3pm went to shore on a boat, walked about in Williamstown landing and St. Kilda Hill…

We don’t know a great deal as to Levi’s fate once he reached Australia.  Some notes in the diary give us clues regarding what he did in the few short years following his arrival:

Commenced work at a Farm near Bald Hills ‘Henry Loader’ on the 13th January 1864. 

L. A. Davies was appointed Secretary of the Bonshaw ‘Accident Fund’ on the 13th day of March 1868.

If any reader knows what happened to Levi Davies after his adventure on the high seas, we would be very pleased indeed to find out.

2 thoughts on “‘Confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship’: A voyage from Wales to Australia

  1. A little more searching …
    Levi Augustus Davies is mentioned in the book ‘The Welsh in an Australian Gold Town: Ballarat, Victoria 1850–1900’, as winning a ‘Welsh-to-English translation competition’ in 1868.
    In the newspaper The Argus, dated 26 May 1908: ‘STAWELL. Mr Levi Augustus Davies, aged 72 years, a native of Carmarthenshire, South Wales, died on Sunday. He came to Australia in 1863.’

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