Ship stories: how passengers travelled to BC in the gold rush

How did most people come to British Columbia during the gold rush? They came by ship.

Tynemouth 1862

In 1862, Charles Redfern, a passenger on the Tynemouth wrote about some of the problems on board the 1500 ton steamship. They ran into a storm not long after they left England which saw  a cow and several pigs get washed overboard by a big wave. Then the coal passers who had been complaining of bad conditions stopped working altogether. The ship’s captain put them in irons and instructed the travellers to fuel the engines. For an entire month, the male passengers took turns filling wheelbarrows with coal, pushing them to the bunkers while another mutiny erupted and more were put in irons. By this time the ship was in the South Pacific with good trade winds. The steam was shut off and volunteers were called to man the sails.

Just before the ship sailed into the Falkland Islands, she ran into another storm and several large stacks of railway ties and iron tanks broke free of their moorings.

The Tynemouth docked at Esquimalt on September 17, 1862.

Passenger Contract

Everyone on board the Tynemouth was given a ‘passenger contract’ which said that each passenger would be given three quarts of water daily and a weekly allowance of provisions:

5 ¼ lb. Biscuit
½ lb. Soup
1 lb. Preserved Meat
1 ½ lb. Indian beef
½ lb. Preserved & Salt Fish
2 lb. Flour
1 lb. Oatmeal
6 oz. Suet
½ lb. Rice
½ lb. Raisins & Currants
2/3 pint Peas
½ lb. Preserved Potato
1 lb. Raw sugar
1 3/4 lb. Tea
3 ½ lb. Coffee
6 oz. butter
2 oz. salt
½ oz. mustard
¼ oz. pepper
1 gill vinegar*
6 oz. lime juice
21 qts. water

“When Fresh Beef is issued, 1 lb. to each Adult per day will be allowed; there will be no Flour, Raisins, Peas, Suet or Vinegar, during the issue of Fresh Meat. 1 lb. of Fresh Potatoes may be substituted for ¼ lb. Preserved Potatoes.”

Third class passengers were given rations and they were expected to prepare their own meals. They were allowed to cook their meal in the galley. The cook supplied hot water for tea, coffee, or drinking purposes.

Thames City 1858

The clipper ship, Thames City, carried 118 Sappers (Royal Engineers), 31 women and 34 children on board. The Thames City had a better voyage (no mutinies and no one in irons) but it was still arduous. This group of Royal Engineers and their families left England on October 10, 1858 and arrived in Esquimalt via Cape Horn on April 12, 1859 after a voyage lasting 187 days. They formed a band and held plays on board. They also brought with them a printing press used to produce a weekly publication, “The Emigrant Soldier’s Gazette and Cape Horn Chronicle” read aloud each Saturday evening.

The final edition of the Gazette included a “Farewell Ditty” that described conditions on board:

Farewell thick biscuits and thin pea soup,
Farewell the suet, grog, and junk,
One was weak, the other stunk.
Farewell to the hen coop, and lonely duck,
Farewell to Longboat Square and muck,
Farewell to Laundry Lane and Galleys,
We’ll cook our grub in glades and valleys…

Farewell to hammocks, farewell to the clews,
Farewell to the would-be Irish stews,
Farewell to the cockroaches and thieving cats,
And a long farewell to those horrible rats.


Note: a “gill” (pronounced jill) is a quarter of a pint. See my post on grog (a mixture of rum and water). “Junk” refers to salt beef or meat. “Clews” are the cords by which hammocks are suspended.