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Ebenezer Sargent and Esther Hewlett

By Marion Sargent

Ebenezer Sargent was the fifth child of George Sargent and Ann Wood. A solicitor, he was born on 7 June 1806 at Battle, Sussex, England. He married Esther Beuzeville Hewlett on 16 June 1841 at St Martin, Birmingham, Warwickshire. Esther was born on 23 September 1818, the youngest child of James Philip Hewlett (1780-1820) and his wife Esther Beuzeville (1786-1851). Ebenezer and Esther had ten children.

This is the story of their seventh child, Obeithio Sargent, who migrated to Western Australia. It was published in 'Tasmanian Ancestry', Volume 27, Number 2, September 2006.

A very rough passage: The voyage of the Elderslie, 1886

The promise of a better life in the colonies led many people, not knowing what lay ahead, to leave behind their homes and loved ones. One such family, Obeithio Sargent, his pregnant wife Mary Ann, both aged 34, and their children, Oswald (5), Olive (3) and Ivy (1), departed Kings Norton near Birmingham. They boarded the ship Elderslie at the Royal Albert Docks in London. Travelling as steerage passengers, the whole family shared one tiny cabin adjoining a communal room. The ship was under the command of Captain W A Miller.1

Two relatives each paid half the fare of 54 pounds. Obeithio’s uncle William Byles of the Bradford Advertiser reluctantly helped out. His provisos were that the scheme be approved of by those who knew Obeithio better than he did, and that he was within sight of getting all he wanted.2 His cousin the Rev Edward George Sargent was to pay the other half. Thus, Obeithio and family set out for Tasmania, with the intention of joining Edward’s brother George Hewlett Sargent, his wife Bessie and three children – George Newton, Amy Ruth and Myra Bessie – who had sailed on the 28th April, just nine days earlier, on the Sorata.

Obeithio began to keep a diary of the voyage, but unfortunately, he recorded events of only the first four days:

"On board the Elderslie

May 8th 1886

We got on board at about ¼ past 1 p.m. Soon found our cabin and Lysken [Obeithio’s sister] having come on with us helped get us straight – she had to leave us at 3. At about 2 dinner was served up – a nice joint of Roast Beef in a tin pan, another pan of potatoes in their jackets, plenty of good gravy. To describe our quarters – we come down a steep ladder – very awkward 10 steps into our room which is about 20 ft square – in it there [are] two tables fixed with a fixed bench on each side – at the sides of the room are cabins or berths – there are five on the right hand side and three double size on the left. Ours is the second on the right and it has a little window at the end through which the children have been amusing themselves by watching the passing ships. The tables are common property for all in our room. At six tea was ready. The [Steward] brought a large tin pan of hot tea a few loaves and pan of butter, a bread-tin of sugar and the cold roast and boiled beef. (No supper). We had to dip our cups in the tin as we wanted tea. Of course this is only a temporary arrangement.

Sunday May 9th

Waked early by the sailors yelling ready to start us off. Two ? tugs to turn us round and at six we were fairly off. A fine calm day – at three our pilot left us by boat sailing close to Dover taking with him letters for England. The site of Dover Castle on the top of the white chalk cliffs and surrounded by green and brown fields on the hill sides and a foreground of calm, though not waveless sea, and with the sun shining brightly upon all was indeed a charming sight. I did wish I had my Photo apparatus in reach but that was impossible we have no room at all in our cabin for anything beyond cramming ourselves and what luggage we need in. 9.30 p.m. a really beautiful night – the moon shines bright and a few stars are out. We have got two sails out and the waves are much larger than they have before been so that now we begin to rock but so far it does not seem to have a bad effect upon any of us – though our neighbours have been very bad all afternoon. I quite enjoy the motion tonight. No Christian service today.

Monday May 10th

Another beautiful calm day though not quite so bright as Sunday – A slight shower of rain this afternoon and the wind is rather cold. We’re in the English Channel but expect to reach the Bay of Biscay tonight – beautiful rainbow this evening in the East – Sea gulls are flying round us almost alighting on our ship. The ship begins to roll.

May 11th

Brighter again today – at half past five the sailors commenced [cleaning] the deck with sand and scrubs – 7.30 a.m. We have been in the Bay of Biscay six hours and shall probably get through today. An old hand tells me this is a wonderful passage through the Bay – we don’t get it so calm once in ten journeys – last passage home (England) was very rough. Oh Dear we do feel bilious today – the ship does roll and it makes me so giddy. Olive was sick [this] morning and Mary feels very bad. Tea time (5 o’ck) Olive seems all the better for her turn this morning. Mary and Oswald have been asleep all the afternoon and seem very queer and I feel I must have a bad turn but the Steward has brought down Marmalade instead of butter and I mean to have a good tea if I can [face] it. After tea I do feel bad – can scarcely see but up I go with Ivy and Oswald on deck and walk about till nearly nine when my bilious symptoms have almost entirely disappeared. I am thankful, for poor Mary has been very sick and feels helpless. The ship rolls more tonight."

This was the end of the diary. The voyage was too rough, uncomfortable and dangerous to continue writing. The Elderslie arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, on 29 June 1886. On doctor’s orders, the family disembarked. Baby Philip Haden Sargent was born one month later on 28 July, in the cellar in which they lived in Bennett Street, Perth.

Twenty-six years later Obeithio wrote a letter to his cousin, Rev Edward Sargent, in Bristol, describing more of the voyage.

Western Australia
21 September 1912

My dear Cousin Edward,

It is now a quarter of a century since you very kindly helped me to get here. I have often felt that I ought to write but I am not a letter writer and I have always felt so very much ashamed of myself for ever asking or accepting any help from you, that I have not managed to screw up courage to write. And indeed I haven’t known your address…

How much you know of my history since leaving old England, I have no idea so I will give you a rough outline of the whole and leave you to read or burn it as you may feel disposed.

To begin with we had a very rough passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Fremantle. So rough, that at one time for forty-eight hours the first class passengers were all dressed and ready at a moment’s notice to take to the boats. Even now thinking back I seem to hear the roar of the storm and the thunder of the great wave as it falls on the ship and then the awful silence while we are under the wave and then the shaking like an angry beast, then as we rise again the water runs off the deck and again we hear the roar of the storm. Oh that was a never to be forgotten time. For days we were confined to our bunks, but at last we got on deck again, and there, what a sight. The sails all in rags, the poor animals, cows &c either washed overboard or in a dreadful state – their pens broken up, the Bridge broken, the wheel broken. Eight sailors could not hold it and in trying to do so two of them got broken legs.

But enough, enough. - We were bound for Tasmania but when we reached Fremantle we, by the Doctor’s advice got off – hoping to go on again later on. We got to Perth and there while looking for employment I got a living taking Photos. After a few months I got a birth as Chemist opening a new business at York, my employers being a firm of Store Keepers in conjunction with Dr Thomson, the only doctor for 100 miles round. The business did fairly well …

Then came another venture.

There was a House standing on 15 acres of land without a tenant, and I fell in love with the place… So I went to the manager of the bank to see if I could take the place on a lease with right to purchase..."

Obeithio did not mention the frightening incident during the voyage when five-year-old Oswald was close to being washed overboard in the storm forcing the captain to confine all the passengers below decks. Nonetheless, he did relate that, with hard work, he progressed in the Swan River colony, establishing a thriving chemist shop in York, and buying his home ‘Riverville’ (now known as ‘Redmile’). Two more children, Marjorie and Lionel, were born in York.

Obeithio kept in touch with his family back home in England, particularly his beloved mother Esther Beuzeville Sargent.

On 16 September 1886 she wrote her first letter to him in Australia. She already had received the news of baby Philip’s birth, but longed to know more about them. Perhaps she was trying to be positive when she wrote:

"Uncle William says from what little he knows of the two places he thinks Perth may present better opportunities for getting on than Launceston… It is oh so hard to think I shall never see your dear face or hear your dear voice again. Do you feel anything of ‘homesickness’?"

Esther ended her letter with a prayer:

"May He who has taken you in safety over the raging waters of His sea, preserve and bless, guide and prosper and make you a blessing on land."

Esther’s next letter dated 21 October 1886 was more anguished:

"Often a feeling of self-reproach comes over me, as if I might have done something for your comfort on your voyage – it is scandalous that you should have been so starved. We want to have had experience of a voyage before we are prepared to encounter our first. I do hope the starvation will not be permanently hurtful to you – my love to poor Mary Ann. I trust by this time she is picking up strength, but you could not expect it while living in that cellar."

In 1897 Esther wrote to her son Philadelph, who had migrated to America, lamenting the fact that her husband and two of her children had died; another had also gone to America and one to New Zealand:

"…and our dear good Beithi - after a perilous voyage reached a shore that he did not intend – but that we must hope was ruled for him, and he may live to see why it was better for him than to have accomplished his intention of getting to the much more inviting country and climate of Tasmania."

On 3 October 1901, just eight months before she died, Esther wrote:

"How I should like to see all of you and your place, you have been very good, you and Oswald, helping us to the best substitute in photographs – but I should like the reality – but that is a futile wish."

Obeithio and Mary Ann never did return to England, nor did they visit Tasmania. Their cousin George and family arrived in Launceston in late June 1886. The two branches lost contact and did not meet again until ninety-four years later when in 1980 Lionel’s son John Sargent and his wife Gladys travelled from their home in Western Australia to be reunited with their long-lost Tasmanian relatives.

The Elderslie left Fremantle on 10 July and arrived in Hobart on 19 July 1886. But there was more drama. Northerly winds prevailed and the second officer, Mr H Robinson, slipped down the bunker hatchway, a distance of 20 feet, and was knocked unconscious for 70 hours. The base of his skull was fractured and he was taken to the General Hospital.

Disembarking in Hobart were 12 saloon passengers: Mr and Mrs James Skinner, Miss Jane Skinner, Masters A, George, Horace, Percy and John Skinner, Mr and Mrs T Edwards, John Dean and Thomas Williams. There were also 15 steerage passengers. Including military stores, 500 tons of cargo was unloaded in Hobart.3

The Elderslie then proceeded to Launceston, arriving on 22 July, with yet another mishap. She became stuck in the mud of the Tamar River near Newnham and her arrival at Queen’s Wharf was delayed until she could be floated off at high tide. Sixty tons of cargo was unloaded, but many complaints were received because of the damage caused by the storms encountered on the outward voyage. The steamer loaded 65 tons of ground bark for W Sidebottom & Son and set off for New Zealand with one saloon passenger, Mr J Forbes.4


1 The Mercury, 19 July 1886, p.2. The steamship Elderslie, 2,760 tons, was a cargo ship on her second voyage to Tasmania.
2 John Sargent of Busselton, Western Australia, supplied copies of the letters and diary quoted in this article.
3 The Tasmanian News, 19 July 1886, p.2.
4 The Launceston Examiner, 19 July 1886, p.2; 23 July 1886, p.2; 27 July 1886, p.2; 28 July 1886, p.2; 29 July 1886, p.2; 31 July 1886, p.2; 2 August 1886, p.2.

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