Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Persian: Typhus Ship

This is a tale of two halves: one tells of the sad fate which befell a small number of Scottish immigrants travelling to make a new life for themselves in Australia, and the other tells of a forgotten cemetery in a small corner of Tasmania.

On 24 July 1857 a ship with 325 immigrants on board left Liverpool bound for Hobart in Tasmania.  The majority of passengers were former residents of the Isles of Lewis and Coll.  On her arrival in Hobart, it was found that the ship, the Persian, had fallen victim to a deadly outbreak of typhus.  She was immediately quarantined.

The Hobart Town Mercury, Monday 2 November 1857

The decision was made to send the ship to Impression Bay, about 100 km away on the Tasman Peninsula.  In the late 1840s and 1850s the convict station at Impression Bay had been converted into an invalid depot for prisoners in "a most wretched physical condition, blind, maimed, infirm, and debilitated from age, accident, or disease". For the imminent arrival of the Persian, the convict prisoners were moved elsewhere and the depot became a quarantine station with a one mile exclusion zone surrounding the wards.

The Persian left Hobart on the 4th November, and by the following day, the passengers had disembarked.

The Hobart Town Mercury, Friday 6 November 1857

That week the mood appeared to be optimistic as care was taken to ensure the patients were looked after and there was hope that the disease could be halted in its tracks:

The Hobart Town Mercury, Monday 9 November 1857

Despite reports in the coming weeks that the typhus had not yet dissipated - new cases of the disease had become a daily event - by the end of December, events had taken a turn for the better.  New cases were noted as being of a milder form:

The Hobart Town Advertiser, January 1858

Finally the Persian was released from quarantine, free from infection, and allowed to sail away from Impression Bay for journeys new.  And the last remaining patients were on the mend.  After a disastrous and inauspicious beginning, the immigrants were able to start their new lives.

The outbreak had left its toll though. In Impression Bay, now known as Premaydena, there lies a small cemetery sited on private ground.  A short walk up a disused road leads to a headland where one can find the graves of the unfortunates who succumbed to the disease.  It's a peaceful yet blustery spot, surrounded on all sides by the windy waters of Norfolk Bay.  The cemetery feels forgotten, isolated, lost in history.  But the graves of 11 victims of this typhus outbreak lie in this beautiful place.  These are the unlucky patients who did not recover from their illness whilst hospitalitised at Impression Bay.

Alfred Driver - died aged 19 (photo below)
John McKinnon - aged 40 (photo below)
Donald Morrison - aged 38
John McDonald - aged 42 (photo below)
John Morrison - aged 45 (photo below)
Elspeth Morrison - aged 42
John McKinnon - aged 3 days
John McDonald - aged 36
Mary Ann Piper - aged 24
John Spencer - aged 7
Susannah Lee - age 29

The cemetery at Impression Bay

Here are photos of just some of the graves.  If I had been more forward thinking on my visit there, I would have taken photos of all of them.

The grave of John McKinnon
The grave of Alfred Driver
The grave of John Morrison
The grave of John McDonald

These people endured an arduous journey across the world, only to end up overwhelmed by a grievous illness.  They were never to start a fresh life in a new land.  But this new land provided their final resting place.  If you should visit Premaydena, be sure to pay them a visit.  Let them see they are not forgotten.


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family! Looking forward to following your blog & tweets!

  2. If you're on Facebook, you may want to join this page: Kindle for Genealogy.

  3. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"

  4. Thanks so much for your lovely welcome comments... The genealogy community are such wonderful folk. Makes me proud to be a member. :-)

  5. Very interesting. At least they are in lovely marked graves and not buried at sea like so many who died on ships. Great photos.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

    1. Thanks so much Theresa. And it's a lovely spot they are in too, very quiet, peaceful and a bit wild.

  6. I would suggest anyone interested in this lonely yet lovely place visit it as soon as possible. I've just revisited it for the first time since the early 1980's and the number of visible sandstone grave markers has diminished appreciably and those that are still there are starting to fret badly. It's sad to think on the misfortune that befell these unfortunate people both here and in Scotland so the longer we keep their memories alive the better.
    Peter Gugger