Greg’s great great grandfather John Plowright (1831 – 1910) was a seaman from King’s Lynn, Norfolk. On admission to Maryborough Hospital in Victoria in 1873 for an ear injury he stated that he had arrived in the colony on the “Speculation” from London about 1853 and that his occupation was mariner. He wasn’t listed as a deserter; perhaps he left the ship legally. His statement is anyway at least partly corroborated by the facts: in 1853 the “Speculation” had indeed sailed from London on 19 May, arriving in Victoria on 21 September.
Two years before the “Speculation” sailed from London, in 1851, John Plowright was recorded as a twenty-year-old seaman living in a boarding house at 7 & 8 Albert St, Tower Hamlets, in the parish of St Pauls Shadwell. At the same address were nine other seamen from King’s Lynn. There was also a seaman from Wells, one from Bristol, one from Dublin, and one from London. The boarding-house keeper, named Thomas Ward, was from Southery and his wife Ann from Stoke Ferry, villages ten miles south of King’s Lynn. There was one live-in female servant from Cork.
Albert Street was 1½ miles north of the Thames docks. From 1846 the area was becoming more and more urbanised. Included in the development were cottages, flats and lodging houses built by the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes. This was a privately-run for-profit society founded in 1842 with the aim of providing affordable housing for the working classes. The buildings in Albert Street, Mile End New Town were exhibited for the 1851 Great Exhibition. (Example model dwellings were built next to the Crystal Palace and plans and publications displayed inside).
In the twentieth century Albert Street was renamed Deal Street. Some of the buildings survive, but with streets renamed and buildings renumbered I am not sure where the boarding house at 7-8 Albert Street was and if it is still standing. I am also not sure if John Plowright was living in one of these new buildings or in an older building; on the north side of Pleasant Row there were buildings which had been developed in the latter half of the eighteenth century.
I have yet to follow up if any others of the seamen living at 7 – 8 Albert Street in 1851 also came to Australia. I don’t know if John Plowright kept in contact with them.
- 1851 English census retrieved from ancestry.com
- ‘Mile End New Town’, in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, ed. F H W Sheppard (London, 1957), pp. 265-288. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol27/pp265-288 [accessed 22 April 2020].
- Leckie, Barbara. “Prince Albert’s Exhibition Model Dwellings.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=barbara-leckie-prince-alberts-exhibition-model-dwellings [accessed 22 April 2020].