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.

Landseer’s Lions

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Duchess of Abercorn and daughter by Landseer. Tate Gallery.

Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter…..was one of my father and mother’s oldest friends, and had been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father [the Duke of Abercorn], and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of “Cottage Industry” and “The Mask,” had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of “The Abercorn Children.” Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as “Lanny.”

My mother going to call on him at his St. John’s Wood house, found “Lanny” in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn.

Trafalgar Square lion

Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson’s pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should anyone wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar.

Vintage postcard of Trafalgar Square, London, by the Photochrom Company.

On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother’s perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton. 1920.

The photograph of the captive lion was taken by Gambier Bolton, probably in the early 1890s, and published on a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons about 1905. This pioneering animal photographer was sometimes described as the Landseer of photography and his original prints fetch high prices from collectors today.

R.M.S. Olympic

White Star Line postcard of RMS Olympic.

Olympic and Titanic were the White Star reply to the [Cunard] Lusitania and Mauretania, but designed for more economical operation. Speed was the minimum necessary to allow a sailing every three weeks, but gross tonnage was increased to 40 per cent more than the Cunard greyhounds…… Work on Olympic commenced on December 16th, 1908; on Titanic, March 31st, 1909.

Vintage postcard of Cunard's RMS Mauretania.

Cunard’s Mauretania

Olympic’s maiden departure was on June 14th, 1911….. Westbound on September 20th, she seriously damaged the cruiser [H.M.S.] Hawke in collision in Spithead and had to cancel her voyage. An ingenious theory that the collision was due to suction caused by passage of Olympic’s massive bulk through the water was accepted at the subsequent enquiry but dismissed on appeal……..

Following the most terrible disaster in marine annals [sinking of the Titanic], Olympic made five more voyages and was then ordered to Belfast for major alterations. She had been designed to remain afloat with two compartments flooded, but building a complete inner skin, constructing extra bulkheads and increasing the height of others raised the number to six. Additional lifeboats were fitted to provide room for everyone on board. Olympic returned to work with a revised tonnage of 46,350 and 300 fewer First Class berths. In October 1914 she took the mined battleship [H.M.S.] Audacious in tow, but the warship sank before reaching safety. The White Star liner was afterwards requisitioned for transport work. On May 12th, 1918, when approaching France she was attacked by U.103. The submarine fired a torpedo* which missed the heavily laden troopship, but had approached too closely for her own safety and Olympic sank her assailant by ramming……

Olympic took her first post-war sailing on July 21st, 1920. Reconditioning had included conversion of her furnaces to oil-firing. She passed into the combined Cunard-White Star fleet in 1934 and on May 16th [15th] of that year sank the Nantucket Lightship ……in thick fog. Profitable employment was lacking for Olympic under the new regime and Jarrow shipbreakers bought her the following year.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, London. 1952.

*Later accounts confirm the crew of U.103 were unable to fire their torpedo before Olympic attacked.

A Busy Day at Boulters Lock

Edwardian scene at Boulters Lock on the river Thames, England.

From a vintage postcard mailed in 1907

This chaotic scene at Boulters Lock on the river Thames near Maidenhead, England, may have been photographed on Ascot Sunday, when this popular part of the river was at its busiest in the late 19th/early 20th century. You can see moving pictures, filmed in 1926, at this British Pathe site.

The first lock was built here in 1772.

Fleet Street

In the days when London had only one daily with a million readers it was calculated that at a certain time in its history the forests cut down for it would equal 17 Devons; today with its rivals it must have cut down forests as big as 17 Englands to spread its good and evil news. We must hope it is worth it.

Fleet street

c.1930

Fleet Street has transformed the face of the nation and set millions of people reading and thinking. It has made a new world of learners and seekers after truth, but it has built up the curse of gambling in the world and fed it hour by hour. It has filled Fleet Street with tipsters and astrologers, fortune tellers and fortune hunters, and has made a kind of journalism which will pay a swindler coming out of goal £10,000 to tell his story to the public he has swindled.

It has made the Fleet Street Army the most remarkable company ever got together. Bishops and statesmen, writers and dreamers, pugilists and footballmen, half-wits and no-wits, film stars and actresses, freaks and clowns: the stupidest man ever born is worth as much in Fleet Street as the wisest. Any morning we wake the newest tomfool is in the smart stunt paper, ready for a million breakfast tables. Mice and men, it is all the same today.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1937.

The caption on the postcard is less cynical – “Fleet Street is famous the world over as the journalistic centre of London. In or near it are the offices of nearly all the great newspapers and periodicals, where hosts of busy toilers are at work both day and night.” A scribbled note underneath says “Bridge is a Railway and before this is Ludgate Circus. Traffic typical.”

The circus marks the end of Fleet Street. It is crossed by Farringdon Street, covering the

Vintage postcard by L.L. of Ludgate Circus, London, c.1905.

c.1905

old River Fleet, which now discharges into the Thames from a pipe under Blackfriars Bridge. Arthur Mee writes “It seems never to have occurred to anyone that Ludgate Circus might be beautiful. Ever since the River Fleet was covered in on its approach to the Thames this supreme opportunity of a noble approach to St. Paul’s appears to have been thrown away.
Across the bottom of Ludgate Hill runs a railway which could easily be spared, serving two stations a few hundred yards apart.”

The bridge had been built in the 1860s by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway and was regarded as an eyesore by many from the start. It was finally “spared” (i.e. removed) in 1990. The last newspaper in Fleet Street moved out in 2016.

A cast-iron lighthouse

From the ‘Wairarapa Age’, Masterton, New Zealand, 6 June 1912.

castle-point-buildMessrs S. Luke and Co. Ltd., Victoria Street, Wellington, are at present engaged in building the new cast-iron lighthouse for Castlepoint. The lighthouse, which is to be sixty feet in height, is being cast in ten rings of six feet each (each ring having twelve sections). The diameter of the lighthouse at the base is eighteen feet, and at the top ten feet. The cast-iron plates average about an inch in thickness, being slightly heavier at the bottom than at the top.
Instead of the edges of the plates being hand-chipped, they have been milled by machinery, interior platforms are to be built at intervals, with an iron stairway zig-zagging to the top. It is expected the lighthouse will be finished at the yard towards the end of the month. Then, after inspection, it will be taken to pieces, and re-erected at Castlepoint.

castle-point-wide

And here is the result – one of the most photographed and accessible lighthouses in the country. This is the cliché shot, no tourist leaves without it thanks to a convenient wooden stairway to a viewing platform on the headland.

castle-point-storm

These two images were taken about two and a half hours apart on a warm Spring day in October. Ten minutes later the temperature suddenly dropped and this southerly storm front was dumping hail and sleet on the beach.