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

Atrato's Unlucky Voyage

Atrato's Unlucky Voyage.

Although I am dealing with the pre-steam days, I think it only right that an exception should be made in the case of a vessel called the Atrato, which made a passage which caused much comment at the time, and is no doubt familiar to the descendants of the people that came out in her. The Atrato was one of the first steamers to make the voyage to New Zealand. She reached Port Chalmers on June 8th, 1874, after having encountered a series of misadventures. Although she was a vessel of only 360 feet overall, she had no less than 762 immigrants on board, and of that number 280 were children. There was much sickness on board, and before New Zealand was reached there were 33 deaths, all being childrenpage 186 with one exception. Croup was the cause of 17 deaths, and measles were very bad, 180 out of the 280 children being down at one time or another.

The Atrato was a slow boat—though in 1874 her 350 h.p. nominal power engines were described as "magnificent"—doing only ten knots, or twelve to thirteen when she had her sails set and the wind was favourable; still the 64 days she took from Plymouth to New Zealand was a good trip for fifty years ago. The most striking feature about the voyage, apart from the large mortality among the children, was the fact that some of the passengers were nearly five months aboard ship from the time they embarked at London. After leaving the Thames the steamer met with bad luck and sustained damage in some way that is not related in the reports of her arrival at Port Chalmers—probably she was in collision in the Channel. She put into Plymouth for repairs, and must have spent several weeks refitting. Most of her passengers were shipped at London, but a few joined at Plymouth, and it was these people that brought the measles on board. Plymouth was in those days an unlucky one for several of the ships that came out to New Zealand—"the port of ill-omen to immigrants" is the way the "Otago Daily Times" described it.

Two years before she came to New Zealand the Atrato was in Melbourne, and that passage seems to have been quite as eventful as the New Zealand voyage. She was the first steamer to make the passage from the Old Country to Melbourne, and her arrival caused much excitement. I came across the following account of that memorable voyage:—"The Atrato, which was converted from a paddle-wheeler to a screw steamer for her long voyage, met trouble soon after leaving Plymouth, and when her propeller blades were ripped off by some floating wreckage she was compelled to put back under canvas. On her second start she got as far as Madeira, but was again forced to return to Plymouth owing to a broken propeller shaft. On the third attempt everything went well until the Canary Islands had been passed. Then the main topmast carried away, the coupling of the propeller shaft broke, and a number of the crew mutinied. Eventually the steamer made Table Bay, and the remainder of the voyage to Australia was made without incident."