It is an early morning on the 15 March 1853, and the passengers of the Blackheath are ill at ease. They are floating off the coast of Victoria - Port Phillip Bay in sight - in the final days of their 6-month journey to Australia. William Mountford Kinsey Vale is 20 years old and his younger brother, Richard Tayler Vale, 16.
The journey had been long and hard. Water was short supplied, lighting on deck minimal, and the one chief - hired for 72 passengers - served such poor quality beef, the passengers' generally threw it overboard.
Their reason for uneasiness now was the Pilot - although one had been called by gunshot, none appeared to guide the ship through the waters. After deliberation, it was decided to proceed, and with a good breeze off the starboard quarter, the Blackheath continued forward. 'The sea rolled angrily on both sides', wrote a passenger later, and families pressed against the railings, 'awestruck' by the site of the sunken Isabella Watson off Point Nepean, 'the remnants of a once noble vessel'.
What followed is recounted in a letter to The Argus, dated 17 March 1853:
"While contemplating this sad sight, all on board were startled by a sudden shock, which turned out to be the grounding of our vessel upon a sunken rock off Point Nepean side of the channel. Again a thump, and then a rumbling, was both felt and heard. Terror was depicted on many countenances. We ourselves shared in the painful sensations of the moment, and no doubt all thought that we were destined to become a wreck."
Captain Oppenheim - only recently appointed on the Cape of Good Hope, upon the illness of Captain W. Wright - took the helm and, with the help of the finally arrived Pilot, brought the ship in safely. Now steady, the passengers allowed themselves excitement. They turned their attention to the hot summer sun, the excitement of arrival, and the poor Pilot, who, with no escape, was barraged with questions: 'the prices of lodging, the prices of provisions, the fares, freightage,' and 'the state of the "nugget" land'.
Two days later, the anchor dropped in Hobsons Bay and the passengers hurriedly disembarked, workers rowing provisions to land. But the passengers' luggage did not arrive. Those needing to start work hesitated, then journeyed to city, expecting their bags to soon arrive. But Monday morning passed, and then Tuesday, and when Wednesday neared its end, passengers could be seen 'dancing to and fro on Cole's Wharf with vexation and disappointment written upon their countenances.' At 2 o'clock, the vessel finally docked, and the labourers began unloading. But scarcely had one third of the luggage been lifted, when it was tea time, and the passengers were told to the return the following morning.
Thus, a week had elapsed. On Wednesday 6 April 1853, a passenger wrote to The Argus to complain. Not only was the luggage so delayed, he/she added:
'I may mention that boxes were thrown up out of the lighter's hold and bundled upon the wharf, without regard to their substance or strength, by which much injury to property has been sustained. One of my boxes, a good strong one, has been scandalously maltreated, the lid split in two, and otherwise much mutilated and shattered. I remonstrated, but with no effect. Is it not a shame that after luggage has been carried fourteen thousand miles with little injury, it should be so damaged on its landing at Melbourne'.
The Blackheath's arrival in Melbourne was therefore turbulent, and we can presume William Vale's was much the same. He would go on to enter politics, in an effort to support and change; perhaps this was brought on by the chaos of his arrival. It was a colony in the midst of social upheaval. Those that arrived, however, were optimistic. Wrote one passenger of the Blackheath, 'After so long a passage from England, and with so many vexations, it is indeed grateful and pleasant to be thus safely floating on the waters of Australia.'
Letter addressed to Josias Rivers Esq'r, Emigration Agent, 'The Ship "Blackheath"', Cape Town, South Africa, January 18, 1853
'Accident to the Ship Blackheath', To the Editor, The Argus, 30 March 1853, pg.9
'Landing Passenger Luggage', To the Editor, The Argus, 6 April 1853, pg.9