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

The First Ships

The First Ships.

Arrangements having progressed to the stage where it was necessary to get shipping to take out the first of the emigrants, the New Zealand Company called tenders for two vessels, one to leave London and the other to leave Glasgow—the two chartered being the barque Philip Laing, 459 tons, and the ship John Wickliffe, 662 tons. The vessels sailed at the end of November, the John Wickliffe from London, and the Philip Laing from Glasgow. Both struck bad weather at the start and had to take shelter, the John Wickliffe at Plymouth and the Philip Laing at Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran. A good passage of 100 days was made by the John Wickliffe, which sailed from Plymouth on December 14, and arrived at Port Chalmers on March 23. The Philip Laing sailed finally on December 20, and made a passage of 117 days to Port Chalmers, where she arrived on April 15. These were the pioneer ships of the settlement, the next vessel, the Victory, not arriving until three months after the Philip Laing.

During the voyage of the Philip Laing a very complete diary was kept by the Rev. Dr. Burns, giving day by day the various happenings on board, and showing what a long and tedious business it was to reach New Zealand in those primitive times. This diary is now in the possession of his daughter, Miss Burns, of Dunedin, and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to peruse a copy. Dealing with the delay at the start owing to bad weather, he mentions that while the ship lay in Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran, four seamen were "logged" for insubordination, taken before the court, and sentenced to twenty-one days' imprisonment. There is frequent reference in the diary to the speed of the ship, her best day's run being 216 miles. That was on February 24, 1848, when there was a steady breeze blowing. The log read 9, 9½, and 9¾ knots. Other runs referred to include 204 miles, 188 miles, 172 miles. These figures do not sound very impressive to the ears of to-day, but the Philip Laing was quite a good vessel for her day, and details of her capabilities serve to show the present generation what immense strides have been made in shipping history during the lifetime of some people still living.

In tracing the subsequent career of the Philip Laing we find that in 1854 she was in the transport service for the Crimean War. In the following year she was at Hobart, having brought out Government stores and ammunition; and in 1856 she brought out passengers and cargo from London to Wellington and Lyttelton. When leaving Lyttelton, bound for Singapore, she was struck by a squall and thrown on her beam ends, but she righted herself, though the report went Home that she had gone down with all hands. The barque made several trips to the East. On one occasion she was stranded on an island in the Java Sea for 36 hours, but got off.page 80 On her 1856 voyage to New Zealand she caught fire just after having called at Cape of Good Hope, but it was put out without much difficulty. Altogether she seems to have been quite a lucky ship.

Mr. Thomas Ferens, who was a passenger by the John Wickliffe, kept a diary on board, and through the kindness of his son, Mr. W. H. Ferens, of Dunedin, I have been permitted to make some extracts. Mr. Thomas Ferens was born at West Rainton, Durham, and died at Oamaru in 1888, aged 65 years. He writes:—"We weighed anchor at Gravesend on November 24, but had to anchor in the Downs, where a most tempestuous night was spent with fears of a lee shore. We made another start on the 28th, but were driven back a second time to the Downs. Eventually we sailed on December 4, 1847, but soon encountered another severe gale which drove us to St. Helen's (Isle of Wight). On December 14 we made another start, and had a hard tussle to clear the English Channel, the passengers spending many distressing days while passing through the English and St. George's Channels.

"Mr. J. Harries was first mate, Mr. Renalls second, and Mr. Moffatt third. During a heavy gale when the ship entered the Atlantic, Mr. Moffatt fell overboard, but fortunately seized a rope in his fall and was brought on board. The ship was then favoured with good weather and logged her ten and twelve knots.

"The Equator was crossed on January 15, and the next day we were favoured with fresh S.E. trade winds, which were delightful. The tropical winds continued until January 26. The weather continued warm and pleasant until February 12, when a severe gale sprang up and heavy seas broke on board, but with a fair wind we were making from ten to eleven knots, two days later twelve knots, and on the 18th we made 14 knots.

"During the next two days we passed three very large icebergs. The passengers were greatly nervous and excited at this time, and when the ship was in 49 degrees S. latitude the captain altered the course, the ship still bowling along at eleven and twelve knots with a strong wind. Bad weather set in on February 23, and continued for 48 hours, when Desolation Island was sighted. After two days of dense fog and calm, we encountered another tempestuous gale, high seas frequently breaking on board.

"On March the ship's position was latitude 50° 29′ S. and longitude 96° 46′ E. Very cold, hazy and stormy weather continued until March 10, with heavy seas. The Snares were sighted on March 19, and Stewart Island the following day. A steady breeze carried the ship towards the Otago Peninsula, and we sailed into port on March 23."

The best account of the ships that I have come across is to be found in Hocken's book, "The Early History of New Zealand," in which there is much valuable information for those who like delving into the past and tracing the steps by which the colony grew up. He mentions at the outset that Mr. John Sands, of Greenock, who owned the John Wickliffe, got £2000 for the charter, and Messrs. Laing and Ridley, of Liverpool, who owned the Philip Laing, got something over £1800. Passage money varied from 35 guineas topage break
Arrival of the barque Philip Laing (right) on April 15, 1848, with the ship John Wickliffe at anchor, having arrived on March 23.

Otago's First Immigrant Ships.

page 81 60 guineas for the cabin, 20 guineas for the fore-cabin, and 16 guineas for the steerage, or first, second, and third, as we would say nowadays.

"The John Wickliffe," says Hocken, "was the storeship of the expedition, and was heavily laden with a varied supply of goods suited to the requirements of a young community beginning housekeeping in a strange land, and were for sale a little beyond cost price. There were thousands of bricks and slates, all the appurtances of the mechanical trades for blacksmiths, wheelwrights, plumbers, painters; there were wheelbarrows, spades, pickaxes, guns, muskets; and there were tons of provisions of all kinds. The sum of £500 was placed on board, £100 being in gold, £350 in silver, and £50 worth of fourpenny pieces. The commander was Bartholomew Daly, an Irishman, and a first-rate sailor, long engaged in the East India trade. The surgeon-superintendent was Dr. Henry Manning, surgeon-superintendent. Mr. Burns was requested by the company of London, who remained in the colony and died at Warepa, near Balclutha, in 1886. There were 97 emigrants, headed by Captain William Cargill, the leader. But the Philip Laing carried the bulk of the emigrants, of whom there were 247 souls, placed under the charge of the Rev. Thomas Burns, the Aaron of the settlement. Her commander was Captain A. J. Elles, who afterwards married Clementina, Mr. Burns' eldest daughter, and who died in Invercargill in 1887. Dr. Robert Ramsay, who returned to Scotland, was to act as its agent and representative on board ship, and to exercise the same powers in case he should land first in the settlement.