Oceana …

What’s in a name? … Such a beautiful name and so unusual … intrigued, I pursue the story of Oceana Charlotte Willshire.

It was 24 Oct 1857 and George and Jane (Morrant) Willshire, with George’s brother James and his wife Ann (Richards), stood on the Southampton dock amongst 215 Irish and 120 English “assisted migrants” all saying their final farewells and readying themselves to board the “SS Stamboul” for the long trip to South Australia.

Emigrants never knew how long the voyage would take.  It could be three months of enjoyment but more often it was a nightmare.  Only the wealthy could afford cabins, most travelled in steerage accommodation, between the upper deck and the cargo hold.  Shipowners had found emigrants a new source of profit and had built a flimsy, temporary floor beneath the main deck and on top of the cargo hold. The loss of life on these journeys was appalling particularly among the women and children.  At times the casualty rate was as high as ten per cent.

However, the 800 ton “SS Stamboul” captained by I.A. Smith was said to be lofty, well lit and ventilated.  It was well adapted for emigrants.  The provisions were good and abundant and the passengers expressed themselves satisfied for the way in which they had been treated.  Mr Henry Richards, the Surgeon-superintendent, appeared to have performed his duties efficiently, however, there were eleven deaths on this ship. This was more than three percent of the number embarked and a ratio of mortality far higher than the average.  Why this high loss of life? 

The Surgeon-superintendent’s journal shows that, just before entering the northern tropics, the weather was very wet and stormy producing inflammatoray colds, and the sudden transition to tropical heat produced low fever and diahorrhoea. There was much sickness throughout the ship. 

Often the steerage accommodation was so far down in the hold that water would seep up through the planking.  Ventilation and light were poor and came only from the hatches when they were open, however, during a storm access to the main deck was impossible as the hatches were battened down tightly. 

A storm could last from a few days up to a week, or longer, the hatches remained closed and the passengers kept below deck.  Furthermore, light could not be used durings storms because of the danger of fires.  The Surgeon-superintendent of the “SS Stamboul” complained that the fire-engine onboard  was useless, “breaking like a glass” after the first or second trial, so increasing the risks from fire aboard ship.

It would have been, in conditions just like this that Jane Willshire went into labour and, on 11 Dec 1857, George and Jane Wilshire’s first little babe was “born at sea off the coast of Brazil.”  They named her Oceana Charlotte Willshire – Charlotte being the name of her two Grandmothers.

Mary McMahon gave birth to her little boy five days earlier, on 6 December, aboard ship.  Nineteen days after Oceana’s birth, on 30 Dec 1857, a little girl was born to Thomasina Moynes.  Sadly her little boy John died, aged 3, the following month, on the 29 Jan 1857, just three days before making landfall.  The cause of John’s death was given as “marasmus”, a form of malnution in young children, often occurring after weaning, and largely due to infections and diahorrhea.  It is still a common cause of infant death in developing countries.

The “SS Stamboul” left Southampton, England on 24 Oct 1857 arriving at Port Adelaide on the 1st day of February 1858 with 336 immigrants for the 21 year old Colony of South Australia. Eleven people died and three new little souls were born at sea. So many brave and courageous people took great risks and faced incredible dangers leaving their family, friends and homeland to create a new and better life on the other side of the world.

Oceana Charlotte Willshire arrived in Australia, amongst the first group of assisted migrants to South Australia for 1858, wrapped in her mother’s arms … forever to be know as the little girl “born at sea off the coast of Brazil”.

As a child, Oceana lived with her parents and nine siblings around the Clare/Riverton area.  She married twice, gave birth to eight children (7 survived) and moved to Coal Creek in the Gippsland, Victoria where her husband, George Osborne, worked as a Coal Miner.  Oceana died at Millicent, South Australia at the age of 84, 28 Sep 1942, amidst a large extended family.  She is buried in the Millicent Cemetery.

Fascinated by her beautiful name, little did I know that the babe, who was “born at sea off the coast of Brazil” and named Oceana Charlotte Willshire, is the grand aunt of the wife of my grand uncle, Victor Alic Murray – Jessie McIntyre.

Discovering my relationship to Oceana through her sister Henrietta Willshire, who married William John Lester, was a huge surprise.  They had nine children and seven survived childhood.  William John Lester’s parents immigrated” aboard the “SS British Trident”  two years before the Willshires arrived on the “SS Stamboul” and he, like his wife, was the first generation of Australians in the family.


The Ships List:  http://www.theshipslist.com
Flinders  Ranges Research:  http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au
South Australian Government Gazette, 13 May 1858
South East Family History Group:  http://www.sefhg.org

© Copyright 2012. Catherine Crout-Habel. Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family