Audiobook Review: HELL SHIP by Michael Veitch

About the Book

The riveting story of one of the most calamitous voyages in Australian history, the plague-stricken sailing ship Ticonderoga that left England for Victoria with 800 doomed emigrants on board.

For more than a century and a half, a grim tale has passed down through Michael Veitch's family: the story of the Ticonderoga, a clipper ship that sailed from Liverpool in August 1852, crammed with poor but hopeful emigrants- mostly Scottish victims of the Clearances and the potato famine. A better life, they believed, awaited them in Australia.

Three months later, a ghost ship crept into Port Phillip Bay flying the dreaded yellow flag of contagion. On her horrific three-month voyage, deadly typhus had erupted, killing a quarter of Ticonderoga's passengers and leaving many more desperately ill. Sharks, it was said, had followed her passage as the victims were buried at sea.

Panic struck Melbourne. Forbidden to dock at the gold-boom town, the ship was directed to a lonely beach on the far tip of the Mornington Peninsula, a place now called Ticonderoga Bay.

James William Henry Veitch was the ship's assistant surgeon, on his first appointment at sea. Among the volunteers who helped him tend to the sick and dying was a young woman from the island of Mull, Annie Morrison. What happened between them on that terrible voyage is a testament to human resilience, and to love.

Michael Veitch is their great-great-grandson, and Hell Ship is his brilliantly researched narrative of one of the biggest stories of its day, now all but forgotten. Broader than his own family's story, it brings to life the hardships and horrors endured by those who came by sea to seek a new life in Australia.

My Thoughts

My interest in history comes with little thanks to the education I received in my youth. My recollection of those classes was learning about important events by memorising dates, geography and not much else. It was boring!

What we needed was books like HELL SHIP. Veitch has done a wonderful job with his well researched account of not only the horrendous journey of the Ticonderoga from the UK to Australia but the multitude of economic and political circumstances that made such journeys a necessity for so many people.

Veitch’s initial interest obviously lies in the fact that his ancestors were on the Ticonderoga but his focus is broader than just his family. The result is a comprehensive and integrated narrative that made me feel invested in this journey and the people undertook it.

Audio: I listened to the audio version of this book which is narrated by the author. The narration was well-paced and intelligible but there is a part of me that wishes a narrator with more of a dramatic flair had been used.  And yes, I say this even knowing the author’s CV.

About the Author

Michael Veitch describes himself in just two words: ‘actor’ and ‘writer’. Actually, add ‘broadcaster’. Three words. Hm, better throw in TV Presenter. How many’s that? Definitely not more than, say, five words. Maybe more. He does a lot of things.