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

Chapter V. — How Immigrants Fared In The Fifties

page 137

Chapter V.
How Immigrants Fared In The Fifties.

A most interesting relic of the emigrant ships which brought out the early pioneers of New Zealand has come into my hands. It is a little volume giving in printed form the complete issue of "The Evening Star," a news sheet published in manuscript on board the Evening Star during her voyage from London to New Zealand in the year 1858. It was printed by W. C. Wilson at the "New Zealander" office in 1859. The copy that was lent to me belongs to Mrs. E. Summers, Hepburn Street, Ponsonby. The Evening Star, under charter by the Shaw, Savill Company, was a vessel of 811 tons, which made average passages to the colony. On this, her first visit, she was in command of Captain F. S. Ewen, who seems to have been thought a good deal of by his passengers. The ship sailed from Gravesend on September 8, and arrived at Auckland on December 21, 1858.

While much of the matter in the "Evening Star" makes rather quaint reading seventy years after the events, there is much that might have been written about a passage of the present day. Edited by Mr. John Varty, a noted bookseller in Auckland, many years back, a man I knew well, the newspaper bears evidence that he had a good deal to do with its compilation. Much of it is well put together, and throughout it reflects the remarkable enthusiasm that was the characteristic of the eager pioneers of those days. While a fair amount of space was devoted to humour—a good deal of which is rather elephantine according to the ideas of to-day—there is an undercurrent of seriousness not to be found in accounts of the voyages of the present-day immigrant.

You will note, for instance, that on the Evening Star there was an ardent desire to "combine instruction with amusement" that would be rather laughed at to-day. In the steerage they had morning readings from Byron and evening readings from Shakespeare, and cocasionally "humorous pieces from various authors." Every issue of the paper has several pieces of poetry, a good deal being original, and much of it of a distinctly "improving" nature. In the sporting intelligence we read of Homeric contests at deck quoits, and there are vivid descriptions of sparring matches, done much in the style of the modern P.R. writers. Just an extract from the account of the "gallant mill between the Irish Slogger and the Fokesle Chicken"—"Round 1: After a little cautious sparring the Slogger closed with his opponent, got in both mawleys heavily, planting his right on the smeller, and his left on the side of the knowledge-box, napping a little one in return from the Chicken's right on the os frontis," and so on.

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In a long and interesting descriptive account of the voyage you come on events and incidents that are continually reminding you how conditions have changed. In place of the punctual sailing time of the modern steamer we have a leisurely departure from the Docks, which was only the beginning of the farewell. When the passengers arrived on board they found a scene of great confusion; the ship not fully loaded, and the work of fitting up the cabins not yet finished. You gather that even when they were finished they were hardly what would be called state-rooms.

Down in the steerage things were even more primitive. There the passengers had to supply most of their own wants. Thus you read that the man who kept the diary, upon going below, found "carpenters, seamen, and some of my fellow-passengers high busy in their shirt sleeves; others anxiously superintending or themselves unpacking and arranging sundry utensils and articles for daily use; others of methodical habits and with a keen eye to future comfort were by the aid of strips of leather, pieces of broad tape, a few tacks and a hammer, making racks for knives, spoons, and plates, etc., which, however neat when completed, are destined to become null and void so soon as the ship has once been tossed in a rough sea." This reminds us that steerage people used to supply their own bedding, their own table gear, and also had to take quite a lot of provisions if they did not wish to fare hardly, for it was only the "cabin passengers" who were catered for by the ship in anything like a satisfactory manner.

There was in those ships an open steerage, and an "enclosed steerage." The former can be imagined; the latter had compartments more or less accurately described as cabins with sliding doors, over which were cards bearing the names of the inmates.

From Blackwall the ship dropped down to Gravesend, where she moored, was finally got ready for sea, the last of the passengers came on board, and the final farewells were said. Saying good-bye was not the off-hand matter it is to-day, when one steps on board a steamer for the voyage round the world with as little concern as one formerly boarded a train for a trip to town. In the 'fifties people embarking for New Zealand were bound on quite an adventure, and a lengthy one at that, for before the Evening Star dropped anchor in the Waitemata she sailed 16,000 miles, the distance in the direct line taken by a steamer being about 13,000 miles.

At Gravesend the watermen came off to sell "loaves, butter, onions, apples, nails, nets," and other odd things with which the prudent emigrant supplied himself. The rough and ready style of travelling is further indicated when we read of "carpenters high busy between decks putting up long mess-tables which very much resemble those you see at a wayside public-house in the country." In the evening a "River Missionary" conducted a service on the main deck, which listened to with "devout attention," and the missionary was vociferously cheered as he left the ship.

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On the voyage out nothing extraordinary happened; it was just long and monotonous, like so many of those early voyages. That New Zealand was a far country we are reminded when we learn of the surprise of the passengers at their first sight of a Maori. "We are abreast of Kawau Island," says the diary, "which is chiefly remarkable as having been the site of some promising copper works; here we first saw one of the native canoes, filled with well-bronzed occupants, who passed us, gaping with amazement at our larger craft, while we, equally thunderstruck, returned the compliment by staring at them with all the eyes we had."

Having a commanding breeze, the Evening Star sailed right into the Waitemata, after picking up the pilot, and anchored off what is now Queen's Wharf. There were real sailormen in those days, and it was a treat to see the manner in which they used to manoeuvre their beautiful craft in the harbour before the advent of the steam tug.

In some rather quaint "Advice to Emigrants" there are stray remarks which are most illuminating, and show us how wide a gap separates us from our pioneers, and how different are our ideas as to necessities and luxuries. Rates of wages ruling in the colony were: Agricultural and general unskilled labourers, 4/ a day of 9 hours; skilled men, such as carpenters, masons, mechanics, etc., 8/ a day; good general man-servant, living in the house, £40 a year; a female servant £20 a year. These notes advise the emigrant not to waste money in building an extravagant house, and informs him that a very comfortable 4-roomed cottage can be built of wood by contract for £120 or £150; cob houses, thatched, for about one-third less; or if those two styles were too ambitious the newcomer was advised to have a native-built raupo whare, which would not cost more than £20 to £50, and would last three or four years. A cob house was one built of clay mixed with dried grass, which, if well rammed, set quite hard, and if properly protected would last quite a long while.

There are many other interesting features of the times In this little faded book, but enough has been recalled to give the present generation an idea of the conditions our pioneers braved on sea and on land.

The passages made to New Zealand by the Evening Star were:—

Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days
To Auckland—
September 8, 1858 December 21 Ewen 104
To Dunedin—
July 4, 1860 October 13 A. W. Norris 101
(130 passengers)
To Lyttelton—
September 16, 1861 January 3, 1862 Norris 108
(140 passengers)
January 1, 1863 April 13 Montano 102
(245 passengers)
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The Brodick Castle.

An almost bewildering series of misfortunes overtook the brand new ship Brodick Castle on her maiden voyage—London to Auckland—in 1875-6, and the many descendants of the nearly 300 passengers who made the trip must have often listened to the tale of woe told by their forbears. The fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the ship in Auckland was celebrated in 1926 by a most interesting reunion held in Auckland, about fifty people attending.

The Brodick Castle was a magnificent iron clipper ship of 1,775 tons, belonging to the Castle Line (Messrs. Skinner and Company), and chartered by the Shaw, Savill Company. Built by Wingate at Glasgow, and launched in 1875, she was on her maiden voyage when she sailed from London on October 7 of that year for Auckland, in command of Captain Thyne. When lying at Gravesend, ready to sail, she broke away from her moorings, but no damage was done. In the Bay of Biscay the encountered a terrific storms, and she was dismasted, narrowly escaping total wreck. Fortunately a steamer picked her up and towed her to Falmouth, where she arrived on October 20, and was subsequently sent to Plymouth for repairs. After the repairs were effected there was still further delay owing to the difficulty of settling the salvage claim of the steamer that towed her to Falmouth, so that it was December 14 before the ship was on her way again to New Zealand.

After leaving Plymouth, the voyagers were favoured with good weather for their second attempt at the stormy Bay of Biscay, and Madeira was sighted on Christmas Day. On that day the crew were ordered to send aloft the top-gallant yards, which had not been sent up before, and they flatly refused, as Christmas Day at sea is one that the sailor used to consider peculiarly his own. There was some trouble, but eventually the work was done by the ship's officers. The equator was crossed on January 13, 31 days out, and the meridian of the Cape of Good Hope on February 12. Here the vessel was becalmed for nearly a week. She ran down her easting between 50 and 52 deg. with moderate breezes. Cape Maria van Diemen was made on March 16, and Auckland was reached on March 23, after a passage of 99 days.

But the ship's troubles were not yet all over. As she was beating up the harbour on the young flood she was suddenly taken aback while in stays about 500 yards from the Bean Rock light-house, and she was carried stern first on the reef. She lay there, hung up, for about 20 minutes, when with shift of the wind to the south-west and the rising tide, she floated off.

The police flag was flying when the ship came up the harbour, and several of the ship's crew who had behaved mutinously during the voyage after the incident of Christmas Day, were taken ashore and afterwards dealt with at the Police Court. Three deaths occurred during the voyage.

Mrs. E. Oldfield, of Takapuna, who was a passenger by the Brodick Castle, tells an interesting story of the voyage out. "Our ship," she says, "narrowly escaped disaster before ever she left the Thames. In a sudden squall she dragged her anchor, and was onlypage 141 saved by several small tugs coming to her assistance and towing her back to her moorings. The gale in the Bay of Biscay was a very trying experience. The wind blew with terrific force. For seven days and seven nights the ship was rolling about helplessly, the passengers being battened down, and for three days they were unable to get any food. The fore and the main mast, with their mass of yards and sails, went overboard, and the end of one yard-arm smashed a hole through the deck just over the compartment where the single women lived. At every roll of the vessel water poured in on these unfortunate girls, everyone of them being then battened down; and to add to the terror of the girls, the store-room walls gave way, and two large casks of flour went rolling through. The ship was rolling so heavily that three casks were smashed, and the flour mixing with the water made an indescribable mess, adding to the terrible state to which the poor girls were reduced.

"When superintending the cutting away of what was left of the mizzen mast, which was considered to be dangerous, the second officer had his leg severely smashed by the falling spar. The ship's doctor, with the help of two passengers, successfully amputated the limb. During the storm we also lost two sailors overboard, and one was killed by a falling spar. We were drifting about for seven days, helpless in the trough of the seas. At night rockets were sent up, a blue light was kept burning, and minute guns were fired.

"It was a terrible time for the passengers, many of whom never expected to see dry land again, and you can imagine our joy when a large steamer hove in sight and answered our signals of distress. She took us in tow and brought us into Falmouth.

"We were taken ashore at Falmouth, and went on by train to Plymouth, where we were lodged in barracks. Every kindness was shown to us. Those of the married people who could afford to do so, were allowed to take lodgings in the town. A few of the passengers left us at Plymouth, having decided that they would not renew their acquaintance with the Brodick Castle.

"For nine weeks we waited at Plymouth, and then, at last, on December 14, we re-embarked for New Zealand with a new crew. Things went well until we reached the Tropics, where the vessel was becalmed, and we had trouble with the sailors over the sending up of the topgallant yards on Christmas Day. Before things resumed their wonted calm, the captain had to go down and bring up his revolvers. For their disobedience the captain refused to give the men their extra Christmas rations. There was great resentment at this, and the disaffected men bringing their tubs of rice and salt meat, flung them down outside the door of the first mate's cabin, singing:

"''Tie Christmas Day, and we've salt horse for dinner;

Our meat's as green as any grass, and tough as any leather;"

"Owing to this disturbance with the crew the customary ceremonies connected with the crossing of the Line were omitted on our ship. Nothing very unusual occurred during the rest of the voyage to Auckland, where we ran on to Bean Rock Reef, but happily we soon floated off again."