There are three main sailing routes to Australia from Britain. For most of the 1800s, gold diggers and migrants to Australia sailed to Australia on a route via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The ‘clipper route’ ran from west to east through the Southern Ocean and made use of the strong prevailing winds of the Roaring Forties (waters between 40 and 50 degrees south). Sailing ships took up to four months to complete the journey. However, specially designed clippers such as the Cutty Sark could complete the trip in just over ten weeks. The clipper route was very dangerous and ships had to battle storms, fierce winds, huge waves, and icebergs. Conditions on board were appalling, particularly for passengers in steerage on the lower deck where the cargo was stored. As many as one in five children, and one in 60 adults died before reaching Australia.
Suez Canal Route
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 presented an alternative route to Australia. P&O and Orient Line steamers started using the new route to deliver mail to Australia. However, it was a few decades before steam ships were able to make it all the way to Australia under their own steam.
By the time Ten Pound Poms started emigrating to Australia on migrant ships the route via the Suez Canal had become hugely popular. This allowed the Ten Pound Poms to make some exciting and memorable stopovers in Egyptian, Indian and Sri Lankan ports before crossing the equator and setting course for Australia. Initially, it took around five weeks to complete the passage. The length of the journey was shortened as ships became faster and more powerful.
The first port of call in Australia was Victoria Quay in Fremantle, Western Australia. Ships then sailed the length of the south coast of Australia through to Adelaide, Station Pier in Melbourne, Circular Quay in Sydney, before heading up the east coast to Brisbane.
Panama Canal Route
An alternative route had to be found when the Suez Canal was closed during the Suez Crisis (1956-1957) and following the Arab-Israeli wars (1967-1975). Ships reverted to using the old clipper route via Lisbon and around the Cape of Good Hope. The other option was to cross the North Atlantic Ocean and go through the Panama Canal in Central America.
How did you travel to Australia? Tell us about your journey and share your photos in the Ten Pound Pom forum.