This assembly for primary children centres around one man’s sense of adventure, teaching children the importance of inquisitive minds

In 1854, seven men in a small wooden sailing boat called Mystery left the Cornish port of Newlyn bound for Australia. Their voyage has just been recreated by yachtsman and adventurer Pete Goss in his replica boat Spirit of Mystery.

This assembly looks at the reasons for the original voyage, as well as celebrating the achievements of their modern day counterparts.


  • Globe or map showing distance/sea route from Britain to Australia.
  • Children can read all about the adventure and Pete Goss’s blog at

As we all know, Australia is a very long way from Britain. In fact, if you go any further, you will start coming back again!

We’ve all seen photographs of Australia and know that kangaroos and koala bears live there, but how do people travel to Australia? [Take suggestions]

Yes, that’s right: you can fly to Australia, or you can go in a cruise ship, or you can use a combination of aeroplanes and boats to get there.

But recently, a group of men decided to sail there in a small boat that hasn’t got an engine. A boat that is made from wood and is the same design as boats that were made over 150 years ago.

The boat is rather small. In fact if we laid seven children end to end that would be the length of the entire boat. [You may wish to actually do this to demonstrate just how small the boat is.]

And did I mention that by the time these men arrive in Australia, they’ll have been in their little boat for about 120 days? Who can work out how many months or weeks 120 days is? [Take suggestions: answer 4 months, or 17 weeks and 1 day.]

But why would somebody want to spend four months in a cramped and uncomfortable boat to sail half way around the world, when you can fly there in about 24 hours?

The adventurer who had the idea is Pete Goss. This is his story.

Pete Goss was born and brought up in Cornwall – that’s the little bit at the bottom of Britain on its western edge, that sticks out into the sea by itself.

Like many people who live by the sea, Pete is a keen sailor. He’s also very interested in history, and has become fascinated by the story of seven Cornishmen who decided to leave Cornwall because thought they could forge a better life for themselves on the other side of the world.

The 1840s had been a hard time for Cornish people and were remembered as the ’hungry forties’, when food was scarce and people had been rioting in the streets. The terrible disease cholera had killed many people throughout Cornwall in 1848 and 1849. All over the world mining had become a boom occupation, and lots of people left Cornwall to try their luck in the gold and silver mines of America, Africa and Australia. This meant leaving their families for years at a time, sometimes forever, all for the chance of a better life. In many cases, they had nothing to lose.

So in 1854, seven of these Cornishmen decided to leave the hard times behind them and sail to Australia, on the little wooden lugger, or boat, called Mystery. The crew was made out of Captain Richard Nicholls; brothers William and Richard Badcock; Job Kelynack and his cousins Charles Boase and Philip Curnow Matthew, and Lewis Lewis as general handyman and cook.

Ahead of them was 11,800 miles of sea , and most of them had never sailed out of sight of land before. In fact, they were so nervous that they insisted Captain Nicholls stay in sight of land for the first five days of their voyage.

The journey was hard and dangerous. This log entry, taken from 6 March 1855 as they neared their destination, shows just how tough:

‘A terrific gale of wind – heaviest so far experienced. Our gallant little boat rides the mountains of sea remarkably well. Not shipping any water, dry decks fore and aft. I am confident she is making better weather than a great many ships would, if here.’

They finally arrived in Melbourne, Australia on 14th March 1855. Mystery was the smallest sailing boat ever to have completed the journey to Australia.

When Pete Goss decided to relive the voyage 154 years later, he named the boat he built the Spirit of Mystery. The little boat set sail from Cornwall on 20th October 2008. The crew included Pete Goss, who was the skipper (the man in charge), his brother Andy Goss, brother-in-law Mark Maidment and his son Eliot Goss, who is just 14 years old.

Bad weather followed them all the way across the Bay of Biscay and past France, Portugal and Spain. After that the weather was more forgiving and by Christmas they were at Cape Town where they got more food and water and checked Spirit of Mystery for any damage. But the next bit, the route across the Indian Ocean to Australia, was even more dangerous.

They made it across though, and by the beginning of March they were not fair from achieving their goal…but then disaster struck. A terrible storm came out of nowhere, and the calm, blue sky, turned black and angry. The waves started getting bigger and bigger and bigger, over 10 metres high — the size of a small house chasing them across the sea.

‘A huge wall of water that towers over the boat and there is nothing breaking about it. Its solid, dark green, dangerous and a freak. I am aware of Mark bracing himself as I duck my head and tense. The noise is as shocking as the blow, I am aware of it going very dark and I am disorientated. I am under water and can’t breathe, there is a huge weight pushing me down and the rush of solid water through the hatch has my legs straining in resistance. I need to breath, how much longer is this going to go on for. Come on Spirit this is it, this is the moment of truth, you can only swallow so much before the physics that have sustained us don’t add up.

‘Suddenly I can see again and burst through a tangle of wreckage and foam to see Mark lying on the helm bench with his safety harness wrapped round the tiller which is jerking him about violently. “My leg’s broken, went like a twig”. Looking down his right foot lies on the deck despite his leg being upright and there is a thirty degree bend to the side half way between his knee and ankle.

‘How far are we from help for Mark? Spirit of Mystery has righted herself and started to doggedly set sail and with a rush of warmth I suddenly realise how much I love her and smile. Eliot is going hammer and tongs on the bilge pump. He looks worried but glances up and we catch each other’s eye and he grins, “You OK, Dad?”

‘Andy puts a splint on Mark’s leg; we are both working and thinking at a feverish rate for we are well aware that another wave will be devastating. I can see Eliot pumping away like mad. He’s only a boy but it’s a man’s job that is required and he has measured up.’

Sadly, Mark had to be taken off the Spirit in Portland, a town very near to Melbourne, to have his broken leg mended in an Australian hospital. Thankfully, the boat had stayed strong enough through the storm to take Mark to land, so he did still make the voyage all the way to Australia on the Spirit, rather than having to be airlifted at the last moment!

However, as was his wish the rest of the crew decided to follow the course of the Mystery right to the end, and arrived in Melbourne on 9th March – four months after they began their long and extraordinary voyage – where they were reunited with Mark.

Of the seven men from the 1854 crew, five eventually returned to their homes in Cornwall. They hadn’t made their fortunes, but they had certainly had an adventure.

These men left Britain because they dreamed of a better life. Why did Pete and his team do it?

‘It’s another exciting adventure that has the added element of history, which I find I am really enjoying. Life is for living and this, for me, is life at its best. I hope that the original seven are happy with what we have done in their honour. We are even more inspired by them and hope that their relatives are happy with what we have done to shine a light on what was a little known achievement. We can’t wait to hug our loved ones and meet the Australian end of the project, but have a hint of sadness at something special about to end that started with looking for Oak in local woods.’

Dear Father,

Thank you for giving us the spirit of adventure that leads us to discover new things in science, history, geography or in the stars and galaxies beyond our planet. Thank you for the men and women who spend their lives charting your extraordinary universe.


Three hundred years ago, people didn’t know what the world looked like. The continent of Australia hadn’t even been discovered. So when sailors didn’t know what was on the far side of their map, they wrote the words ‘Here be dragons’ to show that the rest was a mystery. Pete Goss and people like him are born wondering what the dragons look like and so decide to try and find them – they have a sense of questioning and wonder that leads them to many adventures, and where they often find the answers to many of the world’s questions.

All quotes and information in this assembly can be found on Pete Goss’ website.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Jane A. C. West