NL GenWeb

Shiplist Data

Avalon South Region ~ St. John's District

SS Sybil

Sailing from St. John's Nov 1852 - Arriving Port Philip Bay Mar 17, 1853
Allan Fraser Letter During Voyage, Jan 24, 1853
"The Telegram" Article, May 14, 2000
"NovaScotian" Article, Dec 13, 1852
Geelong Burial Information

The port of departure was St. John's but the passengers may have come from all over the province.

The letter from Allan Fraser was supplied by ROBERT PARSONS and transcribed by JOHN OAKES. The article entitled HERITAGE: TO AUSTRALIA'S SHORES was written by ROBERT PARSONS and transcribed by JOHN BAIRD, April 2001. The NOVA SCOTIAN newspaper account was transcribed by WILLIAM HILL. The burial information from Australia was contributed by JOHN OAKES.

While we have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there may be typographical errors.

Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope
January 24th. 1853

My Dear Mr. Editor,

Feeling assured as I do, that you, with many other good friends in St. Johns, feel a more than ordinary interest in the Sybil, and her crew, lately from your port to Australia; and that any intelligences of their progress and welfare would be hailed with pleasure by you and them, I presume so far upon our past acquaintance, as to request the favour of a publication in your paper of the few lines I have time to pen, for the information of the friends of the passengers.

You will recollect that we set sail on the afternoon of Thursday 18th. Nov. with a light and fair wind. In clearing the narrows and getting rid of the Pilot-boat, we took a reef in the topsail and made the vessel snug for the night; as everything on deck and below was in confusion, and the night looked a little threatening. We stood off and on in the Bay until Eight o'clock waiting for one of our passengers, who came on board at that hour ; when we bore away on our course, and took our departure from Cape Spear. The scene on board that night baffles description; but was just such as you could fancy in a small and crowded vessel, when women and children were all huddled together, each more sick than the other. The wind continued fair for seven days after we left, and the weather moderate, considering the season of the year, except on the Sunday night after our leaving, when we encountered a rather heavy gale in the gulf of St. Laurence. The sea was very heavy, and the vessel having a tremendous deck load, laboured heavily.

At 11 o'clock on Sunday night she shipped a sea, which, taking her on the weather quarter, threw her pretty well on her beam ends, carried away the weather bulwark and rail from the Taffrail to the main Chains, the seats on the quarter deck, a lot of buckets, fowls and other et ceteras, including my boxing gloves, which latter I considered the greatest loss of the whole. Very fortunately all hands were in bed except the watch, otherwise some of them must certainly have been washed overboard. As it was they were all very much alarmed for a short time.

The captain, however (who by the way understands his duty well, and executes it faithfully,) shortened sail immediately, and ran her off before the wind for the rest of the night. All next day the sea ran tremendously high, but our sweet little craft rode over them like a duck, and behaved herself most gallantly. During the first seven days we ran over 1100 miles, when the wind came right ahead, and blew very hard forcing us to lay our vessel to for about 21hours. Then breezes failed for a week, when we again got a favourable wind, and ran into the trades, from which time until our arrival here, we had a very fine time. We ran down the North East trades in 12 days, having got them in 31 N. We were within 5 degrees of the line for two or three days becalmed, but met the South east trades in 3 N and ran down with them to 30 S. in 14 days, making the time in 33 days from St.Johns'.

We made the island of Trinidad on the 31st. of December, and were all very much delighted as it proved our chronometer to be quite correct. During the passage we overhauled several vessels and spoke to them, but did not see any that could match us, except one ship of war, the "Electra" and she could not beat us. We spoke her five days before we made the Cape, and we both got in the same day-She 80 days from London, and we 61 from St. Johns.

After we left the South-east trades, we were fortunate enough to meet a fair wind on the variables, which carried with us to the Cape, having no calms but part of two days_Our little vessel proved herself to be a first rate sea boat, and withal a good sailor. The passenger and crew have observed the utmost propriety and decorum during the voyage, and at the same time the greatest harmony. After a few days at sea, we found we were too numerous to mess together, and divided ourselves into two messes, since then we have lived very comfortably._The arrangments of the ship were very satisfactory, our officers all efficient and trustworthy men, our crew thourough seamen, our vessel safe and seaworthy, our passengers respectable, circumspect and sociable, and "all went merry as a marriage bell." I feel that I would not be doing justice to my friend Mr. Wheatley, if I did not take notice of his valuable services on board, he was appointed ship's husband, and you may well suppose he held no sinecure office on board. He took charge of the provisions and water, and I do believe that we owe a very great deal of our comfort and peace to his foresight, prudence, and determination. His conduct in every matter was praiseworthy in the highest degree.

On Tuesday the 18th. inst. we expected to see the land at eight in the evening; but as it was a dark night, we would not run in, and lay the vessel to until half past two in the morning, when we made sail and sighted the land at daylight We ran in and found ourselves right off Table Bay, having made it as correctly as if it had been in sight during the whole voyage. The morning was rather dark, and the mountain the mountains capped with white fleecy clouds, which took away very much of the grandeur of the scene. The Bay, itself, is the prettiest I have ever seen, being almost circular, and surrounded on every side by lofty ranges of mountains, which eclipse our narrows altogether. They are not seen more than half the time, being so very lofty that the clouds cover them from the view, and come half way down their sides. The Table mountain is directly above the town. It is a long range of mountains, and its summit as level as a bowling green; from which circumstance it derives its name. When the clouds cover it, they say the table cloth is laid; but I fancy few would like to dine there. The town is neatly laid out in squares, the houses are plain but substantial, with flat roofs, few and small windows, and little or no pretensions to architectural beauty. The inhabitants seem to me a quite well disposed people, but possessed of very little energy. The greater number are dark Malays, Hottentots, coolies, etc.&c, &c,&c. The European part of the population are principally Dutch. Their business is quietly conducted, and without much show.

Our passengers have all been on shore, enjoying a walk through the town and its suburbs. The Botanical Gardens are exceedingly fine, and far exceeds anything of the kind I have ever seen in America. These are open to travellers free, and of course were visited by our Sybilites. 

On our arrival here, we were rather surprised to hear that we had made the quickest passage for the season. There are now lying in Table Bay some thirty or forty vessels from Home and the Colonies, and the shortest run among them is 80 days, some as much as 140. Among others, there is a large American ship, the Fanuiel? Hall, of Boston, from New York, with a cargo of coals for the Mississippi steamer on the Japanese expedition. She left New York on the 16th of October and arrived here on the 20th. inst. the day after us. On the passage she spoke the Sir William Molesworth, from Home to Australia, a passenger vessel fitted out on the same principle with the Sybil; the American gave them a supply of provisions and medicine --she had 14 deaths and 3 births on board, the majority of the deceased being children. The Aurora, from Halifax, was 80 days to this port, and only sailed about three weeks before our arrival--all well.

We have every reason to be grateful for the comfort and prosperity that attended our undertaking thus far and trust with confidence in a continuance of these favours to the end of our voyage. Our passengers are all in excellent health and spirits_ we had no serious illness on board, and those who were slightly affected by the long voyage are now perfectly restored, and prepared to encounter the remainder.

The hurry and bustle of preparing in a strange port for our departure, must be apology for this disconnected letter, and will, I am sure be deemed so by our friends in St.Johns.

With our best wishes for your prosperity, and that of our friends, believe me, my dear Editor, on my own behalf and that of our passengers, to be

Yours very faithfully,
Allan Fraser 

Note: Allan Fraser was the brother of my grt grt grandfather Alexander Fraser, they were the sons of the late reverend Donald Allan Fraser, Scotland/Pictou/St.Johns....died 1845. Allan arrived in Australia, 1853, married, had 2 daughters, and died aged 35.
John Oakes, may 2001



The following was printed in the Telegram Sunday Digest Sunday May 14, 2000.

With the help of Modern Technology, it is fairly easy to find out what happened to the shipload of Newfoundlanders where were drawn to Australia by the promise of gold, nearly 150 years ago.

BY ROBERT C. PARSONS Special to The Telegram

It’s been said many times and in many ways the world is shrinking. While Earth’s mass and dimensions remain relatively constant, distances seem reduced by faster communication and rapid, cheaper transportation. In the past few years the Internet has given armchair travellers quick and easy access to the rest of the world. But back in 1852, when the brigantine Sybil sailed out of St. John’s Harbour with Newfoundlanders settlers bound for Australia, no one really knew what happened to the people on boards. Maybe some wrote letters back home saying they arrived safely or had settled in, but apart from that, not much was known of them. Today, with a little help from the Internet, a little more light can be shed on the fates of the 50 or so immigrants who left here to start a new life in Australia, never to return. In 1851, gold was discovered in southeast Australia. As a result, immigrants flooded in, many of them from English-speaking countries, such as Canada, England and Ireland. Indeed, the Irish folksong says of the Wild Colonial Boy, “And to Australia shores, he was inclined to roam.” And adventurers and pioneers headed Down Under from Newfoundland, too. Whatever we think today of our young people leaving home to seek work in Ireland, Korea, Ontario or Western Canada, it was the same situation many years ago.

But in 1853, the spirit of a new venture and the prospect of leaving home must have been daunting one; the voyage was inherently more dangerous. Yet anticipated rewards— gold, land, a new life— probably compensated for any hardships. As far as is known, only one ship in that era of colonization and gold rush left Newfoundland bound for Australia. In the summer of 1852, several opportunistic young men bought the 100-tonne brigantine Sybil, encouraged others to join them in their voyage– including several Families— and on Nov. 18 headed through the Narrows on a journey destined to take them halfway around the world. It was such an unusual and perhaps historic occurrence that bits and pieces of the story appeared occasionally in local print. One of the first times the event resurfaced in the news was in the Oct. 21, 1899, edition of The Evening Telegram. The article states 

“many older persons will remember the departure in the ship Sybil, of a large number of immigrants from St. John’s to Port Philip, South, Australia.”
It concludes with the names of the passengers and crew; Messrs. Ritchie, his wife and four children; Vey and wife; single men Fleming, Macpherson, Williams, and so on. Several couples with their children and many young men made the voyage.

A second version of this venture appears in a slim but historically valuable book — When was That? — compiled and published by Dr. H. M. Mosdell in 1923 in St. John’s. When Was That?, a book of dates and facts, is arranged alphabetically. It is likely the Mosdell, writing and collecting 70 years after the Sybil voyage, relied on old newspapers accounts for his information. However, he doesn’t give the surnames listed in the 1899 Telegram. He mentions the journey to Australia briefly in the “S” section of his book. The listing goes a follows: 

"Sybil: brigt. 100 tons, purchased by number of people of St. John’s, chiefly young men — clerks and mechanics— sailed from St. John’s for Australia with 70 immigrants November 16, 1852.”
The reference raises many questions. Who were these “number of people”? Did the actually arrive? Where did they settle? Do we have kinfolk Down Under; descendants of those brave pioneers?

Today through the miracle of modern global communications, some of those questions can be answered. Various individuals, usually on a volunteer basis, have taken the Australian immigrants lists per ship, and posted them on a Web site on the Internet, so that now it is fairly easy to go to Australia online and search for information on a specific vessel. The Sybil appears to have reached Port Philip Bay, and the list of names aboard (in fact 53 men , women and children) closely matches, with some slight spelling differences. The Evening Telegram list of 1899. Now we can see more clearly through the “musty” veil of 150 years.

Indeed, the passengers and crew did arrive safely, four months after starting out, on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1853. They landed at Port Philip Bay, since renamed Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria. Immigrants to Port Philip Bay were drawn by a bona fide gold rush; Australia’s southeast corner became prosperous in the mid - 1850s, importing settlers and exporting gold to the rest of the world.. The passengers and crew sold Sybil on arrival in Port Philip and received half their voyage expense money back. On the voyage down, each crew member had been paid one shilling a month. Some years later, Sybil was wrecked on the coast near Port Curtis, Queensland.

An Internet search of Australian passenger lists reveals the names of the Newfoundland arrival on the Sybil:

Mr. Charles and Mary Beaton with children, 5 boys and one girl
Peter and Charlotte Brodio, or McBrodie
Andrew and his sister Mary Fairrie
Hamilton and Mary Fleming
Captain John and Catherine Huggart
John and Mary Kingwell with infant child
Alexander and Emma Moore with children, 2 boys and a girl
Robert and Ellen Murphy (married shortly after ship’s arrival)
Peter and Sarah Jane Ritchie with children, 3 boys and a girl
William and Mary Thane
James and Dinah Vey
John and Ellen Watt with children, an infant and one boy
Patrick and Kate Wiley
E. H. W. Belcher
George E. Clow
Robert Fleming
Allan Frazer
John MacPherson
George McLanna
Edward Melleish
David Muir
Charles Sinclair
James Wheatley
Stephen Williams

One of the main settlements in Prince Philip Bay, near the gold mines, was Geelong. The it was a rough encampment area, but now it is a modern city of 142,000 and one of Australia chief ports. It was here the Newfoundlanders put down permanent roots. Roger Murphy of England has researched the exploits of his ancestors, Sybil passengers Robert and Ellen Murphy. Robert, whose occupation, was listed as a joiner, or finished carpenter, married Ellen Murphy in the Presbyterian Church in Geelong on April 18, 1853 – their witnesses were fellow passengers Peter and Sarah Jane Ritchie. And it is known from the Vey family tradition that James Vey, a Watchmaker and repairman when he lived in St. John’s in 1852, settled in Geelong. A check of a current Australian telephone directory turns up no Veys in Geelong but three families of that name in nearby Melbourne. The name Moore shows up about 170 times, no doubt representing – at least in part — the descendants of Newfoundlanders Alexander and Emma Moors. The world Olympic Games begins Sept. 15 this year in Sydney, Australia. Perhaps some Newfoundlanders will be lucky enough to visit and tour the great island continent. And if genealogy is their forte, perhaps they’ll meet a descendant or two, trace bloodlines, and verify that it’s a rare place you can go on our shrinking planet without meeting someone with Newfoundland roots.

The Web site for the Public Records Office, Victoria, is Public Record Office Victoria

For online sourcing of Australian ship passenger lists, check out

Robert C Parsons is an author, Researcher and historian living in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Robert Parsons’ website: Atlantic Shipwrecks

NOVASCOTIAN (newspaper), Halifax, dated Dec.13,1852, Plate 405,c 3: "The Sybil, Captain Hoggart, sailed from St. John's [ Newfoundland ] on the 17th ult, for the Cape and Port Philip, South Australia, with the subjoined list of passengers for that distant region:"

Please note: For those who don't work with newspapers and their lingo -they used two terms "Ult." or ultimo which usually meant 'the previous month' and "inst." or instant which refered to the "present week, month etc". In the case in question since the paper was dated Dec. 13th and the item says "sailed from St. John's on the 17th ult", this would mean Nov. 17th she sailed from Nfld.

Surname Given Name Children
RITCHIE Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie and four children
BENTON Mr. and Mrs Benton and six children
KINGWELL Mr. and Mrs. Kingwell
MOORE Mr. and Mrs. Moore and four children
THANE Mr. and Mrs. Thane
WATT Mr. and Mrs. Watt and child
BRODIE Mr. Mrs. and Mr.[ master? ] B. Brodie,
VEY Mr. and Mrs.Vey
FLEMING Mrs. and Mrs. R. Fleming
HOGGART Mrs. Hoggart
FAIRRIE Mr. and Miss Fairrie
WILEY Mr. and Miss Wiley
MURPHY Mr. and Miss Murphy
FLEMMING [Mr.] R. Fleming
MUIR [Mr.] D. Muir
BELCHER [Mr.] E. Belcher
WEATLEY [Mr.] Weatley
FRASER [Mr.] Allan Fraser
CLOW [Mr.] Clow
McLENNAN [Mr.] McLennan
McPHERSON [Mr.] J. McPherson
MELLERSH [Mr.] E. Mellersh
WILLIAMS [Mr.] Williams
SINCLAIR [Mr.] C. Sinclair

Hi to all who requested this information from the book "The Geelong Americans" Edited by Elaine Kranjc. Burials would have been in the Eastern Cemetery Geelong. "Sybil" is the name of the ship that sailed from St.Johns, November 1852, arriving in Geelong St.Patricks day 1853

 Alexander James Moore
b. St Johns NFLD d. 26-8-1907
Buried East Geelong
Father John James MOORE
Mother Emma Kingwell
Married 3-11-1871 Geelong to Jessie Shaw b. 1852 Nairnshire Scotland d.23-9-1929
Buried Eastern Geelong
Arr. "Sybil" 1853
Rosina Lillias J. b. 1872 at Skipton m.1893 Geo. Hy. Clarke..d. 1939 Lilydale
Bella Matilda b.1874 Geelong
Alice Eveline b. 1876 Geelong....d. 1876 Geelong
Margaret Emma b. 1877 Geelong d. 1878 Geelong
Alexander George b. 1881 d. 1882 Geelong
Ernest Charles b. 1884 d. 1919 Geelong
Daniel b. 1886 d. 1915 Geelong
Edward Heron Edgar b. 1888 d. 1950 Geelong
Leslie McKenzie b. 1892 Geelong d. 1892
Florence May b. 1893 d. 1893
Ruby b. 1896 d. 1897
Janet Minnie b. 1897 d. 1898.

 James John Moore
Married Emma Kingwell
b. NFLD. c1821
d. 1906 Geelong
f. John Kingwell
m. Mary Snow
Arr. "Sybil" 1853
Occupation Painter
Elizabeth Ann Kingwell b. St.Johns NFLD. m. 1865 James McNaughton
James John b. 1847 m. 1885 Mary Jane Starr d. 1897 Colac
Alexander Samuel b. 1849 m. 1871 Jessie Shaw d. 1907
Robert Wm. b. c1851 NFLD m. 1875 Mary Wyatt
Malcom b. 1853 d. 1853 Geelong
Sarah Lillias b. 1853 d. 1853 Geelong
Emma Lillias b. 1857 Kildare m. 1880 Hy. Joseph Binmoore d, 1926 Carlton
Evelina Sarah b. 1860 Kildare d. 1860 Geelong
Margaret Caroline b. 1862 Kildare d. 1881 Geelong

 Robert William Moore
b. c.1851 St. Johns NFLD
f. James John Moore
m. Emma Kingwell
marr. 1875 Mary Wyatt b. c.1855 f. William Wyatt m. Bridget
occupation Labourer
Clifford William b. 1877 Geelong d. 1935
Emma King b. 1879 Collingwood
Carol Ellen b. 1882 Geelong d. Sydney 1956
Robert George b. 1884 Geelong d. 1884
Robert Wyatt b 1886 Geelong marr. 1919 Sarah Maxwell
Eva Jessie b. 1894 Geelong went to New Zealand
Olive Elizabeth b.1894 Geelong....went to England
Ivy Victoria b. 1897 Geelong went to U.S.A.

 Peter Kirkland Ritchie
b. N.S.
d. New South Wales aged 86
occ. Tailor
arr. "Sybil" 1853
m. St.Johns NFLD 1842.
To Sarah Jane MOORE b. 1818 d. 15-12-1864 Geelong
f. James Kirkland MOORE m. Sarah Jame Currie
John b. 1844 NFLD d. 1933 Barrabool
James b. 1846 NFLD..
Isabella Currie 1847 NFLD d. 1862
Peter Kirkland b.1850 NFLD. m. 1880 Annie Rae.
Sarah Jane Brace b.1854
Archibald Brace b. 1855 Geelong
Lillias Janet b. 1858 Geelong m. 1885 Thomas Harris Ready
Elizabeth Wiley b. 1861 Geelong
William Alexander b. 1864 Geelong

 Richard Hustin
b. c.1830 Quebec Ca.
f. Nicholas Hustin
m. Jane Stephenson
marr. 8-1-1857 Geelong Harriet MOORE b. c.1829 Derby England
f. Thomas Moore
M.Blanay Haywood

© 2001 Robert Parsons, John Baird, William Hill, John Oakes & Stephen Baker
Links updated 2012