Authors of Their Lives: The Personal Correspondence of British Immigrants to North America in the Nineteenth Century

By David A. Gerber | Go to book overview

7
Thomas Spencer Niblock
A Dialogue of Respectability and Failure

I left England for Sydney in 1838, a child in experience, in knowl-
edge of the world—and I remained a child for years—sufficiently
long to mis-apply my efforts and my little property, which was
consequently lost. In all, however, I trace the hand of God.

—Thomas Spencer Niblock to Edward Thomas Spencer,
his brother-in-law and benefactor, July 20, 1849

Early in the morning of Sunday, May 15, 1853, an American steamship plying the seas off Cape Howe on the coast of northern Victoria, and bound for Sydney from Melbourne, entered waters known to Australian navigators as particularly perilous. The captain of the Monumental City made what was later revealed before a board of inquiry to be an especially thoughtless navigational error that led him off course. The ship became wedged on rocks not far off the shore of Tullaberga Island. Testimony is confused about what happened next, as the ship, which was badly damaged, buffeted by increasingly powerful winds and by rain, and rocked by heavy surf, began to list. Its decks were swamped again and again by massive waves. Depending on whose testimony one believes, the captain allowed his sailors, all of whom survived, to escape without offering aid to the vulnerable families aboard, and eventually he himself abandoned them to their deaths. Or, in another telling, he did all he could to save his passengers, but was unable to overcome the panic of many passengers, who would not enter the lifeboats for fear of the breakers, or take the hawser line that had been extended over the boiling sea from ship to shore. Not all of the eightyeight passengers perished, but of those thirty-three who did and whose bodies were found, twenty-six lie buried in the shallow soil of the rock bluffs of Tullaberga Island.1

-230-

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