In May 1865 a dilapidated tea clipper well past her sailing prime lay in the Clarence Graving dock in Liverpool being fitted out for what was to become her most - and perhaps only - memorable voyage. The twelve-year old ship was the Mimosa, and she was bound for Patagonia, 7,000 miles away, carrying 153 Welsh emigrants.
Mimosa was a last resort. The Halton Castle, better equipped to carry passengers, was to have sailed with the emigrants in April. But, due to some mishap or miscalculation, she was still on the high seas by the beginning of May. Two men, Lewis Jones and Edwyn Berwyn, were already in Patagonia making preparations. Mimosa was not ideal, but she was better than nothing.
Planks were nailed to the walls of the hold to separate the men's sleeping quarters from the women's. Tables, benches and storage boxes were made, and a makeshift ladder was erected to enable the passengers to climb up to the deck. Perhaps on the insistence of the Non-Conformist Welsh minister, Michael D. Jones, or of his wife, who was financing the venture, the female figurehead (Was it bare breasted with long hair streaming wantonly in stylized eroticism'?) was removed and replaced by a simple scroll.
The cost of fitting, provisioning and chartering Mimosa was 2,500 pounds sterling. The fare for adults was twelve pounds, six for children, although inability to pay was not a barrier and anyone willing to go was accepted. No one knew how long the voyage would take, and provisions sufficient for a six-month voyage were supplied.
Because Mimosa was carrying passengers, her captain, George Pepperell, took on a crew of 18 which was a larger one than than needed for carrying only cargo. Most of the crew were the dregs of Liverpool. Two of the seamen were from a Swedish ship and one was from a Portuguese one, thereby adding further to the linguistic differences on board.
Upon discovering that his passengers were almost all unilingually Welsh speaking, Captain Pepperell signed on a young Welshman from Merioneth called Richard Berwyn (who became the first schoolteacher of the colony) as purser. Because, by law, a doctor was required for any ship carrying more than fifty passengers, a twenty one year old doctor from Ireland called Thomas Greene, who had completed his medical studies in April and who was looking for a medical position overseas, was signed on as ship's surgeon. Robert Nagle, the son of a Custom's superintendent in Barmouth, West Wales, was signed on as an Able Bodied Seaman to replace a crewman who deserted before the ship weighed anchor. The wage for all three was a shilling a month.
The 153 passengers came from all parts of North and South Wales, many of them following their preacher (there were three), and most had never travelled beyond their villages. There were 56 married adults, 33 single or widowed men and 12 single women who were either sisters of married passengers or servants, and the remainder were children or babies.
At 10 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, May 25, Mimosa was towed from the Clarence Craving Dock into the vast basin of the Victoria Dock; and on the Sunday a pilot guided her down the Mersey toward the open sea. As her acres of sails filled out in the wind and headed into St. George's Channel none could have known that Mimosa was sailing into history, and that her name was to become synonymous with the hopes and dreams, the hardships and disillusionments and the eventual triumphs of the passengers she carried.
Relationships between Captain Pepperell and his passengers were uncordial and worsened as the journey progressed. Clipper captains were not renowned for their good temper in an age when flogging crew was normal. He had a large crew to contend with, only one of whom he had sailed with before, and with women and children on board (not to mention three preachers!), the drinking and bad language had to he curtailed, further shortening tempers. Added to that was the anxiety of sailing to a destination unknown to him.The animosity between the captain and his passengers reached its peak when, half way through the voyage, Pepperell decided that in the interest of hygiene all the women should have their hair cut short. After vociferous protestation from the passengers, especially from the enraged father of the terrified teenage girl who had been seized by one of the crew to be shorn, Pepperell fired a pistol in the air to emphasize his authority, and grudgingly conceded that the women might keep their hair if he and the doctor inspected their heads daily. After the incident he forbade the passengers further access to the first deck, thereby making the cramped conditions even worse.
The journey took 65 days. Despite the daily issue of lime or lemon juice as a precaution against scurvy, many of the passengers began to suffer from boils and bleeding gums. The stench below decks in the heat of the tropics was intolerable. Some of the children were ailing even before they boarded - infant mortality in the 19th Century was high - and five died on the voyage. Two babies were born, one being to Rachel and Aaron Jenkins who, a fortnight before, had suffered the grief of burying their infant son at sea. A widow and widower, both with children, were married five days after leaving Liverpool. Whether they had met before boarding is not known.At a Brazilian port where they stopped to replenish provisions, Pepperell, weary of the voyage, endeavoured to persuade the passengers to disembark to join a colony already established in Brazil. The idea was not even considered. As Mimosa sailed further south, they encountered the cold of the South Atlantic. On clear days columns of vapour could be seen far out to sea. The thought of steamships sailing so far south was a comfort to the passengers that their destination was not as isolated as they had been led to believe. It was the mate who realized that the "smoke" was not from steamships, but from whales.
Finally, just before dawn on Thursday, July 27, Mimosa sailed into a natural harbour, a semi-circle of rocks, some 8 miles wide and 22 miles in length, and dropped anchor. Sleep was impossible, and most of the passengers, dressed in their Sunday best, were up at 4am, pacing the deck in their desire to sight the land where most would spend the remainder of their lives. The sun rose, and they awaited some sign that their arrival had been seen. At last, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, a gunshot from shore shattered the silence, and by late afternoon Lewis Jones and Edwyn Roberts rowed out to where Mimosa was anchored and came on board.
Disembarcation took more than a day, as the passengers had to be rowed the 20-odd miles into shore along with their possessions which included farm implements and pieces of furniture. The ship's cook Amos Williams from Caernarvon - evidently deciding that the uncertainty of what lay ahead for his countrymen was preferable to the certainty of what lay ahead on Mimosa, elected to remain with the colony. (Thomas Greene remained with the colony until the end of the year.)
Finally, the next day (a date that is celebrated every year in Wales and Patagonia as Glyn y Glaniad) all gathered on the beach. A short sermon of thanks was held, the child who had died the day before was buried, and the place where they stood was named Port Madryn after Madryn Castle on the windswept Llyn Peninsular in North Wales.Little is known of Mimosa after her voyage to Patagonia except that in the following year the entire crew mutinied over short rations and Pepperell was incarcerated on board. Some of the Liverpool merchants who had- shares in her became bankrupt or died, and their shares were bought by others.
What became of her is not known. Perhaps she followed the fate of other once-proud clippers and became a freighter tramping from port to port in search of any cargo she could get. Perhaps she was pounded to pieces on some reef or went down with all hands in a storm. Or perhaps she suffered the ultimate humiliation for .a clipper of being dismasted and used as a coating barge for the smoke-belching steamships that replaced sail.
Even the painting of her executed in her sailing prime outside Sydney Harbour has disappeared. Having been exhibited in the Parker Gallery in Pimlico, London, some years ago, it was bought by a collector living on the Isle of Wight. Upon his death, the painting again changed hands, and to date has not been traced.
Whatever Mimosa's demise, her name lives on, inseparable from those of the only passengers she is known to have carried.
( *) Susan Wilkinson, author of Sebastian's Pride, is the great-great-niece of Thomas Greene, the doctor on the Mimosa.
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