The Marco Polo, “Bully” Forbes and the Livingstons

The Marco Polo was in its time called the “fastest ship in the world”. She was a 1625 ton three masted clipper ship built by James Smith and Co. of St. John, New Brunswick in Canada and launched in 1851. In 1852 she was bought by James Baines of the Black Ball Line and refitted for passengers specifically for the Australian packet service of assisted emigrants.

Thomas Robertson (1819-1873) Courtesy of State Library of Victoria

The Illustrated London Times described the Marco Polo: “her lines fore and aft are beautifully fine…she has an entrance as sharp as a steamboat [and a] bottom like a yacht; she has above water all the appearance of a frigate”

The master engaged for the Marco Polo was Scotsman Captain James Nicol “Bully” Forbes. The first voyage to Australia departed from Liverpool on 4 July 1852 and on board were my Scottish 3x great-grandparents James and Isabella Livingston and their five children.

Extract for Marco Polo’s passenger list

The Marco Polo sailed from the Mersey bound for Melbourne in July 1852 with some “930 government emigrants” on board, 661 were Scottish, and arrived at Hobson’s Bay in Port Phillip 68 days later on 18 September. The ship almost immediately returned to England arriving back in Liverpool on Boxing Day, after a 76 day voyage; the whole return trip being less than some ships took in the trip to Australia.

The regular “Admiralty Route” to Australia consisted basically of following the 39th parallel across the Indian Ocean after replenishing supplies at the Cape of Good Hope. This provided mariners with a single straight course to steer. In the first half of the nineteenth century the voyage from England to Australia averaged 120 days. The length of the journey was a deterrent to many prospective emigrants.

Clipper ships, like Marco Polo, as well as being able to attain high speeds under ideal conditions were also able to make progress when most vessels were becalmed (in the equatorial doldrums of the Atlantic). However there was another factor that contributed to Marco Polo’s record breaking voyage. Instead of following the Admiralty route Forbes adopted a course based on Towson’s “great circle” theory.

John Thomas Towson was a scientific examiner of masters and mates at Liverpool. He realised that because the earth is a sphere the shortest route between two points on the earth was in fact a curve and not a straight line. He termed this curve the “great circle”.

The apparent direct route across the Indian Ocean (following the 39th parallel) was longer than the “great circle” route which in practice became a series of chords on that curve. Adopting this required great skill using both the sextant and the chronometer so that would masters know precisely when to alter course (along the next chord). In 1847 Towson’s published his “Tables to Facilitate the Practice of Great Circle Sailing” and he was awarded £1,000.

The great circle to Australia led into Antarctica and hundreds of kilometres south of the Cape of Good Hope. In practice this was modified due to the extreme weather conditions, big seas and the risk of collision with ice bergs. However the winds of the roaring forties and to further south also made progress much quicker.

Bully Forbes was not the first to use Towson’s theory with Captain Godfrey in the Constance in 1850 ventured far south following Towson’s theory and reached Adelaide in 77 days. Few other such voyages followed until the record voyage of the Marco Polo after which the great circle route became more the norm especially in the rush by emigrants to get to the Victorian gold fields.

“The Marco Polo completed the round trip to Australia a total of twenty-five times in the fifteen years after the first voyage bringing around 150,000 immigrants to Victoria.” However, “Bully” Forbes virtually ended his master’s career in 1855 when attempting to set a record for the voyage to Australia in under 60 days in the 2600 ton Schomberg. This ship that he captained ran aground on a sandbar near Curdies River at the approach to Bass Strait.

My Scottish Livingston ancestors James and Isabella, who sailed on the Marco Polo, hailed from the village of Laroch in Argyllshire where their five children were born. James had been employed in the slate quarries in the Ballaculish area.

Why James decided, at the age of 47 years to leave home for Australia with his young family might never been exactly known, the Victorian gold rush had started and he received assisted passage.

The voyage to Australia was known to be an arduous one, but at that time many people, and probably the Livingstons, were conditioned to hardship.

One emigrating couple (from Somerset) wrote:

“The conditions [on the ship] were clearly not intolerable…if you lived on 7s 6d a week in a cottage built of mud and straw with an earth floor and a thatched roof, relieving yourself at the bottom of the garden into a pit with a rough seat bench over it, drawing your water from a well which might be several hundred yards away, and cooking your food over an open fire”.
(Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard)

There was a measles epidemic on board. 52 people died, 46 of whom were children under four years of age.

The following are extracts for Marco Polo’s passenger list showing: Livingston family: James, Isabella and young children,
and, single male: son, James.

It appears that both James and Isabella “reduced” their ages in these records possibly to meet eligibility requirement of assisted passage.

After arriving at Port Phillip on 18 September 1852, little is known where and how they lived, although it is likely that headed for the gold fields. Only a few years later in 1858, their daughter and my 2x great-grandmother Ann was married to Richard Robins Warren at Sandhurst (now Bendigo) and in 1863 James registered a mining claim there.

In later life James and Isabella lived at Kerang in northern Victoria and are buried in the local cemetery in unmarked graves. They lived to the ripe old age of 80 and 88 years old respectively.

References
*Charlwood, Don, “The Long Farewell: A history of the first migrations to Australia”,
1998, Burgewood Books, Warrandyte
*Empire (Sydney, NSW: 1850 – 1875), Wed 29 Sep 1852 , Page 2 , MELBOURNE SHIPPING.
*Western District Families – Stories of Pioneering Families From the Western District of
Victoria, https://westerndistrictfamilies.com/tag/marco-polo/
* Thompson, John, “Hell or Melbourne in 60 days”

Richard Robins Warren (1836-1912)

On 11 June 1836, my great great-grandfather, Richard Robins Warren, was born in Bristol, England but he would live a very full life in Australia.

Richard Robins Warren

Richard’s parents were Thomas and Elizabeth (Barnett) Warren. Thomas could trace his roots back to Edwarde Warren in the 16th century Devon where his ancestors lived until Thomas moved the family to Bristol. Richard was born there and baptised in St. Mary Redcliffe church on 7 August 1836.

Although the circumstances are not known, it is understood that Richard emigrated to Australia in 1852, arriving in Port Phillip on the ship Washington Irving at the age of 16 years. It is likely that he was attracted to our shores by the great Victorian gold rush as he is next discovered on the goldfields. Within six years, on 15 March 1858 at Sandhurst (renamed Bendigo in 1891), he married Ann Livingstone the daughter of James and Isabella (Clark) Livingstone. Ten months later, my grandmother Elizabeth was born, the first of their thirteen children. When he married he was a store keeper but within a year he was mining, registering a claim and working at it until at least the mid-1860s, after which he returned to farming.

This was a period of some significant land ownership battles in Australian history. The Land Acts of the 1860s were aimed at breaking the control of the extensive land holdings held by squatters and which involved much of the usable land across Victoria. The battle raged between the wealthy, powerful squatters and those who advocated for small-scale agriculture and housing to anyone who could afford to buy it. It appears Richard was able to take advantage of these land ownership opportunities.

By the time their fifth child James Duncan was born in 1873 he was farming in Marong not far from Sandhurst. A little later in 1877 we see in the Bendigo Advertiser that he was offering for lease a fenced 20 acre Marong property, “bordering on Bullock Creek” with a comfortable weather board cottage containing four rooms, detached kitchen, outbuildings and garden. He was moving to a larger selection, and the 1880 Government Gazette stated that he had been issued a new lease on a selection of 280 acres at Leaghur in Tatchera County located to the south of the Murray River, and to the south west of Swan Hill. He retained that property until 1887 as well as another selection (allotment 36 Leaghur of 169 acres), which he transferred to one George Wilkinson in 1891.

By this time Richard and Ann now had a family of thirteen children of six girls and seven boys.

Interestingly, Richard appears in a number of newspaper articles over time.

One was in respect of his appearance at the Boort Police Court, when a Mr. J. MacDonald proceeded against him for illegally detaining a white heifer. It was claimed that the beast in question was the progeny of a cow belonging to MacDonald’s station at Leaghur. The Warrens claimed that the animal was hand-reared by them and although imperfectly branded, there was no doubt that it belonged to them. The police magistrate said the witnesses thoroughly believed what they had stated. He considered it a striking case of mistaken identity, and, although the decision of the bench might lead to further litigation, the case was dismissed. (Bendigo Advertiser, Fri 11 Jun 1886, page 3).

Another episode occurred after disposing of his Leaghur selection when he seemingly became a boarding house keeper at Swan Hill. Later in 1891 there was a “A Disputed Debt” and at the Police Court. The Bendigo Fruitgrowers’ Cooperative Company sued R. R. Warren to recover the sum of £5 11s 10d, money due in payment for fruit delivered. The result was that the company finally admitted that a misunderstanding had arisen and some mistakes had occurred. The case was dismissed but with costs to the defendant, Warren. (Bendigo Advertiser, Fri 29 May 1891, page 4).

Among his other activities, Richard was a long-term member and official of the Ovens and Murray United District of the Ancient Order of Foresters. The Ancient Order of Foresters, which originated in England in the mid-1700s, established its first branch (Court) in Victoria in 1849. It was set up as a non-profit organisation, the founding principles of the Society being to provide financial and social benefits as well as support to members and their families in times of unemployment, sickness, death, disability and old age. (ANU Archives). For a number of years about 1895, Brother R.R. Warren was the senior auditor of the Court and he was involved in many fund-raising functions for charities.

St. Kilda Cemetery

Business failure in 1895 at Swan Hill, led to Richard being declared insolvent with liabilities of £54 16s 3d and assets of only £34 19s 6d (a deficiency, of £19 16s 9d). He apparently was forced to become a labourer but then in 1897 both his wife Ann and daughter Charlotte Christina died within a month of each other. They were buried in St. Kilda cemetery in Melbourne.

Back in Swan Hill, by 1898 Richard had gained a position as a Government rabbit inspector (or destroyer). Rabbits had become a major problem for farmers in country areas of Victoria (and indeed Australia) multiplying to plague proportions following the release of a handful of animals decades earlier. He apparently worked at this in the Swan Hill area until at least 1903. As a retired civil servant and old age pensioner he moved to Melbourne living initially at 3 Bang Street, Prahran and finally at “Irene” Sycamore Grove, St. Kilda, where he died of senile debility and heart failure on 12 December 1912, aged 76.

A family notice in the Melbourne Age described him as the beloved father of Mrs. Briscoe, and J. R. Warren, and Mrs. C. Johannesen, St. Kilda; Mrs. McCurdy and J. D. Warren, and Mrs. Long, Swan Hill, and R. R. Warren and W. A. Warren. He was buried on 14 December 1912 at St. Kilda Cemetery with his wife and daughter.