Virtue of a Governess - By Anne Brear
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Nicola stood on the worn deck, one hand holding the rail, the other raised to shield her eyes from the sun’s harshness reflecting off the dark water. A cool breeze rippled over her, reminding her that July in this part of the world was winter. Not much else seemed different for she was used to the strange looking trees now, as they’d been hugging the coastline for a few weeks. At first, the sharp smell of the eucalypt trees, with their thin grey-green leaves and the piercing squawks of unfamiliar birds had been a novelty after weeks of ocean. She had filled a sketchbook of the new land in the glimpses she’d been afforded from the ship’s deck. Once settled, she’d do many more and try to sell them. Lord knows she needed any income available.
Shaking her head, she pulled her black shawl tighter around her shoulders, closing her eyes for a moment. She had to think positive thoughts. But, try as she might, the confidence, which had made her tempt such a drastic alteration to her life, began to ebb as easily as the tide beneath the ship. The excitement that gripped her on the wharves at Liverpool had vanished on waking this morning and realising that today they would dock, her ocean journey would end and a new life in a new country would start.
Behind her the ship’s crew urgently jostled each other as they prepared to disembark. Amongst the flotilla of the vast harbour, a small white boat sailed towards the Lady Fair, the ship that had cradled her for seventy-one days. An easy voyage the crew stated, but she was simply relieved to have reached the other side of the world without mishap.
A weather worn deckhand paused by her side. “Ere, Miss, yer off on’t first boat?”
She turned to him, unable to smile for the nervousness that coiled her insides like the rope loops the sailors twisted. “Yes, if I am able. Is that it there?”
He looked to the small boat coming close to rub alongside the hull. “No, that’s the pilot’s boat, taking him back ashore. He’s done his job and got us safely through the harbour.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Yer passed all clear?”
“Yes, Mr Gyngell, the surgeon, signed my papers. I’m in excellent health.” She glanced away as a line of rowboats headed towards them. The first one bumped alongside the ship’s bulk. The flurry of activity in securing the small boat kept her speechless for a moment. She gazed over at the busy wharves and nibbled her upper lip in apprehension. She would need all her strength and well being to cope with what was ahead.
A vista of sailing ships, timber warehouses, pale stone buildings and narrow streets opened out before her. People scurried like mice found in a corn barrel. For a fleeting moment she wished one of those people were meeting her.
“How much do yer have below, Miss?” the seaman asked patiently.
He bent down to grasp her green velvet carpetbag. “Is this going over the side with yer?”
“Yes, thank you.” She followed him to the rail where the First Mate stood giving orders. She interrupted the officer. “Excuse me, may I go ashore now?”
The First Mate, Jones, flashed her a short smile. “Ah, Miss Douglas. I see from my list you have been passed by the ship’s doctor and your papers are correct.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Is there anyone coming aboard to meet you, Miss Douglas?”
“No.” She raised her chin in defiance to her plummeting heart. She would cope alone. Hadn’t she been doing it for two years? Would this new place, this new town...Sydney be very different from home? The country was full of Englishmen, her people; they had the same language and customs. What did she have to worry about?
“Very well, since all is in order—”
‘Thank you.” She nodded once, her gloved fingers gathering her black skirts in preparation to descend into the little boat below. With a deep breath, she climbed down the rope ladder until thick hands held her steady at the bottom.
Gripping the sides of the rowboat, she balanced herself and sat down. She was used to the gentle sway of the ship, but the rowboat’s wild rocking as it filled with passengers alarmed her and she clutched her bag in mounting fear of being flung into the shadowy blue-green depths just inches away.
The crew settled themselves into the pull of the oars and the regular splash while they crept towards the wharf calmed