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An Autobiography

Towards Australia
Although my mother's family had lost heavily by him, her mother gave us 500 pounds to
make a start in South Australia. An 80-acre section was built for 80 pounds, and this
entitled us to the steerage passage of four adults. This helped for my elder sister and two
brothers (my younger brother David was left for his education with his aunts in
Scotland), but we had to have another female, so we took with us a servant girl--most
ridiculous, it seems now. I was under the statutory age of 15. The difference between
steerage and intermediate fares had to be made up, and we sailed from Greenock in July,
1839, in the barque Palmyra, 400 tons, bound for Adelaide, Port Phillip, and Sydney. The
Palmyra was advertised to carry a cow and an experienced surgeon. Intermediate
passengers had no more advantage of the cow than steerage folks, and except for the
privacy of separate cabins and a pound of white biscuit per family weekly, we fared
exactly as the other immigrants did, though the cost was double. Twice a week we had
either fresh meat or tinned meat, generally soup and boudle, and the biscuit seemed half
bran, and sometimes it was mouldy. But our mother thought it was very good for us to
endure hardship, and so it was.
There were 150 passengers, mostly South Australian immigrants, in the little ship. The
first and second class passengers were bound for Port Philip and Sydney in greater
proportion than for Adelaide There was in the saloon the youthful William Milne, and in
the intermediate was Miss Disher, his future wife. He became President of the Legislative
Council, and was knighted. There was my brother, J. B. Spence, who also sat in the
Council, and was at one time Chief Secretary. There was George Melrose, a successful
South Australian pastoralist; there was my father's valued clerk, Thomas Laidlaw, who
was long in the Legislative Council of New South Wales and the leading man in the town
of Yass. "Honest Torn of Yass" was his soubriquet. Bound for Melbourne there were Mr.
and Mrs. Duncan, of Melrose, and Charles Williamson, from Hawick, who founded a
great business house in Collins Street. There were Langs from Selkirk, and McHaffies,
who became pastoralists. Our next cabin mate, who brougut out a horse, had the
Richmond punt when there was no bridge there. All the young men were reading a thick
book brought out by the Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge about sheep, but they
could dance in the evenings to the strains of Mr. Duncan's violin, and although I was not
14, I was in request as a partner, as ladies were scarce. Jessie Spence and Eliza Disher,
who were grown up, were the belles of the Palmyra. Of all the passengers in the ship the
young doctor, John Logan Campbell, has had the most distinguished career. Next to Sir
George Grey he has had most to do with the development of New Zealand. He is now
called the Grand Old Man of Auckland. He had his twenty-first birthday, this experienced
surgeon(!) in the same week as I had my fourteenth, while the Palmyra was lying off
Holdfast Bay (now Glenelg) before we could get to the old Port Adelaide to discharge.
My brother saw him in 1883, but I have not set eye on him since that week in 1839. We
have corresponded frequently since my brother's death. In his book "Poenama," written
for his children, there is a picture of the Palmyra, with an account of the voyage and the
only sensational incident in it. We had a collision in the Irish Sea, and our foremast was
broken, so that we had to return to Greenock for repairs, and then obtained the concession