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

Food Cheap And Plentiful

page 69

Food Cheap And Plentiful.

One thing that gave much satisfaction to the immigrants was the abundance and cheapness of food. Even in those Arcadian days the profiteer flourished, but the leaders of the Canterbury settlement took good care to forestall him. Instructions had been sent to Godley by the Association in London warning him that the sudden arrival of a large number of persons might have the effect of occasioning an inconvenient rise in the price of foodstuffs, and asking him to guard against such a contingency. As a further precaution, a large stock of provisions, that would probably last for two months, had been sent by the ships. In order to prevent profiteering, Godley was instructed to sell by auction, and only in small quantities, so "as to prevent any large capitalist from buying them on speculation."

But another factor operated in keeping prices at a reasonable level. The arrival of the ships had been anticipated by other settlements in New Zealand, and within three weeks of the landing, no less than seven coasting vessels arrived, carrying supplies. With the stocks that had been accumulated beforehand, and with almost daily additions, the new arrivals were gratified to find that fears of shortage and exorbitant prices were groundless. Bread was sold for sevenpence per 21b loaf, milk was fourpence a quart, and meat was only fivepence per pound.

When it is remembered that by the arrival of the first four ships the population increased from 300 to 1100, the abundance of supplies and the low cost must stand as one of the most remarkable features of the settlement of Canterbury. Water was scarce above ground in Lyttelton, but wells provided sufficient for the needs of the settlers, though the supply was to furnish one of the burning questions for years to come. Christchurch was generously supplied from springs and from the then crystal-clear Avon and Heathcote.

Although they were by no means superstitious the Canterbury pioneers were very much impressed by the fact that three of the first four ships arrived in Lyttelton within a few hours of each other, and the fourth arrived only ten days later. With the exception of a meeting early in the voyage between the Randolph and the Charlotte Jane none of the ships had seen one another from the day they left Plymouth Sound, and yet they converged on their appointed haven with almost the unanimity of birds coming home at night. There were very few people who did not take this unusual happening as a good omen.

Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Sir George Seymour, and Cressy. Those were the historic first four ships by which the Canterbury pioneers came out to New Zealand. Singularly uninteresting names, with the exception of the last, which will always have a clarion sound for Englishmen, yet to-day no names are held in great affection in thousands of Canterbury homes. There were, page 70 of course, other ships, but it is this first quartet that one always associates with the birth of Canterbury.

First away from Plymouth Sound, sailing at midnight on September 7, 1850, the Charlotte Jane, 720 tons, Captain Alexander Lawrence, was first to reach Lyttelton, where she dropped anchor at 10 a.m. on December 16, taking 99 days port to port, or 93 days land to land. She was by no means crowded, her passenger list comprising 26 cabin, 19 intermediate (or second saloon as we call it now), and 80 steerage. The Rev. Mr. King-don was the chaplain, and Dr. Alfred Barker, surgeon-superintendent. The outstanding feature of the voyage was the high latitude the ship reached when running down her easting, as she got away into the cold regions of latitude 52.36 south. When she reached this extreme point she was 88 days out, and striking contrary winds it looked as though she was going to make a long voyage of it, but a change of wind came opportunely and she made a good finish. The only ill effect of the extreme cold was the mortality among six brace of partridges and four brace of pheasants. Only one brace of pheasants and one partridge survived.

Nothing of unusual interest happened on the voyage, which seems to have been a very pleasant one with the exception of the cold when the ship made her long sweep to the south. The best day's run was 250 miles, which was registered in the vicinity of Tristan da Cunha. The Line was crossed on October 9, and the meridian of Greenwich on October 29. She had a splendid run in the Southern Ocean and sighted Stewart Island on December 11. Calms and baffling winds then held her up for four days, but as she stood off and on the immigrants enjoyed their first views of the Britain of the South, and judging from diaries that have been left they were quite satisfied.

There was one birth and one marriage on the voyage, and three deaths—three children, who were sick when they came on hoard, one in fact dying before the ship left Plymouth. The amusements were of the usual shipboard kind, and there were two manuscript weekly magazines, "The Cockroach" and the "Sea Pie." Pleasant as it was, one passenger in an account of the voyage winds up by quoting most feelingly Southey's lines,

"How gladly, then,
Sick of the uncomfortable ocean,
The impatient passengers approach the shore;
Escaping from the scene of endless motion,
To feel firm earth beneath their feet once more."