Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Would you let your 10-yr-old travel on his own by ship from Sydney to London?

Nigel Boulton's mother did. Read these three brave letters from young Nigel, who sailed from Sydney on 9 September 1899. He was en route to attend the British Orphan Asylum, a boarding school at Slough in England.

Nigel & Stephen Boulton, England, Dec 1900
Nigel was born in Bundaberg, QLD in 1888, his bank manager father and his mother both being English. When Nigel's father died in Melbourne in 1895, the family back in England felt they had to ‘do something’ about educating Nigel and his younger brother Stephen. (Their sister didn’t count!) The school at Slough offered free tuition and board to the children of ‘gentlemen’ where the father had died leaving the family to suffer a declining standard of living. Entry to the school required a student to obtain sufficient ‘votes’ from the school’s financial supporters. Evidently the English relatives did a fine job promoting the cause of the Boulton boys, because both were accepted into the school.

Presumably Nigel was entrusted to the care of an adult known to his mother, but whoever stood in loco parentis was not mentioned in his letters. Nigel travelled on the ship S.S. Australia, otherwise known as R.M.S. Australia because it carried the Royal Mails.  The ship made headlines in 1904 when it was wrecked off the entrance to Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, after the pilot in charge of the ship made an error. Everyone on board was rescued.
S.S. Australia leaving Sydney Harbour in 1904

Young Nigel called at Melbourne and Adelaide before writing to his mother as his ship crossed the Great Australian Bight. He clearly felt his responsibilities and seemed old before his time:
S.S. Australia
Saturday 16th 99
My Dear Old Mother
I received your letter. I don’t think it would be wise to be vaccinated till after I reach Albany, for it is very rough now and I think I should be very sick, for it would be calmer I think. 
It is very rough now, and they have to put fiddles round the table to keep every thing from falling off, that is a railing round the table. 
I have broken the lock of my box, very, very sorry, mother but I will tie it with rope or fix it up somehow. 
Who will pay the doctor for vaccinating me, never mind, I will pay him with my 10 shillings. 
I am wear[ing] some new things every day, because Cook says he can get them washed for nothing. 
How are the Cales and Steve and babs, how is Steve getting on with his schooling, does he miss me much. Has Miss Tick left yet, hope not, give my love to her if she has not. Mr Wormley wrote me a Post Card and I wrote to Is and he wrote a Post Card back to me. 
Here his first letter ends. Thomas Cale was a storekeeper at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, where his mother also lived, in a cottage in Cascade Street, Wentworth Falls. It's possible his widowed mother now ran a guest house and that Miss Tick was a paying guest. Mr Wormley worked at the Wentworth Falls Railway Station. Steve was his 9-yr-old brother and babs was his 4-yr-old sister, Thea.

The ship called briefly at Albany on Sunday 17 September but Nigel had lost accurate track of the dates in his next letter:
S.S. Australia
Tuesday 20th 99
Dear Old Mother
I am enjoying my trip very much, it is very rough weather. I have been vaccinated, it does not hurt at all, I have not been sea-sick any more, I saw the doctor and he says it will take, don’t worry yourself mother, he says he will not charge anything. 
Has Denis been yet, has he sold the pie-bald; how is Bill getting on with the painting, has he painted a side yet, and did you get enough paint? How is everybody, all well I suppose. 
I am sorry to say that I am neglecting one of the things you told me to remember; it is to write in my Book, I am so taken up with the voyage. 
Does Babs miss me, does she ever ask of me. Give my love to Miss Thickner. 
I play men cards on the boat, and every time I beat them. 
The Officers got a bag-pipe and start playing on it it did sound funny. 
I have got 9/3 in hand, and I am not going to spend any more till I get to Colombo. 
Good Bye dear Mother
From your loving son
Nigel P Boulton 
The ship reached Colombo on 27 September, Suez on 9 October and on 21 October it stopped at Plymouth in England to unload the all-important mail from Australia. The ship docked in London several days before Nigel's 11th birthday on 29 October, a milestone which he celebrated with his English relatives, strangers to him. Auntie Connie was his long-dead father’s half-sister. She was married to bank manager William Pemble Doherty and they lived in a conmfortable house at Herne Hill, today an inner-south suburb of London. The four Doherty children, Nigel’s cousins, were around the same age as him.
Cosbycote Ave, Herne Hill, 2003

After Christmas he wrote from the Doherty home to his younger brother in far-off Australia:
Cosbycote Aven.
Jan 19th 1900
Dear Old Steve
I was so glad to get your letter that you wrote on December the 3rd. You must have been sharp to be top in the Lower Third. You will have your prize when this letter gets to you. 
We are called by our Sir names at school, you might think this funny, but it is a very good idea, as there might be six or seven Jacks in the School, how could you tell which from which? By calling them by their Sir Names, as they call me Boulton at school. If there are two brothers, they would call the oldest Primus and Secundus. Primus and Secundus are two Latin words which mean first and second. So you will have to get used to being called Boulton Secundus.
I will answer those questions you asked me in your last letter. 
1st. Who did I like best on board. I like Mr Cooke, the Second Saloon Barman. He would give me Lemonade and Gingerbeer for nothing, he was the man Isidore forgot to introduce me to. 
2nd. How did I like Thea’s photo. I like it very much indeed. She has altered a little since I saw her. 
3rd. Do I like the English School, I like it pretty well, it is not as nice as Mr Chiplin’s. I have to go to School on Saturday. But we have a half-holiday, on Wednesdays, and Saturdays, but I do not come home to Aunties I have to stop and play football. I am doing Fractions now, and Practise with Fractions in them not like Mr Chiplin taught me with Decimals. And I am getting on in French, and Latin. Tell Mr Chiplin I will write soon. Auntie wants to say something on the other side. 
Auntie says that she has not had time to write this mail, will you tell mother, she will write next, but if you are coming in July you will have to be here about the second week in May she thinks. 
Good Bye Steve 
From your Loving Brother 
Nigel Boulton 
Mr Chiplin was Walter James Chiplin, a gifted teacher at Nigel’s old school at Wentworth Falls. He deserved Nigel’s praise. Prior to his arrival at Wentworth Falls in 1896, he’d worked for four and a half years as the assistant at the Model School, Fort Street, the leading public school in Australia, and in addition he had university training. Parents at Wentworth Falls appreciated having a teacher of such ability to train their children but presumably it did not occur to the relatives in England that superior schooling was available in Australia. Nigel did not know, when he wrote, that Chiplin had just been promoted to a new school at Miranda in Sydney.

Nigel returned to Sydney aboard the Medic on 28 February 1904, this time travelling with his mother and sister, who'd been visiting their English relatives. Brother Stephen was still at school in England. Nigel completed his education at The King's School at Parramatta and went on to study medicine at the University of Sydney.

When Nigel next visited England, early in 1914, his life was turned upside-down. Read all about it in my book 'Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. and Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F., available from BookPOD.

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