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The ‘Derry Castle’

Submitted by David McDonald of Canberra, Australia; email

The barque ‘Derry Castle’, captained by William McKennitt, sailed from Liverpool, England, for Australia on 1 Oct 1854. The Surgeon Superintendent was Duncan Macnab. (A barque /bark is a three-masted sailing vessel.) She arrived at Portland Bay in the Colony of Victoria on 21 Jan 1855, following a longer than usual voyage of 112 days. As described below, during the voyage there was an attempted mutiny by members of the crew. On this voyage she carried 347 (or 351 depending on the source) ‘government immigrants’ of whom 141 were assisted by the HIES. Seventeen migrants died on the voyage including three HIES migrants.

After landing her passengers at Portland Bay, on 26 February 1855 the ‘Derry Castle’departed for Calcutta with her ‘original cargo of coals’. Still commanded by Captain McKennitt, she arrived at the port of Akyab in Burma (now Sittwe in Myanmar) on 29 April 1855. Lloyd’s List for 18 Sept 1855 records that the ‘Derry Castle’, ‘…in proceeding to sea 13th July, drifted on the flat W. of the entrance of this harbour, and broke up; crew saved’. Sadly, that was the end of the ‘Derry Castle’.

The ‘Derry Castle’s home port - port of both registry and survey - was Liverpool. She was built at the Port of Québec in 1852 from oak, hackmatack (tamarack), birch and pine. In 1853 her hull was sheathed with felt and yellow metal (an alloy of two parts of copper and one of zinc) and partly fastened with iron bolts. She was 941 tons gross using the new measurements and 841 tons using the old; and owned by G. Oxley, according to Lloyd’s Register of British & Foreign Shipping for 1854/55.

Note: Another vessel called the ‘Derry Castle’ was built at Glasgow in 1883 and was based at Limerick, Ireland. She was an iron barque of 1,367 tons gross. On a voyage from Geelong to Falmouth, with a cargo of wheat, she ran onto a reef off Enderby Island in New Zealand’s Auckland Islands. Only eight of her crew of 23 reached shore and survived. Henry Lawson has immortalized this tragedy in his poem The Wreck of the ‘Derry Castle’, published in The Bulletin on 24 December 1887 and in his book In the Days When the World was Wide and Other Verses, in 1887.

The Portland Guardian, Thursday Evening, January 25, 1855

DERRY CASTLE - Amongst the immigrants by this ship are the following trades—12 masons, 10 carpenters, 8 black smiths, 1 plaisterer (sic), 1 bricklayer; the rest being shepherds, domestics and farm servants.

IMMIGRANTS - By the Derry Castle have arrived 68 married couples, 34 single men, 77 single females, 49 male children and 55 female children below 14 years of age.

MUTINY AND REFUSING DUTY - The first mate and 8 of the crew of the Derry Castle are in custody on a charge of mutiny during the passage. Yesterday 13 more of the men were brought up at the police office charged with refusing to do duty on board [illegible] these last were dealt with in the usual way of allowing them a few months time for reflection in gaol

The Portland Guardian, Thursday Evening, January 25, 1855

Government Crest
The inspection of this ship having been concluded, and the single females landed, the immigrants are now open for hiring at the Depot, and on board from 10 o’clock a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

No persons will be admitted into the Single Females Depot without a Ticket Of Admission, which can be obtained at the Office during the usual office hours.
Assistant Immigration Agent
Immigration Office

The Portland Guardian, Thursday Evening, February 1, 1855

January 29th, 1855
We the constables and a committee of the passengers of the Government Emigrant Ship “Derry Castle” beg to tender our grateful thanks to the Captain and Surgeon Superintendent of the said ship for their unremitting attention to our health and comfort during the voyage, and also for the prudent and cautious manner in bringing us in safety to our destination; notwithstanding the mutinous state of the ship for a long period previous to our arrival at Portland Bay, Victoria. Given under our hands this twenty-ninth January, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five years.

James Stewart Thos Gray Hugh Cameron James Duncan Alex McDougall William Remp
Colin McDonald Murdoch McDonald Archd. Kennedy Donald McMallam George McCalmon
John McLean James Kennedy Donald Cameron Alex Macaulay James Duncan Donald McPherson Henry McDonald John Watson Dugald Cameron Iohn McLean Alexander Mackintosh
John McLachlan Angus McNaughton Dugald Cameron James McGregor Ewen Rankin
Charles Stewart John Cameron Archibald McArthur Ewen McLeod Angus Cameron John Kennedy

The Portland Guardian, Thursday Evening, February 1, 1855

Local Intelligence
Samuel Manly, Chief Officer, ring leader, William Holland, James Melville alias Melbourne, James Kerr, Thomas Pearson, George Donaldson, Henry Creed, Kenneth McDonald, John Innis, and Richard Davis, able seamen. Charged with making an emeute on board the barque Derry Castle when on the high seas. The vessel sailed from the Mersey on the 1st October, and for the first 8 or 9 days everything went on smoothly, after that the captain had repeatedly occasion to reprimand prisoner, namely, the 1st mate for improper intercourse with the single females. On the 11th December the steward wanted some tea for the use of the cabin, and reported to the captain that the 1st and 2nd mates had refused to get it from the hold. During tea the mate was asked the reason of his having delayed it; he said it was a lie, that the had not, that it was the stewards fault and called the captain a liar. The surgeon then said the cabin was no place for such behaviour in which manly turned upon him and told him to hold his tongue, at the same time shaking his clenched fist at the Dr and his lady. He was then ordered from the cabin, he continued to perform duty until about the 16th inst when he knocked off; he was then disrated, and ordered to confine himself to his cabin, which order however the disregarded, and did everything in his power to create discontent and insubordination amongst the sailors and passengers by harranguing them, and then they would cheer, and set both the captain and surgeon at defiance. This resulted in one of the refractory seaman being placed in confinement on the 10th January, but who effected his escape and the captain knowing that it would be imprudent to attempt to retake him while Manly was at large, determined to lock him up in his cabin, and for that purpose asked his officers to his assistance. Manly resisted locked himself in, in doing which the side of his [illegible] was caught between the door and the jam of the door, and, although the sufferer implored of him to release him by opening the door he persisted in his refusal, and the carpenter was actually obliged to cut away the part of the door which gripped the unfortunate man. The captain then gave orders to have Manly’s cabin searched for arms ammunition leg irons and medicine chest, the prisoner it appears when asked where the irons were admitted that he had thrown them overboard. In attempting to secure him he stuck both the captain and mates and was about to escape up the cabin stairs when the captain pulled him back the prisoner then called out Murder Murder, on which the other prisoners came running aft in a body down into the cabin and rescued Manly whom they carried in triumph to the forecastle deck where he harangued with them and the badly disposed of the passengers who kept cheering him and [illegible] the captain and surgeon at defiance. At this crisis the surgeon fearing from the determined mutinous conduct of the misguided men that there might be bloodshed persuaded the immigrants to go down below. The captain and officers including the boatswain and carpenter had in the meantime armed themselves and arranged themselves across the quarter deck, which was now clear. Manly then called out to the revolters “follow me men, and I’ll lead you” “we will soon tie them all and put them in their cabins” and they rushed aft in a body with him at their head. The captain from merciful motives reserved his fire and retired from them about a yard to give them a last chance, seeing however that they were determined to attack, he advanced presenting his arms, when the revolters gradually withdrew to the forecastle. Too much praise cannot be awarded to Captain McKervitt for his firmness on this trying occasion; for had he not shown a most determined front to the mutineers God knows what might have been the consequence, the surgeon superintendent in giving his evidence showed clearly, that the captain had behaved most kindly to the passengers and crew, and that the out break was entirely caused by Manly’s inflammatary addresses. The conduct of the surgeon during the passage appears to have been very satisfactory. The prisoners fully committed to take their trial at the Circuit Court to be held at Portland.

Transcribed by David McDonald 17 July 2000 from a microform copy of the Portland Guardian
held in the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Spelling, punctuation, etc. verbatim.