This page was last updated on 24 February 2024

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Douglas - The Death Ship






A small ship, with two masts, The 379 ton Douglas was sheathed in copper(1).

Built in Hull in East Yorkshire, England, in 1846, she was owned by Collinson and her Port of registry was London.

Her Master in 1850 was Captain Douglas (1851 - Captain M Rogers).

With a total of 21 deaths, mainly from cholera, on the voyage to Australia in 1850, the ship was called The Death Ship in South Australian newspapers. There were lengthy complaints published about the officers and surgeon (REGISTER January 12, 1850). Other referred to the ship as 'The Black Douglas'.



**The Tragic Tale of the 'Douglas': A Voyage of Suffering and Neglect**

The year is 1850, and the South Australian Register brings forth a chilling report of a voyage marked not by the promise of new beginnings but by the harrowing grip of death and despair. The 'Douglas', once a name whispered in fear throughout Scotland, now emerges as a vessel of infamy upon the shores of South Australia, leaving in its wake a trail of sorrow and neglect.

In the annals of maritime history, the 'Douglas' stands as a grim testament to the darker realities of seafaring life. What began as a journey of hope for many, seeking new horizons in distant lands, descended swiftly into a nightmare of unimaginable proportions. The promises of kindness and sustenance made by brokers were but hollow echoes, drowned out by the relentless specter of death that haunted the ship.

The chronicle of horrors onboard the 'Douglas' reads like a macabre symphony of suffering and indignity. Amidst the scarcity of provisions, passengers were forced to resort to desperate measures for survival. Rats, once vermin to be eradicated, became sustenance for the desperate souls confined to the ship's cabins and steerage. The sale of personal effects, the grotesque dance of the captain with a lady's bustle, and the sordid transactions of liquor at exorbitant prices only served to deepen the atmosphere of despair.

Medical comforts, essential for the preservation of life, were withheld until the eleventh hour, leaving many to languish in agony without relief. The rampant spread of diseases like cholera claimed numerous lives, with the ship's corridors echoing with the wails of the afflicted. In the absence of proper care and attention, even the most mundane tasks became fraught with peril, as evidenced by the tragic demise of passengers in the prime of their lives.

Amidst this tableau of misery, moral depravity found fertile ground to flourish. Officers indulged in libertine behavior, while drunken revelry permeated the very fabric of daily life onboard. The veneer of civilization crumbled beneath the weight of desperation, revealing the stark realities of human nature laid bare in the face of adversity.

The 'Douglas' stands not only as a vessel adrift on the unforgiving seas but as a symbol of systemic failure and neglect. The pursuit of profit at the expense of human lives laid bare the callous indifference of those entrusted with the well-being of the passengers. The cheap system vessels, marketed as a lifeline for the less fortunate, proved to be little more than conduits of suffering and exploitation.

As the South Australian Register solemnly observes, death continues its relentless march aboard the 'Douglas', claiming more victims in a macabre dance of misery and intoxication. The very guardians of the ship, entrusted with the safety and welfare of its passengers, are themselves ensnared in the throes of drunken stupor, complicit in the unfolding tragedy.

The saga of the 'Douglas' serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of human life in the face of adversity and neglect. It stands as a testament to the enduring resilience of the human spirit, even in the darkest of times. May its tale serve as a cautionary beacon, guiding future generations away from the treacherous waters of apathy and indifference, towards a brighter horizon of compassion and empathy.

1. The copper sheathing was to make her free of barnacles, hence the expression copper-bottomed.

2. This is the ship that Margaret Landells, nee Douglas, died on in 1849, as did her son William. Possibly born in Alnwick, Northumberland, she married Adam Landell(s) (b. 1813, Alnwick. d. 1883 in NZ). Apparently they married in 1832 (supposedly Gretna Green). They had 8 children. Also on board were Jas Douglas, Ed Douglas and Adam Landells.




Sources for this article inlude:
•  Adelaide Observer 12th and 19th January 1850

See also:

  • Ships named Douglas




    Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



    Errors and Omissions

    The Forum

    What's new?

    We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

    If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


    Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


    You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


    If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

    You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

    Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


    2 Minute Survey

    To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


    We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

    We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

    Help with costs

    Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



    If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!



    Back to top


    The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

    The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

    As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

    Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

    Contact Us

    Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024