Through Ninety Years
Marriage, Departure from England, Voyage to and Arrival in New Zealand
Among the young ladies committed to the care of Mrs. Williams at Southwell was a Miss Jane Nelson, daughter of James Nelson. When she was engaged as a pupil teacher in 1817, she walked over from Newark to Southwell (a distance of 20 miles) to take up her duties, and was described by Mrs. Heathcote, afterwards her sister-in-law, as arriving at 9 a.m. on a summer morning looking cool and fresh. William Williams met her there, and found in her a like-minded partner and fellow-worker for fifty-three years.
In July, 1825, William Williams was engaged in deputation work for the Church Missionary Society. Miss Nelson was at this time paying a farewell visit at the house of Rev. John Blackburne, rector of Allercliff, near Sheffield. Neither of them realized how soon they would be called upon to sail for New Zealand. Suddenly the news came that they were to leave at an early date for Port Jackson (Australia) in the Sir George Osborne. Immediate arrangements had therefore to be made for their marriage.
In those days longer periods of residence were required of the parties before marriage than is now necessary. The wedding therefore took place on July 11th, 1825, at Allercliff instead of at Jane Nelson's home in Nottingham. She wore a simple white dress, the only one available at such short notice, and the only member of her family who could be present was her sister, Anna Maria Nelson.
Mr. Blackburne was delighted to have a missionary's wedding from his house. That evening a Missionary meeting was held there, at which William Williams spoke. It is also interesting to know that James page 7 Montgomery, the author of many popular hymns, was one of the wedding guests.
It may be mentioned here that Rev. Samuel Blackburne, son of Rev. John Blackburne, was Headmaster of St. John's College, Auckland, for several years, up to the end of 1868, and that the writer attended this school there for three years during that period.
At the present time (1938) the voyage from England to New Zealand via Panama Canal can be made by well appointed steam and motor driven liners of from 10,000 to 18,000 tons. It takes only about thirty days, and there are abundant supplies of fresh food. If one contrasts such a voyage with that undertaken in 1825 by Mr. and Mrs. William Williams in their little 300-ton sailing ship, one will realize something of the hardships and dangers which they had to face.
After hurried preparations and visits of farewell to relatives and friends, they left the house of Rev. E. G. Marsh and his wife at Hampstead at 6 a.m. on August 12th, 1825, by coach, accompanied by Mr. Marsh and his son. They breakfasted with Mr. Coates of the Church Missionary Society, who commended them to the blessing of God. They then proceeded to the Tower Stairs on the Thames, and were conveyed by steam packet down the river. On arrival at Gravesend they found that the ship had gone to the “Lower Hope” six miles further down. They therefore followed her and arrived on board the Sir George Osborne at 1 p.m. Their friends soon left them, and they spent the rest of that day and the following one in unpacking and arranging their cabin.
The Sir George Osborne was a wooden ship 94 feet long by 28 feet beam, of 313 tons register, which had been captured from the French and renamed. She was carrying a cargo of stud sheep for New South Wales.
The Captain and two of the passengers came aboard at 1 a.m. on August 14th. Soon afterwards the ship got under way and proceeded down the river, eventually anchoring off Deal at 2 p.m. to await a change of wind. They finally got fairly started early on August 16th and four days later were out of sight of land off the page 8 “Lizard.” There were in all twelve passengers in the cabin quarters, among whom the names of Captain Harrington and Mr. Riley are mentioned.
The voyage on the whole was fair, though somewhat tardy and uneventful. There were the usual variations of wind and calms, but there was no mention of any storm, and even the notorious Bay of Biscay was fairly smooth. They sighted a number of whales, and spoke a few vessels. One bound for Calcutta remained close to them for a couple of days, when two of their company went aboard and dined with the Captain.
During the first half of September they passed within sight of Las Palmas, Madeira, and the islands of St. Antonio, Brava, Fogo and St. Iago. While becalmed they were carried by the current so close to the last-named island that the boats had to be lowered to tow the ship to safety. On calm days some of those on board were able to enjoy a swim in the sea, but the appearance of sharks prevented a repetition of this.
On October 3rd the Line was crossed, and the following day “Neptune” and his family paid their customary visit to the ship.
On one day a run of 180 knots was recorded, but later on in a calm spell they made only 10 miles in three days.
On October 2nd the steward to spite the Captain removed the tin boxes containing the ship's papers from his cabin, and suspended them over the stern. As a punishment he was put in irons and confined in the cable locker.
On November 12th they spoke the brig John from the Cape of Good Hope bound for Van Diemen's Land.
On December 10th they had the first sight of New Holland (Australia), and passed Cape Otway and King's Island. On December 15th they had a fine view of the Heads in Jervis Bay. Here they anchored and paid a visit to the shore.
Throughout the whole voyage Rev. W. Williams acted as chaplain to the ship, and held regular religious page 9 services whenever possible; he also began to compile his Maori Dictionary.
On December 17th, 123 days after the date of their final departure from England, they anchored in Sydney Cove, and landed there.
They remained in Sydney and its neighbourhood for three months awaiting an opportunity for completing their voyage to New Zealand. While there they made the acquaintance of Rev. Samuel Marsden, Mr. Hill, Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, and the Lethbridges, to whom they paid visits.
Rev. Henry Williams, very soon after he landed and settled at Paihia, Bay of Islands, in 1823, had at the suggestion of Mr. Marsden, made arrangements for procuring a supply of timber and other materials to build a small vessel for the use of the Mission. The keel of a schooner of about 50 tons burden was laid in July, 1824. (“Life of H. Williams,” Vol. 1, pages 44–50.) She was eventually launched on January 24th, 1826, and named the Herald. The first voyage which Henry Williams made in her was to Sydney, which he reached on March 7th, 1826. He was thus able to join Rev. W. Williams and his wife there before they left. They all sailed from Sydney on the Sir George Osborne on March 18th, and landed at Paihia, Bay of Islands, on the evening of March 26th, 1826.
While the Herald remained afloat she proved a valuable assistance to the work of the Mission, and made four voyages to Sydney for the conveyance of supplies and passengers. Rev. H. Williams also made four trips in her along the coast to Tauranga and other settlements. She made two voyages to Hokianga on the West Coast, where she was unfortunately wrecked in May, 1828, on the bar at the entrance to that harbour.