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White Wings Vol I. Fifty Years Of Sail In The New Zealand Trade, 1850 TO 1900


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"If ghosts should walk in Deptford, and ships return once more
To every well-known mooring and old familiar shore,
A sight it were to see there, of all fine sights there be,
The shadowy ships of Deptford come crowding in from sea."

When I began the series of articles in the "Auckland Star" my only intention was to settle the much-disputed questions of record passages for sail between London and Auckland, Sydney and Auckland, and San Francisco and Auckland. Those who have taken any interest in shipping matters, and being an island people there are few of us who are not interested in ships and sailors, will know that very different opinions are held concerning this matter of records. Even many people who came out from the Old Country have in after years got very much mixed in their ideas as to the time occupied in the passages, and you will frequently find passengers who made the trip together vary many days in their recollection of the number of days they took to reach New Zealand. So many people have in their minds the run land to land, instead of port to port.

The two first articles I wrote were devoted to clearing up this matter of record passages, and I had no intention of delving further into the history of the past, but so much interest was excited by this revival of memories of old-time ships, and I received so many letters, not only from Auckland, but from all over the Dominion, that I was induced to go much further afield than I first planned, and the result is to be found in the following pages. With such reminiscences it would be extremely difficult to get them into perfect chronological order, but I have made the best arrangement I could.

With these explanations I beg to launch this frail barque with the hope that it will have on board some memories of the "good old days" that will be welcome to the old hands (who will be able to read between the lines and fill in the gaps). It will, I feel sure, appeal to the many descendants of the pioneers, and indeed to the younger generation generally, as in their youth they must have often listened to tales of the "board ship days" of their parents or relatives; and moreover, I have never yet found the child that does not want to hear a tale of ships and the sea.

And these stories are interesting for another reason: they bring home to the people of to-day the vast difference between travel now and fifty years ago. The comforts, in fact the luxuries, of the modern fast steamer, with its wireless, have revolutionised ocean travel and robbed the sea of half its terror. Gone are the discomforts of poor food and long passages; gone are the rigours of the Southern Seas and the perils of the Cape Horn route. The passage through the Panama Canal to-day in a liner is not much more strenuous than a yachting trip.

As it would be quite impossible for me to refer to all the immigrant and other ships that visited the Dominion during the years with which I have dealt, I have confined myself mainly to the ships of the New Zealand Shipping Company, the Shaw, Savill Company, the Patrick Henderson Albion Shipping Co. (the chief rival of the Shaw, Savill Company before the advent of the New Zealand Shipping Company), and in addition I have also dealt with some of Willis, Gann and Co.'s ships, the White Star Line, the Blackball Linepage break Houlder Bros., and other privately owned ships which sailed to New Zealand prior to 1860, and a number of what may be called "outsiders" that distinguished themselves by making rapid passages or had an eventful career. Many of these last-mentioned ships were chartered by the Shaw, Savill Company and the New Zealand Shipping Company during the seventies and eighties to bring out immigrants.

With regard to the details concerning the voyages of the ships dealt with I may explain that those of the outward passages have been taken from the accounts given by the captains to the newspapers at the ports of arrival, and were obviously supplied from the log-book. Details concerning some of the runs Home have been gathered from other sources, but they may be accepted as accurate.

My records deal with the years between 1850 and 1900, and although after the Shaw, Savill and New Zealand Shipping Companies started running steamers, practically all passengers came out to New Zealand by steamer, a number of the crack sailers continued trading to New Zealand up to as late as 1905—bringing out general cargo from the Old Country, and returning with wool, wheat, tallow, etc. It is to be noted in these later years these smart sailing ships, heavily laden, did not make the same quick passages they did when travelling light with passengers.

Naturally there were hundreds of vessels making only one or two voyages, of no particular interest, that will not appear in this book—indeed, to give a full record would take more like three volumes than one volume—but as I have the record of the arrival of all ships in the several New Zealand ports, I will be pleased to reply to any enquiries as to the dates referring to particular ships if any of my readers requiring the information will be good enough to address the enquiry to me at the "Auckland Star Office."

While the articles were running through the "Auckland Star" I received from time to time corrections of details and additions from many sources, and these have all been embodied in the articles as they now appear in book form.

In compiling these articles I have been indebted to numerous correspondents, but particularly I should like to thank Mr. J. Mallard, of Dunedin; the late Mr. F. G. Layton, of Wellington, who died in May, 1923; Sir George Fenwick, of Dunedin; Mr. Russell Duncan, of Napier; Mr. Walcott Wood, of Christchurch; Mr. C. V. Houghton, of Auckland, who until recently was Manager of the New Zealand Shipping Company; Mr. K. Lucas "Nelson Mail"; Mr. P. O. Wheatley, Shipping Reporter, "Dunedin Star"; Mr. de Maus, Photographer, of Port Chalmers; Mr. H. N. Burgess, of Auckland; Mr. C. F. Cliffe, of Auckland; Captain R. H. Duder, of Auckland; and Mr. Basil Lubbock, for extracts from his book, "Colonial Clippers." Further, I should like to thank the many people who have written to tell me of the pleasure they have had from reading these reminiscences of the old times.