First page of a journal written by William Richards recording the voyage to South Australia from Plymouth to Adelaide on the Java, departing Plymouth in England October 28, 1839 and arriving Glenelg South Australia February 6, 1840. The journal itself is reasonably brief, of three handwritten pages, but yields a confronting insight into life onboard emigrant ships. One of the most interesting details is the number of deaths recorded throughout the three month voyage. Richards counted 28 child deaths including his young daughter Caroline, one still born child and four adult deaths. He also explained that more child passengers perished in the weeks after landing mainly due to the effects of starvation on the voyage. After being on land for a while, Richards recorded six other ships had arrived with passengers and crew reporting fair treatment and no deaths onboard at all. One can imagine the frustration and sense of unfairness felt by those who survived the voyage on the 'horried' Java.
There was widespread disgust in the South Australian papers of the day and a Medical Board of Enquiry was held. This was conducted over 12 days in February and found that food had been wasted in the early days of the voyage. Official blame was placed on Surgeon Superintendent Martin appointed by the Colonization Commissioners. The captain Duthie, was absolved of blame despite his negligent attitude towards the passengers.
Formerly of Penzance, Cornwall, Richards came out to South Australia as a youth and became a tailor in Angaston. He later sought another occupation, and joined the police force where he remained for some years, rising to the rank of Corporal. He was twice stationed in charge at Gawler. He later opened his own business as a baker. Richards was also known as an excellent violinist and organised concerts including The Admella Shipwreck and Relief Fund benefit concert of 1859 in Gawler, where he was first violinist in a performance of Handel's Messiah, the first presentation of that piece in South Australia.