JOHN HOARE'S FAMILY HISTORY
John Cheesman, born 1832
first draft 1/10/2010 reformatted 9.2013
John Hasty has sent me this fascinating 'life story' of a John Cheesman, born of an established Brighton family, who emigrated to Australia in 1852. His life was by any standards eventful. Am I related to him? So far no, but his family are in the records and there is circumstantial evidence that we could share common ancestors.
'The Life of John Cheesman'
I am the fifth son of the late David Cheesman of Southwick, near Brighton, Sussex, England who was a merchant and Wharfinger at the seaport of Shoreham. I was born at Southwick on the 15th October, 1832. My father doing a great business in France, and the General Steam Navigation Company's boats sailing from his Wharf to Diepie in France, rendered it necessary for a person who knew the French language to be in the office to act as interpreter. At the age of ten, I was, in 1842 sent to the College-de Bolbec Seine Inferieure, France, to be educated.
I was sixteen years old and in France when the Revolution in 1848 started (when Louis Philippe was dethroned) but my parents, thinking that the French might turn against the English, sent for me to come home and I landed again in England in 1848. In the meantime I had been home for my Christmas holidays every year, and when I first landed, I was a regular Frenchman, having forgotten many of my English words. My eldest sister who spoke French fluently , came to the rescue and in about a week I was and Englisher again.
Of my residence in France, I have nothing but pleasant recollections. On returning to England I was sent to Christchurch Grammar School, Brighton to finish my education. Since I had been sent to France, great changes had taken place in home affairs. My father, having disposed of his business, and the French traffic and Steam-boats, being transferred to Deverand Newhaven. Me out of school apprenticed to a Brighton firm of soft goods and Drapers. After eighteen months with them, finding that too much confinement did not agree with me I left them and went to sea I was seventeen and a half years of age.
Now nearly all my relations were connected with maritime affairs, and I could have gone with any of them. My father thought it would be better for me to go with a stranger, so I went with Captain James Glazebrook in the brig "Kingston by sea". After many voyages in the coasting trade and in the summer time a voyage to the white sea to Onega and Archangel, my father having died in the meantime, I left the "Kingston by sea" and shipped in the "Louisa", also a Shoreham vessel. After two or three voyages, I got tired of the coasting trade, and greatly against my dear old mother's wish, went to London and shopped in the Barge [probably 'barque - jh] "Union" bound for Launceston, Tasmania. In the meantime, there had been great talk of gold having been found in big lumps in Australia, and my idea was to get out to the Goldfields.
So in 1852 at the age of 22 years we started from the London Docks. We had a fine passage down the English Channel, and all went well for about four day after leaving, and then a circumstance occurred that upset things a bit aboard the ship. The Captain , Lawson, having been drinking pretty freely since we left, got the horrors and took to seeing phantom ships right ahead and strange lights etc. Some of the young fellows aboard got terribly frightened of him, and one night about ten o'clock, one young fellow named Alex McDonald was steering the ship quietly, with comfortable breeze on the quarter, when who should appear on the scene, coming towards him with nothing but his shirt, but the Captain.
Just before he got to him Alex let for the wheel and bolted for the forecastle with the Captain after him as hard as he could go. Alex never waited to go down the steps, but made a jump right to the bottom and got clear, and the Captain maintained he had gone overboard. After that the Chief Officer locked up all the spirits and kept them away from him and in about a week he got alright and took charge of the shop again. It was fortunate we had only a few passengers with us, a dozen all told. After that things went on alright for about a fortnight, when on night, about ten o'clock , just as I was comfortably settled in my hammock, I heard a terrible crash and was sent flying out of my bed. Of course we thought we had run into another ship, when we found that the ship had run on a coral reef and all was confusion. Fortunately, it was a beautiful moonlight night and after a very short time order was restored and we went below and put on some more clothes and then went to work with the will to get all the boats out as the ship was doomed, making water at the rate of an inch in ten minutes. After the passengers in the long boat, some of the crew took the jolly boat and the Captain the life boat with the rest of the crew, except four of us who were to take the Captains gig, when the Captain gave the order to shove off as the ship was sinking fast.
There was one regular old sea dog who was to go in the gig with us, who said "hold on a bit lads, if we are to go down to the fish to be eaten, we might as well take something with us." With that, he disappeared for about five minutes, and returned with two bottles of porter and cheese which he threw into the boat and then went back for more. Those of us in the boat threatened to leave him, but he did no mind what we said. The next time he appeared he says "it's alright lads, the ship wont sink she is already waterlogged." We proved this to be correct, and in the meantime the other boats had all left. We could here the Captain calling out for the boats to keep together and presently began to sing out "where are you in the gig?" By this time the old fellow had satisfied his craving for plunder and had got into the boat, so we shoved off and went for the others, the Captain wondering what we had been doing all that time. Of course old Harry told him a lie. He said the tackling had got foul and after all the plunder was no good to him for the Captain told us to go along side of his boat and take him in, as he wished to go back to the ship to see if she was waterlogged. So poor old Harry had to throw all his ill gotten gains overboard except one bottle which he stuck in his shirt but he found out after that he need not have risked so much, for there was plenty of everything wen we got aboard again, even champagne. I don't think there was a sober man aboard the ship for a solid week, except the Captain, Chief Officer and myself. As for me, I had enough champagne the first day to last me all my life for when I awoke the next morning, I had such a splitting headache that I wished myself dead. I didn't want anymore, and have never tackled it since.
The ship had a general cargo, so there was plenty of everything, most of it underwater, but being in zinc lined cases was not very badly damaged. The Captain informed us we had run on one of the reefs of the Cape de Verde Islands which I already knew, being a bit of a navigator and was keeping a log book. There was something queer about the affair, as according to my reckoning we ought to have been about thirty miles to the east of the Island. The idea was that the insurance money was the cause of the wreck. Anyhow there was no loss of life and we had nothing to complain of and very little was said, but like barbers parrot, there was a lot of thinking.
The whole of the cargo was got out of her by the Blackfellows who were wonderful divers and used to go down underwater and break them out and float them up to the hatchway. When they were hove up, put over the side of the ship and floated ashore by the blackfellows swimming with one hand and shoving with the other. The shore was about a quarter of a mile away from the ship, which had drifted onto the Island itself about a mile from the reef we were wrecked on. I was in request here as interpreter. The Commandant of the Islands was Portuguese and could not talk English, but could talk French. The Captain could talk nothing but English and of course it was a case of no savvy, until I heard the Commandant ask the Captain if he could speak French and I told him what he said and the Captain asked me how the devil I could tell what he had said (for no one aboard knew I spoke French). When I told him he was quite pleased and told me to fire away at him then and tell him all the particulars of the wreck. After discharging the cargo it was all sold by auction to the highest bidder, there being no bidders there but the English Consul with two or three friends and a few others, altogether not more than six or seven with any money. The things were subsequently sacrificed. If I had had a ten pound note by me I could have made quite a little fortune. Amongst other thing I remember a heap of printed silk handkerchiefs about twenty four feet in circumference at the base, forming a pyramid six feet high, which was sold for eight shilling and four pence, any one of which would not be sold in England under 5/6. An amusing incident occurred during the discharging by the blackfellows. They used occasionally, when no one was watching to break open a case and there was a lot of white night caps (mens) in it. They shoved in another until they got six together, then put them on their heads and looked quite grand, until a little later they broke open another case which contained red ones. Away went the white ones and they were soon seen flying about with the red ones on. It was quite comical to hear the yabbering amongst them. What puzzled me was to see the blackfellows all swimming away to the shore with cargo and often with messages (they never used a boat) , and sharks all around them. In fact the place was alive with sharks but they seemed to take no notice of each other. After being on the Island of Sal for about as month, living ion two meals a day consisting of goat and rice, we were sent in the Consul's yacht to the adjoining Island of St. Vincent, a British coaling place, and here we fared better getting plenty of oranges, bananas and wine. We soon got accustomed to the two meals a day and were perfectly satisfied. After being there in St. Vincent, the steam ship "Pacific", bound for Sydney, put in for coal. Myself and four shipped in a supernumeraries at 1/- a month and left our ship mates, who all returned home again with Captain and Officers.
After leaving the Cape de Verde Islands in the Pacific, we had a beautiful passage all the way to Melbourne. We called en route first a St. Helena, and then at Cape town also at Fremantle for coals arriving at Melbourne, February 1854. After staying a few days, we again left for Sydney where I left her. I might relate here one circumstance that happened on the way out in the Pacific, after I had been on board about a fortnight, one of the Quarter Masters was taken ill and the Chief Officer put me on to fill hes place which meant great things for me as Supernumerary I was only receiving 1/- a month, but when promoted to Quarter Master I was to receive 3 pounds 10 a month, but my promotion was very short lived , it caused a deal of jealousy with some of the older hands that they got on to me and led me such a life that I went to the Chief Officer and asked him to cancel it. He would not at first and told me not to take ant notice of them but my own conscience told me it was wrong as there were others (older hands) that should have been chosen, and as I persisted another was appointed and all was harmony again. As my messmates had to acknowledge it was a great sacrifice on my part.
After spending a few days in Sydney I shipped in a brig found to Melbourne loaded with coal and had a very rough time of it. We lost one set of sails and was blown bach through Bass Strait three times, when we sprung a leak and kept us pumping night and day until we arrived in Melbourne.
It took us four weeks for the passage, when if we had had the usual weather we should have done it in six days. After a few days I joined the schooner "Elizabeth" in a voyage to Warrnambool with a General Cargo after discharging which we went to Melbourne where I left her and the sea for all time and went up to the Gold diggings at Creswick creek. After trying two or three holes and some surface without and luck, we bottomed a hole with a little gold in it where I got my first piece of gold, 7 dwts and got it made into a ring, which I managed to keep through all time. After a short time at Creswick we went to Ballarat where me and a mate (one of the sailors of the last ship I was in) parted.
Many thanks to John Hasty for this story