Dianne Griffin

Dianne Griffin lived in Moonta, South Australia, as a child. She loved the town and its people, especially her grandparents, Charles W and Eleanor B Bowden. At 25, Dianne set out to see the world, and re-immigrated to Cornwall and Britain. She married in 1970 and, settling in Ireland, raised three children. Never one to shy away from telling a great story, Dianne published short stories and dabbled in journalism. Moving back to Australia in 1989, she settled in Brisbane near family. She retrained as a Registered Nurse, and, at the age of 50, completed her Bachelor of Science. Dianne’s nursing career gives her great insight into the experiences of women, and the inevitable health issues faced by immigrants to Australia in the 19th century. Continuing her lifelong desire to learn, Dianne completed a post-graduate certificate in creative writing, focusing on Life Writing. Dianne’s office began to overflow with books, diaries of immigrants and newspapers of early South Australia. With inspiration from her grandfather, who wrote in his preface to History of Agery, “Being blessed with a fairly retentive memory, and having in my possession much authentic information, I have a duty to pass it on – now that I have lived the allotted life span.” Dianne discerned the mantle had passed to her, and that the voices in From Cornwall to Moonta should come back to life.


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from 1. Plymouth Harbour, England
March 15, 1864

At last, the Eastern Empire had arrived, and a smile broke over the face of twenty-two-year-old Ben Bowden. The 993-ton wooden sailing ship was anchored just inside the breakwater at Plymouth Harbour. Ben wiped the damp from his mouth and beard. It was a misty day, and the three tall masts pierced the low grey cloud.

Many more emigrants, cheering, crying, and pointing, swarmed around Ben and Emma, but as the rain grew heavier, the young couple ran back for shelter inside the depot.

Later in the evening, the emigrants were told they would board in the morning. It was to be their last night in England.

The next morning, Ben and Emma, with heavy hearts, joined the queue for boarding the Eastern Empire, and, in what seemed hours later, arrived at the base of the ship’s gangway. Ben hauled their traps and bundles, while Emma gripped the ropes and walked up the steep walkway. When Ben reached the deck, he gratefully grasped the rails. At last, they were on-board. He still couldn’t believe he and Emma had been chosen.

‘Mr Vicary was right,’ Ben said, his face almost hidden by his battered felt hat and fine black beard. ‘I thought we should be on one of those shiny new iron ships. But this is grand and solid.’

The 380 or so straggling migrants continued to arrive on the deck, pushing Emma and Ben forward slowly, until they could go no further. They eased their belongings down to their feet.

Ben looked up at the neatly rolled sails. ‘So easy,’ he said. ‘No horses to feed. We’ll just float our way around the world, for thousands of miles.’

Emma doubted it would be that easy. She covered her nose, as the smells of fish and chloride of lime, clawed at her nostrils. Wondering if her family missed her as much as she missed them, she jumped when a seaman yelled an order to another seaman. ‘What are they saying?’ she asked Ben, tensing when she felt the gentle tipping of the ship from side to side.

The bellowing continued, from one seaman to another, from stem to stern. She had been used to noise, when she was younger, living with twelve brothers and sisters, but, in the last six years, when she served as a kitchen maid in Nansloe, Mr Tyacke would have none of it.

‘Look, over there,’ Ben said, as the seamen stomped on the downbeat of an old sea shanty. Emma smiled, pushing her tight dark curls from her face, and tightening her bonnet strings against the rising wind. Ben slipped his arm around her.

The constable for the voyage, Isaac Kimbly, rang the ship’s bell. A cool breeze blew the stack of papers in his hand. ‘Attention please,’ he shouted. ‘These are your berth numbers.’ He nailed the flapping list to the hatchway. Ben and Emma squeezed their way towards the list with another young couple, James and Amelia Vicary.

‘Here we are,’ James said, running his finger down the page. ‘Let me see – Ben, you are berth number 45, and Amelia and I are 46.’

Both couples headed down to the between decks cabin.

‘You are so lucky,’ Emma confided to Amelia, ‘travelling with your whole family.’

James Vicary’s brother, John, pulled away from the group. ‘I don’t know about that,’ he said. ‘We signed up to get away from them, and they followed us!’

Emma laughed and said to Ben, ‘That fellow is cheeky, but no worse than my brother. And a bit of leg pulling might be just what we need right now.’

Ben and Emma kept an eye on James’s chocolate-brown cap, and his matching beaverteen jacket. They didn’t know which way to go.

‘It’s quite dark down there,’ Emma said.

Ben took her hand, and Emma trod carefully, her eyes gradually focusing on the roughly hewn deck below. All four walls were lined with rows of double bunks. Down the centre was a long mess table. This area was to be their bedroom, dining, and living room for the next three months. She couldn’t wait to tell her sisters. Then Emma remembered that she wouldn’t be telling them anything, until she learned to write.

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