Friday, April 15, 2016

The Voyage on the John Murray

Manifest of the John Murray
(click to enlarge)
Now that the name of the ship, and the place and date of entry into the United States is known, we need to see if we can determine additional information about the ship and the voyage from Ireland to America.  The ships manifest (passenger list) for the John Murray (shown above) gives some basic information.  The bark (barque, barc) John Murray, 295 tons burthen, arrived at Boston from Limerick on January 26, 1849, and was captained by William Lull.  There were 137 passengers on board; no deaths were reported among the passengers.1    

Limerick Pier about 1870
Newspapers provided maritime news from around the world, especially in port cities such as Boston.  They often gave information about the movement of specific ships and what ports they visited.   So it was with the John Murray.  From the Boston Daily Atlas dated 23 Oct 1847 we learn that the “new” barque John Murray left Bath, Maine for Boston.2   Bath was a major ship building area and it was likely here that the John Murray was built. She was immediately put into service.  Her first voyage appears to be from Boston to Havana (November 1847), to Bermuda (where she gave assistance to another ship), to Marseilles, France.  From there she went to Cadiz, Spain and back to Boston on July 26, 1848.3

November, 1848 found the John Murray in Limerick, Ireland.  Notice the advertisement at the right in the Limerick and Clare Examiner on November 8th.5    I have not found any other
Ad from Limerick and Clare Examiner
8 Nov 1848 (click to enlarge)
movements for the ship, so, this may have been her second voyage.  Notice the description of the ship – “First-Class Coppered Fastened Barque” of 700 tons burthen.   Also, notice that the ship was being fitted to carry passengers where she had carried cargo on her previous and subsequent voyages.  What is a barque, how large was the ship, and what accommodations did the family travel in? 

A barque refers to the type of ship and rigging used.  A typical barque is shown in the picture below left.6   A barque contains three (or more) masts with square rigged sails on all but the mast
Unidentified barque
at the stern (rear) of the ship.  The mizzenmast is “fore-and-aft” rigged with the sail running parallel to the keel.   Copper sheating was applied to the under-water portions of the hull to protect it from corrosion.7   A “burthen” of 295 or 700 tons does not refer to the weight of the ship but to cargo capacity.8   

Several years ago, while visiting Ireland, we stopped by the Dunbrody9 docked in New Ross.  I asked the staff at the museum if an estimate of the dimensions of a ship could be made based on the burthen given.  Evidently there are a lot of variables including the age of the ship, type of lumber used, the design and method of construction.  “Burthen” (or tons) is not a good indicator of what the ship looked like.  Even so, I did attempt to find dimensions for a barque of roughly 300 tons.  The average appears to be 106 feet long, 25 feet at the beam, and 15.5 feet in depth.10   

The average trip to America from Ireland was six weeks or about 35 days.  That would probably have been a summer voyage.  The Browne’s made a winter crossing, which made for a much different journey.  The John Murray left Limerick for Boston on November 15, 1848.  Several newspapers, including the Athlone Sentinel and the Tipperary Free Press, carried news of her departure.  They also described the 130 passengers as “mostly of the better class of peasantry.”11   The John Murray arrived in Boston on January 26, 1849, a journey of 72 days - double the average.  I have not been able to find other ports that the John Murray may have visited on that voyage to explain why it took so long to reach Boston; however, I have found information on the final stages of the journey.

The Marine Journal report in the Boston Courier for January 29, 1849 ran a story that on January  11, 1849, “ in a SW gale, [the John Murray] was hove down on her beam ends, and had decks
Marine Journal Boston-29 Jan 1849
(click to enlarge)
swept, lost camboose, bulwarks, &c.”12   (See image at left.)    Several other ships in the vicinity also reported damage to masts and cargo.  One report stated the storm raged for two days.13   In the same newspaper on the same date, under the heading “Died” is reported, “Lost overboard, January 11, during a S.W. gale, from bark John Murray, on the passage from Limerick to this port, James Davis, cook, (colored) of Exeter, N H., aged about 40.”  A camboose [caboose] is the nautical term for a ships galley, or kitchen, on an open deck.14   Mr. Davis was obviously at his post during the storm that took his life.

What an absolutely terrifying time that must have been!  While all of the passengers were likely below deck with the hatches battened down, water still poured into the hold as the decks were washed with water soaking everyone and everything.   I’m also sure the passengers could have heard the commotion of the
Passenger bunks Dunbrody
sailors on deck battling the storm and poor Mr. Davis being washed overboard which added to their terror.   With each roll of the ship, people and belongings would have been tossed about like sacks of potatoes hitting bunks, and other passengers, lining the sides of the hold.  While no one died on the voyage, (according to the passenger list), there were likely injuries to many of the occupants – bumps and bruises and probably broken bones if not worse.   (See picture of hold above16)

We have some idea of what those two days on the ship were like; we don’t know about the other seventy days.  They still had two weeks before they reached Boston and had already been on the ocean 57 days.  The John Murray ads in the newspapers always catergorized her as “fast-sailing.”   What else happened on the voyage to make it take so long?  American ships carried more and better rations, but, after so many days at sea, what food supplies were left, and, were they damaged in the storm? 

The ship nearly capsized, and probably would have had the ship not been new and strong.  Equipment on a new ship would have been in better condition.  An older ship, where the timbers were weakened by age, probably would have broken apart and everyone would have been lost.  The competency of the crew also added to the outcome of the crossing.  Sailors on American ships earned higher wages and were better seamen.15   So, while we initially questioned why an American ship was chosen over a less expensive British ship to Canada, I think we can be very glad they did or there may not be a story for the Browne family to be told.

The next post will tell of the early days of the family in America.

P.S.  While I was doing research for this post, I discovered that the whaling ship, Charles W Morgan built in 1841 in Massachusetts and docked at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, is also a barque.  Although she had more cargo capacity and was never used as a passenger vessel, the outer dimensions are roughly the same as the John Murray.  The website for Mystic Seaport has information on the restoration of the Morgan which contains a couple of short film clips showing her under full sail in 1921 before she was retired and after restoration in 2014.  You might find the clips interesting.     

1.       Passenger List, NARA "Massachusetts, Boston Passenger Lists, 1820-1891." Database with images.  FamilySearch. : John Murray January 26, 1849; Citing NARA microfilm publication M277, Roll 28, Washington D.C.; National Archives and Records Administration  

2.       “Boston Daily Atlas Marine Journal – Domestic Ports – Bath.”  Boston Daily Atlas, Boston, Massachusetts, October 23, 1847, Online Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers available through the Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio. 

3.       “Marine Journal.” Boston Daily Atlas, Boston, Massachusetts, Online Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers available through the Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio; November 16th and 23rd, 1847; February 24, 1848, April 1, 1848, June 12, 1848, and July 26, 1848.

4.       Picture of Limerick harbor, 663, Ireland, Lawrence Collection of photographs, 1870-1910 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; Operations, Inc., 2011.

5.       Advertisement, Limerick and Clare Examiner, November 8, 1848, Find My Past, online at

6.        United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs, digital ID det.4a25817, Unidentified sailing ship.,   Other copies of the image have identified the ship as the Salmon P Chase built 1878.  She was 142 tons at 115 feet in length and 25 feet wide.

7.       Glossary of Nautical Terms, Wikipedia, online at

8.       Builder’s Old Measurement, Wikipedia, online at   There are several methods of measuring capacity using the length, width (beam), and depth of the ship.   Historically, a ton (tun) was a wine container of 252 gallons that weighed about 2,240 lbs (a long ton).  A ton averaged 100 cubic feet.  The number of containers that a ship could carry determined the “ton” capacity of the ship.  The large discrepancy between the capacity shown in the advertisement (700 tons) and that shown when the John Murray reached Boston (295 tons) may have been an attempt to fill the ship with more passengers than allowed even though the Limerick agents were aware of new American regulations as evidenced in the text of the ad.  (See previous post, Arrival in America, for discussion of the 1847 shipping regulations.)       

9.        The original Dunbrody was built in 1845 in Quebec.  She was 458 tons and measured 110 feet long, 26 feet at the beam, and 18 feet deep.  From 1845 until 1851, she carried anywhere from 160 to over 300 emigrants on each voyage from Ireland to Canada.  The ship that can be visited today is a replica of the original.  More information on the Dunbrody is available at          

10.   Lloyds of London Register of Ships gives a listing and description of ships sailing from British ports.   It is available online at .  Beginning in 1863, in addition to tonnage, the registry began recording dimensions of the vessels.  To obtain an average, I looked at the 1863 registry for “barques” built in the 1840s that were between 280 and 320 tons.  While there were many such ships, I limited my calculations to fifteen randomly selected ships in that group.  The John Murray was not shown in the registry for any year, perhaps because it was an American ship. 

11.   Athlone Sentinel, November 22, 1848, page 3.  Available online at Find My Past.

12.   Marine Journal, Boston Courier, Boston, Massachusetts, January 29, 1849, Online Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers available through the Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio.

13.   Reports for the Avon, Fanny, and Leander in the Boston Courier in the February 1st and February 8th issues tell of the damages sustained by those ships.  Online Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers available through the Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio.

14.   Glossary of Nautical Terms, op. cit.

The phrase “on her beam ends” indicated that the ship was above 45ᵒ or nearly vertical on her side.

15.   Woodham-Smith, Cecil, The Greeat Hunger, Harper & Row Publishers, New York and Evanston, 1962, pp. 212-213

16.   Photo of the hold of the Dunbrody, September, 2012, from the collection of the author. The bunks on the John Murray would have looked similar, although they were but temporary structures while those on the Dunbrody were permanent.  Each bunk was shared by four adults, more if there were children.  Also, there may be more headroom on the Dunbrody than on other ships that had temporary living quarters.


  1. Mary Ann, this information is so fascinating and makes the story come alive. Thank you for your meticulous research. I am so glad that I am able to have access to this and to be able to enjoy learning more about the Brown family.

    1. Thanks for the kind comment. I have been able to find more than I ever thought possible - about the voyage and the ship. All of a sudden, information is becoming available. . .

  2. Thanks for sharing! My cousin, KC Walker told me about your work and I love your writing. (We're descendants of Johanna Brown.)

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. Hope the information helps in understanding the environment and issues our ancestors faced.