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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 2 (May 2, 1938.)

The Long Traverse

The Long Traverse.

“We tramped through the Gorge and over Arthur's Pass. Then down and across the big river, the Waimakariri. It was running in five streams, about a mile across the streams and shingle altogether. We camped in a bit of the mountain-beech bush near the Bealey, and trudged on down, up and down, down to the plains. We met the gold escort coming up from Christchurch—three or four mounted men, armed, and an express trap; coming over to carry the gold from Hokitika. They didn't keep the escort going very long, I believe. It was easier and quicker to send the gold away by sea.

“Every now and then on that long tramp we'd meet swaggers, sailors most of them, all bound for the diggings. And everyone that we met I'd ask about wool ships at Lyttelton and the pay. Soon the £80 we'd heard about on the Coast dwindled to £20. Well, I thought, even that will do; I want to get home to see my mother that I'd not seen or written to for so long.

“I tramped through Christchurch, very weary; didn't stop, but went right on over the Port hills by the Bridle Track to Lyttelton and straight to the wharf. Well, there a famous big wooden clipper ship was lying, the Blue Jacket, American-built and then under the Liverpool White Star flag. She was ready for sea, loaded with wool for London. I went on board and asked about signing on. But she had shipped all her crew a day or two before, and all they'd signed on for was £4/10/- a month. Well, says I, I wouldn't leave New Zealand for that pay anyhow, so here I stay. I saw the Blue Jacket go to sea. Then I went down to Pigeon Bay, on Banks Peninsula, back at bush work once more, for a sawmill. Later I shipped aboard a coasting ketch, and ran one on shares— and lost her, too, in a terrific gale in Lyttelton Harbour and was all but lost myself.

Burning of the ship “Blue Jacket” homeward bound from Lyttelton, March 10, 1869.

Burning of the ship “Blue Jacket” homeward bound from Lyttelton, March 10, 1869.

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“Now, this is the curious part of it—it was jolly lucky for me I'd taken so long on that tramp across the West Coast, and was too late to ship in the Blue Jacket. For why? Because news came from London that she had been burned at sea that very voyage—burned off the Falkland Islands, and nearly all her crew were lost—adrift in boats and never heard of again. The captain's boat was picked up by the barque Pyrmont, after seven days; he had the 35 or 36 passengers with him, but the sailormen in the other boats perished— and I'd have been with them no doubt. Spontaneous combustion was the cause —some damp wool among the cargo. I was well out of that fine clipper, the Blue Jacket.