Image of the SS Great Britain from Great Great Aunt Rose’s photograph album

A few days ago, when I was researching the Beggs family voyage to Australia—on the SS Great Britain in 1868—I couldn’t find them on the passenger list.

I believed—mistakenly, as it turned out—that first-class passengers, paying their own way, and so not registered as assisted immigrants, were listed separately or not at all.

The explanation is simpler. The clerk or clerks responsible for compiling the passenger list wrote the surname ‘Beggs’ as ‘Briggs’. They were described as ‘English’ not ‘Irish’ or ‘Australian’, and Frank Beggs, a boy of 18, became a young lady of 18.

A very helpful collections officer of the SS Great Britain Trust pointed me to the correct entries on the passenger list. Mis-spellings were quite common, she said.

The Beggs family, despite the clerical error of the surname and Frank’s gender-reassignment, is obviously the list’s Briggs family. The combination of names and ages completely matches the Beggs family and their 9 children.

As for their nationality, the passenger list has provision for English, Scotch, Irish, or other countries. Frank Beggs senior and his wife Maria were born in Ireland but had emigrated to Australia in 1849, nearly twenty years previously. Their children, except the youngest, Gertrude, were born in Australia. Even so, it would have been unusual at the time to describe them as Australian: they were British or—stretching it a little—English.

The passenger list has the port of embarkation Liverpool and date of departure 8 July 1868. There were 612 on board of whom 72 were saloon passengers including the Briggs family. The Briggs were described as English and were contracted to land at Melbourne

  • Mr F Briggs adult profession, occupation, or calling of passenger: Gentleman
  • Mrs Briggs adult Lady
  • Fras Briggs 18 female Lady
  • Elizth Briggs 16 female Lady
  • Charlotte Briggs 14 female Lady
  • Maria Briggs 11 female child
  • Clamina Briggs 10 female child
  • Theodore Briggs 8 male child
  • Robt Briggs 6 male child
  • Hugh Briggs 4 male child
  • Gertrude Briggs 2 female child

There appears to be no nurse or governess travelling with the Beggs family in the saloon.