An Emigrant’s Tale

I was in my teens when we left Scotland. My father was ordered to take a long sea voyage, and New Zealand was chosen as our destination – the mild climate being a great attraction.

Off Valparaiso

We left Home in the sailing ship Ganges in July [1st], 1863, arriving in Auckland in October [12th], after a good voyage; no bad storms, and no serious illness. There were 12 first class passengers, and about 250 immigrants in the steerage. In those days the conditions of travelling first class were much below those of the third class now-a-days both in accommodation and in commissariat arrangements, there being very small cabins, and very hard bunks, with the most primitive means of lighting. There were no baths; the men and boys used to be hosed down in the early mornings when the decks were cleaned, but the women had to perform their ablutions in tiny basins with very little water.

We carried some crates of thin fowls on deck, which grew tougher and skinnier as the voyage progressed, as did also a few sheep. There were also preserved vegetables, potatoes which were very nasty, and butter, which, unlike the fowls, grew stronger and stronger as time went on. Curiously enough, plum pudding was the most successful dish in the menu. It appeared every Thursday, and was quite the event of the week. But we had a good captain, and our fellow-passengers were so congenial that everyone felt sorry when the voyage ended, and we had to separate and scatter.
A. H. Williams quoted in ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., 1940.

The popular captain was Thomas Funnell and there were 22 passengers listed in the main cabin. One steerage passenger, William Kirkwood, had died of pulmonary tuberculosis in September, and one child was stillborn in August. That was certainly a “good voyage” by the standards of the day.

The ship’s second, and last, voyage to New Zealand in 1864/65 with Irish emigrants wasn’t so fortunate. Two crew lost overboard when they fell from the mast, two adult passenger deaths, and 54 children due to an outbreak of whooping cough. The newspaper report and captain’s log make grim reading.

Health and Sunny Hours

An advertising card for Ayer's Sarsaparilla from late 19th century.FOR SCROFULA and all scrofulous, mercurial, and blood disorders, the best remedy is AYER’S COMPOUND CONCENTRATED EXTRACT OF SARSAPARILLA – called, for convenience, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA. It is composed of the Sarsaparilla-root of the tropics, Stillingia, Yellow Dock, Mandrake, and other roots held in high repute for their alternative, diuretic, tonic, and curative properties. The active medicinal principles of these roots, extracted by a process peculiarly our own, are chemically united in AYER’S SARSAPARILLA with the Iodide of Potassium and Iron, forming by far the most economical and reliable blood-purifying medicine that can be used.

If there is a lurking taint of Scrofula about you, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA will dislodge it, and expel it from your system. For the cure of the disorders, lassitude and debility peculiar to the Spring, it has proved to be the best remedy ever devised. If your blood is vitiated, cleanse it without delay by the use of AYER’S SARSAPARILLA.
Prepared by
Dr. J. C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass.

There are some pretty outrageous claims being made here. Scrofula is tuberculosis of the lymph nodes in the neck so equating it with blood impurity and suggesting it can be “dislodged” and expelled from the system with, essentially, a detox treatment is clearly ridiculous. Incidentally, the inclusion of Mandrake, a dangerous narcotic, in the ingredients should raise a red flag as well.

So was this a deliberate fraud? It’s hard to tell given the level of medical knowledge in the late 19th century. It certainly isn’t the worst example of overly enthusiastic claims. The patent medicine industry at the time thrived on a gullible public and a big advertising budget. The Ayer company had one of the biggest, and it shows in the printing quality of cards like this one.

A pimple poem

If you think that title is a misprint – read on.

Advertising card c. 1878 for Dr. J. C. Ayer's Sarsaparilla.

HOW FAIR
“How fair she grows from day to day,”
Her life an ever-smiling May!
And yet not always thus she grew,
Nor health and beauty always knew;
For once her cheeks were covered o’er
With “horrid pimples” by the score,
Which marred her face and made her sad;
And all because her blood was bad.
The means of cure she sought with care,-
At last, of Doctor J. C. Ayer,
Of Lowell, heard, a chemist skilled,
He who from healing roots distilled
An EXTRACT, potent to replace
The bloom of youth upon her face,
And make her blood as pure again
As when a merry child of ten.
“I’ll see!” she said, and off she hied,
A bottle bought, and quickly tried,
SARSAPARILLA was the name
By which this Extract gained its fame.
“Oh happy day,” she cried; for, lo!
The pimples soon began to go;
And now, the fairest of the fair,
She lives to bless the name of AYER!
_______________
AYER’S SARSAPARILLA,
Dr J. C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass., U. S. A.
Price $1. Six bottles, $5. Worth $5 a bottle.

This card and its poetic advertisement on the back dates from around 1890. They don’t make copywriters like that anymore!

I’ll have more from the doctor later in the week.

Crossing the Waitaki river

The English Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope visited New Zealand in 1872, when the country was more suitable for intrepid travellers than “tourists”. To make things even more difficult for himself, he arrived in the middle of winter.

Travelling north from Dunedin in a stagecoach he found the road “as good as any in England” as far as Palmerston “but then there comes a change, and thence on into the bounds of the province the road was very bad indeed”. There was an overnight stop at “a small town called Oamaru” and then….

“Twelve miles of as miserable a road as ever I travelled brought us to the Waitaki river, which is the boundary of the [Otago] province”.

Waitaki river

“It was a piercingly cold morning, and we felt aggrieved greatly when we found that we had to leave the coach and get into a boat. But the dimensions of our own hardships lessened themselves to our imagination when we found that two of the boatmen descended into the river, and pushed the boat for half a mile up the stream. During a part of the way three men were in the water, and yet the boat hardly seemed to move. For this service we were charged 2s [shillings] apiece which sum was not included in the coach fare. …..

There are many such rivers as the Waitaki running into the sea on the eastern coast of New Zealand, very dangerous in crossing, and the cause of many accidents. We were then in the depth of winter, and they are not then full. It is after the winter rains, and after the snows, when the mountains give up their load of waters, that the streams become full, and the banks overflow. In the spring the coaches often cannot pass, and are occasionally washed away bodily when the attempt is made. At other rivers besides the Waitaki there is a custodian, who is in some degree responsible for the safety of travellers, and who seems always to charge 2s a head, whether he presides over a ferry, with boat, and boatmen, or simply over a ford, across which he rides on horseback showing the way”.
‘With Anthony Trollope in New Zealand 1872’ Ed. A. H. Reed. 1969.

Modern travellers have a convenient bridge for crossing the river – no charge.

Waitaki bridge

The Waitaki river marks the boundary between the provinces of Otago and Canterbury.

The Waitaki today provides much of New Zealand’s hydro power from a network of eight dams upstream.

Aviemore hydro dam on the Waitaki river. South Island, New Zealand.

Aviemore hydro dam on the Waitaki river.

Jail break

An extract from a letter written from Wellington, New Zealand, 24 April 1843, when the settlement was just three years old.

Wellington has been in a state of great excitement for the last few days.
On Wednesday last six convicts who had been sentenced the previous day to ten years’ transportation, broke out of gaol and took possession of a boat lying on the beach.

Wellington Courthouse_Brees

Wellington courthouse on the right c. 1843.

They were half-way across the harbour before anybody went after them. It was blowing a tremendous gale from the N.W., and it soon became dark ; many of the boats returned the same night, but the sheriff [police magistrate] meeting with a small schooner entering the harbour, pressed her in the Queen’s name, and went in pursuit of the prisoners. He returned unsuccessful on Friday morning ; but in the evening everybody was agreeably surprised by the arrival of some Mauris [Maori] in a canoe with the six prisoners.

It appears that the prisoners were wrecked on a reef near Palliser Bay, and got ashore in a most extraordinary manner, each man having from twenty to thirty pounds of irons about his legs. They wandered about the beach in quest of another boat, but they soon fell in with the Mauris, by whom they were captured, and who had been informed of the escape of the convicts by some of the constables. The Mauris behaved well, and will receive £5 for each of the prisoners. It was a daring thing to break out of the gaol in a town where there are 5,000 inhabitants in broad daylight.
‘The New Zealand Journal’, London, 30th September 1843.

Image details – [Brees, Samuel Charles] 1810-1865 :Courts of Justice, Wellington [ca 1843]
Reference Number: B-031-009 http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=4577

The Novelty of Naples

In the summer of 1844, Charles Dickens moved with his family to Italy where he used Genoa as a base while he explored the country. A book about his experiences, Pictures From Italy, was published in 1846. He explained in his introduction that….

The greater part of the descriptions were written on the spot, and sent home, from time to time, in private letters …… a guarantee to the Reader that they were at least penned in the fulness of the subject, and with the liveliest impressions of novelty and freshness.

One of his excursions took him south to Rome and from there down the Via Appia through Fondi (which did not impress him), Itri, Capua, and finally, travelling along….

….. a flat road among vines festooned and looped from tree to tree; and Mount Vesuvius close at hand at last! – its cone and summit whitened with snow; and its smoke hanging over it, in the heavy atmosphere of the day, like a dense cloud. So we go, rattling down hill, into Naples.

Vintage postcard of the Bay of Naples.

A funeral is coming up the street, towards us. The body, on an open bier, borne on a kind of palanquin, covered with a gay cloth of crimson and gold. The mourners, in white gowns and masks. If there be death abroad, life is well represented too, for all Naples would seem to be out of doors, and tearing to and fro in carriages. Some of these, the common Vetturino vehicles, are drawn by three horses abreast, decked with smart trappings and great abundance of brazen ornament, and always going very fast. Not that their loads are light; for the smallest of them has at least six people inside, four in front, four or five more hanging on behind, and two or three more, in a net or bag below the axle-tree, where they lie half-suffocated with mud and dust. …..

Why do the beggars rap their chins constantly, with their right hands, when you look at them? Everything is done in pantomime in Naples, and that is the conventional sign for hunger. A man who is quarreling with another, yonder, lays the palm of his right hand on the back of his left, and shakes the two thumbs – expressive of a donkey’s ears – whereat his adversary is goaded to desperation. Two people bargaining for fish, the buyer empties an imaginary waistcoat pocket when he is told the price, and walks away without a word: having thoroughly conveyed to the seller that he considers it too dear. Two people in carriages, meeting, one touches his lips, twice or thrice, holding up the five fingers of his right hand, and gives a horizontal cut in the air with the palm. The other nods briskly, and goes his way. He has been invited to a friendly dinner at half-past five o’clock, and will certainly come.

All over Italy, a peculiar shake of the right hand from the wrist, with the forefinger stretched out, expresses a negative – the only negative beggars will ever understand. But, in Naples, those five fingers are a copious language.

All this, and every other kind of out-door life and stir, and macaroni-eating at sunset, and flower-selling all day long, and begging and stealing everywhere and at all hours, you see upon the bright seashore, where the waves of the bay sparkle merrily. But, lovers and hunters of the picturesque, let us not keep too studiously out of view the miserable depravity, degradation, and wretchedness, with which this gay Neopolitan life is inseparably associated!

Vintage monochrome RP postcard of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, Italy.

Travelling by stagecoach

In the late sixties of last century [19th], when the “Diggings” were in full swing, there was an excellent service of coaches owned by Cobb & Co. Coaches left Dunedin daily by the main north and south roads; the distance covered each day was well over seventy miles, so that an early start was the rule.

stage west coast

Breakfast at 5 a.m. “with our hats on” was the beginning of the first journey alone for three little sisters who set off to spend a happy summer holiday with an elder sister in her home on the banks of the Molyneux River [Clutha].

Our own road down the Glen joined the South Road a mile or so out of Dunedin, and we had, therefore, no share in the bustle and importance of the daily start from the office in town. We had not long to wait before the coach appeared on the crest of the hill and rattled down towards us. Good-byes were said and last instructions given as the big coach pulled up with a swing and stood heaving and swaying on its great leather springs, while the harness creaked and clattered as the six big greys shook it, stamping with impatience at the delay.

We were soon in the places reserved for us at the back of the coach, where we would be well protected from the weather by big leather curtains – on this fine morning rolled up so that we might enjoy the pleasant country through which we drove.

Besides the seats of honour on the box and above it, there were four (or more) seats set across the interior – just hard wooden seats with very little padding and a wide leather strap for a back. The coaches were generally overflowing with diggers, usually very cheerful, confident that they were on their way to make their fortunes, or, still more cheerful, with fortunes in their pockets, on their way to town to spend them……

The number of horses in use by Cobb & Co. must have been enormous, and the quality was outstanding. Beautiful greys were always reserved for the entrance into town, and the procession of the Gold Escort was indeed a sight never to be forgotten. Armed out-riders led and followed the special coach bringing in the gold; and there was frequently a prisoner or two, in which case the armed guard on the box, and riding alongside, would be considerably increased.

Vintage postcard of two stagecoaches on the Christchurch to Greymouth road.

All that, however, was a thing of long past when, after my marriage, I travelled by coach, this time to my new home on the Maniototo Plain. The railway that was eventually to stretch from one end of the [South] Island to the other could now be used to shorten distances, and our coach journey began at Palmerston, following up the Shag river, to Naseby – one day’s journey. In the earlier days the coach had to break the journey for the night at a so-called accommodation house that bore the very descriptive name of Pig-root.

Some of my happiest recollections are of these old coach journeys to our up-country home, my children enjoying the adventure, tucked away inside the coach with their nurse. Of course, there were inevitable discomforts, but one could forget the bumping into and over frozen ruts on a winter’s morning when looking out on the frost-laden snowgrass, the sun covering the great white domes with jewels, and icicles veiling the blue depths of fairy halls below them.

The driver, appreciating my husband’s eye for a horse, always kept the box-seat for us, and his fund of yarns was inexhaustible, so that on many a drowsy summer afternoon their voices seemed to me to grow fainter and fainter as the coach wound up the sunny side of the Range. But, at the top, the fresh breeze in one’s face was like the meeting with an old friend, and, with a crack of the long whip and the rattle of loose swingle-trees, away we would go, down the long cutting and across the river-bed, till, in the cool dusk, sweet with the scent of the flax blossom and dewy tussock, we pulled up at the wayside hotel where we changed horses for the last stage that day.
J. M. Buchanan, a contributor to ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, 1940.

The stagecoaches illustrated here, with the popular five horse configuration, are similar to the one Mrs. Buchanan would have taken on her trip to Naseby. These coaches travelled some New Zealand “roads” until the early 1920s.