Like many other Australians with European heritage, I have several ancestors who spent more than 100 days on a ship travelling to Australia in the nineteenth century. There was ample time for births, deaths (and the occasional marriage); so some Australian family historians study those ships as others might towns in the old country.

My current focus for study is the ship Persia which left Plymouth (England) on 16 August 1861 and docked in Brisbane on 3 December. It delivered 438 people (including 4 born at sea) to the new colony of Queensland after losing 22 people on the voyage.

Much information about the vessel can be obtained by analysing the entries in the annual Lloyds Register of Shipping (now available through Google Books). enter image description here

I am confident of the following.

The Persia was a fully rigged ship of 1684 tons, over 200 feet long and almost 40 foot abeam. She was built in 1853 in Quebec from local timbers (Tamarack, Oak, Elm and Spruce).

In 1856, her bottom was covered in tar and felt then sheathed with yellow metal (an alloy of copper, zinc and tin). However she retained the iron bolts used in the original construction. The sheathing was renewed in 1860. This work was associated with other "minor repairs" in each case. Persia was again repaired in 1863.

In 1856, the vessel was operated by Thomas & Co out of London. By 1861, it was under the ownership of G Seymor but remained London registered. However, Persia continued to be subject to the inspection rules for British North American built vessels.

The major hole in my understanding is the name of the builder in Quebec and the identity of the yard in which the various repairs were made. Was the ship returned to the original builder for the refits?

The difficulty is that Persia was an extremely popular name for British ships in the period 1850-70. For most of that time there were at least four vessels of different sizes and rigging registered with Lloyds, all carrying the same name. For example, the vessel I am studying was NOT the Cunard steamship RMS Persia that held the blue riband for fastest trans-atlantic crossing.

I have seen an assertion that the builder in Quebec was George H. Parke (but have found no supporting evidence). Where should I look to find information on ship builders in Quebec in the 1850s?

  • Does anyone have a photo of the "Persia" circa 1896?
    – Robert
    May 26, 2020 at 4:19

3 Answers 3


A comprehensive book on the subject is:

Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The Story of the Square-Rigged Merchant Marine of British North America

Frederick William Wallace, Kessinger Publishing, Jul 2006 - 432 pages ISBN 978-1428657182

The book, first published in 1924, includes details of the shipbuilders of Quebec and elsewhere, and the main ships they built each year. The book can be previewed, apparently most pages, on Google Books.

On page 68, it mentions that Persia was built in 1853 in Quebec by George H Parke (who began building in 1835). Various online sources show two different displacements for that ship, this book picks 2002 tons, so it's still possible it's the wrong ship. The book does not quote sources that could be verified further, but seems a fairly complete and thorough work.

George H Parke was George Holmes Parke. According to the biography of Pierre-Vincent Valin the shipyard was on the Rivière Saint-Charles. Today, it's part of the Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site.

  • Thank you Rob. Not only does this reference nail the Persia mystery it demonstrates that Parke had a much broader connection to Australia. His yard sold vessels to Baine of the Black Ball Line that were instrumental in building Queensland 1860-70. I can see weeks of work flowing from this!
    – Fortiter
    Oct 31, 2012 at 6:09
  • @Fortiter - you may want to consider adding a Persia 'template' to werelate.org. Besides having people and sources, WeRelate tries to capture information on the ships as well as passengers who sailed together on a given voyage. Here is an example:werelate.org/wiki/Category:Anne_%26_Little_James_Passengers. Your info would be worthwhile to all the other passenger's descendants as well.
    – Duncan
    Nov 13, 2012 at 0:15

I live in Quebec city and worked for the old port of Québec interpretation Center which was a Parks Canada site. One of thematic there was shipbuilding. The specialist of this thematic is Eileen Reid Marcil. She wrote a complete book on the subject:

Eileen Reid Marcil, The Charley-Man: A History of Wooden Shipbuilding at Quebec, 1763-1893.

She includes a list of all the ship built in Québec in the 19th century. The Persia is effectively listed:

1853 - Persia - tonnage 2003 - Riggings: 3 mast - dimension: 205x35x31 - shipbuilder: Parke & Co. - Brunelle, P.

The author explains that the ship was the first ship gauging more than 2000 tonnels built in Québec City.

  • Welcome to Genealogy.SE! Thanks for this excellent answer.
    – Luke_0
    Sep 13, 2013 at 16:14

The Charley-man by E.R. Marcil is definitive. The tonnage of 2003 is under the old rules. In 1855 Moorsom's Rules were applied and became the international standard within a few years. Under the new rules the tonnage was 1705 registered, 1774 gross. Ultimately this ship was in Norwegian hands being in service until 1896, an exceptionally long life for a ship of this type. This ship was not a clipper; even for 1853 she was unusually broad and deep, a carrier not a flyer.

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