An Emigrant’s Tale (#2)

Sailing ship Hesperus from a postcard.

My father, John Grubb, a ship-builder by trade, came to New Zealand in 1847, and after spending about a year in Wellington, went to Lyttelton under agreement with the Canterbury Association to build a jetty and make other arrangements for the arrival of the first settlers.

During this time my mother and three children lived in Dundee, until arrangements were made for them to join Father and come to New Zealand in the Charlotte Jane, one of the four ships chartered by the Canterbury Association to bring the first settlers to Lyttelton.

Before the ships sailed, Lord Lyttelton, the president of the Association gave the passengers a farewell luncheon at Gravesend, where four marquees were erected, one for each ship. During the voyage Mr. J. E. Fitzgerald, who was in charge of the expedition, edited two papers, The Cockroach and Sea Pie; he also composed the Night Watch Song of the Charlotte Jane, of which the first verse ran as follows:-

” ‘Tis the first watch of the night, brothers,
And the strong wind rides the deep,
And the cold stars shining bright, brothers,
Their mystic courses keep.
Whilst our ship her path is cleaving
The flashing waters through,
Here’s a health to the land we’re leaving
And the land we’re going to.”

Mrs T. V. Whitmore, Canterbury Pilgrims’ Association. Reproduced in ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’. 1940.

Advertisements

A Sea Change

The Cunard Steamship Company has announced the placing of an order with John Brown and Company Limited for a third ship for the Canadian trade. This is in addition to the two 20,000-ton liners the company ordered for the Canadian trade in December, 1951. One of these is expected to be launched next February and the other will be ready in 1955. They will have a speed of about 20 knots.
No details of the new vessel have been released, but it is expected to be similar to those under construction.
Wellington’s ‘Evening Post’, Saturday, 14 November 1953.

The three liners would emerge from the yard as Saxonia, Ivernia and Carinthia.

C_Saxonia

Saxonia, launched 17 February 1954.

Cunard passenger ship Ivernia. Launched Dec. 1954. Image from company postcard.

 Ivernia, launched 14 December 1954.

A message on the back of this card, written on 25th September 1962, reads “We reach Montreal tomorrow then 5 weeks in America to catch Canberra on 4th November at Los Angeles. Back in Auckland on 10th November”.

C_Carinthia

 Carinthia, launched 14 December 1955.

They would be followed by the Sylvania in 1956 but the writing was already on the wall for Atlantic liners or, in this case, in the newspaper. Farther down the same Evening Post column in 1953 was this –

The latest figures in the “air travel versus sea travel” feud show a marked increase in air travel to and from Britain. For the first time since the war the number of people entering Britain by sea during the first six months has dropped. But the number entering by air has gone up sharply, having jumped 20 per cent.
The exact figures published by the British Board of Trade at the end of last month show a fall of 43,000 in sea passengers to and from Britain while there is an increase of 143,000 in air passengers.

The four liners of the Saxonia class stayed with Cunard for roughly 11 years each before being sold to other companies for conversion to cruising.

Breakfast is served

What did you have for breakfast on this eleventh day of May? Cereal, tea and toast? Coffee to go? Nothing at all?

P & O crest on a Tourist Class menu, 1933.

On the morning of 11th May 1933, as the s.s. ‘Mongolia’ steamed up the English Channel on the last leg of a voyage from Australia, tourist class passengers would have found this menu card on their breakfast tables.

Tourist class breakfast menu from s.s. Mongolia, 1933.If you’ve ever been to sea as a fare-paying passenger, you’ll know that shipboard meals are different. They’re made for people with time to actually sit down to eat, relax and be waited on; who don’t have to rush out to work or wash the dishes. Not normal. The variety and volume of food available is not what you’d expect at home, either. If we ate like that every day the obesity epidemic would be ten times worse than it is.

But this list, modest by modern cruise ship standards, shows us how tastes have changed in eighty-five years. Would any of these be your first choice at breakfast, especially if the dining room was moving around a bit? Kippered herrings – popular in Victorian and Edwardian days and allegedly making a comeback, but not on my plate at 8 a.m. Grilled calf’s liver – not at any time. Creamed potatoes – for breakfast?

Tea, toast and marmalade would be a safe bet in most sea conditions, or try the Golden Syrup. A blast from the past and still available. Liquid sugar – it even makes porridge edible. Spread it on two slices of toast, feed them to a lethargic child and he’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day.

P & O passenger cargo ship. Image from a company postcard.

A notice on the back of the menu says “The Galley and Pantries will be open for Inspection by Passengers at 11.00 a.m. to-day. All those wishing to visit same please assemble in Forward Dining Saloon at that hour.”

Also – “Passengers are kindly requested to have as much baggage as possible packed by 5.00 p.m. to-day, in order that it may be stowed on deck, and thereby facilitate disembarkation.” The ‘Mongolia’ was due to arrive at Dover at 10.30 p.m. – hardly a convenient time – although this was “only approximate ….. subject to weather conditions, also strength & direction of tidal streams.”

‘Mongolia’ had a comparitively long career. Entering P & O service as a new passenger/cargo ship in 1922, she was transferred to the subsidiary New Zealand Shipping Company in 1938 and became the s.s. ‘Rimutaka’. Then she was the ‘Europa’ of Incres Shipping (Italy) in 1950, followed by ‘Nassau’ (’51 – ’61) and ‘Acapulco’ (’61 – ’63) before being broken up in January 1965.

A Wahine postscript

The Wahine that sank in Wellington harbour on 10th April 1968 (see last post) was the second Lyttelton ferry to carry that name for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. The first was a steam ship of 4,436 tons built by Wm. Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton, Scotland in 1913.

s.s. Wahine, 1913

After a distinguished and colourful career that spanned two world wars she, too, met her end by hitting a reef – although this was not a glancing blow. She made a proper job of it.

In 1951 she had been pressed into service as a troopship once more and was transporting New Zealand soldiers to the Korean War. After her last refuelling stop at Darwin, Australia, she was steaming north for Kure, Japan, on 15th August when she ran up on a reef at Masela Island in the Arafura Sea.

Everyone on board was safely transferred to an oil tanker but the old Wahine made a forlorn sight, perched clear of the water, for many years afterwards.

Marconi’s “gadget”

In today’s interconnected world where communication can be constant and relentless, when it seems we can be in touch with anyone, anywhere at any time, it’s difficult to think ourselves into an era when we couldn’t (or didn’t want to).

MarconiThe Italian experimenter Marconi was not the “inventor” of radio, as is sometimes believed, and such a claim was never made by Marconi himself. The pioneering research into the phenomena of electro-magnetic pulsations or “waves” was done by scientists of many nations, including German, Italian, French, British, and American physicists; but Marconi had quite properly patented transmitting and receiving apparatus of his own design in 1896, and formed a company to sell the apparatus and the idea, at first specially for the transmission of messages over water – that is, principally for use in ships – in which, in the nature of things, wire-telegraphy was impossible.

It was for this reason that the name “wireless” came into use, as a dramatic description of a new kind of electric telegraph which could send signals by Morse code between ships out of sight of one another at sea, or between ships and the shore, far beyond visual or normally audible range.

Part of a chart illustrating the Morse Code alphabet.

For centuries seamen had been accustomed to being isolated from the rest of the world when they were at sea, with no method of communicating with other vessels or with the shore except by flag signals or semaphore or signal lamps within a visual range of, say, five miles at most, or by siren blasts, megaphones, and leather-throated singing out within directly audible range.

Signaling with flags.

But, in its early stages, wireless seemed of little use in the mercantile marine, in the everyday working of ships at sea. It was envisaged as an emergency method of sending or receiving signals of distress, which happily are very rare. In other words, it was only “a gadget”.

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Caronia.The Caronia [in 1907] carried one wireless operator, who was a former Post Office landline telegraphist. He pottered about in the daytime and slept soundly throughout the night, and nobody paid much attention either to him or to his “fantastic instruments”. The name “wireless telegraphy” – also known as “marconigram signalling” – indicated to our minds something newfangled and unreliable, and not of much practical use.
‘Tramps and Ladies, My Early Years in Steamers’, Sir James Bisset with P.R. Stephensen, Angus & Robertson, 1959.

Illustrations:
Marconi – cigarette card, Famous Men series by Carreras, 1927.
Graphics from ‘Brown’s Signalling’, 1954.
Caronia – cigarette card, Merchant Ships of the World, W.D. & H.O. Wills, c. 1923.

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.

The Evans Bay Slip

The Wellington Patent Slip at Evans Bay, near today’s international airport, was an important feature of the harbour’s industrial shoreline for a hundred years.

Patent slip vintage

This postcard from the early 1900s was printed, and presumably hand coloured, in Berlin and the colourist, never having seen the place, was overly generous with the blue ink. The area around the ship was, of course, dry land and not water.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897, noted –
“The Patent Slip, owned by a private company, is situated in Evans Bay, about three miles by road and two-and-a-half miles by water from the Queen’s Wharf, and can take vessels up to 2,000 tons not exceeding 300 feet in length or having a greater draught forward than sixteen feet when about to be slipped. The ways are laid to a gradient of one in twenty-three, are 1,070 feet in length, and have a depth at high water of 32 feet at the outer end. The Slip Company own appliances for repairing both wooden and iron vessels, and have machine tools for effecting the smaller class of repairs to iron vessels, but large repairs have to be sent to the foundries in the City. The Company charges for vessels over 200 tons register 1s[hilling] per ton on the gross tonnage for the first day, and 6d. [sixpence] per ton per diem thereafter”.

Although the company was founded in 1871 preparation of the site, especially laying the rails under water at the outer end, took two years. The divers were sometimes swept off their feet in strong currents.

Patent slip Huia

Typical of small coastal steamers in the 19th century, the s.s. Huia (1878-1927) had a reputation for being difficult to steer in some conditions and went aground more than once. This photograph might have been taken at the Patent Slip in June 1907 after she stranded for 20 minutes on Long Point, Kapiti Island, on her regular run from Wanganui to Wellington. A leak was traced to a cracked plate on her port side.

In 1897, as the Cyclopedia explained, the Patent Slip “as a settlement” consisted of “a few cottages……occupied by the engineer in charge and some of the men who are employed” there. Eventually, the city suburbs spread out to engulf it and by mid 20th century coastal shipping had begun to die away under pressure from road, rail and air transport. In 1972 the slip – then under the control of the Harbour Board – didn’t have enough trade to stay in business and was closed. Now the site is preserved alongside Wellington’s most scenic route “around the bays” from the city to Miramar. Unfortunately, due to its low profile, many tourists probably drive past it without noticing.

The site of Wellington's Patent Slip, Evans Bay, (1871-1972).

The track of the original slipway is marked by wooden poles that feature panels explaining the site’s history. The huge cogged wheel at left was part of the steam driven winding gear that hauled vessels out of the water with chains. The chain locker below was 10 metres [about 30 feet] deep.

Patent slip_2

This second slipway, opened in 1922, lies alongside Wellington’s scenic “round the bays” drive.

Interesting trivia – One of the company directors in 1897 was Harold Beauchamp, father of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield.