State Library of South Australia logo Your story
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Royal Tar Ship
Title : Royal Tar Ship Royal Tar Ship
Add To My SA Memory
Creator : Jill Cummings
Date of creation : ca. 1920
Catalogue record
The State Library of South Australia is keen to find out more about SA Memory items. We encourage you to contact the Library if you have additional information about any of these items.
Copyright : Reproduction rights are owned by State Library of South Australia. This image may be printed or saved for research or study. Use for any other purpose requires permission from the State Library of South Australia. To request approval, complete the Permission to publish form.
Description :

Hand-written account of the first voyage of the Royal Tar from Adelaide to New Australia

Written to Samuel Murdoch Crosbie

By I Sibbald

New Australia arose out of the great shearers strike in the years 1892-3 in Queensland. At that time the production of wool was the greatest industry of Australia. Vast areas, of which a non-Australian can form no adequate conception, were and are devoted to shearing sheep mostly Marinos; to whom the Australian conditions except during drought times are peculiarly favourable. These areas some of them as large as England are leased at a small rent per acre or per square mile by Squatters who are by no means as small as they sound to English ears. The Australian squatter is the aristocrat of landholders and millionaires are not uncommon amongst them. The holdings are called "runs" & the central or administrative buildings are "Stations".

To work them year in year out requires a certain number of permanent hands} boundary riders, stockmen, shepherds are required and to the stations once a year there drift from all corners of the land a crowd of more or less expert shearers and their camp followers cooks, roustabouts etc. These Shearers are needed but once a year & their active season is about three months. They begin in the North & move from Station to Station southward until the country is cut out. There being no motor cars in the 90's their travel was necessarily on foot or horseback. Hundreds upon hundreds of miles over dry arid areas carrying their provisions & clothing in a blanket usually called "bluey" or "Matilda", tightly packed and slung on their backs or on the pillion if they were rich enough to own a horse, with the waterbags. Sleeping sub Jovenudo on the naked ground they had to contend with heat drought & dust, often running out of tucker or water or tobacco. Ishmaels who speedily acquired a strong tribal feeling amounting almost to Communism. That was inevitable for how could a well provided "swaggy" refuse food or drink to a starving man met "outback"? He might be the necessitous man himself next week! For the same reason (and others no doubt) the desert Arab is the soul of hospitality. Anyway out of the shearers' environment there grew a Creed of Mateship with many thousand ardent adherents. To cement them closer there was always trouble about pay and better conditions with the squatters & many strikes. No doubt they will appear unreasonable but it must be remembered that their earning period was but three out of the twelve months. When shearing was over the squatter had no further employment to offer them and they had to drift back at their own charges to the coastal areas there to scratch for a living until next shearing season. With so much enforced leisure many took to thinking and dreaming under the influence of the atmosphere at that time saturated as it was with Karl Marx, Dr.Herzka, Bellamy & Henry George then in the height of their popularity. To them came an enthusiast Wm Lane preaching a new Exodus from their Egyptian bondage into a new country free of oppressive squatters profiteers & labour conditions which wrested from the workers more than half their earnings. The scriptural "Behold how good and joyful a thing it is for them to dwell together in unity" appealed irresistibly to their already acquired sense of mateship and the shearers followed the new Moses with enthusiasm equal to his own. Altruism being in the air all Australia felt an uplifting impulse like a swarm of bees. Of course the vast majority had to stay by the honey and brood combs but all young and ardent souls were quivering for flight. The wise and prudent, the press and the great army of the Haves were in opposition but there were deserters even from amongst them. Of the 219 Souls aboard the "Royal Tar" on her first trip not over half were shearers. They included all sorts and conditions of men, a representative of Anarias included. A fine body of men, all "fat" men defiers revels against established conditions and a fair proportion of born rebels of Celtic strain. Amongst the latter I never felt at home being a canny Scot ye Ken with a racial aversion to the Celt. All the same we were for the moment a homogeneous enthusiastic group when in July 1893 the Royal carried us out of Sydney Heads. A singularly appropriate farewell was given to us by a cargo of lunatics on a ferry steamer out for a days cruise. They cheered us to the echo & we responded. Once out of the heads we were gripped by rough South Pacific weather and I went to bunk and stayed there until called out to see the lighthouse on Three Kings Islands the extreme North point of New Zealand. After that I really enjoyed running down our easting. The "Royal Tar" was seaworthy speedy and as tight as a bottle. Did not make during the whole of voyage enough water for the pumps to draw. It was a great trip bowling along the roaring 40's by the never failing S.W. Winds at from 10 to 12 knots per hour. With fine weather we passed Diego Ramirez Islands south of Cape Horn. Dancing on deck till 9pm, which I need not say was highly unusual for a Southern Hemisphere writer. Wind veering to N.W. when we had passed Cape Horn we could make no northing for Monte Video. Had to keep E.E.E.E. (4 days of it) meeting ice at last, which got more plentiful day by day until we were surrounded by bergs. Enormous chrystal white islands of ice 200 feet high flat topped with precipitous sides.

"That girn and turn and shift"

"Here grinding like the mills of God"

"Goes by the great South drift"

"Hail snow & ice that praise the Lord"

"I've met them at their work"

"And wished we had another route"

"Or they another Kirk"

Icebergs have a peculiarly wairsh taste or smell. You can tell they are near even in a fog. There were anxious nights, leaders patrolling the decks, and gathering for relief in the caboose about 3.30am just as Bilby ships cook turned out his days bread. Nothing could be finer than those cobs hot and hot, torn open and larded with a spoonful of salt butter from an adjacent (.....) tin. Being all sworn teetotallers as part of the New Australian constitution, we could not drink success to the enterprise, but we certainly eat well of the fat of the deserted old Australia wishing oleaginous prosperity to our companions and confusion to our enemies. For we left many enemies behind, some of the bitterness being working men who preached "Stay and skite". "Skiting was over for us and we were out to do.

Amidst this congregation of icebergs, some of them covering 15 degrees of the horizon, fragments from the great ice barrier of Ross Sea chip from the glacial sheet which slowly creeps from the mountains about the south pole until buoyed up and broken off by the open sea, ones mind naturally reverted to an Australian summer with month after month of cloudless brazen skies and temperatures of 102 degrees in the shade. Someone with commercial instincts proposed a syndicate to tow one of the lesser (calving) bergs into Sydney harbour in January and make a fortune in cool drinks. The proposal was dropped however when it was pointed out that a visible 200 ft of ice indicated a total of 1800 feet from top to bottom and the necessary 1600 feet draught could not be obtained anywhere on the Australian Coast.

We had to turn tail eventually out of this dangerous neighbourhood and standing west about picked up a Southerly slant of wind which served us into the great river Plate estuary 80 miles wide of fresh water and so to Monte Video on its northern shores.

Here we struck trouble.

Naturally everyone wanted a spell on Shore after the long voyage & close quarters of the "Royal Tar" and some could not wait the day or two for transhipment to the river steamer chartered to take us up to Asuncion the capital of Paraguay, but must get ashore at once. It was a mistake. Some came aboard late and crapulous. There was trouble with scandalized wives and with members who had respected their pledges.

There had been during the voyage much discussion of and a small rebellion against Lane's ruling that single women should not remain on deck after sunset. With the best of intentions serious discussion had arisen from this ruling & the protestors (male) were amongst the Monte Video rebels. The cleavage became wider by reason of this flagrant breach of pledges at Monte Video. Perhaps it was inevitable amongst 200 born rebels embracing a goodly number of the sons of Erin, where an American writer tells me "there are no snakes and no sense of right or wrong".

What took place on the river trip to Asuncion I do not know as I was left behind to reprovision the Royal Tar and effect its clearance for another complement of New Australians from Adelaide S.A.


It here strikes me Sam that there is a simple way for me to avoid the most distasteful job. I detest writing politics and abhor those of New Australia. I was never a Communist at heart but joined with the idea that if N. Australia could not be made to jig on Lane's Constitution the movement could be carried on in some rational fashion. If we had 200 hard headed Scots my opinion is it could have been done. Anyway it would have had a better chance. As a matter of fact there was but one communist in the lot and tho you may never have heard his name he gave himself soul and body to the N.A. idea and killed himself in faithful unswerving service. We cottoned on to Alf Walker from the first. A born Cockney, travelled in many lands with a broad outlook the spirit of an apostle & the self sacrifice of a saint. Night and day rain & shine cold & heat were all subservient to his passion to make N.A. a success. On one of his last journeys between La Novia and Asuncion he was thrown from his horse and broke some ribs. He never told anything of it to a soul and when, following us to England, at the disruption, he encountered a London fog it killed him with pneumonia.

Sic transit Gloria Walkeri, and we mourn him still.

The simple way is to get Edmond Mansion to send you a copy of a book called

"Where socialism failed"

by Stewart Grahame

Published by John Murray

London, Albemarle Street W


The author gives a vinegary prejudiced view of the whole affair from the Capitalist point of view.

To us who lived it there is no resemblance whatever in this picture of reality.

Instance, Graham's photo on page 146 of the "barefooted children who ran terrible risks from venomous snakes". Did you ever see a happier looking lot? We had two hypodermic injection outfits carrying strychnine and permanganate of potash and not once in the three years were they called into action - nor did I ever hear of snake bite. Take Grahame's meat - wash the vinegar and pepper out and you will have a very fair idea of the fact of the case po-litically as the Americans say.

From my point of view I never had a finer three years and I would like to dilate on that giving details of geographical topographical entomological ornithological and industrial (what we actually did) if it would interest you. Anything with human interest in it. Like the brother giants in Princess Ida.

"Politics we bar"

"They are not our bent"

"On the whole we are"

"Not intelligent" as far as what Carlyle called the "Diesmal Science" is concerned.

After you have digested the foregoing haggis let me hear from you - Early as I fancy my time is getting short.

Yours ever

I. Sibbald

Love to Sarah and all the household of faith.

Coverage year : 1893
Period : 1884-1913
Place : Paraguay



About SA Memory

Explore SA Memory

SA Memory Themes


My SA Memory


What's on