Early in 1873, 342 emigrants gathered at London’s West India Docks. Most were in men their late teens or early twenties. They were drawn from the tough underclass that built Victorian Britain. There was a sprinkling of older men – the oldest said he was 46 – and a few had brought wife and family (there were 42 women and 52 children under 12). The 950 ton Northfleet was chartered by the greatest international railway contractor of the day to carry 340 tons of rails plus labourers who were to build a new railway between Hobart and Launceston in Tasmania.
The 180 foot long Northfleet was a fast and seaworthy Blackwall frigate. Blackwalls were a class of elegant, sleek three-masted sailing ship, somewhat reminiscent of a clipper.
One person was missing from the 37-strong crew – the captain. A letter from the Treasury Solicitor saved him from certain death. He…
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