After almost five months, many trains, planes, buses and boats, I have arrived in Australia. It’s a very early morning landing after a short flight over night to Darwin. I am ‘down under’. The water does go down the plug hole the wrong way, and while acclimatising myself (and waiting to be able to check in to my hostel) I am genuinely greeted with a cheery ‘G’day mate’. Cars have stopped to let me cross the road, and of the few people I have seen, I’m the only one who isn’t running. Feeling a little like Alice, I think I may have stepped through the looking glass.
Just a few days here before I cross the desert on The Ghan, and I’m occupied with this being Annie’s last visit and the Sunbeam’s last port of call before she died of malaria while heading home. Annie had been unwell for some time. It was mentioned that she may have contracted malaria at the Madai caves in Borneo, although I have also since read that it could have been the Panama Canal. Either way, Annie had experienced poor health for a considerable time. Despite this, she had continued in many duties regarding the St Johns Ambulance, travelling, entertaining, writing and other Ladyship activities. She wasn’t one to be easily distracted or put off from something (see previous post).
So although this is far from the end of my journey with Annie, it is a punctuation in the trip. At this stage in the Last Voyage Annie’s journal ends. Her son TAB however, also kept a journal and it is this which I refer to in learning of her last days. He writes very personal accounts of life on board the Sunbeam, tending to his mother’s bedside and day to day life as family sit all hoping she will again pull through.
6th September “…Port Darwin is an enormous harbour with arms running in all directions, but it is not pretty as the shores are low with the exception of Table Hill, on which Palmerston stands. They have had some cases of small pox at Palmerston so for fear of being quarantined by Mauritius we determined to hold no direct communication with the shore…
…The railway is already finished for some 25 miles from here and the section as far as the gold fields…should be completed within the year…
…The doctor who came on board to see Mother did not speak very hopefully of the prospect of the Northern Territory…Mother, who was lying on the deck had her long chair turned that she might see them [supplies of coal and food coming aboard]. She has been so terribly weak today that the doctor almost despairs of her pulling through, but in spite of this she insisted upon sorting all the letters and papers this morning…” (TAB Thomas Allnutt Brassey, 16 Months of Travel, 1887).
On the 7th September the Sunbeam started its voyage on to Mauritius.
One week later, on the 14th September, Lady Annie Brassey died. Passing away “peacefully and painlessly” (TAB, 1887).
“…We buried her the same evening at sunset. The body was borne aft to the lee of the gangway by the four oldest hands, Mr Kindred, John Fale, Muston and Mr Jones. The doctor read the service. Father read a few words on her life instead of the lesson, and her body was committed to the deep. Nothing can be more solemn or more impressive than a funeral at sea, and it was a fitting end for her who loved the sea so well. Our great consolation is that we were all with her at the last and that these last days have been so peaceful and so quiet.” TAB 16 Months of Travel, 1887.
Working with the Northern Territory Library, I have been able to trace records of the time which show the outbreak of small pox at Port Darwin and document the arrival of the Sunbeam. The Administrators report for the following year also shows the doctor who attended Lady Brassey, noted by TAB in his journal at the time.
“Unhappily Lord Brassey’s visit here was made under most sorrowful as well as most unfavourable circumstances. The Sunbeam arrived on September 6th with Lady Brassey seriously ill with malarial fever she contracted on the Queensland coast [a third contender!]. …Dr Wood was called into consultation, and thought Lady Brassey’s state of health presented very serious symptoms. As is now well known with deep regret Lady Brassey expired within a week after leaving Port Darwin.
[Due to the small pox outbreak at Palmerston] Lord Brassey did not think it expedient that he or any of the visitors on the Sunbeam should land. I was permitted, however, to have a long conversation with Lord Brassey from my gig, and such information as under these circumstances could be furnished was supplied.” Government Residents Report on Northern Territory for the year 1887.
With thanks to Margaret and Suzy of the Northern Territory Library, Darwin for all your help and for tracking down this report for me.