Wheareat family

The Great Queensland was constructed as the steam ship Indiana in 1852 and converted to sail in 1873 when refitted for the emigrant service. Some 258 feet (78.6 metres) in length, the Great Queensland carried over 700 passengers in conditions considered quite comfortable for the period. The Great Queensland, loaded with cargo and 30 passengers, disappeared at sea in August 1876. SLQ image 19750.

John Whereat and his family stepped ashore from the small river steamer Settler at Queen’s Wharf on 3 September 1873, before making their way to the Immigration Depot for their first night’s sleep on dry land after a thirteen week sea voyage.

Having earlier seen an advertisement in the English Guardian newspaper regarding employment on a plantation in Queensland, labourer John Whereat from Frome in Somerset contacted the Reverend RB Hill, whose brother it was owned the plantation. With arrangements made, Whereat and his family boarded the sailing ship Great Queensland on 27 May 1873 for the journey direct to Moreton Bay.

Just before sunset on 1 September, people on the deck of the Great Queensland spotted the lighthouse at Cape Moreton. Two days later, the passengers and their luggage and goods were offloaded to the steamers Settler and Kate for the final stage of their journey up the Brisbane River.

John Whereat kept a diary in pencil in a black bound book. The record of the journey is reproduced in full through the kindness of his great-granddaughter in Voyages of the Great Queensland to Queensland by Kay Gasson, Maryborough Family History Institute.

Whereat wrote initially that the Immigration Depot was a ‘commodious brick building’. He described how the Depot was divided into three wards, single men on the lowest level, married people and children on the second level and single women on the William Street level. The noted that the proprietaries were observed at bed time when married men had to depart the second level, leaving it to the women and children. The married men bunked down with the single men. Whereat was unimpressed with the latter part of the arrangement, writing in his diary, ‘Some came in late intoxicated and kept up shouting, swearing and throwing about tins for a long time’. The men slept on bunks with a single, coarse blanket provided to each for the night. On the first night, sleep eluded Whereat until the early hours.

John Whereat spent the next day writing letters and exploring the town. That night, again, he did not sleep comfortably. It was colder and ‘they keep the windows open for ventilation’. Each day, as the new arrivals found positions and departed, the Immigration Depot emptied; each evening he received more blankets.

The plantation where Whereat and his family were to be employed was in north Queensland and no ships were in port with that destination. The family had to stay in Brisbane until travel could be arranged but the Depot was becoming uncomfortable. A new shipload of German immigrants was expected within days. Whereat looked for a house to rent, a scarce commodity at the time. He believed he had found a place in South Brisbane and hurried back to the Depot only to find that the German immigrants had arrived. He recorded, ‘We then determined to leave. So taking up a few things we had there we came out by the front door as the staircase and room was fast filling with German women. So we left the Depot.’

John Whereat was forty-one years of age. His various attempts to contact the plantation owner resulted in his being informed that strong workers, not families, were needed. The journey north would not be made. The diary concludes at this point.

Additional Reading

Gasson, Kay F; Maryborough Family Heritage Institute Inc. Voyages of the Great Queensland to Queensland, 1873, 1874, 1875. Maryborough, Qld.: Maryborough Family Heritage Institute, 2011.