The Psalms invite our sympathy for "those who go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters".
Historians' focus, though, has been on the bosses who steered, navigated and fought ships, rather than those passengers who merely endured a long voyage across the seas.
In Death Ships, Canberra author Doug Limbrick seeks to correct that emphasis by recounting the story of 4782 emigrants to Australia in 1852.
Many died en route, and "of those who arrived the experience was horrific".
Nonetheless, since none was a convict ship, the passengers did not travel locked up or in chains, they enjoyed some prospect of a fair return for their labour, and they could at least kid themselves that they might one day return home to England.
Nor was travelling on the six ships anywhere near as appalling as life abroad the "coffin ships" which transported destitute Irish families to the United States at about the same time, during the Irish potato famine.
Limbrick tracks the six "very large, newly-built, North American clipper-style ships" from loading in Liverpool to arrival in Australia.
Some of the ship names have a romantic tinge to them, "Wanata", "Ticonderoga" and "Beejapore" among them.
The voyage, however, lacked any vestige of romance or adventure.
Many emigrants were already ill when embarked in a pestilential port, most were crowded two levels below the main deck, too many children were permitted to travel, and "dirt and filth of the most loathsome description" pervaded at least one ship.
Limbrick is a well-qualified, experienced guide.
This story fits within a his wider body of research and publications about emigration to Australia during the 19th century.
Limbrick is expert at clear, straightforward explanations of nautical oddities.
He understands sailing difficulties in crossing the Bay of Bengal; supplements to a chronometer; Form D No. 12 (a shipowner's welfare commitments); hackmatack (a wood used in ship construction); and Victorian diseases (with tuberculosis the main killer).
Limbrick's command of detail is intimate, intricate, consistent, even affectionate about ships and the sea.
He includes a useful four-page glossary of nautical terms, as well as a note of thanks to Woden library.
Survivors from the Irish coffin ships are now commemorated in a deeply poignant tableau of statues in Philadelphia.
Descendants of those who lived through the voyages chronicled by Limbrick now have his book as their memorial.
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