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Third Class passenger Robert Rumsey's sea chest

Date: c 1889
Overall: 310 x 930 x 520 mm
Medium: Wood, metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Ian Rumsey
Object Name: Sea chest
Object No: 00038142
Place Manufactured:England

User Terms

    This wooden chest was carried by Third Class passenger Robert (Bert) Rumsey on a voyage from England to Sydney via Fremantle and Melbourne on the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company (AUSN) vessel SS ARAWATTA between December 1889 and January 1890.
    SignificanceStamped with the details of the vessel and passenger, this sea chest used by Robert Rumsey aboard SS ARAWATTA is a tangible reminder of the thousands of immigrants who were assisted to Australia in the 19th century, and the conditions of their voyage.
    HistoryWhen young painter and decorator Robert (Bert) Rumsey sailed out from England to Australia in 1878, his voyage was governed and controlled by The Immigration Regulations (1876) issued by the Colonial Secretary's Office in London and the various Passengers Acts administered by the Board of Transport. According to these Acts and Regulations, Rumsey was assessed to be of sound mental and bodily health, and of good moral character and in order to be given an assisted passage, his skills had been assessed and were chosen with a special view to the promotion of the industrial pursuits of the colony.

    Assisted immigrant voyages to Australia during the latter half of the 19th century were a far cry from those in the 1830s and 40s. Social reformers such as Elizabeth Fry and Caroline Chisholm, and politicians such as the Agent-General for Emigration, were raising the awareness of the problems and perils of long distance voyaging. Their efforts, combined with the work of maritime safety campaigners like Samuel Plimsoll and James Ballingall, meant that an immigrant on a voyage to Australia in the 1880s and 1890s had a far safer and more comfortable voyage than their predecessors.

    From the 1830s conditions onboard immigrant ships were governed by a series of regulations drawn up by the British and Colonial Governments. These regulations stipulated the amount of space, food and water allocated to each passenger, as well as their moral and physical protection. Flagrant breaches of these regulations by profit hungry shipowners and the frequent maltreatment of female passengers by the ship's crew resulted in additional legislation being introduced in the 1840s and 1850s including The Passenger Acts of 1842 and 1855. The Colonial Land and Emigration Office in London also enforced the employment of matrons and surgeons on board all immigrant ships and the withholding of bounties from ship owners, officers and crew if complaints were received from passengers.

    Rumsey's ship the SS ARAWATTA had been chosen and assessed by the Colonial Land and Emigration Office (later the Emigration Commission) and the AUSN Co as the owners of the vessel had entered into a formal and legal Tender and Charter Party for the Conveyance of Passengers with the Commission to safely carry assisted immigrants to Australia. Under this tender, the AUSN guaranteed that the SS ARAWATTA was "tight, strong, and substantial, properly masted, rigged, equipped, and stowed and be in all respects seaworthy". It was equipped with "not less than two chronometers...two fire engines, four life buoys, a sufficient number of good boats...including a life boat". The SS ARAWATTA was also fitted "for the exclusive use and advantage of passengers, with proper and sufficient scuttles, stern ports, ventilators, bed places, seats, waterclosets, hospitals, bath room and dispensary".

    As a single male Rumsey was entitled to a set food and water ration which included beef, pork, preserved meats, salt, butter, biscuits, flour (for bread), oatmeal, peas, rice, potatoes, preserved vegetables, raisins, tea, coffee, sugar, molasses and water. Under The Passenger Act of 1855, Rumsey was entitled to "at least 15 clear feet for use as a berth along with access to the upper deck". As a Third Class or Steerage passenger, he would have been berthed in a communal cabin separated from his cabin mates by curtains or wooden partitions. He was also entitled to 20 cubic feet of cargo space for all his personal belongings - including his wooden chest - which he could access every three to four weeks for the exchanging of articles.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Gray chest carried by third class passenger Robert (Bert) Rumsey on a voyage from England to Sydney on board SS ARAWATTA in December 1889- Janauary 1890

    Web title: Third Class passenger Robert Rumsey's sea chest

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