Toowoomba author Jane Smith has launched her latest historical book Ship of Death: The Tragedy of the Emigrant.

Ship of Death tells the story of the horrific 1850 voyage and quarantine of the typhus stricken ship Emigrant, the second government sponsored immigrant ship to bring free settlers from the United Kingdom directly to Moreton Bay. The book focuses on the human stories of the main players in the drama, including some of the more colourful passengers, the captain and the doctors, two of whom perished in the course of duty. Some of the passengers went on to become eminent citizens, including John Fogarty, a child on the voyage, who was elected mayor of Toowoomba in 1887 and 1892. Ship of Death brings to life the hardships and hopes common to many of the early European immigrants to Australia,” says Smith. Former ABC journalist Kerry O’Brien, whose ancestors were passengers on the ill-fated voyage, has written a foreword. “Jane Smith … has added a rich vein to our understanding of the personal, individual legends of early white settlement in Queensland,” he writes. Since the release of the book, Smith has had heartening responses from many of the descendants such as O’Brien, who have supported the project.

The book was inspired by the author’s visit to the historic cemetery at Dunwich, Stradbroke Island, where the ship was quarantined for more than three months. “It was a government sponsored voyage and a long quarantine, so there was a lot of official correspondence and lists of passenger details,” says Smith. “I saw 26 little white crosses in two rows,” she recalls. “At one end there are the graves of the two doctors who lost their lives caring for the sick. At the other end is a plaque that simply lists the names, ages and birth places of the dead. The story of the six children who were orphaned in the ordeal was particularly tragic, and I couldn’t help but be moved by it. I saw the names and couldn’t help wondering about their lives. Who were they? What made them take the risk of emigration? And what happened to the loved ones they left behind?” With her extensive research into writing her book, Smith also travelled to Sydney, London, Plymouth and Edinburgh to find her primary sources and information for her story. “For the fates of survivors, I used birth, death and marriage records, gaol records, newspaper articles, family histories etc.”

Jane Smith is a librarian, editor and keen historical researcher who writes both fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. One of her children’s books was shortlisted for an Australian Book Industry Award, and another was on the 2017 Children’s Book Council of Australia ‘notable’ list. Her children’s book, The Runaway, was on the shortlist for the 2019 Australian Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award.

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