The Clipper Ship Epsom

The Clipper Orient
The Clipper Ship "Orient" by T.M.M. Hemy
Image source: The State Library of NSW

No direct link has been found of this vessel's name to the town in Surrey but its voyages carried migrants from England to the Antipodes and it could be a reference to Epsom, Auckland, New Zealand, a suburban district established during 1840. Charles Terry, author of New Zealand: Its Advantages and Prospects as a British Colony, published in 1842, caustically remarked:-
'The towns of Anna, Epsom, etc., with reserves for churches, market places, hippodromes, with crescents, terraces and streets named after heroes and statesmen, were then advertised with all the technical jargon with which colonial advertisements are characterised'.
The wooden ship Epsom of 556/619 tons was built by G. W. & W. J. Hall, of Bridge Dockyard, Sunderland, in 1853 for Temperley & Co. of London.

The London Times of Saturday, 23 July 1853 contained an advertisement:-

The following splendid clipper-built A1 ships will be despatched with strict regularity. The poops are fitted up in the first style, and the accommodations for second class passengers are of a superior description, with enclosed cabins throughout, for the convenience of families, married couples, and single persons. The rates of passage money are moderate, and every attention will be paid to promote the health, harmony, and comfort of the passengers.
The list included Epsom, 622 Rgtr. 850 Brdn., Captain Buckland, for Sydney from London Docks sailing July 20.This vessel eventually left London, 29 July 1853, for Australia, via Portsmouth, arriving in Sydney on 17 November 1853. The Sydney Morning Herald of 23 December 1853 offered a reward for the apprehension of John Thompson, carpenter of the Epsom, who had absconded during the night of the 21st.

On 28 April 1854,the colony of Hong Kong was reported to be 'prospering, from the great emigration going forward to Australia and California. The fine new ship Epsom, lately arrived from Sydney, is chartered to take emigrants to Jamaica'.

Extract from letter sent by Mr. [James] White [originally British Guiana emigration agent based in Calcutta], to S. Walcott, Esq., dated 7th April, 1854 & reporting the departure of Epsom from Hong Kong for Jamaica, indicated that: -
"The emigrants are all fine able-bodied men, and as far as I am aware, are all, with the exception of about half-a-dozen, agricultural labourers. Of these few I allowed some to come on board, because they had some slight knowledge of English, which I thought might be useful in Jamaica, and there are probably two or three substitutes, who could not be detected at the last moment. One man has a knowledge of Bengalee, having been some years in India.
Owing to the captain's irresolution I could not depend upon the vessel until the 10th, when active measures were taken to procure emigrants. At first they came forward in considerable numbers, and I expected to have got them away within a fortnight, but a difficulty arose when I wished to pay their advances. Having no proper depot on shore, and no means of legal restraint, to prevent them from leaving the ship in harbour, they would certainly have run away on receiving the money. I therefore caused it to be intimated to them that the vessel would drop outside the harbour, and that their money would be paid to them on board. The contractors who had brought them, finding that if the ship moved out of harbour the men would be away from their influence, and that they would thus be prevented from purloining a portion of the advances, got up a cry of alarm that the ship was going to take them away as slaves without paying advances, and that there were quantities of manacles and fetters on board for their confinement. The consequence was, that in the excitement and confusion that followed, the greater number went away in the boats that had come alongside, carrying with them several articles of clothing and other articles that had been put on board for their use.
I determined, however, to persevere, and the vessel dropped outside sufficiently far to prevent unnecessary intercourse with the shore. The people remaining on board were paid, and a bumboat sent alongside well furnished with such articles as they were likely to require. For several days no emigrants came forward, but at length the favourable account given by the people on board, and the facilities given to those who could be depended on for coming on shore, counteracted the evil reports spread by the contractors, and men came to the office to make inquiries, and finally to offer themselves as emigrants. After this, matters went on smoothly, and the number required was completed without difficulty.
The greater number of the emigrants on board the Epsom may therefore be considered as voluntary emigrants; and this is the only instance in which the advances paid have been received by the emigrants themselves, and expended as they thought proper. Hitherto the crimps have always managed, by fair means or by foul, to appropriate the largest portion of the advance.
This first experiment of emigration from Hong Kong may therefore be considered as successful, but there is not yet sufficient experience to determine what supply of labour may be depended upon from the mainland; and I recommend, as stated in my letter of the 9th February, No. 8, para. 6, that in the case of vessels chartered in England, a clause be inserted, giving a discretionary power to the Agent to place the vessel for the purpose of receiving emigrants, if necessary, elsewhere than at Hong Kong.
Before the Epsom left I appointed twelve cooks, six headmen, and two barbers, who are entitled to $2, $3, and $2 per month during the voyage, payable in Jamaica, if they conduct themselves to the satisfaction of the captain. To these men also an extra advance was made as earnest of the agreement.
The Epsom left on the forenoon of the 1st inst. [April 1854], under favourable auspices, and with a moderate breeze from the north. The people seemed perfectly content with the arrangements made, and as everything has been done for their comfort and safety, I trust they will arrive in safety and prove a benefit to the island. The vessel got under way amid the firing of crackers and the uproar of gongs and drums, in token of their satisfaction".
The Epsom is, however, reported finally to have left Hong Kong waters with 310 indentured labourers bound for Jamaica on 21 April 1854 but the delay is unaccountable. Three months later, on 30 July 1854, it reached Falmouth, Jamaica's bustling north-side port and only 267 disembarked for allocation to estates in Clarendon and to the Caymanas estates near Kingston; many had been hospitalized on the way.

Epsom sailed for Australia, 20 January1855, with 251 migrants and, after 97 days and the death of one child, arrived 27 April. Another child, born to John & Sarah Jane Wall during the voyage came to be named 'Epsomia'.

Peter Searle, Toronto, Canada records: -
"On Jan. 20, 1855, the vessel left Liverpool for Port Philip, Melbourne, arriving there on Apl. 26 or 27, 1855 with 253 Government immigrants for Geelong. On Jun. 1, 1855 the vessel left Melbourne for either Madras (now Chennai), India or Guam (reports differ). On Aug. 17, 1856, the vessel left Melbourne for Guam having arrived earlier ex London. And in late Dec. 1856, the vessel was loading at Manila for Shanghai, China. Some years later ... on Aug. 9, 1863 the vessel arrived at Lyttelton, New Zealand, from London with gunpowder & the plant for the Lyttelton & Christchurch railway [That voyage with a general cargo, including 400 barrels of gunpowder for Holmes & Co had taken 128 days from the Downs being delayed by contrary winds and severe gales, members of the crew fell sick and steerage passengers had to man the pumps. Amongst the 23 passengers was a Scottish migrant Archibald Earshman.]

On Nov. 3, 1865, Epsom left Gravesend for Wellington, NZ, arriving there on Mar. 3, 1866 after a voyage of 119 days. [Captain Vaux's departure had been delayed by a SE Wind because his vessel was only ballasted, sailing light with a view to loading coal for China and then obtaining a cargo of tea for England.] On May 4, 1866 it left for Newcastle, NSW, there to take on 740 tons of coal for Java, departing on Jul. 1, 1866. Later, on Nov. 2, 1866 the vessel left Java for Sydney with a cargo of sugar & coffee, & on Mar. 7, 1867, left Sydney for London".
As an example of the additional comforts put on board for a long voyage, the following is a transcript of the list for the 130 or120 invalids (accounts differ) embarked at Hong Kong for England on 25 August 1860, sailing towards the Cape and England per ship Epsom, viz: -
'Port Wine bottles 288, Sherry 72, Preserved meat lbs. 100, Essence of beef 400, Seltzer water bottles 60, Brandy 36, Preserved potatoes, lbs.56, Sugar 200, Tea 10, Preserved fowls, tins 20, Jam, pints 24, Sago 50, Arrow-root lbs. 50, Preserved milk, pints 1,800, Soap, Brown, lbs.112, Marine 60, Pearl barley 25, Champagne bottles 12, Cocoa and milk 36, Ale 360, Porter 360, Claret 24, Preserved vegetables lbs. 900, lime juice pints 144'.
This followed the China War and may reflect some discretionary power left to medical officers.

The naval and military invalids were commanded by Captain Sweet of 23rd Madras Native Infantry. Their ship had reached the Cape on 18 November and St Helena on the 28th of that month. It arrived at Falmouth by 7 January 1861 and was assisted into port by Spiteful, presumably Her Majesty's paddle-wheel steam-sloop.

An advert for the Clipper Ship

Epsom was a small ship by later 19th century standards and in the early 1860's seems to have become more of a general cargo carrier than a passenger vessel. It was transformed from an emigrant transport into a cargo liner which sailed from port to port along routes and on schedules published in advance. Certainly by 1865 Captain Vaux was seeking to obtain loads where he could find them en route. The vessel appeared in the Lloyd's Register up to and including 1870/71 but not 1871/72, and it may have been taken out of service following opening of the Suez Canal, 17 November 1869, which allowed ships to avoid travelling around the southern tip of Africa. The Canal had been opened to traffic at a time when steam propulsion had just become competitive with sail for the shipping of bulk cargo and sailing ships were soon displaced.

On 15 December 1870 Lieutenant Cuthbert Vaux, RNR, Master Mariner, married Harriet Wicks and the birth of their son, Cuthbert, was registered in Islington, 3/1872.

Before 7 March 1872, Captain Vaux had taken command of the 898 ton iron ship Ironsides and departed Gravesend to reach Port Chalmers, New Zealand on the 18th of June. He had been accompanied on that trip by his wife, infant son, and a servant.

A Clipper
A Clipper Ship

Brian Bouchard, July 2016