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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

A Scots Contingent

A Scots Contingent.

Omitting the Glenbervie, which brought only five passengers (among them being Mr. John Smith and Mr. W. H. McDonald, the manager and accountant of the Union Bank of Australia, whose business it was to open the first bank in New Zealand), the next vessel to leave the Old Country with a batch of emigrants was the Bengal Merchant, just over 500 tons, commanded by Captain John Hemery. The New Zealand Company was essentially an English affair at its inception—in fact, a South and West of England affair—and all the other ships sailed from either London or Plymouth. The Bengal Merchant, however, sailed from Glasgow, and brought out some excellent Scots people, who made first-rate settlers. She had 160 passengers, among those in the cabin being a noted traveller and author, Mr. Alexander Marjoribanks, who was attracted by New Zealand and meant to settle there, but the delay in getting land disgusted him, and he went elsewhere. Other passengers were Mr. R. R. Strang, Mr. Ebenezer Hay, the latter being the well-known pioneer settler of Pigeon Bay, Canterbury, and the Rev. John Macfarlane, the first minister sent out by the Company. Still another passenger who afterwards became well known was a boy named John Bryce, a name not without distinction in the political history of the colony.

Sailing from Greenock, the ship went north-about round Ireland, and in sixteen days was off Madeira. Four days later she entered the tropics, where a death occurred—that of a boy ten years of age, who got a sunstroke. The only other incident of domestic interest was a wedding, which was celebrated on Christmas Day. One of the passengers was a farmer, about fifty years of age, and comfortably stout, who was coming out to start a farm in the new land, and among his "impedimenta" was a bonny Scots lass, who was one of his dairymaids. Shipboard life seems singularly conducive to flirtation, and it was not surprising that the lassie showed signs of losing her heart to one of the young men on board. There was talk of an engagement. The elderly farmer, with true Scots shrewdness, saved his dairymaid, and the passage money he had paid for her, by offering to marry her himself, and the lassie being willing—he was fairly well blessed with the bawbees—he decided to leave nothing to chance, and induced the captain to marry them right away.

Except for a gale in the Bay of Biscay the voyage was a fine weather one, and the ship made good time. On February 10th, 1840, land was sighted—the West Coast of the South Island, about 100 miles south of Cook Strait. When she called at D'Urville Island for instructions, a volley of cannon was fired, but there was no sign of the Company's agent. A canoe with four Maori men and three women came alongside with a pig, some fish, and some potatoes. Fresh food was a luxury on a ship that was over one hundred days out, so bargains were soon made. The price of the produce was four baskets of potatoes for a shirt, and the pig changed hands for a counterpane. While this bartering was going on the women on board had a lot of fun dressing the Maori women in gowns and those large white caps called "mutches" in Scotland.

Learning from the natives that the other ships had gone to Port Nicholson, the Bengal Merchant made sail again, and on the 21st she was off the entrance to the harbour. A man at the masthead scanned the land for signs of a settlement, and reported that he could see some vessels at anchor. page 22 Soon after a boat came out, and the ship was taken into the harbour, dropping anchor off Petone Beach.

For some time after the arrival of the Bengal Merchant the weather was wet and stormy, and the newcomers experienced all the discomforts of pioneering. According to the terms of the charter, each ship after reaching Port Nicholson was required to remain at anchor for four weeks, so that her passengers would have somewhere to live while rigging up their temporary habitations. Every morning the people used to leave the ship in a flat-bottomed punt sort of boat, with so much water in her that it was sometimes nearly up to the men's knees, work at their buts or whares, and then come back at night to sleep. The day they had to leave the ship for good there was a howling storm of wind and rain, and it was a very sad and disheartened crowd that struggled through the gale to its various abodes.

Fortunately the weather was the only discomfort against which the people had to contend, for there was no lack of stores. Whatever their shortcomings, the heads of the New Zealand Company were not stingy, for their ships were always well provisioned, and ample stores of food were kept at Port Nicholson. For fresh provisions there were the Maoris to depend upon for pigs and fish and potatoes, and cattle and sheep soon began to arrive from across the Tasman Sea, for the large numbers of people being sent out were bound to rapidly attract trade.